Evolution and Popular Narrative


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The contributors to this volume share the assumption that popular narrative, when viewed with an evolutionary lens, offers an incisive index into human nature. In theory, narrative art could take a near infinity of possible forms. In actual practice, however, particular motifs, plot patterns, stereotypical figures, and artistic devices persistently resurface, indicating specific predilections frequently at odds with our actual living conditions. Our studies explore various media and genres to gauge the impact of our evolutionary inheritance, in interdependence with the respective cultural environments, on our aesthetic appreciation. As they suggest, research into mass culture is not only indispensable for evolutionary criticism but may also contribute to our understanding of prehistoric selection pressures that still influence modern preferences in popular narrative.

Contributions by David Andrews, James Carney, Mathias Clasen, Brett Cooke, Tamás Dávid-Barrett, Tom Dolack, Kathryn Duncan, Isabel Behncke Izquierdo, Joe Keener, Alex C. Parrish, Todd K. Platts, Anna Rotkirch, Judith P. Saunders, Michelle Scalise Sugiyama, Dirk Vanderbeke, and Sophia Wege.

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Dirk Vanderbeke is Professor of English Studies at the Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena. He has published on a variety of topics, e.g. physics and literature, evolutionary criticism, James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, John Milton, and popular narratives including comics and graphic novels. Brett Cooke is Professor of Russian at Texas A&M University. He is the author of Pushkin and the Creative Process, and Human Nature in Utopia: Zamyatin's We, (co-) editor of Sociobiology and the Arts, The Fantastic Other, Biopoetics: Evolutionary Explorations in the Art, and Critical Insights: War and Peace.
"[…] this edited volume is an excellent addition to the study of popular culture, introducing a wider variety of narrative to the Darwinian approach. […] It is encouraging to see such a broad range of narrative included, especially some of those often aimed at a young audience, such as graphic novels and Harry Potter. As someone who has dabbled in this area myself and advocated for the study of popular culture as artifacts of human nature, I highly recommend Evolution and Popular Narrative to anyone interested in the application of evolution to the arts or the study of popular culture in general."
-Catherine Salmon, in Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2020, pp. 141-143
List of Figures Introduction Brett Cooke and Dirk Vanderbeke 1 Evolution and Slasher Films Mathias Clasen and Todd K. Platts 2 Remaking, or Not, the Classics: Straw Dogs and Biocultural Stability in Rape-Revenge Movies David Andrews 3 Imagining the End of the World: a Biocultural Analysis of Post-Apocalyptic Fiction Mathias Clasen 4 On Love and Marriage in Popular Genres Dirk Vanderbeke 5 Social Network Complexity in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro Tamás Dávid-Barrett, James Carney, Anna Rotkirch, Isabel Behncke Izquierdo 6 Banal Classicism and Borrowed Ethos in the Rhetorics of Human and Nonhuman Animals Alex C. Parrish 7 The Reader Is Always Right. Biopoetic and Cognitive-Aesthetic Aspects of Karl May’s Adventure Novel Winnetou I Sophia Wege 8 Why We Read Detective Fiction: Theory of Mind in Action Judith P. Saunders 9 Handel, Senesino, and Giulio Cesare, or the Irreversible Decline of Opera Seria Brett Cooke 10 We’ve Evolved into the Gutters: Using Cognition and a Graphic Novel to Kill Shakespeare Joe Keener 11 Theory of Mind and Mind Eating: the Popular Appeal of Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Kathryn Duncan 12 The Relevance of Popularity: Ecological Factors at Play in Story Pervasiveness Michelle Scalise Sugiyama 13 A Quantitative Approach to Counterintuitive Imagery in the Hebrew Bible and the Harry Potter Novels Tom Dolack Index
Specialist and popular readers of popular narrative; these include popular literature, film, opera, children’s literature, science fiction and fantasy, and folklore. Our collection should interest the growing audience for attempts to comprehend the arts through the lens of evolutionary psychology or sociobiology.
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