Metamorphic emergence: narrative modelling of species transformations
David Herman (Durham)
10 November 2014
Room ER140 at 18.00 for 18.15-20.00
The Emergence of Experience, Lecture Series
Institute of Advanced Study University of Durham, 2014-2015
Under its profile as an instrument of mind, narrative helps make the flux of experience intelligible and navigable by generating human-scale models of the world. Whereas sub-personal events such as those bound up with neuronal processes in the brain belong to the domain of microphysics, and whereas supra-personal, aggregate patterns and trends such as those studied by demographers unfold in the domain of macrophysics, the events that feature in narratives are typically part of the mesophysics of everyday life, the ecology of person-level interactions with medium-sized environments. Because narrative has proved to be so serviceable for the world of everyday experience, however, extensions across these boundaries of scale are inevitable, with stories providing a home base for exploratory probes into micro and macro worlds.
In this presentation, I focus on just one subtype of multi-scale storytelling: namely, narratives that seek to come to terms with transformations of animal species. Being fundamentally concerned with change over time, narrative affords resources for modelling biological emergence, or transformations at the supra-individual level of species. For example, stories accommodate shifts backward and forward in phylogenetic history, allow localized shapeshifts to be mapped onto species-level changes, and create space for hybridized characters amalgamating incongruous biological characteristics. Using a range of case studies in multi-scale narration, including fictional treatments of species transformations as well as nonfictional discourse by paleontologists and speculative biologists, I explore how ideas from narrative studies can illuminate important issues raised by such scale-blending accounts. Conversely, analysis of these stories needs to be brought into dialogue with developments in post-Darwinian evolutionary theory–developments suggesting that the experiences of particular individuals may have lasting phylogenetic relevance.
Professor David Herman is an affiliate of the Centre for Medical Humanities.