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Article

Satire  

Emmett Stinson

Although scholars generally agree that satire cannot be defined in a categorical or exhaustive way, there is a consensus regarding its major features: satire is a mode, rather than a genre; it attacks historically specific targets, who are real; it is an intentional and purposeful literary form; its targets deserve ridicule on the basis of their behavior; and satire is both humorous and critical by its nature. The specificity and negativity of satire are what separates it from comedy, which tends to ridicule general types of people in ways that are ultimately redemptive. Satire is also rhetorically complex, and its critiques have a convoluted or indirect relation to the views of the author. Satire’s long history, which is not straightforwardly linear, means that it is impossible to catalogue all of the views on it from antiquity through to modernity. Modern criticism on satire, however, is easier to summarize and has often made use of ancient satirical traditions for its own purposes—especially because many early modern theorists of satire were also satirists. In particular, modern satire has generated an internal dichotomy between a rhetorical tradition of satire associated with Juvenal, and an ethical tradition associated with Horace. Most criticism of satire from the 20th century onward repeats and re-inscribes this binary in various ways. The Yale school of critics applied key insights from the New Critics to offer a rhetorical approach to satire. The Chicago school focused on the historical nature of satirical references but still presented a broadly formalist account of satire. Early 21st century criticism has moved between a rhetorical approach inflected by poststructural theory and a historicism grounded in archival research, empiricism, and period studies. Both of these approaches, however, have continued to internally reproduce a division between satire’s aesthetic qualities and its ethical or instrumental qualities. Finally, there is also a tradition of Menippean satire that differs markedly in character from traditional satire studies. While criticism of Menippean satire tends to foreground the aesthetic potential of satire over and above ethics, it also often focuses on many works that are arguably not really satirical in nature.

Article

Matthew Garrett

The ethics of reading connects with but is not identical to the field of ethical criticism. Often pursued as a normative inquiry into morality, ethics may be better understood in historical terms. From this point of view, the inquiry into ethics is not a matter of good and evil (or universal moral correctness) but rather of understanding historically variable and socially conditioned regimes of subjective self-construction (ethics). Thus, moral thought may be taken to be one specific modality of the ethical, not its essential feature. A social and historical inquiry into the ethics of reading must then examine the ethical impulse itself, the recurring attraction of ethical questions, normative moral claims, and the search for moral models in literary and cultural texts. Various strands of ethical criticism have treated literary characters as approximations of persons or have considered the way reading itself may be a morally healthful act. Understanding these approaches and their limitations helps one recognize an alternative ethics of reading, focused on the social and historical reconstruction of the category of the ethical, as well as a more specifically literary-critical style of reading, focused on a single ethical injunction: fidelity to the object of critical attention.

Article

Alongside readings of Asian American literature that foreground the racial, gender, class, and transnational constitution of the community and the writers that produced literary work, one may consider how ill, disabled, and wounded embodiment work their way into the literature as well. Indeed, one might go as far to say that these differential modes of embodiment are constitutive of the corpus of Asian American literature itself, for illness and disability are often, though not always, the somatic expression of the kinds of racial and other forms of violence that Asian American authors take up as central themes. To explore the world of illness and disability and to pay attention to the ways that wounded embodiment figures in the literary provide a critical index of how Asian Americans have been and are valued. Moreover, to take the Asian American ill and disabled body in literature seriously as producing specific narratives themselves, rather than merely more deficient versions of those produced by their able-bodied counterparts, is to read Asian American literature as a site through which new ideas of sociality, intersubjectivity, and care might be possible, which then may trigger new political imaginations. Whether reading in Asian American literature’s most historical and canonical works traces of illness, disability, and wounded embodiment’s marks or the early-21st-century “boom” in nonfiction that attends to questions of illness and disability, death and dying, a generative, even capacious, understanding of Asian America emerges from the shadows of what was previously known and knowable as a social identity.

Article

Denis Flannery

Apostrophe is a rhetorical figure that is most commonly found (and thought of) in lyric poetry. It also occurs in other literary and cultural forms—memoir, prose fiction, song, theater, and cinema. Derived from the Greek prefix “apo” (away from) and “strophe” (turn or twist), the word “apostrophe” is often confused with a punctuation mark, a single inverted comma used in English to denote a possessive (as in “ the Queen’s English” or “the cat’s whiskers”). In this context, an apostrophe stands in for something absent. Anglo-Saxon, a heavily inflected language and the basis for modern English, had a genitive case where nouns used in a possessive way tended to end in “es” (“cyninges” was the Anglo-Saxon for “King’s”). This more common sense of the word “apostrophe” denotes, therefore, a punctuation mark that stands in for an elided letter “e” or vowel sound. In the context of rhetoric and poetry “apostrophe” has come to denote what occurs when a writer or speaker addresses a person or entity who is dead, absent, or inanimate to start with. The figure is described by Cicero and Quintillian. The former described it as a “figure that expresses grief or indignation.” Quintillian emphasized its capacity to be “wonderfully stirring” for an audience. For both rhetoricians, apostrophe was something that occurred in a public context, usually a debate or trial, and was part of the arsenal of political rhetoric. Apostrophe has therefore a double valence beyond the common understanding as a punctuation mark that stands in for a missing possessive “e.” It denotes what occurs when a speaker turns from addressing her audience to addressing another figure or entity, one who may or may not be present, alive, or even animate. And it has also come to denote that very process of addressing the absent, the dead, and the inanimate. The figure occurs in medieval rhetoric and poetry, in Shakespeare’s poetry and plays, and has come to be identified with lyric poetry itself, especially through the work and legacy of the literary theorist Paul de Man. For him, a poem describing a set of circumstances has less claim to the status of lyric poetry than a poem apostrophizing aspects of those circumstances. In part as a result of de Man’s influence, apostrophe has come to be connected with different forms of complicated affect—most notably grief, embarrassment, and any number of ways in which human life can be seen or experienced as vulnerable, open to question, or imbued with potential. It has also been used to explore complicated legal and ethical terrains where the boundary between the living and the dead, the present and the absent, the animate and the inanimate can be difficult to draw or ascertain. Two areas of contemporary criticism and thought for which the employment of the figure is most resonant are therefore eco-criticism and “thing theory” (most notably the work of Jane Bennett). The possibilities of apostrophe continue to be regularly employed in political rhetoric, song, poetry, theater, fiction, and cinema.

Article

Tanya Dalziell

Mourning and melancholia are among the primary concepts that have come to interest and structure late-20th- and early-21st-century literary theory. The terms are not new to this historical moment—Hippocrates (460–379 bce) believed that an excess of black bile caused melancholia and its symptoms of fear and sadness—but they have taken on an urgent charge as theories respond to both the world around them and shifts in theory itself. With the 20th century viewed as a historical period marked by cataclysmic events, and literary theory characterized by the collapse of the transcendental signified, attention has turned to mourning and melancholia, and questions of how to respond to and represent loss. The work of Sigmund Freud has been a touchstone in this regard. Since the publication in 1917 of his essay “Mourning and Melancholia,” theorists have been applying and critiquing the ideas Freud formulated, and examining how literature might register them. The elegy has been singled out for particular scrutiny given that this poetic form is conventionally a lament for the dead that offers solace to the survivors. Yet, focus has expanded to include other literary modes and to query both the ethics of coming to terms with loss, which is the ostensible work of mourning, and the affective and political desirability of melancholia.

Article

Trevor Ross

The literary canon, theorists contend, is a selection of reputable works that abstracts their value for specific purposes: to safeguard them from neglect or censure, reproduce social and institutional values, maintain them as exemplary in the formation of personal or communal identities, or objectify and enshrine standards of judgment. The value of canonical works is not felt reducible to these uses or the interests that canon-making may serve, but canonization is nonetheless thought to be a recognition of their value, even confirmation that this value has been sufficiently established, by consensus or institutional edict, that it no longer requires demonstration. The discourse of canonicity thus relies on an economy of belief about the possibility and validity of agreement about literary value. Within this economy, the canon, in whichever composition, is both the evidence and the outcome of agreement, without which value would seemingly become entirely speculative. At the same time, canonicity is also a form of attention paid to valuable works, and it is not the only such form. Canonical works are treated differently than are other valuable works, and the value of the same work may be described in a different rhetoric of valuation depending on what kind of valuable work it is perceived to be. A work may be treated as a reference point, a familiar and influential text whose contribution to culture is measured relative to one context. It may be viewed as a classic, a singular and standard work whose value is perceived across a distance of time or culture. Or it may be esteemed as a canonical text, whose vital and indefinable contribution is not seen as relative to any particular time or place. The discourse of canonicity thus serves to generate belief in the possibility of suspending, however provisionally, speculation and contingency.

Article

Scandal  

Tarek El-Ariss

What does scandal designate? Is it a narrative of moral outrage, a titillating spectacle of shame, or a violation that simultaneously unsettles and consolidates norms and traditions? Scandal as a phenomenon, event, and analytical category has been the focus of debates and representations in works by Kant, Heidegger, Rousseau, Sade, and Mme de Sévigné, as well as in The Arabian Nights. These engagements with scandal in philosophy, literature, and media constitute a genealogy if not a tradition that emphasizes the relations between scandal and the body, gender, story-telling, visuality, marginality, and power. From the body of Aphrodite that frames scandal in the Greek mythological context to the body of Egyptian activist and nude blogger Alyaa Elmahdi, adulterous affairs and fantasies of debauchery particularly have been used as instruments to critique the rich and powerful but also to oppress women and sexual minorities. What becomes of scandal in the age of the Internet, apps, and social media? The article examines whether the digital is bringing about the demise of scandal as an affective scene that generates outrage and condemnation but also as a model of telling and representing tied to antiquated reportage genres, gossip scenes, and fictional models.

Article

Julian Murphet

Character is a property of narrative and discursive textuality, even as it is also a moral and ethical category referring to individual and collective norms of behavior and motive. This double valence has affected the concept since Aristotle and Plato first began the unfinished, centuries-long project of literary theory. On the one hand, stemming from Aristotle, there has been a tradition of formalist conceptions of character, understanding it as a device used by writers to drive narrative momentum and effect transformations within the discourse. The domain of action, and its variously entailed reactions and consequences, was thought to belong to the agents of narrative discourse by rights, while what was generally called their “character” typically concerned the incidental qualifications and explanations of their actions in speech and thought. Once that distinction is made, however, there are smaller and smaller units into which agency can logically be subdivided, and more and more arbitrary and capricious qualities of character used to flesh out an abstract narratological principle. The histories of formalism, structuralism, and poststructuralism attest to this labor of specialization and fissiparous subdivision of the bound concepts of agent and character. On the other hand, stemming from Plato, we see a centuries-long interest in the mutually interactive relations between imaginary persons, or fictional selves, and the fashioning of public or social selves in regimes of education and discipline. The question of the role of literary characters in the formation of good citizens, or indeed delinquent ones, is one that refuses to go away, since it has proven impossible to separate fiction from reality in the complex processes of self-fashioning through which every subject must go. One last matter of interest has exerted more theoretical influence over the concept in recent years, and that is the topic of affects: the qualities and intensities of human feelings can be seen to have had a major bearing on the writing and elaboration of fictional beings, and vice versa, at least since the late 19th century.

Article

The term “global fiction” has been applied to a number of texts that have become increasingly important to the study of contemporary literature and debates about world literature. What global fiction is, however, is not entirely clear. With reference to prominent examples, global fiction can be provisionally defined as fiction that anticipates circulating widely (beyond national and regional boundaries) and that seeks to mediate global interconnection. While that definition could be applied to a number of works from at least the early 20th century, it is especially relevant to works that belong to the increasingly global environment for the writing and reading of literature that has emerged since the late 1980s under contemporary globalization. Since this environment has favored the circulation of English-language literature, due to the historical hegemony of Britain and the United States over the capitalist world-system, some scholars have viewed global fiction with understandable suspicion. Yet works of global fiction do not necessarily reflect the ideology of capitalist globalization. Many of these works can be understood, instead, as attempts to think through what global relationships entail on a shared planet, and in tension with the dominant form they have been made to take historically within global capitalism. Such works of global fiction have sought to mediate connectivity and collectivity at a global scale in four main ways. First, works have represented new material connections between people and places within the global system that emerged after the Cold War. Second, works have explored the ethical stakes of such new connections by staging scenes of encounter between self and other. Third, works have made imaginable a transnational, cosmopolitan community by weaving together far-flung narratives. Fourth, works have sought to gather together a collective agency capable of making a more equitable world.

Article

Animals have prowled literature from its beginnings in the ancient world through medieval bestiaries and out from the margins of the novel in the modern era. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, animals’ literary presence has generated increasing critical interest. Animal studies, a relatively new interdisciplinary field, calls attention to the accelerating exploitation of animals in the period of industrial modernity and questions what it is possible to know about animals’ own experiences. Foundational theoretical approaches to understanding the historical and philosophical condition of thinking about animals—John Berger’s “Why Look at Animals?” (1972), Thomas Nagel’s “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” (1974), and Jacques Derrida’s “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)” (2002)—propose a fundamental aporia or gap between human and animal experiences, and they caution against the projection of anthropocentric categories onto animal lives. Many novels from this recent period likewise treat animals as charismatic strangers. Yet other contemporary literature sometimes reimagines human-animal relationships to insist on affinity and continuity. In such novels, animals prompt diverse and often experimental stylistic choices that put pressure on the novel’s traditional association with everyday life, the individual self, the boundaries of the nation, and empirical observation more broadly. Still, many recent novels remain essentially committed to a realist tradition. Some of these—most notably by J. M. Coetzee—depict relations of care between humans and often vulnerable or dependent animals that prompt reflection on the meaning of ethical action. In novels that purport to narrate from animals’ own perspective, writers likewise meditate on the ethics of interspecies relations as they use language innovatively in an effort to realistically evoke the sensorium of another species. Pushing the boundaries of realism, other novels reinvent the animal fable, using varying degrees of fantasy to imagine wild or domesticated animals as tropes that reflect upon human embodiment, community, and politics. Whether realist or fabulist, the novels of contemporary postcolonial and world literature particularly explore the power and limits of mapping histories of human belonging and domination onto animal figures, even as they often highlight the limitations of these comparisons. Not all of these approaches are equally invested in creating a literature that could materially impact the lives of animals in an era of diminishing biodiversity. However, uniting this varied and ever-growing array of novels is a question of how literature can represent the lives of intimately entangled bodies in a globalizing world.