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Text in the Natural World

Topics in the Evolutionary Theory of Literature


Laurence A. Gregorio

The study of literature has expanded to include an evolutionary perspective. Its premise is that the literary text and literature as an overarching institution came into existence as a product of the same evolutionary process that gave rise to the human species. In this view, literature is an evolutionary adaptation that functions as any other adaptation does, as a means of enhancing survivability and also promoting benefits for the individual and society. Text in the Natural World is an introduction to the theory and a survey of topics pertinent to the evolutionary view of literature. After a polemical, prefatory chapter and an overview of the pertinent aspects of evolutionary theory itself, the book examines integral building blocks of literature and literary expression as effects of evolutionary development. This includes chapters on moral sense, symbolic thought, literary aesthetics in general, literary ontology, the broad topic of form, function and device in literature, a last theoretical chapter on narrative, and a chapter on literary themes. The concluding chapter builds on the preceding one as an illustration of evolutionary thematic study in practice, in a study of the fauna in the fiction of Maupassant. This text is designed to be of interest to those who read and think about things literary, as well as to those who have interest in the extension of Darwin’s great idea across the horizon of human culture. It tries to bridge the gulf that has separated the humanities from the sciences, and would be a helpful text for courses taught in both literary theory and interdisciplinary approaches to literature and philosophy.

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Appendix 1

If evolution happened, then why aren’t monkeys still changing into humans?

Darwin’s theory never said that apes changed into humans. The theory does say, by the way, that species change, not individuals. But more to the point, the theory holds that apes and humans have a (relatively recent) common ancestor. Following the image of Darwin’s tree, once branches diverge, two species remain distinct ever after. So apes will continue to be apes, and humans, humans. Nothing prevents future speciation from either branch in unforeseeable ways, but as with the growth of branches on a tree, there is no doubling back to a previous point of divergence.

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