Story Theory: Confessions of a Literary Darwinist

Primitive-dude-1-167x300R. Salvador Reyes over at the Tottenville Review:

First confession. I didn’t start out this way: believing that art is a Godless domain, a tactically-consumed, evolutionarily-wrought siren to the mind—just another victim hunted by our massive, pulverizing desire to devour and catalog every pattern in the universe that presents itself to our perpetually-ravished brains. I didn’t believe any of those things. Not in the beginning.

In the beginning, I just wanted to write. Why should I care how humans had come to love literature and art? I didn’t care. Until I asked the question. How had humans come to love literature and art? People have been asking this for centuries, and they’ve put forth a plethora of fascinating answers. But during the last couple of decades, theorists have started examining the question through the lens of evolution—and it’s beginning to look like a new future for literary studies is taking shape. Two of the most eloquent and compelling arguments for art’s evolutionary roots are the recently published On the Origin of Stories (Harvard University Press), by Brian Boyd and The Art Instinct (Bloomsbury Press), by Denis Dutton. Both seem destined to become part of the foundation of the emerging field of Literary Darwinism—where literature is being examined from new viewpoints, like neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. It’s a field that’s beginning to gain a following in the halls of academia, but my own journey to Literary Darwinism was trod outside those halls. I was simply a writer who wondered why readers sought out and consumed the literary objects I was trying to create. And while Boyd’s and Dutton’s books focus on the evolutionary answers to why humans began and continue to create art, as an artist I was more interested in how evolution has shaped audiences’ responses to art.

Because Literary Darwinism’s territory is still raw and untamed, taking the journey without a tour guide has given me the chance to carve my own path into its wilderness. Think of this as my travelogue—something to provide a view of this freshly-discovered fauna and flora from a writer’s perspective.

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