Evolutionary Approaches to Literature

Authored by: Stephen Davies

The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Literature

Print publication date:  December  2015
Online publication date:  December  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415889728
eBook ISBN: 9781315708935
Adobe ISBN:


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I present this topic under two subheadings. Evocriticism involves the application of the theories of evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, and the like to the interpretation of literature. Literary Darwinism maintains that literary behaviors are grounded in our evolved human nature, either as an adaptation that made its bearers more productive of similarly endowed offspring, or as a byproduct of some other adaptation. Sometimes “evocriticism” has been suggested as a replacement name for “literary Darwinism” (Boyd 2009), but the latter came earlier (Carroll 2004). As I use the terms, they cover different but related uses of biological theory applied to the discussion of literature. A proponent of evocriticism could regard it as one among a variety of interpretative options and range it alongside her psychoanalytic, deconstructivist, Marxist, feminist, and queer interpretations of a given text. She might be agnostic about or unconcerned with the issue of whether prehistoric literary behaviors contributed to our species’ evolution. But many proponents of evocriticism are also literary Darwinists and combine the two approaches.

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