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Biofiction is not a neologism. (See below for its other uses and meanings.)
In the sense that I am using it, however, it is new; it refers to fiction or creative nonfiction that uses biological, neurological, psychological and/or evolutionary language and/or lenses. That is, a work of biofiction might explicitly deal with biological and /or evolutionary ideas, or it might incorporate biolanguage (see below). It may also do both, as my writing often, but not always, does.
For a while I used the term evolutionary fiction when writing about my own fiction and that of some others; but I soon realized that that term was too limiting (though I still use it in specific instances). At the same time that I felt evolutionary fiction was too restrictive, I was engaged in thinking about literature from a Darwinian and cognitive perspective and doing so primarily through a list called biopoets.
Forum for the discussion of Darwinian and cognitive approaches to culture.
All with an interest in the interplay between science and literature, music, the arts and popular culture are welcome. The list includes people with many different backgrounds including anthropology, psychology, political science, the various national and comparative literatures, biology and those who simply have an interest in biopoetics. Be sure to check out the biopoetics bibliography (compiled by Joseph Carroll) at
So biofiction is meant to parallel biopoets and biopoetics, where the bio in biofiction stands for a certain scientific approach, style, language, lens.
Twenty years ago, while I was
an undergraduate studying philosophy at Columbia, I wrote a paper
for Arthur Danto and Herbert Terrace that entertained the
possibility that ordinary folk intentional states and
propositional attitudes could one day be replaced (in a somewhat eliminative materialist
way) by a more scientifically informed lexicon, e.g.,
"Do you remember what you said to her?" "Sorry, no, bad hippocampal day."
How do you feel today?" "Oh, very low on serotonin and dopaminergically challenged."
At the time it was fun and almost absurd to suggest that one day we might speak in such a way, yet it doesn't seem so absurd now. There are many instances in our every day life where biolanguage is replacing folk language. I do it in my writing; I use the reductive language of biology (hormones, neurotransmitters, etc.) to convey meaning about feeling states, emotions, beliefs, etc.: Eg:
"...it was also Caleb, feeding her hungriest receptor sites — pulling her toward a dopamine rush she both feared and craved. And the beginnings of a flu."
This reductive biolanguage, of course, doesn't say more about the state — it only locates it or 'reduces' it physically. It doesn't even have explanatory power; it's just another metaphoric language that, in a Marxist/Freirean sense, has the ability to include or exclude (one needs to know what dopamine is and does in order to understand the above sentence; one needs to have the tools and desire to decode it if one doesn't know what DA is). But pedagogically, biolanguage actually does have the potential to teach (about neuroscience, etc. — albeit minimally); with its ultimate goal being inclusion into more positivist "forms of life."
It's true that for most "folks" fear is fear and male sexual jealousy is male sexual jealousy. And it doesn't really matter to them that fear is activated/originates in their amygdala or that sexual jealousy is an emotion that serves to propel one into mate-guarding behavior. And in some ways, rightly so — intentional states are intentional states, no matter what their etiology or label. On the other hand, at the risk of sounding platitudinous — knowledge is power. There are probably many reasons why people should have such knowledge. But just by dint that it opens up new ways of seeing themselves and the world, is enough reason, I think.
I still can imagine such a language becoming the next folk psychology — where utterances of desire are displaced/replaced by utterances of neurotransmitters. Though I don't necessarily love it. I would not want my lover to say, for example: "Oh, the cells in my anterior cingulate and my right caudate nucleus are firing rapidly, and my dopamine and norepinephrine levels are skyrocketing...Oh baby!" Call me old-fashioned, but I'd rather hear he loves me. But, who knows, perhaps one day this could turn someone on!
The term biofiction also refers to a particular kind of autobiographical fiction.
Here is an instance of the term used in this sense:
Eva Perón: La biografía appeared just in time to catch the wave of fevered publicity swirling about Madonna's appearance in the film Evita bouyed up by the haunting mega- hit "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." Dujovne's Eva Perón belongs to the genre of historical novels or biofiction, a popularized form of academic biography.
There are probably other ways of using it. Here is another:
The maxim, life is stranger than fiction holds true when one considers the area of biotechnology. But even while hitherto science fiction creatures literally come to inhabit the real world of biotech labs, they continue to transmit an aura of the imaginary. In effect, biotechnological practices spawn an array ofbiofictions grounded in, sometimes familiar, inscriptions of the (maternal) body, of human and non-human nature, while others challenge long-held conceptions of the meaning of life itself. Women artists have increasingly engaged in art practices that critically reflect on these biofictions.
-Alice Andrews, editor, Entelechy: Mind & Culture
Copyright © 2006 Entelechy: Mind & Culture. New Paltz, NY. All rights reserved.