Literary Criticism and Science

Literary Criticism and Science

Posted on Nov 29th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade

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Measure for Measure

Literary criticism could be one of our best tools for understanding the human condition. But first, it needs a radical change: embracing science

By Jonathan Gottschall

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starlight : StarLight Dancing

about 3 hours later

starlight said

i agree…joy*

Marmalade : Gaia Child

about 6 hours later

Marmalade said

I agree too.  I love fiction and I love reading criticism about fiction, but there is often something lacking.  Art and science need not be opposed.

I found many reviews of this article and there was some resistance to his proposal.  He has obviously hit a nerve.  The artists on the defense of their territory.

I don’t think Gottschall was saying that traditional theorizing is bad.  What I think he means is that theories should be treated as tentative hypotheses rather than as facts.  Subjective insight and personal opinion is perfectly valid, but there is no reason that more objective means need to be denied.  Even scientists have subjective insights and personal opinions, and then they test them when possible.

One reviewer thought Gottschall missed the point.  The reviewer said that Gottschall wasn’t saying anything that wasn’t obvious to commonsense.  I would agree that the examples he used seem commonsense to me, but obviously they don’t to decades of literary critics. 

Even if it is commonsense, it doesn’t necessarily mean its true.  That is where scientific research comes in.  Science is filled with examples of the seemingly obvious turning out to be false 

One critic of Gottschall said that as an academic he didn’t want to be forced to do tedious research.  That is fine and no one as yet is forcing academics to do this.  Different academics can focus on different aspects.  However, the most simple of theories must be tested by someone which is tedious, but that is strength of science… slow but sure.  There hasn’t been much scientific research on literature and so the early research is unlikely to be exciting.

In a way, Gottschall isn’t saying anything all that new.  The early psychologists were attempting to make their field reputable by grounding myth and the storytelling impulse within the psyche… which then could be scientifically studied.  Since then, evolutionary theories have been incorporated to give the needed scientific context for considering possible explanations.  How the blank slate view of the mind ever became popular is beyond me.