Mr. Darcy Meets Mr. Darwin; There Are No Survivors


Two recent stories–one in the Boston Globe and one in the NY Times–explore a possibly burgeoning school of lit crit that draws its inspiration from evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, and the like.

Move over Edmund Wilson, you fat, bloated, Lenin-lovin', tax-hatin' wife beater (and semi-son of Red Bank, NJ, home also to Count Basie and a failed nightclub owned by Clarence Clemons)! There's a new Wilson in American letters–E.O. Wilson, and he's got more inclusive fitness in one pinky than Bunny did in his whole body.

The stories are here and here. Both deal with a new anthology dedicated to bio-criticism and both are interesting. And both pooh-pooh the prospects of the bio-crit school they report on. As literary grand poobah Frederick Crews tells the Globe: "My hunch is that the vein of evolutionary ore to be mined in literary study will prove to be rather thin." And he's a booster of sorts of this stuff. With that sort of attitude, it's a wonder man hisself has survived the age of pedal-powered, timber-sided automobiles. Go figure.

And if you're interested in this sort of thing, let me point out that Reason was on this beat years ago, climbing out of the water like some sort of precocious half-frog, half-snake with a tale titled "Darwin and Dickens: A new breed of literary crtitics is using evolution to explain literature–and to challenge intellectual orthodoxy."

And while Crews may be right about the long-term prospects of this stuff, there's no doubt that Joe Carroll's Evolution and Literary Theory, Bob Storey's Mimesis and the Human Animal, and anything by Ellen Dissanayake (to name a few works by early practitioners) are damn scintillating works of literary and cultural criticism.

When someone can tell me how Darwin can explain Herman Melville's Clarel, reported to be the longest poem in the English language by the one person who read past the first 100 lines and not uncoincidentally the most boring, then I'll become a true believer. Though to be fair, this goddamned pram will make a monkey out of Intelligent Design lunkheads too.