Talk:Darwinian literary studies

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Notable critics[edit]

Only one of the people in the "Notable critics" section could even be remotely considered "notable" for anything whatsoever. I suggest renaming the section to, "Dumb asses padding their Curriculum Vita."

Awesome contribution dude! NOT. Anyway, it means "Notable Within Their Field"... it's a new field. At any rate, Boyd, Carroll, and Gottschall are all notable. Maxwells.plum (talk) 23:53, 23 May 2009 (UTC)
All the critics listed in the "Notable critics" section have made substantial contributions to the field, which is not exactly new, but has enjoyed greater publicity since the mid 90's because of a changing academic climate. Frederick Turner, a friend and former professor of mine, published his first book on the subject in 1985, and won the Levinson Poetry Prize for his essay "The Neural Lyre." He also won the Milan Faust Prize, Hungary's highest literary honour, for his translation of the poems of Miklos Radnoti with Zsuzsana Oszvath. I've been following "Darwinian literary studies" fairly closely for a few years now, and the list of notables seems reasonable to me. I don't mess with editing WIkipedia articles because I don't have the time and I seem to be bad at it, but I'd respectfully suggest that other editors do a little research before they start in with the name calling. (talk) 08:21, 11 January 2010 (UTC)
I would love it if this Critics/Criticism section could be expanded and a summary statement provided as to the main points of criticism of this literary style. I appreciate the article authors providing sources where I could track all of this down but in lieu of reading several books, the main points of criticism would suffice. (talk) 19:01, 27 April 2013 (UTC)

Revised the page[edit]

This page was produced several years ago. I just made some large changes in the text and added a lot of references. There have been many new publications in the past few years.Userjcarrollname (talk) 22:13, 23 March 2010 (UTC)

I'm concerned that Userjcarrollname (talk · contribs) chose to rewrite the article completely without any discussion on the matter. Generally, such a drastic change should be the result of consensus, rather than a single editor's choice. WikiDan61ChatMe!ReadMe!! 14:51, 24 March 2010 (UTC)
I'm the one who re-wrote the page. The person who originally wrote it was a graduate student who contacted me years ago and asked me to look at it. At the time, I said, OK, fine. But the page is very old and was not at the time written by an expert in the field. It needed serious updating, and at the same time needed to have the eye of someone thoroughly versed in the field. I kept as much of the old piece as I reasonably could--three paragraphs, with some editing to them. Most of what is here now has the look of a professional encyclopedia article, with a vastly expanded set of notable contributions to the field, beefed up external links, and body paragraphs that offer a neutral summary of the main concepts and controversies in the field. I'm not sure what a "consensus" would mean in a case like this. Possibly it would mean tinkering around the edges by multiple contributors. But then that can still take place. If other contributors have new or better information to impart, they certainly can do that, just as they could do with the old, inadequate, and now obsolete original entry. Is it better to have a better page, or not?Userjcarrollname (talk) 15:44, 24 March 2010 (UTC)
I'm going to add some references, as WikiDan61 requested. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Userjcarrollname (talkcontribs) 21:28, 24 March 2010 (UTC)

Colin Martindale items in the Notable Books[edit]

Three Colin Martindale items have been added to Notable Books. One is a recent co-edited volume that is specifically oriented to evolutionary approaches to the arts. The other two are empirical in orientation but have no specific reference to research in the evolutionary human sciences. The first is from 1975, too early for any serious reference to modern evolutionary studies in the human sciences. I'm going to delete them and leave it to other contributors to decide whether they should be reinstated, and if so, to explain why. All the other items in this list clearly operate within the parameters laid out in the body of the text. That is, they operate from within the framework of modern evolutionary research. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Userjcarrollname (talkcontribs) 23:43, 31 March 2010 (UTC)

You've got a case for Martindale, 1975, though it is not at all clear why that date seems to preclude "modern evolutionary studies in the human sciences." Bowlby's work, for example, was a bit earlier. You have no case for Martindale 1990, The Clockwork Muse: The Predictability of Artistic Change. The second chapter is entitled "A Psychological Theory of Aesthetic Evolution," and follows Donald Campbell's general conception of evolutionary systems based on random variation and selective retention. It has subsections on Retention Mechanisms, Mechanisms of Selection (with reference to Darwin, of course), The Production and Selection of Variation, and several others specific to his needs. The bulk of the book is empirical work on long-term historical change in literature, music, and the visual arts, all following from the model laid out in Chapter 2. This book should be reinstated.Bill Benzon (talk) 01:05, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Ok, fair enough. I would not myself regard Campbell's universal selectionism as the same kind of thing that is normally meant under the aegis of "literary Darwinism." That term signifies using a model of the adapted mind, not the universal selectionist idea. But fine, a case can be made for Martindale 1990, so I stuck it back in.
Yes, Bowlby and Lorenz (Bowlby follows Lorenz) both predate 1975. So does Napoleon Chagnon's Yanomamo, Morris' The Naked Ape, and Popper's Objective Knowledge. But then, Martindale doesn't use any of that, and the program doesn't get into full swing as a collective, cumulative research program until after Wilson's Sociobiology in 1975. Bowlby and Lorenz were both important, but neither got very far toward building a full, working model of the adapted mind. That has emerged only gradually since 1975. Wilson made the first big stab at it in On Human Nature (1978). The key point of course is whether Martindale himself, in 1975, can by any stretch of the imagination be legitimately numbered in the small band of scattered pioneers developing the idea of an evolved and adapted human nature. The answer is that he cannot.
There are other people who make some use of "evolutionary" ideas, Fred Turner and Alex Argyros, for instance. But "cosmic evolutionism" and deconstruction/Chaos/Evolution aren't normally considered integral with the research program that works out from a contemporary conception of the adapted mind. That specific research program now most often goes under the rubric "literary Darwinism" or "Darwinian literary study." Since it's a distinct program, with a specific set of conceptual elements--those delineated in the main body of the article--it is best to include under Notable Books only those books that would align themselves with that specific program. Userjcarrollname (talk) 15:53, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Fair enough on the notion that "literary Darwinism" is a specific approach within a broader range of work that uses biological and/or evolutionary approaches to literary study. The main article, then, should be modified to indicate that litDar IS a specific approach (or school), and not the whole deal, that there are other lines of thought in play. The book list should then be revised accordingly. Martindale 1990 would be out. But so would others, e.g. Flesch's book. He is deeply skeptical about the adaptationist program and makes no use of it. Nor do I see why affective neuroscience and cognitive science are listed in the second sentence. Both pre-date and are largely independent of the adaptationist program (I studied both in the 60s & 70s), though broadly consistent with it.
What about books that aren't about literature at all, regardless of their use of biology, or only secondarily or tangentially about literature? My book on music certainly doesn't belong in an article about literature, but then neither do books on the visual arts.
And what about criticisms of the adaptationist program? This article reads as though there are none. Obviously the article should focus on the program itself. But it should also indicate that the program has been criticized, not so much by people who get the heebie-jeebies at the very mention of biology (e.g. Deresiewicz), but by people who are knowledgeable about and sympathetic to biology. Again, I think of Flesch, or my review of The Literary Animal in Entelechy, or Pinker's observation that the field has yet to come to terms with cognitive science and AI (though Boyd's book takes some good steps in that direction). Bill Benzon (talk) 16:56, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
OK, in response to Bill's comments, I added in a couple of short paragraphs distinguishing "literary Darwinism" from other schools. I also took out of the Notable Books the items that could not reasonably be considered contributions to literary Darwinism: the two earlier Martindales, Flesch, and Benzon. I mention both Flesch and Benzon in the paragraphs comparing literary Darwinism with other schools. In the list of Notable Books, I left in Coe, Dissanayake, and Dutton but added in a note at the bottom of the list explaining the reason they are included: they share the same basic framework of ideas but apply them more generally to the arts. They are also mentioned in the paragraph on debates over the adaptive function of the arts.
If anyone wishes to write a different entry, a new entry, under a different title, commenting on all the possible ways evolution can be invoked in the study of literature, that is of course the beauty of Wikipedia. That option is open. The entry might be titled, as Bill suggests, "Biological and/or Evolutionary Approaches to the Arts." That possible entry would cross-reference the entry on literary Darwinism, and vice versa. This particular entry, the one on literary Darwinism, was originally designed to give an account of the very specific school that goes under the denomination "literary Darwinism." In revising the entry, I have remained true to that original purpose. Consider the current list of Notable Books; it is clearly long enough and substantial enough to justify an entry devoted to this specific school.
Someone had added in a remark that Pinker's account of literary texts "falls utterly flat." I don't disagree, but that kind of emphatically derogatory diction isn't suitable to an encyclopedia entry. Since the topic here was "notable books," the best solution, I think, is simply to delete reference to Pinker's chapter, since it wasn't a notable chapter. No one in evolutionary literary studies ever cites it. The E. O. Wilson, chapter, in contrast, has been cited many times, so I left in a reference to that.
Bill suggested that it would be a good idea to include some references to hostile commentaries on the school. Good thought. I added some. Userjcarrollname (talk) 20:32, 1 April 2010 (UTC)
Much improved, Joe. I'm glad you removed the line on Pinker's "flat" account. I've not read the book, but you're correct about the judgmental character of the assertion. I've still got reservations, but then when will I NOT have reservations? Let's let others take a crack at the article if they wish. Bill Benzon (talk) 20:55, 1 April 2010 (UTC)

Added Entry on Discussion Groups[edit]

I added a short section on places where people could go online to discuss these subjects, a listserv and a couple of Facebook groups. I also added in an indication of subject headings where researchers with similar interests could be found in the website The entry was almost immediately undone by a bot; I'm not sure why, perhaps because I had not signed in. I signed in and tried undoing the bot's undoing. Userjcarrollname (talk) 00:56, 10 May 2010 (UTC)


This is a great article in terms of theory...but could anyone reference actual literary works via evolution? There are almost no actual novels or literary text mentioned. If anyone can help, I think it would not only improve the article, but quite possibly the field itself. --Shabidoo | Talk 04:52, 30 August 2012 (UTC)