Scherr, Alexander

Narrating Evolution

Agency, Narrative Thinking, and the Epistemic Value of Contemporary British and American Novels

In the last two decades, evolutionary theorists have displayed great interest in human beings as 'storytelling animals', thus calling attention to the cognitive faculty of narrative thinking and its survival values. Narratologists have contributed to ongoing research into narrative cognition, but they have also begun to investigate the stories we construct of evolution itself. The present study analyzes such 'evolutionary narratives' as notoriously difficult and conflicted forms of representation. It posits that the way in which narratives conceptualize behaviour as intentional action differs significantly from the rule-based, recursive and emergent agency exhibited by evolutionary systems. Advancing an understanding of science as embedded in culture, it argues that evolutionary narratives are never purely scientific formations but can instead be traced in a wide range of genres and texts, including narrative fiction.

'Narrating Evolution' pursues two main goals. Firstly, it seeks to conceptualize the nexus between evolution and narrative in a bidirectional manner by (a) theorizing the logic of narrative in contradistinction to evolutionary systems and (b) studying evolutionary theory narratologically. Secondly, the study analyzes select contemporary British and US-American novels as 'epistemological fiction'. Providing close readings of texts by Ian McEwan, Richard Powers, Edward O. Wilson, A.S. Byatt, Michael Crichton and Mark Haddon, it shows how novels can fulfil a range of critical functions - epistemic, meta-cognitive and ethical - in their engagement with evolutionary narratives. The paradigm of neo-Darwinism, in particular, is critically scrutinized in the course of this work, which combines epistemological interest in the 'narratibility' of evolution with analyses of fiction and broader cultural discourses.

ISBN 978-3-86821-697-4, kt., 346 S., 39,50 (2017)

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