Evolution and Literature

Julia Smith's picture

The N-Word: Past Meaning and Contemporary Questions

            One thing we have discussed in class has captured my attention due to recent events on campus. We have talked about the evolution of morality and the evolution of language as separate entities, but we have not discussed the evolution, or lack thereof, of tabooed words. But have these words themselves evolved, or have we just evolved around their static position? I would like to specifically look at the word “nigger”. I am going to focus on the evolution of the word, or our evolution around the word, and discuss whether its meaning comes from the evolution of the word itself, or whether it has remained the same, hurtful word throughout the history of the United States. I would finally like to study how contemporary university events relate to the potential un-evolution of this word, how staff and students have dealt with the complexity and heaviness of the word, and how we as students can promote safe college spaces through the understanding of its “evolution”.

azambetti's picture

Timeless Stories

Part 1: The Coon Attack 

The moon was full like a perfectly round yellow balloon waiting to be popped.  A swarm of stars peaked through the obstinate clouds as small sparkles of light.  I imagined the night sky was a long road waiting to be traveled and the stars were the lights that guided one there.  As I moved my eyes down toward the corn field I marveled that no one would ever be able to experience the infinite length of the starlit path that seemed so impossibly distant from Earth.

SarahMalayaSniezek's picture

How Groups Work: A Study of Group Dynamics and its Possible Negative Implications

How Groups Work: A Study of Group Dynamics and its Possible Negative Implications

Evolutionary theory suggests that humans evolved into a species that is best equipped for survival when it functions in groups. Groups allow for critical support mechanisms that increase the chance of survival for all group members. For this reason it is only natural that humans today either unconsciously or consciously form or flock towards groups. Groups, however, do not possess these survival benefits without important costs such as inter and intra group competition, inter and intra group conflict, and social shielding from others outside of the group. Through this paper I will discuss the evolution of groups through how groups form, individuals’ roles within a group, inter-group relations and lastly, how groups can change. In doing so this paper will attempt to understand how some groups can sometimes commit great wrongs, while other groups achieve great goals. I will use my experiences with a specific diversity workshop group, Tri-Co Summer Institute, and explain some of its group dynamics to try and improve the program.

I.W.'s picture

Finding a Path in the Absence of Truth

Isabelle Winer


Paper 4

Finding a Path in the Absence of Truth

With billions of people and millions of cultures all simultaneously inhabiting the world today, a universal truth seems entirely impossible.  Every culture has had its own collective mass of experiences unique to them, which have shaped the manner in which they view and participate in our shared world.  Often times these groups even have truths which conflict with those of other groups, but as we have learned over the past semester those conflicting stories are all true to the people who believe them.  We cannot place them in a hierarchy because ultimately they are simply the functional and evolving stories that are the most practical for each group.  Yet having accepted that no story is better than another leads the global community no closer to figuring out how to handle these conflicting stories.  When peoples’ lives and well-being become threatened by these stories it becomes even more pressing to be able to find a functional and fair manner in which the world can govern itself.  In recent years the predominantly African practice of excising the clitoris has become increasingly debated in the global community.  This traditional practice has come to be called, amongst human rights activists and then later organizations such as the United Nation and the World health organization, female genital mutilation (FGM).  Outside of Africa there is a general feeling of disgust at the practice of FGM, but there has also been the opposing argument that this is simply another case of economically powerful nations imposing their own moral judgments upon a folk lifestyle.  Defenders of female genital mutilation, or female genital cutting, range from many of the African women who have undergone the operation to western academics who believe that we cannot fully understand the practice and therefore cannot judge it.  While this practice may be an integral part of a complex culture in which women are glad to undergo the pain and trauma, in its current form female genital cutting is life threatening to the women who endure it.  It has become critical to find a tiebreaker amongst all the stories.  Education and freedom of information are that tiebreaker.  The women of Africa should be allowed to decide their own future, but they should be informed enough to do so.  Currently, the overwhelming lack of accurate information is contributing to the existence of female genital cutting, and that is where the true problem lies.

LS's picture

Evolution of Sex in Literature

Literature, like biological evolution, does evolve, adapting and changing overtime.  Specifically when literature evolves the themes and literary devices central to literature and writing evolve as well.  Sex, both human nature and therefore a common theme in literature has evolved across authors and genres.  The descriptions of sex, and the literary devices used to describe it, have changed drastically over time thus portraying different messages and meanings to readers.   Sex is not only a strong literary theme but also a driving force in human reproduction and human nature and is therefore an important evolutionary topic to study.  Sexual contact is presented in different literary forms and mediums from the biblical scriptures to Shakespeare’s plays to Forster’s book Howard’s End and Zadie Smith’s novel On Beauty.  In the Bible and Shakespeare sex is portrayed to the reader in a shorter concise manner, while in On Beauty almost every aspect of sexual intercourse is described.  Interestingly, in Forster sex is almost not described at all. By studying the evolving course of this literary theme we will be able to explore why the theme may have evolved this way, what this then says about the themes evolutionary history in the past and its future and how the evolution of this theme relates to man kind.  The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband.In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alonebut also to his wife (1)           


marquisedemerteuil's picture

Final Paper! Intentionality and Authorship in Barthes, Foucault and Smith

Biology/English 223: Evolution of Stories

Final Paper

In conjunction with our presentation given on May 1, 2007


The Author of a Theory and the Reader of a Text: Intentionality in Science and Literature


Introduction to the Project


            The idea of intentionality, in scientific theories and in fiction writing, has been an important and controversial one for our Evolution of Stories class.  Our class has mainly examined science, through biological evolution, as a non-intentioned, non-teleological process of development, and we have mainly examined literature as a product of the author’s craft and as an indication of his unique self.  My presentation, with Caitlin Evans and Jen Dodwell, aims to look at intentionality through different lenses than did our class.  Caitlin and Jen will turn in their papers and do their parts of the presentation separately from me, but I would like to situate my project by briefly explaining how Caitlin and Jen approached intentionality.  Caitlin reverses the paradigm through which our class has viewed science by showing how the scientist’s intention, and his analysis of his experiments and statistics, affects the scientific process, and she uses the novel, The Missing Moment by Robert Pollock to help prove her point.  Jen examines the relationship between the reader and the text.  What I examine, which follows this introduction, is the relationship between the author and the text, and how different conceptions of that relationship present differing and opposing opinions about how readers should engage with text.  I will do this by comparing what we have examined in class, Zadie Smith’s “Fail Better,” to a new postmodern framework laid down by Roland Barthes in his article, “The Death of the Author” and by Michel Foucault, in “What is an author?”  We aim to complicate and enrich the way our class has viewed the subject of intentionality in evolution and in literature.

I.W.'s picture

“And She Aches Just Like a Woman”

Isabelle Winer

Professor Dalke

Story of Evolution

 “And She Aches Just Like a Woman”

The fight for social change does not occur for the iconoclasts only against the established norm but also with their own desires for security.  While convincing others to the cause may seem impossible, the battle within is simply a lost cause.  From birth we are constantly being initiated into our culture as we learn the social constructs, such as gender, which will serve as internal laws for the rest of our lives.  Like the process of evolution, true social change occurs slowly and over the passage of many generations.  For example each generation of women is fighting a gradually mutating battle for equality, causing each generation to struggle with a similarly gradual and mutating self-doubt.  Howards End and On Beauty portray how this doubt can manifest in two different time periods for two well-respected, self-sufficient women.  Margaret in Howards End feels that she is unable to make the decisions of a man and wants the comfort a husband can provide, despite the fact that she is financially independent.  While the women in On Beauty have gained political equality, Kiki has come to doubt her own intellectual self-worth outside of the accomplishments of her husband.  Both of these women display how difficult it is to maintain the resolve necessary for radical change.  

ttruong's picture

Empathy and Social Failure

Empathy, defined by the American Dictionary Heritage as the “identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives,” is a capacity that is extremely essential to the development of social relationships between humans.  Empathy is a type of emotional intelligence that not only helps us to build strong, rewarding relationships, but also reduces friction in our social interactions.  When a person is capable of putting herself in someone else’s shoes she is better apt to predict how someone might respond to her actions and words, and thus avoiding unnecessary conflicts.  Besides from enabling us to predict the intentions and emotions behind other’s actions, empathy also allows us to learn vicariously through other’s actions.  In this way we learn the lessons and know the adverse emotional, physical, and mental consequences of certain actions without having to repeat the same mistakes of others.

evanstiegel's picture

Contemporary Evolution of Racial Mindset

For a large population’s set of beliefs to evolve, members of the population who hold novel beliefs must influence others in their beliefs. When more and more individuals consequently hold these original beliefs, the mindset of the population as a whole can evolve. This process has occurred numerous times in American history especially with race. Today, a new outlook on race has emerged in certain communities and when more and more individuals are introduced into this mindset, the popular belief of the American society can evolve. The emerging racial belief is one of more consciousness and understanding of other races and cultures.

kaleigh19's picture

Intertextuality and Literary Evolution

As a Classicist, I often find myself often reading texts for the holy grail of Classical studies: intertextuality. In its most simplistic terms, intertextuality is the presence in one text (the target text) of another text (the source text). The most obvious intertextual moments are allusions—direct (if at times obscure) references to another piece of literature. For example, Dante’s Inferno has as a primary character Virgil, the Augustan-era author of the Aeneid. Similarly, as Dante and Virgil descend through the circles of Hell, they encounter various characters from ancient literature, many of which are represented in Book 4 of the Aeneid, in which Aeneas visits the Underworld—for example, Cerberus, the three-headed dog and Medusa, the snaky-haired gorgon, just to name a few. But intertextuality can also be far less explicit. In the same work, one might find subtle resonances in Dante of other hell-bound travelers, like Aeneas or Odysseus. For a Classicist, these intertextual moments are thrilling. They represent an author’s engagement with the Classical tradition, at once affirming that the influence of ancient literature is not limited to ancient writers and also providing new and compelling ways of reading old and oft-analyzed texts. But we Classicists are just one sect of an intertextuality studies cache consisting of members from every literary discipline. Intertextuality’s implications, however, are also generative to a person attempting to understand how stories in general evolve.

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