[Paleopsych] Alice Andrews: Playing with Myself: Questions for myself about my novel, Trine Erotic
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Wed Jun 15 19:31:23 UTC 2005
Our list member has written the very first novel written around
evolutionary psychology ideas, and I can recommend it highly. It is
composed of stories with stories, and you're never quite sure what the
reality is. It's like postmodernism in this way. And you wonder to what
extent the novel is autobiographical or about the person the author wished
she were or just made up of creatures that exemplify what evolutionary
psychology demands that they do.
But it's quite clear that the female protagonists very much want men they
can bat ideas around with, though there's no place for the love of ideas
for their own sake in evolutionary psychology. The narrators seem to know
this, though they want to transcend these limits. Gordon Tullock, an
economics professor I had, thought that altruism in humans was the result
of an evolutionary defect: we had not been humans long enough for altruism
to have been weeded out! I'm sure he'd worry that Alice is defective,
being much too in love with ideas.
One answer, that she apparently doesn't know about, is that evolution
takes place on many levels, not just at the level of the gene. This makes
group selection possible and makes room for altruism. The book here is
Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson, _Unto Others_, which is slowly
getting accepted in the biology community. (Paradigm shifts do take time,
Another answer is that, however much the overall selfish gene theory is
true, our desires are indirect mechanisms to promote the overall goal and
that there are many of these desires. Steven Reiss came up with 16 basic
desires that are relatively independent of one another. Desiring to raise
(one's own) children is largely independent of romance (which includes
the neighboring desires of wanting coitus and of wanting aesthetic
experiences. Why the latter, I'm not sure, but factor analysis puts the
three of them together.). And both are independent of curiosity, which is
at the top of my list and my wife's (I am sure) and at least near the top
What's also missing from the novel, as it is from evolutionary psychology
generally, is the desire for a long-term monogamous commitment, which is
a quite different kind of love.
Note to myself: you've got to get around to buying and reading C.S. Lewis'
_The Four Loves_. You shouldn't let your atheism keep you from the book.
After all, Moses and Solomon (less so Jesus) were proto-sociobiologists.
Alice Andrews: Playing with Myself: Questions for myself about my novel, Trine
[This is the first novel written from the perspective of evolutionary
psychology. I am finishing it up now and am enjoying its playfulness
Q What are some of the major questions you try to deal with in Trine
A Well, there are quite a few: Is there free will? What is the will?
What is and is there a single Ia self? Are we determined by our genes?
Can we (and how and what affect does it have to) go against our
nature? What is the unconscious? Is it what evolutionary psychologists
refer to as our universal human nature? Or is it something else? And
how does it work? And is there a universal human nature? How does
culture influence us? What is art? What is love? And is there
something beyond our evolutionary, deep reflexessome kind of global
brain, as Howard Bloom suggests, that is motivating us?
Q You dedicate the book to every womans desire and the art within her
and to alpha males everywhere. Does that mean its not for other
A No, no. Its sort of tongue-in-cheeky. Im playing with the
evolutionary theory that art is displayed as a mating signal/strategy.
So Im saying: Here is this piece of artand, naturally, I would want to
signal the highest type of man. Of course, alpha male is subjective
when it comes to humansfor apes it may be just a factor of strength or
posing. For me, an alpha male doesnt always look like an alpha; a man
could be an alpha and work in a factory but be an original thinker and
want to lead or organize people. (David M. Busss work explains this,
actually.) But anyway, its not just for alpha males. Its for all
males. But its particularly for men who are creative and deep and
interested in figuring out the world . . . understanding human nature,
and more. And it's for females too!
Q Why did you write the book?
A Well, for one, I was compelled to write. And there are a lot of
other reasons as well. But, I have to say that I found the fiction I
was reading leaving me cold. I just found myself not getting turned on
by all that good literature. I wanted to be turned on. I saw the
appeal; saw the code of it. You know, theres something here in this
story but Im not going to let on to what it is because youre supposed
to get it because were so smart, and good fiction shows and doesnt
tell. And Im not going to even attempt to affect you in any way
because that would be pompous and sentimental and ultimately
ineffective. And were so sophisticated and subtle. I guess these are
some of the rules of fiction. Like how you shouldnt write out ideas.
And its related to the seduction/anti-seduction stuff I write about in
the book. Most modern fiction is quite seductive, in the
Baudrillardian sense, by trying or appearing not to seduce. I think my
style is anti-anti-seductionor meta-seduction. I am possibly
"seducing" by going against a seductive "hiding" strategy. For
example, I can choose to wear revealing clothing (which isnt
seductive) or less revealing clothing, which concealswhich is
seductive. But I can wear the revealing clothes as a reaction to the
seductive strategy, which says, Im not trying to seduce with the
not-trying-to-seduce clothes. And this is seductive in its own waya
hiding from hiding. Of course, the revealing clothing looks the
sameits just a matter of intention. And only a few will be able to
read the code or signal. I realize this is made confusing because I am
using Baudrillards sense of the word. In fact, what you have are three
things working: seduction (in its denotation), anti-seduction, and
anti-anti-seduction or meta-seduction. Dont tell me Im confusing
Im not terribly affected by most fiction (though I know Im in the
minority). And Im not proud of that fact. Its just the way I am. Im
not very subtle. I like to read nonfiction. Otherwise I feel like Im
wasting my time. Id rather be doing something or writing or learning
something. Unfortunately I dont have that feeling (that Im learning
something, etc.) when I read most fiction. And perhaps that is a fault
of mine. Perhaps Im just not refined enough or my personality doesnt
allow me to slow down. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that
Im right-brain dominant. I really see a difference though, between
people who love fiction and me. And, thankfully, Ive stopped worrying
that theres something wrong with me in this.
For the record, I dont place a value on one or the otherseductive
fiction (which is what is accepted and favored) versus meta-seductive
fiction (fiction which tells you what its doing, openly wants to
affect, deals with ideas, etc.).
But to answer your question: I wrote a book that I was wanting to
Q Is there any fiction you do like?
A Oh, of course. I loved Smillas Sense of Snow, liked Jeanette
Wintersons Sexing the Cherry, D.H. Lawrenceliked Kundera when I was
younger Dostoevsky, John Berger, Hermann Hesse, and there are
Q You mention wanting to affect the reader. What kind of affect are
you hoping for?
A Any, I suppose. Nietzsche wrote that the effect of works of art is
to excite the state that creates art . . . he says its intoxication .
. . First and foremost, I want the reader to get some pleasure from
it. After that, its mostly a working out of some of the questions
which seem to haunt us, stuff about love. And I suppose I want it to
be a part of the readers working it out, like a friend. There is also
the sort of feministy thing about desire and art in women. I suppose I
would like TE to inspire women to let loose their desire and art more.
In Sirens Song, the nameless protagonist says her father told her that
the point about art was to share itabout an audience. Which reminds me
of a scene in Bride of the Wind, a film about Alma Mahler I just saw
on video. Alma says to her husband Mahler, I wish youd conduct one of
my songs. And he says, One of your songs? . . . Perhaps one day in
rehearsal. And she says, Rehearsal? But then there wouldnt be an
audience. And he says, Ill be there. Arent I enough? And Im interested
in this. Because despite the womens rights movement and so much
liberation and so many women artists, I still think there is this
thing within us (women) . . . a resistance . . . and I question its
etiology. If such a resistance existsor rather, a relative lack of
desire to broadcast compared to menis it innate? That is, is it
related to biology, to the evolutionary theory that men try to
broadcast to as many women as possible, since it is in their genetic
interest to do so? (Or since they are the product of millions of years
of evolution which ensured such a tendency persisted?) Or is it
cultural? Or some admixture? Again, I question my premise as well. Im
interested in trying to uncover whether or not such a tendency exists.
I certainly have felt my relative lack of desire to broadcast. But of
course, that could have everything to do with other things:
personality, conditioning, stage of life, etc.
About my Sirens Song character: her feeling had always been that it
was something that had to do with her (whatever her art was, be it
painting or writing); she didnt have an impulse to broadcast it. And
so, there is this question about what art is, and its purpose and
function. And, in some sense, the book is my grappling with deciding
to share whatever it is in meand that in my sharing of it, there is
meaning. There is a dialectics of desire, as Barthes saysand I quote
him at the beginning of Sirens Song. For me, I couldnt and wouldnt
want to put the book out there if I didnt think it would serve some
kind of purpose. And of course, art is purposeful. It is motivated by
all sorts of deep, powerful urges. The artist experiences it as an
outpouring of some kind of force that has to be expelled, a feeling of
compulsion. And then theres that choice an artist makesdo you go mad
or stay somewhat functionally neurotic, or do you release and create?
(The existential problem of whether or not it is a choice, I cant
answer. My answer probably changes with my mood.)
But also, there is the EP theory of art as signal. And in some ways
that is also about survival. So I see art as a saviorfor the artist
but also for the audience, of course. Once I decided that Trine Erotic
was for an audience, it took on a whole new light. It was outward
directed and relating, and it was pleasurable in a way that before it
hadnt been (that is, writing for myself). So much goes unsaid in the
culture. Most of us (except perhaps for some hard-core feminists)
think women are free to do their thing. We have this sense,
historically and culturally, that women are now free. Yet I dont
really think so. I think its good to show a female character who feels
restricted with respect to desire and the art within her. I think some
women will identify and it may feel liberating, or help create
movement. And of course, thats where the fiction reactionaries come
in. I shouldnt be so pompous as to think that something I have created
could have some kind of affect. But to me, perhaps because Im a woman
and mother (it may be nature or nurture or both), I dont see why you
would put something out there if it wasnt for some good, for some use.
And that is also tied in to the notion that it could be my compulsion
and selfishness (much like an overbearing parent) that made me
continue to write new stories, though it felt like love, but that it
is finally the selfless love for the reader that allows me to stop
creatingto allow the reader to create something of their own from the
book or envision the next story or storiesto be individuated and truly
the artist, to be free.
Q This seems related to the whole reader response issue in the novel .
A Yes. I say the book is alive. And in a way, the book is like a
lover. It is also a meme (or memeplexwhat I call memesome). I, the
author, am egoless; the words are not minetheyre this meme. And the
words belong to the reader, and the reader is the artistcreating
meaning and art through the reading.
Q You say feministy, but sometimes you sound downright backwards about
women in the novel. The scene with the woman walking behind Caleb, for
example, youre not critical of ityou seem to romanticize it.
A Well, first of all, the most interesting thing about people is their
contradictions. I think thats why Ed and Calebs characters are
interesting. I am putting those questions out there, because we have
all felt them. I mean, I say something like, it was a walking dance
which fulfilled something primal for them and though they both
understood the sexist implications, they didnt care . . . Its dealing
with the different layers again accepting and integrating them not
trying to ban certain impulses or desires because we are told to. Is
it bad or is she inferior because she is turned on by walking behind
him? I dont know. I dont think so. If she feels free as a woman, then
I dont see the problem. But I see the potential danger in this
positionjust as there is potential danger in an EP/essentialist
position. But Steven Pinker I think does the best job of explaining
why it doesnt have to be dangerousand in fact, in the long run might
do more good than harm.
Q You play with the question of patterns . . . Why?
A Well, for one, Gurdjieff, the basis for Rajingiev and Guerttiev, was
interested in habits. And I guess I am too. The book is about these
women who have recurring patterns in their relationships. And, of
course, people do throughout their lifespanoften debilitatingly so.
And I suppose a big question in standard social clinical psychology is
how do you break these patterns? But Im not only interested in
patterns as related to psychological processes/neuroses/habits, but
also to questions of time, e.g. eternal recurrence. Would it all
really be the same if we played it all back from the beginning? And
can we change? And do we really have free will? And can we actually
determine reality or has everything been set and were just living it
out? The new physics gets at a lot of these issues . . .
Q Why didnt you use Gurdjieff s name in the book? You use the real
names of others
A I didnt because many of the philosophical/spiritual ideas I wrote
about in Sirens Song and some in Baby Theory are really not the ideas
of Gurdjieff. Rajingiev and Guerttiev are not pseudonyms for
Gurdjieff; they are names for a fictional sage. Yet Gurdjieffians will
certainly recognize some of Gurdjieff in them, thats true.
Q What does the title mean, Trine Erotic?
A Well, trine means three . . . and three is important throughout the
book. Erotic refers to Eros . . . love (though also it has a sexual
component). But the first meaning of the title is three love stories:
three loves. (Trine Erotic= Love Stories, Sirens Song, and Baby Theory
. . . Also Conscious Shock = soft kill, Red Love, and Sirens Song.) In
addition, there are couplet stories that make a final third story:
Conscious Shock and Third Force make Trine Erotic; soft kill and Red
Love make Love Stories; Love Stories and Sirens Song make Conscious
Shock . . .)
And there is a feeling that Third Force isnt over and that Trine
Erotic itself is part of something . . .
Three-love is also for a sort of triune theory of love I have in the
book: evolution, experience, culture. The notion that our problems
stem from the conflict between our different layers. So, for example,
if I were a man, I might feel an attraction for women who are heavier
or who have a particular hip-to-waist ratio than what the culture
tells me is attractive. This conflict of impulses and desires tends to
clog feelings, or at least makes people feel disjointed. It is hard to
put it all together. Its hard to know what it is the I really desires;
what is more true for the self?
Three is everywhere in TE. Its also a Fibonacci number, and Id say
just about every number in the book is a Fibonacci number. And trine
is also an astrological concept, relating to the relationship of
Q Whats a Fibonacci number?
A Fibonacci was an Italian mathematician who discovered an interesting
series of numbers, which are now called Fibonacci numbers. It begins
with 1. You then add one to that to get 2. You then add those two
numbers together to get 3. Then 2+3=5; 3+5=8; 5+8=13; 8+13=21 . . .
and so on . . . Whats interesting about these numbers is that the
ratio between any of the pairs of numbers is approximately the golden
ratio or the golden number, which is around 1.618. And whats
interesting about the golden number is that artists throughout history
have used it in their art. (The golden mean, the golden section, or
golden ratio is most beautiful to our eyes.) In addition, what is
interesting about the actual numbers themselves in the series is that
they can be found in naturein particular in the spirals of things. So,
if you count the spirals in a pine cone or the seeds in a sunflower,
or the spirals of a shell, you will find you get a Fibonacci number. .
. . 13 rows of spirals, or 21, like that. As well, the human face
shows a lot of correspondence to Fibonacci numbers and the golden
ratio. . . . And this is interesting because there is a lot of work
being done in EP and other fields to suggest that there is a
correlation between symmetry and what is thought of as beautiful, with
developmental health and stability, perhaps, even fertility and
fecundity. And perhaps, somehow, there is a relationship between the
mathematics of outward beauty and inner.
Q Why use Fibonacci numbers?
A I think theres a magical quality to the numbers, no question. They
seem most natural. Its like choosing between painting your wall a flat
yellow or painting it yellow with a mixture of white, with a subtle
Lazure technique, to create a feeling of softness and naturalness,
what youd find in nature. In addition, mathematics is important
throughout much of the book. I talk about there being a math to
everything; about the algorithms of our adapted mind; write about how
the nameless protagonist adds everything up: Calebs lies, his Heliosen
ways, his amorality . . .
Q In the book, you sometimes refer to TE as metafiction. Why?
A Oh, because its about fictionits a story about a story about a
story. And because its concerned with ideas about fiction and writing.
Also, because I go outside of the fiction and interject as the author
about the work. Its meta in a lot of ways. Im interested in fictionthe
craft of writing. I see TE as a triptych. Each section, each story has
a different style. Some stories are crafted more than others, but so
far, readers have told me they dont see a difference. To me theres a
huge difference, as far as craft and complexity between some of the
stories . . .
Q Which ones?
A I dont want to say. I want to get virgin feedback still . . .
I do want to say this: I dont think of myself as a writerI think of
myself more as a synthesizera synthesizer of memes. If my writing were
a singing voice it would be closer to Leonard Cohens than Pavarottisor
Joan Osbornes than Kathleen Battles. The tradition in fiction is, of
course, pre-film, and has mostly been concerned with painting mental
pictures for readers. But Im more interested in representing and
transmitting ideas than I am pictures. My emphasis is on conveying
meaning up frontthats where I put my energy. I realize meaning is also
conveyed subtly, but its just not enough for me. I have more I want to
convey. And, of course, I also do it in the traditional wayI dont
think it would be a novel otherwise. Also, thats not to say Im not
interested in language. I am very much. And I have a pretty good ear,
so I care very much about the sounds. Sometimes I would spend half an
hour on one sentence. For example, every sentence fragment is there
for a reason. I could have chosen instead a semi-colon or a connecting
word or an em-dash, etc., but for me it was a question of sound and
meaning and even a visual impression. And of course, sometimes, my
first writing would be just right and I could leave it alone. That was
Alice Andrews has taught both writing and psychology (and sometimes
both at the same time) with an evolutionary lens for over a decade.
Currently she's teaching "Social Psychology " and "Personality and
Psychotherapy" at the State University of New York at New Paltz.
Alice is also an editor and writer (books and magazines), and was the
associate editor of Chronogram from 2000-2002. She is the author of
Trine Erotic, a novel which explores evolutionary psychology.
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