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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Seuss vs Darwin

Here is a review of a book by Brian Boyd, "the world's leading authority on Vladimir Nabokov and an English professor at the University of Auckland," who is also a great admirer of Theodor Seuss Geisel, Dr. Seuss. Boyd wrote On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction (Harvard University Press), sixty pages of which was about Dr. Seuss's Horton character, about the same space allotted to Homer's Odyssey. The book applies the notion of evolution to literature on a large scale:

...storytelling carries with it crucial advantages for human survival. It sharpens our skills in human interaction ("social cognition" is the term Boyd uses). It encourages cooperation. It fosters creativity.

This is a bit of a review of a review, which is dodgy at best, but the reviewer discusses the book author's application of that long-term process to Dr. Seuss's life, the development of his art of writing and entertaining. It isn't clear what the context of this comparison is, but it doesn't persuade me (which is of little consequence of course). The review mentions Dr. Seuss's unceasing hard work to improve his craft using audience feedback. That is an intelligent process with nearly instant feedback by comparison. I don't really get the connection to the "dumb" process of evolution with mostly dead ends to such an immediate, creative process. However, if you love Dr. Seuss, you'll enjoy the article because of the high regard that Boyd holds for him.

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