French Theory and Literary Darwinism

  • Abstract:

    Literary Darwinism arose as a reaction to the subtlety (and philosophical power) of French theory: it was a self-righteous and reactionary response to the difficulty of real thought. But it’s clear that Darwinian theory as practiced by real biologists (and not literary Darwinists), particularly Evolutionary Game Theory, is itself an intellectual project of deep and subtle power. I want to argue for the reconciliation of such biologically minded French theorists as Michel Leiris, Georges Bataille, and Roger Caillois with the best insights of evolutionary game theory and the theory of costly signaling. The best way to suggest the gulf I am proposing to span is to show how issues of sociability in what’s called “signal selection” are related to some of the deepest and most powerful modes of the proximity of self and other in such extraordinary writers as Maurice Blanchot. The point is not to reduce Blanchot to biology, but to raise biological thinking to a point where it can accommodate Blanchot’s insights. As Blanchot says, “Quand on commence a penser, pas de repos.”