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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....

bhealy's picture

In Control of Happiness?

 In Anne's section on Thursday we continued discussing whether we believe that we have ownership over our own happiness. It seemed that everyone has a somewhat different view on the topic, with some believing that we can definitely choose to be happy and some believing that it is all completely out of our control, with some falling in between. Richard Powers' Generosity has opened my eyes a bit more to my own happiness, forcing me to be more aware of my mood and my feelings the last few weeks. Since I was paying more attention to my happiness level, our discussion really stayed with me, one idea in particular: we may not be able to change our current situation and problems greatly, but we can choose to paint it either darker or lighter.

kgrass's picture


 A lot of our discussions have revolved around our ability to make ourselves happy, and how much of our happiness is genetically inclined. What makes people happy is truly dependent on environment, and what people expect out of life. I feel like in America, our happiness levels are much harder to get to because we are used to instant gratification all the time. The means of survival has no longer become a central issue in our everyday lives. We’ve gone past the necessity to survive, and towards the goal of thriving. Life is not about living anymore, it is striving towards making things “better”, which is in essence what will make us “happier”. Because we are always striving towards this goal, we don’t stop to think how we may be happy already.

tangerines's picture

Generosity Gene?

We talked this week about the function of stories. I think that stories reveal us to ourselves. Powers' novel is simply transparent about the manner in which the story acts a mirror for the readers. I find it interesting that several people in our group (ewashburn, klitrell) called Thassa a “Mary Sue” (a term for a character with no flaws) – when I don't think that's necessarily true. I think her flaws are difficult for us to see because we look through Stone's eyes, and he views Thassa as a marvelous being. Perhaps most obviously, one of her flaws is her happiness, since it proves to be her (maybe?) downfall.

ckosarek's picture

What is the fate of the novel?

 In class today we discussed where prose is heading in our digitized world of short attention spans. In a world where we read in 140 characters or less and in which we spend an average of five minutes reading the New York Times online, is Powers' novel foreshadowing the kind of abbreviated prose and fragments structure that will be seen more often in the coming years? Where is our beloved novel headed?

ckosarek's picture

What is the role of fiction in science? (Help us with our final project!)

 Hi fellow Serendippers (or are we Serendippians...?), 

For our final project, ewashburn, rachelr, katlittrell and I are exploring medium by using a Facebook page as a place to explore the question, "What is the role of fiction in science?" If you all would like to participate or just watch, you can "like" our page. We'd really like this to be interactive and would appreciate your reactions!


vlopez's picture

un-happy purpose to bring others up

From this book, I felt that Powers was exposing everyone's inherent desire to be happy.  We are not all like Thassa, constantly happy wandering through life seemingly untouched by the disasters surrounding us.  We are, I believe, individuals who are in a constant state of un-happiness.  Not sad or depressed or angry, simply not happy - the absence of happiness.  Therefore, we all seek those moments of happiness, regardless of how insignificant or important they may be to us and/or the world in general.  Those that choose to see happiness and joy in the most disastrous circumstances - as an example was shared in our group discussion - are more successful, I would say, in finding those 'moments' that we all strive to find. 

mindyhuskins's picture

Some Thoughts on Generosity: Maybe It Is Not Quite So New

"If I were to write the chapters of my book in a continuous form, each time exhausting the chosen subject, they would certainly be more complete, more comprehensive, of a nobler character. But I fear lengthy texts, and you, reader, are worthy and capable of grasping the whole by means of a few random details, and knowing the end by learning the beginning"  - Jahiz, The Book of Animals

vlopez's picture

Dying Lit & Those Lying Within

I was really intrigued by the importance a lot of people gave to whether or not the character had died.  I guess I've never really thought about it because, to me, in order for a character to die the story has to die as well.  Because as long as the story exists, so will the character.  Therefore, I was surprised and slightly amused to see how there were so many 'emotional connections' or stories about the character's death. 

jhercher's picture

Ethics, Genetics, Creativity

One of the things "Generosity" continually makes me think about is how genetics and ethics are becoming so interwoven.  For instance, if a method for introducing a happiness gene (or any kind of gene, really) in to a person was discovered, should every newborn just have that gene?  It's a difficult question, as technology fast approaches the point where we could, theoretically, design our children with traits that were more desirable.  I get the sense that there is something wrong Thassadit.  She has had such a traumatic life, but still maintains that preternatural happiness.  But is that even really happiness?  Without an intimate knowledge of unhappiness, there is no sense of genuine happiness. 

dfishervan's picture

Happiness can bring unhappiness

Charlotte inquires whether there is something broken or something really fixed with Thessa during her student conference with Mr. Stone. Stone and Candace initially focus on the first half of Charolette’s inquiry until Thomas Kurton’s article makes a splash and convinces the population that Thessa possesses something incredibly right. After learning about Thessa’s existence and the alleged scientific explanation for her condition, society concluded that they were the ones that needed to be fixed since their brief moments of happiness paled in comparison to Thessa’s euphoria. This notion of fixing the body’s natural state with scientific intervention reminded me of certain elements of Darwinian medicine.

mindyhuskins's picture

Is Happiness Really Important?

To be honest, I don't know if our idea of happiness is all that important. How often do you see a person, perhaps a little like Thassa, and actually believe that person is real? When we watch a movie or read a book in which characters are happy or things turn out well, how believable is it? I tend to find myself dismissing "happy" characters and stories as completely unrealistic and often silly. Thassa to me does not seem like she could ever be a real person. Stone on the other hand does. I can relate to Stone in many ways. His flaws, his thoughts, his failures all seem realistic. I know people like him. I identify with him. This makes me think that depression=realism and happiness=a facade.

hannahgisele's picture

Limitations of Science

In our Thursday discussion group, we considered the stereotypes and generalizations associated with scientific studies vs. areas within humanities. We came to the conclusion that science connotes ideas of the future, of progress, and positivity. On the other hand, humanities often seems static, “tragic”, and stuck in the past. Nevertheless, as an English major, I was grateful when my classmates argued in defense of my interests. In combination with their thoughts, I’ve come to see story-writing as a limitless, eternal opportunity for creativity, communication, and catharsis.

Cremisi's picture

Happy..What is it?

 Do people really even know what will make them happy? 

ems8140's picture

Evolution of the Novel?

In Professor Dalke’s discussion on Thursday we discussed Powers’ style of writing, and how he writes as though he’s present in the actual world of the characters, but does not allow the reader to lose himself in the story. In addition, he creates a disconnect between the reader and the characters, adding to the difficulty of the plot to be truly engaging to the reader. This lack of connection to the characters arises because Powers is constantly reminding the reader, “you know this story”, assuming therefore that we must know these stereotypical characters.

ib4walrus's picture

Why do you have to do this?!.. Oh that's why...

 Reading through Power's Generosity, I was constantly reminded that "I know the story" and that in addition to the story itself, there was also another story line in a sense that told the story of how the story was being written.  I held the same sentiment as Professor Grobstein when he felt that if one was to question the reasoning behind one of the stories, then there will simply be an infinite regress and the reasoning may never actually be possible to arrive at.  So I wondered to myself, what on Earth could have been Power's purpose in structuring this book this way.  Once I asked myself this, I was reminded of another incredibly confusing novel that I read last year: Juan Rulfo's Pedro Paramo.

bhealy's picture

Just Me and The Puppet Master Narrator

 I'm not sure where I stand in regards to my feelings about this book, Generosity. On one hand I find myself itching to underline so many quotes and passages that resonate with me, that I find funny, or that I find thought provoking, but on the other I feel so distant from the characters, so isolated from the book that I just want to take a sledgehammer and break through the narration to get to the characters. The plot I like, the narration not so much. In our section on Thursday Anne stated that this was indeed a novel of ideas, not of characters. I agree with this- and it really pisses me off because I really like what I do see of the characters and the plot and the relationships that are forming.

cr88's picture

An Alternative "Borgesian" Story

We've talked a lot about Borges with regards to the notion of his "Library of Babel", but the question raised in Generosity about there being a fixed number of possible plots made me think of another Borges story: "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote". This short story is actually less of a story than it is a theoretical thought experiment. Borges discusses the fictional personage Pierre Menard, a 20th century writer who sets out to write the novel Don Quixote.

rachelr's picture

An email I received...

 So the other day I received this email on my BMC account. I also got a notification from the Erdman email list-serve that I moderate to have it verified through that so I have NO idea how they got into the BMC email lists. I read it and tried to avoid twitching over the word choices and grammar/spelling mistakes, but thought it was interesting and it connects back to which story of evolution each person chooses to believe… enjoy!!!


ewashburn's picture

Fact vs. Fiction: Who really wins the debate?

 I was really fascinated by the debate between the Nobel laureate and Thomas Kurton from pages 149-152. The debate between science and the humanities is really interesting here, and it seems pretty obvious who's supposed to win. The writer is "the most painfully shy person who has ever been forced into a public spectacle," while Kurton is "charming," with "shoulders [that] bob like a boy on his first day of summer camp." The novelist's arguments are fatalistic, pessimistic, backward-looking, tragic, while Kurton's toothy explications on his theories are full of hope and the promise of progress. The audience to this debate seems totally taken in by Kurton, and at the end, Candace declares Kurton, "Optimism," to be the winner, "by a technical knockout."

ckosarek's picture

Is Thassa right in saying that we all have the ability to be as happy as she is?

 In Paul's class on Thursday, we discussed human emotion and the possibility of being happy in the context of challenging events or disorders (like MDD). Throughout the novel, Candace and Thassa both assert that happiness is attainable regardless of the hand you've been dealt. But can we all escape the clutches of negativity, and is negative affect a result of choices in cognition?