New version page

A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR A REORIENTATION IN LITERARY STUDIES

Upgrade to remove ads

This preview shows page 1-2-3-4 out of 13 pages.

Save
View Full Document
Premium Document
Do you want full access? Go Premium and unlock all 13 pages.
Access to all documents
Download any document
Ad free experience
Premium Document
Do you want full access? Go Premium and unlock all 13 pages.
Access to all documents
Download any document
Ad free experience
Premium Document
Do you want full access? Go Premium and unlock all 13 pages.
Access to all documents
Download any document
Ad free experience
Premium Document
Do you want full access? Go Premium and unlock all 13 pages.
Access to all documents
Download any document
Ad free experience

Upgrade to remove ads
Unformatted text preview:

Language and Literature v. 19, n. 3, pp. 305-317 (2010) REVIEW ARTICLE A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR A REORIENTATION IN LITERARY STUDIES Norbert Francis Northern Arizona University [email protected] Key words: narrative cross-cultural universals evolutionary psychology social constructivism cognitive semantics ABSTRACT This essay offers a review of Literature, Science and the New Humanities by Jonathan Gottschall. The author challenges the field of literary studies to rethink long-held assumptions about the nature of knowledge and human nature. In particular, what appear to be dominant tendencies in the field have strongly resisted the inclusion of findings from biology and genetics specifically. This resistance is tied to a view that scientific methods do not apply to the study of literature, and that radical social-constructivist theory presents a general alternative to the traditional methods of scientific inquiry. A proposal is made to incorporate recent advances in the cognitive sciences into the analysis of literature. Specifically, concepts drawn from evolutionary psychology might be especially useful in the analysis of narrative themes. INTRODUCTION For centuries scientists have looked to art as both an object of study and as a source of new ideas. Explorations and sources of inspiration from the other direction have for just as long captivated artists. The exchange between linguistics, and the cognitive sciences more broadly, and literature is the focus of this review. Literature, Science and the New Humanities by Jonathan Gottschall (2008) is the most recent major contribution to this exchange and deserves a close reading for what are in appearance its sweeping recommendations. After examining the arguments and research findings presented in the book, I will offer a follow-up proposal for how this important discussion might go forward along the clearest lines possible. Mutual approximations in the science-art dialogue have been cautious; and in the case of linguistics, perhaps because the realm of investigation of major sub-specialties is the analysis of literary texts, cognitive science oriented researchers have been especially cautious (for very good reasons). Gottschall’s book shifts the discussion to the confines of a single discipline, literary studies, where at first it seems that caution is thrown to the wind (for different good reasons). This framing by the author allows us to center our306 attention on the critical controversies restricted to the domain of literary studies, separating out the debates clearly from the proprietary issues that face creative writers and artists in their work. The interest of this reviewer in the discussion stems from a need to understand literary studies better. It would be a mistake on the part of our project1 to simply reach over this area of scholarship, directly engaging language scientists and creative writers. The book is divided into a Part I, which lays out the stakes in the discussion, taking up broad questions of theory and method, and a Part II which offers examples of the kind of research that might help literary studies to broaden its methods of inquiry to include approaches traditionally associated with the sciences. The Introduction starts with an overview: a progressively narrowing vision in the field has its roots in the project of “denaturalization” of socio-cultural constructivism. Today it appears as the dominant model by far in the disciplines with historical ties most distant from the traditions and practice of modern science (the designation “postmodern” is thus appropriate). Its growing influence, successively, in one field after the other (in some cases, given their intellectual antecedents, with surprising success) is noteworthy by any measure. In a number of influential circles in literary studies in North America in particular, entertaining the idea that human nature is anything more than an accidental product of historical and social circumstance puts one on the wrong side of a now highly politicized boundary. Factors related to a common human biological endowment and context-free, cross-cultural, universals with great difficulty find a place in the analysis of individual works of literature or in the study of linguistic creativity. Understanding creative abilities, in the many forms they take, as supported by uniquely human faculties encounters a firmly established neo-behaviorist rejection of any notion that takes into account essential properties of mind; see Slezak for a discussion of the affinity between Skinnerian learning theory and strong versions of social constructivism (Slezak, 2000). Flowing from this kind of localistic constructivism is the tendency to favor one or another variant of methodological relativism. Since “objectivity” is ideologically constructed to serve social elites, a number of basic assumptions that underlie rational inquiry also need to be fundamentally questioned; these include: o knowledge actually moves forward and builds upon previous advances, o analysis (the study of components and their interaction in complex systems) is a useful problem-solving approach, and o the systematic ruling out of hypotheses, for which evidence is lacking, is a valid method because it reduces the space of possible explanation. This last assumption is the Introduction’s theme and sub-title. It concludes with a preview of what in reality is a modest proposal, to be presented in the following chapters: the sort of questions that literary scholars and scientists ask do not forcibly and categorically have to be different in every way. That the study of literature and art can be supplemented by scientific methods of discovery is not at issue; this sub-field of cognitive science is well established and growing rapidly. Rather, the proposal is that literary studies might profit from incorporating some of its methods and discussing some of its findings. There was perhaps a time when many in the social sciences, for one, would count their blessings upon contemplating the influence of radical social constructivism in the fields of


Download A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR A REORIENTATION IN LITERARY STUDIES
Our administrator received your request to download this document. We will send you the file to your email shortly.
Loading Unlocking...
Login

Join to view A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR A REORIENTATION IN LITERARY STUDIES and access 3M+ class-specific study document.

or
We will never post anything without your permission.
Don't have an account?
Sign Up

Join to view A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR A REORIENTATION IN LITERARY STUDIES 2 2 and access 3M+ class-specific study document.

or

By creating an account you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use

Already a member?