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  • Author: KARL EIBL x
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Previous discussions of the author have almost fully disregarded the fact that language, and, consequently, the role of »sender«, and thus also the narrator of a literary work, are anchored in the functional contexts of evolution. The sender is not only a byproduct of language, but an essential part of information. In the first part of the article, four innate tools are examined which can count as prerequisites of existing narrative works: a sender detector, which prompts us to look out for the sender of all kinds of verbal or otherwise speech-like communication; the ability to provide linguistic information with meta-level source-tag indicating scope and reliability; the capability of relating others’ action to their mental states (»theory of mind«); and the transmission of social knowledge (»gossip «). The last two paragraphs describe the role these dispositions play in the game of literature. The study is located in the overlapping area of biopoetics, pragma-linguistics, and cognitive poetics.

One of the central problems in an evolutionary-biologically interpretation of cultural phenomena is the differentiation between biological basic configurations (›universals‹) and cultural modification. The psychological concept of gestalt does not provide a decision for this problem, since it includes innate as well as acquired patterns of reality construction. Still, it can provide a frame inside of which such differentiation can be discussed.

The schematic sequence of original unity, separation, and reunion serves as an example. Conceptions of the world that follow this sequence are apparently tied to experiences of lack and project a condition without lack both into the past and into the future. Walter Burkert has set up the most explicit bridge between literature and biology. In many works of world literature, Burkert identifies the formula of an ›adventurous quest‹ extended to a pattern of departure and return, which Vladimir Propp has also found in Russian fairy tales. According to Burkert, this pattern is rooted in the practical necessity to find food. But this argument glosses over a layer of human universals and indicates a modality of all animal life: the basic activities connected with searching for food can be found in the amoeba as well.

Psychoanalysis puts the layer of universals a little closer to the homo sapiens. In psychoanalytical interpretation, the cause is found in a fundamental experience of separation, when a child is cast out of the symbiotic relation with the mother at birth, and again when the third agent appears, which psychoanalysis labels ›father‹. This experience is said to lead to regressive fantasies of paradise in later stages of life. In contrast to this psychoanalytic default explanation that conceives of attachment only as a pathological reaction, John Bowlby posits that attachment is a genuine drive, and that separation must therefore always be experienced as painful, even without assuming the construction of a regression. Bowlby, however, only acknowledges the attachment drive, which leads to a necessary view of separation as pathogenic. Norbert Bischoff in addition postulates a genuine separation drive in the growing individual. The installation of both of these equally important drives, of both a need for security and a wish for excitement, is the sole foundation of the ›original conflict of intimacy and autonomy‹. It is therefore a universal that can be regarded as fundamental to the pattern of separation and reunion and its variations. The term ›original conflict‹ (»Urkonflikt«), however, indicates that this tension is located in an ultimately pre-human area.

Ernst Bloch interprets the gestalt of separation and reunion politically from a Marxist point of view. Bloch also encounters the layer of universals. In contrast to the psychoanalytical emphasis on libido, however, he posits hunger, or self-sustenance in general. Bloch succeeds in connecting this universal drive to history (and Marxist theory) by expanding self-sustenance to self-development, and therefore a will to achieve conditions which allow for self-development. Thus, the »principle of hope« (»Prinzip Hoffnung«) has become a universal formula and can nonetheless be applied to the specifics of concrete historical-cultural situations. But again, this principle of hope is not specific to humans only, but is also at work in animals' struggle to survive.

The modification specific to humans will not be found in an additional evolutionary category, but rather in an additional scope of flexibility of the basic gestalt. It is grounded in man's ability to segment behavioral programs and to redefine them by conceptualizing intermediate worlds. The search for a universal gestalt therefore points towards a universal gestalt disposition, which can take different gestalts in different individual and historical-social conditions. In this context, language gains a superior importance as it allows for a fixation of variations in between worlds. And here lies one of the evolutionary advantages of narration. It can equip versatile, ›imprecise‹ adaptations (›open programs‹) with a scale of possible fixations and imprint them on memory by repetition. Stories of departure and return, of separation and reunion, of losing and finding, of falling ill and healing, of sin and salvation, hold in store the complete scale of applications of the gestalt disposition.

Frank Kelleter uses ›neo-naturalism‹ as a cover term for approaches belonging to cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and neurophysiology, as well as for the efforts of Empirische Literaturwissenschaft (empirical study of literature) – in other words, just about everything that treats the methods and insights of the empirical sciences as a source of anthropological knowledge. This diverse mixture is rounded off with a number of quasi-religious and quasi-philosophical statements by public thinkers, specifically Edward O. Wilson and Steven Weinberg. In this way, Kelleter constructs a compact scientistic ideology that asserts total authority and competes with the authority asserted by the culturalist paradigm. The question of usefulness on a more down-to-earth level is thereby reduced to secondary importance from the beginning. Nonetheless, Kelleter does take the time to demonstrate in detail why the positions he criticizes cannot be supported. Now, it is not particularly difficult to find points to criticize in such a jumble of positions, and I am able to agree with Kelleter entirely on a number of issues. Kelleter's criticism, however, is exclusively destructive. In his portrayal, the things discovered by the neo-naturalists have either long since been known, or are trivial or uninteresting. For the space of a paragraph (and in his abstract), he does acknowledge that neo-naturalist tendencies could help to offset obscurantism and excessive cultural relativism. But nothing is likely to come of that if neo-naturalism is really as flawed as Kelleter portrays it to be.

The corrections I provide, of some misleading details in Kelleter's depiction, do not need to be summarized here. In general, a ›not … but …‹ strategy predominates, suggesting that it is necessary to decide between two mutually exclusive claims: not biological conditions but culture. What is lost here is the fact that the very interaction between the two factors, as well as the cultural uses, modifications, and regulations of ›natural‹ givens, could be of particular value and relevance. Accordingly, one is struck again and again by the fact that Kelleter does not consider the lines of enquiry pursued by the positions he reviews on their own terms, but instead declares them to be of no interest or asks questions of them that they were never meant to answer. In material terms, it is regrettable that his coverage of recent biological positions is confined to the case of sociobiology, not that of Evolutionary Psychology. Providing a summary of several approaches based on the empirical sciences would have been eminently sensible here. Evolutionary Psychology is no longer fixated on analogies and homologies with the animal kingdom, but seeks in particular to explain the peculiarities of human cognition on an evolutionary basis. This, moreover, means that it is able to provide the cognitive sciences, which at times place rather too much emphasis on concepts, with an important supplemental form of empirically based cross bearing. Similarly, functional aspects can be added to enrich neurophysiology, and a historical dimension could be added to empirical psychology.

Kelleter's objections, though, are of such a fundamental nature that it is of no further importance how accurate or up to date the material details are. He adopts an asymmetric scholarly dualism in which any challenge to hermeneutic scholarship by the empirical sciences is rejected. The distinction formulated in his concept of ›two natures‹ does no more than give him the opportunity to put the first aside. This places him firmly in the tradition of healthy human reason refined by education, whose thought begins with an intuition of life as a whole and therefore perceives scientistic tendencies as a threat to human wholeness. Committing a naturalistic fallacy, Kelleter even suspects that the attempt of cognitive science to study the reading processes of the general public is an attack on his own reading practices. To modernize his dualistic position and make it possible to accuse neo-naturalism of making a fundamental logical error, Kelleter introduces Bennett and Hacker as expert witnesses. They have set out a fundamental criticism of popular neuroscience, but have also made dogma of their own position as an a priori one and thereby immunized themselves against criticism coming from the empirical sciences. Criticism that leads down a one-way street in this manner is not acceptable and fails, at the latest, when the attempt is made to extend the status of unassailability to traditional hermeneutics.

The aversion to scientistic and biologistic approaches in cultural studies is probably due primarily to the fear that a position of scientism might replace the hermeneutic one based on everyday language as a source of orientation in the world. Occasionally, philosophizing natural scientists continue to stir up these fears by declaring such hopes, which are really no more than science fiction. This, though, is a case of mistaken (self-)impressions. In practical life, hermeneutic knowledge based on everyday language will retain its primacy for as long as people are born, live, love, and die. The findings of the empirical sciences can only ever provide partial illuminations and corrections for our otherwise ›wholistic‹ real-world orientation (and reading). It does not in any way need to be protected by walls and made resistant to criticism; instead, it should be conceived of as eager for knowledge and open to correction. Someone who takes concepts such as reflection, responsibility, and the like as a source of orientation should be the last to condemn the systematic study of the dependencies and consequences of our behaviour. Understanding the first nature is an utterly essential part of the second.