MIMESIS AND THE HUMAN ANIMAL:
ON THE BIOGENETIC FOUNDATIONS OF LITERARY REPRESENTATION

 

By ROBERT STOREY

 

Northwestern University Press

Evanston, Illinois

1996

 

PUGNACIOUS PREFACE XV

He hates ‘theory’; its relativism; its ‘knowledges.’

Xv - He also hates the ‘school of resentment.’

Xvi - Literature is “the expression of everyday capacities.”  That all can get these narratives is exactly what postmodernists deny.

Xvii - There is a common “narrativistic” meaning all humans share.

Xix - He disagrees with Carroll.  He and Symons believe that emotion is older than cognition.  Carroll  is adverse to such ideas because he is very dualistic, and focuses on the higher faculties of reason.    Carroll is also hostile to certain forms of sociobiology because it seems to underwrite a conservative program. But, Story says, it is not a program, it is a theory about how animal groups function. 

Xxi – Story hates the contempt theory has for the rational West.

 

PART ONE: THE WORLD

 

CHAPTER 1: “I AM BECAUSE MY LITTLE DOG KNOWS ME”: OF APES AND ESSENCES . . . PAGE 3

5 – We rejected the Enlightenment reason position of modernization.  But, we are all self-aware.  Story will use “human nature” unapologetically.

7 – Even emotions are cultural to theorists, so where is individual identity?

9 – Emotions are organizers of human experience.   They are of early origin and help us in parenting, mating, aggression and play.”

11 – Ants have no emotions.  We do, which gives us settings and character. We communicate them. We can learn to maximize our responses to get such emotions.

12 – There is a point to which emotions are culturally attributed.  We no longer feel disgust at the lack of virginity, but virginity.

15 – It is becoming clear that human uniqueness is an illusion.

16 – We are much like chimps.  Unlike Plato, ideas do come from the bottom up, from evolution, that is always looking backwards – having solved the prior challenge.

17 – The capacity for communication speaks of community.  Solitariness is not species-typical.

18 – The parent-child bond is primary.

19 – There seems to have been more dimorphism in hunter gatherers than agriculturists, looking at American Indian bones tells us.

21 – George Peter Murdock found one man to two or more women in 708 of 849 societies 83% and monogamy in only 137, 16%.  Polyandry – one woman many men happens in only  4 of the societies (less than ½ percent).

A look at 80 pre-industrial societies found in 59% fathers are rarely or never with their infants.  A regular and close relationship between father and child is only in 4%.

22 – Males are everywhere more aggressive.

25 – In the first years of life, there is a positive correlation among aggression, altruism, and emotionality for boys, but not girls.  Between 5 and 6 there is a shift from aggression as empathy to aggression as dominance in boys.   And, through adolescence, their aggression is positively correlated with their self-esteem.

26 – Girls have a best friend or two; boys go in groups often competitive play groups.

27 – “It’s Tiger’s thesis in Men in Groups,  that “Male bonds are of the same biological order for defensive, food-gathering, and social-order-maintenance purpose as the male-female bond is for reproductive purposes.”

 

Ritch C Savin-Williams did a summer camp experiment.  “For boys there were alphas; more handsome, athletic, physically mature; the satellites included a beta confident, a gamma bully, a joker, and the quite submissive follower. 

 

28 – Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is a condition that masculinizes girls via high levels of androgen.  The clitoris is bigger and they like male toys and are more rough and tumble.  The brain is a sexualized organ.

29  - We seem to have different roles prior to society.   Of course, this is on a bell-curve.  We look at a population level.

30 – People who couldn’t tell sleeping is dangerous in a cave in which two tigers entered and only one emerged, did not survive.  “The world as perceived is the world survived.”

33 – The male who worked towards control did better.  “The emotionally motivated human animal is a behaviorally conservative animal.”

34 – There is a biogram to our species.  A grammar.  We may shave our armpits and put on deodorant, but we’re still animals, with sex drives, smells, dominance drives.

35 - Nature holds culture on a leash.  Talk to a blank slate for ages, it will not grow a character or talk to you.

Many traits are 50% inherited. Anxiety, criminality, divorce, dominance, extraversion, homosexuality, intelligence, manic-depressive psychosis, novelty-seeking, obesity, political attitudes, substance abuse, sociality, vocational influences have genetic underpinnings.

36 – A true account of art must include our human biological nature.

 

CHAPTER 2: “ME AGAINST MY BROTHER; ME AND MY BROTHER AGAINST OUR COUSINS; ME, MY BROTHER AND OUR COUSINS . . . “: THE GENETIC CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIALITY . . . PAGE 37

 

38 – It is an error to associate the modern synthesis (genes and Darwin) and sociobiology with our Freudian inheritance.

 

39 – A selfish gene does not imply a selfish organism. 

 

Aggressive males patrol women’s sexuality with sexual jealousy. Women worry more about emotional infidelity.

 

42 - Hypergamy is marrying up.

43- Wives may want egalitarian males in the home, but outside they want authoritarian, strong, tough, competitive men.  Marriage is a den of reciprocal altruism.

 

44 – Parents are also altruistic to their kids.

 

47 – Some brain lesions make people understand that killing is wrong, but not feel it. And, people are more altruistic to people who look more like them.

 

48 – We marry folks who look like us.  Gratitude, guilt, the need for social approval, all bind us to others.  Emotions are regulators. 

 

52 – In terms of hierarchy, all known cultures have age stratification.  Eibl-Eibesfeldt said that as rank striving was built into us, any system that shoots for equality must be repressive.

 

53 – Women build solidarity with conversation, men independence and negotiate status. 

 

56 – A warm ethnophilia would be a good glue and a robust xenophobia is a good defense.

 

Accents are good markers, but you don’t always get to hear the other speak.  So, distinctive markings, paint, hairdos and such make distinctions easier to see.

 

57 – With fewer and fewer children, where is the selfish gene? 

 

58 – There is so much to live for now.  We love our genes collectively, more than ½ genes in kids.

 

59 – And though we have appliances, we have less relatives, so home becomes more difficult.

 

60 – Our Darwinian selves are not conscious, but they are not the monsters of Freud.   We are made sincere by ignorance of our own desires. We want to appear just, moral and ethical.

 

CHAPTER 3: ON DISCOURSE AND THE DARWIN MACHINE: THE MATTER AND THE CHATTER OF THE MIND . . . PAGE 63

 

63 – In the prior two chapters, man was seen as an object, with biogenetic grammar.  In this chapter, agency. 

 

We don’t need Freudianism:  Babies are responsive to the smell of their own mother’s milk and the human voice and for symmetry on the vertical plane (as in faces). 

 

Babies can detect nipples from other objects; they have common sense. 

 

67 – But infants are affective.  When they see and touch things, it changes their respiration and heart rate.  They seek a threshold of stimulation as a reward and avoid more. 

 

69 – In split hemisphere experiments the left brain justifies what it unconsciously registers in the right. The left is the interpreter.

 

70 – Language stabilizes reasoning that was already there.

 

71 – Lakoff and Johnson. We necessarily think metaphorically.  

 

72 - So we have our bodies, our interaction with the physical environment and our interaction with other people in our culture.

 

73 – He is very John Locke in a non-tabula rasa kind of way.

 

74 – Argument is war.

 

75 – We are born with folk psychology, understanding expressions.  

 

76 – Interactions with toddlers all suppose a folk psychology with emotion and logic.

 

80 – Children's striving for grammar has an order because there is a push to construct narrative.

 

81 – In competition with siblings, getting what you want often means getting the story right.  It shows mitigating circumstances. 

 

84 – “Narrative is not, as many theorists have maintained, so much “story” as an innate way of knowing, essentially as prelinguistic in its operation as conceptualizing has proven to be.”

 

Dreams are sequential.  Even herein narrative from random stimulus.  It is likely that animals have dreams in very short narrative form.

 

86 - We understand characters and plots.   Narrative is an active competence connected to conation and emotion.   Autistic people often lack this ability.

 

88 – Narrative deals with the simple and concrete and only a few people. 

 

The primary psychodynamic is narrative, and the secondary, rational.

 

91 – 89 percent of 488 societies have institutionalized trance or dissociative experience. 

 

As William H. Calvin describes it, our narrative is constantly editing narrative fragments.   Dennett calls the self the “center of narrative gravity.”  It strings along narrative and so makes self.

 

96 – Most animals do consciousness 1 – on-line thinking.  We do consciousness 2 off-line thinking.

 

PART TWO: THE BOOK

CHAPTER 4: “WHAT IS ART FOR?”: NARRATIVE AND THE LUCID READER . . . PAGE 101

 

102 – We justify our commitments in “narrativity

103 – our minds are “Darwin Machines” engaged in the project of negotiating and making sense of our physical and social worlds.  They include social ambivalences such as Male v. Female, self v. kin, kin v. non kin and group versus group. 

 

Tragedy is a meditation on the destructive effects of these ambivalences;  comedy exploits these ambivalences as a source of incongruity.

 

Literature constrains our anti-social will and does most of its work on young people seeking a place in their culture.

 

104 – How does narrative commend itself to the reader? Vie the emotions.  At its best in an affective embrace.

 

We must feel this reality, so the pleasures of narrative do not originate in the fictional nature of the exchange.

It makes emotions special, says Dissanayake, whereas play rarely produces either an artifact or a vision, and ritual rarely relaxes its ties with the narrative – art does both.

 

107 – Preliterates’ art is more integrated into their daily lives.  It involves expectations attuned to the specific nature of an encounter.  Like aesthetic “distance” and the defamiliarizing properties of poem, dance, or epic, “set” enables the bracketing of art so that its commentary on life is saturated with significance.  

 

Art displays a state of affairs.

 

Our characters are intentionally intelligible.

 

111 - Narrative is not simply the basis of literary competence, but the “deep grammar” of narrative itself.  Even the most devoted practitioner of anti-narrativity can completely do away with it.

 

112 – A social drama first manifests itself with the breach of a norm.   The infraction of a rule of morality.  Then sides are taken, factions are formed; the contagion of the split is ‘sealed off’ in the third phase of social drama: redress.

 

113 – As in the Homeric epics, being taught by the old to the young, narrative gives the canonical aspects of social norms.

 

Loyal Rue says “cultural myths are powerful means of cooperation because they function to integrate the domains of human interest into a comprehensive e narrative unity and to safeguard the culture against an influx of meanings that might otherwise disrupt social coherence.”

 

115 – Five year olds have trouble telling stories because they want to tell stories they already know.   Children's fairy tales are filled with catastrophe, often violent, and full of gender differences.

 

116 – Later boys invent stories in which boys and men act violently  against each other.  Girls’ shooting is less associated with lasting death.  There is more friendship negotiation in girls stories.  They don’t relish catastrophe for its own sake.

 

118 – Comic book readers often can’t remember the story they just finished.  Rather, they like the aura of what they’ve just read.

 

119 – In Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Tom Swift, the plots are simple and repetitive and they are (at least psychologically) parentless.   These stories help youth imagine themselves as the central figures.  And, youth books are gender divided.

 

After adolescence literature must be realistic and make the reader ‘think.’  They compare their thought with that of the characters.

 

120 – Though rebellious, adolescents are very deferential to the writer in interpretations.

 

Rock singers are like shamans, and adolescents look for these. Reading for enjoyment peaks in junior – high, just when in ‘primitive’ cultures, the child becomes a man or woman.

 

121 – We’re hardwired for emotional reception to narrativity at sensitive points in our lives.

 

123 – We read to recognize ourselves in the book, it is mimesis.

 

126 – It is mimetic in that, as Boyd notes, it relies on the reader’s attempt to descry an intelligibility in human affairs.  So characters need to have intentional intelligibility.  We need to be able to understand them.

 

Deconstructionists attempts to get beyond the narrative are anti-human.  We understand the narrative, but it must be emotional too.  So to tragedy and comedy.

 

CHAPTER 5: TRAGEDY: THE APE GETS SERIOUS . . . PAGE 131

 

131 – Shakespeare in the bush is from 1966.  The Tiv particularly did not like that elders did not resolve issues.   They got deception.

 

137 – Tragedy involves the reader in agonistic emotions (anger, fear) as well as those like pity, that suggest a yet-to-be-mastered working through of suffering.   We leave moved.  It involves more emotions than comedy.

 

The tragic hero must have some integrity for us to feel empathy with them. This is the heart of the seriousness of tragedy.

 

139 – Tragedy is about a decision between two opposed allegiances. But he is also small in that he carries out the fates’ decrees.  He has the most blameless of intentions, but catastrophe is in the cards.

 

142 – The state abhors kinship. Antigone does not die for love, but for a bond.

 

145 – In tragedy the conflict is within man, in melodrama between men.   Antigone is divided by a conflict between affiliative group loyalties.

 

148 – In tragedy we have the right emotional responses.  These emotions are not purged, they are courted and entertained.

 

149 – And this is how the spectator is educated by tragedy: 1) They have empathetic identification.  2) ambivalence over emotional allegiances; 3) vicarious endurance of catastrophe. 

 

Another idea is that these conflicts are unavoidable.

 

The more receptive to social learning the more genetically fit, he or she tends to be.  But, the individual may be asked to give more than they can.  Thus the culture may not be cohesive.

 

150 – The sky can still fall on our heads. Disaster waits.  Merely to exist is to disturb the balance of nature.  “The more you fear, the stronger the reverence for the just, the stronger your country’s wall and city’s safety.” – Athena in the Orestreia.

 

151 – “Death with its inevitable victory over effort is then the first tragic act.” And the inevitable conflict with society and others brings friction and hate. This is also tragic.  Conflict is inevitable, get ready for social action – says tragedy.

 

CHAPTER 6: COMEDY AND THE RELAXED-MOUTH OPEN DISPLAY . . . PAGE 153

 

154 – Comedy shows that life is a union in love, not a battle of self-interest.

 

159 – Darwin noted that “if a young chimpanzee be tickled . . . a . . . decided chucling or laughing sound is uttered.” And modern ethologists have linked these vocalizations, as well as the “relaxed open-mouth display” to “mock – fighting and chasing involved in social play.”

 

Infants do this with peek-a-boo too.  It is a low level abandonment and finding.  But, it can easily tip into crtying.   This requires reassurance from a caretaker in the form of smiles. 

 

The smaile may be regarded as an intention to bite if the attacker advances suddenly.    But the silent bared teeth or fear grin is a sign of submissiveness in most higher primates. 

 

162 – In infants smiles signal bonding.  It some say, is an infants way of saying, I understand and have incorporated new info.   Pleasure of mastery is there in the grasping the incongruity of jokes.

 

But, how can smiles represent fighting and bonding?

 

163 – The element common to all laugh-inducing situations is the presence of a masterable discrepancy or incongruity.

 

The adaptive advantage of assimilating incongruities into diverse systems – and so extending our intellectual reach – accounts for the funniness of the joke.

 

164 – The integration of said info seems to be right brain.

168 – The fool is perhaps the most important of the types since his blunders often serve to clarify the norms of the comic spectacle.

 

169 – Pleasure in ‘the wit’ types comes from imagining mastery over ones own character.   The fool is incompetent, the wit has total control.

 

171 – The defining characteristic of the rogue is gross selfishness.  A cheat at the banquet of life.   His is a mock aggressiveness.

 

172 – What is most significant about the fool, the wit, and the rogue are that they confirm the spectator’s eminence.  In laughing at the fool, with the wit, or complicity with the rogue’s transgressions. 

 

Apparently, all three have their origins in the trickster.  

 

173 - Like the social wit, the trickster is a beneficial agent.  But, they lack empathy because they are conceived to excite laughter alone.

 

176 – Comedy and tragedy both resolve conflict.

 

CHAPTER 7: GILDING THE MIRROR; MIMESIS AND PHILOSOPHY IN A FAIRLY HONORABLE DEFEAT . . . PAGE 179

 

179 – Freud is largely pessimistic, seeing the psyche as ego-centric and sexual and ambiguous and we can barely control them.   Plato also saw good as directed by the state and so not intrinsic to us.

 

Story exposes this sort of not natural, not in us philosophy via looking extensively at Iris Murdoch’s work.

 

194 - But in the end her characters work, not because of what she thinks, but because they are connected to the deep biogrammar. 

 

195 - She let’s men occupy the center of things.  They are bonded by their professional interests.  The males are high status. Women’s status is attached to men.  Relationships revolve around kin.  But, there is a lot of conflict within the kin structure.  There are deviants, such as a homosexual character.  But, she does not explain him via Freudianism, which is great.  

 

The power in Murdoch’s work is that the characters are not mouthpieces that degenerate into parable, but complex, so that we feel more whole for having been under their skin.

 

Not overly moral, these are human animals.

PLAINSPOKEN POSTSCRIPT . . . PAGE 201

Rather than ungrounded, modern dying literary criticism is grounded in quasi-revolutionary politics.

 

Often counter factual Freudianism dresses up this stuff, but the last ½ century of neuroscience is ignored.  One writer is still writing of “infant sexuality.”

 

203 – Their work makes them victims of forces and works towards the ‘liberation of desire.’

 

Martha Nussbaum is part of this ignoring of psychology and siding with the cognitive.  

 

204 – Geertz is also invoked to show all is cultural and there are no universals.

 

205 – As Carroll says, “the political norm that typically governs postructuralist thinking is that of anarchistic utopianism.”  All  else is oppression.  

 

But, Darwinianism provides a richer take on life than disconnected cognition.