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A Biocultural Approach to Literary Theory and Interpretation

Nancy Easterlin

Publication Year: 2012

Combining cognitive and evolutionary research with traditional humanist methods, Nancy Easterlin here demonstrates how a biocultural perspective in theory and criticism opens up new possibilities for literary interpretation. Easterlin maintains that the goal of literary interpretation is still of central intellectual and social value. Taking an open yet judicious approach, she argues, however, that literary interpretation stands to gain dramatically from a fair-minded and creative application of cognitive and evolutionary research. This work does just that, expounding a biocultural method that charts a middle course between overly reductive approaches to literature and traditionalists who see the sciences as a threat to the humanities. Easterlin applies her biocultural method to four major subfields within literary studies: new historicism, ecocriticism, cognitive approaches, and evolutionary approaches. After a thorough review of each subfield, she reconsiders it in light of relevant research in cognitive and evolutionary psychology and provides a textual analysis of literary works from the romantic era to the present, including William Wordsworth’s “Simon Lee” and the Lucy poems, Mary Robinson’s “Old Barnard,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode,” D. H. Lawrence’s The Fox, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, and Raymond Carver’s “I Could See the Smallest Things.” A Biocultural Approach to Literary Theory and Interpretation offers a fresh and reasoned approach to literary studies that at once preserves the central importance that interpretation plays in the humanities and embraces the exciting developments of the cognitive sciences.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Frontispiece

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Preface

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pp. ix-xi

What is literature for? The study of literature isn’t typically cast in terms of its usefulness, but literature is a thing made for human use, like an airplane or a soup pot or a belt. In the sense that I mean the term...

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1. Literature, Science, and Biocultural Interpretation

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pp. 1-38

In the conclusion to “Literature and Science,” an address delivered in the United States in 1882, Matthew Arnold surmises that “humane letters” will remain at the center of education in the future, though “they will someday come, we may hope, to be studied more...

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2. “It Is No Tale”: Narrative, Aesthetics, and Ideology

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pp. 39-89

Literary scholars have been notably silent on the question of aesthetics in the past thirty-five years and have taken particular care to avoid evaluation of literary works based on aesthetic criteria. This is a product of a pervasive constructionist perspective...

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3. Minding Ecocriticism: Human Wayfinders and Natural Places

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pp. 90-151

Although ecocriticism only began to develop seriously as a subdiscipline of literary studies in the 1990s, it is inspired by the spirit of activism that spurred the development of numerous literary approaches two decades earlier. Feminist, Marxist...

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4. Remembering the Body: Feelings, Concepts, Process

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pp. 152-216

Like ecocriticism, the fi eld of cognitive approaches to literature has emerged as a recognizable subdiscipline of literary studies only within the last two decades, and also like that other recent area of study, its beginnings predate its recent ascendance...

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5. Endangered Daughters: Sex, Mating, and Power in Darwinian Feminist Perspective

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pp. 217-272

Evolutionary literary criticism has a rather different recent history from ecocriticism or cognitive approaches to literature. Whereas studies in literature and the environment grew out of the ecology movement initially, and whereas, over several decades...

Notes

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pp. 273-290

Bibliography

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pp. 291-306

Index

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pp. 307-315

Further Reading

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pp. 317-


E-ISBN-13: 9781421405049
E-ISBN-10: 1421405040
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421404721
Print-ISBN-10: 1421404729

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Literature and society.
  • Social science literature.
  • Literature -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc.
  • Empiricism in literature.
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