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Elemental Narcissism and the Decline of Empathy: A Biocultural Reading of the Fall in William Golding’s Fiction

ALJABRI, KHADIJAH,ATI,A (2016) Elemental Narcissism and the Decline of Empathy: A Biocultural Reading of the Fall in William Golding’s Fiction. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This research began with the modest idea that bringing an evolutionary, cognitive and existential understanding to Golding’s novels is going to help to establish the universality and historical specificity of his writerly engagements as well as shed new light on his moral preoccupations and concerns. In fact, the endeavour was initially launched in keeping with the spirit of Literary Darwinism, a movement which sought to foreground the field of literary study on more scientific foundations, using the emerging discipline of evolutionary psychology as a means to bridging the gap between the sciences and the humanities, and to bringing the two cultures together. Of course, most of the past critical efforts dedicated to understanding Golding’s work tended to overlook or downplay the asserted relation between rationalism and biologism in the formation and articulation of Golding’s moral preoccupations in order to favour a broadly religious reading. This was especially the case given the overt biblical overtones in Golding’s novels as well as his confessed antagonism to the overwhelming rationalism of the sciences and the ubiquity of scientific reductionism in accounts and justifications of knowledge. Despite this antagonism, however—which included a confessed dislike for notions of Darwinian evolution and its progressive overtones—the rational dimension to Golding’s novels cannot be denied. It can be detected in his early writings where attempts at establishing the universality of evil are linked to an engagement with, sometimes even an endorsement of, some of the evolutionary propositions of his own period as well as those relevant to the periods that provided the contexts for his historically or prehistorically located fictions. There are even instances when Golding appears to be sharing not only the evolutionary literary theorists’ preference for examining human behaviour within a biological frame, but also their tendency to regard art as an innate propensity that constitutes an undeniable and definitive part of human nature. However, as illuminating as the field of evolutionary psychology initially proved in relation to Golding’s work, the completed thesis reveals how an attempt to frame his work entirely in terms of evolutionary theorizing is unhelpfully reductionist. This is particularly the case with his later creations that seem to be written intentionally to challenge simplistic or reductionist templates of interpretation as a way of asserting the necessary complexity of literary texts if they are to be an adequate exploration or reflection of the complexity of life itself. Consequently, it became necessary to move beyond the limited scope of evolutionary theory and incorporate a range of views from diverse, yet consilient schools in contemporary psychology that can help account for the increasingly diverse spiritual, social and cultural realities characterizing his creations in general, and his later novels in particular.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2016
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:27 Oct 2016 11:13

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