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The literal weaponization of literary criticism

By Harriet Staff

DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (catchy name!) branch of the Department of Defense, has launched a project of literary criticism. It’s called Stories, Neuroscience and Experimental Technologies, or, STORyNET (also catchy!). The basic idea is that stories exert a powerful pull on people’s consciousnesses and beliefs, and so the military could greatly benefit from learning more about how exactly stories function. Here’s the project’s goals, from STORyNET’s site:

1. To survey narrative theories. These empirically informed theories should tell us something about the nature of stories: what is a story? What are its moving parts? Is there a list of necessary and sufficient conditions it takes for a stimulus to be considered a story instead of something else? Does the structure and function of stories vary considerably across cultural contexts or is there a universal theory of story?
2. To better understand the role of narrative in security contexts. What role do stories play in influencing political violence and to what extent? What function do narratives serve in the process of political radicalization and how do they influence a person or group’s choice of means (such as violence) to achieve political ends? How do stories influence bystanders’ response to conflict? Is it possible to measure how attitudes salient to security issues are shaped by stories?
3. To survey the state of the art in narrative analysis and decomposition tools. How can we take stories and make them quantitatively analyzable in a rigorous, transparent and repeatable fashion? What analytic approaches or tools best establish a framework for the scientific study of the psychological and neurobiological impact of stories on people? Are particular approaches or tools better than others for understanding how stories propagate in a system so as to influence behavior?

Good luck trying to make stories “quantitatively analyzable in a rigorous, transparent and repeatable fashion.” Because that makes no sense. But hey! Maybe English majors will finally find themselves with expanded career options now that they might be used to kill people even more efficiently!

Posted in Poetry News on Friday, March 4th, 2011 by Harriet Staff.