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The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories: EvoLit

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Anne Dalke's picture

Welcome to The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories, offered in Spring 2011 @ Bryn Mawr College. This is an interestingly different kind of place for writing, and may take some getting used to. The first thing to keep in mind is that this is not a place for "formal writing" or "finished thoughts." It's a place for thoughts-in-progress, for what you're thinking (whether you know it or not) on your way to what you think next. Imagine that you're not worrying about "writing" but instead that you're just talking to some people you've met. This is a "conversation" place, a place to find out what you're thinking yourself, and what other people are thinking, so you can help them think and they can help you think. The idea is that your "thoughts in progress" can help others with their thinking, and theirs can help you with yours.

We're glad you're here, and hope you'll come both to enjoy and value our shared imagining of the future evolution of ourselves as individuals and of our gendered, scientific, technological world. Feel free to comment on any post below, or to POST YOUR THOUGHTS HERE....

skindeep's picture

time and memory

something that we spoke about last week has still been wandering the quiet spaces in my mind - do we 'activate' time by doing things? this was a question posed in last tuesdays class and its still on my mind.

the concept of activating time captivates me. it means that time is only relevant in terms of things that have happened or things that are happening. it means that a man kept in a room with no windows would have no concept of time. but he would still have memory. he would still remember what he did before he went to sleep, after he ate etc. but would that memory be able to survive without milestones or would it all clump together?

ems8140's picture

How or Why?

In class on Thursday we discussed the difference between “how” and “why” in terms of searching for meaning in a situation. The “how” of an event was thought of as more scientific, physical, concrete, and objective, while the “why” of a situation may be considered metaphysical, abstract, subjective, and relate more to the humanities. This conversation was particularly interesting to me because it allowed me to hear the different viewpoints as to which one would provide more meaning for different people. The “why” could provide more meaning of an event because it is more subjective and allow for deeper interpretation.

hlehman's picture

knocking things out, expanding the pool, or a little bit of both

            On Thursday in Professor Grobstein’s class, we discussed science vs.

bhealy's picture

Running Away In Order to Thrive

 It's been a week since I watched Adaptation and the same scene is stuck in my memory: 

Laroche: "Adaptation's a profound process. It means you figure out how to thrive in the world." 

Orlean: "Yeah, but it's easier for plants. I mean they have no memory. You know, they just move on to whatever's next. But for the person, adapting is almost shameful, like running away." 


KT's picture

Why is the movie never as good as the book?

Earlier in the semester, I was delighted to hear that we would be watching the theatrical adaptation of Orchid Thief. I read the novel back in the ‘90s and remember really enjoying it. (I’m not usually one to read about flowers, but I read an excerpt and got reeled in). I should have known better, however, than to look forward to the film. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie that was better than the book. If they make a hit movie from a novel, it makes me want to read the book, not see the movie.

rachelr's picture

Fun fact...

On February 11, 2003, "Donald Kaufman" was nominated for a real-life Academy Award, along with the real Charlie Kaufman, for the screenplay of Adaptation (2002). This is the first time in Oscar history that a nomination has been bestowed upon a fictional human being.

AnnaP's picture

The Role of Humor in Adaptation

In Anne Dalke’s discussion section, we discussed the role of humor in Adaptation and in evolution as a whole. We started off with the idea that maybe Adaptation is telling us that humor is key in evolution because it makes us more resilient. Charlie Kaufman is depicted as anxiety-ridden, miserable, constantly suffering from an existential crisis, and unsuccessful. He is obsessed with creating the perfect movie and drives himself nuts with it. Donald Kaufman is depicted as a much more carefree, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants guy, and (ironically?) it is his ridiculous screenplay that is successful. Perhaps it is Donald’s humor that helps him be so much happier and more resilient than his brother.

cr88's picture

Truth and Filmmaking

We talked in our small groups this week about how "truth" is represented in the film "Adaptation." The film appears to begin as a "true story", that of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman struggling to adapt Susan Orlean's book "The Orchid Thief" into a film. As the film progresses, however, events appear to distance themselves further and further from this "true" story, becoming completely sensationalist in its sex and violence-filled conclusion. Yet this progression also demonstrates that the notion of "truth" in filmmaking is ultimately chimeric. All films, narrative films in particular, are complete constructions. The narrative cinema of Hollywood has a highly developed series of cinematic techniques that are used to convey a sense of reality in film.

the.believer's picture

On Adaptation

 The film is quite bizarre. There is Susan Orlean's story in the book and then there is Charlie's story of how he is trying to incorporate her written work into the screenplay. On top of that, there is Susan's story that extends beyond her book. Adaptation is similar to the other literary works that we have read in class because of the multiple layers in the story. In Generosity, there are the characters and the storyline and beyond that, the ever present narrator reminding the reader of his/her role in constructing and deconstructing the story. In the Plague, the readers are told of a narrator who lies within the story and plot but whose identity is unknown.

OrganizedKhaos's picture


After watching this film Adaptation which starring Nicholas Cage and Meryl Streep, a certain line resonated with me and really helped me connect it to our class, along with the Darwin references and one liners about adaptation and evolution of course. Charlie explains writing in one scene of the film and I thought it made so much sense  in terms of what we have talked about in our own writing experiences as well as when talking about Power's Generosity. In this scene Charlie explains to his brother Donald, an aspiring screen writer who is taking a "how to" class, what it means to write. He says (not word for word), 

kgrass's picture

stories we tell others, stories we tell ourselves

 While watching an episode of the television show “Community” over the weekend, there was a portion of the episode that reminded me of concepts we are talking about in this class. Here is the link to the scene, just watch the first minute: Jeff, the main character, is having a conversation with his friend Abed, who is an “unusual” person. Abed is trying to be more “normal”, but Jeff tells Abed that there is no such thing as normal, and there is no “right” way to act. In fact,   Jeff tells Abed that the way we act is just lying to others, and that much of the lying we do is actually to ourselves. This struck me as an interesting concept, and how we

Lynn's picture

Intentional Flatness

 A recurring complaint that we (my section, at least) seem to have is that the characters in the novels we have read are too "flat". By "flat", we mean - or, at least, I think we mean - that the characters display a limited range of emotions, and I personally define "flatness" as a lack of both inner and outer conflict in addition to no observable personality. I thought that the characters in Generosity were flat, particularly because I felt that the author was faking his understanding of them, but I don't really agree with the general opinion that the characters in The Plague are flat.

Lynn's picture

Not Quite a Journal

 On Thursday, in Professor Grobstein's section, we spent a nice amount of time discussing the difference between private journaling and the tendency of people to post their journals online - for example, we talked about the ways in which Facebook or Livejournal have come to function as online, public journals for many people. I've been thinking about it, though, and I disagree; we concluded that Facebook/Livejournal/etc. have essentially replaced the private, paper journal, but I'm not certain that these things are comparable at all. We had considered the changing boundary between that which is public and that which is private, but I think that the difference between Livejournal and a traditional journal is more significant than the public/private dichotomy.

dfishervan's picture

Chance and Making Sense

ems8140's picture

Impact of Justice

In Professor Dalke’s section on Thursday, we discussed the difference between generosity and justice. The concept of generosity includes the idea of string-less gifts. Justice, on the other hand, requires accommodation to address inequality. In my belief, I think that an individual or a system should be rational and emotional when dealing with justice. I don’t think that justice should be witless or algorithmic, as also discussed in class. Justice can’t both be algorithmic and emotional, which are opposing ideas in this sense. We talked about various scenarios and how to form a perfectly just classroom or environment. I don’t think that pure justice can be plausible in a given situation because it is likely that at least one person would not find some aspect unfair.

the.believer's picture

Character development in the Plague

 The beauty of the Plague is that it creeps up on you in a slow and infectious way. What starts off as just an ordinary, insignificant town can turn into a story that is retold over and over again for years to come. The characters in the Plague show a slow but gradual character development (in contrast to Generosity) that makes sense. The doctor begins as a normal everyday doctor caring for his patients but as the story progresses, the doctor becomes immune to the suffering of his patients. The energetic Rampert desperate to leave the town to return to his love ultimately decides to stay behind with the suffering. Camus builds this gradual character development that pulls me deeper into the story line.

kgrass's picture

Could it Happen Today?

 Time was a central topic in our discussion on Thursday, and is crucial to evolution. Change takes time. Not only is the passage of time important, but so is the point in time and place.

bhealy's picture

The Algorithm of Plagues - But Not for Justice?

 In Anne's discussion group on Thursday we continued discussing/debating whether the plague itself serves as a form of justice, or whether its blindness means that there was no motivation or cause for administering such a punishment. We went back and forth in regards to the true meaning of justice, and if it can just stand on its own or if it needs to be for something (i.e. justice for...). In my opinion, justice is a punishment for actions or behaviors, a form of revenge. If we all agree that the plague itself is blind, or an equalizer due to putting everyone on an equal playing field in terms of death, then can it be a punishment for something/to someone?

mindyhuskins's picture

True Happiness Revisited?

I just happened upon this article that claims that scientists have found a mutated gene that allows people to be "short sleepers", meaning they can naturally run on only a few hours of sleep with no harmful side effects. These people are also more upbeat, ambitious, thinner, and dare I say it, "happier". The scientists are currently thinking about how to manipulate this gene so everyone could potentially have this opportunity. Sound familiar? Here's the link.

hlehman's picture

Plagued for a sense of meaning

In Paul's class yesterday we became engrossed in a conversation about writing in journals and why people blog online/ are now so open to expressing themselves and sharing with millions of strangers what they used to keep secret and so privately stored away.  After thinking about it more, I think that this conversation also connects to the second half of our discussion about The Plague