Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature by Joseph CarrollSearching for a link between the humanities and the sciences is contentious territory. Academics in the industry of literary criticism, especially, are loathe to recognize the positive potential of applying findings from the sciences to the study of literature. I strongly suspect that this is a selfish survival instinct, and also a form of cowardice: the thing about scientific theories is that if they are wrong, they may ultimately be proven wrong. The thing with post-modern theoretical leanings favored by the modern humanities industry is that they can never be proven to be true or false. Like foundational religious beliefs, they are largely impractical and unsupportable, but but too ethereal to be bound by the laws of reality. Cowards like to adopt these kinds of beliefs, because they can be clung to without fear of ever being proven wrong.
Literary Darwinism does a fine job of outlining how a more scientific approach to literary criticism can open new avenues down which critics may travel. In many ways, the book is a toe in the water of what could be a broad new field, and Carroll seems to recognize this. His Adaptationist-inspired analysis of Pride and Prejudice is an excellent example of what could be done in the field, but its impossible not to note that Pride and Prejudice has got to be the most obvious text to explain with sociobiological principles.
Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature
Darwinian literary critics have been claiming over the last decade to have developed not merely the newest but the truest approach to literature. Armed with the insights of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology, they argue that we finally have the tools for a scientific, empirically grounded understanding of authors, characters, readers, and literature itself. That view has even begun to seep into the broader culture, as evidenced by an article in the New York Times Magazine in late Joseph Carroll, a Victorianist whose Evolution and Literary Theory appeared in , is a leader in this movement, and his latest book seeks to develop and refine it. Darwinian literary critics of Carroll's "adaptationist" school regard the human mind as having evolved "through an adaptive process of natural selection" xii , and they believe that literature, as a product of that mind, is best understood with reference to it. Rather, the "central challenge" for literary Darwinism is to connect "the highest levels in the organization of human nature with the most detailed and subtle aspects of literary meaning" The "research program" of literary Darwinism and Carroll's choice of this social scientific term, like his invocation of the Kuhnian "paradigm" and even his use of the author-date system of reference in preference to MLA style, is not casual, but in keeping with the explicit claim that his Darwinian approach can finally make literary criticism a social science thus also includes accounts of a literary work's formal properties from diction to plot , theme, tone, point of view of author, characters, and implied audience , and "what literature is, what its functions are, and how it works" vii.
Joseph Carroll. In Literary Darwinism, Carroll presents a comprehensive survey of this new movement with a collection of his most important previously published work, along with three new essays. The essays and reviews give commentary on all the major contributors to the field, situate the field as a whole in relation to historical trends and contemporary schools, provide Darwinist readings of major literary texts such as Pride and Prejudice and Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and analyze literary Darwinism in relation to the affiliated fields of evolutionary metaphysics, cognitive rhetoric, and ecocriticism. Collecting the essays in a single volume will provide a central point of reference for scholars interested in consulting what the "foremost practicioner" New York Times of Darwinian literary criticism has to say about his field. Wilson ecocriticism ecology elemental emotional empirical environment essays evolution evolutionary psychology evolved experience feeling fiction formulation genetic Gould human behavior human motives human nature human universals idea identify imaginative inclusive fitness integral interaction Kurten's literary criticism literary representation literary study literary texts literary theory literature logic mating metaphor mind modern modules narrative natural selection Neanderthals normative novel organization paradigm perspective philosophical Pinker postmodern poststructuralism poststructuralist Pride and Prejudice principles protagonist punctuated equilibrium readers reproductive Romantic scientific sense sexual social sciences sociobiological species-typical specific Steven Pinker story themes theoretical theorists tion tive Turner understanding. He has published books on Matthew Arnold and Wallace Stevens.
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Darwinian literary studies also known as literary Darwinism is a branch of literary criticism that studies literature in the context of evolution by means of natural selection , including gene-culture coevolution. It represents an emerging trend of neo-Darwinian thought in intellectual disciplines beyond those traditionally considered as evolutionary biology : evolutionary psychology , evolutionary anthropology , behavioral ecology , evolutionary developmental psychology , cognitive psychology , affective neuroscience , behavioural genetics , evolutionary epistemology , and other such disciplines. Interest in the relationship between Darwinism and the study of literature began in the nineteenth century, for example, among Italian literary critics.
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