Blog Post

Biological Approaches to Narrative


This is my first blog post as a HASTAC Scholar for the 2011-2012 academic year, and instead of introducing myself right away, I'd like to start with a hypothetical scenario. Let's say, at the end of a long week, you want to relax and you turn on the TV and watch a favorite show. Or maybe you open up a novel. Or turn on a movie. You've had an especially draining week, but at the end of a few hours watching or reading, you feel rejuvenated, perhaps even restless.

Most everyone has experienced something along these lines. You don't have to be a literary critic to know that narrative is powerful. People wait in lines hundreds or thousands of people deep for book and movie premieres. And, less fantastically, it's been speculated that literature has therapeutic powers. Anyone who's wanted to curl up with a Jane Austen novel on a rainy Sunday, or who just couldn't wait for the next weekly installment of Mad Men has experienced the immersive and suspenseful aspects of long-form narrative storytelling.

The past decade has seen a surge of activity by critics from the humanities and the sciences exploring why we are drawn to narrative, and why humans tell stories, from a biological perspective. Explaining the appeal of narrative holistically and experientially, as I've done above, only goes so far, but recent efforts have suggested that biologically-oriented approaches can provide critical traction in attempting to explain why narrative appeals to us, and to what extent biological interactions with art can be described and theorized.

My name is Kyle McAuley, and I'm an English doctoral student at Rutgers University working on these questions and on the new frontiers of criticism being explored by critics working on biological literary criticism. I'm excited to join HASTAC as a 2011-2012 Scholar, and explore these new critical approaches with this community. Over the coming academic year, I hope to post about new developments in methodology, issue reports from conferences, and post interviews from critics working in these and related areas.

Lastly, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Rutgers English -- particularly Carolyn Williams, Professor and Chair of the department, and HASTAC member -- for their support of my endeavors and my involvement in the HASTAC Scholars program.


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