Speaker series
Evolution and the Social Mind
Speaker Series
 
Why Is Literature:
Some Co-Evolutionary Implications of  Imaginative Worldmaking
 
A Presentation by Paul Hernadi
Professor of English and Comparative Literature, UCSB
Friday April 9, 1999 at 12:30pm - 2:00pm
Anthropology, HSSB 2001A
 
 
Abstract
 
Since prehistoric times, literature has been serving two complementary functions:  to expand the cognitive, emotive, and volitional horizons of human awareness and to integrate our beliefs, feelings, and desires within the fluid mentality required for survival in the complex social environments of human organisms.  Frequent participation in protoliterary transactions may have made some early humans more astute planners, more sensitive mind-readers, and more reliable co-operators than their conspecific rivals, thereby increasing their chances to become the ancestors of contemporary men and women.  Such a view of literature's role in the co-evolution of human nature and culture helps to explain its worldwide presence and perhaps even some of its shared characteristics across cultural divides.  Three universal features, respectively associated with the cognitive, emotive, and volitional dimensions of mental functioning, will be discussed in detail: (a) the verbalizing of semantic and episodic memory and of egocentric and participatory perception through thematic, narrative, lyric, and dramatic modes of discourse;  (b) the polarization of literary entertainment into thrilling and gratifying types inclining audiences toward recognizable subvarieties of either crying or laughing;  and (c) the motivating impact of fictive stories about imagined characters on the will of actual people to change themselves and their worlds.
 
Paul Hernadi is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at UCSB. Of the books he has authored or edited, the following have bearing on the forthcoming presentation: Beyond Genre: New Directions in Literary Classification (1972), What Is Literature? (1978), What Is Criticism? (1981), Interpreting Events: Tragicomedies of History on the Modern Stage (1985), Cultural Transactions: Nature, Self, Society (1995).

Personal web page: http:/humanitas.ucsb.edu/~hernadip/
 
 

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Speaker series
Evolution and the Social Mind
Speaker Series