Humanity Biologised: The Re-definition of Human Ethics in Ian McEwan's Enduring Love

Fazel Asadi Amjad, Seyed Mohammad Marandi, Amin Pourhossein Asli
2018 3L Language, Linguistics and Literature: The Southeast Asian Journal of English Language Studies  
The present study investigates how Ian McEwan's Enduring Love (1997) re-defines human ethical qualities within a Darwinian framework. McEwan's Enduring Love from the very beginning to the end abounds in Darwinian images and passages, thereby, it forms a Darwinian lens through which the events of the novel are scanned and interpreted, from the helium balloon gone out of control to a shared happiness resulted from seeing a familiar face at the airport. Within the Darwinian worldview the novel
more » ... dview the novel sets, it tries to subvert the traditionally-considered human ethical actions, like heroism, cooperation, courage, and love and therefore redefine them. To prove its claim, this paper, first, explores the Darwinian framework Enduring Love develops, benefiting from the ideas of literary Darwinists and other biopoetical theorists; then, it tries to show how the novel applies the same Darwinian principles to those human ethical qualities mentioned above which results in their redefinition. . There are, also, other figures who were indirectly engaged in this movement and have more acted as a source of inspiration for the literary Darwinists; of this latter group, names like E. O. Wilson, known as one of the founders of "sociobiology" (Ruse 2008, p. 682) and Steven Pinker, a well-known figure in the field of evolutionary psychology, deserve mention. In its simplest sense, literary Darwinism is "the application to literature of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution" (Abrams 2012, p. 74). Although speaking about the link existing between literary Darwinism and the 19 th century classical Darwinism seems nearly needless, perhaps since the name of the approach by itself is expressive enough in this regard, the closeness and depth of this link prevents its clarification from being just labouring the obvious and makes the attempt quite worthwhile. Within the field of arts and literature, one of the points literary Darwinists and evolutionary theorists most emphasise is that literature is a product of human mind and its understanding, analysis, and appreciation is bound to an accurate understanding of human mind, which itself is due to a true understanding of human nature; since human mind is part of human nature. Having developed an unshakable faith in the Darwinian evolutionary theory, the Darwinian art theorists see Darwinism as the worldview possessing that true understanding of human nature. In consequence, as they stress, all artistic works and expressions, literature included, are to be seen within the limits and borders of Darwinian evolutionary theory. Meaning that all aspects of a work of art, from the very mechanism through which it works to the very reason behind the artist's intentions in creating it, are looked upon through Darwinian lenses. Such an all-inclusive look literary Darwinism exerts upon the arts to a large extent is due to the direct influence it has received from the field of sociobiology, where E. O. Wilson, the founder of the field, introduced the concept of consilience or "the unity of knowledge," emphasizing that all branches of knowledge, from the humanistic to exact sciences, must be unified under evolutionary biology. Indeed, Wilson thinks "the assumptions and method of Darwin, being objectively accurate and true, ought to be imported wholesale into the humanities" (Hawkes 2011, p.18). With such a grand policy, literary Darwinists came to consider many a phenomenon, say culture, mind, consciousness and the arts, as simply products of the material nature. Hence, among the most key goals they define for themselves is investigating "how evolution has shaped human bodies, minds, and behavior; how culture has emerged out of nature; and how culture has equipped us to modify our behavior" (Boyd, Carroll, & Gottschall 2010, p. 3). As obvious, literary Darwinists do consider a room for culture and related phenomena, but they see them all rooted finally in the crude material nature. Since Darwinian evolutionary theory lies at the heart of literary Darwinism so do the former's basic concepts and principles: natural selection, struggle for existence, adaptation, survival, and reproduction. Accordingly, Wilson proposes a survival-related and reproductive cause for the existence and emergence of the arts: Early humans invented them [the arts] in an attempt to express and control through magic the abundance of the environment, the power of solidarity, and other forces in their lives that mattered most to survival and reproduction. The arts were the means by which these forces could be ritualized and expressed in a new, simulated reality.... The arts still perform this primal function, and in much the same ancient way.
doi:10.17576/3l-2018-2402-12 fatcat:zlfaxbg72jfdxfakojijhqbjyi