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Reading Human Nature

Literary Darwinism in Theory and Practice

Joseph Carroll

Publication Year: 2011

Showcases the latest developments in literary Darwinism, a powerful approach that integrates evolutionary social science with literary humanism. As the founder and leading practitioner of “literary Darwinism,” Joseph Carroll remains at the forefront of a major movement in literary studies. Signaling key new developments in this approach, Reading Human Nature contains trenchant theoretical essays, innovative empirical research, sweeping surveys of intellectual history, and sophisticated interpretations of specific literary works, including The Picture of Dorian Gray, Wuthering Heights, The Mayor of Casterbridge, and Hamlet. Evolutionists in the social sciences have succeeded in delineating basic motives but have given far too little attention to the imagination. Carroll makes a compelling case that literary Darwinism is not just another “school” or movement in literary theory. It is the moving force in a fundamental paradigm change in the humanities—a revolution. Psychologists and anthropologists have provided massive evidence that human motives and emotions are rooted in human biology. Since motives and emotions enter into all the products of a human imagination, humanists now urgently need to assimilate a modern scientific understanding of “human nature.” Integrating evolutionary social science with literary humanism, Carroll offers a more complete and adequate understanding of human nature.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Reading Human Nature

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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xiv

Ever since I began integrating literary study and evolutionary psychology in the early 1990s, people have asked what moved me in this direction. Being in graduate school in the late seventies, I came of age, intellectually, just at the time that traditional methods in the humanities were giving place to poststructuralism. Not wanting ...

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pp. xv-xvi

Like most scholars, I have a circle of colleagues with whom I exchange drafts. I’ve been particularly blessed to have some very good editors among my friends and family. Harold Fromm, Ellen Dissanayake, Jon Gottschall, Brian Boyd, Alice Andrews, Paula Carroll, Gwendolyn Carroll, and Jessica McKee have done heroic ...

Part I. Adaptationist Literary Theory

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1. An Evolutionary Paradigm for Literary Study, with Two Sequels

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pp. 3-54

Parts of this essay were included in a “target” article in a special double issue of the journal Style. Thirty-five scholars and scientists responded to the target article, and I then wrote a “rejoinder to the responses.” Developing ideas from the target essay, I took up the issue of adaptive function again in an online discussion, the forum ...

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2. An Evolutionary Apologia pro Vita Mea

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pp. 55-60

I’m going to fudge on this question, expanding it to take in more than one genre and more than one phase of my own imaginative life—not a single “favorite,” but some few favorites. The most intense and vivid imaginative experience I ever had was in reading the major poems of Wallace Stevens’ culminating visionary phase, ...

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3. A Meta-Review of The Art Instinct

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pp. 61-70

The Art Instinct is a major publishing phenomenon—with a book tour featuring sell-out crowds at Ivy League schools, radio spots on prominent talk shows, and even a rambunctious interview on The Colbert Report.1 Some of Dutton’s colleagues felt that the Colbert bit lacked the dignity to which evolution is entitled. It offended their ...

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4. Three Scenarios for Literary Darwinism

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pp. 71-88

Thirty years ago, the idea of creating a specifically evolutionary theory of literature would scarcely have seemed imaginable and would certainly not have seemed within the range of practical possibility. Nonetheless, over the past fifteen years, “literary Darwinists” have been making rapid progress in integrating literary ...

Part 2. Interpretive Practice

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5. Aestheticism, Homoeroticism, and Christian Guilt in The Picture of Dorian Gray

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pp. 91-108

Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray offers two special challenges to Darwinian criticism. First, the novel is saturated with homoerotic sexual feeling, and it thus defies any simple reading in terms of behavior oriented to reproductive success. Second, the central conflicts in the novel involve two competing visions of human ...

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6. The Cuckoo’s History: Human Nature in Wuthering Heights

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pp. 109-122

Wuthering Heights occupies a singular position in the canon of English fi ction. It is widely regarded as a masterpiece of an imaginative order superior to that of most novels—more powerful, more in touch with elemental forces of nature and society, and deeper in symbolic value. Nonetheless, it has proved exceptionally elusive to interpretation. ...

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7. Intentional Meaning in Hamlet: An Evolutionary Perspective

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pp. 123-148

Can an evolutionary perspective advance on the common wisdom of the critical tradition? One way to approach this question is to look at an actual example. Hamlet is convenient for this purpose, partly because it is so important and so well known, and partly because it has already attracted considerable attention from evolutionary ...

Part 3. Empirical Literary Study:An Experiment in Web-Based Research

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8. Agonistic Structure in Victorian Novels: Doing the Math

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pp. 151-176

Three broad ambitions animate this study. Building on research in evolutionary social science, we aimed to (1) construct a model of human nature consisting of motives, emotions, features of personality, and preferences in marital partners; (2) use that model to analyze some specific body of literary texts and the responses of ...

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9. Quantifying Agonistic Structure in The Mayor of Casterbridge

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pp. 177-194

We set up a website for The Mayor of Casterbridge separate from the larger website listing about two thousand characters from about two hundred novels. To distinguish the two sites, we referred to the larger website as the “multi-novel website.” Our aim in setting up an individual site for Mayor was to collect data on enough characters ...

Part 4. Evolutionary Intellectual History

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pp. 195-196

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10. The Power of Darwin’s Vision

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pp. 197-258

The Origin of Species has special claims on our attention. It is one of the two or three most significant scientific works of all time—one of those works that fundamentally and permanently alter our vision of the world. At the same time, it is one of the few great scientific works that is also a great literary classic. It is written for ...

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11. The Science Wars in a Long View: Putting the Human in Its Place

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pp. 259-270

Imagine you are taking a quiz in the history of modern critical theory. One of the questions asks you to identify the period in which “the science wars” took place. You know that in 1994 Gross and Levitt published Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science. You probably recall that Alan Sokal’s celebrated ...

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12. A Darwinian Revolution in the Humanities

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pp. 271-278

Darwin’s Descent of Man fed into a larger stream of “naturalistic” thinking in the philosophy and literature of his time. In contrast to the naturalistic visions of philosophers such as Herbert Spencer and Friedrich Nietzsche, Darwin’s vision was grounded in careful reasoning about scientific evidence. He linked us with the other ...


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pp. 279-308


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pp. 309-323


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pp. 333-352

E-ISBN-13: 9781438435244
E-ISBN-10: 143843524X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438435237
Print-ISBN-10: 1438435231

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: 8 figures
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Literature and science.
  • Literature -- History and criticism -- Theory, etc.
  • Evolutionary psychology.
  • Darwin, Charles, -- 1809-1882 -- Influence.
  • Evolution (Biology) in literature.
  • Human behavior -- Philosophy.
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