Friday, January 27, 2006

Darwin, Homer and Austen

I've got a piece in this week's Nature called "Textual selection" that looks at the newish field of Darwinian literary theory (registration required — see here for a summary). These guys (mostly) want to chuck out Freud, Marx et al, and interpret texts from a Darwinian perspective — mate choice, kin selection and all that. It was interesting speaking to non-scientists (including the author Ian McEwan), and try to get my head around someone else's issues and arguments for a change.

These folk think like scientists — they want to make testable hypotheses, collect data, get robust answers, move on. This is very different to a lot of literary criticism, which is also about kicking ideas around, as kicking them out. Many literary critics seem to read Freud, or Marx or Derrida, as if it was a novel, rather than anything with a claim to objective truth — whether an idea is stimulating is as important as whether it is true.

This has got a bit of coverage recently. For more, try here, and here to read Mark Lawson slagging whole idea off in the Guardian. The NY times also had a big piece, but it seems to be subscriber-only now.

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