By Russell A. Berman
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Additional resources for Fiction Sets You Free: Literature, Liberty, and Western Culture
It leaves unanswered the question of why we can read and appreciate the literature of other times and places. Progressive history may recognize a developmental continuity, but its presentist triumphalism leads to the same enervating result. From that follows Benjamin’s account of the socialists’ failure, and the communists’ as well, after the Soviet Union’s alliance with Hitler in the face of the rise of fascism. Their determinist optimism canceled their capacity to act. He therefore pursues the third option of aesthetic temporality.
Literature became that field of society dedicated to the cultivation of the imagination, and therefore also imaginative individuals, that form of subjectivity that has always allowed humanity to aspire for other, and better, ways of life. Periodization and the Canon 23 Human Origins and Literary Beginnings The study of human origins concerns the biological and behavioral adaptations that led to the evolutionary emergence of modern humans. Scientific inquiry into this process of hominization is necessarily an interdisciplinary undertaking because of the range of evidence available: comparative anatomy for the study of physiological transformations, archeology and physical anthropology for the examination of artifacts and remains, but also linguistics and psychology for the emergence of language — typically taken as the defining feature of the human condition — and its impact on consciousness.
The point is not to suggest some sort of triumphal evolutionary history — the caricature of evolutionism that postmodern critics of teleology present in order to denounce it — but rather, on the contrary, to recognize the deeply contingent character of this development. Language acquisition and its consequences — an increase in the size of social units, accelerated technological change, and, above all, the dynamic use of symbols — should not be thought of as necessary, an unfolding of some idealist truth, but rather as the specific and very curious adaptation that this one peculiar species pursued.