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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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Chapter 5. Evolutionary Aesthetics


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Evolutionary aesthetics is a field that has drawn attention from many quarters. A very brief overview (necessarily general, without recapping the bibliography here) would be of use to the reader unfamiliar with developments in the active research that has brought this field both diversity and depth.

Evolutionary psychology brings to aesthetics the perspective of psychological adaptation underlying human emotion, learning, and much behavior: aesthetic judgment is here viewed as a function of psychological adaptation developed by way of making sense of environment and guiding emotion, learning and behavior toward evolutionary fitness. Hence psychology looks to extrapolate the manners in which ancestral humans reacted to cues in aspects of their environment, as they developed senses of beauty, attractiveness, ugliness, revulsion and the like, for evolutionary reasons; adaptations can be universal or may vary according to sex, age, culture, etc., but the understanding of adaptations will explain aesthetic preferences.

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