Topics in the Evolutionary Theory of Literature
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.
Chapter 1. Polemical Introduction
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Literature is itself an evolved faculty, an adaptation in the evolutionary sense.
The concept of evolutionary literary study is somewhat new, with early work appearing only late in the last century. A comprehensive poetics based on evolutionary thought has yet to be written. This book represents only one step in that direction as a survey of topics pertinent to an ontology of some of literature’s most basic building blocks, topics that focus attention on the literary text as a product of evolutionary processes. Text as adaptation. Building blocks of literary text as by-products of evolution. Humankind grasping the pen with its apposable thumb and writing in the ink of its own evolutionary past.
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