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Genres: A Transcontinental Question and Obsession

Hi to everyone reading Serendip in mid August, I've come back. You never thought you'd be stuck dealing with me again, did you?

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Final Paper! Intentionality and Authorship in Barthes, Foucault and Smith

Biology/English 223: Evolution of Stories

Final Paper

In conjunction with our presentation given on May 1, 2007


The Author of a Theory and the Reader of a Text: Intentionality in Science and Literature


Introduction to the Project


            The idea of intentionality, in scientific theories and in fiction writing, has been an important and controversial one for our Evolution of Stories class.  Our class has mainly examined science, through biological evolution, as a non-intentioned, non-teleological process of development, and we have mainly examined literature as a product of the author’s craft and as an indication of his unique self.  My presentation, with Caitlin Evans and Jen Dodwell, aims to look at intentionality through different lenses than did our class.  Caitlin and Jen will turn in their papers and do their parts of the presentation separately from me, but I would like to situate my project by briefly explaining how Caitlin and Jen approached intentionality.  Caitlin reverses the paradigm through which our class has viewed science by showing how the scientist’s intention, and his analysis of his experiments and statistics, affects the scientific process, and she uses the novel, The Missing Moment by Robert Pollock to help prove her point.  Jen examines the relationship between the reader and the text.  What I examine, which follows this introduction, is the relationship between the author and the text, and how different conceptions of that relationship present differing and opposing opinions about how readers should engage with text.  I will do this by comparing what we have examined in class, Zadie Smith’s “Fail Better,” to a new postmodern framework laid down by Roland Barthes in his article, “The Death of the Author” and by Michel Foucault, in “What is an author?”  We aim to complicate and enrich the way our class has viewed the subject of intentionality in evolution and in literature.

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Evolution of the Author/Subject in Sophie Calle's Exquisite Pain

The Stasis of the Evolving Self: Sophie Calle’s Exquisite Pain 

How can the idea of biological evolution be applied to literature?  One book can be written as a version of or homage to and earlier one, and because the more modern book reflects a different society, literary evolution can be said to be taking place.  But the evolution of a person and of her life can be the subject of a book.  French artist Sophie Calle’s book of photography, Exquisite Pain, takes up the subject of personal evolution, and shows how this fact of life effects, and even complicates, works of art.  Her vision of personal evolution is similar to Darwin’s idea on biological evolution: just as Darwin hypothesized that evolution is a non-teleological process, Calle shows that people do not evolve to become better, or cured of their pain.

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Theories of Cultural Evolution in an 18th Century French Novel

The process of cultural evolution is similar to that of biological evolution, but departs from it in significant ways.  More drastic changes occur in cultural evolution over a shorter period of time, and people have agency to decide how they will approach cultural evolution and find their place in contemporary culture.  Both forms of evolution are theorized and contested by scholars.  In the 1735 novel, The Wayward Head and Heart (Les Égarements du coeur et de l’esprit) by Crébillon fils, the author presents a young boy learning to navigate through the rigid aristocratic society of the day, and he encounters two older, more experienced socialites who give him differing opinions of cultural evolution.  Those shed light on how people view their position in society, as an individual who conforms to yet is separate from a group.

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First EvoLit Paper, Specifying the Self in Smith and Mayr

Specifying the Self: Zadie Smith’s Concept in Ernst Mayr’s Writing

Gaby Kogut

Biology/English 223: Evolution/Stories/Diversity


In her essay, “Fail Better,” Zadie Smith describes what she sees as the qualities of and purposes for the novel. She theorizes the novel as an author’s attempt to describe his unique “self” and believes that since the author can never fully do that, the masterworks in the literary cannon are excellent failures, instead of successful novels. I would like to apply her ideas to Ernst Mayr’s novel on science, What Evolution Is, and examine how well her ideas hold up. I have two arguments against her conception of self, one that applies to how the self comes through a novel’s content and the other relates to the self in a novel’s style. My reading of Mayr’s content and style prove my arguments against Smith.

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Is Zadie Smith's "Fail Better" a compelling way to view literature?

Hey everyone! Marquise de Merteuil here, starting her evil letters. Just have one book keeping question. It's OK for me to post a blog entry as my forum writing for the week, right? My thoughts don't correspond to any existing thread, and I was thinking of creating a forum topic but just instinctively felt that "the blog" would be a more appropriate outlet. So people can comment on blogs, right? Because, as always, I would love to chat.

Since our course, "Evolution of Stories" is about the relationship between science and literature, we apply Prof. Grobstein's idea that science is a process "of getting it progressively less wrong" to Zadie Smith's idea that literature is the same thing, that classics are the best failures we have, since the author can never express "his true self." Or "soul" but somehow she feels in our society that word can't be said... But even in a course like this it is essential to keep in mind that literature is not just a discipline that can be connected to science, but its own rich field, and so I'd like to see if Smith's argument holds up from a literary point of view, or in other words if it describes literature in a compelling way.

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