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On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction (Englisch) Taschenbuch – 2. November 2010

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On the Origin of Stories may have an impact far beyond academic circles...No one thinks on this scale anymore. Bent to the cultivation of shrinking plots of expertise, enlivened by the occasional boundary squabble, we are ill-accustomed to broad new theories even from Young Turks, let alone established critics. Ambition is in itself cause for celebration...Boyd's treatment is engrossing, as elegant in the writing as the reasoning. It offers a new insight into the question of why some works [of fiction] speak to audiences across cultures and generations...To look at a story as a naturalist looks at a leaf or a shell, not criticizing improvisations but marveling at its inventive beauty, is a refreshing experience...Whatever your opinion of Derrida, Boyd offers absolution to all lovers of fiction. Our childish taste for make-believe, it seems, is a little more serious than we thought. -- Laura Dietz Times Literary Supplement 20090821 Brian Boyd's On the Origin of Stories, which presents itself as a work of "evocriticism," might well be a straw in the wind blowing contemporary criticism back from Culture to Nature. Given the rampant culturalism of much current literary work, which can see the natural only as an ideologically insidious "naturalizing," it is agreeable to read a work which discusses Homer cheek by jowl with allusions to dung beetles, the neocortex and cases of sexual harassment among pigeons. In sober evolutionary spirit, Boyd has no doubt that whatever more glamorous things human beings can get up to, they are in the first place natural material objects. He also insists in the teeth of postmodern orthodoxy that there is indeed a universal human nature; that culture is not unique to the human animal; and that there is a universally identifiable activity known as art. Nobody who is aware of the excesses of contemporary culturalism could doubt the subversive force of these platitudes. The word "natural," like the words "fact" and "truth," hardly ever turns up in such writings without being ceremoniously draped in scare quotes--and this in an ecological age. The point to Boyd's superbly erudite study is to offer an evolutionary theory of art...Brian Boyd has produced a challenging piece of critical theory, which might well herald the return to Nature of which cultural criticism is in such sore need. -- Terry Eagleton London Review of Books 20090924 Like all the best stories, this one has a pleasing symmetry. It is a book in two parts, each illuminating the other. On one side stands evolutionary theory and its attempts to explain human nature. On the other is story itself, represented by two great works of fiction: Homer's Odyssey and Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who!...[Boyd] has some novel and thought-provoking ideas, and his book covers an impressively wide terrain...What really matters, Boyd makes clear, is whether a story is worthy of our attention. On the Origin of Stories surely is. -- Kate Douglas New Scientist 20090523 [Boyd's] highly intelligent, impressively learned and patiently elaborated theory of the origin of fiction and the other arts begins with the idea that art is cognitive play...Diffusion of Boyd's ideas might even, in our utilitarian and scientistic society, restore the prestige of the arts and humanities. -- William Deresiewicz The Nation 20090608 Fascinating...Elaborate hypotheses like this one are themselves a kind of story, and Boyd tells his on a grand scale. His central arguments are prefaced by a substantial reprise of basic evolutionary theory--very useful if you're unfamiliar with it--and followed by two case studies, of Homer's Odyssey and the tales of Dr. Seuss. It is expert, though highly idiosyncratic, literary criticism..."Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive," Wordsworth wrote of the first, intoxicating years of the French Revolution. Reading [a] path-breaking book like [this], one feels something similar. -- George Scialabba Boston Globe 20090524 Brian Boyd brilliantly makes the case for literature as necessary for the survival of humankind. Step by step, he builds his argument that we have evolved to engage in play and, in particular, in storytelling...Both Homer and Dr. Seuss must catch and hold our attention with their artistry, their universality, and their moral tone. Boyd forcefully and elegantly supports his view that art is not simply pleasurable for humans but crucial to our survival. -- Barbara Fisher Boston Globe 20090607 A searching, free-wheeling book that sets forth a Darwinian view of narrative's place in human history. -- Robert Fulford National Post 20090504 Masterful...[An] entrancing book...[Boyd] clearly invites comparison with Darwin's masterpiece. Like its namesake, Boyd's book is carefully constructed and constitutes, in Ernst Mayr's words, "one long argument."...While a number of evolutionary analyses of literature, fiction, myths, folklore, and art have appeared in the last 15 years or so, this one stands out for its accessibility and genuinely integrative approach, combined with a detailed analysis of two specific fictional works...Boyd covers an astonishing range of evolutionary concepts, human evolution, cognitive and developmental psychology, human ethology, anthropology, game theory and related topics. Having done research in several of these areas, I can attest that he has selected judiciously and described the science remarkably accurately and clearly...Unlike much of the early writings by promoters of simplistic Pleistocene EEA scenarios and typological human universals, Boyd explores detailed empirical observations and experiments, realizes that human variation is the engine of evolutionary change, but--and I view this as an essential strength--eschews a single-minded, or even primary, concern with adaptation...Boyd gets so much right! -- Gordon Burghardt, University of Tennessee The Evolutionary Review 20100101 On the Origin of Stories is a fascinating book, even a necessary book. At its best, evocriticism can help to reorient the arts and humanities, renewing (or, in some benighted quarters, sparking) our appreciation for the creative works of human minds and hands, and leading humanists to take a fresh look at the rich evolutionary record. -- Michael Berube New Scientist 20100101 Boyd's book will engage and excite readers for decades to come...Reading On the Origins of Stories, I was struck with the same excitement and enthusiasm I can only imagine the readers' of Darwin's text felt in 1859. Boyd's text is itself a seminal work synthesizing various literary theories upon an evolutionary framework strong enough to hold whatever stance from which the reader comes. Boyd illustrates this by applying evolutionary thinking to the works of Homer and Dr. Seuss alike...This amazing text allows us to see art from new vantage points that may, in fact, ensure its survival within our global culture...Brian Boyd elevates the writing of criticism to an art form by indeed considering the arousal and sustained engagement of his readers. On the Origin of Stories is itself a welcomed mutation in critical writing. Boyd carries his reader along an original odyssey into science, literature, human nature, the epic landscape of Ancient Greece and the tiny world of Whoville. Like Homer and Dr. Seuss, Boyd cares about his readers and wants us to find our way home to the text without sacrificing intellectual integrity and scholarly research. -- Christine Boyko-Head arbuturian.com 20100105 [A] richly interesting and varied book. -- Lisa Gorton Australian Book Review 20091001 Boyd has created a compelling, erudite, and thoroughly original work about the nature of humanistic expression in art and literature. Beautifully written and wide-ranging, the book delves into social science, evolutionary biology, art, and literature to create a comprehensive account of the evolutionary origins of art and storytelling. The author argues that art derives from play and is a humanistic adaptation, offering advantages for human survival. Storytelling, he contends, fosters cooperation, social cognition, and creativity...Apropos the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species, this book is a fitting tribute to Darwin. -- K. Wein Choice 20100101 Boyd's understanding of human evolution thus leads him towards those features of literary texts that have always fascinated practical and humanist critics...Boyd alone provides us with a sophisticated literary analysis informed by an equally sophisticated understanding of human biology. Boyd demonstrates comprehensively that evolutionary literary theory is compatible with and can inform perceptive literary criticism. -- John Holmes The British Society for Literature and Science


A century and a half after the publication of "Origin of Species", evolutionary thinking has expanded beyond the field of biology to include virtually all human-related subjects - anthropology, archeology, psychology, economics, religion, morality, politics, culture, and art. Now a distinguished scholar offers the first comprehensive account of the evolutionary origins of art and storytelling. Brian Boyd explains why we tell stories, how our minds are shaped to understand them, and what difference an evolutionary understanding of human nature makes to stories we love. Art is a specifically human adaptation, Boyd argues. It offers tangible advantages for human survival, and it derives from play, itself an adaptation widespread among more intelligent animals. More particularly, our fondness for storytelling has sharpened social cognition, encouraged cooperation, and fostered creativity. After considering art as adaptation, Boyd examines Homer's "Odyssey" and Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hears a Who!" demonstrating how an evolutionary lens can offer new understanding and appreciation of specific works. What triggers our emotional engagement with these works?

What patterns facilitate our responses? The need to hold an audience's attention, Boyd underscores, is the fundamental problem facing all storytellers. Enduring artists arrive at solutions that appeal to cognitive universals: an insight out of step with contemporary criticism, which obscures both the individual and universal. Published for the bicentenary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of "Origin of Species", Boyd's study embraces a Darwinian view of human nature and art, and offers a credo for a new humanism. -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine vergriffene oder nicht verfügbare Ausgabe dieses Titels.

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87 von 93 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
A major step forward 20. Mai 2009
Von Richard B. Schwartz - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
This is a very important book--important in its own right, but also important as a marker for significant change in the academic study of the humanities. For a generation or more, the humanities have resisted the developments which have occurred in the departments that surround them. Sociobiology, evolutionary psychology, cognitive science--a panoply of subjects that build upon the advanced study of Darwin, evolution and the structure and function of the brain (now facilitated enormously by imaging instruments) have changed the face of anthropology, biology, psychology and other disciplines, while the humanities stood in opposition not only to aspects of contemporary science but often to science itself.

A number of individuals have attempted to bridge these gaps, individuals such as Lisa Zunshine and Patrick Colm Hogan. Their task has not been easy, given the long romance between the academic humanists and the French Nietzscheans, a romance that has involved the subscribing to notions which are internally inconsistent, contrary to common sense and millennia of experience and, now, definitively, contradicted by science. Chomsky, Steven Pinker and others have played a decisive role here, but Boyd's book, which is cognizant of all of the relevant scientific work, emerges directly from the humanities and utilizes studies of cognition and evolution to trace the origins of stories and storytelling.

Basically, Boyd sees art as an adaptation, one that brings advantages in our struggle for survival and procreative success. He studies the ways in which stories focus attention (as play does) and foster collaboration and unity. This heightened form of play yields a heightened form of sociality, creates `creativity', refines and extends our cognitive skills, helps us to understand one another's thoughts, intentions and motives, see our world from multiple perspectives, explore possibilities and not just actualities, command attention, enjoy status and foster recriprocal altruism (among other things).

In the course of his study, Boyd focuses on two specific texts to elucidate and validate his method: Homer's Odyssey and Dr. Seuss's Horton Hears a Who! These extensive analyses are searching, lucid and effective.

Most important, this is a large book. Boyd is aware that he is throwing down a gauntlet, though we are now reaching the hour when the reign of Theory is largely in the past and the thoroughgoing opposition to empiricism and the doctrinaire beliefs that we cannot talk reasonably about `human nature' and that everything is culturally constructed (to give two examples) are increasingly seen as untenable and even quaint. In a jacket blurb, David Bordwell compares Boyd's work with Frye's Anatomy of Criticism, because of its imaginative sweep and analytical precision. Basically, Frye was trying to bring `system' to literary study. Boyd is as well, but Boyd's `system' is closer to `science' and it is validated by the work of thousands of individuals in science and social science departments. Frye's myth/ritual/Jung-inspired program did not enjoy the foundational strengths of Boyd's and it was often loosely taxonomic rather than truly systematic.

Most interesting, I believe, is the fact that Boyd's position validates thousands of years of humanistic thought, from Aristotle to Horace, Sidney, Johnson, the Kant of the Critique of Pure Reason (though not perhaps the Kant of the Critique of Judgment) and the successful practice of the storyteller's art by a host of writers whose work has been not only substantive but widely popular. In short, Boyd's study of human nature, human behavior, human development and human artistic expression squares with what many of us have long believed and it does so through the leverage of contemporary, cutting edge science.

That does not mean that it is beyond question or dispute, for much of this contemporary science remains inchoate and our understanding of the human brain remains limited and partial and not all will draw the same conclusions as a Boyd or Pinker, e.g., with regard to religion, but the bottom line is that this work restores much of what we have lost in literary studies and it does so with intelligence, authority and great promise for the future.
37 von 39 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
An Additional Few Words 25. Juni 2010
Von A. C. Parrish - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Verifizierter Kauf
Not a full review, but an additional note: I wanted to add that Boyd is very good at making his topic engaging. His work was a joy to read. The prose was crisp and clear, and theories were well-illustrated by examples. Most of these examples came in the form of animal behavior stories or childhood development test results, but they were always clear and pertinent.

I would not normally write a review (or an addendum to the other fine reviews out there) just to say a book is well-written, but in the field of literary criticism this is really a rare treat. The post-modernists have taken the joy out of literature, and Boyd and the other evocritics/Literary Darwinists are attempting to unearth it after 40 years of Derrida, difference, and textuality.

Honestly -- read any article by someone like Judith Butler or Homi Babha and then read a chapter of Boyd. You will feel as if you have traveled from a country whose official language is babbling nonsense back to the world of clearly-articulated English. If you can't explain your ideas to other professionals in the field, let alone educated laypeople, then your ideas likely aren't very well conceived. By contrast, Boyd demonstrates clear and careful thought throughout his book. It is apparent that he worked through every idea quite carefully and did his best to demonstrate each fully.

Highly recommended!
20 von 21 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Thrilling 5. Februar 2011
Von Pip's Benefactor - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch
If I borrowed this book from the library, I wouldn't return it. When the librarian bounty hunters came for me, I would skip town and shave my crown and live under a fake name. That's how important this book is to me. Luckily for my local library I bought a copy online; I had an inkling that this would be the book I've been hoping for.

I'm a young person who lives to read and write fiction, and I just came out of an oppressively dogmatic undergrad program where my two favorite disciplines, aesthetics and biology, were strictly separate. I strongly believed the weight of evidence was on the side of natural origins for artistic passion, but I only had a few YouTube videos of ticklish rats and dolphins playing with bubble rings to back me up. This book is wonderfully vindicating and I will recommend it to all my professors and friends.

I bought the hardcover edition when it came out last year and it had a few typographical errors, but perhaps they're fixed in current copies. The one error that may irk some readers: Boyd mentions "Revenge of the Jedi" in a section about justice; the film is actually called "Return of the Jedi."

Want 500-something pages of thrills? Then this is the book for you. It has invigorated my creative work and enriched my enjoyment of art.
11 von 12 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Do I have your attention? 12. Oktober 2010
Von Shane Levine - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
Good. That's the first ingredient for a good piece of art, suggests Boyd. In contrast to traditional methods of literary analysis, which have focused on idiosyncrasies of writing style, ideological underpinnings, and other historical contingencies of a given text, Boyd goes below the surface and examines the fundamental evolutionary nature of storytelling. Why do humans waste time telling and listening to stories that are clearly false? What purpose does fiction serve now, and what possible purpose could it have served for our ancestors? These are huge questions, and Boyd delivers huge answers.

The cornerstone of storytelling is our extreme sociality, explains Boyd. Indeed, the mainstream biological theory of human intelligence is the "social intelligence hypothesis: that the greatest pressures for advanced intelligence arise from the need to track identities, status, powers, and intentions of conspecifics [other humans] and to respond to them to best advantage." Thus, human brains (as well as those of dogs, dolphins, and other primates) evolved to make complex social computations--to both cooperate *and* compete within a group, to keep track of friends and rivals, monitor potential mates, to predict future behavior based on past experience, and so on. Boyd argues that story evolved largely to strengthen our social cognition. Just as physical play serves to sharpen our skills in hunting and battle, so story ("cognitive play") enhances our ability to synthesize social information, i.e. - look at things from multiple perspectives, predict behavior, evaluate outcomes, etc. Fiction thereby helps us make optimal decisions in real social situations. In order for fiction to have this effect, it needs to actually change the structure of human brains, indicating that it enhances them. Luckily cognitive science has begun to demonstrate that the brain can change in remarkable ways in response to environmental stimuli (see "The Brain That Changes Itself"). The essential component of this change is attention. Without it, the brain remains unaffected. Thus the first and most important component of fiction--and art in general--is catching people's attention. Abstract meanings, which take time and effort to grasp, are secondary. So the most important question is: what causes people to pay attention to a given story? A complimentary question is: what causes them to remember it and pass it on? Satisfactory answers to these questions demand a complex understanding of the brain and human behavior, a criteria that Boyd definitely fulfills. Game theory, animal behavior, cognitive science, and developmental psychology (to name a few) are masterfully blended.

Nevertheless, storytelling serves a variety of purposes, says Boyd, and it's purposes have changed and shifted emphasis over time.
6 von 6 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
Intelligent play at it's best. 20. Oktober 2011
Von P. Tummon - Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
Format: Taschenbuch Verifizierter Kauf
Brian Boyd has written a revolutionary book on the Origins of Stories. Rarely have I enjoyed reading as much as I did reading Boyd's book. There is a richness and pace about his writing that captured me from page one. His summation of what is currently know about human development, is breath taking in it's brillance. It is worth buying just for that! But it is his application of this knowledge to analysis of why literature enthralls us where his real genius shows itself. I will not try to summarise his hypotheses. Just buy the book. It will be your best purchase this year! Enjoy.
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