Advertisement

Introduction: “Love Sometimes Would Contemplate, Sometimes Do”

  • Michael A. Winkelman
Chapter
  • 122 Downloads
Part of the Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance book series (CSLP)

Abstract

John Donne, the monarch of wit, had the mind of a caveman. Inquisitive, self-centered, richly metaphorical, indecisive, goal-driven, with a “thirst for woman-kinde” as John Chudleigh put it in 1635— none of these traits was new (CH, 112). Rather, they were native features of the potent brain he inherited from his—and our—ancestors, the Homo sapiens of the Pleistocene epoch. Reading against the grain a half-century ago, critic William Empson declared that “the thoughts of Donne about love, so far from being over-subtle, were already real in the Stone Age.”1 Recent work in evolutionary psychology has substantiated what Empson simply asserted, and the consequential implications of this knowledge are starting to come to light. To be sure, constituent elements of Donne’s unique character were shaped by local ecological factors. The uneasy Christian faith, the frustrations wrought by his lengthy search for preferment, and the intellect honed through the constant consorting with books all resulted from the influence of his surrounding culture. In other words, Donne’s individual phenotype emerged due to myriad stimuli acting on the singular genetic potential he was endowed with at conception.

Keywords

Evolutionary Psychology Cognitive Approach Folk Psychology Poker Player Blank Slate 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    William Empson, “Donne the Space Man” (1957), in Seventeenth-Century British Poetry: 1603–1660, ed. John Rumrich and Gregory Chaplin (New York and London: Norton, 2006), 786.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    For technical details, see Dale Purves et al., Neuroscience (Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, 1997), and Mark H. Johnson, Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience: An Introduction (Cambridge, MA, and Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1997).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay (New York: Harper & Row, 1941). “Love Is Not All” comes from her sequence Fatal Interview, whose title alludes to the opening of Donne’s “Elegie: On his Mistris.” She also appropriated “The triple Foole” in a passionate billet-doux. See Nancy Milford, Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay (New York: Random House, 2001), 304–7, 320, 332.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Robert Wright, in Does Evolution Explain Human Nature? Twelve Views on the Question (West Conshohocken, PA: John Templeton Foundation, 2009), 30.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Michael Gazzaniga, The Mind’s Past (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), 35.Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    Joseph Carroll, Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature (New York and London: Routledge, 2004), x. On “the cellular bottom-up level” versus “the functional top-down approach,” see Susan A. Greenfield, The Human Brain: A Guided Tour (New York: Basic Books, 1997), 143.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1959), 4, 23. A sad irony of deconstruction is that the landmark 1966 conference at Johns Hopkins University that largely introduced French Theory to America was called “The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man.”Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    Michael O’Shea, The Brain: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 16.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Marcus Nordlund, Shakespeare and the Nature of Love: Literature, Culture, Evolution (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2007), 200. Claptrap similar to Bach’s and Saunders’ is spewed by A. W. Barnes, George Klawitter, and Richard Rambuss.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    Rebecca Ann Bach, “(Re)placing John Donne in the History of Sexuality,” ELH 72 (2005): 261–62.Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    Ben Saunders, Desiring Donne: Poetry, Sexuality, Interpretation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 114, 117.Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    See also Devotions 17, which (though ascribing creation to the Judeo-Christian deity rather than the blind forces of evolution) presumes the unity of the human species: “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume” (John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions and Death’s Duel [New York: Vintage Books, 1999], 102); and his 1600 prose letter to Sir Henry Wotton: “For certaynly all tymes are of owne [one] nature” (Evelyn Simpson, A Study of the Prose Works of John Donne, 2nd ed. [Oxford: Oxford University Press/Clarendon, 1948], 308).Google Scholar
  13. 16.
    Jon Adams, Interference Patterns: Literary Study, Scientific Knowledge, and Disciplinary Autonomy (Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2007), 14.Google Scholar
  14. 17.
    Robert Storey, Mimesis and the Human Animal: On the Biogenetic Foundations of Literary Representation (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1996), xvi. Cf. Donne’s Conclusion to Biathanatos, where he dismisses critics: “They fight with themselves and suffer a Civill Warre of contradiction.” John Donne, Selected Prose, ed. Neil Rhodes (London: Penguin Books, 1987), 84.Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    Paul Gross and Norman Levitt, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and Its Quarrels with Science (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994); Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science (New York: Picador, 1998); and Christopher Norris, AgainstRelativism: Philosophy of Science, Deconstruction, and Critical Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997).Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    Steven Pinker, The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (New York: Penguin, 2002), 73; and How the Mind Works (New York: Norton, 1997).Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    Virginia Woolf’s creative dilation on culture thwarting inherent aptitude imagines the fate of Shakespeare’s hypothetical sister in A Room of One’s Own (New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1929), 48–50. See also Juliet Dusinberre, Virginia Woolf’s Renaissance: Woman Reader or Common Reader? (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997), ch. 3, “Virginia Woolf Reads John Donne,” 65–93.Google Scholar
  18. 22.
    Horace, Satires, Epistles, and Ars Poetica, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, The Loeb Classical Library 194 (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1929), 408–15.Google Scholar
  19. 23.
    Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), 218. See also Simon Baron-Cohen, The Essential Difference: The Truth about the Male and Female Brain (New York: Basic, 2003).Google Scholar
  20. 24.
    Quoted in Gazzaniga, The Mind’s Past, 60. Ray Bradbury’s dystopian sci-fi novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953) foreshadows the results of such widespread public anti-intellectualism (infamously, all books are banned, and those that turn up are burned), and anticipates many of today’s technological marvels.Google Scholar
  21. 25.
    N.b. Chanita Goodblatt is pioneering empirical approaches to Donne; prior to her there hasn’t been in-depth cognitive work on Donne per se, but cf. A. S. Byatt, “Feeling Thought: Donne and the Embodied Mind” (CCJD, 247–57). Byatt is a middlebrow novelist, not a literary scholar or neurologist, and her observations tend to be rather impressionistic, dilettantish, and uninformed. Retired medical doctor Raymond Tallis has presented a robust critique of Byatt; however, I would contend that his complete slam of the field falls short by not taking into account the most nuanced, well-supported recent work being done. Nonetheless, he serves a valuable function by challenging cognitivists to defend their models, approaches, and results. See Raymond Tallis, “The Neuroscience Delusion: Neuroaesthetics Is Wrong about Our Experience of Literature—and It Is Wrong about Humanity,” TLS (April 9, 2008).Google Scholar
  22. 26.
    Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1957), 7.Google Scholar
  23. 28.
    Geoffrey Miller, The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 225.Google Scholar
  24. 29.
    Quoted in Patrick Colm Hogan, Cognitive Science, Literature, and the Arts: A Guide for Humanists (New York and London: Routledge, 2003), 2.Google Scholar
  25. 30.
    Nancy Easterlin, “Making Knowledge: Bioepistemology and the Foundations of Literary Theory,” Mosaic 32 (1999): 146. Two such attempts to link neuroscience to psychology are Eric Kandel and Larry Squire, Memory: From Mind to Molecule (New York: Scientific American Library, 1999); and Jerome Feldman, From Molecule to Metaphor: A Neural Theory of Language (Cambridge: MIT Press/Bradford Books, 2006).Google Scholar
  26. 31.
    As Joseph Anderson recently put it, cognitivism offers “a life-affirming, reality-embracing revolution” for humanist literary criticism. “The Reality of Illusion,” in Evolution, Literature, and Film: A Reader, ed. Brian Boyd, Joseph Carroll, and Jonathan Gottschall (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 251.Google Scholar
  27. 32.
    Mark Turner, Reading Minds: The Study of English in the Age of Cognitive Science (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991); Mary Thomas Crane, Shakespeare’s Brain: Reading with Cognitive Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001); and Hogan, Cognitive Science. Google Scholar
  28. 34.
    See M. C. Wittrock et al., The Human Brain (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1977), 9–10, 16–26.Google Scholar
  29. 35.
    Thomas Wright, The Passions of the Minde in Generall, ed. William Webster Newbold, The Renaissance Imagination 15 (New York and London: Garland, 1986), 165–66. See also Richard Byrne and Andrew Whiten, ed. Machiavellian Intelligence: Social Expertise and the Evolution of Intellect in Monkeys, Apes, and Humans (Oxford: Clarendon, 1988). “Machiavellian intelligence” should be properly understood, as researchers are elucidating, to have a decided prosocial component: successful leaders (whether human or chimpanzee) are not necessarily or solely ruthless egomaniacs, but often turn out to be empathetic coalition builders; a keen social intelligence nonetheless lies behind their accomplishments. Dr. Frans de Waal’s findings are instrumental here.Google Scholar
  30. 36.
    Case XIII from the Love Courts recounted by Capellanus in his medieval treatise on fin’amors depicts a situation similar to Donne’s Ovidian elegy: a woman pleads for the restoration of her lover, who, having been taught by her to be “a pattern of virtue and a model of virtues,” was then stolen away by another. Since the first lady’s “laborious care” was responsible for the knight’s betterment, the presiding Countess of Flanders ruled in her favor. This is probably a random analogy, not a direct literary source. Andreas Capellanus, The Art of Courtly Love, trans. John Jay Parry (New York: Columbia University Press, 1960), 172–73.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Michael A. Winkelman 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael A. Winkelman

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations