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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....

AnnaP's picture

Exiled in your hometown

In Professor Dalke’s Thursday discussion section, we explored the idea of solidarity in times of struggle and talked about a lot of different scenarios in which we, like Rambert, might be tempted to leave a difficult situation. The difficulty of being separated from one’s homeland because of a difficult situation, however, seems to be a problem even for the people who remain in Oran, for the place they are staying is not like the one that they knew before The Plague descended upon the city. They are transformed and develop a different relationship to the space they inhabit; the disease fundamentally transforms their relationship to their city.

tangerines's picture

Justice, Morals, Plague, Oh My!

In our small group today, we discussed justice and whether justice is impartial. Can we make accommodations for others while being just? Does justice require accommodations to be just? My first answer was that justice cannot make accommodations to be just, and in demanding that justice also be kind that we confused it with fairness or humanity. But then I decided to consult our favorite source, the OED. The OED online lists the meaning of justice as "The quality of being (morally) just or righteous; the principle of just dealing; the exhibition of this quality or principle in action; just conduct; integrity, rectitude."

cr88's picture

The Epigraph

 After our class discussion last week, I kept thinking about how crucial the epigraph seemed to me with regards to how it changed my reading of Camus's work, and how it didn't seem "accurate" in this light that certain editions leave it out.

ckosarek's picture

Why We NEED to Keep Pushing that Rock Uphill

 I was reading the latest issue of Psychology Today recently and came across an article about a man who haphazardly fell into ultramarathon running. For those of you who don't know, an ultramarathon is a race anywhere from about 30-100 miles long, and, yes, you run it. A podiatrist who ran two miles "to keep in shape" gradually found himself training for marathons and then graduated into runs lasting from 10 PM to 6 AM in preparation for hundred-mile races. 

ib4walrus's picture

Is science in a futile fight?

 So in my discussion group this past Thursday, we talked about whether or not The Plague was about science trying to overcome an invincible enemy, specifically in this context, the plague.  Looking at this time period and the status of science, what could they have possibly done?  Extending it to even modern times, should a super-virus/bacteria appear, how would science attempt to stop it?  One could even argue that science is the cause of pandemics such as this.  By constantly producing anti-bacterial soaps and other substances made to kill off most (but not all) bacteria, those who survive become resistant to that specific type of anti-bacterial and will reproduce to create a new population immune to that.

hannahgisele's picture

Self-Preservation in The Plague

Thursday’s conversation made me think in depth about inevitability. We talked about whether or not, with a greater understanding of science and medicine, the rats could have been exterminated before they infected the entire population. Even if the appropriate scientific measures had been taken, the people of Oran seem so enraptured by their monotonous lives that they most likely would not have reacted quickly enough to stop the spread.

Cremisi's picture

Time//And the Passage of it

 "Query: How contrive not to waste one's time? Answer: by being fully aware of it all the while. Ways in which this can be done: By spending one's days on an uneasy chair in a dentist's waiting lining up at the box office theaters and then not buying a seat and so forth.." The Plague

ems8140's picture

The Plague and Temporal Perspective

Towards the beginning of the novel, when the plague first becomes prevalent in affecting the people, I noticed a relationship to what I had been learning in my psychology of time class. In this psych class we learned about temporal perspective, and how there are five different time directions: past negative, past positive, present hedonistic, present fatalistic, and future. Those people with a present hedonistic orientation tend to view life as living in the here and now and fail to think about the future, while present fatalistic people have a helpless and hopeless attitude toward life and the future. I found that when the people initially began dealing with the plague, temporal perspective played an important role.

ashley's picture

Going back to this idea of happiness...

While we have moved away from the topic of whether or not we as individuals are able to control our own happiness and our own emotions, I wanted to bring it back for a brief movement since I recently had a relevant experience. A couple of days ago I had discussed with my parents that I wanted to participate in buzzing for change once again. They were, and continue to be, in strong opposition. Last year I had chopped it off, and even that was not suitable to them. This year I plan to buzz for the cause, which I should have known would not be an idea greeted with open arms. They were upset that I did not seem to be backing down from my stance.

elly's picture

Just an ordinary day...

In my section on Thursday we discussed whether we felt the characters in The Plague were more cartoon-ish than those in Generosity, or the reverse. Most of the class listed the characters in Generosity higher on this scale. I found myself doing the same thing, but now I wonder whether I really did get more of a glimpse into the emotions and reality of the characters in The Plague than in Generosity. I have come to the conclusion that I felt the reality of Camus' characters more-so because of his creation of the ordinary. The language he uses is such that even the most ghastly things can be happening in this town, and yet the characters continue on about their business in this strange, almost cold way.

rachelr's picture

Emotional turn around

 In my last post about The Plague I commented on the lack of emotion and personal distancing that I was feeling from the narration and in relation to the main characters. On page 192 I noticed the first shift towards more emotions- the death of a child, friends, and the toll that was taken by the doctors in particular. As more personal and close friendships were tried and lost, I saw the marked difference and began to connect and empathize with the characters more deeply. And, as often happens in novels, the end of the book presented an explanation for what I felt to be dispassion. With Rieux as the narrator I now feel that this distancing was necessary for the audience (the readers) to ultimately trust his account of all the happenings throughout the plague outbreak.

tangerines's picture

Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil...But What's "Evil"?

At the end of our discussion on Thursday, our group briefly talked about the word “evil”. Several people said that they avoided using the word because it had religious connotations, and others said that they used it to describe instances when people acted without humanity. Someone (I believe OrganizedKhaos?) gave the example of a cannibalistic murderer as someone she would term evil. I think that in general, though, evil is a subjective term (the ick-factor of the cannibalism aside, which I think it's safe to say is unappealing to most people).

AnnaP's picture

Random, unpredictable, and inevitable...oh my!

In Anne Dalke’s discussion section, we talked about the last paragraph of The Plague in relation to what we’ve read so far. Many people in the class saw the last sentence as challenging our agency. People seemed troubled by the idea that, no matter what we do, the rats will rise up again – randomly, unpredictably, and inevitably. So what do we do? How do we create things and feel good if we think that no matter what we do, bad things are going to keep happening?

cr88's picture

The "Generous" Future of Literature?

Last week, Professor Grobstein posed the question of whether "Generosity" represented the future of literature, something most of the class seemed to disagree with. Most people seemed to dislike "Generosity" because it was not a novel one could easily immerse oneself in, given the flatness of the characters, the fragmented narrative, and the intrusive metaliterary narrator, in other words any trait which rendered the novel anything other than stimulating entertainment to be passively consumed. I would argue that novels such as "Generosity" represent not the future but the past of the novel, a past in which literature was an art form that celebrated individual expression rather than a trade to be plied for the entertainment of the masses.

dfishervan's picture

A More Positive View of "Generosity"

jhercher's picture


When PRofessor Dalke mentioned how many things from Paul Krugman's talk relate to our class, it got me thinking about how closely related Darwin's evolutionary theory and Adam Smith's economic theory are.  Smith and Darwin were both scientific writers with a flair for the prosaic.  And, in fact, they even have a tendency to share metaphors.  It's not really that surprising, really.  For example, Darwin's vision of finches evolving through natural selection to suit their environment is extremely similar to how Smith said businesses would mold themselves to a changing market in order to fulfill demand for a product, service, etc.  They even both come up with the same word to describe this phenomenon: niche.  What I like about this is that it und

rachelr's picture

Necessary dispassion or a cold recount?

"That a man can take pleasure in marching in formation to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him. He has only been given his big brain by mistake; a backbone was all he needed. This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed."

- Albert Einstein

dfishervan's picture

Literary Criticism, Natural Selection, and Creativity

OrganizedKhaos's picture

An Accumulation of Random Thoughts

The past week we have touched on a number of topics that intrigued me as well as brought about questions that I still have no definite answers to.

the.believer's picture

A realm without literary critics

 I imagine a realm without critics would be a place where there is only room for self-realization and improvement. Without others' critique, we rely on our own judgement and because everyone's judgement and story-telling is different, we would have tales with no connections to any others. There would be no such ideas of common themes, literary techniques and such. Each novel would only be thought of as the author's explicit intentions for the piece mixed with each audience's personal interpretations.