Carroll, 2004

Carroll, Joseph. "'Theory,' Anti-Theory, and Empirical Criticism." Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature. New York: Routledge, 2004. 29-40.
By adopting an evolutionarily or sociobiologically oriented approach to literary criticism, the study of literature would be able to meet the scientific standards of the modern world. The two parties that currently control literary studies, the dominant postmodern party, divided in deconstruction, Marxism, and Freudianism, and the traditionalist approach, affiliated with New Criticism, traditional contextual studies, and secular literary studies, are all but scientific (29). Both postmodern critics and traditionalists analyze and explain literature by means of even more literature, that is, general humanistic knowledge. Consequently, critics are completely absorbed in their field and are not able to adopt a truly critical stance on their subject. Furthermore, literary critics are scholars and connoisseurs at the same time: they not only study the literary work for what it is, but also evaluate its "aesthetic and emotional and moral qualities." As a result, literary criticism is an arbitrary and all but systematic enterprise and as such falls short in a world in which "more and more territory is colonized by systematic and progressive empirical science" (34). By taking up sociobiologically oriented literary criticism "an empirically valid study of literature" would be developed (35).  
For the sociobiologically oriented criticism to get off the ground, useful, elementary concepts of biological and social sciences need to be identified, empirically tested for their suitability, and adopted (35). Furthermore, literary scholars should make themselves familiar with empirical methodology, as well as with contemporary physics, astronomy, genetics, and molecular biology (36, 39). Also, the study of literature should develop its own specific place, categories, and structures within the larger complex of biological and social sciences (35). As a behavioural science, experimental literary study should maintain close disciplinary connections with, for instance, ethology, and cultural anthropology (36).  
Carroll proposes several aims of the sociobiologically oriented criticism. First, the content of literary texts should be analyzed according to concepts and principles of biological and social sciences, for instance, the basic concepts of organisms and environments (35). Second, behaviour of authors and readers as producers and consumers (organisms) who create and experience literary meaning (environment) should be examined. Third, the frequency of sociobiological themes, such as mate choice and group affiliation behaviour, should be related to historical, cultural, and socioeconomic variables, as well as demographic information about the author and audience. In addition to evolutionary criticism as it is currently practiced, those aspects that deviate from sociobiological patterns should be examined, because deviations provide insight into how personal and cultural factors may effect the depiction of human behaviour (38-39). Fourth, while present-day evolutionary criticism deals primarily with the content (plot, characters) of literary texts, in the sociobiological analysis of literature the presence of the author as registered in tone, point of view, and style should be examined as well. Furthermore, the psychology of the author and the way it interacts with particular cultural circumstances should be taken into account (39).  
Before introducing what Carroll views as the future of literary studies, that is, the empirical, sociobiological approach to literature, he discusses the paradigms that currently determine the identity of literary studies: postmodernism and the traditionalist approach. Unfortunately, the characterization of these prevailing paradigms does not surpass the level of stereotypification. For instance, literary criticism is referred to as being "inspired amateurism" (34), even though, as Carroll admits, it is a practice that requires both scholarship and connoisseurship. Furthermore, it is not mentioned that we have entered the so-called "after theory" era, which, until now, has appeared to manifest itself as a determined quest for a new paradigm, as well as a re-affirmation of some of the ideas of practical criticism, such as the study of an object's formal characteristics and its interpretation according to the strategy that the object itself demands. It seems that, by giving an incomplete picture of the present stage of literary studies and by outlining a somewhat condescending picture of those activities that he does acknowledge, Carroll tries to denigrate the past and present to add force to his proposal for the future.  
Literary studies' major (future) concern should be the sociobiological approach to literature. This field of study is represented as if it is completely unrelated to the postmodern and pragmatic paradigms. That is regrettable, because the issues that Carroll presents as focal points for the sociobiological approach, e.g., plot, setting, characters of literary works, literary meaning, readers and producers (36-7), are also dealt with in the prevailing kinds of literary research. It would be interesting to explore in what ways these paradigms could contribute to the sociobiological endeavor. Also, Carroll completely ignores the empirical research of literature as it has been practiced for over thirty years now. Even though so far the scope of this type of empirical studies has been somewhat limited, to disregard it is to overlook a research-area that bears some striking similarities with the proposed sociobiological approach, such as the their shared use of empirical methodology. Also, studies carried out in the tradition of the empirical research of literature could have provided Carroll with an example of an empirical study that would appeal to the imagination in a much more effective way than the obscure study by Wilson, Near, and Miller (37). It remains, for instance, fairly vague what this study has to do with, what Carroll indicates as, "the production of literary meaning" (37). Carroll's neglect of the empirical research of literature is all the stranger taken that this research-area draws extensively from social science and that the new approach Carroll has in mind is referred as being sociobiological. Also, in contrast to "contemporary physics, astronomy, genetics, and molecular biology" (39), social sciences do not form part of the to-do list for literary scholars who want to take part in the sociobiological enterprise. As such, it seems to be not so much the combination of social science and hard science that Carroll seeks: it is above all hard science that should run the show.  
Further, Carroll neither goes into the social and/or biological function of literature or literary interpretation in society, nor explains what the supplementary value of literature in sociobiological research is, apart from contributing to finding more evidence for sociobiological mechanisms. In other words, it remains largely unclear why literature is singled out as an object of study. One is almost inclined to revert back to Carroll's exposition of the traditionalist paradigm of literary studies, which contains statements such as literary texts "embody the best intelligence of ... civilization" and literature "tends to work with the total lexicon of common language, and thus to be more flexible and subtle in its depiction of personal and social life [than philosophy or essayistic commentary]" (33). It is promising though that Carroll indicates that primary literary production, that is, the activity of writers of literary texts, should be empirically examined as well. Until now, this has not often been studied from an empirical perspective. No suggestions are provided, however, about how research on literary writing could be carried out.  
Finally, it becomes clear from Carroll's discussion of current practices of evolutionary criticism, that correlations between variables, such as plot summaries of literary novels, the age of the author, and the social status of the audience (38), should be the focus of sociobiological enterprise. However, what these causal connections might signify, what their meaning might be, is not indicated. There seems to be no room for inspired speculation in this new scientific paradigm. To what extent empirical research can provide answers to that which is unknown remains a central question, especially with regard to evolutionary problems.  

Document created April 15th 2005