Special Issue "Ethics and Literary Practice"
A special issue of Humanities (ISSN 2076-0787).
Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 March 2019) | Viewed by 19678
A printed edition of this Special Issue is available here.
Interests: ethics of reading; literary criticism and theory; modern Jewish thought; comparative literature; narrative poetics and the novel
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As a resurgent theoretical trend in humanities scholarship now in its fourth decade (cf. Nussbaum 1985, Miller 1987, Booth 1988, Siebers 1988, Phelan 1989, Newton 1995, McCance 1996, Eaglestone 1997, Posner 1997, Altieri 1998, Adamson, Freadman, Parker 1998, Attridge 1999, Buell 1999, Gibson 1999, Garber, Hanssen, Walkowitz 2000, Davis and Womack 2001, George 2005, Attridge 2006, Levine 2009, Rossiter 2010, Altes 2014, Biwu 2014, Gregory 2019, Serpell 2014, Kingwell 2014, Doran 2017, Meretoja and David, 2018), “ethics and literary practice” names an inquiry that remains productively open to question. This special issue of Humanities will explore intersections between its organizing concepts as provocations rather than givens within a range of fields, heuristic frames, analytical categories, and discourses. Take the following as illustrative.
- “[I]insofar as we take literature to be ethically significant in an exemplary way, we may want to start thinking about locating its ethical force not so much in its referential makeup and thematics as in, among other things, what I would call, for lack of a better term, its discursive transformational ‘‘capaciousness,’’ that is, in its ability to absorb and transform virtually any kind of discourse, including the discourse of ethics” (Eskin, 2004).
- “How to think of ethics? Can one think of ethics? As the locus of otherness, ethics seems to lack integrity ‘in itself,’ and perhaps ought to be considered a matrix, a hub from which various discourses, concepts, terms, energies, fan out, and at which they meet, crossing out of themselves to encounter the other, all the others. E]thics exerts whatever forceit does by virtue of its singular capacity to adhere to, affiliate with, bury itself in, provoke, or dislodge other discourses; ethics realizes its full creative potential not in ‘itself’ but as a kind of x-factor, a bracingly alien incitement to inquiry and discrimination” (Harpham, 1999).
Each of these meta-statements lays claim to either ethics or literature as the more multiplicative factor, the integer that boasts coefficient pride of place. A conjunction as ancient as any topic in the philosophical tradition evidently remains just as protean and generative for post-traditional thought—perhaps even more so.
Traditionally, ethical questions about literary practice have taken the form of, “is this book morally praiseworthy?”; or, “does this character model virtue and the good life?”; or, “does that story satisfactorily emplot life’s moral complexity?”; or, “has my reading of this text enlarged or deepened me?” More recently, such problematics have been formulated as questions about otherness and witnessing, i.e., how are readers obliged for responsible to what they read (Attridge 2006)? What, in turn, do such texts owe their readers as imaginative vehicles for the representation and productive misrepresentation of reality? How, accordingly, do texts remain answerable to themselves, to their own formal, and deforming, dictates? How does the act of reading train or practice answerability? Which modality of reading, say, symptomatic vs. surface (Best and Marcus, 2009), am I being called upon to exercise and report on, and how do they differ, ethically speaking? Do I read alone or in company? How is the question of ethics also a question of politics: or are these different questions? How might such concerns be adapted for other kinds or orders of textuality, say, the scriptural and religious, or for photography and cinema, which utilize an alternative “grammar or ethics of seeing” (Sontag, 1977)? Loss, accord, appeal, wound, insomnia, touch: what does literary reading make happen? How exactly does a text “advene” (Barthes, 1980)? What does it mean to read “like a professor”—or for that matter, like an insurgent, like a native, like Proust, like Thoreau, Baldwin, like (Zadie) Smith, like another?
What changes ethically if literature names an “act” (Derrida, 1992) as opposed to a “thing done” (James, 1904), an event or eventuation alongside a deed? What, indeed, are the ethics of literature, and further, of reading, of genre, of performance, of translation, of fiction, of critique, of practice? With the late Philip Roth, are we satisfied that literature’s “high calling” is a function of an “ethical dimension that had to do with being true to the words, with being true to the imagined thing” (2008), the moral perfectionism, as it were, of sentences? What other dimensions lie alongside or even vie with rhetorical/imaginative fidelity, of truth-telling? Similarly, do acts of reading and criticism do more or otherwise than tell truth? If criticism, for example, “exists as a public’s mode of comportment…detach[ing] art from its irresponsibility by envisaging its technique” (Levinas, 1968), where does annotation end and adjudication begin? What is “the ethical turn” in literary questioning turning from or towards or around or against, as overseen by modulations in the last thirty years or so of humanities research?
Under this special issue’s governing rubric, propositions and citations like those above map provisional coordinates for its conceptual focus. Papers that explore inter-discursive possibilities are particularly welcome, as are those that situate themselves in the contested “between” of literature-and-ethics. Essays might feature treatments of individual texts or genres, (including film and other media), the elaboration of intertexts, or theoretical interventions, both literary and philosophical. Following are some suggested perspectives: meta-ethical and literary theory; analytic and continental philosophical schools; “the way we read now”; rhetoric(s); interpretive community, technology of representation; cultural, historical, national/hemispheric context; ancient, modern, or contemporary cultures; comparative frameworks; language and translation; aesthetics, truth, eventfulness; ethno-racial identity, nationality, and gender; embodiment and materiality; humanism and posthumanism; digital humanities, intermediality, and the 21st century university; pedagogy and the archive; politics and the political; the public space; globalism and the planetary; ecocriticism and environmental humanities; the human and its others; the contemporary post-/anti-liberal moment; homage, e.g. Roth, Ashbery, Le Guin, Walcott, C.D. Wright, Imre Kertész, Liu Xiaobo, Stanley Cavell.
Please send a one-page proposal by the middle of October 2018 including your name, the title of your paper, any academic or community affiliations, and email address to [email protected].
Dr. Adam Zachary Newton
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