Story of Evolution/Evolution of Stories
Bryn Mawr College
What's a Literary Critic Learning
from the Story of Biological Evolution?
April 24, 2007

Begin with course evals...
& signing up for next week's performances

The Story of the Evolution...
...Of the Tomato?

"''s a student thing....our shorthand for when we say, like, Professor Simeon's class is 'the tomato's nature versus the tomato's nurture', and Jane Colman's class is 'To properly understand the tomato you must first uncover the tomato's suppressed Herstory'--she's such a silly bitch that woman --and Professor Gilman's class is 'The tomato is structure like an aubergine', and Professor Kellas's class is basically 'There is not way of proving the existence of the tomato without making reference to the tomato itself', and Erkine Jegede's class is 'The post-colonial tomato as eaten by Naipaul'....But your all about never ever saying I like the tomato. That's why so few people take it....they can't handle the rigour of never saying I like the tomato. Because...the tomato's not there to be're always saying...What's so beautiful about this tomato? Who decided on its worth?" (Victoria to Howard, in On Beauty, p. 312)

What is the tomato?

What has been our approach to the tomato in
"The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories"?
What is our attitude toward the tomato?

What the point/purpose/effect of describing a course
in terms of its relationship to the tomato?
What's it get you?

What's the use of humor, generally, in class?
In literature? In science? In evolution?

From Ahab's Wife (The Story of Evolution, Take One) Ahab: "There is a tragicalness in being human."
Una's inner reply: "Yes--but that is only one way.
There are many ways. We choose."


From Middlesex (The Story of Evolution, Take Two) Milton came face-to-face with the essence of tragedy, which is something determined before you're born, something you can't escape or do anything about, no matter how hard you try....But...there was a comic aspect to events that day, too....even a brand of harsh satire...because it typified the American belief that everything can be solved....All this comedy, however, is retrospective.

From Nice Cufflinks


From Zadie Smith's essay on Forster (The Story of Evolution, Take Three) "There is no bigger crime in the English comic novel than thinking you are right...a lesson that must also apply to the comic novelist."

Have we been reading tragedies or comedies this semester?

Is Smith's story tragic or comic?
How about Mayr's? Dennett's? Foster's?

What's the difference between tragedy and comedy?
What is the relation of each to truth?

Some working definitions:

Smith explores alternatives (as Howard reflects): "two old frends...on the last lap of their lives..were switching lanes out of fear, just to see if it felt different, better, easier, to run in this new lane--scared as they were of carrying on for ever in the lane they were in. But [for] this girl...the future still seemed unbounded: a pleasure palace of choices, with infinite doors, in which only a fool would spend his time trapped in one room" (On Beauty, p. 335) But (tragically?), Smith really doesn't think--or show--that they exist: "The Victoria incident was so happily concluded in his mind that it was a mental stretch to remember that this did not mean the incident was not a real thing in the world, capable of discovery." (On Beauty, p. 432)

One of the aims of this course
(including its challenge to "reality")
has been to give you some distance--
and some alternatives.**

These are both comic gestures:

In The Evolution of the Story of Story Telling:

What might this transaction look like?

What might it look like figuratively?

Ouroburous, the snake that eats its own tail

Theorizing Interdisciplinarity

What it might look like in literature:

But what about science?

Where, and how, in science,
is the unconscious at play?

Where's the humor?

Who's got the tomato?

** What we've been up to is very different than the current work of "literary darwinists," who argue that "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...people...share a universal, evolved 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). Such scholars 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." But from our perspective, 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 rather because it serves to highlight the underlying processes of diversity generation and selection. The resulting fertility and richness fuels the unpredictable and productive evolution of both biological and literary forms. (Dalke & Grobstein, Against "Human Nature": An Exploration of the Evolution of Stories. Mss. in preparation, 2007)

| Course Home Page | Forum | Science in Culture | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:51:46 CDT