In this paper, I examine the connections between ethics and aesthetics in the writing of Seamus Heaney. Looking at Heaney’s neologism of ‘po-ethics’, I move through his poetry and especially his translation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes
, entitled The Cure at Troy
, and focus on his Fourth Irish Human Rights Commission Annual Human Rights Lecture: Writer & Righter
, wherein he traces a number of strong connections between human rights workers and creative writers. The essay is written through a theoretical matrix of the ethical theories of Jacques Derrida, Emmanuel Levinas and Simon Critchley. It looks at poems from Heaney himself, as well as work from Shakespeare, Dante Alighieri, Czeslaw Miłosz, and Primo Levi. It focuses on poetic language as a discourse that can act as a counterweight and as a form of redress on behalf of the dignity of the individual human being against the pressures of mass culture and society.
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