JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

Denis Dutton’s venture into “evolutionary aesthetics”: The Art Instinct (2009).

More art-house bestiality: Charlotte Rampling and friend in Nagisa Oshima’s Max, mon amour (1986).

Darwinian themes long precede Darwin himself: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818).

Sex-role-reversed species show the potential power of sexual-selection theory: the wattled jacana.

Another sex-role-reversed species: the seahorse.

 

 

 

Notes


1. Brian Boyd, Joseph Carroll, and Jonathan Gottschall, eds., Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010). The contemporary focus on human evolution that has so affected cultural study emerged out of the controversies surrounding E.O. Wilson’s advocacy of the new field of sociobiology in important texts like Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000). Shortly thereafter, the study of cultural evolution, which began with Richard Dawkins’s The Selfish Gene (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), picked up steam and has over the past decades produced important research programs by scientists like Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd. See Peter Richerson and Robert Boyd, Not By Genes Alone: How Culture Transformed Human Evolution (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). [return to page 1 of essay]

But the single biggest impetus toward the current synthesis of culture and biology has been the growth of evolutionary psychology as explained in collections like The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), which was edited by Jerome Barkow, Leda Cosmides, and John Tooby, and in popular books by highly influential scientists like How the Mind Works (1997; New York: Norton, 2009) by Steven Pinker. The growth of evolutionary psychology precipitated a variety of new approaches attractive to humanists interested in narrative and realism; here Carroll’s Evolution and Literary Theory (Columbia: University of Missouri, 1995) and Robert Storey’s Mimesis and the Human Animal: On the Biogenetic Foundations of Literary Representations (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1996) come to mind.

Scholars in a range of fields, from anthropology to the history of music, have made impressive contributions to this quintessentially interdisciplinary area of humanities research; for the current state of the field, see The Evolutionary Review, a new journal edited by Carroll and Alice Andrews, whose editorial board offers a who’s who of the field. An important addition to the field includes Dutton’s book The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2009). However, film scholars have been slow to embrace these methods and approaches—though the cognitivist stance endorsed by scholars like David Bordwell, Noël Carroll, and Murray Smith approximates some of the field’s assumptions, including the idea of “human nature” as identified with “contingent universals.” For more on these and other trends, see Boyd, Carroll, and Gottschall, eds., Evolution, Literature, and Film.

2. There are, however, “sex-role-reversed” species, such as wattled jacanas and seahorses, in which the females compete for access to males and have the sorts of exaggerated traits usually associated with males. [return to page 2]

3. See Stanley Fish, “Vengeance Is Mine,” The New York Times (December 28, 2009), p. 1. Available at <http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/
12/28/vengeance-is-mine
/>. Accessed December 6, 2010.

4. And there are many other defects that we have not mentioned, including everything from loose phrasing—e.g., the idea that Spider-Man “evolves” after Peter Parker is “bitten on the hand by a genetically engineered super-spider” (68)—to unskeptical overstatement. One example of the latter is the way that Creed quickly follows up an assertion that has generated controversy in the literature. This assertion posited that recent genetic work reveals that “chimpanzees and the earliest hominids engaged in sexual relations and gene-swapping for at least 1.2 million years before the two species went their separate ways” [189]) and is combined with an idea—the notion “the chimpanzee shares enough DNA with us [98.4 per cent] that it would be possible for a human and ape to bear offspring.” But this notion is based on a speculative comment in a news article rather than any sort of scientific study.

5. Barbara Creed, Media Matrix: Sexing the New Reality (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2003), 58-60.


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