The Mind and Its Stories: Narrative Universals and Human Emotion

The Mind and Its Stories: Narrative Universals and Human Emotion

The Mind and Its Stories: Narrative Universals and Human Emotion

The Mind and Its Stories: Narrative Universals and Human Emotion

Synopsis

Patrick Colm Hogan argues that, to a remarkable degree, the stories people admire in different cultures follow a limited number of patterns determined by cross-culturally constant ideas about emotion. Hogan draws on world literature; experimental research treating emotion and emotion concepts; and methodological principles from contemporary linguistics and philosophy of science. He concludes with a discussion of the relationship between the narrative, emotion concepts, and the biological and social components of emotion.

Excerpt

The first important point about literary universals is that they are not necessarily properties of all literary works. Indeed, such properties are rare, and often trivial (that is, a mere residue of our definition of a literary work). Rather, literary universals are properties and relations found across a range of literary traditions.

What, then, constitutes “a range of literary traditions”? In linguistics, one counts a shared property as evidence of a universal only if the languages in question are genetically and areally distinct, which is to say, only if they have distinct origins and have not influenced one another with respect to this particular property. The basic idea is straightforward. If a shared property is the result of a common source – either because the languages in question have a common ancestor or because the property has been borrowed by one language from the other – then that property does not provide evidence of a universal. French, Italian, and Spanish do not provide three separate instances of a shared property, indicating that it occurs spontaneously in a range of languages. In all likelihood, they provide only a single instance of that property, because in all three cases that property probably derives from a common source. The same may be true of a property shared by, say, Spanish and Basque. Though Spanish and Basque are genetically distinct languages, there has been enough interaction between speakers of these languages that the property . . .

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