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Elise Niemeyer's picture

Specialization vs. Potential in Evolution and Literature

For those of you not in Professor Grobstein’s section on Thursday, we had a very interesting discussion about whether or not evolution necessarily moves towards greater complexity.  In the end I think we agreed that organisms became more complex in the sense that they move toward more complicated combinations of specialized cells, but also that in doing this, organisms lose some of their original potential to diversify on cellular and evolutionary levels.  I found this idea of specialization versus potential very compelling in an evolutionary sense, and I also wonder if this idea could be in some ways extended to the development of literature. 

In a sense literature has undergone an evolutionary process as well, beginning with the basic elements of writing and storytelling and transforming into the immense variety of approaches seen today.  The oral traditions and original forms of language possessed immense potential to diversify and specialize into the forms of literature used today.  The modern specialization of genres, styles, and modes of discourse can be extremely particular.  One of my personal favorites is “biomythography,” a category that encompasses so many other genres and yet has been singled out in modern literature as a specific and distinct genre.  While these myriad categories can be interpreted by each individual writer, there is still a sense of imposed specialization and order that permeates the way literature is viewed.  As literature becomes more and more complex and specific, it can lose some of the potential to diversify that more simplified forms once possessed.  In this sense, I think there can be some parallels between evolutionary development and the development of modern literature.



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