Francis Galton’s Singing Eutopia: Music, Vitality, and Sexuality in The Eugenic College of Kantsaywhere (1910)

[Presented at the 2021 meeting of the Modern Language Association]


Francis Galton is best remembered as coiner of the word “eugenics” and its chief proponent in the later nineteenth century. But toward the end of his life, he harbored another ambition: novelist. His 1910 unpublished manuscript The Eugenic College of Kantsaywhere lays out, in speculative fiction, his vision for a country organized on eugenic principles: where reproduction is tightly controlled, social rank determined by aptitude testing, and the citizens’ highest purpose is to “think much more of the race than of the individual” (p. 22).

Kantsaywhere has largely been treated as a curiosity in the history of science, yet this paper argues that its literary construction of ideal eugenic citizens is significant both for the history of eugenic thought, and the history of the aesthetics of the body at the turn of the twentieth century. Galton’s perfected subjects are praised in some ways that might seem conventional—they are described as normatively sexually attractive, and athletically boisterous—however this paper focuses on the unity of these attributes with a less likely third: innate musicality. Throughout Kantsaywhere Galton stresses the importance of music to his hereditary elite: as an outlet for their boundless energy, as a means of social cohesion, and as a demonstration of inborn aesthetic superiority. This paper investigates the consequences of Galton’s unification of musicality, sexual attractiveness, and physical vitality for modern understandings of the political body, arguing that Galton mobilized existing tropes of natural musicality, and long-standing associations of music with sexuality, to persuade readers as to the justness of his brave new world. While Kantsaywhere never reached a wide audience, its peculiar exploration of the reproductive citizen provides a valuable tool for the reinterpretation both of Galton’s earlier work and, reading forward, of subsequent literature that Galton inspired.

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