gall and gumption

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Philosophy and Public Life

When Martha Nussbaum talks about these things it's worth dropping in.

SV: Now if I may ask you about your work on the novel, I mean literature, your work related to philosophy and literature. Do you feel that your line of ethical criticism or of using literature for ethical philosophy has succeeded in moving people towards this direction? And is the fashion for deconstruction and for very post-modern approaches somehow losing its force today? Am I right in this perception or am I being too optimistic?

MN: I think you are right. I am on the board of the School of Criticism and Theory, which is the leading, cutting edge literary theory organization in the US. When I taught in their Summer School at Cornell a few years ago I was struck by the fact that all the students were interested in law and ethics. And so were the people that founded some of these deconstruction movements. Jonathan Culler gave a lecture in which I didn't hear anything about post-modernism. It was actually mostly New Criticism, but it had an ethical element as well. I think English Departments always have problems in America, because they always feel they have to have a gimmick. Because English used not to be an academic subject – in England it was always something you were expected to know because it was your language; when you went to university you studied classics. Because English has to defend itself against people who say it's not a proper academic subject, it's prone to fads. I think we're not at the end of the fads, there'll probably be some other fad that will be again rather annoying and we'll have to fight against that one. But at present, at least, I think the post-modern one is on the way out. Whether ethics in its serious sense will become central in English departments I am not sure, because I think very few literary scholars have the patience to do the sustained hard philosophical work that's needed. Whenever they talk about philosophy, with the exception of Wayne Booth, for example, they'll talk about it in a way that seems to me quite embarrassing and amateurish. [Oh, Martha, that's how they talk about everything, including and especially literature... -- ed] So I feel uncertain whether in English departments we are going to get revealing first-rate work of an ethical sort. [emphasis added because that's hilarious -- ed]

I meself think the problem she's describing here could be put in much more forceful terms.

By way of wood s lot.


At 6:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear postmodernism is on its way out. What atrocity is waiting in the wings?


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