Monday, June 26, 2006

The "Purpose of Literature" - the Literary Darwinists explain it all

I must start out with a few posts from my previous blog. RIP.

"But what can the purpose of literature be, assuming it is not just a harmless oddity? At first glance, reading is a waste of time, turning us all into versions of Don Quixote, too befuddled by our imaginations to tell windmills from giants.....

One idea is that literature is a defense reaction to the expansion of our mental life that took place as we began to acquire the basics of higher intelligence around 40,000 years ago. At that time, the world suddenly appeared to homo sapiens in all its frightening complexity. But by taking imaginative but orderly voyages within our minds, we gained the confidence to interpret this new vastly denser reality.

Another theory is that reading literature is a form of fitness training, an exercise in "what if" thinking. If you could imagine the battle between the Greeks and the Trojans, then if you ever found yourself in a street fight, you would have a better chance of winning.

A third theory sees writing as a sex-display trait. Certainly writers often seem to be preening when they write, with an eye toward attracting a desirable mate. In "The Ghost Writer," Philip Roth's narrator informs another writer that "no one with seven books in New York City settles for" just one woman. "That's what you get for a couplet." *

Yet another theory is that the main function of literature is to integrate us all into one culture; evolutionary psychologists believe shared imaginings or myths produce social cohesion, which in turns confers a survival advantage.

And a fifth idea is that literature began as religion or wish fulfillment: we ensure our success in the next hunt by recounting the triumph of the last one.

Finally, it may be precisely writing's uselessness that makes it attractive to the opposite sex; it could be that, like the male peacock's exuberant tail, literature's very unnecesariness speaks to the underlying good health of its practitioner. He or she has resources to burn." ** by D.T. Max from this week's New York Times Magazine

Okay, here's what I want to know. Have any of you guys ever dated a "writer"? You know, someone who at the beginning of your relationship dug out his college notebooks over a bottle of wine and began reading to you about his pain? Who maybe wrote you a verse or two shortly thereafter? Who may have even handed you a dog-eared stack of sheets, the first chapters of his "novel"?

Inevitably, it seems though, that the “writer” disappears when the chase is over. Once they’ve won, there is no more talk of essays to be written, the “novel”, or what have you. They go back to being salesmen, or coffee house employees, waiters or whatever. So theory number 3 is correct perhaps?

Or, what about the last theory, that someone with the leisure time to write regularly is of a gentried class, thus has “resources to burn”? Part of me wants to argue that creative work is real work, because it IS, though in the grand scheme of things, generally it is those with enough free time to do it who do do it, and what is supporting that? (Ask yourself this question, girls. If its mommy and daddy, expect potential problems.)

Anyway, I’ve personally fallen for more than one of these “writer” dudes, who get over their writing habit when the chase is over. * In “Dead Poets Society” Robin William’s character says that the true purpose of poetry is to woo women. And I’m naïve for being as old as I am and having fallen for this sh^t so many times. But what can I say? I DO like poetry. I was raised with crazy poets coming in and out of my family’s house, drinking wine and telling stories late into the night, howling with laughter.

Well I’m using this forum to espouse my belief in theory number 5, that we tell stories as religion, to ensure our success in the next hunt by recounting the triumph of the last one. My point being, until I see the seven novels, I’m not convinced that you’re a writer. And, if Paul Auster is right, I’m probably not going there anyway. Like Marge Piercy writes, below, “The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent is an invention like phlogiston after the fact of fire. Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.”


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