[Paleopsych] Denis Dutton on Literary Darwinism

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Denis Dutton on Literary Darwinism

The Pleasures of Fiction
Philosophy and Literature 28 (2004): 453-66.
by Denis Dutton

       Human beings expend staggering amounts of time and resources on
       creating and experiencing art and entertainment music, dancing, and
       static visual arts. Of all of the arts, however, it is the category
       of fictional story-telling that across the globe today is the most
       intense focus of what amounts to a virtual human addiction. A
       recent government study in Britain showed that if you add together
       annual attendances in plays and cinema with hours watching
       television drama, the average Briton spends roughly 6% of all
       waking life watching dramatic performances. And that figure does
       not even include books and magazines: further vast numbers of hours
       spent reading short stories, bodice-rippers, mysteries, and
       thrillers, as well as so-called serious fictions, old and new. The
       origins of this obsession with comic and dramatic fictions are lost
       in remote prehistory, as lost as the origins of language itself.
       But like language, we know the obsession with fiction is universal:
       stories told, read, and dramatically or poetically performed are
       independently invented in all known cultures, literate or not,
       having advanced technologies or not. Wherever printing arrives, it
       is used to reproduce fictions. Whenever television appears in the
       world, soap operas soon show up on the schedule. Both the forms
       that fiction takes and the ideas, types of characters, and kinds of
       conflict that make up its content can be shown to be strikingly
       similar across cultures. It has specialist practitioners rhapsodes,
       novelists, playwrights, actors and is governed both informally with
       stylistic conventions and sometimes formally for example, by
       censorship laws. A love of fiction is as universal as governance,
       marriage, jokes, religion, and the incest taboo.

       The question for any general aesthetics is: Why? Joseph Carroll is
       a literary theorist who has applied his probing mind over the last
       decade to the origins, nature, and functions of literary
       experience. His new collection of essays and reviews, Literary
       Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature (Routledge,
       $85.00 boards, $23.95 paper) looks at literature and literary
       theory through the lens of evolutionary psychology. At the same
       time, Carroll's eye is that of an extremely perceptive literary
       critic. In fact, I would judge him to be one of the most acute and
       knowledgeable readers of fiction I've ever encountered. It should
       not come as a surprise, therefore, that he is sometimes dubious, or
       even scathing, about evolutionary explanations of literature that
       have been offered up by writers whose grasp of psychology exceeds,
       in his opinion, their command of high literature. His complaints,
       however, are not about the fundamental notion that evolution by
       natural and sexual selection have made human beings into the
       story-loving animals they have become: his adjustments are intended
       to increase the accuracy and usefulness of Darwin's revolution.
       However critical he is of evolutionary psychologists, Carroll
       remains a Darwinian through and through.

       Carroll holds that the only way to attain a general theory of
       literature is through an account of human nature that builds from
       the ground up, from the most basic conditions for the evolution of
       the human species. A Darwinian literary theory first needs a
       Darwinian psychology. Once we have a basic Darwinian psychology in
       place, we can see that the narrative proclivities of human beings,
       far from being an incidental by-product of the evolved mind, are
       central to some of its most human functions. The structures of
       basic motives and dispositions are what would be appropriate for a
       species, as Carroll describes it, that "is highly social and mildly
       polygynous, that displays concealed ovulation, continuous female
       receptivity, and postmenopausal life expectancy corresponding to a
       uniquely extended period of childhood development, that has
       extraordinary aptitudes for technology, that has developed language
       and the capacity for peering into the minds of its conspecifics,
       and that displays a unique disposition for fabricating and
       consuming aesthetic and imaginative artifacts." Such a list alone,
       he contends, would make it impossible to imagine a blank-slate view
       of the mind, in which the mind evolves in a vacuum, goes onto
       produce culture, which then gives back to the mind all content and

       Some of the mental processes that grow from this ground are
       universally predictable for individuals, for example such
       capacities as the acquisition of language and color vocabularies.
       Other processes, Carroll says, are characterized by a
       "combinatorial fluidity" of a sort that we prefer to call
       "creative" or "inventive." But in all cases, cultural artifacts,
       "no matter how complex or seemingly arbitrary, are constrained by
       the limitations of physical nature and are both prompted and
       constrained by an evolved human psychology." The best way to
       understand these prompts and constraints for Carroll is in terms of
       a hierarchical structure of what he terms "behavioral systems,"
       which he explicates with a diagram that goes back to the concept of
       inclusive fitness as a first mover for all adaptations.

       The achievement of inclusive fitness requires that human life be
       organized along lines which Carroll specifies in terms of seven
       behavioral systems. These systems are saturated by basic human
       emotions that form the general framework for motivations. These
       coexisting systems realms of affect, interest, and constraint make
       up the fabric of human life from the Pleistocene to the present.
       They are the basis for human reproductive success and survival as a
       social species. Listed along with a few examples of their
       prehistoric manifestations, the behavior systems are:

       (1) Survival: avoid predators, obtain food, seek shelter, defeat

       (2) Technology: shape cutters and pounders, use levers, attach
       objects, use fire.

       (3) Mating: Assess and attract sexual partners, overcome
       competitors, avoid incest.

       (4) Parenting: nurse, protect, provide, nurture, teach.

       (5) Kin: distinguish kin, favor kin, maintain a kin network.

       (6) Social: build coalitions, achieve status, monitor reciprocity.

       (7) Cognition: tell stories, paint pictures, form beliefs, acquire

       This schema locates imaginative artifact manufacture and
       story-telling alongside other normal human pursuits. This is surely
       a valid move, given the sheer quantity of attention human beings
       devote to fictions and other aesthetically imaginative activities.
       These cognitive pursuits are not a special, rarified useless realm,
       but are in different ways mutually implicated with the other
       specified behavioral systems in particular, we might imagine,
       technology, mating, parenting, and general social life.

       The seven behavioral systems are the foundation for most of what
       might be regarded as the social constructions of human life:
       national politics, specific languages, law, local customs and
       belief structures. But the seven systems are not themselves social
       constructions: their existence is not arbitrary and contingent but
       present today in all human cultures because of the operation of
       Darwinian mechanisms: ancestors who favored these propensities and
       strategies survived; their survival over times made such
       propensities innate. The systems are intrinsically regulated by
       emotions of pleasure and aversion: Carroll relies on Paul Eckman's
       basic psychological typology: fear, joy, sadness, anger, disgust,
       contempt, and surprise. (These emotions of course subdivide
       indefinitely into the likes of shame, chagrin, embarrassment,
       affection, regret, and so forth, depending on local emphasis and
       traditions: but once again, basic emotions such as joy and sadness
       are not themselves social constructions, they are the universal
       conditions for having an emotional life at all.) These emotions
       saturate behavioral systems, constituting the motivational
       mainsprings for their relevant attitudes and behavior.

       Carroll's behavioral systems form discriminable contexts for the
       operation of cognitive modules, the individual blades and pop-up
       tools of the Swiss Army knife metaphor of mind: "For instance, the
       cognitive module of vision edge and motion detection, color, depth,
       etc. would be activated within the technological behavioral system
       and survival system. . . . `Face recognition' modules would be
       activated within all interpersonal behavioral systems (mating,
       parenting, kin, social interaction)." He also thinks it likely that
       the brain has specific modules "geared to the construction of
       narratives and the recognition of aesthetically pleasing verbal
       patterns," and that these modules would be intrinsic to the
       cognitive behavioral system. In addition to this active mental
       apparatus, Carroll believes that experience, certainly including
       the experience of fictional narratives, is conditioned by
       life-history categories: our life is divided into phases of birth,
       growth, mating, parenting, and death. Evolutionary psychology has
       typically over-emphasized mating (and courtship) as the focus of
       attention, and indeed fictional narrative universally deals with
       the trials of love. But Carroll thinks that all these life-period
       patterns must be kept in mind when discussing fiction. He does not
       accept that maximizing human reproductive potential is so vastly
       important in the scheme of human history. Sultans who sire hundreds
       of children, he remarks, are not typical of the human race. Much of
       what has taken human attention in evolutionary history is directed
       at bodily survival and at social maintenance: keeping yourself and
       your family well-fed and healthy, defending family and tribe, and
       making the tribe a stronger, more fit social unit. Inclusive
       fitness toward successful reproduction is the ultimate goal, but
       the lived fabric of daily human life brings many other purposes and
       ideas into play. Issues of social dissonance and cohesion, death
       and its meaning, as well as the challenges and adventures of youth
       that do not involve courtship, can also be expected to figure into
       the cognitive content of stories and art. I imagine most
       evolutionary aestheticians would welcome Carroll's outline of a
       Darwinian psychology. However, this account so far leaves open the
       question of how fiction functions as an adaptation. Fictional
       narrative supplies us with pleasure, but what does it do for us
       adaptively? Steven Pinker, writing from the standpoint of empirical
       psychology, supplies one answer to this question. Joseph Carroll,
       literary connoisseur and theorist, thinks on the other hand that
       Pinker's answer shows he does not know what literature is in the
       first place. It's instructive to trace out the implications of
       their dispute.

       The universal fascination with fictions is a curious thing. If
       human beings were attracted only to true narratives, factual
       reports that describe the real world, the attraction could be
       attributed to utility. We might imagine that just as early homo
       sapiens needed to hew sharp adzes and know the ways of game
       animals, so they needed to employ language accurately to describe
       themselves and their environment and to communicate truths to each
       other. Were that the case, there would be no "problem of fiction,"
       because there would be no fiction: the only alternatives to
       desirable truth would be unintentional mistakes or intentional
       lies. Such Pleistocene Gradgrinds would be about as eager to waste
       linguistic effort creating fables and fictions as they would be to
       waste their manual skills laboring to produce dull adzes. We can
       speculate even that the enjoyment of fictions might have put them
       at an adaptive disadvantage against more Gradgrindish neighboring
       tribes: homo sapiens would in such a circumstance have evolved to
       react to untrue, made-up stories much as it reacts to the smell of
       rotting meat. Now as it happens, this speculation does not accord
       with facts: the human reaction to fictions, at least when they are
       properly understood to be fictions, is not aversion, but runs
       anywhere from boredom to amusement to intense pleasure.

       At this point we reach a fork in theory's road. There are two
       issues to be distinguished. First, there is the adaptive usefulness
       of fiction, its functional benefits, from Pleistocene campfire
       stories to modern novels and movies. Second, there is the pleasure
       and perhaps related felt satisfactions that are not well described
       as immediate pleasure which the experience of fiction evokes. On
       the first topic, the functional uses of fiction, Carroll, Pinker,
       and other evolutionary aestheticians agree. There is an enormous
       potential survival value for a species in being able to hypothesize
       non-obtaining states of affairs imagining, contrary to known facts,
       what it would be for the neighboring tribe to attack the camp when
       the men are out hunting, or what it would be to travel in an area
       where water is scarce. John Tooby and Leda Cosmides talk about the
       advantages of "decoupled" imaginative acts, Michelle Sugiyama
       writes of fictions as a kind of imaginative preparation for dealing
       with real-world problems, and Pinker himself uses a games analogy
       in How the Mind Works (1997): "Life is like chess, and plots [in
       fiction] are like those books of famous chess games that serious
       players study so they will be prepared if they ever find themselves
       in similar straits." In life as in chess, "there are too many
       possible sequences of moves and countermoves for all of them to be
       played out in one's mind." Familiarity with fictional plots
       obviates the need always in to learn things in first-hand life
       experience; it can aid in the development of mental flexibility and
       adaptability to new social problems and expanded physical

       On the other, Pinker and Carroll starkly diverge on how to regard
       the pleasure produced by fiction. Pinker treats the intense
       pleasures of art, including fiction, essentially as by-products.
       The arts are a means by which we identify "pleasure-giving
       patterns" in the brain. For him, the arts "purify" these patterns,
       "concentrate them," allowing the brain to "stimulate itself without
       the messiness of electrodes or drugs . . . [to] give itself intense
       artificial doses of the sights and sounds and smells that
       ordinarily are given off by healthful environments." Pinker
       explains this process with a culinary analogy: "We enjoy strawberry
       cheesecake, but not because we evolved a taste for it. We evolved
       circuits that gave us trickles of enjoyment from the sweet taste of
       ripe fruit, the creamy mouth feel of fats and oils from nuts and
       meat, and the coolness of fresh water. Cheesecake packs a sensual
       wallop unlike anything in the natural world because it is a brew of
       megadoses of agreeable stimuli which we concocted for the express
       purpose of pressing our pleasure buttons. Pornography is another
       pleasure technology." For Pinker, the arts are yet another. On this
       account, the arts seek out and find the pleasure centers associated
       with meeting adaptive challenges ones which increased fitness in
       the Pleistocene and stimulate those centers without going through
       the risks and toil of actually undertaking the challenging
       activities. In the creation and experience of art, our minds rise
       to "a biologically pointless challenge: figuring out how to get at
       the pleasure circuits of the brain and deliver little jolts of
       enjoyment without the inconvenience of wringing bona fide fitness
       increments from the harsh world." The arts are pleasure short-cuts,
       variously likened by Pinker to puzzles and games, alcohol and
       drugs, and sweet, rich desserts things that also give us little
       jolts of enjoyment.

       Pinker's view of pleasure in the experience of music, literature,
       and art brings to my mind one of the most enduring arguments in
       aesthetics. It was first raised not in connection with literature,
       but as a move in the musical aesthetics formulated in the
       nineteenth century by Eduard Hanslick (1825-1904). Even though
       Hanslick only applied his argument to music, it has application to
       other arts, including fiction, where I think it can be used to
       resist Pinker's position. Hanslick was the champion of Brahms
       against Wagner, for which Wagner pilloried him as Beckmesser in Die
       Meistersinger. In his 1854 tract, Vom Musikalisch-Schönen (On the
       Musically Beautiful), he attacked the idea that the purpose of
       music was to excite emotions a common opinion then as now. While he
       granted that sometimes incidental emotions can be produced by music
       (parades, church music, dance music, nostalgic music, perhaps),
       there was no reliable connection between the emotions in music and
       those putatively produced in listeners "no invariable and
       inevitable nexus between musical works and certain states of mind,"
       as he put it. The beauties of music are peculiar to it, and can be
       perceived in music even when perhaps little or no emotion is felt
       by a sensitive and perceptive listener. (A fine discussion of
       Hanslick is found in Geoffrey Payzant's 2002 monograph, Hanslick on
       the Musically Beautiful).

       Hanslick's essential meaning can be captured with a thought
       experiment: suppose you are listening with pleasure to a particular
       piece of music, say, the achingly melancholy first movement of the
       Brahms 4th Symphony. You have a strong sense of its emotions, a
       sense of its atmosphere. Is the transaction between the music and
       you properly described as those emotions being produced in you?
       That is the model Pinker describes art produces, causes, emotions
       in us, pushes our pleasure buttons. "Music appears to be a pure
       pleasure technology," he says, "a cocktail of recreational drugs
       that we ingest through the ear to stimulate a mass of pleasure
       circuits at once."

       Now let us imagine that some clever neurophysiologist invents a
       drug or technology that can give you the emotion of the Brahms
       movement directly, without having to sit through the music itself.
       This might involve taking a pill, or attaching little wired pads to
       your temples. The Hanslickian claim is that such a procedure is
       unintelligible. It makes no sense because the intense emotional
       tone of the Brahms 4th is not something in your brain externally
       caused by the music, and therefore extrinsic to the music. The
       emotion is known only in experiencing that very piece of music, in
       the minutes that you experience it. The emotion is both individual
       and intrinsic to the experience of that individual musical work
       itself. Hanslick called such moments the experience of The
       Musically Beautiful, and his rather Kantian point is that we have
       them only in contemplating music. For Hanslick, as for a Kantian,
       music is not an aesthetic form that has an emotional content which
       might be delivered by some alternative, non-musical means.

       In the Vom Musikalisch-Schönen, Hanslick contrasts two aspects of
       music that resonate with the dispute between Pinker and Carroll on
       the nature of aesthetic pleasure. Few people respond adequately to
       beauty in music, Hanslick says. They do not listen actively,
       intellectually, but as passive recipients of emotion. Hanslick
       likens this to eating, getting drunk, or taking opium. It's
       important to realize that Hanslick is not denying that music has
       what he calls this pathological aspect. He only wants to argue that
       as a high and lasting art, music must be listened to in a manner of
       active, informed contemplation. This is a kind of listening that
       requires cultivation; it addresses the mind and not just the
       emotions. The effects of such listening on the mind are not
       evanescent, Hanslick furthermore argues, but permanent. In this
       respect, we can only imagine Hanslick's response to a remark Pinker
       makes about music: "Compared with language, vision, social
       reasoning, and physical know-how, music could vanish from our
       species and the rest of our lifestyle would be virtually unchanged"
       (How the Mind Works, p. 528).

       Carroll, for his part, regards Pinker's outlook as fundamentally
       misguided. He writes, "Despite the concession to the utility of
       fiction as a model for moves in the game of life, Pinker's wider
       exposition makes it apparent that like Freud he regards literary
       representation as largely a matter of pleasurable fantasy. It is
       different from pornography only in that the pleasure buttons it
       presses are not those literally and concretely of sexual activity."
       So what does art and literature give us? Carroll does not deny that
       literature gives us simulations that can act for models of
       behavior, game plans in Pinker's sense. But art goes further: "It
       helps us to regulate our complex psychological organization, and it
       helps us cultivate our socially adaptive capacity for entering
       mentally into the experience of other people." This is not quite
       the same thing as imaginatively encountering a dangerous elephant
       in a story. It is rather a matter of entering empathically into the
       minds of our fellows. It may come to us as entertainment, but
       fiction has profound effects on making us what we are.

       Carroll elaborates this claim by referring to Dickens's persistent
       attention to the role fiction plays in the lives of abused and
       neglected children. There are many such in Dickens: the Smallweed
       children in Bleak House little Judy, who "never owned a doll, never
       heard of Cinderella, never played any game," as the family had
       "discarded all amusements, discountenanced all story-books, fairy
       tales, fictions, and fables, and banished all levities whatsoever."
       The Smallweed children are grotesques. Little Tom and Louisa
       Gradgrind in Hard Times are more tragic figures. Deprived of art
       and literature by their father, a utilitarian ideologue, they grow
       up emotionally and morally impaired. Esther Summerson, the
       protagonist of Bleak House, grows up in a world, as Carroll says,
       "devoid of affection." She survives by creating a imaginative world
       of her own, a private, imaginary place where she talks with her
       doll and engages normal human affection, keeping her emotional
       nature alive, till the plot turns in her favor and she moves to a
       better environment: "The conversations she has with her doll are
       not fantasies of pleasure; they are desperate and effective
       measures of personal salvation." Carroll also mentions the abused
       David Copperfield, who discovered next to his bedroom dusty,
       forgotten books that had belonged to his dead father: Tom Jones,
       Humphrey Clinker, Don Quixote, and Robinson Crusoe. Carroll argues
       his case thus:

       What David gets from these books is not just a bit of mental
       cheesecake, a chance for a transient fantasy in which all his own
       wishes are fulfilled. What he gets is lively and powerful images of
       human life suffused with the feeling and understanding of the
       astonishingly capable and complete human beings who wrote them. It
       is through this kind of contact with a sense of human possibility
       that he is enabled to escape from the degrading limitations of his
       own local environment. He is not escaping from reality; he is
       escaping from an impoverished reality into the larger world of
       healthy human possibility. By nurturing and cultivating his own
       individual identity through his literary imagination, he enables
       himself to adapt successfully to this world. He directly enhances
       his own fitness as a human being, and in doing so he demonstrates
       the kind of adaptive advantage that can be conferred by literature.

       This account is some distance from pleasure buttons. It is intended
       by Carroll to support his central contention that literature is an
       "important means by which we cultivate and regulate the complex
       cognitive machinery on which our more highly developed functions
       depend." Carroll accuses Pinker of failing to grasp the importance
       of such cultivation, as evidenced by his claim that the human race
       could do away with music and be basically unchanged, and that music
       can be analogized to recreational drugs. "Drugs," Carroll says,
       "are disorienting and demoralizing. If young people use them
       habitually, they become incapable of adapting to the demands of a
       complex environment. Music has no such deleterious effect. More
       importantly, it seems very likely that people raised with no
       exposure to music, art, or literature would be psychologically and
       emotionally stunted, that they would be only marginally capable of
       developing in normal ways." The notion of a recreational-drug
       shortcut to achieve a Darwinian fitness reward is a delusion. Nor,
       it would seem, is the pleasure value of art an end to which the art
       itself is a mere shortcut. Working through and understanding in
       experience a work of art is an achievement, and an intrinsic value.

       Carroll argues that literature is a means by which people learn to
       understand their own emotions and the feelings of others. Fiction
       provides us with templates for a normal emotional life. "For these
       mental maps or models to be effective in providing behavioral
       directives," he says, they must be "emotionally saturated,
       imaginatively vivid. Art and cultural artifacts like religion and
       ideology meet this demand." They help us "make sense of human needs
       and motives," simulating life experience, allowing us to grasp
       "social relations, evoke sexual and social interactions, depict the
       intimate relations of kin, and locate the whole complex and
       interactive array of human behavioral systems within models of the
       total world order. Humans have a universal and irrepressible need
       to fabricate this sort of order, and satisfying that need provides
       a distinct form of pleasure and fulfillment."

       The mention of David Copperfield's discovery of his dead father's
       books also suggests another idea central to understanding
       literature. The meaning of a literary work, Carroll says, is not in
       the events it recounts. It is how events are interpreted that makes
       meaning. Interpretation, in turn, involves necessary reference to a
       point of view. This is defined as "the locus of consciousness or
       experience within which any meaning takes place." Following M.H.
       Abrams, Carroll argues that an interpretive point of view is
       constituted by three elements: the author, the represented
       character, and the audience. These elements come together, in the
       experience of the reader, as situated in the mind of the author.
       That is why part of the significance for David Copperfield in
       discovering the books is that he is being introduced, as Carroll
       says, to "the astonishingly capable and complete human beings who
       wrote them." The importance of fiction depends on a sense of a
       communicative transaction between reader and author understood as a
       real, not an implied or postulated author. Authors are actual
       persons who negotiate between the various points of view of
       fictional persons (the characters), the author's own point of view,
       and the point of view of the audience. Carroll insists that these
       three elements are present in every literary experience and that
       they exhaust the list of operative elements: "There are always
       three components. There are only three components."

       This isn't to deny that the components overlap, that audiences
       change (hence our interest in recovering the meanings and values of
       the original audiences of historic works), and that authors
       contrive even to hide themselves. Nevertheless, the author is
       trying to control the show the interpretation of characters, their
       actions and the events that befall them. Authors attempt this by
       persuading, manipulating, wheedling, and so forth: whatever will
       appeal to the reader and create a convincing interpretation,
       including ambiguous interpretations of polysemic events.

       This then is how Carroll's evolutionary substructure underpins a
       general theory of literature. "Authors are people talking to people
       about people." Behind the talk lies an evolved structure of
       behavioral systems, a Darwinian psychology, and the emotions that
       characterize it. Literary forms are analyzed and understood in
       terms the complex relations between authors, characters, and
       audiences. As I understand Carroll's view, this makes the
       experience of a work of literature inescapably social, and not just
       about an imaginary social life. The author is always a palpable
       presence, which would explain why intentionalism has never died in
       criticism or literary theory.

       Literary Darwinism contains many passages analyzing literature to
       good effect. His discussion of Pride and Prejudice is especially
       useful to illustrate the kind of analysis for which his literary
       theory calls. For example, he cites the episode in which Mr.
       Collins introduces himself to the Bennet household in a letter that
       is read by the family. This letter is, as Carroll nicely describes
       it, "an absolute marvel of fatuity and of pompous self-importance,"
       and much is revealed in how mother, father, and the Bennet sisters
       react to it. The excessively sweet-tempered older sister, Jane, is
       puzzled by it, though she credits Mr. Collins with good intentions.
       The dull middle sister, Mary, says she rather likes Mr. Collins's
       style. The mother, in her typical manner, only reacts to it
       opportunistically, in terms of a potential advantage in the
       situation. It is up to Elizabeth and her father to see clearly what
       a clownish performance the letter represents: their understanding
       marks an affinity of temperament and a quality perceptiveness the
       others lack. But what Carroll's analysis makes clear is that there
       are two more people not fictional characters, but actual human
       beings who are in on the agreement between Mr. Bennet and his
       second daughter. These two further individuals are also members of
       their "circle of wit and judgment." First, there is Jane Austen,
       the author of Pride and Prejudice. And second, there is you, the
       reader of Pride and Prejudice. The creation and experience of the
       novel brings about a uniting of points of view, a sense of shared
       sensibility not open to everyone, and a broadening of perspectives.
       It is no small enjoyment for the reader to be included in this
       exclusive group.

       Which brings us back to pleasure and its place in literary theory.
       Carroll claims in the spirit of scientific neutrality that
       Darwinian literary theory ought to be applicable to any literary
       specimen, just as DNA analysis should apply equally to human beings
       or to flatworms. This may be so, but it seems to me that Carroll's
       approach is most congenial to classic fictions of the sort we read
       from Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dickens, George Eliot, or Jane Austen.
       If we set Carroll against Pinker, we find, as so often in the
       history of aesthetics, that the two theoretical outlooks look
       better or worse depending on the choice of examples adduced to back
       them up. Does everything Carroll says in applying his evolutionary
       theory of fiction work as well with a Harlequin Romance as it does
       with Daniel Defoe? I think not. Carroll dislikes Pinker's
       characterization of literature in terms of fantasy, escapism, and
       ephemeral entertainment values, and provides powerful arguments for
       seeing fiction in a different, more cultivated and informed way.
       But he has not so much refuted Pinker as shown that literature can
       do more than Pinker seems to suppose.

       Hanslick distinguishes the "ideal" aspect of music from its
       "elemental" aspect: attention to the former is the smart way to
       understand music. Those who know only the latter aspect possess
       only a passive, dumbed-down way to listen. Hanslick does, however,
       allow that music itself does, whether we like it or not, have both
       of these aspects: there are Sousa marches and there are Bartok
       quartets. We ought to make ourselves, he thought, into informed,
       cultivated listeners in order to appreciate all music has to offer.
       If we listen to it as shallow entertainment, so much the worse for
       us. Literature offers a parallel distinction. There is no doubt, we
       might similarly argue, that just as Robinson Crusoe helped make a
       man of the fictional David Copperfield, so George Eliot's and
       Charles Dickens's fictions have helped real readers develop and
       mature. But evolutionary aesthetics has also to account for the
       fact that Eliot and Dickens were not the most popular novelists of
       Victorian England. That honor belonged to the nearly forgotten
       Maria Corelli, Queen Victoria's favorite novelist, whose
       metaphysical twaddle may more clearly accord with Pinker's than
       Carroll's characterization of literary experience. In any event,
       the drugs, porn, and cheesecake analogues certainly seem more
       plausibly applied to aspects of contemporary popular fiction and
       movies than to Middlemarch. And even if we grant the important ways
       serious literature can provide audiences today with Carroll's
       templates, his cognitive maps and models, why should we not allow
       that Mills and Boon readers today are also provided with cognitive
       maps and templates by their literature? By Carroll's own admission
       such templates might include religious ideologies and mythologies,
       as well as fictions from Gilgamesh to V.S. Naipaul. So why not
       movies, which, a cynic might insist, provide relatively
       unsophisticated life-advice for relatively unsophisticated people?
       If there is adaptive survival value in ancient, Stone-Age
       storytelling, it ought to extend to our own time and explain
       somehow the pleasure we get from fictions. It strikes me that
       Carroll and Pinker are both correct to some extent about all
       fiction, with each more correct than the other about different
       subclasses. Pinker is most right about popular, effects-driven
       blockbuster movies, TV, and cheap thrillers. Carroll is most right
       about high art, the classics whose values endure across
       generations, the "best that is known and thought in the world."

       This is not a surprise: Joseph Carroll brings to his Darwinian
       position a sensitive aesthetic and critical sense. He writes
       beautifully about deep, rich works of art. This gives a wholly
       earned air of importance to the essays in Literary Darwinism. For
       the last decade, I've heard it said that evolutionary aesthetics is
       a field of great potential. Read his extended analysis of Pride and
       Prejudice and you can see how Carroll goes beyond the promises into
       the payoff. He is able to demonstrate how a knowledge of Darwinian
       mechanisms shines light on some of the most cherished aesthetic
       emotions and experiences we are capable of feeling and he does it
       without impoverished reductionisms, without making the endlessly
       complex seem stupidly simple. His Literary Darwinism is a book to
       reckon with.

                                     University of Canterbury, New Zealand
                                          [5]denis.dutton at canterbury.ac.nz

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