A POSTMODERNIST REPRESENTATION IN BEN OKRI’S THE FAMISHED ROAD AND FLOWERS AND SHADOWS
This dissertation titled: A postmodernist Representation in Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and Flowers and Shadows is premised on the argument that irrespective of their individual themes, novels are significant mechanisms of presentation or representation of thoughts and ideas through semblances circumscribed by narration or telling, all of which are contingent upon various representative modes. In the present context, postmodernist representation of necessity has been defined as an artistic as well as an aesthetic form to represent a social reality. When these attempts follow literary prescriptions, they are described as the literary representation of a given entity such as a nation, which is ultimately, the intersection between ideology and form in the text bringing out the salient issues – themes – into which the writing subject constantly disappears. This dissertation therefore demonstrates the relevance and applicability of postmodernist representation to the study of Ben Okris‘s The Famished Road and Flowers and Shadows. Okri appropriates materials and events using the protocols of narratology by refining and variegating the materials which appear aesthetically in their current literary form as novels. The findings reveal that; Postmodernist representation is of literary value on or about a topic, That the novel form is the best suited artistic form for the explication of postmodernist representation of the themes in the novels under study and finally, that Okri‘s The Famished Road and Flowers and Shadows are axiomatic of the centrality of Nigerian literature on postmodernist representation.
1.1 Background to the Study
This study is foregrounded using the theory of Postmodernism and literary representation as an alternative dimension to the regular critical methodo logies of literary analysis and uses Ben Okris‘s The Famished Road and Flowers and Shadows as primary texts for substantiation and exemplification. Essentially, the history of the novel in Nigeria, from the earliest times to the present, has been an admixture of expository discourses on the social formation of the Nigerian nation state vis-à-vis the historical, ideological, social, and socio-cultural and economic confrontations and complexes that have ensued and are contesting for the ‗soul‘ of the nation. Because literature itself is a social unit and cannot be said to be, strictly speaking, insulated from the society that produces it, the novel form has constantly been used to interrogate this social ―warfare‖.
Our understanding of the novel in Nigeria, essentially therefore proceeds from the relationship between literature and history in the form of literary representation. This trend perfectly suits present argument of a postmodernist literary representation as found in the two novels under study as the two novels represents the dimensions that have come to be associated with the novel form in Nigeria especially taken from the argument of postmodernism as representing a very serious discourse in the social conditions of mankind in the aftermath of modern era and it does not really matter whether or not it is literature is fiction. Liman (1997) in Foucault and asserts that within the context of postmodernism and especially, postcolonial discourse, there is essentially power relations, especially, that of power and knowledge;
The thinking subject (writer) collects the truth or facts that pre-existsin the world and package them or uncovers them in discourse. Discourse itself, its materiality and free play, is nullified. When applied to discourse, the various rules and
practices of exclusion, in fact, designated systematically who may speak, what may be spoken, and how it is to be said….
That science questions the validity of these narratives is mitigated by the world of impossibilities which literature is noted for.
At each stage of Nigeria‘s historical, social, economic and political development, some novels represent these epochs and this has become Nigeria‘s literary trajectory in the novel form from the beginning to the present. Major historical events such as Colonialism, Independence, the Oil boom, the Nigeria Civil War, Military rule; have all been represented in the novel form and have also produced writers, with each interpreting the incidence according to his/her understanding of history and sometimes ideological leaning. Novels that have ideological blend, for example Marxism, which marked a fundamental epistemic departure from the basic traditional novel also entered the fray. For example Festus Iyayi‘s violence captures this ideological trend. The ideological novel tries to look at the structure of the society and also try to propagate the conditions of the masses, especially the less privileged.
Another dimension of the novel in Nigeria is the feminist strand. The feminist novel tries to speak on behalf of the woman bringing out the innate qualities and contributions of the woman beyond the seeming ―conspiracy‖ pioneered by early writers. Overall, the unique thing about the novel in Nigeria is the style, plot, language and characterization. But, above all, there is a philosophical base for the existence of the novel in Nigeria. This is because the novel captures the unique milieu of some historical antecedents and variables (historical, political, social, economic and cultural). To this end, the novel in Nigeria is completely a discourse in literary representation.
The concepts of postmodernism and literary representation if firmly located within literature, broadly speaking and theoretically, will constitute a serious framework of literature and literary analysis, interpretation and the eva luation as well as application to literary works. Whatever it is however, literary criticism deals with different dimensions of
literature as a collection of texts through which authors evoke more or less fictitious world
for the imagination of readers. We can look at any work of literature by paying special
attention to one or several aspects: its language and structure, its intended purpose, the
information or worldview it conveys or its effect on an audience. This is because, works of
literature can be studied long after their first publication and the awareness of historical and
theoretical context contributes to our understanding, appreciation and enjoyment of them.
The contest by science against the legitimatization of literary narratives is also mitigated by
narration. Liman (1997) in Lyotard asserts that;
The narrative allows a society not only to define its criteria of competence, but to also evaluate according to those criteria what is performed or can be performed within it. The knowledge transmitted by narration is not limited to enunciations: it determines in a single stroke what one must say in order to be heard, what one must listen in order to speak, and what role one must play to be the subject of a narrative.
Foucault presents possibly the best definition of power relations inherent in
postmodernism. He says, of literary representation as ―Systems of thoughts composed of
ideas, attitudes, and courses of action, beliefs and practices that systematically construct the
subjects and the worlds of which they speak.‖ – andis mediated by discourse (emphasis
mine). He talks about postmodernist discourse as a form of power. In short, by controlling
discourse, one can create not only categories of thought, but also shape a society such as a
literary political discourse.
Etymologically, according toHutcheon, (2004) postmodern literature is a type of
literature that came to prominence after World War II and is defined as a form of literature
which is marked, both stylistically and ideologically, by a reliance on such literary
conventions as fragmentation, paradox, unreliable narrators, often unrealistic and downright
impossible plots, games, parody, paranoia, dark humor and authorial self-reference.
Postmodern writers tend to reject outright meanings in their novels, stories and poems, and,
instead, highlight and celebrate the possibility of multiple meanings, or a complete lack of meaning, within a single literary work. Postmodern literature also often rejects the boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ forms of art and literature, as well as the distinctions between different genres and forms of writing and storytelling.
Hutcheon (ibid) list the following as some examples of stylistic techniques that are very often employed in postmodern literary writings:
- Pastiche: The taking of various ideas from previous writings and literary styles and pasting them together to make new styles.
- Inte rtextuality: The acknowledgment of previous literary wo rks within another literary work.
- Metafiction: The act of writing about writing or making readers aware of the fictional nature of the very fiction they’re reading.
- Temporal Distortion: The use of non- linear timelines and narrative techniques in a
- Minimalis m: The use of characters and events which are decidedly common and non-exceptional characters.
- Maximalism: Disorganized, lengthy, highly detailed writing.
- Magical Realism: The introduction of impossible or unrealistic events into a narrative that is otherwise realistic.
- Faction: The mixing of actual historical events with fictional events without clearly defining what is factual and what is fictional.
- Reader Involve ment: Often through direct address to the reader and the open acknowledgment of the fictional nature of the events being described.
Many critics and scholars find it best to define postmodern literature against the popular literary style that came before it:modernism. In many ways, postmodern literary styles and ideas serve to dispute, reverse, mock and reject the princ iples of modernist literature. For example, instead of following the standard modernist literary quest for
meaning in a chaotic world, postmodern literature tends to eschew, often playfully, the very possibility of meaning. The postmodern novel, story or poem is often presented as a parody of the modernist literary quest for meaning. Ben Okri‘s The Famished Roadand Flowers and Shadowsare perfect example of this. In The Famished Road, the protagonist, Azaro‘s quest for knowledge and understanding results ultimately in confusion and the lack of any sort of clear understanding of the events that transpired. Same could be said of Jeffia in Flowers and Shadows.
Literary representation on the other hand could be said to be the human artistic effort to find a corresponding method of representing human activities and actions in words and writing generally. When these attempts follow literary prescriptions, they are described as the literary representation of a given geographical entity that could be described as the literature of that given locality such as Nigerian literature either in novel form, poetry or drama. The critics business then is to bring out the work‘s relation to this space, to reconstruct experience and thought from the intersection between ideology and form in the text bringing out its salient issues – themes – into which the writing subject constantly disappears (Tagoe, 1998) These two concepts of postmodernism and literary representation in the present context in the two novels under study therefore could be seen as any work of prose fiction written by a Nigerian or about Nigeria by a non-Nigerian but with the setting, characterization and theme on Nigeria‘s literary ―space‖ and which addresses Nigeria‘s political, social, historical, psychological, economic themes and so on, that amounts to the sum total of Nigeria‘s ―social formation‖ as a people.
On this premise, it is important that history and other residual worldviews are central to the novel in Nigeria for literary representation. History has been central to the emergence of the Nigerian novel. Just as the West Indies, the discourse on history while confronting fundamental assumptions behind European perception and interpretations of our history and
by extension that of Africa, really inspired the imperatives for redefinition and subjectification, which are basically colonial impulses. The beginning of the novel in Niger ia fits perfectly into Michael Dash‘s observation and cited by Tagoe, (1998) about the West Indian writer thus;
…Traumatized by history, the West Indian writer is yet continually hunted by its specter and perpetually engaged with redefining it… the task of consciousness becomes necessary in a world that is the product of other‘s dreams….
From this modest beginning, the novel in Nigeria has grown to its present status encompassing ideological and several other residual worldviews to the point of examining our own social complexes as a people and country.Nevertheless, because these alternative worlds which literature creates are worlds devoid of impossibilities, it is a ―willing suspension of disbelief‖ that we bring to bear on the reading of literature whic h is more than tactic acceptance that we are dealing with a world where everything is possible, a world that demands a totally different perspective must have been with man for centuries and it is quite obvious that only such attitude could have sustained the growth of the folk tale – a literary genre that offers the most distance – physical and cognitive – between its own worlds and our own. It is this realization that we are dealing with the world of the fantastic that makes us accept the fact that the tortoise could fly to heaven, that when it was in distress, it could speak to the wife on earth from heaven.
This is also the disposition that makes us believe that the serpent could emerge from the sea, borrow all human parts, don itself on princely robes and go out to marry the girl who has refused all human suitors and also Chief Nanga could instantaneously decree a coup d‘état in his country and it will come to pass. The list is endless. Ben Okri also appropriates this style of the fantastic and impossible in The Famished Road (1991).
1.2 Statement of the Proble m
Ben Okri‘s writings have attracted a lot of critical attention especially The Famished Road.However, it has not been directly linked sufficiently as the direct representation of a postmodernist literary creation.This work therefore is based on the propositions that:
- Postmodernist representation is the literary engagement in The Famished Road
- That the novel form is the best suited artistic form for the explication of the relationship between postmodernism and literary representation because of its capacity to appropriates multiplicity of characters.
- That Okri‘s novels used here are axiomatic of the centrality of Nigerian literature in a postmodernist era over nationhood and development.
1.3 Aim and Objectives of the Study
The prose genre, which is circumscribed by a narration or telling, is the most evident of all forms of literary creations on postmodernist discourse about politics, culture, power relations, the economy and so on. In Nigeria, the novel form also bears testimony to this literary engagement. The aim and objectives of the study is, to simply prove that;
- The novel form is a flexible and veritable source of discourse on postmodernism.
- Ben Okri appropriates the novel form because of its capacity engage all the literary nuances associated with the postmodernist era and reconstruct history and represent it in literary form.
- Postmodernist representation is a viable means of evaluating the thematic focus of the two novels under study.
1.4 Justification of Study
The justification for the study proceed on the fact that, the novel form, more than any other genre, possesses the capacity to do justice to the topic because of its narrative ability and multiplicity of characters. The novel form also has the capacity to subsume variety of themes and methodologies in a single novel to be able to extrapolate ideas and broaden the scope of discourse and opinions. The novel form also has the capacity to represent ideas,
thoughts and even idiosyncrasies of the fictional population in the novel‘s world of impossibility that in reality is the near ideal world. This study is therefore timely because it has justified essentially two things, namely; the novel form is now seen as a flexible and veritable source of postmodernist discourse and that Ben Okri uses the novel because of its capacity to reconstruct historical experience in literary form. Furthermore, the st udy is also an attempt to bridge the gap in the literary critical heritage on Ben Okri‘s novels and writings and also adds some new insights into the corpus of intellectual fireworks. Thus, apart from sustaining interest in, and continuing the debates on the application of postmodernist discourse and literary representation to texts under study, this study also attempts to settle some epistemological issues on the Ben Okri‘stwo novels namely, the postmodernist nature of thematic issues on nationhood and development and thus, enrich Nigerian, nay African literature with analytical representation of the postmodernist discourse of history in literary form. This will also widen the understanding of this form of cultural production in this part of the world.
1.5 Scope and Limitation
The entire scope of the work is limited to the novel genre and uses the concept of postmodernism and literary representation in Ben Okri‘s The Famished Road and Flowers and Shadows. This is because, the advent of deconstruction theory in the late 1960s to be able to study the novel‘s multiplicity of meanings and ideas replaced structuralism‘s assumption that, a text‘s meaning could be found in the examination of its structural codes. This was challenged and replaced by the maxim of ―undecidability‖ namely; no definite interpretation and this fit the argument that the novels under study are postmodernist discourse in literary representation. Deconstruction as much as postmodernism therefore declares that a text has an almost infinite number of possible interpretations. This is to say that, ―the interpretations themselves are just as creative and important as the text being interpreted (Bressler, 1994). This method suits our
proposition that, the novel is, especially in Nigeria, an unending discussion about Nigeria within the context of postmodernist discourse.
1.6 Research Methodology
The predominant method used to execute this study is the qualitative method. This method utilizes the texts under study as its primary materials and secondary analytical methods using library sources, learned scholarly journals and internet search engines for further substantiation. It is adopted for its appropriateness and convenience in qualitative research. Kerlinger (1986) asserts that analysis of data is a process of inspecting, cleaning, transforming, and modelling data with the goal of discovering useful information, suggesting conclusions, and supporting decision-making and or recommendations.
Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA, especially used in the humanities of which literary studies and research is one, is the range of processes and procedures whereby we move from the qualitative data that have been collected into some form of explanation, understanding or interpretation of the people and situations we are investigating. Qualitative Data Analysis (QDA) is usually based on an interpretative philosophy. The idea is to examine the meaningful and symbolic content of qualitative data. For example, by analyzing primary data (a literary text) the researcher may be attempting to identify any or all of the following;
- Someone’s interpretation of the world,
- Why they have that point of view,
- How they came to that view,
- What they have been doing,
- How they conveyed their view of their situation,
- How they identify or classify themselves and others in what they say,
The process of QDA usually involves two things: firstly, writing and the identification of themes, secondly, writing of some kind is found in almost all forms of QDA. In contrast, some approaches, such as discourse analysis or conversation analysis may not require the
identification of themes. Nevertheless, finding themes is part of the overwhelming majority of QDA carried out today (ibid).
1.7 Structure of the Dissertation
This dissertation is divided into five chapters. Chapter one is the background to the study which introduces the study and its problematic as the problem statement, including other preliminaries such as; justification, aim and objectives, scope, methodology and the theoretical framework. The chapter also discusses the theory of postmodernism and literary representation, the, origin and the basic arguments of postmodernism against modernism, the poetics of postmodernist discourse, the key assumptions of postmodernism and literary representation and postmodernism as the analytical framework for the study. Chapter Two is the Review of related literature which interrogates some intellectual views about Ben Okri‘s writings. Chapter Three discusses the theme of postmodernism and literary representation of Nigeria‘s social formation in The Famished Road. Chapter Four discusses the theme of Mythology of Nemesis represented in Flowers and Shadows. Chapter Five is the Conclusion of the work.
1.8. Theory of Representation, Postmodernis mand Literature
David (1992) citing Lacan asserts that ―…mimicry reveals something in so far as it is distinct from what might be called as itself that is behind…. The most common intuition
about literature is that it is a ―representation of life.‖ Unlike terms such as mimesis, representation has played a central role in the understanding of literature. Indeed, one might say that it has played the definitive role insofar as the founding fathers of literary theory, Plato and Aristotle, regarded literature as simply one form of representation. Ar istotle defined all the arts—verbal, visual, and musical—as modes of representation, and went even further to make representation the definitively human activity: From childhood, men have an instinct for representation, and in this respect man differs from the other animals that he is far more
imitative and learns his first lessons by representing things. Man, for many philosophers both ancient and modern, is the ―representational animal,‖ ‗homo symbolicum‘ the creature whose distinctive character is the creation and manipulation of signs—things that ―stand for‖ or ―take the place of‖ something else. Since antiquity then, representation has been the foundational concept in aesthetics (the general theory of the arts) and semiotics (the general theory of signs).
In the modern era (i.e., in the last three hundred years) it has also become a crucial concept in political theory, forming the cornerstone ofrepresentational theories of sovereignty, legislative authority, and relations of individuals to the state (Sc hram and Steen: 1992). As soon as we begin to use representations in any social situation—to claim, for instance, that this dab of paint represents the fact that this stone is in that place and looks like this—then representation begins to play a double ro le, as a means of communication which is also a potential obstacle to it (VanDijik and Kinstsch :1983).
Representation is an extremely elastic notion which extends all the way from a stone representing a man to a novel representing a day in the life of several Nigerians (such as the Famished Road) represents a whole series of events and the representational sign never seems to occur in isolation from a whole network of other signs. Aristotle says that representations differ from one another in three ways: in object, manner, and means. The ―object‖ is that which is represented; the ―manner‖ is the way in which it is represented; the ―means‖ is the material that is used. But the ―manner‖ suggests yet another feature of representation, and that is the particular way a representational code is employed such as Azaro in The Famished Road representing Nigeria. The ―means‖ of literary representation is language, but there are many ways of employing that means (dramatic recitation, narration, and description) to achieve all sorts of effects (pity, admiration, laughter, scorn) and represent all sorts of things (VanDjijk: 1983).
Symbolic representations such as characters in novels, by contrast, are and must be based on the resemblance of the sign to what it signifies even on arbitrary stipulation; thus Azaro in the Famished Road may stand for Nigeria with all its characteristics because we can see the semblances and because in literature, we have agreed to regard it this way. According to (VanDjik: 1983) There is nothing, of course, to prevent any particular representation from employing more than one of these relationships: a written text may symbolically represent (describe or narrate or dramatize) an action, and it may also indexically represent ―cause‖ of which it is an effect.
In a similar way, we might think of language as one medium of representation, ―literature‖ as the name of the aesthetic use of that medium, and things like poetry, the novel, and drama as very large genres within that medium. One crucial cons ideration that enters into any analysis of representation is the relationship between the representational material and that which it represents. For Culler (1982), a stone may stand for a man, but how? By virtue of what ―agreement‖ or understanding does representation occur? Semioticians generally differentiate three types of representational relationships under the names of icon, symbol, and index. An iconic account of the relation ―stone-represents- man‖ would stress resemblance: a certain stone might stand for a man because it is upright, or because it is hard, or because its shape resembles that of a man. (―Mimesis‖ and ―imitation‖ are thus iconic forms of representation that transcend the differences between media. Symbolic representations i.e characters in novels, by contrast, are and must be based on the resemblance of the sign to what it signifies even on arbitrary stipulation; thus Azaro in the Famished Road may stand for Nigeria with all its characteristics because we can see the semblances and because in literature, we have agreed to regard it this way.
It also important to understand, that the long tradition of explaining literature and the other arts in terms of representation is matched by an equally long tradition of discomfort
with this notion. Plato accepted the common view that literature is a representation of life, but for that very reason he thought it should be banished from the ideal state. Representations, Plato reasoned, are mere substitutes for the things themselves; even worse, they may be false or illusory substitutes that stir up anti-social emotions (violence or weakness), and they may represent bad persons and actions, encouraging imitation of evil and for Plato, only certain kinds of representations, carefully controlled by the state, were to be permitted into Plato’s republic of rational virtue.
According to David (1992), there have been many other challenges to the notion of literary representation. Most of them, like prohibitions against idolatry or pornography, accept the basic model of the representational triangle but try to restrict or modify it in the service of some set of values. Thus, idealist theories of the arts will often posit some ―higher nature‖ as the preferred object of representation and consign the representat ion of ordinary life to lower genres, such as caricature or satire, or some non-aesthetic genre, like ―documentary or history. Realist theories of the arts tend to consign the idealist genres to the realm of ―romance‖ and to see them as merely imaginary, fanciful representations. Both theories adopt the representational model of art: they simply disagree about what is to be represented (what Aristotle called the ―object‖).
If representation sneak back in, it is likely to be turned backward: art imitates life, reality (nature, society, the unconscious) is a text, and there is nothing outside the text. Once this turn is made, then the opposition between ―life‖ and ―literature‖ which animates the traditional notion of literary representation begins to fall apart. But the structure of representation itself, as a relation of standing for, seems to come back with a vengeance. Concepts such as the identity of the text, the determinacy of meaning, the integrity of the author, and the validity of interpretation all p lay a role in the representational (or anti-representational) character of literary texts. The highly self-conscious fictive ―labyrinths‖ of
Jorge Luis Borges, also employed by Okri with their pastiches of scholarly and historical documentation, deadpan realism, and bizarre fantasy, are often cited as paradigms of postmodern literary representation (Bakhtim, 1986)
1.9 The OriginsandBasic Argumentsof Postmodernismagainst Modernism.
According to Huyssen, (1986) the origin of postmodernism as a philosophical movement is largely a reaction against the philosophical assumptions and values of the modern period of Western (specifically European) history—i.e., the period from about the time of the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries to the mid-20th century. Indeed, many of the doctrines characteristically associated with postmodernism can fairly be described as the straightforward denial of general philosophical viewpoints that were taken for granted during the 18th-century Enlightenment, though they were not unique to that period. The most important of these viewpoints are the following.
- There is an objective natural reality, a reality whose existence and properties are logically independent of human beings—of their minds, their societies, their social practices, or their investigative techniques. Postmodernists dismiss this idea as a kind of naive Such reality as there is, according to postmodernists, is a conceptual construct, an artifact of scientific practice and language. This point also applies to the investigation of past events by historians and to the description of social institutions, structures, or practices by social scientists.
- The descriptive and explanatory statements of scientists and historians can, in principle, be objectively true or false. The postmodern denial of this viewpoint—which follows from the rejection of an objective natural reality—is sometimes expressed by saying that there is no such thing as truth.
- Through the use of reason and logic and with the more specialized tools provided by science and technology, human beings are likely to change themselves and their societies for the
better. It is reasonable to expect that future societies will be more humane, more just, more enlightened, and more prosperous than they are now. Postmodernists deny this Enlightenment faith in science and technology as instruments of human progress. Indeed, many postmodernists hold that the misguided (or unguided) pursuit of scientific and technological knowledge led to the development of technologies for killing on a massive scale in World War II. Some go so far as to say that science and technology—and even reason and logic— are inherently destructive and oppressive, because they have been used by evil people, especially during the 20th century, to destroy and oppress others.
- Reason and logic are universally valid—i.e., their laws are the same for, or apply equally to, any thinker and any domain of knowledge. For postmodernists, reason and logic too are merely conceptual constructs and are therefore valid only within the established intellectual traditions in which they are used.
- There is such a thing as human nature; it consists of faculties, aptitudes, or dispositions that are in some sense present in human beings at birth rather than learned or instilled through social forces. Postmodernists insist that all, or nearly all, aspects of human psychology are completely socially determined.
- Language refers to and represents a reality outside itself. According to postmodernists, language is not such a ―mirror of nature,‖ as the American pragmatist philosopher, Richard Rorty, characterized the Enlightenment view. Inspired by the work of the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, postmodernists claim that language is semantically self-contained, or self-referential: the meaning of a word is not a static thing in the world or even an idea in the mind but rather a range of contrasts and differences with the meanings of other words. Because meanings are in this sense functions of other meanings—which themselves are functions of other meanings, and so on—they are never fully ―present‖ to the speaker or hearer but are endlessly ―deferred.‖
Derrida, (1969) asserts thatself-reference characterizes not only natural languages but also the more specialized ―discourses‖ of particular communities or traditions; such
discourses are embedded in social practices and reflect the conceptual schemes,moral and intellectual values of the community or tradition in which they are used. The po stmodern view of language and discourse is due largely to the French philosopher and literary theorist Jacques Derrida (1930–2004), the originator and leading practitioner of deconstruction.
1.10 The Deep Structures of Literary Representations
Mithen and Gazzaniga make statements that represent complementary extremes in our current evolutionary understanding of the human mind. Mithen (1996) declares that “when thoughts originating in different domains can engage together, the result is an almost limitless capacity for imagination.” Gazzaniga (1997) poses a rhetorical question “What Are Brains For?” The answer is “Sex.” Both statements are correct, more or less, but neither by itself provides us with enough structure to build a usable model of literary representations. If we try to go directly from these statements to literary representation, we end up either with too little constraint, or with too much. If we take Mithen‘s statement alone, we end up with unlimited combinations of images that could only be catalogued seriatim. And if we take Gazzaniga‘s statement alone, we end up with some version of the simple proposition that all literary works are ultimately about sex, which they are written out of sexual motives, that they represent sexual relationships, and that they are read for the purpose, direct or indirect, of sexual gratification. Neither statement alone provides adequate structure, but if we combine them and mediate between them, we shall find that we now have the means for analyzing literary representations and for understanding the psychological functions of literature.
Throughout this work, the term “literature” will be used as a short-hand term signifying both oral and written forms of narrative, verse, and dramatic enactment. Writing is an extension of oral communication. Literacy is less than ten thousand years old, and it should be clear that no claim is being made here that literacy and its offshoots are themselves
adaptations. When reference is made of the adaptive functions of literature, it is to signify the adaptive functions of the oral antecedents of written stories, poems, and plays.
The same arguments that apply to these oral forms will be understood as extending also to their counterparts in written language. Mithen has assimilated and revised a central concept of evolutionary psychology-the idea that the human mind contains a rich array of innate structures that have evolved through the adaptive process of natural selection. Some of the most prominent evolutionary psychologists (Tooby and Cosmides, Pinker) conceptualize evolved psychological structures as “modules” dedicated to specific domains or adaptive tasks, for example, to visual cognition, mate selection, and predator avoidance. Drawing on recent work by cognitive scientists, mainly psychologists and philosophers, Mithen argues that between one hundred thousand and thirty thousand years ago, the human mind underwent a crucial phase of evolutionary development.
The modules dedicated to hitherto separate domains became permeable, and the mind began to make analogical connections among them. This reflexive capacity, which Mithen calls “cognitive fluidity,” is a necessary precondition for the production of modern culture– for complex technology, science, art, and religion. The concept of cognitive fluidity brings evolutionary psychology into partial alignment with a set of ideas that has already been long-established in a field sometimes called cognitive linguistics or cognitive rhetoric. The seminal text in this field is Lakoff and Johnson (1980). Both authors have pub lished subsequent work independently, and Lakoff has co-authored a book with the literary scholar Turner, who has himself published various independent works. Lakoff and Johnson argue that “our ordinary conceptual system . . . is fundamentally metaphorical in nature” and further, that we habitually use constructs from one “domain” of experience to talk about corresponding concepts in other domains (Johnson 1999).
Lakoff and Johnson are making a claim not just about the logic of specific figures of speech, as decorations or elaborations of isolated concepts, but about the elementary structures of whole conceptual systems. Propositions of this sort hold out the promise of situating literary analysis within some stable, empirically grounded and philosophically rationalized system of general knowledge. To connect literary study with cognitive science would be to render it thus far scientific–objective, progressive, and technical.
In the nearly two decades since Lakoff and Johnson made their argument, this promise has not been realized. The central problem the cognitive rhetoricians have failed to solve is that of grounding the concept of “domains” within some larger concept of human experience and cognition. In the work of Lakoff, Johnson, and Turner, the concept of domains remains nebulous and variable. They propose to establish order by identifying hierarchies of metaphors, but these hierarchies are themselves grounded in no larger or deeper set of regularities and can provide no stable basis of causal or systematic connection. The closest Turner gets to a systematic order is an apparently random list of categories that he calls “conceptual domains”: eating, dress, learning, buildings, travel, combat, and plants. He makes no effort to correlate these domains with the concept of domain-specific modules in evolutionary psychology, nor does he provide any other rationale or organizing principle for the list. He says only that these categories are “basic source domains, grounded in our forms of life”
The failure of cognitive rhetoric is one of the most encouraging developments in the literary theory of the past decade. It is encouraging because the cause of failure is easy to diagnose, and the diagnosis points us very clearly in the direction we need to take. The one crucial element missing in cognitive rhetoric is an ordered system of domains; the necessary precondition for this system is a structured concept of human nature; and the source for this
concept is the study of the adapted mind–that is, the study of the evolved structure of the human psyche. One of the best pieces of evidence for this diagnosis can be found in the work of the cognitive rhetoricians themselves. Their own logic leads them inexorably to invoke the adapted mind as the site of metaphoric domains. They simply fail to carry through on their own logic. Johnson (1987) titles a book The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason.
Lakoff, (1999) affirms that “our conceptual systems grow out of bodily experience.” He grounds all “cognitive models” in “experience”; and he grounds experience in “the internal genetically acquired makeup of the organism and the nature of its interactions in both its physical and its social environments” (xiv, xv). Together Lakoff and Johnson declare that “our conceptual systems grow out of our bodies” and that “meaning is grounded in and through our bodies”. Turner (1991) follows these leads. He insists on the bodily basis of meaning and stipulates, “A brain is part of a body and in operation is inseparable from it. Evolutionarily, the brain exists only in order to serve the reproductive and metabolic body of which it is a part” (Turner, 1996).
Similarly, attempting to integrate cognitive psychology with literary analysis, Spolsky (1993) appeals to “the evolutionary history of the species” and to “the genetically inherited architecture of the brain”. He argues, that once one has made any such appeal as this, the obvious and inescapable next step is the step toward human ethnology or human sociobiology, and it is a step that each of these writers fails to take. Their bibliographies contain almost no titles of books or articles on the evolution of human sexuality, human sociality, or human behavior of any kind. Their emphasis on “the body” has rest ricted itself largely to concepts of physical direction or orientation – concepts like up and down, and front and back.
Lakoff and Johnson (1999) identify the idea of physical well-being as the source domain for concepts of morality and the idea of family structure as the source domain for concepts of political orientation. These concepts do not form part of a comprehensive conception of a species-typical motivational structure. On the contrary, Lakoff and Johnson reject the concept of a relatively stable set of species-typical characteristics. They argue that in biology, cognitive science, and neuroscience “human nature is conceptualized rather in terms of variation, change, and evolution, not in terms of a fixed list of central features”. Given the relatively slow pace of evolutionary change, one cannot legitimately invoke evolution as an antithesis to the idea of a distinctly structured set of species-typical characteristics. The question is whether evolution has produced any such set of characteristics in human beings. The answer from evolutionary psychology is that it has.
In one broad and obvious sense, the problem presented by the failure of cognitive rhetoric is easy of solution. It is simply a matter of expanding one‘s reading to take in as much information as possible about the evolved structure of the human psyche. Lakoff, Johnson, and Turner are by no means wrong to emphasize the body and even to insist on the primacy of a few directional concepts that regulate physical existence, but we hardly need stop there in defining the architecture of human experience. We already have a large amount of well-documented information about the species-typical structure of human motives and concerns. The problem that presents itself to us is this: how do we connec t our current understanding of species-typical motives with the concept of domain-specific reasoning, and further, how do we use these combined concepts for the purposes of literary analysis? The first thing to consider is the actual current status of our understanding of domains and modules.
At first sight, the theory of domains presents a jumbled array of possibilities, a mere disparate list of specialized cognitive mechanisms. For example, Tooby and Cosmides (1992) offer a list of special modules for the following functions: face recognition, spatial relations, rigid object mechanics, tool use, fear, social exchange, emotion perception, kin-oriented motivation, effort allocation and recalibration, child care, social inference, sexual attraction, semantic inference, friendship, grammar acquisition, communication pragmatics, theory of mind, “and so on.” This is the sequence they themselves give, and the “and so on” signifies an open-ended series. Pinker, (1994) offers a similar list containing fifteen items. For someone who is concerned with analyzing the imaginative structure of literary texts, lists of this sort would probably not seem very helpful. Taking such a list as a guide, the critic could do little more than catalogue metaphors, a practice that would not take us beyond the kind of random analysis of metaphoric structures practiced by the cognitive rhetoricians. It takes us scarcely beyond the unlimited field of metaphoric particularities that has been thoroughly tilled by old- fashioned literary critics since the early decades of this century.
Faced with any such random list, the natural impulse is to start grouping items into larger categories. Among cognitive psychologists concerned with domain-specificity, there is still substantial controversy about the definition, number, and organization of cognitive domains, but there is also a fair degree of consensus about some of the main categories in which to group domains. The starting point for domain-specific reasoning has been the purely sensory modules, like that for visual perception, and the concept of a language module, derived from Noam Chomsky. Beyond these heavily studied modules, there is wide-spread agreement on the existence of at least three main cognitive domains: the domains of physics, biology, and psychology. (See Sperber 1994, Carey and Spelke, 1994, Cosmides and Tooby 1994, Mithen, 199, Pinker, 1997) The psychological domain is sometimes called the “theory of mind module,” and it consists in the recognition of feelings and thoughts in ot her minds.
The domain of physics is the area in which we can locate the directional metaphors (up – down, etc.) that preoccupy the cognitive rhetoricians. By adding biology and psychology to the purely spatial sphere, the cognitive evolutionary psychologists bring us much closer to the range of subjects and motives that constitute the substance of most literary texts.
Assuming for the moment that there is adequate empirical support for the provisional grouping of domains into a few major categories, how does that advance the case for literary analysis? In order to make use of cognitive domains as categories of literary analysis, we have to correlate domains with some specific structure of human motives and concerns and locate the functions of literary representation within this structure of motives and concerns. Literature represents human motives and concerns, and it is written and read because it satisfies human needs. If evolutionary psychology can give a comprehensive explanation of motives and concerns, it should both provide taxonomy of themes in literary representation and also explain why people read and write and how literature affects them.
To begin with, how does a list of four or five major cognitive domains translate into a structure of human motives and concerns? At this point, we should recall the question by Gazzaniga. What are brains for? If we reformulate the answer in a less rhetorically striking way, we can say that the function of the brain is to promote inclusive fitness. The differential transmission of genes depends on the organism surviving long enough to reproduce, and in human beings it involves also parenting, collateral nepotism, and the successful negotiation of a social environment. These basic requirements result in behavioral mechanisms oriented to solving problems within a limited range of concerns. McCabe, (2005) identify four basic behavioral systems: survival, reproduction, kin assistance, and reciprocation. Following the same logic, Buss (1999) surveys the whole field of evolutionary psychology within a
sequence of book sections devoted to (in this order): survival, sex and mating, parenting and kinship, and group living.
Evolutionary psychologists emphasize proximal mechanisms of adaptation, and in this respect they distinguish their method from that of socio-biological thinkers who place a greater emphasis on the direct and immediate pursuit of reproductive advantage. Barkow, (1989), Symons, (1992), Tooby and Cosmides (1992) Evolutionary psychologists nonetheless recognize that all proximal mechanisms can have evolved only under the regulative force of inclusive fitness. Features of living organisms that are physiologically expensive and that display complex functional organization can have evolved only if they enabled the organism to pass on its genes more effectively than other, competing organisms.
Thus, Cosmides and Tooby, taking issue with the purely epistemological preoccupations of cognitive psychology, argue that “cognitive mechanisms capable of acquiring knowledge evolved solely because they sub-served a larger cognitive architecture that regulated behavior” The more closely any motive impinges on the elementary principles of inclusive fitness, the deeper it goes into the regulative structure of species-typical motives. The two behavioral systems that most directly impinge on inclusive fitness are survival and reproduction. Discussing a broad range of research into human motives, Buss (1999) observes that “power and love emerge consistently and cross-culturally as the two most important dimensions of interpersonal behavior”. In the grouping of domains into four or five major categories, this whole primary set of concerns falls within the basic categories of “psychology” or “social interaction.” Reproductive interests – sex, parenting, and family – form a clear and distinct subset of these categories. There is ample evidence for evo lved cognitive structures that regulate these specific motives and concerns.
According to Bakhtin, (1986), in order to make any hierarchical principle of human motivation usable for literary analysis, we must stipulate that there is a fundamental parallel between the structure of human motives and concerns and the organizing principles of literary representation. Human beings living in a real physical world and interacting both with their physical environment and with other human beings form the central topic of all literary representation. Cognitive rhetoric emphasizes metaphorical relationships, but this elementary configuration presents us with a primary, literal order of representations.
Metaphors are diverse, but they have meaning and force only in the degree to which they reflect the elementary structure of human motives and concerns.In literature the most frequent and important themes are those that concern individual identity, sexual romance, and the family. Survival is the basis of all adventure stories, and by far the largest proportion of stories that are not strictly oriented to survival are organized around the mating game, the concerns of parents for children, and family relations generally. On the basis of such observations, we can propose a large generalization about the primacy of adventure, personal success, and romance within the themes of world literature, and this kind of generalization can in fact yield hypotheses that are testable through large-scale cross-cultural analyses of literary subjects, Wilson, (1993).
Both social and cognitive activity are a significant part of what is actually represented in literature, and they are inextricably intertwined with themes of personal power and reproductive success, but in literary texts they will almost always have less structural importance than the more primary levels of somatic and reproductive effort. That is, most plots will be grounded more deeply in issues of personal power and love than in problems of social antagonism, social affiliation, and the pursuit of knowledge about the physical and natural world. The broader biological and physical environments that constrain personal and
social interaction have their own affective values, and these values are registered in nature poetry and the description of setting. Much of the metaphoric elaboration of intimate human relations derives from images of the natural world. And conversely, virtually all direct representations of the natural world are intertwined and suffused with the images and effects of intimate personal relations.
Literature itself has until recently been the only great repository of information about human nature. Empirical psychology is scarcely a hundred years old, and much of the psychological theory in this century has foundered amidst the sensational and distorted speculations of Freud and the barren reductions of behaviorism. Throughout the greater part of our history, our best psychologists have been playwrights, poets, and novelists. When Hamlet tells the players that the purpose of the poet is to hold “the mirror up to nature” (III: ii), it is human nature he has most in mind. Literary authors have intuitively understood that the subject matter of literature is human experience, that experience is grounded in common natural motives and feelings, and that sympathetic response to the depiction of experience in texts depends on the common shared experience among authors, the characters depicted, and the audience. Understanding the inner workings of the mind has been the heart a nd soul of the literary tradition, as it no doubt was the heart and soul of the oral traditions that are the ancestors of all literate cultures.
Carroll, (1995) asserts that any psychological system could become the basis for an associated school of literary analysis, but only a Darwinian conception of the evolved and adapted character of the human mind can provide an understanding of human nature that is sufficiently profound and incisive to correspond with the intuitive understanding embodied in the literary tradition. In the middle decades of this century, literary critics sometimes used Jungian ideas of innate “archetypes” as categories for the analysis of universal human themes,
and these categories can be partially but very imperfectly correlated wit h the themes of evolutionary psychology. At present, overwhelmingly the most influential version of psychology in literary studies is the Freudian version. Literature itself appeals to a sense of human nature truer and deeper than Freudian doctrine, and evolutionary psychology has already corrected basic elements in the Freudian scheme of analysis. Wilson (1993), Degler (1991) Buss, (1999). Freudian readings of literary texts almost inevitably introduce distorting ideas of incest and castration anxiety, and a form of literary analysis that appeals to evolutionary psychology rather than Freudian psychoanalysis will have a vastly improved access to the deep structure of literary representations. Carroll, (1995), Brown (1983) argues that the idea of the self or of individual persons is a human universal, and Pinker (1994) includes it as one of the “modules” or cognitive domains. Among human beings, the sense of individual persons is the conscious correlative for the biological concept of the organism, and this concept is an essential precondition for the organization of behavior in goal-directed ways and for the interaction of individuals in social groups.
In literary structures, the idea of an individual self is indispensable to the organization of literary meaning. Characters in poems, plays, and stories are individuals, and authors necessarily present their stories from some distinct point of view. All emotion and cognition is organized within the individual mind, and the response of audiences to literary works is thus necessarily lodged in individuals, even when the response is collectively experienced, as in the audience of a play. For these reasons, the study of individual psychology is integral both to the Darwinian conception of human beings and to literary analysis.
The modern study of Darwinian psychology has tended to concentrate on the idea of human universals, and within the Darwinian community itself there has been controversy over the adaptive significance of individual variations. Theorists who believe that individual
variations are not adaptively important argue that adaptations display complex functional structure and that any such structure must be common to the species as a whole. (See Tooby and Cosmides 1990.) Other theorists seek to explain the adaptive value of variation within a given ecology. (See MacDonald 1995; Wilson 1993, Buss, 1999) For the purposes of identifying a species-typical human psychological design, the crucial point to be made is that human universals and individual variations are not mutually exclusive concepts. The dimensions through which individual identity is structured and in which it necessarily varies are themselves universals. These dimensions are part of the evolved structure of human nature.
Tooby and Cosmides (1992) argue that evolutionary psychology must work both backwards and forwards, from hypotheses about ancestral environments to predictions about evolved structures, and from observation of evolved structures to speculations about ancestral conditions. Any information on universal features of the human design, even if they have been studied by scientists indifferent to evolutionary psychology, provide substantive empirical data that can be used by evolutionary psychologists. One of the most important set of structures for individual identity are the five factors of personality.
These factors; neuroticism/security, conscientiousness/carelessness, and curiosity/dullness can be used for the comparative analysis of characters, authors, and audience response. Each of these factors can be described in ways that correlate with a biologically based understanding of human motives and concerns. The extraversion/introversion scale involves the elementary biological terms of organism and environment, measuring whether the organism is more responsive to external stimuli or, alternatively, more attuned to internal processes. In literary terms, the concept of organism and environment correlates with the concept of character and environment, and it is thus an
indispensable dimension for assessing literary situations. Agreeableness and antagonism identify the two possible extremes in social interaction. They thus reflect basic principles in the hierarchy of elementary regulative principles for human behavio r. Neuroticism involves an array of traits that respond to danger and that are thus signals of threat to survival both of the organism and of his/her kin and social affiliates. Conscientiousness is a quality of character that is essential to personal success and to authority within a social group. Openness or intellect is a measure of responsive sensitivity to the whole range of environmental conditions, physical and social. According to Arnhart, (1998) These latter two factors, conscientiousness and openness, form the basis of the theory of moral psychology worked out by Darwin (1871) in The Descent of Man, and they remain basic parts of Darwinian ethical psychology.
Individuals vary in the degree to which they are extraverted or introverted, emotionally stable or insecure, intellectually open or dull, friendly or antagonistic, and conscientious or careless, but variations in these dimensions can be likened to variations in other adaptive features of the human design – for example, in keenness of eyesight or hearing, intelligence, physical strength, and sexual attractiveness. (Wilson 1993). The observation of such differences is part of the common experience of everyday social interaction, and evolutionary psychologists have now begun to make reasonable conjectures about the ways in which such differences can be integrated into other fundamental features of the human motivational system. For instance, Ashton et al. (1998) correlate differences of agreeableness and emotional stability both with sex differences and with differential dispositions to kin altruism and reciprocal altruism, (MacDonald 1995)
Buss, (1992) argues that the dimensions of personality in the five-factor system “summarize the most important features of the social landscape that humans have had to
adapt to.” (Eysenck and Eysenck, 1985). If Buss is correct, and if it is also correct that literary texts reflect an intuitive psychological understanding of human nature, we can anticipate that literary representations will depict the way humans perceive individual differences and integrate their perceptions into elemental motives such as mate-selection strategies. For the sake of illustration, I shall cite here one specific kind of individual difference that enters into stories of female mate selection. Jane Austen‘s Pride and Prejudice can serve as the main example. At the level of socio-biological themes of mate selection, we can see that the heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, marries a male, Darcy, who is higher in status than herself, and that he demonstrates his suitability as a mate in part by extending protection to her endangered kin (her sister Lydia).
At the level of resolution appropriate to personality theory, Elizabeth undergoes a process of sorting through the personality factors, learning to make allowances for the qualities of manner attendant on Darcy‘s introversion, and learning through her experience with Wickham the relatively small reliance to be placed on agreeableness when it is not accompanied by conscientiousness. In the largest thematic structure in the book, she rearranges her whole psychic economy to detach herself from her father, who is cultivated but careless, and to attach herself instead to the ethos of responsibility represented by Darcy. This psychological reorientation plays itself out in dialogue that is concerned with the functions of satire and humor, and thus with the tonal, literary dimensions that correlate with the psychological dimensions.
All of the characters in the narrative play the mating game, in accordance with socio-biological rules, but they also form a carefully constructed array of personality types within a psychological economy dominated by the lead couple, and they self-consciously assess one another on the basis of verbal and imaginative styles that re flect their specific psychological
constitutions. Similar kinds of intuitive psychological depictions are integral parts of the meaning system of most fictional narratives. The specific pattern used as the elementary structure of plot is by no means universal but is certainly very common. Personality factors can be used in the analysis of characters, authors, and readers. They provide points of entry into the values and sensibility of any given author and a means for assessing the evaluative response of audiences to any given author. For instance, Fielding and his protagonists are robust and good- natured, sensual but friendly and open, outgoing but a little lax in their moral fiber.
Rather than attempting to locate this configuration within some supposedly absolute standard of literary merit, we can instead understand that certain kinds of critical temperaments will respond to Fielding with genial warmth, and that others, more neurotically sensitive, withdrawn, and antagonistic, will find him an uncomfortable companion. Pater, in contrast, is introverted, sensual, and narcissistic. He has evoked a narrower range of sympathetic response, but he has a small, distinct cadre of like- minded readers– for whom words such as “aestheticism” and “decadence” evoke no unpleasant connotations. The use of personality factors as categories of analysis need not pretend to be exhaustive. These factors can be combined with any array of significant traits–for instance, of sex or gender, age, social class, national or ethnic identity, and cultural period. (Sugiyama, 1996)
But if personality dimensions are in fact part of the evolved structure of the human psyche, they provide us terms that are in themselves important and that can serve as stable points of comparison. Pinker (1997: 315) observes that “cognitive scientists think of people as Mr X without the funny ears‖ and a similar observation could be made of the cognitive rhetoricians. If we accept the stipulation that the organizing principles of literary representation run parallel to the structure of human motives and concerns, we must also
accept an implication that takes us outside the range of conceptual analysis in cognitive rhetoric and brings us into the psychology of emotion. Motives and concerns are mediated not, in the first place, by conceptual patterns or metaphoric systems. They are mediated most directly by feelings or affects, by desire and fear, by pleasure and pain. Ekman, (1994) argues that “the commonalities in the antecedent events that call forth each emotion are the product of our evolution and reflect the most important or frequent events our ancestors encountered.” Motives and emotions evolved together. Both have to be understood within the framework of evolutionary psychology.
Metaphors have imaginative and specifically literary value only if they are able to engage and evoke the subjective quality of experience. Feelings are the basis of tone in literary texts, and tone is the basis of generic structure. Working out from a concept of the evolved structure of human motives and concerns, we can derive a reasonable framework for analyzing both the subjects of literary representation and the emotional affects that give subjective value and meaning to represented events. To give value and meaning is to impose shape; it is to define what, subjectively, constitutes an “event.”
In the study of emotions, as in the study of cognitive domains and personality factors, there is a good deal of controversy over the identification of the specific units of analysis and the larger categories within which they are grouped. There is nonetheless a fair consensus on certain core emotions, particularly on the six emotions identified by Ekman as having distinct facial expressions that are recognizable across diverse cultures. These six basic emotions are joy, sadness, fear, anger, disgust, and surprise. All of these emotions are essential components in the tonal and generic structures in literary texts. Sadness is the basis of elegy and tragedy; and happiness the basis of comedy. Surprise is essential to suspense, and anger
and disgust are the animating sentiments of satire. (On universal, species-typical emotions, (see Ekman and Davidson 1994; Lewis and Haviland, Pinker, 1994)
The main plot structures in literary representations map simultaneously onto elementary human motives and basic emotions. The story of growth from childhood to adulthood, the adventure quest, the romantic comedy love story, the saga of revenge, the drama of jealousy–all have their place in the structure of elemental human motives, and they each have their characteristic set of emotions. The reading audience characteristically participates in the emotional experiences of the characters, sympathizes with them, experiences anxiety and hope as their fortunes vary, and finally experiences satisfaction or disappointment at the outcome of the action. This much is much is represented in Okri‘s The Famished Road and Flowers and Shadows
The basic emotional trajectory of any plot can be modulated through any combination of other emotions. The joy and anxiety of a romantic comedy plot like that of Pride and Prejudice, for example, can be modulated by anger and disgust, fear, remorse, shame, defiance, gratitude, and compassion. The main plot structure nonetheless follows a primary emotional trajectory, and this trajectory serves as the principle around which all the other emotions are organized. In this respect, the emotional trajectory of a literary work is parallel to the representation of motives. That is, the array of incidental motives in any representation is brought into subordinate order to the elemental motives that determine the primary plot structure. Elemental human motives and emotions provide the deep structure of literary representations, and this deep structure serves to organize subordinate motives and subordinate emotions.
We trace from Mithen‘s appeal to cognitive fluidity: “When thoughts originating in different domains can engage together, the result is an almost limitless capacity for
imagination” Mithen, (1996). The range of metaphoric combination is limitless, but combinations become meaningful only by being integrated with the elemental structure of human motives and human emotions. Even the most fanciful and phantasmagoric literary texts–for example, Ben Okri‘s hallucinatory allegories of spiritual experience, in The Famished Road- speak to us and move us because their fantasies give metaphoric form to elemental passions and universal concerns-to themes of life and death, personal identity, sexual desire, parental affections, and to the love of friends and the hatred of enemies as represented by Azaro, Madem Koto, the photographer, Azaro‘s mother and father and a host of other characters in The Famished Road and Flowers and Shadows.
The question of the adaptive function of literature is at present highly controverted. Literary theorists who take fitness maximization as a direct motive speculate that the writing of literature is a form of social manipulation or of sexual display. (Constable 1997: Sugiyama 1996; and Miller 1998) From this perspective, writing is a means of attracting attention, enhancing prestige, and thus advancing one‘s reproductive prospects. The question of function is reduced directly to “ultimate” function, and the psychological functions specific to literature are simply passed over. Pinker (1997) follows the traditional division of literary function into two parts- use and pleasure, or instruction and entertainment. As instruction, he says, literature serves an adaptive function because it provides us with models for situations we might meet with in our own lives. As a form of pleasure, literature is a non- functional by-product of higher cognitive processes. In describing the pleasures specific to literature, Pinker, like Freud (146-47), suggests that literature is mainly a means of fantasy fulfillment. (Buss, 1999)
The argument being made is the way literature grounds itself in elemental motives and basic emotions which suggests a different hypothesis about its psychological function;
literature is satisfying – moving or disturbing – not in the degree to which it fulfills fantasy expectations – though it can do this – but in the degree to which it provides a sense of psychological order. It provides order by depicting the particularities of time and place – of cultural context, individual circumstance, and personal character – and by integrating these particularities with the elemental structures of human concerns. Through literature and its oral antecedents, we recognize the elemental structures of human concerns in our own lives and in those of others. We filter out the trivial and the tangential aspects of experience and see into the deep structure of our nature. And we not only “see”- not only understand objectively. Through stories and verse and dramatic enactments – whether written or oral – we realize our deeper nature in vividly subjective ways. Through such realization, we situate ourselves consciously within our environments and organize the feelings and thoughts through which we regulate our behavior. Literature produces pleasure, but it is not merely a “pleasure technology” equivalent to recreational drugs (Pinker, 1994). It is one of the primary means through which we regulate our complex cognitive machinery. It contributes to personal and social development and to the capacity for responding flexibly and creatively to complex and changing circumstances. (Dissanayake, 1992)
As Pinker argues, literature presents simulated (representational) situations through which we can model our own behaviors, but it does not only provide game plans for specific situations. It integrates emotional processes with elemental motives in highly particularized circumstances that we might never encounter- for example, the circumstances of being stranded on an island like those of Robinson Crusoe. The utility of reading about such experience does not depend on duplicating it in literal terms. Readers register the qualities of character through which Crusoe sustains himself in solitude, and they integrate these perceptions with the repertory of their psychological potentialities. Moreover, imaginatively assimilated experience serves not only to guide our own behavior but also to assess the
experience of others. In this latter regard, literature is a medium for cultivating our innate and socially adaptive capacity for entering mentally into the experience of other people. (Brown 1983 and Buss 1999)
The predominant forms of literary study at the present time offer unqualified assent to a “historicist” belief that all experience is determined by autonomous and historically unique cultural processes. (Dissanayake 1992; Carroll 1995; and Storey 1996) Suc h beliefs are parallel to the belief in cultural autonomy that distinguishes the Standard Social Science Model. (Degler, 1991; Brown 1983; Tooby and Cosmides 1992; and Federman, 1990.) Evolutionary psychology can revise such views by demonstrating that ele mental, species – typical motives constrain all specific cultural forms. Of all competing theoretical alternatives, evolutionary psychology gives the most access to the elemental structure of human concerns. It thus offers the best available framework for understanding the psychological functions and represented content of literature. As a framework for literary study, evolutionary psychology can best fulfill its promise by integrating the basic principles of inclusive fitness with models for the analysis of personality and emotion.
1.11 Key Assumptions of Lite rary Representation
David (1992) has argued that, literary representation is understood to mean an action or word spoken or written on behalf of another and the ―word‖ has been generally accepted as meaning some type of supreme consciousness-self-created, self-enervating and self-sustaining consciousness. It is simple and quite obvious: that man is a creative and imitative animal, but the point must be made which is that literature more than music, art or science, offers man the fullest possibility of realizing this potential. In literature, according to Foucault, (1972) the poetics of representation and discourse proceed on the following key assumptions; that,
- Objects so represented in literary text always exhibit traceable historical resemblance in putative contexts. (That is why we could agree that Azaro as an Abiku child in The Famished Road bear traceable resemblances with Nigeria)
- In this context also, representation is a multi- voiced narrative texuality. This much corresponds with Mukarovsky‘s idea of ―polyphonic or dialogic novel‖ which embodies diverse discourses that interact with, define, and are in turn shaped by their culture.
(iii) Literary representation is essentially panoramic in that it strives to provide its readers with a survey of the most important developments and events in history.
- Representation is stylistically emploted especially metaphorically, thatseen something from the view point of another. Metaphor is therefore averitable means by which representation is achieved in a literary discourse.
- More importantly, representation embodies the life of the author, the social and historical situation which can be appropriated to unlock the textual meaning.
The nature of postmodernist representation analysis in a qualitative research method
is to analyse the use of symbols in social contexts. It is also concerned with the creation of
meaning through talk and texts analysis that provides insights into the way symbols are
represented to help ―shape and reproduce social meanings and forms of knowledge‖
(Foucault, 1972). Grounded in social constructivism, which emphasizes the socio-cultural
interactions as sources of knowledge, the framework for representation analysis is based on
the following three arguments according to Foucault:
- First, knowledge cannot be gained by pure objectivity as scientific and positivist researchers believe it can. A writer brings his or her own set of beliefs, cultural values, expectations, subjectivity and bias into the work when writing because he/she recognizes his or her own beliefs, and acknowledges how these beliefs, influenced by
his or her own personal, cultural, and historical experiences shapes interpretations of reality and knowledge.
- Second, reality is socially and culturally constructed. Unlike scientific approaches in which reality, ideas, or constructs (e.g. intelligence & attitudes) are categorized as naturally occurring things, in social constructivist or interpretive approaches, these categories and constructs are shaped by the language and since language is a socio-cultural phenomenon, our sense of reality is socially and culturally constructed. The goal of writer, then, is to give insights into the different views and perspectives of participants and how these views and perspectives are socially and historically negotiated.
- Third, in social constructivism, a writer is more interested in studying the language (discourse) and the role it plays in construction of meaning and knowledge in society. As such, the emphasis of such writing is placed on the discursive patterns of talk in societies, their impact on the formation and reproduction of social meanings and identities as well as their roles in empowering and disenfranchising institutions and individuals.
1.12 The Poetics Postmodernism and Literary Representation
The Poetics of literary representation is grounded in postmodernism, a paradigm that focuses on knowledge that comes to surface within the “negative conditions of the world and in the multiple perspectives of class, race, gender, and other group affiliations” (Foucault, 1972) These negative conditions reveal themselves in the presence of hierarchy, power and control and include the importance of different discourses, the importance of disenfranchised people and groups, and the presence of ‘meta-narratives’ or universals that hold true regardless of the social conditions (ibid). Thus, in postmodernist discourse, the critic is
concerned with how language is used in social and political contexts for ideological purposes and for reproducing and legitimizing power, and therefore ―goes beyond the rhetorical or technical analysis of language or writing‖, but ―to explore its social and political setting, uses and effects‖ (ibid). As such, there comes a need to ―deconstruct texts‖ in the spoken a nd written language and to investigate, and bring to light hidden ―hierarchies as well as dominations, oppositions, inconsistencies, and contradictions‖ (ibid).
Foucault, (1972) argues that the poetics of discourse as a framework of analysis in literature is not necessarily to provide ―an account of every line of text under study‖ rather, it is more appropriate to select and extract sections of text that contain the richest source of analytical material. However, Foucault cautions that this should not imply that one should extract the sections that support the critic‘s argument, while leaving out the sections that are of contradictory nature. The interpretive processes that calls for close examination of specific texts ―does not lend itself to hard-and-fast rules of method‖ (ibid). Foucault however, suggests some important pointers that could help with analysis such as;
- Identification of key themes and arguments;
- Identification of associations and variation;
- Examination of characterization and agency;
- Attention to emphasis and silences.
According to (Hutcheon, 1988) the poetics of postmodernism is usually accompanied by a grand flourish of negativized rhetoric: we hear of discontinuity, disruption, dislocation, decentering, indeterminacy, and anti-totalization. What all these words literally do (precisely by their disavowing prefixes – dis, de, in, anti) is incorporate that which they aim to contest – ‗as does, I suppose, the term postmodernism itself ‗ It would be argued that, postmodernism is a contradictory phenomenon, one that uses and abuses, installs and then subverts, the very concepts it challenges – be it in architecture, literature, painting, sculpture, film, video, dance, TV, music, philosophy, aesthetic theory, psychoanalysis, linguistics, or historiography. Postmodernism cannot simply be used as a synonym for the contemporary and it does not really describe an international cultural phenomenon, it is primarily European and American (ibid). While all forms of contemporary art and thought offer examples of this kind of postmodernist contradiction, ‗historiographic metafictions‘ are the most dominant. By this I mean those well-known and popular novels which are both intensely self- reflexive (such as The Famished Road) and yet paradoxically also lay claim to historical events and personages. In most of the critical work on postmodernism, it is narrative – be it in literature, history, or theory – that has usually been the major focus of attention. Historiographic metaficiotn incorporates all three of these domains. Such labeling (‗paramodernist‘ and ‗midfiction‘) is another mark of the inherent contradictoriness of historiographic metafiction, for it always works withinconventions in order to subvert them. In postmodernism, the familiar humanist separation of art and life (or human imagination and order versus chaos‘ and disorder) no longer holds.