Thursday, December 30, 2010

An Evolution in Film Narrative? Or Something Else?

Individual choice comes to film with Turbulence. It reminds me of the Choose Your Own Adventure series. This raises some questions, though, regarding the nature of storytelling. For example, consider the fact that in a standard narrative, we are watching to learn what the characters will do, which teaches us something about other minds and other choices. However, if we are deciding what the characters will do, what is the role of narrative? Does film become something more akin to a video game? Certainly such films could be interesting from a game-theoretic perspective -- but it would tell us more about the audience than the film itself, would it not? Are there other issues one could raise?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Denis Dutton, RIP

I am sad to report that Denis Dutton died of cancer Tuesday, Dec. 28 in New Zealand.

Reports can be found here and here and here and here, the latter two of which focus on his site Arts & Letters Daily.

There is an interview with Denis Dutton at We should celebrate his life and work -- and continue that work.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How Norman Holland Got It Wrong

Norman Holland, who has a blog This is Your Brain on Culture over at Psychology Today could not possibly be more wrong about literary Darwinism in his posting How the Literary Darwinists Got It Wrong. The problem seems primarily to be that he confuses reading with literature. He might as well be saying that the ability to create tools did not have evolutionary origins because jackhammers weren't around when we started making tools.

The thing he misses lies in the very statement he makes that it gives him pleasure. Yes, but why? That is what he doesn't answer. The answer to that is the key.

The discussion is carried on further here. I know I'm a bit late to this, but it's a discussion worth looking at.

I would say that Dehaene's book on reading does answer some of the issue raised -- as well as an understanding that "literature" isn't what's written in books, though it includes it. Just because some literature is written, that does not mean all literature is written. Tis a logical fallacy, you know.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Literacy and Facial Description in Literature

The most recent Science has an article by Dehaene, et al. Showing that learning to read intrudes on the part of the brain that recognizes faces, thus reducing face recognition. Which could suggest an interesting research project: as cultures become more literate, does the literature have fewer facial descriptions?

Monday, December 13, 2010

How Deep Is It Necessary to Go?

How detailed do we need to understand the way the brain works for Darwinian literary studies?

Dehaene, in Reading in the Brain goes into great detail about how the brain is converted into an organ able to read and create written script, yet one may wonder to what degree this is in fact helpful to understanding literature per se.

Having said that, I will note that Dehaene does observe that learning to read makes us more phonemicly aware -- which may in fact affect the production of poetry. At the same time, one may argue that one could learn this through studies that do not involve understanding the neurology behind reading.

There is certainly something to be said about the issues of general intelligence and evolutionary psychology's emphasis on modules and instincts -- but how much does one really need to know about neural structures to use these in literary studies?