La teoria Darwiniana sulla musica e la retorica

Winfried Menninghaus

pp. 135-156

This essay offers a new perspective on Darwin’s evolutionary theorizing on the human arts of music, poetry and rhetoric. It argues that Darwin’s theory of the human arts is primarily a theory of their effects on our emotions. Contrary to the topical understanding Darwin nowhere claimed that the music of homo sapiens sapiens used to be performed, let alone still is performed in the service of sexual success. He exclusively stipulated that some such evolutionary attractor might have shaped the vocal arts of our «half-human ancestors». In the human music proper, by contrast, he sees this archaic function only persist as a cognitively vague, yet intensely felt «mental reversion to the emotions and thoughts of a long-past age», as widely unconscious and barely decodable memory traces. Read in Gouldian terms the evolved proto-human «musical arts» have thus been «exapted», i.e. lost their presumable biologically adaptive function of evolutionary origin, yet have survived this exaptation and ever since serve new communicative functions while retaining some of their archaic affective power. Moreover, the arts of rhetoric and poetry, by using the hypothetically older neural and vocal architecture of singing (with regards to linguistic prosody, meter, and cadences), coopt this «exapted» emotional power of music into the novel field of symbolic language. Darwin’s understanding of rhetoric and poetry is shown to entail not only explicit references, but also many implicit similarities both with Greek and Latin rhetoric and poetics and, more specifically, with Romanticist assumptions regarding the origin and function of poetry.

Publication details

DOI: 10.4000/estetica.1443

Full citation:

Menninghaus, W. (2013). La teoria Darwiniana sulla musica e la retorica. Rivista di estetica 54, pp. 135-156.

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