Interference patterns : literary study, scientific knowledge, and disciplinary autonomy after the two cultures
This project interrogates the claims made for the possibility of collapsing all the various disciplines into one discipline, probably physics, and surely a science, in the name of making clearer the relations between our various fields of knowledge. This is the aim of the radical reductionist, and I take E. O. Wilson's Consilience as exemplary of such attempts. Central to Wilson's method of achieving unity is the new science of evolutionary psychology - itself a re-working of the sociobiology with which Wilson first achieved notoriety. In the on-going project of explaining culture under a Darwinian description, the evolutionary psychologists have begun to suggest explanations for the popularity and content of narrative fiction. Because they are consonant with the rest of science, these biologistic accounts of fiction might be preferable to the accounts traditionally offered by Literary Studies. Consequently, there is a risk that the traditional practices of Literary Studies will be made redundant within the academy and gradually atrophy. The demand is that Literary Studies either makes itself rigorous like the sciences (as with such projects as Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism), or else forfeit its claims to produce knowledge. Aware of this threat, some literary critics embrace forms of relativism in an attempt to deny the unity or effectiveness of scientific knowledge and so neuter the threatened takeover. Among these forms of relativism, Richard Rorty's account seeks to collapse the hierarchy of disciplines and seemingly offers Literary Studies a means of retaining its distinctive approach without denying the effectiveness of scientific knowledge. I aim to show that Literary Studies need not become a science, and that such sciences as evolutionary psychology are neither as threatening as some had feared, nor as useful to literary study as some have hoped.