Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Notes Towards Day 21

Today, a Triptypch:
A Tree, A Table, and A Text

I guess I'm just wondering why I should care
(about Whitman's writing, if he was drunk)?

[A vocal proponent of temperance, Whitman rarely
touched alcohol (first "strong liquor" @ 30....)]

...the next lecture to find meaning or non-meaning...
will suffice as long as I understand where we are going.

This hope highlights an irony
(problematic, for some of us?)
of this way of doing business.

If we are really to attend, not to drunkenness,
but to the unconscious,
if we are really to take seriously
not just the "blooming, buzzing confusion"
of those feelings and intuitions for which
we have no explanation ("primary consciousness"),
but also those "diverse multitudes" that
place no "premium on coherence,"
that are "largely silent to the self,"
associational, metonymic...

well, then, we're not always going
to know where we are going.
That's part of the package.
That might be the point of the package.

A Map for Morgan

I. Literary Theory about the Evolution of Literary "Kinds"

II. Try Out Some Local, Personal Tests
Global? General? Applications?)
III. The Sorrows of an American as exemplar/
very particular test case of the process

(with the hope that you'll find something meaningful along the way...)

I. The Evolution of Literary Forms
(an evolution out of this course:
"Emerging Genres"-->"Literary Kinds")

Rachel's shout out to "evolutionary esthetics"
Newsweek: Rage Against the Art Gene, on
Denis Dutton, an evolutionary psychologist

One of the
The Literary Darwinists (NYTimes, Nov. 6, 2006):

"human beings...are biological critters, products of evolution by natural selection....we unconsciously behave in ways designed to enhance our success.... These behaviors are the stubborn, indelible core of human nature....If there is a single take-home lesson to be derived from the progress of biological is continuity" (Barash and Barash, Madame Bovary's Ovaries: A Darwinian Look at Literature, 2005).

"Literary Darwinists" see evolution as promising "universal explanations" by the use of a single "explanatory tool," "providing literary criticism with the 'foundational principles' for analysis it lacks."

Our project here has been a little different: we've been arguing that the shared study of evolution and literature is productive, not because it encourages explorers in both areas to focus on "foundational principles" and "universal explanations," but because it serves to highlight the underlying processes of diversity generation.

Adele: the fact that merging led to the divergence....
this poem could change our brain in a certain way.

...the resulting fertility and richness fuels the unpredictable and productive evolution of (both biological and) literary forms.

We have some good company along the way:

Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees:
Abstract Models for a Literary History

some of his work is straight social Darwinism:
"...the literary market is like: ruthless competition--hinging on form. Readers discover that they like a certain device, and if a story doesn't seem to include it, they simply don't read it (and the story becomes extinct)."

example of Arthur Conan Doyle's devices: "The most important clues take the form of secondary facts, presented in such a way that the reader does not notice them...intentionally placed in the oblique form of a subordinate clause...on which the storyteller does not dwell."

some of Moretti's work goes much further:
"Theories concretely change the way we work...they allow us to enlarge the literary field, and re-design it in a better way, replacing the old, useless, distinctions (high and low; canon and archive; this or that national literature...) with a new temporal, spatial and morphological distinctions."

a clear preference for explanation of general structures over the interpretation of individual texts

a materialist conception of form...opening new conceptual possibilities

For example: the "Tree of Culture"

The course of organic evolution can be portrayed properly as a tree of life, as Darwin has called it, with trunk, limbs, branches, and twigs. The course of development of human culture in history cannot be so described, even metaphorically. There is a constant branching-out, but the branches also grow together again, wholly or partially, all the time. Culture diverges, but it syncretizes and anastomoses too....The tree of a ramification of such coalescences, assimilations, or acculurations. This schematic diagram visualizes this contrast. (Alfred Kroeber, Anthropology)

Cf. what Moretti calls the "Alice-in-Wonderland quality"
of his "Tree of Culture" with both
Darwin's "fans" and Paul's doubletrees:

Moretti: "interconnected and branching; syncretism and divergence...a cycle to which they both contribute in turn. Convergence...only arises on the basis of previous divergence, and its power be directly proportional to the distance between the original branches...conversely, a successful convergence usually produces a powerful new burst of divergence.

Divergence prepares the ground for convergence, which unleashes further divergence: this seems to be the typical pattern."

(What Moretti does w/ Emma Bovary: uses her as a stage in the development of the "indirect free style": "emotions plus distance"--> "the voice of the well-socialized individual...
who speak of themselves in the third person, as if from the outside...)

how we can describe our lives in words,
in order to look @ them
(and change them?)

...the "final branching" of Moretti's "tree" is "Latin American 'dictator novels,'" in which the direction is reversed: the dictator objectifies his private, pathological self into the monumental poses of a public persona: "presenting the mind of the dictator 'unmediated by any judging point of view'"

(See Augusto Roa Bastos, Yo el supremo;
Alejo Carpentier, Reasons of State
Gabriel García Márquez, El general en su laberinto
Mario Vargas Llosa, La Fiesta Del Chivo)

Wai Chee Dimock, "Genre as World System: Epic and Novel on Four Continents" Narrative 14, 1 (January 2006):
Moretti advocates a paradigm of "distant reading," so named because of its clear opposition to the better known, "close" variety....distant reading is meant to track large-scale development; it is not meant to capture the fine print.

the co-evolution and cross-fertilization of literary forms...
regularities need to be traced as far back as possible

replacing...linear model of supersession with a fractal model of looping: a model of recursive kinship...survival as a spilled-over phenomenon

Christopher Prendergast, "Evolution and Literary History:
A Response to Franco Moretti." New Left Review 34 (July-August 2005):

Moretti is interested in the analysis of change...
what counts for Moretti is less origins than outcomes

Moretti's aim is explanatory: 'take a form, follow it from space to space, and study the reasons for its transformation'...quoting the biologist, Ernst Mayr, the reasons are 'the opportunistic, hence unpredictable' reasons of evolution.

placing a very large bet on bringing the laws of nature and the laws of culture far closer than they are normally thought to be. This is his most audacious gamble.

culture is both convergence and divergence, but it is divergence which, in the play of his argument,
is given greatest prominence

Cf. Gilles Deleuze's "Rhizomes vs. Trees":
Nature doesn't work that way; taproots . . . are more multiple, lateral and circular systems of ramification, rather than a dichotomous one...
a system of this kind could be called a rhizome. . .

any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other...
This is very different from the tree or root, which
plots a point, fixes an order...

principle of a signifying rupture: broken rhizome will start up again,
not going from least to most differentiated, but jumping from one differentiated line to another

II. Applying this theory to our own experiences of literature:
how might you design a course of study, or a course, or
just a module of one,
to illustrate (or test?) this idea?

1979 installation in San Francisco
(now at the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center
The Dinner Party, by Judy Chicago

what Judy Chicago did:
selected 1038 women in western history
inscribed names of 999 of them on porcelain floor tiles
honored 39 of them w/ symbolical place settings @ a table:

equilateral triangle, 13 settings on each side
each one got a china plate in a vulvar form,
elaborate needlepoint runner worked in period techniques,
narrating her life

used to figure/literally/what this course is about/
what associated courses might do/
what it means to do cultural evolutionary studies:

who would you seat @ the table,
and how would you figure the
relationship between them?

break into groups of 3 or 4 and decide....
post these possibilities on-line....

III. So: out of all these possibilities in the cultural landscape:
why Hustvedt? How might her novel in particular contribute to our story of cultural evolution? What "convergence" or "divergence" does she represent in the story we are telling? How do you understand the relationship of her text to Whitman's?

A number of you wrote about engaging with the novel via a different (more pleasurable? more relaxed?) reading practice, based on our work w/ Whitman. What connections do you see between the way Hustvedt and Whitman write? How is their handling of prose--and its content like-or-different?

"": a literary website, sort of:
interview: Siri Hustvedt: I have a title and many thoughts about a new book called The Sorrows of an American. I am finally going to treat something that is so very deep to me, which is immigration....I don't think it is a small book....I have a feeling this title is really going to stick.
Why this title?
wherefrom? whereto?)