The Sciences will save literature!
Posted May 13, 2008on:
Hurray for statistics and psychology!
As a science and humanities student I find this article rather quaint (this person is hardly the first to suggest this). (Oh and are any of the theories he so manfully takes down en vogue anymore?) As one specializing in neuroscience (bioethics) I’m sighing at yet someone else rushing to the infant field (comparative to all other sciences) to provide all the answers. No doubt he’ll want to study brain images of a men and women reading Jane Eyre and then come to some farcical conclusion. I just e-mailed it to my biology professor (who loves fiction) and I think I still hear him laughing through my computer speakers…
Anyway, you tell me what you think about this delightful man’s attempts to humble the humanities before the great Science Gaze while retaining “what makes literature special”. (You will find no mention of what that is, btw.)
Measure for Measure by Jonathan Gottschall
Literary studies should become more like the sciences. Literature professors should apply science’s research methods, its theories, its statistical tools, and its insistence on hypothesis and proof. Instead of philosophical despair about the possibility of knowledge, they should embrace science’s spirit of intellectual optimism. If they do, literary studies can be transformed into a discipline in which real understanding of literature and the human experience builds up along with all of the words.
The alternative is to let literary study keep withering away, and that would be a tragedy. Homo sapiens is a bizarre literary ape – one that, outside of working and sleeping, may well spend most of its remaining hours lost in landscapes of make-believe. Across the breadth of human history, across the wide mosaic of world cultures, there has never been a society in which people don’t devote great gobs of time to seeing, creating, and hearing fictions – from folktales to film, from theater to television. Stories represent our biggest and most preciously varied repository of information about human nature. Without a robust study of literature there can be no adequate reckoning of the human condition – no full understanding of art, culture, psychology, or even of biology. As Binghamton University biologist David Sloan Wilson says, “the natural history of our species” is written in love poems, adventure stories, fables, myths, tales, and novels.
Don’t they do this sort of thing in “Culture Studies” already?