Mystery Dance

MYSTERY DANCE, a product of a mother-and-son team, attempts to provide evolutionary interpretations for facets of human sexuality. Among the issues Margulis and Sagan consider are the relatively large size of the human penis and testicles compared to those of other primates, the permanent swelling of female breasts, the purpose of female orgasm, and the existence of the hymen. The motif they use as an explanatory thread is a striptease—the so-called “mystery dance.” However, instead of removing layers of clothing, their dancer removes layers of evolution, stripping down from human to more apelike primates, then to a lizard, amphibian, and fish. Ultimately, the roots of human sexuality are traced back to bacteria.

The authors provide an interdisciplinary synthesis, drawing from philosophy, psychoanalysis, and biology. They have also drawn upon recent feminist sociocultural critiques of evolutionary science. One of their themes is the importance of understanding bacteria before it is possible to understand more complex forms of life.

One of the disappointments of the book is the superficial treatment of homosexuality. Margulis and Sagan apparently have found no satisfactory evolutionary explanation for the existence of humans whose sexuality would be nonreproductive. To the extent they discuss it, they view homosexuality as a malfunction, probably due to psychological reasons.

Margulis is a controversial, although influential biologist. Like her other work, this book will enlighten enchant, and outrage readers. Her son’s delightful writing is a powerful ally in her effort to sway the nonspecialist.