by William Flesch is a surprising excursus into what I might have thought an impossible project. What Flesch undertakes with skill and cunning is what might be called the conversion of sociobiology into its aesthetic analogs. By means of this transposition, we are given a surprisingly fresh account of the workings of high literature.
How lonely I feel when I'm angry. How clearly, deeply, learnedly and originally William Flesch, in this magisterial--yes, magisterial-- work lights up the ways that I am never less alone with my anger than when it finds its way into literature. Drawing on texts I only thought I knew well, and on an array of science I only thought I could never know at all, Flesch redeems some of our most shameful affects--hate; the pleasure we take in the pain of others--as the very material of social charity and communion. I would name famous names to praise Flesch--Hazlitt, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Simmel--except that to do so would be to miss what matters most about this life forgiving work. For all his engagements with the genius of others, the genius of this book is really all his own.
--Jeff Nunokawa, Professor of English, Princeton University
Flesch's book is at once authoritative and flexible, intellectually adventurous and careful. It is hard to imagine a reader who would not learn from its arresting arguments or take pleasure in the freshness of its juxtapositions. This is a book of immense originality and energy. Flesch opens up--for literary critics of every persuasion--new ways of thinking about the books they love.
--Nick Halpern, author of Everyday and Prophetic
Deftly drawing on 40 years of research in evolutionary psychology, William Flesch sheds new light on heroes, villains, narrators, authors and the art of narrative itself. Our fascination with narratives of all kinds, Flesch argues, is based on our evolved capacity to track the selfish, the selfless and those who take it upon themselves to mete out punishment. In this wild romp through contemporary culture and western literature we are treated to new insights into characters, real and imagined, ranging from J.K. Rowling to Jane Austen, Ludwig Wittgenstein to the 9/11 hijackers,Homer's Telemachus to Roth's Nathan Zuckerman and the governess in James' The Turn of the Screw
to the Bride in Kill Bill
--James Schwartz, author of In Pursuit of the Gene: From Darwin to DNA
Those who appreciate theories of fiction from such critics as Harold Bloom, Wayne C. Booth, E. M. Forster, and Northop Frye will find Flesch's work a welcome addition to the literature. And those interested in the juxtaposition of literature and psychology will find this book a refreshing take on both disciplines.
--T. J. Haskell (Choice
I admired William Flesch's examination of fiction and evolutionary biology, in Comeuppance: Costly Signalling, Altruistic Punishment and Other Biological Components of Fiction
, not least because Flesch, a young professor at Brandeis, is aware of the limits of the application of biology to aesthetics.
--James Wood (New Yorker blog