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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 7. Form, Function and Device


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At this point we will consider the form of the literary text, the radical of presentation, as it is sometimes known. This will also afford the opportunity to look further into the question of metaphor as it relates to the evolutionary model of approaching literature.

As will be the case in Chapter IX on the thematics of literature, the approach here will be archetypal, that is to say, based on the hypothesis that there exist basic structures of the human mind, or archetypes, which hold sway in the emergence of the practices of literature wherever they appear on earth. The assumption is that there is such a thing as the human mind, an evolved mind common to humankind wherever it is; this implies as well an evolved human nature that is a constant the world over.

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