The Nation Spring Books Issue…

Posted by @ 1:29 pm on May 23rd, 2009

On the origin of awesome beards.

…is on stands now. I haven’t seen a hard copy yet, but if you click over to their website the top story is an essay by William Deresiewicz, for whose critical writing I expressed much love in a previous post. Here’s a meaty little excerpt from “Adaptation: On Literary Darwinism.”

Human beings expend an enormous amount of energy doing things that don’t seem to have any survival value: singing, dancing, painting caves, decorating spears and, above all, telling stories. (Think how much time you spend consuming fictional narratives–novels, movies, TV shows–in one form or another.) The nascent field of Darwinian aesthetics seeks to account for the art-making impulse in evolutionary psychological terms. If art is a product of the mind, and the mind is a product of evolution, then art is a product of evolution. Again, as an intellectual project, this is perfectly valid. But there are also strong selection pressures pushing in the direction of such an approach. Evolutionary thinking is, at present, an aggressively expansive species within the academic world, a kind of emergent Homo sapiens outcompeting the old-school Neanderthals across a wide swath of intellectual territory. Having colonized the social sciences–where it has begun to displace the view, predominant throughout the twentieth century, that the mind is a highly malleable product of culture–it has now set its sights on the humanities, the last area of resistance.

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