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ibarkas's picture

Convergence in both genre and meaning

I am a little bit unclear about what we mean by the term cultural evolution when we use it to analyze Hustvedt's writing. I guess I am just confused about whether we are using the term to analyze Hustvedt's writing style and her work as a literary piece, or if we are interpreting the message or messages that Hustvedt intends for her reader in terms of cultural evolution. In terms of Hustvedt's writing style, I can see how her novel can be useful in our discussion of cultural evolution. As mentioned by Rica above, I think that we have witnessed the divergence of literary genres (from historical nonfiction all the way to mystery and sci-fi). I also really like the idea that Rica brought up about films in terms of literary evolution. I think I may see film on a different position along the evolutionary trajectory of literature, however. Perhaps film represents converegence of all literary genres we have been exposed to thus far, rather than a divergence from a continuous evolutionary trajectory of literature that has resulted in one particular type of genre which led to the eventual emergence of film. I hadn't realized this until just now, but I equate reading Hustvedt's novel to watching a film, especially more modern films that weave mutliple plots from the view of one main character and the narrator's subconscious into one story. If then, film represents a convergence of multiple literary genres, then it is also possible to see how Hustvedt's novel represents this convergence. During the beginning of Thursday's section, Professor Grobstein asked us what kind of novel we were reading. The replies ranged from biography to mystery novel to love story. I see Hustvedt's novel as a convergence of all the literary genres we have been exposed to thus far, similar to film. When we analyze literary genres, we also analyze the time period and the historical and cultural significance of this time period on the emergence of the genre from previous genres. In this sense, I can see how we can trace cultural evolution by tracing the evolution of literary genres. Is it possible to say that maybe we can equate culture to natural selection and by following the evolution of literature, we can then understand the history and culture that drove these changes in genres? - A bit far fetched perhaps, but a fun thought for biology majors! =)

In terms of using the message that Hustvedt had intended for her readers in our discussion of cultural evolution, I can't say I am able to find as clear cut an explanation. I do see however, how the novel traces the individual evolution of one man-the main character, Erik. What I find most interesting about this novel and one of the reasons I enjoyed it was because it traces his individual evolution backwards. Most novels trace the change in one character until the end and the reader's closure in the end is witnessing this change in the character. In Hustvedt's novel, however, we are tracing this backwards and we therefore, don't witness this change in the main character. Maybe that's why many people didn't enjoy the end of the novel. You do not have this closure that many other novels provide and this does leave us feeling a bit incomplete and maybe uncomfortable. For me, however, I think I felt this sense of closure on page 232 after Erik wakes up from a dream he has had in which he saw himself, his father and his grandfather. He says, " Three men of three generations together...inner cataclysms I had associated with two men who were no longer alive. My grandfather shouts in his sleep. My father shoves his fist through the ceiling. I quake." For me, this line summarized the novel. We had traced Erik's individual history back with him until the final conclusion that perhaps his subconscious and his conscious were all results of this convergence of three individuals (two who came before him and himself), resulting in the individual he is.

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