The Story Species: Our Life-Literature Connection


305 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55041-736-3
DDC 028'.8





Reviewed by Hoi F. Cheu

Hoi F. Cheu is the co-ordinator of Film Studies in the English
Department at Laurentian University.


The Story Species deserves special attention from all lovers and
teachers of literature. In this book, Joseph Gold (an English professor
and family therapist) provides a “biological approach” to
literature, arguing that humanity is a species that resorts to
storytelling as a survival strategy.

This biological approach relies on complex systems theory. The book’s
title alludes to Terrence Deacon’s The Symbolic Species, in which the
biological anthropologist finds that symbol-making is a
“species-specific” feature of humans. While Deacon does not make the
connection between symbols and stories, Gold theorizes in The Story
Species that the linguistic process is part of a bigger system of
story-making. The human brain needs language to connect with its natural
and social environments. Gold calls this larger system “Literature”
(its forms include stories in print, songs, films, and the oral
tradition). The concept does not refer simply to a tool of education or
a form of entertainment but a decisive apparatus for the formation of
identities. Because Literature helps humans create order out of chaos,
it has the power to heal, mutate, and transform.

Gold’s book is a neo-Romantic response to a postmodern world of
global consumerism. It speaks against the “media madness” that
reduces complex stories into digital binaries. Gold does not take
Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement for granted: if the medium is the
message, he asks, “Whose medium is being messaged?” For Gold, the
information age is, ironically, misinformed, and the mediated
misinformation diminishes humans into “borgs.” He, therefore, calls
for a “Literature Revolution” to resist “the hegemony of
materialism and advertising.”

Although the framework may sound scientific and postmodern, The Story
Species is neither constrained by the rhetorical indifference of
scientific quantification nor overshadowed by the cold aesthetics of
postmodern literary criticism. Gold is a humanist at heart. His book,
like Jeanette Winterson’s Art Objects, is a passionate endorsement of
literature in a de-storied world that is losing the life-support of
language. Winterson states that literature is a “transfusion for a
worn-out world,” but Gold explains how it works.


Gold, Joseph., “The Story Species: Our Life-Literature Connection,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 12, 2024,