Did Charles Darwin really say that?

An edited version of the written version of a lecture then to be given and by now presumably given by Lyndon Terracini says:

I’m reminded of what Charles Darwin said: “It is not the strongest that survive, or the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change”.

I have searched in vain for this and various fragments of it as a statement attributable to Darwin. Certainly, The Origin of Species is fully searchable [eg here, chosen quite at random]. The claimed quotation crops up on a few motivational internet commonplace books but is even there doubted. It sounds rather Lamarckian to me, and on my mental map (based on half-decayed memories) that’s just the opposite to Darwinian.

Not that I’m aware that Darwin stirred from his couch (to which he took rather a lot later in life) particularly often to go to the opera.

More could be said about Mr Terracini’s address (as edited) and whether or not it matters whether Darwin said what LT says he said.
I know LT is being pragmatic – he is a manager, after all. He says he is being democratic. If he is right, it is likely that I shall go to the opera (at least, to Opera Australia) a bit less than I do at present and a lot of other people will go a lot more – even if that means once every few years. Overall that seems fair enough if it works out that way – that is, if he is right. That’s the burden for a manager.

If he is wrong, he is just trashing the brand.

Terracini anticipates that his speech will be met with outrage and insults from a group he rather insultingly identifies as “the club.” Apart from the usual ambition of people who put themselves forward as managers there is no reason to think his intentions are anything other than the best.

There is a lot of other stuff in the lecture about how Ji Min Park emoted in La Boheme and whether North America, according to the playwright of a play LT saw in Melbourne in September, is divided between comfortable white neighbourhoods and deprived black neighbourhoods. He seems to be thinking aloud here. I’m really not sure if it is realistic to expect opera to “represent” society as a whole.

Some of the context of the speech comes from the occasion – specifically it is a new music event and he is addressing the question of how new operas can be put on and how (or why not) they attract an audience. Self-evidently, they mostly do not. Terracini seems to speak with forked-tongue here, ostensibly praising Bliss and Love of the Nightingale whilst decrying composers who want to write like Webern (that’s probably more of a dig at Brett Dean than Richard Mills, though going further back it could also apply to Larry Sitsky and Golem.)


The full script of Terracini’s speech can now be found here.

One Response to “Did Charles Darwin really say that?”

  1. 3 November 2011 | Neil's daily readings Says:

    […] Marcellous: Did Charles Darwin really say that? […]

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