This essay originally appeared in Journal of Social and Evolutionary
Systems 16(2): 129-155, 1993.
The Evolution of Narrative and the Self
Introduction: Constructing the Self
Consisting of a single syllable when spoken and four letters when written,
"self" is nonetheless a big word, especially when used by philosophers,
literary critics, psychoanalysts, and such--who often capitalize it, giving
us the Self. This Self is some kind of personal essence, the underlying
metaphysical being sustaining our awareness, experience, and dignity. As
such, this same Self has been under extensive attack from the deconstructive
and post-structuralist wings of contemporary thought (see, for example,
Derrida, 1970), where it is deemed an illusion, a mere contingent construct.
While I am uncomfortable with the post-structuralist style of thinking,
I accept that the Self is a construct, but that does not mean it is a "mere"
construct. Our mental life consists of constructs. As culture evolves,
more sophisticated constructs come to replace the less sophisticated. And
so it is with our selves.
Following Warren McCulloch (Kilmer, McCulloch, & Blum, 1969) David
Hays and I have adopted the concept of behavioral mode as basic to motivation
and emotion (Benzon & Hays, 1988, pp. 296-298; Hays, 1992, pp. 190-193;
cf. Benzon, 1981, pp. 263-265). The idea is simple: there is a specific
pattern of brain activation appropriate to each kind of activity. Each
such pattern subserves a particular behavioral mode. Examples include feeding,
exploring, courtship, fighting, and so forth.
The poem concludes with a curious couplet, asserting that "All
this the world well knows yet none knows well,/ To shun the heaven that
leads men to this hell" (ll. 13-14). Knowing that rancid meat can
make you ill will prevent most people from eating rancid meat, but, says
this final couplet, the knowledge that sexual desire will lead you to guilt
and disgust is not powerful enough to prevent you from walking to the trap.
Rank 1: The TricksterThe trickster is a ubiquitous figure in world mythologies and his trials and tribulations include obvious modal issues. I want to consider the Winnebago trickster cycle as presented by Paul Radin (1956). The trickster cycle has many episodes and not all episodes are told in each telling, nor are all episodes present in all cultural groups. Indeed, Radin asserts that the trickster
is admittedly the oldest of all figures in American Indian mythology, probably in all mythologies. It is not accidental that he is so frequently connected with what was regarded in all American Indian cosmologies as the oldest of all natural phenomena, rock and sun. Thus he was a figure that could not be forgotten, one that had to be recognized by all aboriginal theological systematizers. [1956: 164]
Among the Winnebago the trickster stories are sacred, with trickster being presented as the giver of culture. The story can be narrated only by those who have a right to do so, and only under the proper conditions.
The basic action of the story is simple. Trickster, the tribal chief, is preparing for war. This preparation violates tribal tradition, for the tribal chief is not permitted to go to war. While there is no explicit retribution for this, no character who says something like, "Because you have failed to observe the proper rituals, you are going to be punished," the preparations fail and Trickster ends up in the wilderness, completely stripped of culture. He then undergoes a series of adventures in which, in effect, he learns how to operate his body and his culture. These episodes are a catalog of behavioral modes, with hunger and sexuality being prominent. For example, there is one incident (Episodes 12, 13, and 14) where Trickster learns that his anus is part of his body. He had killed some ducks and started roasting them overnight. When he went to sleep, he instructed his anus to ward off any intruders. Some foxes came and his anus did the best it could, but the foxes ignored the flatulence and ate the ducks anyhow. So, to punish his anus he burns it with a piece of burning wood. Naturally he feels pain. Only then does he realize that his anus is a part of himself.
In another Episode (number 15) Trickster learns about erections:
On Trickster proceeded. As he walked along, he came to a lovely piece of land. There he sat down and soon fell asleep. After a while he woke up and found himself lying on his back without a blanket. He looked up above him and saw to his astonishment something floating there. "Aha, aha! The chiefs have unfurled their banner! The people must be having a great feast for this is always the case when the chief's banner is unfurled." With this he sat up and then first realized that his blanket was gone. It was his blanket he saw floating up above. His penis had become stiff and the blanket had been forced up. "That's always happening to me," he said. "My younger brother, you will loose the blanket, so bring it back." Thus he spoke to his penis. Then he took hold of it and, as he handled it, it got softer and the blanket finally fell down. Then he coiled up his penis and put it in a box. And only when he came to the end of his penis did he find his blanket. The box with the penis he carried on his back.
Notice that trickster's penis is, at this point, quite long, and that he carries it in a box. These things will change later on. In Episode 38 Trickster hears a voice taunting him about the way he is carrying his genitals in a box. Trickster discovers that the voice is coming from a hollow tree. He probes the tree with his penis, trying to reach the source of the voice, but to no avail. Finally he withdraws his penis and finds that all but a small piece is gone. In the next episode (39) Trickster kicks the log to pieces and discovers the chipmunk who'd been doing all this mischief. Trickster takes the pieces of his penis and makes things of use to humans including potatoes, turnips, artichokes, ground-beans, and rice. Finally, Trickster leaves the box behind and goes on with his penis now appropriately attached to his body.
Then there is the incident (Episodes 23, 24, 25) in which Trickster hears plant bulbs asserting that anyone who eats them will defecate. Trickster wonders "Why does this person talk in such a fashion?" and, when he finally spots the bulbs, promptly eats one, fully confident that he will not defecate. He is, of course, proven wrong. At first he only breaks wind, gradually, and then building up to the point where he is being tossed into the air. Still, this is not defecation. But then defecation starts, gradually at first, but building up to the point where Trickster's excrement covered the ground to the top the tree Trickster had climbed. He fell off and got lost running around in his excrement, bumping into tree after tree until he finally found a body of water and jumped in, finally escaping from his excrement.
All of these episodes clearly involve mode-specific behavior, in particular, the bathroom and bedroom modes as Hays calls them. But why are such incidents included in the sacred stories of the Winnebago (and many other peoples)? Because those modes are a part of life and must be situated in the total pattern of human experience, a pattern ultimately governed by cortical requirements. The genes do not provide such a pattern and so culture must make up the lack (cf. Geertz, 1973, pp. 76, 80-81).
However, Rank 1 stories are not simply about mode. Recall the episode (39) where Trickster recovered the pieces of his stolen penis and used them to create various foodstuffs. The point is not directly a modal one; it is conceptual, indicating a metaphorical likeness between the male organ of generation and the foodstuffs needed to sustain human life. Whether or not this episode also establish some connection between the modes of copulation and eating/digestion, and thus make some contribution to subjective coherence, is a question we can leave to anthropological psychoanalysts. The direct conceptual connection is obvious, and its mechanism, metaphor, is the mechanism of Rank 1 abstract thought (Benzon & Hays, 1987, 1990). Much of what happens in Rank 1 stories is metaphorical, and those mechanisms have been studied by Levi-Strauss (in e.g. 1969). As metaphor is surely regulated by cortical mechanisms (cf. Jakobson, 1971, Pribram, 1971, pp. 358-359) such episodes display the more purely cognitive/cortical aspect of Rank 1 story-telling. Some of the episodes are built around animal modes, others around cortical modes.
This observation suggests a way of thinking about whole cycle, which is very loosely plotted. We don't have things happening in early episodes which are then picked up later and developed. There are coherent sequences of 3 or 4 episodes (out of 49), but there are no causal links spanning long sets of episodes. The story is thus just one thing after another; its coherence is thus quite loose. To recite the Trickster story the teller enters into story-mode and starts with the initial episode. Each episode or set of episodes is governed by some modal concern, whether animal or cortical--with our knowledge of neuropsychology, we may know that cortical modes are higher than animal, but Rank 1 narrative mechanisms make no such distinction. When a mode's story has been told, that mode terminates and another mode becomes active and is rendered into language. This continues until the repertoire of modes is exhausted--or the story-teller and/or audience is exhausted. Overall, the cycle has no theme to exhibit, no moral to be drawn. It simply is. Note however, that neither the teller nor the audience actually enters into the modes which Trickster displays--they don't get hungry when he does, nor do they break wind on cue. More likely, as indicated above in the discussion of Shakespeare's sonnet, the depicted modes are only partially activated. The story is thus a vehicle which brings a wide variety of modes to consciousness for those in the assembled band so that they can affirm their collective humanity.
Before concluding this section I want to step back a bit and distinguish between the mechanisms of behavior and some representation of those mechanisms constructed in the cortex, the self-image (Luria, 1973, Benzon & Hays, 1988). For example, Piaget (1976) tells of young children explaining that they crawl by moving their arms, and then their legs, which is physically impossible. Children will give this explanation even while crawling, which is done by moving first one pair of diagonally opposed limbs, and then the other pair. After about seven the children give a correct account of crawling. Regardless of explanation, these children have in fact been crawling since their first year. The plan which actually executes the crawl is fine. But the verbal account is obviously not a direct read-out of that plan (cf. Nisbett & Wilson, 1977, Guidano & Liotti, 1983, pp. 131 ff.). The verbal account is presumably based on a cortical representation derived from observation of one's own behavior, the behavior of others, and, of course, whatever one is taught to think about such matters.
The works of expressive culture are the chief means by which cortical representation of motivation and affect is constructed. There is no reason to expect that such representation will be particularly accurate. The trick comes, of course, from the fact that the cortex is not an external agent. The cortex, and all the representations stored therein, is part of the mechanism of behavior. The simplified and imperfect representations of a person's own behavior thus form part of the mechanism by which that behavior is regulated and made coherent. The fact that the cortical angel has only a crude understanding of the subcortical ape is no doubt part of the conflict between them.
Thus, regardless of the real complexity of behavioral control, the Rank 1 narrator proceeds as though the modal system had only one level; the stories run though one mode after another. That is what Rank 1 cultures can understand of human behavior. To the extent that such stories are the means by which people gain inner coherence, it is clear that the modal repertoire of Rank 1 adult will be loosely organized (see Hays 1992, pp. 196-198). Such a life is governed by modal impulse; call it the Freudian id.
But as culture evolves and expressive means grow in sophistication and complexity, the cortical representation of behavior will become more sophisticated, its contribution to behavioral regulation more effective, and the sense of self more coherent.
Rank 2: From Epic to OedipusThe epic narratives of Rank 2 cultures have a more complex structure than Rank 1 myths and tales. Typically the epic will open in the middle of a sequence of events, in medias res , and recall events from the past as needed to explain and justify current actions. Innocent and obvious as it may seem, the mere ability to tell events out of order is significant for it implies a more sophisticated control structure than that required to tell Rank 1 stories. In the terms introduced by the Russian Formalist literary critics (see e.g. Shklovsky, 1965), in Rank 1 narratives the plot takes its structure directly from the story . In these terms "story" refers to the episodes being narrated while "plot" refers to the order those episodes are introduced into the narrative.
Before moving to a specific example, let's look at this matter in more detail. A considerable amount of psychological research and speculation suggests that we have an episodic memory which stores events in sequence (see, e.g. Tulving, 1972; Kintsch, 1974, pp. 73-102; Hays, 1981, pp. 50-56). To relate a sequence of episodes one simply: 1) starts with an initial episode, translates it into speech, and then 2) moves on to the next episode, and then 3) moves to the next, and so on, translating each episode into speech until the last is reached. Relating episodes out of order, however, is more complex. For example, if one wants to speak the episodes in the order second, third, first, fourth, and fifth, one can't simply start at the beginning of the chain and step through the episodes in order. Rather, one has to:
Rank 2 creators and consumers of epic have this more sophisticated control structure available. And they use it, not simply for pleasure in virtuoso manipulation of materials, but to achieve coherence not otherwise obtainable. Let's work our way toward Homer  with some observations on the nature of epic form from Scholes and Kellogg account of The Nature of Narrative (1966: 208 - 210). They begin by observing that the plots of epic
are episodic, and present the deeds (or gestes ) of a hero in some chronological sequence, possible beginning with his birth, probably ending with his death. . . . In Beowulf . . . the episodes are reduced to two major ones, the latter including the hero's death. In the Iliad , we are down to a single episode developed at length, with neither the hero's birth nor death included in the timespan of the action . . . We can see in Homer a movement away from the traditional epic narration of the deeds of the hero. . . . The notion of starting a story with a plunge in medias res . . . does not merely mean to Homer . . . starting in the middle and then filling in both ends of the hero's life. . . . The deeds of Achilles, or the life of Achilles, or even the death of Achilles are not the subject of this narrative. The plot of the Iliad focuses on one episode in the hero's life, just as his characterization on one element of his psyche; and the subject is the same in both--anger.I want to refocus that just a little. What the narrative is about is Achilles' character--the warrior's character, which it reveals to be a character dominated by anger. A few centuries later Plato's Republic would articulate a theory of the state in which three classes of citizen are considered: rulers, soldiers, laborers. These are ideal types; each has a particular character, an essence. We can think of this essence as a modal disposition. The warrior needs to be comfortable with these modes, the ruler with those, and the laborer with still a different set.
It is one thing to say that "Achilles is a warrior." It is quite another matter illustrate this anger through deeds and actions. This distinction is familiar to students of fiction as the contrast between telling and showing (Booth, 1961, pp. 3-19). In a more general context Hays and I talk of indication and conveyance (Benzon & Hays, 1987) where indication corresponds to showing (via deeds and actions) and conveyance corresponds to telling (making an explicit verbal statement). The job of Homeric narrative was to indicate the essence of such an ideal type by telling the appropriate stories in a coherent order. Plato's philosophy conveyed that essence. Returning to the Iliad , Homer concentrates on one incident in Achilles' life, his pursuit of honor when his concubine was taken from him by Agamemnon. This incident and its consequences provide the threads of cause and purpose which extend from the beginning, through the middle, to the end of the narrative, giving it a coherence lacking in tellings of the trickster stories. In the course of laying those threads Homer weaves many digressions into the narrative fabric. Some of those digressions tell us about earlier incidents in Achilles's life, some about the Trojan war in general, and others about other incidents from Greek lore. By focusing on episodes in Achilles' life which don't encompass his birth and death in chronological order, Homer is able to insert a wedge between the events of Achilles' life and his style of meeting those events. Since all of the events of the story are not given in chronological order that order cannot be the main source of narrative coherence. It is Achilles' wrath which is at the center of that coherence, and that wrath is a matter of his character. Precisely because we cannot comfortably assimilate the events one after another we are forced to think about the temporal framework and distinguish it from the characters within it. In this matter the Odyssey --which interweaves three narrative strands, one centered on Odysseus, one on his wife Penelope, and one on his son Telemachus--is a an even more radical departure from preliterate narrative modes than is the Iliad.
There is another aspect to Homer's digressive narrative strategy. As Norman Austin points out (1986), many of those digressions are paradigmatic examples providing past precedent for current attitudes and actions. Thus, when Nestor rises to give counsel early in Book 1 he digresses:
Yes, and I my time I have dealt with better men than
The point is clear, with credentials, with precedents, like these, Nestor is a man to be taken seriously. Many of the digressions on Homeric epic are like this. They bring the full range of Greek mythology and history to bear on the events currently in narration.
Handling this kind of narrative complexity requires more sophisticated cognitive equipment than that required for Rank 1 narrative. Homer couldn't simply start at the beginning of a sequence of episodes and move through to the end. Rather, he had to be able to treat one episodic sequence as the main sequence and then interweave other episodes into the narrative according to any of a variety of criteria. He used plot to regulate various strands of story . The effect of this strategy is to foreground Achilles' character against the background of the events which are told in the epic and which follow from that character (cf. Scholes & Kellogg 1966: 209 - 210). The resulting narrative structure also exhibits large-scale symmetries and parallelisms in its arrangement of episodes which you don't find in the less sophisticated story cycles of Rank 1 (Whitman, 1986). We end up with one grand metaphor in which the main incidents of the Iliad form the vehicle, the supporting and background incidents are the tenor, and Achilles' character, the warrior spirit, is the ground --note that in epics as rich as Homer's most of the main characters, not just the central figure, receive such treatment. To be sure, Achilles isn't quite Shakespeare' s Hamlet or Jane Austen's Elizabeth Bennet, but we see more of his character than is typical in myths or folktales, where there is no characterization to speak of. Characters in Rank 1 stories may be brave or sneaky or patient, but the stories don't reveal that to us in any depth or subtlety.
Sophocles' drama about Oedipus the King (c. 425 B.C.) is more recent than the Homeric epics (c. 850 B.C.) and is more sophisticated--that is, it is higher within Rank 2 . As the play opens Oedipus is king of a Thebes beset by a terrible plague. Crucial episodes from the past, including the events central to the tragic action, Oedipus' parricide and subsequent marriage to his mother, are given in flashback. Many of the central episodes in the play involve inquiry and revelation; they are mental acts. And Oedipus the King is the drama of a man's coming to knowledge of the past events which define his place in the world without his having had any conscious participation in those events. This is quite different from the episodes in Homeric epic, where things happen--men are killed or wounded, monsters evaded, seas traversed. In Oedipus the King , events become known and Oedipus and his circle suffer the consequences of that knowledge. The play takes place in a mental realm that barely existed in Homer's time.
This is important. Over two decades ago Julian Jaynes (1967) published a quixotic and provocative book in which he argued that consciousness originated in Greece sometime between Homer and and Athenian Golden Age. He notes that Iliad and Odyssey : 1) contain many episodes in which humans receive direction from gods and goddesses, and 2) do not contain many words referring to mental states and actions. He takes the first observation at face value and concludes that the Homeric Greeks (and others as well) heard inner voices and acted on what they heard. He combines the second observation with the fact that such mental words were common by the time of the Athenian Golden Age and concludes that, by that time, consciousness had been invented. The inner voices were no longer necessary as their function was subsumed by this new consciousness: that is, the creation of concepts about mental states and acts gave rise to consciousness.
However skeptical I am about aspects of Jaynes's theory--for example, I bizarre the thought that Sophocles was conscious while Homer was not-- something very important clearly happened in that period. For the purposes of this essay, the important observation is that mental terms were scarce in Homeric times, but not in Sophoclean (and later) times. If one has no mental terms, one can hardly attribute anything to the mind. And Sophocles' Oedipus the King would not have been possible in Homer's time precisely because it is a play which takes place in a mental realm. It is about mental "stuff" and its major acts are acts of knowing or denial.
In this mental arena, question of responsibility is central. Is Oedipus responsible for killing his father and marrying his mother when he did not know that the man he killed was his father, or that the woman he married was his mother? The answer seems to be "Yes, ignorance of who these people were is no excuse." The fact that Oedipus put his own eyes out suggests that he does take responsibility for his actions--that is, to preserve his dignity, he must take such responsibility and remove himself from society.
For tragedy is about the preservation of dignity in the face of inescapable shame. As Thomas McFarland (1966, pp. 114-115) notes: "In the great Shakespearean plays the protagonist always has the choice either of accepting a death that defines his life at its highest level, or of avoiding death and descending to a lower level of life." It involves an assertion of the value of human reason in the face of the impossibility being fully reasonable. The tragic death also affirms communal norms in the face of gross violation of those norms. For the tragic hero is a scapegoat, a sacrificial victim who cleanses the community by metaphorically dissolving its transgressions in his/her (self) destruction (Girard, 1972, pp. 68-88). To permit the tragic hero to live would be to sanction intolerable behavior.
But drama is not life, it is expressive culture. The audience identifies with and sympathizes with the protagonist (and, in secondary ways, with the other characters as well). All know that Oedipus did not know what he was doing and feel that there is something that is wrong in thus punishing him. Punishment is demanded so that the claims of sociality and the cortical goal of justice are satisfied. By satisfying the these goals against the claims of sympathy the tragedy foregrounds that goal . To the extent that the protagonist embodies and acts out forbidden impulses which are similar to our own, that identification arouses those impulses within us. When the hero is banished or dies, the force, the biochemical energy, of those impulses is transmuted (a psychoanalyst might say sublimated) into affirmation of sociality and the cortical goal of justice. Thus the tragic catharsis serves to strengthen our cortical defenses against the forbidden subcortical impulses (Hays, 1992, pp. 201, 203). But let us return to Homer's world--for Oedipus' blinding, banishment from Thebes, and miraculous death in the grove at Colonus (depicted in Oedipus at Colonus ), are relatively late additions to the story. Those events were unknown to Homer, whose Oedipus died at Thebes where he was given the funeral games appropriate to a monarch (Kirk 1974: 164). These particular events--Oedipus' blinding, banishment, and miraculous death--are demanded by the development of Rank 2 conceptualizations which took place between the time Homer's songs were first written down and the time when Sophocles wrote his Theban cycle. Human character had become restructured so that the full tragic experience became possible.
Between Homer's time and Sophocles', the superego had become firmly established in the Greek psyche (this draws on conversations I have had with David Hays). This is certainly consistent with Julian Jaynes's account of the evolution of mind and gets a little help from Freud's comment that "The super-ego of civilization has an origin similar to that of an individual" (Freud, 1930/1962, p. 88). The Freudian superego is essentially a homunculus in the head, an agent of self-discipline watching over perceptions and actions, permitting some while blocking others and meting out rewards and punishments as necessary. The superego is what is gratified by, nurtured by, and, in a measure, created by the strategies of affective and cognitive coherence employed in Rank 2 expressive works.
Whereas Rank 1 expressive mechanisms treated all modes as being on the same level, Rank 2 mechanisms are able to differentiate between subcortical and cortical modes. The resulting expressive works yield a richer and more sophisticated account of the connections between desires, actions, and feelings. Personal coherence increases and inner lives become more stable.
Rank 3: Through Shakespeare to the Novel
Rather than moving directly to an examination of the novel, the premier
Rank 3 narrative form, I want to begin by considering Shakespeare. His
reputation is the very highest and, however much one grants to a need to
believe in Great Men, deservedly so. More than any other individual writer,
he laid the foundation for Rank 3 story telling. In particular, he created
a group of plays at the end of his career which provide the expressive
cradle for a new sense of marriage and family life.
This conception was not commonplace in Milton's time, much less in Shakespeare's,
but it was common in Austen's--and, I might add, in Austen's novels a character
is judged by the quality of his or her conversation. By overcoming their
pride and prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth establish a basis for intimacy.
But Shakespeare's romances laid the basis for this intimacy. And intimacy
allows the self to grow beyond the shame of tragic hubris. Intimacy establishes
a private sphere for sociality where individuals can talk about matters
which may be forbidden in public or, if not forbidden, are nonetheless
problematic for a given individual. We are so much creatures of language
that for us, if it hasn't been, or can't be talked about, then it doesn't
exist. Intimate conversation allows for acceptance and, through acceptance,
growth (cf. Hays, 1973); it enlarges the sphere of subjective experience
which can be rendered in speech and thereby enlarges the bounds of personal
This occurs when Elizabeth and her aunt and uncle happened to visit
Pemberley, the Darcy family home, as, well, tourists, and Darcy himself
shows up, to Elizabeth's initial chagrin. There is nothing particularly
remarkable about this passage; and that is the point. It is not remarkable;
it is typical. Elizabeth's change of heart is documented leisurely and
in great detail. Where Shakespeare gives us only the Before and After,
Austen gives us the growth of Becoming .
Rank 4: Civilization and Its Discontents
For all its sophistication, however, the coherence of the Rank 3 self
has been bought at the price of considerable emotional repression. This
coherence makes it possible for us to create large complex social organizations
affording a high degree of security for large numbers of people. But emotional
dissatisfaction runs high. And so Rank 3 expressive culture began to break
down at the turn of the twentieth century, yielding modernism in all sectors.
1. In the following analyses I focus entirely on the
content of literary works, what happens and who does it, and say nothing
about the linguistic medium in which they are constructed. This is certainly
a weakness for, as I argued in my account of musical evolution, the manipulation
of the physical medium is central to expressive works (Benzon, forthcoming).
Those inclined to correct this weakness could begin with stylistics (see
e.g. Sebeok, 1960, Chatman, 1971). See also footnote 10 below.
2. We may usefully compare the logic of Shakespeare's poem to that of substance abuse, and its therapy. The lust cycle, as Shakespeare presents it, seems typical of addictive behavior. And the sonnet's final admission is much like the first of the twelve steps in the Alcoholics Anonymous therapeutic regime--an admission that one is powerless against alcohol. In an essay on the cybernetics of the self Gregory Bateson (1972, p, 309) argues that this admission "provides a partial and subjective short cut to a more correct state of mind".
3. Werner (1973, p. 203) reports a similar inflexibility in remembering songs. And there is some anecdotal evidence that this temporal inflexibility isn't confined to imaginary narratives, that it obtains when Rank 1 people recount incidents from their lives. In his classic study of memory F.C. Bartlett (1932/1967, pp. 264-265) tells of a problem sometimes faced by colonial administrators when Rank 1 people were asked to testify in court. The examiner may have been interested in an incident which happened in mid-day, but the witness will tell his or her story starting with the day's beginning. When the examiner interrupts and asks the witness to move directly to the incident of interest the witness will become confused and lost and have to start from the beginning.
4. The Trojan War, if it happened at all, occurred in the period of the twelfth to fourteenth century B.C. while Homer most likely lived in the ninth century B.C. (Lattimore, 1951, pp. 18-20). The texts of Iliad and Odyssey bear all the marks of oral composition (Lord, 1960)--that is to say, they originated in an oral culture and employed the compositional methods typical of oral epic. Exactly how they came to be written down we do not know; "Homer" is just a name to which we can attach little biographical fact. Their richness and complexity, however, argue against the notion that they are, in effect, written transcripts of oral performances. Indeed, Lord (p. 149) notes that dictated texts--with the narrator telling, or singing, the tale while a scribe writes it down--are longer and "technically better" than actual performances. The process of dictation thus changes the nature of the resulting narrative. The Homeric texts, while built from oral materials, achieved a level of coherence and organization possible only through writing.
5. "Tenor", "vehicle", and "ground" are standard terms introduced into the literary study of metaphor by I.A. Richards (1936). In "Achilles is a lion in battle" "lion" is the vehicle, the item to which the tenor, "Achilles", is compared. The ground is the similarity which justifies the metaphor. In this case the similarity is no doubt in the fighting style.
6. In our published work on cultural rank, Hays and I have focused on the job of differentiating one rank from another. That leaves the unfortunate impression that all within a rank is of a piece. That is obviously not so and we have had extensive discussions about progress within a rank, to little conclusive effect. Chronology tells us that Sophocles came after Homer and analysis of their work tells us about what has changed. But it is difficult to go beyond that to a more abstract and general account of cultural progress within a rank. Does it proceed continuously or in stages? If in stages, how many, what are they? In either case, what's the mechanism? For now all we can say is that there is progression within each stage and all analysis must recognize that.
7. For the basic biographic facts of Shakespeare's life, of which we have so few that finding the real Shakespeare--Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Bess herself have been favored candidates--has been a minor scholarly sport for a century, see Bentley (1961, a chronology of the plays is on pp. 230-231).
8. For the benefit of those who aren't familiar with these works and who want a better sense of what they contain than they can infer from the main text, I offer the following summaries:
The Winter's Tale:
King Leontes of Sicilia is visited by his good friend king Polixenes of Bohemia. Leontes observes his wife Hermione conversing with Polixenes and mistakenly assumes a romantic liaison. Hermione gives birth to a daughter, Perdita. Leontes banishes his wife and Polixenes and orders Perdita to be left on a desert island to die. His young son, Mamillius, dies, leaving him without an heir. Then he learns from an oracle that his suspicions were unfounded. He is crushed. Meanwhile, Hermione's friend and aid, Paulina, has hidden her. Neither Hermione and Leontes know that Perdita was found by a Bohemian shepherd. So ends the first, the tragic, phase of the play.
The second, comic, phase opens after Leontes has spent the sixteen years in gloom, not knowing that his wife is still alive and that his daughter is safe. At long last he is ready to come back to life, even perhaps to marry again. Meanwhile, Polixenes's son, Florizel, sees and successfully woos Perdita. Knowing that his father wouldn't permit him to marry a peasant, Florizel takes Perdita and flees to Sicilia, with Polixenes following. Leontes receives the young couple and manages to figure out that Perdita is his daughter. Overjoyed, he sanctions their marriage and is reconciled to his old friend Polixenes. Hermione comes out of hiding and all are amazed and happy.
Pride and Prejudice:
The Bennet family, husband, wife, and five daughters in need of husbands, learns that Netherfield Park is to be leased by one Mr. Bingley, a most eligible bachelor. Bingley brings with him a friend, Mr. Darcy, who is even more eligible, but also proud and haughty (note, though these men do have first names, they aren't used much in the book). Bingley and Jane, the oldest daughter, are attracted and there are rumors of marriage. Darcy and Elizabeth, the second daughter, are also attracted; but their attraction is cloaked in apparent disinterest and verbal jousting. Others see the attraction but Elizabeth and Darcy don't know what's in their hearts. Unexpectedly, Bingley leaves Netherfield Park, leaving Jane behind with her marriage hopes dashed. Halfway through the novel, in Chapter XI of Volume II (of three), Darcy proposes marriage to Elizabeth after declaring that, against his will and judgment, and across the social gulf between them, he found himself in love with Elizabeth. She is surprised, shocked and turns him down. That ends the first phase of the novel.
In the second phase of the novel Elizabeth and Darcy spend much time re-evaluating their experience. Much of our attention shifts to Lydia, one of Elizabeth's younger sisters, and her relationship with one Wickham, a dashing young officer who is a rogue to the core. Wickham is the son of an esteemed retainer of the Darcy family and was destined for preference until he proved profligate, eventually seducing Georgianna Darcy, Darcy's younger sister. That despicable act completed his fall from familial favor. When Darcy learned that Wickham had run off with Elizabeth's younger sister Lydia, he secretly intervened and brought about their marriage, thus legitimizing the liaison and saving the Bennet family honor--Lydia herself was quite pleased, Wickham less so. This generous act convinced Elizabeth that Darcy wasn't so bad after all. As the novel ends, not only are Elizabeth and Darcy reconciled, but Jane and Bingley too. Three of Mrs. Bennet's five daughters have found husbands.
9. My point is thus a variation on Wittgenstein's (1953) famous arguments about private language. He was concerned to show that no language can be the private creation of a single individual; that language is inherently intersubjective. My point is that once experience has been rendered into language, and thereby shared with another, that experience gains a measure of reality. [Editor's Note: See also Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge , New York: Oxford University Press, 1972, for more on language and the objectification of internal experience.--PL]
10. In his farewell play, The Tempest , Shakespeare structured his story to avoid the stark contrast between Before and After. This play begins with After, as the protagonist, Prospero causes a shipwreck which brings his old enemies to him and a bridegroom to his daughter. We are told about the conflicted past, Before, in flashback. The present action of the play is devoted entirely to engineering the marriage which will allow Prospero to become reconciled to his old mates and return home.
For what it's worth The Tempest has been popular with Hollywood. The 1956 science fiction classic The Forbidden Planet was based on it [Editor's Note: and the original "Star Trek" television series in turn derives in part from The Forbidden Planet --PL], and Paul Mazursky attempted a more conventional update in 1982, retaining the original name. The most interesting transplantation, however, is Robert Zemeckis superb Who Framed Roger Rabbit . There is no reason whatever to believe that Zemeckis had Shakespeare in mind, he was actually working from a novel. But, in the way that Pride and Prejudice bears the impress of The Winter's Tale , Who Framed Roger Rabbit bears the impress of The Tempest . In Hays's (1992) terms, Roger Rabbit is a work of entertainment, a Rank 2 expressive work created by Rank 3 people for broad consumption in their society.
Despite the film's name, the protagonist is a depressed alcoholic private detective named Eddie Valiant. His quest to restore his old buddy Roger to Jessica parallels Prospero's quest to secure a husband for his daughter Miranda. Just as the process of wedding Miranda to Ferdinand reconciles Prospero to his past, so too does Eddie become so transformed in his search for Roger that he rekindles his love for Delores. The power battle which drove Prospero from his dukedom is mirrored by the murder of Eddie's brother, which drove him away from Delores and toward alcohol. The magic which is the milieu of Prospero's island is mirrored in the gags and physical improbabilities of the Toons and their cartoon world.
As I said, I'm not arguing that Zemeckis was trying to remake The Tempest , or was even influenced by Shakespeare. I am saying that our inner lives are so much the children of his expressive works that his plots and themes turn up of their own accord.
11. In a privately circulated essay with the ungainly title of "Male, Female, and the Shape of Shakespeare's Career" I have, in effect, charted Shakespeare's own growth through such an abstract space. Focusing on a Much Ado About Nothing , a comedy, Othello , a tragedy, and The Winter's Tale , a romance--the order in which they were written--I show that there are consistent changes in the way Shakespeare's sets up the dramatic action in these plays. All begin with a man who mistakenly believes the woman he loves to be unfaithful. In the comedy the mistake occurs during courtship; in the tragedy it occurs shortly after marriage; and in the romance, the mistake occurs well into the marriage. If we examine the relationships between the characters, we find that it gets closer as we move from one play to the next. Consider the following table:
12. In dealing with the novel, recent literary theorists have found the Formalist distinction between story and plot insufficient. We need something like Gérard Gennette's trichotomy of récit , which is the narrative text itself, and which can, in this particular trichotomy, perform the conceptual labor the Formalists assign to plot, histoire , which is roughly equivalent to the Formalist's notion of story, and narration , " the act of narrative production and, by extension, the real or fictional situation in which it takes place," (Rimmon 1976: 40 - 41). It is control over this last element of the trichotomy which is so highly developed in the novel; this is where the narrator fits in. Although I have little experience with this particular conceptual scheme and so am reluctant to say much, it does suggest a parallel to my analysis of musical evolution in terms of differentiation and control over rhythm, melody, and harmony (Benzon, forthcoming). Rank 1 narrative has control over histoire . With Rank 2, histoire and récit are differentiated and controlled independently. At Rank 3 narration is further differentiated out and the artist gains independent control over it.
13. One piece of evidence in favor of the reorganizational nature of Rank 3 psychic life can be found in George Valliant's longitudinal (1977) study of Harvard graduates. He found that, over the long-term, over decades, these men shifted from less to more mature defense mechanisms. That is what you would expect of a personality structure capable of long-term reorganization. Harvard graduates are not, of course, representative of the United States population at large; but then only a portion of that population is likely to be Rank 3 (Benzon and Hays, 1990. p. 304). But, if there is any institution which is designed to produce Rank 3 people, it is the first-class liberal arts undergraduate school, of which Harvard is an example.
14. This speculation is too delicious to resist. Recent neuropsychological research indicates that the functional mapping of the neocortex can change over the course of weeks (Calvin, 1989, pp. 175-175; Barinaga, 1992). In a typical experiment a monkey is trained repeatedly to use a particular finger, with the result that the area of the neocortex devoted to that finger grows. There is nothing special about this particular area of the neocortex. The basic units of neural circuitry are much the same throughout the cortex (Mountcastle, 1978). Thus an effect like this is likely to obtain in all regions. If it is just a matter of repeated use, it would seem that we could get a similar effect from exercising a considerably more sophisticated task, such as intellectual creation. The more sophisticated task no doubt involves many cortical areas so that the reorganization would be more global; and such a global reorganization might well support a new behavioral modes. Thus the modal repertoire of a person might not be permanently fixed. The repertoire could change, perhaps even vary with the seasons, as an individual's daily routine changes. If that change is relatively small, then the current set of modes might "stretch" to accommodate. Where the change is great, it might be more efficient to reallocate cortical resources to support modes more appropriate to the new activities.
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The earliest seeds of these ideas came in undergraduate courses taught
by Richard Macksey, Mary Ainsworth, Donald Howard, Neville Dyson-Hudson,
and Arthur Stinchcombe. The first explicit formulation came in a research
group presided over by David Hays and including David Bloom, William Doyle,
Rhoda Fletcher, Richard Fritzson, and Revere Perkins. The written result
appeared in a dissertation directed by Jim Bunn, with Bruce Jackson, Irving
Massey, and David Hays serving as readers. Hays and I have continued to
collaborate over the years; he kindly read drafts as I produced them. A
comment by Martha Mills forced a more interesting conclusion. David Porush
laughed at my jokes. Errors and outrages remain mine.
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