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Durham University

School of Modern Languages & Cultures

Events in Modern Languages & Cultures

CONFERENCE: The Evolution of Literature - Legacies of Darwin in European Cultures

4th April 2008, 09:00, St Mary's College, Durham University
An international conference, entitled The Evolution of Literature: Legacies of Darwin in European Cultures, was held on 4-6 April 2008 at St Mary's College, Durham University.

"Darwin's idea is a universal solvent, capable of cutting right to the heart of everything in sight". Literature too? Daniel Dennett, in his pathbreaking study Darwin's Dangerous Idea, begins and ends his story with a song, and his argument about the universally transformative power of Darwin's idea finally transforms also our understanding of that song. In Darwin's day, literary writers from Hardy to Zola and Wilhelm Raabe to Edward Bellamy engaged earnestly with the idea of evolution, and pioneering thinkers from Wilhelm Bölsche and Max Nordau to Frank Rutter attempted to apply this evolutionary model to the history and theory of literature and art. But today, as the twin anniversary - of Darwin's birth and the publication of his first great work - approaches, no coherent picture or thesis has emerged, and only sporadic (if distinguished) attempts, from Gillian Beer and Joseph Carroll to Paul Weindling, Peter Sprengel and Daniel Pick, have been made to continue that story.

This conference looks to answer that need: to apply the Darwinian model in earnest to the study of literature, and to ask complementary questions: how far, in the age after theory and after ideology, the "scientific" model of Darwinian evolution can illuminate what we know about the history, form and function of literature; and what images of the Darwinian idea have been refracted in the literary text from 1859 to the present. The conference will address the issues across the spectrum of major European literatures. Specific topics to be covered might include:

The Evolutionary Model and Narrative; The Species of Literature; Literature as Adaptation; The Evolution of Genre; Natural Selection and Literary Value; Neo-Darwinism and the Modern; Heredity and Descent; Pleasure, Beauty, Natural Selection and Literary Success; Writing against Darwin (Shaw, Butler); Evolutionary Writing as Literature; Writing the Human; Evolution and Theory OR Evolutionary Aesthetics?; Evolution and Writing the Self; Genetics and Memetics; Representation and Extinction; Ethics, Evolution and Fiction; Beauty and the Beast; Evolution and the Classic; Parody, Camouflage and Survival; Modernist Epiphany and Deep Time; National Darwinisms?

Contact for more information about this event.