Darwinian literary studies & Criticism: Theory of evolution

Darwinian literary studies
Categories : Literary Theories
Darwinian literary studies
Darwinian literary studies & Criticism: Theory of evolution 3

Darwinian literary studies

Darwinian literary studies, also known as Darwinian criticism or evolutionary literary theory, is an interdisciplinary approach that applies Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution to the analysis and interpretation of literature. It seeks to explore the influence of evolutionary concepts, such as the struggle for existence and adaptation, on literary works and the human experience portrayed within them.

The emergence of Darwinian literary studies can be traced back to the mid-1990s when scholars argued for a fundamental reevaluation of literary studies to align them with the insights of biological science, particularly the theory of evolution. This movement was part of a broader trend that included other fields, such as psychology, anthropology, and epistemology, applying evolutionary principles to understand human culture and behavior. Edward O. Wilson’s book “Sociobiology: The New Synthesis” (1975) played a significant role in catalyzing these interdisciplinary investigations.

The first major publication in Darwinian literary studies was Joseph Carroll’s “Evolution and Literary Theory” (1995). Carroll positioned his work in opposition to poststructuralist criticism, which focused primarily on linguistic and textual aspects while disregarding the biological dimensions of human culture. In contrast, Carroll advocated for studying literary works as expressions of the essential needs and interests of human beings as evolved organisms. By examining literature through this lens, critics could uncover underlying patterns of motives, cognitive predispositions, and behavior that have evolved over time in the human species.

According to proponents of Darwinian literary studies, understanding literature in an evolutionary framework allows for a deeper exploration of universal human experiences and themes. It emphasizes the connection between literature and human nature, positing that literary works are not detached or arbitrary creations but reflections of our adaptive responses to the challenges and opportunities presented by the environment.

By applying evolutionary concepts to the analysis of literature, Darwinian critics aim to shed light on various aspects of literary texts, such as character development, plot structure, and narrative patterns. They examine how these elements relate to fundamental human concerns, such as survival, reproduction, social interactions, and the acquisition of knowledge. Darwinian literary studies seek to bridge the gap between the sciences and the humanities, providing a framework that integrates biological insights with literary analysis.

It is important to note that Darwinian literary studies have not been without controversy and debate within the field of literary criticism. Critics of this approach argue that it oversimplifies the complexities of literature, reducing its richness to predetermined biological frameworks. Others express concerns about the potential for reductive interpretations and the neglect of other important aspects of literary analysis, such as cultural, historical, and aesthetic dimensions.

In summary, Darwinian literary studies apply the principles of Darwinian evolution to the analysis of literature. It seeks to uncover the evolutionary underpinnings of human experiences and behaviors portrayed in literary works. By examining literature through an evolutionary lens, proponents of this approach aim to deepen our understanding of the universal aspects of human nature and the ways in which they are reflected in literary texts.

In Darwinian literary studies, one significant area of analysis focuses on themes related to human reproductive behavior, sexual competition, mate selection, and the formation of social alliances and family relationships. This approach seeks to understand how these aspects of human nature are portrayed in literature and how they relate to evolutionary processes.

For instance, when applying Darwinian analysis to the works of Jane Austen, critics highlight the themes of men competing for women based on socioeconomic attributes such as wealth and social status, and women competing for men based on attributes like youth and beauty. This perspective underscores the evolutionary underpinnings of these dynamics, suggesting that they reflect fundamental reproductive strategies and mate selection criteria.

In the case of Homeric epics, the Darwinian approach views the narratives as stories in which men, such as Paris in the abduction of Helen of Troy, compete not primarily for power, status, or wealth but for the most desirable sexual mates. This perspective emphasizes the primal instincts and reproductive motives that drive the characters’ actions and shape the plot. By examining the epics through a Darwinian lens, critics aim to uncover the evolutionary origins of these narratives and their underlying themes.

It is worth noting that the Darwinian approach to literature can be seen as a variant of archetypal criticism, as it explores universal patterns and themes deeply rooted in human nature. This approach shares some similarities with cognitive literary studies, as both emphasize plot, character, and humanistic aspects of literature while opposing purely technical or linguistically oriented forms of criticism.

By integrating evolutionary insights into the analysis of literature, Darwinian criticism provides a contemporary form of humanism that examines how literature reflects and engages with our fundamental biological and psychological tendencies. It recognizes the enduring relevance of themes related to human reproduction, sexual competition, and social relationships, shedding light on the universal aspects of human experience portrayed in literary works.

Read also: Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality by Sigmund Freud

However, it is important to note that Darwinian literary studies have been subject to criticism and debate within the field. Some argue that this approach risks oversimplifying complex literary texts and reducing them to predetermined evolutionary frameworks, neglecting the cultural and historical dimensions of literature. As with any critical approach, it is essential to employ a nuanced and balanced perspective that considers multiple factors and interpretations.

Critics of the initial thematic analyses put forward by Darwinian literary studies argue that they are reductive and fail to account for crucial aspects of literature such as tone, point of view, and the reliability of the narrator. In response to these criticisms, a more theoretical approach has emerged within the Darwinian movement that focuses on how literature represents the fundamental aspects of human life.

Robert F. Storey’s work, “Mimesis and the Human Animal” (1996), is a key example of this approach. Storey proposes a “biogrammar” of the human species, emphasizing literature’s representation of human sociality and elemental human motives and mental functions. He applies this biogrammar to analyze major genres such as narrative, tragedy, and comedy, considering them as highly developed forms of evolved and adaptive responses to evolutionary pressures. According to Storey, each genre has its distinctive “phylogenetic” history of adaptive evolution.

Another Darwinian approach to literature focuses on how the activities of writing and reading contribute to the adaptive fitness and survival of the human organism. Literature helps develop useful patterns of response, map out social relations, depict intimate kin relationships, and clarify our understanding of fundamental human nature. It helps us make sense of the world around us. One adaptive capacity cultivated by literature is the ability to experience empathy and sympathy, which form the basis for altruism and collaboration.

Some studies in this area of literary investigation employ methods such as statistical analyses, aligning themselves more with the social sciences than the humanities. This interdisciplinary approach seeks to understand how literature, as a cultural product, contributes to our adaptation as human beings and shapes our social and cognitive capacities.

It’s important to note that the Darwinian approach to literature continues to generate debate and discussions within the field. Critics argue that reducing literature to evolutionary frameworks can overlook the richness and complexity of literary texts, ignoring the cultural and historical dimensions that contribute to their meaning. Balancing the insights from evolutionary theory with the understanding of literature as a unique form of human expression remains an ongoing challenge for scholars in the field of Darwinian literary studies.

Read Also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darwinian_literary_studies

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