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RE: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd

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  • Carroll, Joseph C.
    Here (attached) is a diagram of all the kinds of relationships a biocultural critique needs to take into account. Many of these categories are common parts of
    Message 1 of 5 , Dec 24, 2009
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    Here (attached) is a diagram of all the kinds of relationships a biocultural critique needs to take into account. Many of these categories are common parts of common-language criticism, and indeed even the most concerted efforts to eliminate authors and intentional meanings slip them in surreptitiously in the back door.

    Steve Berer says that Darwinist criticism "does NOT speak to the author's issues and intentions. That's fine, but it doesn't give any new insights about the text, per se. Rather, it uses the text as data to promote a particular theory." The Darwinists I know do in fact speak to the author's issues and intentions. They don't of course assume that the author is himself or herself a Darwinist; they just assume that the author is in possession of an evolved and adapted mind and is speaking to other people who have such minds.

    The Darwinists unabashedly promote their theory because they think it is a true and comprehensive theory, encompassing all of human life. Perhaps Steve thinks otherwise. Some people do.

    Joe Carroll




    ________________________________

    From: biopoet@yahoogroups.com on behalf of Jeff P. Turpin
    Sent: Thu 12/24/2009 11:10 AM
    To: ellen.spolsky@...; b.boyd@...
    Cc: biopoet@yahoogroups.com; Cog Lit Assn
    Subject: Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd




    I'm ambivalent about this for a few reasons, but in support of Ellen's claims, there are critical reads and general purpose essays out there that target exactly the "understanding" of texts (I mentioned John Niles's recent critique of Beowulf as one, and a recent Rita Felski essay beats a deep ditch around the empirical bush while not overtly validating empiricism) with out being explicitly Darwinian, or even scientific. These may be the most satisfying reads of all, since they reify "common sense," while fulfilling the rigor of lit dar and other scientific approaches. However, I also have a critique of Edith Wharton's work that is strongly justified by the text and the science, but which goes against traditional interpretations of her work. I argue that it is an accurate reading because it is so heavily verified by the text and ev psych studies, but others argue that it can't be right, because it goes against critical tradition, or the author's biography, etc. So I'm tempted to say new readings can be produced . . . but proof is in the pudding, time will tell, etc. JT

    Jeff P. Turpin, President
    Turpin and Sons Inc.
    Cultural Resource Management
    2047 Lakeshore, Canyon Lake, TX 78133
    (512) 922-7826

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: Ellen Spolsky <mailto:ellen.spolsky@...>
    To: b.boyd@... <mailto:b.boyd@...>
    Cc: Jeff P. Turpin <mailto:jpturpin@...> ; biopoet@yahoogroups.com <mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups.com> ; Cog Lit Assn <mailto:CogLAs@...>
    Sent: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 5:03 PM
    Subject: Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd

    I have to support Brian on this point. Just imagine what an odd situation it would be if a new theoretical approach produced a reading of an important (classic, beloved, supply your own adjective here) that was really entirely new, that no one had ever thought of before and then claimed that the approach itself had "proved" that this reading was - what? "a right reading of the author's intention?" the only "correct" way to read the text? Of course that would be entirely unconvincing. Remember that when some American deconstructionist criticism produced some new and very odd readings of familiar texts, there were many objections. Literary theories (as opposed to literary approaches to texts) don't provide readings - they may explain how readers (experienced or un) arrive at understanding, but they don't produce understandings that couldn't be arrived at on the basis of reading alone by experienced readers. As Jonathan Culler once pointed out ("Beyond Criticism" might have been the name of his article it was in Comparative Literature), we don't need more readings of great texts. We have plenty already. Evolutionary theory has added some quite interesting questions and some hypotheses to our the theoretical discussion of what fictions of various kinds do in the world. It isn't supposed to produce readings. es



    On Wed, Dec 23, 2009 at 11:38 PM, b.boyd@... <mailto:b.boyd@...> <b.boyd@... <mailto:b.boyd@...> > wrote:


    Tom Dolack suggest three categories of readings from the cognitive and evolutionary critics:

    1) Fairly pedestrian readings of a text that are dressed up in

    scientific language.

    2) Cognitive/psychological explanations of how a "naive" reading of

    the text is reached - these can be quite interesting from a

    psychological point of view, but don't add much from the lit crit

    point of view.

    3) Decent to excellent readings of the text that are mostly

    old-fashioned close reading, but are based on a cognitive/evolutionary

    foundation-the theory mentioned above (although they don't always

    acknowledge this).




    Tom, you seem to approve at least to some degree of 3), but not of the fact that they "are mostly old-fashioned close reading."

    Since you are talking of readings of literary texts, what else would you want? Distant readings according to some cognitivist or evolutionary formula or template? Doesn't the fact that the readings are close, i.e. sensitive to the particulars of the text, count in their favor? Doesn't the fact that they respond to what is in the text, even if seen through an evolutionary or cognitive lens, count in their favor? Doesn't the fact that they come from research traditions where negative or counter-evidence is appreciated as crucial count in their favor? (If they fail to consider counter-evidence, they are damned by their own standards.)

    On the other hand Derridean equivocation, Foucauldian suspicion and proclamations of new epistemes, New Historicist assertions of thoughts unthinkable within a given era, and Freudian or Lacanian retranslation seem distortive and blurry lenses, and unrelated to an active, critical research tradition with a sophisticated methodology. (This does not mean that every proposal advanced within cognitive and evolutionary traditions is valid-there is no method for arriving at only true conclusions, or we'd all use it; only that invalid results are likely to be sifted out as invalid much faster than without good methodology.)

    All the traditions above, from Derrida to Lacan, AND old-fashioned close reading, rely on positive evidence, on evidence FOR a claim. Cognitive and evolutionary approaches on the other hand accept (or should accept, if they are to be worthy of the name) the need to take into consideration, above all, possible counter-evidence. This should immediately rule out a host of untenable claims about any literary work you like to consider.

    Cognitive and evolutionary approaches also allow us to understand more-and more that has been well tested-about human minds and natures. That does not mean that "To be or not to be" will now be read as "To computate or not to computate" or "To copulate or not to copulate," but depending on what questions you are interested in about a literary work, cognitive or evolutionary approaches may be able to supply richer answers.

    And cognitive and evolutionary considerations can also provide new models of literary production and reception, incorporating, for instance, explicit recognition of costs and benefits for both artists and audiences, of both writing and readings as problem-solving, and as involving problems slightly differently formulated than in conventional criticism, and involving commonalities and differences at multiple levels. This will not make writing and reading look entirely different-if it did, that would count against new approaches rather than for them-but it can finesse critical theory and critical practice. And it certainly does not eliminate the need for close reading, especially by expert readers, although it should also take into account the costs and benefits for non-expert readers.

    More of this in my next book.

    Brian Boyd

    On 22/12/2009, at 5:20 AM, Jeff P. Turpin wrote:


    Tom--Thanks for the post and query. Frankly, I have also been a bit
    disappointed with the results of lit dar inquiries to date--but I am hardly
    as well read in the genre as I should be, with two jobs, a just completed
    dissertation, and a two-year-old, so I don't want to claim authority. I do
    think the new discipline is busy establishing method and foundation, and
    guarding its backside against the incredible level of hostility that seems
    to dog evolutionary theory wherever it goes. We have to remember that ours
    is the first critical school in a long time to demand empirical testing and
    verification like a science, rather than bursting untested but inflammatory
    rhetorical Eureka!s out into the world. Rigor and disciplined method
    require solid foundations and careful extensions. And patience. But I
    thought Gottschall's piece on fairy tales and Salmon's piece on pornography
    were productive examples of the application of scientific methods to
    existing critiques, and still think Scalise-Sugiyama's work on Oedipus and
    Hamlet is important. Off the top of my head I can't remember the name of
    the scholar from RMMRA who put me on to you and Joe Carroll, but his
    adaptive analysis of Chaucer's WoBT was productive, and I hope to combine
    that approach with a look at Chaucer's ClT soon, hopefully to good affect.
    Also, I thought John Niles's new look at Beowulf in the recent Donaldson
    edition was incredibly good, but when I wrote Niles to congratulate him he
    was not particularly enthusiastic about my assertion that his essay was a
    stout Darwinian read of the poem ;-).
    I can hardly call people out on a listserve for plugging their own books
    and writings and then proselytize on my own behalf, but I have an article on
    Wharton and Steinbeck purportedly coming out in 2010, a similar piece in a
    published collection on Steinbeck (Rodopi), and a rather truncated essay in
    a recent book on Latino culture, that try to put more meat on the bone, so
    to speak. I also have a dissertation section on L. M. Silko's novel
    Ceremony that I will present to a cynical audience this winter. All of
    these should also come out in the next year or two in "my book," if and when
    a publisher accepts the proposal. These fall mostly into your categories 1
    or 3 (is beauty really in the eye of the beholder? ;-). I will copy the
    shortest of these to you by individual email, and you can pass your own
    judgment. In some of these cases I think I am saying something new about
    the text, in others I am simply pointing out why the text is as powerful as
    it is--what instincts or universals it taps into, and what adaptive
    functions it fulfills. I hope they are worthy contributions.
    I should also say that I agree with you about the unnecessary division
    between cog psych and lit dar. In the Silko piece I combine the two for
    what I hope is a productive read. But I think Joe Carroll effectively
    describes the potential win/win combining of the two disciplines in his
    essay in Style, and I am strongly committed to combining the two in adaptive
    analyses (I think the split is more about the competitive nature of the
    academic/critical hierarchy that I wrote about in my original post. But
    let's not get into that again--enuf nasty language in my inbox already).
    Attachments to follow. I am open to all criticism, negative, positive,
    as long as it is progressive. Thanks again. JT


    Jeff P. Turpin, President
    Turpin and Sons Inc.
    Cultural Resource Management
    2047 Lakeshore, Canyon Lake, TX 78133
    (512) 922-7826
    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Thomas Dolack" <dolack_thomas@... <mailto:dolack_thomas@...> >
    To: "Cog Lit Assn" <CogLAs@... <mailto:CogLAs@...> >; <biopoet@yahoogroups.com <mailto:biopoet@yahoogroups.com> >;
    "Jeff P. Turpin" <jpturpin@... <mailto:jpturpin@...> >
    Sent: Monday, December 21, 2009 9:24 AM
    Subject: Re: [CogLAs] [biopoet] Bé rubé review Boyd




    "As to claims about tepid results of adaptationist criticisms, the jury is


    still out on this topic. The discipline is young, and is still trying to


    fight free of the gravity (and criticism) of its predecessors. I won't


    stoop to plugging my own pubs here, but there are very productive new


    critiques out there for the interested reader, and I am confident that the


    new methodologies will bear more palatable fruit."




    Hi Jeff,



    I was wondering if you could forward some bibliography, and please feel


    free to plug your own stuff.



    I must say, on the whole I agree with the tepidness of the results, with


    certain caveats. My general impression of both cognitive and Darwinian


    readings of literature is that the readings (and I mean specifically the


    readings here, and not the theory, some of which I think is outstanding)


    fall into a few categories:



    1) Fairly pedestrian readings of a text that are dressed up in scientific


    language.



    2) Cognitive/psychological explanations of how a "naive" reading of the


    text is reached - these can be quite interesting from a psychological


    point of view, but don't add much from the lit crit point of view.



    3) Decent to excellent readings of the text that are mostly old-fashioned


    close reading, but are based on a cognitive/evolutionary foundation-the


    theory mentioned above (although they don't always acknowledge this).



    I could probably subdivide a bit, but it's the holidays. I really haven't


    seen a whole lot from either camp (and I still don't understand why


    cognitive and Darwinian approaches are so separate) that demonstrates what


    I would call a Darwinian or cognitive reading of a text *per se*. This


    gets quickly into what I think an important issue: what is the proper


    sphere of application for the field? Some of the contretemps in the field


    (or coming from outside it) stem from this issue (as far as I can tell).


    One of these days I'll get around to writing something up formally, but in


    the meantime I'm happy to read things that change my mind.



    Tom



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    Ellen Spolsky
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    Bar-Ilan University
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