To explain the innateness of narrative, some have suggested that there is a narrative proclivity hard-wired into the human mind, waiting only to be triggered by exposure to the social world in infancy and then exploding when language becomes available (Donald). Because narratives always appear as social forms-myths of origin, explanatory myths, definitions of group identity, moral and ethical guidelines, and so on-a universal, cross-cultural, narratological grammar is the precondition for entering and constructing human society.
Jerry Hoeg Why did narrative evolve? (human) nature and narrative The overwhelming evidence that narrative is hardwired into humans, evidence we shall review shortly, raises the question of why this is so. What function, or functions, does narrative perform that it should become part of our human inheritance? There exist a number of possible answers to this question. One viewpoint suggests that narrative serves a didactic role, with narratives serving as models for behavior (Sugiyama; Pinker Language, Blank). Geoffrey Miller argues it developed through sexual selection, a way to impress the girl, while Edward O. Wilson argues narra- tive gives humans the opportunity to test options for dealing with reality in a sort of mental simulator (225). Joseph Carroll adds our inner reality to the mix, stating, “We use imaginative models to make sense of the world, not just to understand it abstractly but to feel and perceive our own place in it—to see it from the inside out” (xxii). Other contenders are Jerome H. Barkow’s assertion that telling tales about people, gossip if you will, is an important means of social control (628), while Robin Dunbar would call these same stories a form of social grooming at a distance to facilitate social bonding (220). It is not my purpose here to refute these and other hypotheses regarding the function of narrative in human culture, nor do I believe there is one and only one correct reply to this question. Rather, I wish to offer evidence to support what I believe to be an undeniable func- tion of narrative in our species, namely, socio-environmental regulation. And though narrative is traditionally equated with literature, I use the term narrative here in a more inclusive manner, one which goes beyond just literature to include all forms of storytelling, be it literature, gossip, jokes, film, advertising, or any of the other symbolic systems society uses to disseminate social values, to tell its/our stories. I believe that narrative is an adaptation that has evolved by natural selec- tion as a means to regulate two interrelated social arrangements: the rela- tions between individuals within a given society, the intrasocial; and the relations between society and its natural environment, the extrasocial. The first of these is the traditional fodder of literary theory, which generally treats intrasocial relations either at the individual level—the emotional 1 Studies in the Literary Imagination 42.2, Fall 2009 © Georgia State University Why Did Narrative
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