article in The Nation
There is an article in The Nation that vigorously attacks literary Darwinism: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090608/deresiewicz/single?rel=nofollow
Here is my response, submitted to the magazine:
William Deresiewicz attacks literary Darwinism on two main fronts. He argues that it is dependent on evolutionary psychology, which he characterizes as a form of pseudo-science. And he rejects its tendencies toward general ideas.
The argument that evolutionary psychology is pseudo-scientific is simply false. Evolutionary psychology locates its central causal principles in evolutionary biology, and it appeals to the same criteria of empirical validity used by all legitimate sciences. Deresiewicz himself evidently knows almost nothing about the “mainstream biology” he so casually invokes, and he knows perhaps even less about paleoanthropology, paleoarcheology, cognitive and affective neuroscience, behavioral ecology, behavioral genetics, developmental psychology, sex research, game theory, and life-history theory. All of these fields feed into the central findings of “evolutionary psychology.” Findings from all the fields form an interlocking body of facts used for testing empirical hypotheses.
If Deresiewicz had any real knowledge of this subject, he would not make gaffes like his claim that findings in evolutionary psychology “have no support in genetics.” To take just the grossest example, sex differences are rooted in genetics, and sex differences are of course central to evolutionary thinking about reproductive psychology.
By rejecting general ideas in favor of unique, qualitative moments, Deresiewicz appeals to a half-truth that is the foundational principle of reactionary humanism. The whole truth is that literature and our responses to literature involve both elemental, universal aspects of human experience and also unique experiences produced by individual differences and unique environmental conditions.
Deresiewicz offers his plangent cri de coeur—Back to the Particular!—as the only possible salvation of the humanities. Actually, the only possible forms of salvation are real knowledge and good sense. We won’t get there by adopting a purely negative stance towards the integration of specifically literary knowledge and modern psychology.
I’m attaching a copy of an article under submission, on possible future developments of literary Darwinism.
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