Darwinian literary theory

I’ve just come across Jonathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal. As someone who loves books, and finds evolutionary theory very interesting, it’s an intriguing intersection. He looks at stories with an evolutionary focus, talking about their adaptive value, and reasons why they may be byproducts of other adaptive behaviours.

The book’s unfortunately superficial – the things he’s writing about are interesting, but he skims across the surface, rather than diving down into the detail. He seems to pluck a little more from other popular books published on the topic rather than research literature, and there are endnotes rather than footnotes (granted, that’s more personal preference).

Perhaps most importantly, I feel unfortunately as though he laid out his claims as clearly as he could, or else argued them as persuasively as he could. So the book could be better – but it’s none-the-less an interesting read.

I’ve also come across his publications page – I particularly liked an intriguing study he took part in on personality depictions in 19th century literature.

UPDATE: I’ve just finished the book. My opinion remains essentially unchanged, that the topic just isn’t done justice. Gottschall skims across the material, so it feels more like a long book report about some pop-culture science/psychology books he read, than any kind of stretching idea. Yeah, stories are important and influence human beings – we get it. But there was no startling new information, or grappling with the interesting issues (and there are lots) here. Disappointing.

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