The publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was one of the most decisive moments in the history of science, and it had a huge impact not only on his own academic field but on almost every aspect of science and culture. Darwin wrote at a time, when science was not yet fully professionalized and abstracted, and research was still transmitted in a form that was accessible to informed lay audiences. In the words of Ian McEwan: ”It was the time of the 19th century that nourished the anecdotal scientist. All those gentlemen without careers, those parsons with time to burn.” Moreover, Darwin’s interest in literature is well documented, and he famously always took John Milton’s Paradise Lost along when he went on explorations on the Galapagos Islands. In consequence, his monumental work is also interesting from a literary perspective for the narratives he employs and the metaphors he coins to construct and explain his theory. In the seminar, we will read some chapters from the ”Origin” with specific focus on the literary qualities. We will then read texts from the 19th and 20th century which address Darwinian concepts - we will decide on the texts in the first session. Finally, we will discuss the relatively new field of Literary Darwinism which draws on evolutionary theory in the investigation of the universal human interest in story-telling, literature, and specific literary forms, patterns, and motifs.
This seminar will be co-taught by Dirk Vanderbeke (Literary Studies, Jena) and Hendrik Müller (Biology, Halle-Wittenberg). It is intended as an interdisciplinary course for students of English and American studies and biology. Experience tells us that most, if not all of the participants will be students of literature, but we hope that some biologists will also join us.
THE SEMINAR WILL START IN THE SECOND WEEK OF THE SEMESTER - OCTOBER 25. IN THE FIRST WEEK I AM AT A CONFERENCE AND HENDRIK MÜLLER HAS TO BE IN HALLE.