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The Newest Thing in Literary Theory: LITERARY DARWINISM

Well, I’m sort of rooting for it. It takes nature and especially manliness or the naturalness of status competition seriously. It’s not entirely untrue to say that Homer portrays naked apes competing over the scarce resource of women. And it’s pretty darn true that an author with a good knowledge of the natures of members of our species can manipulate with great success the responses of readers. Literary Darwinists, with or without their scientific content analysis, will score great victories against the unrealistic excesses of social constructionism. But they still need to explain why the non-human apes don’t write a lot of poetry.

Discussions - 12 Comments

Apes don't write poetry because they haven't evolved with the brains for it. Language, and higher level thought, requires great frontal lobe capacity, and humans have a monopoly on large frontal lobes (for their body size). There isn't anything difficult about understanding that. Why do you feel the need to end your posts with a pot shot at science? A Psych 101 course could answer your last sentence.

Peter, I thought what you wrote was funny. The article is pretty funny, too.

There is a dreadful sense that the whole reputation of the study of the humanities is in free fall. which, of course, has nothing to do with the schools of criticism, MARXIST, RADICAL feminist, Foucauldian, deconstructionist, post-colonial and queer, he cites.

It is all right, Boo. This proves that science, even that of Desmond Morris, can come to the rescue of the humanities. That means that in the competition between the two, science is stronger and more manly.

Well, I'm not rooting for it. One misses the point completely by taking the half loaf of Darwinism as a substitute for understanding human nature. Arnhartism is a fool's errand. In both the Iliad and Genesis manly men go bonkers, thymos goes bonkers, seeking glory and the possesion of the beautiful in the face of a fresh and direct consciousness of death. Achilles can compare himself with the still present immortals, the generations after Adam and Seth with their seemingly immortal predecessors. In both Homer and Genesis manliness is educated for peace and domesticity, for philosophy and piety. Science may be stronger than the lunacies of the contemporary humanities, but Achilles and Homer are stronger and more true than science.

Methinks you wax poetical, Robert. This gestalt you folks keep referring to (e.g., that humans can write poetry) as proof of the human soul (or some such) can more easily be explained by the complexities of "mind." And how do we know that whale songs, for instance, aren't poetic? It seems pretty strange to me that a Divinity would endow us with sprituality, and yet leave all our baser drives intact. Almost like a nasty practical joke, huh?

No, it is not a nasty practical joke, but makes for much more interesting characters in life. A rock might be considered good, because it can do no wrong of itself, having no will and yet of what limited interest it is.

I am no theologian and how to reconcile mans' will (and its complex problems) and a sovereign God is too hard for me. But I can think that God, who would create all for His pleasure, would find more interest in a man who can choose to throw the rock or not, and can choose where, when, how and why to throw it, than in the rock.

This whale poetry might be a a way of overcoming the specieism that has blinded the study of literature thus far. Why do we confine the "canon" to human authors?

Well, Kate, perhaps leaving us as a strange, conflicted duality is a kind of test, or perhaps (forgive my agnosticism) spirituality is simply a by-product of our frontal lobes -- just another emergent property of "mind." I'd like to believe the former, but I'm scientist enough not to dismiss the latter. I suppose I'll burn in Hell for it....

Peter, perhaps you speak facetiously, but I don't think you should. Whale-Shakespeares may well be out would we know? Their 360-degree watery world doesn't encourage hands or building...what are they doing with all that brain? Someday they may prove to be the world's premier physicists (or poets).

Hey, you should read David Brin's Uplift Series. You probably aren't a great fan of science fiction, but Brin's a great of the most imaginative (and yet scientific) of our current crop of fiction writers.

"Achilles and Homer are stronger and more true than science."

The imaginative fiction of an ancient savage is more true than objective science? What kind of madness is this? What does Homer even say? That a man's fate is often determined by forces beyond his control and that he has an innate tendency to succumb to anger? Science tells you not only that, but how it is so (hypothalamus, adrenal glands, etc.)

Science is always changing its mind, metaphorically speaking. It tells us one thing on a topic and then in a hundred years it will tell us something else. I admit it is better at explaining things than it was a hundred years ago, but remind you that it will have more truth a hundred years from now. The biochemistry of emotion still doesn't get at the why or the truth of it. The "how" is nice to know, but still does not get to the interesting essence of the emotion of a man.

I'm not much of a fan of Keynes, but I love one quote famously attributed to him. When criticized for the fluctuating and shifting nature of many of his policies, he reportedly responded, "Well sir, when the facts change I change my mind. What do you do?" The moral of the story: as "unreliable" as empirical evidence is, it's all we have. To try to find more "reliable" truth is to attempt to find truth not based on facts, and that is silly. It is equivalent to ignoring truth altogether, and that is exactly what Robert Jeffrey was doing. He said that scientific, empirical truth was less valuable than an ancient myth written by a bunch of near savages. To him, "truth" means "really old stories someone invented," and that is no different than ignoring truth altogether. Finally, the biochemistry of emotion does get at both "why" and "truth." It alone can explain the complex chemical reactions that cause our emotions, and it alone tells us the true meaning behind them. Even if it does not have answers now, it will someday. Why? Because it will look, while people like you sit around, content to believe Greek fables. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.”-- Carl Sagan

It's a real truism: Real scientists cannot afford to be ideologues. We have a lot of pseudo-scientists, and we have a lot of "fallen" scientists (those who started properly but became too invested in their own theories). A real scientist, one who never gives up learning and is always willing to rethink problems as new evidence arises, is a blessed creature...and a pretty rare one in our species. When you find one, you should listen to that person. Their authority flows from their humility (as odd as that might sound).

Peter, perhaps you speak facetiously, but I don't think you should. Whale-Shakespeares may well be out would we know?

LOL! Dain, you taking this seriously has really caused me a belly laugh, and for that I thank you. Now it's my turn - how do we KNOW dolphins are not smart? How do we KNOW ant's can't talk? How do we KNOW crystals can not align our karma, and how do we KNOW aliens are not listening to all our thoughts at THIS VERY MOMENT...AGHH!@!!!!!

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