Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature

Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature

Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature

Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

In the past decade or so, a small but rapidly growing band of literary scholars, theorists, and critics has been working to integrate literary study with Darwinian social science. These scholars can be identified as the members of a distinct school in the sense that they share a certain broad set of basic ideas. They all take "the adapted mind" as an organizing principle, and their work is thus continuous with that of the "adaptationist program" in the social sciences. Adaptationist thinking is grounded in Darwinian conceptions of human nature. Adaptationists believe that all organisms have evolved through an adaptive process of natural selection and that complex functional structure in organic development gives prima facie evidence of adaptive constraint. They argue that the human mind and the human motivational and behavioral systems display complex functional structure, and they make it their concern to identify the constituent elements of an evolved human nature: a universal, speciestypical array of behavioral and cognitive characteristics. They presuppose that all such characteristics are genetically constrained and that these constraints are mediated through anatomical features and physiological processes, including the neurological and hormonal systems that directly regulate perception, thought, and feeling.

Adaptationist social scientists identify "the adapted mind" as the foundation of human culture. Adaptationist literary scholars concur, and they seek to bring literature itself within the field of cognitive and behavioral features susceptible to an adaptationist understanding. They identify human nature as a biologically constrained set of cognitive and motivational characteristics, and they contend that human nature is both the source and subject of literature. They are convinced that through adaptationist thinking they can more adequately understand what literature is, what its functions are, and how it works-what it represents, what causes people to produce it and consume it, and why it takes the forms it does.

In this introduction, I shall try to give a sense of where Darwinian literary study now stands and suggest where it might be headed. After sketching out the history of Darwinian social science, I shall distinguish the adaptationist research program from other forms of "evolutionary" thinking in literary study. I shall identify the main contributors to adaptationist literary study and list some of their accomplishments. I shall also take up two large theoretical issues that remain to be resolved: the exact structure of "human nature," and the . . .

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