The Language of Involvement
In an essay called "What Happens to Bodies if Genes Act for Themselves?" Stephen J. Gould reviews and then rejects various evolutionary arguments for why certain DNA duplicates itself tens to hundreds of times. Gould concludes that duplication happens for no better reason than that a body does not mind it. He then observes:
I can almost hear the disappointment and anger of some readers: "That bastard Gould. He led us along for pages, and now he gives an explanation that is no explanation at all. It just plain happens, and that's all there is to it. Is this a joke or a counsel of despair?" I beg to differ from this not entirely hypothetic adversary (a composite constructed from several real responses I have received to verbal descriptions of the selfish DNA hypothesis). This explanation seems hokey only in the context of adherence to traditional views that all important features must be adaptations and that bodies are the agent of Darwinian processes. The radical content of selfish DNA is not the explanation itself, but the reformulated perspective that must be assimilated before the explanation confers any satisfaction. (172)
Gould goes on to show that DNA is like other creatures of nature: it will reproduce itself in the absence of contraception. But it is the author's outburst of direct address that stands interesting. The passage could be called an example of unbridled audience awareness, a place where writer drops dissemblance and takes on directly the imagined reaction of a skeptic. Deborah Tannen almost certainly would classify it as "involvement-focused," and William Vande Kopple ("Some Exploratory Discourse") would call it "metadiscourse," discourse about the discourse.
The passage is interesting for exposing the kinds of musings and mutterings that writers and readers frequently address to each other subtextually, as think-aloud protocols particularly have demonstrated.1 But here Gould brings the subtext into sudden and radical view and, in doing so, brings to a stop (at least for a moment) the performance in