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Useful Fictions : Evolution, Anxiety, and the Origins of Literature - Michael Austin

Useful Fictions

Evolution, Anxiety, and the Origins of Literature

Hardcover Published: 1st January 2011
ISBN: 9780803230262
Number Of Pages: 192

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"We tell ourselves stories in order to live," Joan Didion observed in "The White Album." Why is this? Michael Austin asks, in "Useful Fictions." Why, in particular, are human beings, whose very survival depends on obtaining true information, so drawn to fictional narratives? After all, virtually every human culture reveres some form of storytelling. Might there be an evolutionary reason behind our species' need for stories? Drawing on evolutionary biology, anthropology, narrative theory, cognitive psychology, game theory, and evolutionary aesthetics, Austin develops the concept of a "useful fiction," a simple narrative that serves an adaptive function unrelated to its factual accuracy. In his work we see how these useful fictions play a key role in neutralizing the overwhelming anxiety that humans can experience as their minds gather and process information. Rudimentary narratives constructed for this purpose, Austin suggests, provided a cognitive scaffold that might have become the basis for our well-documented love of fictional stories. Written in clear, jargon-free prose and employing abundant literary examples--from the Bible to "One Thousand and One Arabian Nights" and "Don Quixote" to "No Exit"--Austin's work offers a new way of understanding the relationship between fiction and evolutionary processes--and, perhaps, the very origins of literature.

"Rich in relevant allusions to scientific research and literary art, Austin's book demonstrates that the evolutionary utility of fiction, more than its truth or beauty, supports the universal attraction of humans to literature."-C.J. Bell, Choice -- C.J. Bell * Choice *

Illustrations; Acknowledgments Introduction: The Big Question; 1. Scheherazade's Stories and Pangloss's Nose; 2. Stories for Thinking; 3. The Influence of Anxiety; 4. Information Anxiety; 5. The Problem of Other People; 6. Sex, Lies, and Phenotypes; 7. Deceiving Ourselves and Others; Conclusion Notes; Works Cited; Index

ISBN: 9780803230262
ISBN-10: 0803230265
Series: Frontiers of Narrative
Audience: Professional
Format: Hardcover
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 192
Published: 1st January 2011
Publisher: University of Nebraska Press
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 21.6 x 14.0  x 2.54
Weight (kg): 0.39