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Ethical Criticism of Art

Traditionally, there were two opposing philosophical positions taken with respect to the legitimacy of the ethical evaluation of art: moralism and autonomism, where moralism is the view that the aesthetic value of art should be determined by, or reduced to, its moral value, while autonomism holds that it is inappropriate to apply moral categories to art; they should be evaluated by aesthetic standards alone. Recent work on the ethical criticism of art has proposed several new positions; more moderate versions of autonomism and moralism which lie between the two extremes described above. The issue has now become not one of whether moral evaluations of art works are appropriate, but rather, whether they should be described as aesthetic evaluations. The contemporary debate focuses on narrative art, which is seen as having unique features to which ethical criticism is particularly pertinent. Attempts have been made to simplify the issue of the ethical criticism of art by distancing peripheral issues such as causal claims about the effects of art on its audience and censorship. However, there is still considerable interest in the possibility of certain narrative artworks having the potential to play an important role in moral education. The debate over the ethical criticism of art therefore highlights some of the central reasons why we value narrative art, as well as questioning the scope, or the parameters, of our concept of the aesthetic.

Table of Contents
1. 2. 3.
Introduction Radical Autonomism and Radical Moralism Moderate Autonomism and Moderate Moralism 1. Moderate Autonomism 2. Moderate Moralism 3. Moderate Autonomism vs Moderate Moralism Moderate Moralism and Ethicism 1. Distinguishing Moderate Moralism from Ethicism 2. Ethicism vs Moderate Moralism The Causal Thesis 1. Literature and Moral Education 2. Ethical Criticism and Censorship References and Further Reading

4. 5. 6.

1. Introduction
Ethical criticism refers to the inclusion of an ethical component in the interpretation and evaluation of art. The two traditional opposing positions taken with respect to ethical criticism are autonomism and moralism. The former claims that ethical criticism is never legitimate since moral and aesthetic value are autonomous, while the latter reduces aesthetic value to moral value. The extreme versions of autonomism and moralism, their appeal and their flaws, are discussed in section two.

In recent years, debate over ethical criticism has resurfaced, partly through the Ethical Criticism Symposium featured in Philosophy and Literature in 1997-8, which is discussed in the final section of this article, since it bears on the consideration of the causal thesis that certain literature can have positive moral effects on its audience. A second arm of the ethical criticism debate saw several more moderate, and more plausible, positions proposed. These are moderate autonomism, moderate moralism and ethicism. In this body of literature too, the focus was on narrative art. What is at issue in the current debate is whether the realm of aesthetic value should be taken to include the moral value of narrative art (a) never, (b) only sometimes when an artwork displays moral features (merits or defects), or (c) whenever an artwork displays moral features (merits or defects). Due to differences between the modes of expression and content matter of the different art forms, it seems likely that what is true of the ethical criticism of narrative art, which often deals explicitly with human affairs and morality, may not be true of abstract art forms such as music and some fine arts and dance. Such art forms would require separate consideration and this is something which has not thus far been undertaken in the philosophical literature. Section 3 considers the debate between moderate autonomism, defended by Anderson and Dean, and Noel Carrolls moderate moralism, examining Carrolls reasons for arguing that at least sometimes the moral features of narrative artworks are also aesthetic features. Section 4 introduces Berys Gauts ethicism, and examines the contention, made primarily by Anderson and Dean, that moderate moralism and ethicism are one and the same position. This claim is shown to be false, and the two positions are clearly distinguished. Much of the recent debate over ethical criticism that is the debate between moderate autonomism, moderate moralism and ethicism focusses on the flaws in the specific arguments presented for moderate moralism and ethicism. In fact, the central issue in the debate over ethical criticism, which is somewhat masked by the details, is how broadly the aesthetic should be defined. While the extreme positions, radical autonomism and radical moralism define the aesthetic most narrowly, the position which defines the aesthetic most broadly and inclusively is ethicism.

2. Radical Autonomism and Radical Moralism


There are two extreme positions traditionally taken with respect to the relationship between art and morality; one is autonomism, or aestheticism, which is the view that it is inappropriate to apply moral categories to artworks, and that only aesthetic categories are relevant, while at the other end of the scale is moralism, the view that aesthetic objects should be judged wholly or centrally with respect to moral standards or values. Both autonomism and moralism are widely recognised to be problematic, as they are based on inadequate conceptions of art and aesthetic value. Radical Moralism is the view that the aesthetic value of an artwork is determined by its moral value. The most extreme version of this position reduces all aesthetic value to moral value. Proponents of radical moralism include Tolstoy, who, arguing against definitions of art that equated art with beauty, said: The inaccuracy of all these definitions arises from the fact that in them all the object considered is the pleasure art may give, and not the purpose it may serve in the life of man and of humanity. Tolstoy emphasised the moral significance of art in society as essential to the (aesthetic) value of art. Social reductionism, such as the popular aesthetic

endorsed by Pierre Bourdieu, Roger Taylor and others, is also a version of radical moralism. Radical moralism has been widely criticised for ignoring certain fundamental aspects of aesthetic value, such as formal features. The radical moralist will have some difficulty explaining how art can be distinguished from other cultural products, including such things as political speeches, due to their failure to include in their criteria for making judgments about aesthetic value anything that is a unique feature of art. Autonomism and aestheticism are essentially the same position. The label autonomism captures the fact that this position holds that aesthetic value is autonomous from other kinds of value, such as moral value. The label aestheticism captures the fact that the position emphasises the importance of focussing on theaesthetic, that is, the pure aesthetic, features of artworks. Pure aesthetic qualities may include formal features and beauty or, for some autonomists, formal features only. It is important to note that formalism and autonomism are not identical positions, although advocates of formalism will tend to be autonomists. Formalism, rejected earlier, is the view that the proper way to respond to art is to respond to its formal features or, in other words, that the aesthetic value of an artwork is determined solely by its formal features. A formalist, such as Clive Bell, would not include beauty as something we should respond to in art, but those formalists who do include beauty regard it as something that is determined by the formal features the artwork possesses. Aestheticism is perhaps the more appropriate label for the extreme position subscribed to by the aesthete that aesthetic value is the highest of all values. Interestingly, although the aesthete might not be interested in defending their position, any attempt to do so would likely involve appeals to moral standards; that is, they would have to give a justification for their view that one should take on a predominantly aesthetic attitude in life in terms of moral value. For example, Richard Posner, in Against Ethical Criticism, appears to identify himself as an aesthete, but, ironically, an aesthete who wants to provide a moral justification for his position: The aesthetic outlook is a moral outlook, one that stresses the values of openness, detachment, hedonism, curiosity, tolerance, the cultivation of the self, and the preservation of a private sphere in short, the values of liberal individualism.(1997, p. 2) Aestheticism, in its most extreme form, could almost be seen as a version of radical moralism. In any case, both positions are equally reductive with respect to the scope of aesthetic value. However, aestheticism does not always refer to the extreme position, and the terms autonomism and aestheticism can be used interchangeably. Autonomism has become the predominant term used in recent literature, most likely because it does capture the notion that aesthetic value is held to be an autonomous realm of value by those who subscribe to any version of this position. Radical Autonomism is the view that the proper way to respond to art is to respond only to the pure aesthetic qualities, or what is in the work itself; while to bring moral values, or other social values, to bear on art is a mistake. The radical autonomists motto is art for arts sake. Oscar Wilde is an example of a radical autonomist. He wrote in the Preface to The Picture of Dorien Gray: to arts subject matter we should be more or less indifferent, and Life is the solvent that breaks up art, the enemy that lays waste her house. Wildes statements on the topic of and and morality are those of an autonomist, although the subject matter of his own work dealt explicitly with moral issues. His position appears to have been not that literary art cant deal with moral issues as part of its subject matter, but simply that they are irrelevant to

the aesthetic value of the art, and should not influence the audiences, or critics, aesthetic response to the work. An autonomist position such as this is based on a narrow understanding of the aesthetic value of art, which values the way in which the subject matter of such art is represented (which may include formal features and beauty), but not the subject matter itself (which may include moral features). However, autonomism, while purporting to give aesthetic value primacy, neglects many of the potential ways in which art can have aesthetic value. Such a view ignores the fact that certain art forms are culturally embedded, and, as such, are inextricably bound up with important social values, such as moral value. Noel Carroll explains the appeal of radical autonomism with reference to the common denominator argument; that is, the argument that it is only those features common to all art that are the essential defining features of art, and it is only these features that should properly be regarded as being within the realm of the aesthetic. (See Moderate Moralism, BJA, 36:3, 1996) As Carroll points out, the fact that radical autonomists have a ready answer to the questions What are the unique and essential features common to all art? or What are the defining features of art? is a central reason for the appeal of their position. This feature of autonomism appears to provide a straightforward way of distinguishing art from non-art, as well as providing specific grounds upon which to defend the objectivity of aesthetic value. A further reason autonomism initially seems intuitive is that it is difficult to see how moral considerations could be pertinent across whole art forms, such as music, and abstract art of various kinds.(p. 226) The above reasons make radical autonomism an attractive position, but its narrow construal of the aesthetic is too narrow to adequately account for the aesthetic value of certain art forms, or particular artworks. Besides, as was discussed earlier, attempting to define art in terms of essential criteria common to all artworks is not a promising strategy; the nature of art defies such restrictions. Carroll argues that we can challenge [the radical autonomist's] appeal to the nature of art with appeals to the natures of specific art forms or genres which, given what they are, warrant at least additional criteria of evaluation to supplement whatever the autonomist claims is the common denominator of aesthetic evaluation. (p. 227) What Carroll specifically has in mind is the role our moral understanding plays in our appreciation of narrative art. Carroll claims that narrative artworks are always incomplete, and that a certain amount of information has to be filled in by the reader or audience in order to make the work intelligible. This includes information which must be supplied by our moral understanding. He says: it is vastly improbable that there could be any substantial narrative of human affairs, especially a narrative artwork, that did not rely upon activating the moral powers of readers, viewers and listeners. Even modernist novels that appear to eschew morality typically do so in order to challenge bourgeois morality and to enlist the reader in sharing their ethical disdain for it. (p. 228) Examples of works which require the input of our moral understanding in order to make the narrative intelligible include Jane Austins Emma, George Elliots Middlemarch, and (ironically) Oscar Wildes The Picture of Dorian Gray.

3. Moderate Autonomism and Moderate Moralism


a. Moderate Autonomism

Moderate autonomism, defended by J. Anderson and J. Dean, is a more plausible position than radical autonomism; it recognises that moral merits or defects can feature in the content of certain art forms and that sometimes moral judgments of artworks are pertinent. However, moderate autonomism is still an autonomist position in the sense that it maintains that the aesthetic value and the moral value of artworks are autonomous. According to moderate autonomism: an artwork will never be aesthetically better in virtue of its moral strengths, and will never be worse because of its moral defects. / On a strict reading of moderate autonomism, one of its decisive claims is that defective moral understanding never counts against the aesthetic merit of a work. An artwork may invite an audience to entertain a defective moral perspective and this will not detract from its aesthetic value.(Carroll, 1996, p. 232) It is this central claim that both Carroll and Gaut argue against.

b. Moderate Moralism
Moderate autonomism stands in opposition to Moderate moralism: [Moderate moralism] contends that some works of art may be evaluated morally (contra radical autonomism) and that sometimes the moral defects and/or merits of a work may figure in the aesthetic evaluation of the work. (p. 236) The crucial difference between moderate autonomism and moderate moralism, then, is that while both agree that moral judgments can be legitimately made about certain artworks, moderate moralists contend that sometimes such judgments are aesthetic evaluations, while moderate autonomists hold that moral judgments about works of art are always outside the realm of the aesthetic. On the one hand, Anderson and Dean say, some of the knowledge that art brings home to us may be moral knowledge. All this is granted when we agree that art is properly subject to moral evaluation. But why is this value aesthetic value? (Anderson & Dean p. 160) On the other hand, Carroll says, Moderate autonomists overlook the degree to which moral presuppositions play a structural role in the design of many artworks.(Carroll 1996 p. 233) Carroll does not suggest that this is the only way in which moral features may contribute to a works aesthetic value; a more general account of this is described in the following section.

c. Moderate Autonomism vs Moderate Moralism


What is really at issue in the debate over ethical criticism is how broadly we define the aesthetic. But this is not simply arbitrary what in fact are the boundaries of the aesthetic? Carroll aims to show, with reference to specific examples, that there are actual cases where a narrow construal of the aesthetic, such as the one adopted by moderate autonomists, is an inadequate way of understanding that works aesthetic value, and an inadequate way of understanding how we appreciate such artworks qua artworks. Even if moderate moralism is not the best way to explain the moral value of narrative artworks, Carroll is wise to turn to critical analysis of actual examples to support his argument, for this is where we can most clearly see the problems with moderate autonomism. The central argument for moderate moralism (hereafter MM) is described as the Common Reason Argument. Having first argued that many narrative artworks are incomplete in ways that require us to use our moral understanding in order to comprehend the work, Carroll then argues, with reference to examples, that because of this fact about narrative artworks, it is sometimes the case that a moral defect in a work will also be an aesthetic defect since it prevents us from fully

engaging with that work. In other words, Carroll argues that in some cases the reason a work is morally flawed is the same reason the work is aesthetically flawed, and so in these cases the judgment that the work is morally flawed is also an aesthetic evaluation of that work. (Anderson & Dean, 1998, pp. 156-7) Mary Devereauxs analysis ofTriumph of the Will provides an excellent example of this. (See her article Beauty and Evil in Levinson,Aesthetics & Ethics, 1998). According to Devereaux, Triumph of the Will is morally problematic because it presents the Nazi regime as appealing. Although a morally sensitive audience might be able to appreciate some of the formal features exhibited in the film, such as the innovative camera work, such an audience would be unable to fully engage with the film due to an inability to accept the films central vision, that is, the glorification of Hitler and the Nazi regime. If the audience is unable to fully engage with the films central vision, this, according to Carrolls MM, will count as an aesthetic defect in the film (because the magnitude of our aesthetic experience will be limited by our inability to fully engage with the films central theme). So, the very feature that makes the film morally defective is also one of most significant aesthetic defects in the film. Hence, the moral defectiveness and the aesthetic defectiveness are due to a common reason in this particular case. In their argument against MM, Anderson and Dean construct two arguments, a moral defect argument and an aesthetic defect argument, which, together, they take to represent the common reason argument. The two arguments are presented as follows: The Moral Defect Argument 1. The perspective of the work in question is immoral. 2. Therefore, the work invites us to share [this morally] defective perspective (In one case we are invited to find an evil person sympathetic; in the other case, we are invited to find gruesome acts humorous.) 3. Any work which invites us to share a morally defective perspective is, itself, morally defective. 4. Therefore, the work in question is morally defective The Aesthetic Defect Argument 1. The perspective of the work in question is immoral. 2. The immorality portrayed subverts the possibility of uptake. (In the case of the tragedy, the response of pity is precluded; in the case of the satire the savouring of parody is precluded.) 3. Any work which subverts its own genre is aesthetically defective. 4. Therefore, the work in question is aesthetically defective. (pp. 156-7) Anderson and Dean focus their objection to MM on the fact that the one premise the moral defect argument and the aesthetic defect argument share (1) is not sufficient to establish either moral defectiveness or aesthetic defectiveness.(p. 157) This may be so, but Carroll responds to this by pointing out the common reason doesnt need to be a sufficient reason. There may be other reasons that contribute to both the aesthetic evaluation and the moral evaluation of artworks, but in some cases these two groups of reasons overlap; where a reason is common to

both groups, and is a central, if not sufficient, reason for both the conclusion that a work is morally defective, and the conclusion that the work is aesthetically defective. As Carroll puts it in his response to Anderson and Dean: But why suppose that the relevant sense of reason here is sufficient reason? Admittedly a number of factors will contribute to the moral defectiveness and the aesthetic defectiveness of the work in question. The moderate moralist need only contend that among the complex of factors that account for the moral defectiveness of the artwork in question, on the one hand, and the complex of factors that explain the aesthetic defectiveness of the artwork, on the other hand, the evil perspective of the artwork will play a central, though perhaps not sufficient, explanatory role in both. (Carroll, 1998a, p423) Carrolls response to Anderson and Deans objection is convincing. There seems no reason to object to MM simply because the common reason shared the aesthetic defect argument and the moral defect argument is not a sufficient reason in either case. Anderson and Dean eschew specific examples in their defense of MA, saying: because of the complexity of particular cases, we have taken pains not to rest our case on the examination of them. (A&D, 1998, p. 164). Since MM holds that moral judgments about artworks can be aesthetic evaluations in some cases, it is only necessary to show that the reason a work is morally defective is the same as the reason that work is aesthetically defective in a few actual cases in order to support MM. Carroll does give us some convincing examples, and Anderson and Dean do not show why Carroll is wrong in these particular cases. Given that there are at least some cases, such as Devereauxs analysis of Triumph of the Will, in which it has been convincingly shown that the reason a work is morally meritorious or defective is the same reason that work is aesthetically meritorious or defective, it follows that moderate autonomism is false.

4. Moderate Moralism and Ethicism


a. Distinguishing Moderate Moralism from Ethicism
As previously mentioned, moderate moralism holds that: some works of art may be evaluated morally (contra radical autonomism) and that sometimes themoral defects and/or merits of a work may figure in the aesthetic evaluation of the work. (Carroll, 1996, p. 236, my italics) Ethicism holds that: the ethical assessment of attitudes manifested by works of art is a legitimate aspect of the aesthetic evaluation of those works, such that, if a work manifests ethically reprehensible attitudes, it is to that extent aesthetically defective, and if a work manifest ethically commendable attitudes, it is to that extent aesthetically meritorious. (See Berys Gauts The Ethical Criticism of Art in Levinson, 1998, p. 182) Anderson and Dean claim that MM and ethicism are similar, if not identical (A&D, 1998, p. 157). They must mean that the positions are similar or identical in terms of scope, since Carroll and Gauts arguments clearly differ in detail. However, they are incorrect about this. The inclusion of sometimes in Carrolls statement of his position indicates that MM is a weaker position than ethicism since there is no such qualification in Gauts statement of ethicism. As Carroll himself says, in his reply to Anderson and Dean: my case is more limited in scope

than Gauts. Gaut seems willing to consider virtually every moral defect in a work of art an aesthetic defect, whereas I defend a far weaker claim namely that sometimes a moral defect in an artwork can count as an aesthetic defect (Carroll, 1998a p. 419) If we look at Gauts arguments for ethicism, it is clear how ethicism differs from MM in scope, as well as simply in detail. The argument for ethicism runs as follows (this is taken directly from The Ethical Criticism of Art, but I have numbered each step in the argument): 1. A works manifestation of an attitude is a matter of the works prescribing certain responses toward the events described. 2. If those responses are unmerited, because unethical, we have reason not to respond in the way prescribed. 3. Our having reason not to respond in the way prescribed is a failure of the work. 4. What responses the work prescribes is of aesthetic relevance. 5. So the fact that we have reason not to respond in the way prescribed is an aesthetic failure of the work, that is to say, is an aesthetic defect. 6. So a works manifestation of ethically bad attitudes is an aesthetic defect in it. 7. Mutatis mutandis, a parallel argument shows that a works manifestation of ethically commendable attitudes is an aesthetic merit in it, since we have reason to adopt a prescribed response that is ethically commendable. 8. So Ethicism is true. (Gaut, in Levinson, 2000, pp. 195-6) Notice that this argument, in particular step (2), commit Gaut to the thesis that whenever a narrative artwork displays moral features, either merits or defects, these will always impact on the aesthetic value of that work to some degree. Certain flaws in Gauts argument have been identified by Anderson and Dean and by Carroll. The most significant of these will be examined a little later. Early in his article, Gaut explicitly outlines the scope of ethicism. It is important to note that ethicism does not entail the casual thesis that good art ethically improves people, nor the reverse claim; that bad art corrupts.(p. 184) Gaut describes the ethicist principle [as] a pro tanto one: it holds that a work is aesthetically meritorious (or defective) insofar as it manifests ethically admirable (or reprehensible) attitudes. (The claim could also be put like this: manifesting ethically admirable attitudes counts towardthe aesthetic merit of a work, and manifesting ethically reprehensible attitudes counts against its aesthetic merit.) (p. 182) There is an additional qualification, that, the ethicist does not hold that manifesting ethically commendable attitudes is a necessary condition for a work to be aesthetically good: there can be good, even great, works of art that are ethically flawed. . . .Nor does the ethicist thesis hold that manifesting ethically good attitudes is a sufficient condition for a work to be aesthetically good. (pp. 182-3) Gaut explains that the ethicist can deny these necessity and sufficiency claims, because she holds that there are a plurality of aesthetic values, of which the ethical values of artworks are but a single kind, and he suggests we need to make an all-things-considered judgment, balancing these aesthetic merits and demerits against one another to determine whether the work is, all things considered, good.(p. 183) It is these features of ethicism its recognition of a plurality of aesthetic qualities of which moral features are one kind and its commitment to an all-things-considered judgment of aesthetic value which make ethicism a

better way of understanding how the moral features of artworks impact on their aesthetic value than MM. Ethicism does not claim that every artwork, or even every narrative artwork, does contain moral features, only that when they do, these impact on the aesthetic value of the works to some extent. As previously noted, not only do the arguments for MM and ethicism differ in scope, but they also differ in detail; and in the detail of each arguments there are possible flaws. A possible difficulty with MM a difficulty that Oliver Conolly identifies lies in its reliance on the notion of anideal, or morally sensitive audience the normative element in MM. (See Conolly, Ethicism & Moderate Moralism, BJA, 40:3, 2000) Carroll wants to make clear that his ideal sensitive viewer is not one who simply makes whatever the work has to offer inaccessible to himself because it at first offends their moral sensibilities. He explains that the reluctance that the moderate moralist has in mind is not that the ideally sensitive audience member voluntarily puts on the brakes; rather, it is that he cant depress the accelerator because it is jammed. He tries, but fails. And he fails because there is something wrong with the structure of the artwork. It has not been designed properly on its own terms. (Carroll, 2000, p. 378) This appears to avoid the objection that morally sensitive audiences will simply impose their own moral views on artworks. However, even with this clarification, the notion of anideal or, morally sensitive, audience still seems problematic.

b. Ethicism vs Moderate Moralism


Conolly suggests that there are four possible interpretations of MM; Optimistic Instrumental MM, Ideal-Spectator Instrumental MM, Standard Instrumental MM and Standard Intrinsic MM. According to Optimistic Instrumental MM, moral virtues always happen to lead to greater audience-absorption, owing to a uniformly moral audience.(Conolly, 2000, p. 308) This interpretation of MM is not only far too optimistic, but also explicitly rejected by Carroll, who distinguishes his morally sensitive audiences from actual audiences, saying, sometimes actual audiences may fail to be deterred by a moral defect in a work because, given the circumstances, they are not as morally sensitive as they should be(Carroll, 2000 p. 378) He gives the example of an audience during the midst of war. This clarification also avoids the problem of explaining the moral and aesthetic value of artworks simply in terms of popular opinion. Hence, the appeal to the normative notion of an ideal audience, rather than actual audiences avoids relativism. However, Conolly points out that MMs reliance on this normative element leads to a collapse of MM into ethicism. According to Ideal Spectator MM, [i]f only ideally moral audiences count, then it follows that all moral virtues / defects are also aesthetic virtues / defects. (Conolly, 2000, p. 306) Conolly explains that [t]his is because morally sensitive audiences will always react favourably to moral virtue and unfavourably to moral vice. That, one takes it, is what makes them morally sensitive.(p. 306) Conolly goes on to argue that the two other possible interpretations of MM are wrong, but I will not follow him there. The central point is that, to the extent that it relies on the notion of the ideal audience, MM collapses into ethicism, because in actual fact moral features (merits or defects) will always be aesthetic features also (merits or defects). However, it should be noted that MMs reliance on ideal or morally sensitive audiences means that Carroll doesnt specify particular criteria upon which to

base judgments about the moral defectiveness or moral virtue of artworks, but his position is compatible with such criteria, which would render the ideal audience redundant. However, although there are valuable aspects to MM in particular, the common reason argument has its merits it nevertheless seems more plausible to claim, as the ethicist does, that the moral features of narrative artworks are always aesthetically relevant, i.e. they are always also aesthetic features in the sense that they impact to some degree on the overall aesthetic value of those works. One reason for this is that since MM states that moral features will only sometimes also be aesthetic features, there must be some moral features of artworks that are not aesthetically relevant, whereas no such category is required by ethicism. Carroll never explains what would distinguish a case in which moral features were aesthetically relevant from a case in which they werent it seems only to be a question of degree and I suggest that it makes more sense to simply say that moral features can impact on aesthetic value to varying degrees. I have previously mentioned that MM is more limited in scope than ethicism. Although he is not unsympathetic to Gauts view, Carroll attempts to show that ethicism is harder to defend than MM. Carroll claims that there is a problem with what exactly is built into the notion of an unmerited response. He says that according to ethicism [a]ll immoral responses are alleged to be unmerited in a way that is relevant to aesthetic response.(Carroll, 2000 p. 375) But Carroll questions this assumption by drawing an analogy with immoral humour. He argues: if the ethicist means by unmerited unwarranted, then the claim with respect to artworks that all prescribed, though immoral, responses are unmerited is false, since, like a joke, the structure and content of an artwork may warrant a prescribed response that is immoral. On the other hand, if the ethicist protests that by (aesthetically) unmerited he means to include morally unmerited, then he can be charged with begging the question.(p. 376) So, Carroll concludes, the merited response argument can be criticised on the grounds that not all ethically unmerited responses to artworks are unmerited aesthetically.(p. 376) This objection can be challenged on Carrolls own terms, since ideally moral audiences presumably would not find an immoral joke (for instance a racist joke) amusing, any more than they would find Triumph of the Will engaging, it can also be challenged on the grounds that laughing at a joke is not the same thing as judging an artwork to have high aesthetic value. Sometimes we laugh at bad jokes, such as pathetic puns, even while we recognise them as such. Likewise, we might be entertained by a bad film, such as Revenge of the Killer Tomatoes or Girl On a Motorcycle, or other such cult films, while recognising it as such all the while.

5. The Causal Thesis


While much of the recent research on ethical criticism has wrangled over what should and should not count as an aesthetic feature, a more commonplace concern about literary, or narrative, art and morality would be concerned with the possible effects those works might have on their audiences. For example, the popular Ben Elton novel Popcorn is a black comedy dealing with the issue of the effects of violent films portraying killers as attractive and powerful. However, it is desirable to keep causal claims about the harmful or edifying effects of art at a distance when discussing the aesthetic relevance of the moral features of literary artworks. One of the main objections to ethical criticism made by radical autonomists is the anti-consequentialist objection that there is no evidence for causal claims about either the harmful or edifying effects of art.

However, this objection assumes that ethical criticism is consequentialist, whereas it neednt be at all. (A consequentialist version of ethical criticism would hold that the moral value of artworks, or certain artworks, was determined by that works actual effects on its audience. An expectational-consequentialist version of ethical criticism would hold that the moral value of art is determined by its likely effects on its audience.) If one rejects a consequentialist, or expectational-consequentialist, account of the moral value of art, then consideration of the effects (actual or likely) of literary artworks is a only matter for further consideration once the question of a works moral status has been decided; it is not relevant to the judgment of that works moral status. More work could certainly be done on the effects of artworks, however it is an area where empirical research would be required, and this is another reason causal claims have not figured highly in recent work on ethical criticism, although it should be mentioned that there is an imbalance is the extent to which positive and negative causal claims about the effects of narrative art have featured in this research. Hence, it comes as no surprise that many of those who attempt to defend ethical criticism distance themselves from the causal thesis that morally bad art corrupts, and its counterpart, that art with high moral value morally improves its audience. Although most advocates of ethical criticism successfully avoid the negative causal thesis that bad art corrupts, many do in fact defend a version of the positive causal thesis that good art morally improves its audience. Thus, the negative thesis is avoided more assiduously than the positive, and the positive causal thesis has been more thoroughly developed. I think there are two main reasons for this. The first is that the negative thesis is not only more difficult to prove conceptually, but work in this area leads to fears about censorship of works deemed harmful. As discussed later, this fear need not preclude research on the negative effects of artworks, as the discovery that a work can have negative, or even harmful, effects on its audience does not necessarily entail that it should be censored. Another reason for the imbalance between the two sides of the causal thesis is that the positive causal thesis is more obviously relevant to discussions of the role, and value, of art in society. It should be remembered that both the positive and negative sides of the causal thesis comprise a set of claims varying in degree. The strongest causal claims about art would be that bad art always corrupts its audience, while good art always brings about moral improvement; but any thesis this strong is intuitively implausible, and would be difficult to prove. The theses that bad art has the capacity to encourage immoral behaviour or attitudes in its audience, and that good art has the capacity to play an important role in our moral education (with the implication that these capacities may go unrealised) are rather more plausible. Martha Nussbaum has been the strongest advocate of the latter, while the former has not, to my knowledge, yet been fully explored. The following sub-section considers Nussbaums contribution to the ethical criticism debate, in particular with respect to the role that realist literature can play in moral education.

a. Literature and Moral Education


The Ethical Criticism Symposium, is a debate which took place, mostly within two issues of Philosophy and Literature, (Volumes 21-22) between Richard Posner on the one hand, who argued vehemently against the legitimacy of ethical criticism, and Martha Nussbaum and Wayne Booth on the other, who defended ethical criticism. Posner has already been introduced, and identified as at least a radical autonomist, and probably an extreme autonomist / aestheticist, or

in other words, an aesthete. Against those who engage in ethical criticism, with a particular focus on Martha Nussbaum and Wayne Booth, Posner employs three of the most common objections to ethical criticism: autonomism / aestheticism, cognitive triviality and anti-consequentialism. However, Posners arguments rely on a narrow understanding of the ways in which literature can manifest moral features, and I will argue here that a broader moral context, such as that explicated in Nussbaums work on morality and literature, makes her claims about the moral value of literature plausible. Posners narrow understanding of moral knowledge and moral education mean that his criticisms of Nussbaum miss their mark. Nussbaum could be described as a moderate moralist (although her position is also compatible with ethicism) for although she never explicitly argues for MM, she makes two claims in her article Exactly and Responsibly: A Defense of Ethical criticism, in which her views are strikingly similar to Carrolls Common Reason Argument:
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Consider Booths marvelous critique of Peter Benchleys novel Jaws Booth records his critique as a moral evaluation of Benchley. But isnt it just these features of the text its superficiality, its human barrenness, its formulaic use of persons as objects that one would mention in an aesthetic critique? I suggest that in general and for the most part, and only where novels are concerned, we find aesthetically pleasing only works that treat human beings as humans and not just animals or objects, that contain what I have called respect before the soul. But this quality is also moral, so we might say that in the novel aesthetic interest and moral interest are not altogether unrelated. (Nussbaum, 1998, p. 357) Carrolls overview of ethical criticism also suggests some ways of responding to the sort of objections to ethical criticism made by Posner.

Some of the main arguments against radical autonomism were presented earlier, and the position was shown to be an inadequate way of understanding aesthetic value, particularly the aesthetic value of literary art. Nussbaum, however, criticizes Posners autonomist position on more specific grounds, claiming: Nor, it turns out, does Posner himself consistently hold the aesthetic-detachment position. Indeed, the role he imputes to literature in human life is clearly a moral one in my sense . . . Literature, he says, helps us make sense of our lives, helps us to fashion an identity for ourselves. Reading a poem of Donne, he continues, wont persuade someone who never thought about love that love is the most important thing in the world. But it may make you realize that this is what you think, and so may serve to clarify yourself to yourself. That, of course, is what I have been saying all along. (p359) Nussbaum is right to point out the inconsistency. As with the rather ironic quotation, in which Posner provides a moral justification for an extreme aestheticism (see section two), there are times when he uses moral discourse in his analysis of the aesthetic value of a work of literature only he doesnt seem to recognise it as such. There appear to be two main reasons why Posner objects so strongly to ethical criticism, and especially to Nussbaums employment of it. First, Posners understanding of ethics is very much a traditional justice ethics, and thus he is already at odds with Nussbaum, whos understanding of ethics is somewhat broader. She says:

One can think of works of art which can be contemplated reasonably well without asking any urgent questions about how one should live. Abstract formalist paintings are sometimes of this character, and some intricate but non-programmatic works of music (though by no means all). But it seems highly unlikely that a responsive reading of any complex literary work is utterly detached from concerns about time and death, about pain and the transcendence of pain, and so on all the material of how one should live questions as I have conceived it. Thus, even with regard to works I dont talk about at all poetic dramas, lyric poems, novels by novelists very different from Dickens and James the aesthetic-detachment thesis is implausible if we use ethical and moral in the broad sense that I have consistently and explicitly given it. (Nussbaum, 1998, p. 358) Nussbaums understanding of morality is informed not only by Aristotle, but also by Iris Murdochs work, and by the insights of feminist moral philosophy. Nussbaums main concern is with moral philosophy, and her interest in ethical criticism appears to stem from the desire to show the value and usefulness of a particular selection of literature to moral philosophy, and to the development of important moral skills. Thus, her perspective on ethical criticism differs from that of anyone who is approaching the topic with a central focus on aesthetics. However, Nussbaum recognises that literature can have many different purposes (1998 p. 347); she is merely pursuing one avenue. Among her responses to Posners criticisms, she makes explicit her specific purposes in the two books to which he refers: Posners attack is directed at two very different works: Loves Knowledge, where my primary concern is with moral philosophy, and with the claim that moral philosophy needs certain carefully selected works of narrative literature in order to pursue its own task in a complete way; and Poetic Justice, where my concern is with the conduct of public deliberations in democracy, and where my claim is that literature of a carefully specified sort can offer valuable assistance to such deliberations by both cultivating and reinforcing valuable moral abilities. In neither work do I make any general claims about literature as such; indeed, I explicitly eschew such claims in both works, and I insist that my argument is confined to a narrow group of pre-selected works . . . (1998 p. 346) Nussbaum goes so far as to say that is her contention that, certain novels are, irreplaceably, works of moral philosophy. But I shall go further the novel can be a paradigm of moral activity. (1987 p. 170) Nussbaums central purposes for her selected literature are to demonstrate that this literature has a place amongst moral philosophy, and to argue that such literature has important role in moral education due to its capacity to help develop certain moral abilities. Posner objects to the idea that literature should be used or interpreted as an extension of moral philosophy, and that it can contribute to moral education. There are two main objections; the first is that literature is not a unique or particularly good source of moral knowledge, the second that there is no evidence to suggest that certain literature can morally improve its audience. With reference to the former, Posner argues:

There is neither evidence nor a theoretical reason for a belief that literature provides a straighter path to knowledge about man and society than other sources of such knowledge, including writings in other fields, such as history and science, and interactions with real people. Some people prefer to get their knowledge of human nature from novels, but it doesnt follow that novels are a superior source of such knowledge to life and to the various genres of nonfiction. (Posner, 1997, p. 10) This objection is characteristic of those Carroll describes as arguments from cognitive triviality. (Carroll, 2000, pp. 353-355) The two main claims that make up this objection are; first, that the moral theses associated with artworks are usually in the nature of truisms, which would hardly count as moral discoveries.(Carroll, 2000, p. 354) And secondly, the claim made explicitly by Posner (above), that the knowledge (in this case, moral knowledge), imparted by artworks is not superior to (and some object that it is actually inferior to) that imparted by moral philosophy and the sciences. As Carroll notes, one way of countering this objection: . . . is to claim that the model of knowledge employed by the skeptic is too narrow. The skeptic, albeit encouraged by the apparent practice of many ethical critics, thinks that the knowledge that is relevant to ethical criticism takes the form of propositions propositions such as that hypocrisy is noxious and goes on to say that where such propositions are abstractable from artworks they are generally overwhelmingly trivial. But some ethical critics counter that there are more forms of knowledge than knowledge that. (p. 361) As an alternative to this narrow approach to the way in which literature may be morally informative, Carroll proposes the acquaintance approach as an alternative, which is best summed up in the following paragraph: It is one thing to be told that roadways in Mumbai are massively overcrowded, it is another thing to be given a detailed description full of illustrative incidents, emotively and perceptively portrayed. The first presents the fact: the second suggests the flavour. The first tells you that the streets are congested: the second gives a sense of what that congestion is like. The ethical critic, or at least some ethical critics, then, answer skeptics by first agreeing that the propositional knowledge available in art is often trivial or platitudinous; art is not competitive with science, philosophy, history, or even much journalism in supplying knowledge that. But this is not the only type of knowledge there is. There is also knowledge of what such and such would be like. . . . Moreover, this kind of knowledge is especially relevant for moral reasoning. In entertaining alternative courses of action, there is a place for the imagination. (p. 362) This is a promising strategy, and one that is consistent with Nussbaums views. Nussbaum, again drawing on Henry James, tells us that moral knowledge restricted to propositions would be incomplete, what is needed is a broader understanding of moral knowledge: Moral knowledge, James suggests, is not simply intellectual grasp of propositions; it is not even simply intellectual grasp of particular facts; it is perception, It is seeing a complex, concrete reality in a highly lucid and richly responsive way; it is taking in what is there, with imagination and feeling. (Nussbaum, 1987 p. 174)

Nussbaums views are informed by the views of Iris Murdoch, as well as James, and one of the important features of Murdochs work Nussbaum draws on is the notion that our inner lives, our perceptions, self-awareness and so on, can be moral achievements. Speaking of Maggie, a character in James The Golden Bowl, Nussbaum says, Her perceptions are necessary to her effort to give him up and to preserve his dignity. They are also moral achievements in their own right: expressions of love, protections of the loved, creations of a new and richer bond between them. (p. 175)) The artistic conventions and stylistic devices available to the literary artist make it possible to represent our inner lives in a very full and realistic way, through the engagement of the audiences imaginations. Nussbaum suggests that there are some morally relevant aspects of our inner lives that can only be represented accurately through artistic representation: I have said that these picturings, describings, feelings and communications actions in their own right have a moral value that is not reducible to that of the overt acts they engender. I have begun, on this basis, to build a case for saying that the morally valuable aspects of this exchange [between Maggie and Adam] could not be captured in a summary or paraphrase. Now I shall begin to close the gap between action and description from the other side, showing that a responsible action, as James conceives it, is a highly context-specific and nuanced and responsive thing whose rightness could not be captured in a description that fell short of the artistic. (1987 p. 176) Thus, objections to the idea that literature can play an important role in moral education which are based on claims of cognitive-triviality are based on too narrow an understanding of moral knowledge. As Carroll argues, it is quite plausible to suppose that there are types of moral knowledge other than those which fall within a propositional model. Accounts of morality such as those proposed by Murdoch and Nussbaum, which emphasis the importance of our inner lives, provide obvious morally relevant subject matter, for which artistic representation is a highly appropriate means of communication. However, the causal thesis Nussbaum proposes, that certain literature can help us to develop moral abilities, has not yet been fully defended here. Posner especially objects to the proposal that literature can morally improve its audience. His three main anti-consequentialist objections are; the importance of a good upbringing, literature loving Nazis and English professors who are no more moral than anyone else. (Posner, 1997 pp. 4-5) Nussbaum responds to this by clarifying the scope of her claims about the positive effects of literature, pointing out that: I am fully in agreement with Posner that the phenomenon he designates as empathy is not sufficient to motivate good action; I never suggest that it is, and early in Poetic Justice I insist that empathy is likely to be hooked up with compassion in someone who has had a good early education in childhood, one that teaches concern for others. (Nussbaum, 1998 p. 352) And, with respect to the latter two points: Booth and I are talking about the interaction between novel and mind during the time of reading. We do not claim that this part of ones life invariably dominates, although we do think that if the novels are ethically good it will have a good influence, other things equal; nor do we claim that spending more time reading novels will make it more likely that this part will dominate.

Moreover, reading can only have the good effects we claim for it if one reads with immersion, not just as a painful duty. (1998 p. 353) Having thus clarified that hers is a moderate causal thesis about the possible positive effects of morally commendable literature, as one among many influences, Nussbaums position seems to stand up to Posners objections quite well. She only says that such literature can have morally beneficial effects, not that it will. Posners objections are not good ones; literature may have the capacity to aid in the moral education of those who are already predisposed to learn what literature specifically has to offer, but this does not mean that this capacity will always be realised. A novels full potential may not be realised all that often in ways other than the audiences failure to see its full moral import; the novels fine stylistic features may also go unappreciated by many readers. It now remains to consider the specific ways in which literature may morally educate. Carroll has some suggestions, which he collects under the heading, the cultivation approach. He explains that a further response to a skeptic such as Posner would be to: maintain that the skeptics conception of education is too narrow. For the skeptic, education is the acquisition of insightful propositions about the moral life. For the advocate of the cultivation approach, education may also involve other things, including the honing of ethically relevant skills and powers (such as the capacity for finer perceptual discrimination, the imagination, the emotions, and the overall ability to conduct moral reflection) as well as the exercise and refinement of moral understanding (that is, the improvement and sometimes the expansion of our understanding of the moral precepts and concepts we already possess). As the label for this approach indicates, the educative value of art resides in its potential to cultivate our moral talents. (Carroll, 2000, p. 367) This is clearly in keeping with Nussbaums sentiments regarding the value of literature to moral education. What is required to make this causal thesis plausible is a departure from rigid views of the realms of aesthetics, morality and education. Rather, an account such as Nussbaums, which emphasises those important aspects of moral education which Carroll summarizes above, finds the common ground between ethics, education and literature. It turns out that Posners criticisms of Nussbaums position are based on an understanding of morality, and moral education, which is too narrow. Posners conception of the aesthetic, and the value of art, is also too narrow; so narrow in fact that it misses some of the central reasons why we value literary art. Rather, it may be that the moral value of literary artworks is just one feature among many contributing to their overall aesthetic value, within a broad conception of the aesthetic, such as that proposed by Gauts ethicism. Nussbaum does not discuss what other aesthetic features might be relevant to an all-things-considered judgment of aesthetic value, because it is not relevant to her primary interest. It is true that she takes certain literary works and uses them for a specific purpose which focuses on just one aspect of the whole aesthetic value of those works, but she says in her defense: It is, of course, true that ethical and political considerations have played, and continue to play, a central role in my own literary projects. But one should not infer from this that I believe this is

the only legitimate way of approaching literature any more than one would rightly infer from the fact that a person makes a career of playing the clarinet that this person thinks the flute an instrument not worth playing. . . . In short . . . I am a pluralist about literary approaches, holding that there are many that deserve to be respected and fostered. (1998 p. 347) Certainly this seems a healthy attitude. Respecting approaches to literature which have a specific purpose, such as Nussbaums work on the usefulness of literature to moral philosophy and moral development, can help us gain a more comprehensive understanding of the various reasons for which we value literary art, and the artists who create it.

b. Ethical Criticism and Censorship


Unfortunately, censorship decisions are often seen as being closely linked to judgments about the moral value of art. Censorship which restricts those art and entertainment objects available to us due to the imposition of a strict and rigid moral code is one of the great fears of the radical autonomist. However, the link between the moral value of artworks and censorship is often overemphasised. Although the ability to make judgments about the moral value, or perhaps even the effects of artworks, would sometimes be pertinent to informed, responsible decisions about censorship, judgments about the moral value, or effects, of artworks are neither sufficient nor necessary grounds upon which to base censorship decisions, since there are other relevant, and important, considerations. To begin with, it has been maintained above that to judge a literary artwork as being morally problematic is not equivalent to judging that that work will have, or even could have, a corrupting influence on its audience; claims about the negative moral effects of artworks require a further step. As discussed earlier, causal claims about the effects of artworks, especially negative causal claims, are difficult to prove. But even if it could be shown that a particular artwork had the potential to corrupt audience members, it still does not automatically follow that that work should be censored. There are, of course, issues of rights at stake; for instance the artists right to the freedom of expression, and the (mature) audiences right to make up their own minds about the value of particular works, as opposed to the publics right to be protected from corrupting influences and/or obscenity. There is a large body of literature which deals with the possible effects of pornography on society (this appears to have been researched far more than the possible immoral effects of artworks), on what exactly constitutes obscenity, and on issues of competing rights and responsibilities relevant to censorship. When one reviews the extent of this literature, it becomes clear that there are a great many issues to be considered with respect to censorship, of which the moral value of artworks is but one. In fact, it is possible for partial censorship decisions, that is, restricted access rather than a complete ban, to be made without any reference to a works moral value at all. As discussed earlier, the strong causal thesis that certain artworks will corrupt their audience is implausible, given that at least some audience members may resist the corrupting influence of the artwork, and would be very difficult to prove; empirical as well as conceptual investigation would be required. It seems likely that the most we could be sure of is that a certain artwork had the

potential to corrupt some audience members. The obvious next question is which audience members would be most likely to be affected. This is partly what is behind the film and television classification scheme; a kind of scaled censorship. The criterion here for the recommended restrictions on the audience is simply age. But the possibility that such works might morally corrupt some of their audience is not the only reason for classifying some such works as suitable for only an adult audience. More often the concern is simply that the issues raised by certain films or television programs are issues only a person of a certain age could properly grasp. Some films might be deemed too confusing, too frightening, or too explicit for a young audiences comfort level, for instance, regardless of the moral status of those films. In these cases, a limited censorship is decided largely by judging what is appropriate for certain age groups, and this need not have anything to do with a works moral value. This very brief comment on censorship is only intended to point out that although the ability to make sound moral judgments about artworks is sometimes relevant to censorship decisions, it isnt always, and, furthermore, the judgment that a work is immoral is not sufficient grounds for that work to be censored; there are other pertinent issues to be taken into account. While a thesis such as this one could provide a starting point for further discussion on those censorship decisions which are based on judgments about the moral value of literary artworks, the issue of censorship is a substantial topic, which needs to be dealt with separately from the subject of the moral value of literary art.

6. References and Further Reading


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Anderson, J.C. & Dean, J.T., Moderate Autonomism, British Journal of Aesthetics, (Vol. 38, Issue 2, 1998). o Defends moderate autonomism, arguing against both moderate moralism and ethicism. Beardsley, M.C., Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism, (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1958). o Considers some of the main issues in philsophical aesthetics. Beardsmore, R.W., Art & Morality, (London: Macmillan, 1971). o This book covers the more traditional positions on the ethical criticism of art. Bell, C., Significant Form, (1914) in J. Hospers (ed.), Introductory Readings in Aesthetics, (N.Y.: The Free Press, 1969). o An argument for a narrow version of formalism with respect to the evaluation of art. Booth, W., Why Banning Ethical Criticism is a Serious Mistake, Philosophy and Literature, (Vol. 22, 1998). o A defence of the practice of the ethical criticism of art; particularly targetting Posners arguments against it. Carroll, N., Moderate Moralism, British Journal of Aesthetics, (Vol. 36, No. 3, 1996). o Introduces and defines the positions moderate autonomism and moderate moralism, defending the latter against any form of autonomism. Carroll, N., Moderate Moralism versus Moderate Autonomism, British Journal of Aesthetics, (Vol. 38, Issue 4, 1998a).

A further defence of moderate moralism against objections from moderate autonomists, J.C. Anderson and J.T. Dean. Carroll, N., Art, Narrative and Moral Understanding, in Levinson, J. (ed.), Aesthetics and Ethics, (Cambridge: CUP, 1998b). o An argument for the leitimacy of the ethical criticism of narrative froms of art. Carroll, N., Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions of Research, Ethics, (Vol. 110, 2000). o Explains the three main forms of objection to ethical criticism autonomism, cognitive triviality and anti-consequentialism and attempts to answer each of these objections, defnding moderate moralism. Conolly, O., Ethicism and Moderate Moralism, British Journal of Aesthetics, (Vol. 40, Issue 3), 2000. o Considers some possible interpretations of moderate moralism, compares moderate moralism with ethicism and defends ethicism as the more plausible of the two positions Devereaux, M., Beauty and Evil: the case of Leni Riefensthals Triumph of the Will, in J. Levinson (ed.), Aesthetics and Ethics, (Cambridge: CUP, 1998). o Gives a detailed analysis of the morally problematic film Triumph of the Will, and through this analysis argues that formalism and sophisticated formalism are inadequate ways of responding to such a film. Gaut, B., The Ethical Criticism of Art, in Levinson, J. (ed.), Aesthetics and Ethics, (Cambridge: CUP, 1998). o Proposes a new position with respect to the ethical criticism of art, ethicism, which argues for an all-things-considered evaluation of aesthetic value which takes into account any moral merits or defects exhibited by an artwork. Kieran, M., In Defence of the Ethical Evaluation of Art, British Journal of Aesthetics, (Vol. 41, Issue 1, 2001). o Argues for an ammendment to Carrolls moderate moralism, called most moderate moralism, which focusses on the intelligibility of artworks. Levinson, J. (ed.), Aesthetics & Ethics, (Cambridge: CUP, 1998). o A selection of essays at the interesection of ethics and aesthetics, most of the essays dealing with ethical issues in narrative art. Nussbaum, M., Exactly and Responsibly: A Defense of Ethical Criticism, Philosophy and Literature, (Vol. 22, 1998). o A defense of the practice of ethical criticism; in particular a defense of Nussbaums thesis that certain works of literature potentially play an important supplementary role in moral education. Nussbaum, M., Finely Aware and Richly Responsible: Literature and the Moral Imagination, in Cascardi, A.J. (ed.), Literature and the Question of Philosophy, (Baltimore and London: The John Hopkins University Press, 1987). o Explains the view described above with detailed reference to the novels of Henry James. Posner, R., Against Ethical Criticism, Philosophy and Literature, (Vol. 21, 1997). o Argues against the practice of ethical criticism on the grounds of autonomism, cognitive triviality and anti-consequentialism.
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Posner, R., Against Ethical Criticism: Part Two, Philosophy and Literature, (Vol. 22:2, 1998). o Responds to Nussbaum and Booths defence of ethical criticism against Posners original article. Stow, S., Unbecoming Virulence: The Politics of the Ethical Criticism Debate, Philosophy and Literature, (Vol. 24, 2000). o Suggests ways in which the debate between Posner, Nussbaum and Booth over the ethical criticism of art was heavily influenced by their respective political differences. Tolstoy, L., What Is Art? (London: Bristol Classical Press, 1994). o For the purposes of this subject, the significant aspect of Tolstoys book is his emphasis on the moral import of art in society as essential to the (aesthetic) value of that art. Tolstoy is a radical moralist with respect to the ethical criticism of art. Wilde, O., The Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray, in Wilde, O., Plays, Prose Writings and Poems, (London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1975). o In the preface to his, ironically, very moral story, Wilde claims that the moral merits or defects of art should in no way influence its aesthetic evaluation.

Author Information
Ella Peek Email: ella@cyllene.uwa.edu.au

Anatomy of Criticism
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1st edition

Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays (Princeton University Press, 1957) attempts to formulate an overall view of the scope, theory, principles, and techniques of literary criticism derived exclusively from literature. Frye consciously omits all specific and practical criticism, instead offering classically-inspired theories of modes, symbols, myths and genres, in what he termed "an interconnected group of suggestions." The literary approach proposed by Frye in Anatomy was highly influential in the decades before deconstructivist criticism and other expressions of postmodernism.[1] Frye's four essays are sandwiched between a "Polemical Introduction" and a "Tentative Conclusion." The four essays are titled "Historical Criticism: A Theory of Modes", "Ethical Criticism: a Theory of Symbols", "Archetypal Criticism: A Theory of myths", and "Rhetorical Criticism: A Theory of Genres."

Herman Northrop Frye's

Contents
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1 Polemical Introduction 2 First essay - Historical Criticism: Theory of Modes 3 Second essay - Ethical Criticism: Theory of Symbols 4 Third essay - Archetypal Criticism: Theory of Myths 5 Fourth essay - Rhetorical Criticism: Theory of Genres 6 Miscellaneous

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7 Notes 8 References 9 External links 10 See also

[edit] Polemical Introduction


The purpose of the introduction is to defend the need for literary criticism, to distinguish the nature of genuine literary criticism from other forms of criticism, and to clarify the difference between direct experience of literature and the systematic study of literary criticism. There are a number of reasons why the introduction is labeled as a 'polemic'. In defending the need for literary criticism, Frye opposes a notion common to Tolstoy and Romantic thought that 'natural taste' is superior to scholarly learning (and by extension, criticism). Frye also accuses a number of methods of criticism (e.g. Marxist, Freudian, Jungian, Neo-classical, etc.) as being embodiments of the deterministic fallacy. He is not opposed to these ideologies in particular, but sees the application of any external, ready-made ideology to literature as a departure from genuine criticism. This results in subjecting a work of literature to an individual's pet philosophy and an elevation or demotion of authors according to their conformity to the pet philosophy. Another point is to distinguish the difference between personal taste and genuine criticism. Personal taste is too easily swayed by the prevailing morals, values and tastes of the critic's society at that point in history. If taste succumbs entirely to such social forces, the result is the same as that of consciously adopting an external ideology described above. Yet even if there is a consensus among critics that the works of John Milton are more fruitful than R. D. Blackmore (to use Frye's example), a critic contributes little by saying so. In other words, value judgments contribute little to meaningful criticism. In place of meaningless criticism, Frye proposes a genuine literary criticism which draws its method from the body of literature itself. Literary criticism ought to be a systematic study of works of literature, just as physics is of nature and history is of human action. Frye makes the explicit assumption that in order for systematic study to be possible, the body of literature must already possess a systematic nature. Frye claims that we know very little about this system as yet and that the systematic study of literature has progressed little since Aristotle. Frye concludes his introduction by addressing the weaknesses of his argument. He mentions that the introduction is a polemic, but written in first person to acknowledge the individual nature of his views. He concedes that the following essays can only give a preliminary, and likely inexact, glimpse of the system of literature. He admits to making sweeping generalities that will often prove false in light of particular examples. Finally, he stresses that while many feel an "emotional repugnance" to schematization of poetry, the schematization should be regarded as an aspect of criticism, not the vibrant, personal, direct experience of the work itselfmuch as the geologist turns away from his or her systematic work to enjoy the beauty of the mountains.

[edit] First essay - Historical Criticism: Theory of Modes


Frye's systemization of literature begins with three aspects of poetry given by Aristotle in his Poetics: mythos (plot), ethos (characterization/setting), and dianoia (theme/idea). Frye sees works of literature as lying somewhere on a continuum between being plot driven, as in most fiction, and idea driven, as in essays and lyrical poetry. The First essay begins by exploring the different aspects of fiction (subdivided into tragic and comic) in each mode and ends with a similar discussion of thematic literature.
Fictional and Thematic Types by Mode

Frye divides his study of tragic, comic, and Mythic Romantic High Mimetic Low Mimetic Ironic thematic literature into five "modes", each scapegoat Tragic dionysiac elegiac classic tragedy pathos identified with a specific literary epoch: mythic, romantic, high aristophanic Menandic sadism Comic apollonian idyllic mimetic, low mimetic, and ironic. This individualism discontinuity Thematic scripture chronicle nationalism categorization is a representation of ethos, or characterization and relates to how the protagonist is portrayed in respect to the rest of humanity and the protagonist's environment. Frye suggests that Classical civilizations progressed historically through the development of these modes, and that something similar happened in Western civilization during medieval and modern times. He speculates that contemporary fiction may be undergoing a return to myth, completing a full circle through the five modes. Frye argues that when irony is pushed to extremes, it returns to the mode of myth; this concept of the recursion of historical cycles is familiar from Giambattista Vico and Oswald Spengler.[2] Tragedy is concerned with the hero's separation from society.
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Mythic tragedy deals with the death of gods. Romantic tragedy features elegies mourning the death of heroes such as Arthur or Beowulf. High mimetic tragedy presents the death of a noble human such as Othello or Oedipus. Low mimetic tragedy shows the death or sacrifice of an ordinary human being and evokes pathos, as with Thomas Hardy's Tess or Henry James's Daisy Miller. The ironic mode often shows the death or suffering of a protagonist who is both weak and pitiful compared to the rest of humanity and the protagonist's environment; Franz Kafka's works provide many examples of such. At other times, the protagonist is not necessarily weaker than the average person yet suffers severe persecution at the hands of a deranged society. Nathaniel Hawthorne's Hester Prynne, Hardy's Tess, and the sentencing of Jesus Christ exemplify this treatment.

Comedy is concerned with integration of society.

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Mythic comedy deals with acceptance into the society of gods, often through a number of trials as with Hercules or through salvation or assumption as in the Bible. In romantic comic modes, the setting is pastoral or idyllic, and there is an integration of the hero with an idealized simplified form of nature. High mimetic comedy involves a strong central protagonist who constructs his or her own society by brute force, fending off all opposition until the protagonist ends up with all honor and riches due him or her the plays of Aristophanes or something like Shakespeare's Prospero are examples. Low mimetic comedy often shows the social elevation of the hero or heroine and often ends in marriage. Ironic comedy is perhaps more difficult, and Frye devotes a good deal more space to this than the other comedic modes. At one extreme, ironic comedy borders on savagery, the inflicting of pain on a helpless victim. Some examples of this include tales of lynch mobs, murder mysteries, or human sacrifice. Yet ironic comedy may also offer biting satire of a society replete with snobbery. It may even depict a protagonist rejected by society (thus failing the typical comic reintegration) yet who appears wiser than the rejecting society. Aristophanes, Ben Jonson, Molire, Henry Fielding, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Graham Greene offer examples of the wide range of ironic comic possibility.

Finally, Frye explores the nature of thematic literature in each mode. Here, the intellectual content is more important than the plot, so these modes are organized by what is considered more authoritative or educational at the time. Also, these modes tend to organize by societal structure.
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In the mythical mode Scripture, literature claiming divine inspiration, is prevalent. In the romantic, the gods have retreated to the sky and it is up to chroniclers in a nomadic society to remember the lists of names of the patriarchs, the proverbs, traditions, charms, deeds, etc. In the high mimetic mode society is structured around a capital city, and "national" epics such as The Faerie Queene and The Lusiad are typical. In the low mimetic, thematic exposition tends toward individualism and romanticism. The individual author's own thoughts and ideas are now the center of authority, as instanced by William Wordsworth's Prelude. Finally, in the ironic mode, the poet figures as a mere observer rather than an authoritative commentator, producing writing that tends to emphasize discontinuity and anti-epiphany. T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land and James Joyce's Finnegans Wake exemplify this thematic mode.

[edit] Second essay - Ethical Criticism: Theory of Symbols


Now that Frye has established his theory of modes, he proposes five levels, or phases, of symbolism, each phase independently possessing its own mythos, ethos, and dianoia as laid out in the first essay. These phases are based on the four levels of medieval allegory (the first two phases constituting the first level). Also, Frye relates the five phases with the ages of man laid out in the first essay. It is important to note Frye's definition of a literary symbol: "[A]ny unit of any literary structure that can be isolated for critical attention." symbolic phases:

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literal/descriptive (motifs and signs) formal (image) mythical (archetype) anagogic (monad)

The descriptive phase exhibits the centrifugal, or outward, property of a symbol. For example, when a word such as 'cat' evokes a definition, image, experience or any property connected with the word 'cat' external to the literary context of the particular usage, we have the word taken in the descriptive sense. Frye labels any such symbol a sign. He does not define the sign beyond this sense of pointing to the external, nor does he refer to any particular semiotic theory. In opposition to the sign stands the motif which is a symbol taken in the literal phase. This phase demonstrates the inward, or centripetal, direction of meaning, best described as the contextual meaning of the symbol. To Frye, literal means nearly the opposite of its usage in common speech; to say that something "literally" means something generally involves referring to a definition external to the text. Instead, literal refers to the symbol's meaning in its specific literary situation while descriptive refers to personal connotation and conventional definition. Finally, Frye draws an analogy between rhythm and harmony with the literal and descriptive phases respectively. The literal phase tends to be horizontal, dependent on what comes before and after the symbol while the descriptive phase tends to be laid out in space, having external meanings that vary in nearness to the contextual meaning. Frye next introduces the formal phase, embodied by the image, in order to define the layer of meaning that results from the interplay of the harmony and rhythm of the signs and motifs. The most frequently repeated imagery sets the tone of the work (as with the color red in Macbeth), with less repeated imagery working in contrast with this tonal background. This section of the essay gives a faithful representation of literary formalism (also known as New Criticism). Frye's representation of formalism here is unique, however, in its setting as part of the larger system of literary criticism Frye outlines in the entire work. The notion of form (and perhaps Frye's literal phase) relies heavily on the assumption of inherent meaning within the text, however, a point contested by deconstructionist critics. The mythical phase is the treatment of a symbol as an archetype. This concept relates most closely with intertextuality and considers the symbol in a work as interconnected with similar symbolism throughout the entire body of literature. While Frye deals with myths and archetypes from a broader perspective in the third essay, in this section he focuses on the critical method of tracing a symbol's heritage through literary works both prior and subsequent to the work in question. Frye argues that convention is a vital part of literature and that copyright is deleterious to the process of literary creation. Frye points to the use of convention in Shakespeare and Milton as examples to strengthen his argument that even verbatim copying of text and plot does not entail a death of creativity. Further, Frye argues that romantic, anti-conventional writers such as Walt Whitman tend to follow convention anyway. In criticism, the study of the archetypal phase of a symbol is akin to the "nature" perspective in the psychological debate over nature versus nurture. Rather than viewing the symbol as a unique achievement of the author or some inherent quality of the text, the archetypeal phase situates the symbol in its society of literary kindred as a product of its conventional forebears.

Finally, Frye proposes an anagogic phase wherein a symbol is treated as a monad. The anagogic level of medieval allegory treated a text as expressing the highest spiritual meaning. For example, Dante's Beatrice in the Divine Comedy would represent the bride of Christ. Frye makes the argument that not only is there a lateral connection of archetypes through intertextuality, but that there is a transcendent almost spiritual unity within the body of literature. Frye describes the anagogic in literature as "the imitation of infinite social action and infinite human thought, the mind of a man who is all men, the universal creative word which is all words."

[edit] Third essay - Archetypal Criticism: Theory of Myths


The third essay is the culmination of Frye's theory in that it unites the elements of characterization and each of the five symbolic phases presented in the first two essays into an organic whole. This whole is organized around a metaphor of human desire and frustration as manifested in the Great Chain of Being (divine, human, animal, vegetable, mineral) by analogy to the four seasons. At one pole we have apocalyptic imagery which typifies the revelation of heaven and ultimate fulfillment of human desire. In this state, the literary structure points toward unification of all things in a single anagogical symbol. The ultimate of the divine is the deity, of the human is Christ (or any other being that embodies the oneness of humanity in its spiritual culmination), of the animal is the lamb, of the vegetable is the Tree of Life or vine, and of the mineral is the heavenly Jerusalem or city of God. At the opposite pole lies demonic imagery which typifies the unfulfillment, perversion, or opposition of human desire. In this state, things tend toward anarchy or tyranny. The divine is an angry, inscrutable God demanding sacrifice, the human is the tyrannical anti-christ, the animal is a predator such as a lion, the vegetable is the evil wood as found at the beginning of Dante's Inferno or Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown", and the city is the dystopia embodied by Orwell's 1984 or Kafka's The Castle. Finally we have the analogical imagery, or more simply, depictions of states that are similar to paradise or hell, but not identical. There is a great deal of variety in the imagery of these structures, but tame animals and wise rulers are common in structures analogical to the apocalyptic (analogy of innocence), while predatory aristocrats and masses living in squalor characterize analogy to the demonic (analogy of experience). Frye then identifies the mythical mode with the apocalyptic, the ironic with the demonic, and the romantic and low mimetic with their respective analogies. The high mimetic, then, occupies the center of all four. This ordering allows Frye to place the modes in a circular structure and point to the cyclical nature of myth and archetypes. In this setting, literature represents the natural cycle of birth, growth, maturity, decline, death, resurrection, rebirth, and the repetition of the cycle. The remainder of the chapter deals with the cycle of the four seasons as embodied by four mythoi: comedy, romance, tragedy, and irony or satire.

[edit] Fourth essay - Rhetorical Criticism: Theory of Genres

In the first three essays, Frye deals mainly with the first three elements of Aristotle's elements of poetry (i.e. mythos, ethos, dianoia). In the fourth essay, he explores the last three elements:
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melos - the element dealing with the tonal, musical aspect of literature lexis - the written word, lying somewhere between musical and visual aspects. It may be referred to as diction (ear) or imagery (eye) depending on the critical focus. opsis - the element dealing with visual aspects of literature

Whereas mythos is the verbal imitation of action and dianoia the verbal imitation of thought (ethos being composed of the two), melos and opsis (with lexis composed of the two) correspond, though seen from a different (rhetorical) perspective. Frye identifies the connection as such: "The world of social action and event . . . has a particularly strong association with the ear. . . . The world of individual thought and idea has a correspondingly close connection with the eye . . ." (Frye, 243). Rhetoric means two things: ornamental (opsis) speech and persuasive (melos) speech. Rhetorical criticism, then, is the exploration of literature in the light of melos, opsis, and their interplay as manifested in lexis. The radical of representationthe relation (or idealized relation) between author and audienceis a further consideration. Difference in genre relies not on topical considerations (science fiction, romance, mystery), nor in length (e.g. epics are long, lyrics are short), but in the radical of representation. As such, Frye proposes a total of four distinct genres:
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epos - Author speaks directly to audience (e.g. story telling, formal speech). fiction - Author and audience are hidden from each other (e.g. most novels). drama - Author is hidden from the audience; audience experiences content directly. lyric - Audience is "hidden" from author; that is, the speaker is "overheard" by hearers.

These four genres form the organizing principle of the essay, first examining the distinctive kind of rhythm of each, then looking at specific forms of each more closely. As Frye describes each genre, he explains the function of melos and opsis in each. To understand Frye's melos, it is important to note[says who?] his counter-intuitive usage of the term "musical". He contends that the common usage of the term is inaccurate for purposes of criticism, drawn from analogy with harmony, a stable relationship. Music, however, does not consist of a plastic, static, continuously stable relationship, but rather a series of dissonances resolving at the end into a stable relationship. Poetry containing little dissonance, then, has more in common with the plastic arts than with music. The original presentation of the epic was ta epe (that which is spoken), and when an author, speaker, or storyteller addresses a visible audience directly, we have epos. The rhythm of epos is that of recurrence (i.e. accent, meter, sound patterns). These are the rhythms most commonly associated with poetry. "Fiction" is a vague term which Frye uses to avoid introducing too many new terms. Part of the difficulty comes from fact that this is the only of the four genres which has no precedent in antiquity. He acknowledges having used the term previously in a different sense. In this essay,

the term refers to literature in which the author addresses the audience through a book, or more simply stated, prose. The rhythm of prose is that of continuity of meaning. Drama lies halfway between epos and fiction, or more accurately, its diction must fit the setting and the character. Some characters may be melos-oriented, speaking in meter or with various rhetorical effects in song and banter. Others may be opsis-oriented, speaking more in prose and conveying ideological content. Most characters alternate according to the dramatic situation. Such a marriage of the appropriate language with the character and setting (ethos) defines a rhythm of decorum, the distinctive rhythm of drama. Classical lyrical poetry often presents a shepherd speaking of his love; he is overheard by his audience. However, the distinctiveness of lyric comes more from its peculiar rhythm than from this radical of representation. Frye describes this rhythm as associative rather than logical and is the stuff of dreams and the subconscious. It is closely related to the chant, and though it is found in all literature, it is more apparent in certain kinds of literature than others. At this point Frye suggests a connection between the four historical modes and the four genres. In this sense, the lyrical is typical of the ironic agejust as the ironic protagonist has turned away from society, the lyrical poet makes utterances without regard to the audience. The lyrical rhythm is very clearly seen in Joyce's Finnegans Wake, a work based almost entirely on associative babbles and dream utterance.

[edit] Miscellaneous
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The Latin dedication at the beginning, "Helenae Uxori" is to Northrop's wife, Helen. Frye's Green World Theory developed Bergson's Laughter may provide a complementary view on comedy. The book evolved out of an introduction to Spenser's The Faerie Queene: "the introduction to Spenser became an introduction to the theory of allegory" Frye allowed (p. vii).
Archetypal literary criticism

[edit] Notes
1. ^ See Frank Lentricchia, After the New Criticism (1980), in which Chapter One, 'The Place of Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism ', begins by calling the book 'monumental'. 2. ^ review

[edit] References
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Northrop Frye, Herman. Anatomy of Criticism. New Jersey: Princeton U. Press, 1957. Hamilton, A. C. Northrop Frye: Anatomy of his Criticism. Toronto: University of Toronto Press,1990.

Peter Levine
A blog for civic renewal
New York | Main | Journal of Public Deliberation

March 25, 2005

ethical criticism of literature


Wayne Booth (in The Company We Keep, 1998) observed that most people, including most sophisticated literary critics, evaluate literature ethically, asking whether particular stories are good for us to read and how we should react to them. Yet literary theory since the 1940s has usually been hostile to ethical evaluation. I've just come across an article by Noel Carroll from 2000 ("Art and Ethical Criticism: An Overview of Recent Directions for Research," Ethics, 110, pp. 350-387) that begins with a similar observation: "Of course, despite the effective moratorium on ethical criticism in philosophical theories of art, the ethical evaluation of art flourished. ... Indeed, with regard to topics like racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on, it may even be the case today that the ethical discussion of art is the dominant approach on offer by most humanistic critics, both academics and literati alike." At the core of Carroll's article are three theoretical objections to ethical criticism, and his response to each. I would paraphrase them as follows: criticism #1: The value of art cannot be ethical, because some great art has little or no ethical purpose (consider purely abstract music); and some art is good even though its ethical meaning is on balance bad (e.g., Wagner). response: Not all art has the same kind of value. Ethical evaluation of some genres is appropriate, but not of others. The ethical value of art is only one kind of value, but it is important. criticism #2: The moral propositions implied by even the best works of art are usually unoriginal, and sometimes even trivial. For example, "Perhaps the moral of Emma is that people (such as Emma) should not treat persons (such as Harriet) simply as means." But Kant was much clearer on that point. "If James's Ambassadors shows the importance of acute

perceptual discrimination for moral reflection, well, Aristotle already demonstrated that." response: One kind of knowledge is propositional--"knowledge that." Art rarely provides such knowledge in sophisticated or original forms. But there is also "knowledge how" (i.e., skill). And there is "knowledge of what it is like," or "knowledge of what it would be like." Art provides these forms of knowledge much better than moral philosophy does. For instance, Aristotle said: Be perceptive of other people. James shows what moral perception is like, and gives us opportunities to practice it. criticism #3: The moral consquences of art are unresearched and probably impossible to predict. Who knows whether reading James makes people finely perceptive of others' inner states? Maybe it causes a backlash against such concerns. Who knows whether a racist novel creates racists or makes people angry about racism? Who even knows whether reading novels is good or bad for character? response: For thousands of years, people have been interested in the ethical meaning or structure or purpose of particular works of art, quite apart from their effects on any particular audience. For instance, we can discuss Henry James' ethical intentions in writing The Ambassadors . Or we can discuss the ethical meaning of the text (leaving James' intentions aside). It is yet a third question whether The Ambassadors has, or could have, a positive effect on readers of any particular type. If people misread a book, that can be because the author is insufficiently clear and persuasive (a fault in the text), or because the audience has been inattentive (their fault), or because the author holds bad values and the audience chooses to interpret him critically and subversively. In any case, the ethical function and the moral consequences of a story are different. Most readers are rightly concerned with the former, because our job in reading is to decide what a book means, not what most other people may think of it.
Posted by peterlevine at March 25, 2005 03:57 PM

Ethical criticism: what it is and why it matters


by Marshall Gregory
Introduction

"Change the name and it's about you, that story." Thus in his Satires (I.1. 69-70) Horace elegantly and succinctly defines the imaginative transposing by which readers identify with fictions. Telling and consuming stories is a fundamental and universal human activity. From the time we are born the sound of story accompanies us like the collective heart beat of humanity, and none of us rejects the opportunity to enlarge ourselves by "trying on" the lives and feelings of fictional characters. We may not all consume a steady diet of what college catalogues sometimes call "great books," but our interactions with stories in one form or another - in commercials, TV programs, movies, song lyrics, sermons, legends, fairy tales, novels, dramas, and so on - is constant and ongoing. The famous command in the opening line of Moby Dick, "Call me Ishmael," is an invitation to the reader not only to identify a character, but to identify with a character: "Imagine your name to be Ishmael and it will be about you, this story. You will learn to see the world through my eyes, to feel the world through my nerve endings. During the time we spend together you will learn to live as if my heart beat in your chest, as if your ears answered to my name." Transpositions between readers and fictional characters carry obvious ethical significance. Despite current theories in philosophy and criticism about the inescapability of relativism, most of us cannot evade the deep intuition that identifying with characters in stories can exert a powerful influence on the quality and content of our own lives. It is this perspective - stories as an influence on ethos, or who we become - that makes ethical criticism necessary. To analyze how fictions exert this influence and to assess its effects is ethical criticism's job. What the humanities in general need is an ethical criticism that is intellectually defensible, not to replace or displace other critical approaches but to complement them. What literary criticism needs in particular is a theoretical basis for inquiries into and judgments about the potential ethical effects of literature and narrative art in general.(1) We need this theoretical grounding because practical ethical criticism goes on all the time, often conducted in a most helter-skelter, contradictory, and intellectually incoherent way. A firmer theoretical grounding could help us do practical ethical criticism more thoughtfully and responsibly. Both within the academy and within society as a whole, someone is always claiming that a given novel, movie, or TV program is either uplifting or degrading, inspiring or demeaning, should be read and seen by everyone or shouldn't disgrace either video airwaves or the shelves of the public library. Every time a feminist exposes Hemingway's complicity with the patriarchy, or every time an African-American critic recommends the retrieval of slave narratives because such narratives shame our past and help us shape the future, and every time a Judith Fetterley, a Terry Eagleton, or a Michel Foucault decries the dehumanizing effects of master narratives on subjectreaders, such critics are deeply engaged in important versions of ethical criticism that are not at all diminished in robustness for being disguised as any kind of discourse but ethical criticism. The truth of my claim that ethical criticism goes on constantly in the academy is not obvious. What is obvious is that for the last 100 years - from the time of the "art for art's sake" movement to the present - most literary critics have strongly objected to "ethical" as an adjective for either "literature" or "criticism." Inside the academy, ethical criticism seems immediately to conjure images of Plato packing the poets out of his republic, or the memory of Matthew Arnold talking about "the best that has been thought and said," or the mental image of F. R. Leavis intoning on and on about "the great tradition." Tzvetan Todorov summarizes contemporary criticism's

rejection of ethical criticism, but in doing so he also opposes that rejection on the simple grounds that literature and morality cannot be separated even if we desire to do so: Literature and morality: "how disgusting!" my contemporary will exclaim. I myself, discovering around me a literature subordinated to politics, [once] thought it was essential to break every link and preserve literature from any contact with what is not literature. But the relation to values is inherent in literature; not only because it is impossible to speak of existence without referring to that relation, but also because the act of writing is an act of communication, which implies the possibility of understanding, in the name of common values.(2) (164; emphasis added) While Todorov is right - "the relation to values is inherent in literature" - it is unfortunately true that every accusation against ethical criticism and ethical critics(3) can be historically and concretely substantiated by the injudiciousness, extremism, shrillness, or dogmatism of some ethical critic or other.(4) Historically, and unfortunately, many of the conspicuous examples of ethical criticism in action present images of dogmatic moralists, zealous religionists, or belligerent burghers trampling art, tolerance, and free speech in the dust with a nasty kind of selfsatisfaction. The Inescapability of Ethical Criticism But even after the most discrediting facts about the history and practice of ethical criticism have been duly marked, recorded, and apologized for, it remains untrue that ethical criticism has to be or that it has always been dogmatic and pious. Some contemporary critics may want to insist, however, that even when ethical criticism is judicious it is certainly irrelevant. Indeed, their insistence would be irrefutable if, in fact, no one in our society was ever interested in making moral or ethical judgments about literature and other forms of art. But our century-long rejection of ethical criticism is matched in its scope only by the ceaseless talk about ethical issues that goes on inside and outside of the academy. There exists a large and diverse range of issues about fictions that both citizens in general and literary professionals in particular argue about in a manner that is not only deeply passionate, but that is also explicitly ethical and moral. These issues and arguments, which go on all the time, include but are not limited to the following: * character formation: how poems, TV programs, movies, novels, song lyrics, and so on influence readers' beliefs, imagination, and feelings; * learning about life: how fictions teach "lessons" about everyday life; * imitation of values: how readers and viewers imitate the attitudes and values of characters from literature, TV, movies, and other narratives; * social attitudes: how fictions influence people's understanding or misunderstanding of, sympathy with, or detachment from, such social constituencies as ethnic groups, racial minorities, non-Europeans, non-Americans, women, and handicapped persons;

* civics and civility: how television and rap lyrics influence young people's views about public civility, honesty, violence, authority, social and political institutions, women, race relations, the environment, and the law; * history and class: how fictions influence readers' views about history, class, democracy, commercialism, and so on. As foci of constant and passionate controversy, these issues give the lie to ethical criticism's alleged irrelevance. We may not always know how to live with it, but we certainly cannot live without it. We don't even try to live without it. Why is it that we cannot escape questions of morality and ethics? Because human actions are imagined and chosen rather than prescribed or programmed. Because there is a dimension of choice to almost all forms of human conduct, conduct is always subject to moral and ethical evaluation. Since Homo Sapiens is the only species that creates moral categories and since all cultures and individuals employ moral categories as guides for directing and evaluating life with others, the very capacity for making and enforcing moral categories - like the capacities of reasoning, language, aesthetics, and imagination as well - lies close to the center of whatever it means to be human in the first place. James Q. Wilson argues that a moral sense is the inevitable product of an innate human disposition to be social: "The innate sociability of the child is the vital embryo in which a capacity for sympathy and an inclination to generosity can be found" (45). This claim hardly constitutes a complete argument but it does offer a deep insight. Because human beings are as fundamentally social in nature as ants and bees, but because the forms of our sociability are chosen and cultural rather than programmed and genetic, ethical and moral considerations inevitably arise within the social nexus. Our need to be approved of by our family members, our need to be protected and served "justly" by both our family and by others, and the group's need to create social mechanisms of stability and justice without which the group cannot endure these needs all contribute to the creation of moral categories as not merely contingent but as integral to human existence. This is not to say what the content of those categories is or should be, but it is to say that moral categories themselves are both persistent and necessary elements of social existence - the only kind of existence available to human beings. In the words of Mary Midgley, our proclivity for integrating morality into the very fabric of human life is a tendency that we take so deeply for granted [. . .] that we scarcely notice it - namely a sense of continuity with the past, a rootedness in earlier social contracts which can make it deeply shocking to murder others or to desert a friend in difficulties. We should not, of course, forget that human beings sometimes do these deeply shocking things too. But that is something very different from never finding them shocking at all. This sense of continuity through time - this need to have some coherent image of oneself and one's policy - is surely what accounts for the fact that humans have been driven to develop morality, and have given it so much prominence in their various cultures. If we ask what is the source of the authority of morals, we are not looking outward for a sanction from the rulers, or for a contract. We are looking inward for a need, for some psychological fact about us that makes it deeply distressing to us to live shapelessly, incoherently, discontinuously, meaninglessly - to live without standards. (153)

If we cannot endure living without standards in real life, it follows - since most fictions represent real life - that we cannot endure to read fictions without bringing standards into play there as well. The formalistic view that novels are about language, not about life, fails to explain why people get so caught up liking and disliking different fictional characters or why they deeply desire specific resolutions to certain fictional plots and situations. If ethical questions arise as a natural consequence of first-hand interactions and sociability, then they will also arise as we meet and interact with fictional characters. When we meet new people, we form our impressions of them by asking ourselves questions about them rooted in moral and ethical perspectives, such as "is this person good?" "is this person trustworthy?," "is this person kind, likable, generous, compassionate?," and so on. These ethical categories comprise the most important part of our "reading" of new acquaintances. Not using these categories would make other people appear to us mostly as blanks, mere utilitarian counters like chess pieces or tools, devoid of affective or ethical significance. None of us can imagine living this way. I don't mean only that none of can imagine living happily this way; I mean that none of us can imagine living this way at all. Such an existence would not be human because it would be a kind of existence that Midgley is surely right to say that we could not bear: a life lived "shapelessly, incoherently, discontinuously, meaninglessly - [a life] without standards." But if this is so, then it follows that we will bring our standards into play in all of our social relations, including those we conduct with fictional characters. Whether talking about the characters and events of literature or life, all of us turn to such criteria as better/worst, good/bad, honest/dishonest, fair/unfair, liberated/oppressed, just/unjust, inclusive/exclusive, kind/cruel, humane/inhuman, generous/selfish, selfcontrolled/self-indulgent, and many others because all such criteria are rooted in assumptions (either explicit or implicit) about such fundamentally ethical categories as moral agency, the "oughtness" or "rightness" of certain social and political practices, or such "should-bes" of the existential condition as "individuals should be allowed freedom of speech and free choice of sexual partners." If our existence as social creatures explains where ethical criticism comes from, it follows that this same social nature also explains why moral considerations never go away or lose their relevance. Because we never stop being social creatures, the moral dimensions of life are both inevitable and permanent. Human life is saturated with moral considerations, moral judgments, moral categories, and practical moral reasoning. Hardly any of our thoughts about relations with others are morally neutral. Our thoughts about relations with other people are deeply colored by speculations about the impression we are making, about the approval we seek, and about the impression on us that other people make, beginning primarily with the impressions that we all give and receive as moral agents: impressions about such moral features, for example, as honesty, trustworthiness, compassion, kindness, generosity, self-control, and fairness. We may admire people for being strong, clever, brilliant, or talented, but we trust them and love them only when we think they are, at most, truly good or, at least, not malicious. The portraits we draw of other people in our minds' eye - the picture that tells us whether and how much we can afford to trust and love them - are portraits drawn almost entirely in ethical and moral colors. Deciding who is the trustworthy recipient of a secret or an honor, deciding who is worthy of the offer (or the acceptance) of a marriage proposal, deciding how to rear children and when or if they should be punished for wrong-doing (not to mention deciding what constitutes wrongdoing), or merely deciding whether to agree with the movie Pretty Woman that the Julia

Roberts character has attained the highest pinnacle of female happiness by being lifted from her life as a public prostitute in order to become the private prostitute of a wealthy man - all are ethical decisions. Whenever we propose a theory of "oughtness" about how to live and a line of reasoning about how to achieve life's different "goods," we are engaging in ethical criticism. But since the various arguments about the various goods and their status are not self-ranking, we are forced to rank them ourselves. We must always challenge one set of goods against another set of goods. Moral positions must always be argued; there is no way they can simply be invested with the power to work on their own. We must make the case, both in terms of the coherence of the theory and the moral reasoning themselves. Such argumentation is nothing short of a compressed way of respecting others as rational beings. One way we demonstrate that respect is by assisting others, at the same time we rely on their assistance, to become more fully possessed of the fundamental human powers of sociability, language, imagination, and ethical reasoning that we all share. In the words of moral philosopher Robert Louden, Moral considerations have ultimate importance not (as many philosophers have argued) because they form a tightly packaged set of interests that can be shown to logically "override" all other competing sets of interests but rather because they concern values to which the pursuit of any and all interests, including scientific and technical ones, must answer. Morality is not just one narrow point of view competing against others. [. . . Its]ultimate importance is [a function of its] pervasiveness. Moral considerations literally appear able to pervade or permeate [. . .] more areas and aspects of human life and action (and once they gain entry, to have, somehow, the final word) than do any other kinds of considerations (20). All aspects of human life over which we exercise at least some degree of voluntary control have indirect moral relevance (59). Morality's fundamental importance stems not from its "standing above" everything else but rather from the fact that it literally surrounds everything else, lies underneath everything else, and is continually embedded in everything else. (80) The popular contemporary view that employing ethical and moral categories is merely a historical, contingent, or discretionary choice - a choice mostly co-opted by society's ruling powers for keeping potential challengers in line - is a shallow view that ignores the deeply compelling necessity for ethics and morality embedded in both the nature of social relations and in our own existential drive to make sense out of our world, in part, by holding standards. Ethical Criticism and Postmodern Perspectivism If life and literature are indeed saturated with moral considerations, then how does the academy, which is saturated with epistemological relativism, avoid dealing with them? It doesn't, of course, but it does try to disguise its dealing with them, mostly by pretending that its moral discourse is political discourse. By a linguistic and conceptual sleight-of-hand, the academy makes the language of power, colonization, or marginalization replace the language of good, ought, and bad. Such sleight-of-hand doesn't really replace moral considerations, of course, for political arguments against the oppression of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie or against the Western colonization of people of color are not only linked to ethical views, but express views that are fundamentally ethical to their core. Such views constitute ethical arguments because their main burden is ethical judgments about better and worse ways of living and acting. What these arguments deliver are not just analyses of power but moral judgments about power:

judgments that power ought to be reconfigured and that rest on the authority of the frequently unspoken but always present moral assumption that the desired reconfigurations of power would make the world a better place for someone or some group. Poststructuralists who bury ethical criticism beneath an epistemology of perspectivism inadvertently pull the rug from under their own reformist social agenda. Theorists who take perspectivism seriously, for example, are logically entailed to concede to in theory what they will never concede to in fact - that political brutality, ethnic cleansing, racial genocide, and so on must all be taken as equally serious positions along with democratic reform simply because they are "perspectives." That is, from the standpoint of epistemological perspectivism, they are legitimate logically. That no one, including postmodern perspectivists, thinks they are legitimate morally means that underneath epistemological perspectivism lie at least a few deeply lodged commitments that play the role of absolutes even if they cannot be proven to be absolutes. Acts of genocide, for example, are usually described as "crimes against humanity," not just crimes against ethnicity. To say that the Holocaust was a crime because it destroyed only Jews implies that a holocaust that destroyed some other ethnic or racial group might be less objectionable or even laudatory. Our deep impulse to define what the Nazis did to the Jews in Germany or what the Bosnian Serbs recently did to the Muslims in former Yugoslavia as a crime against human beings as such clearly implies that we view some moral standards as genuinely substantive and authoritative, not just as rhetorical ploys or cultural contingencies. If all discourse really is only "mere rhetoric," then the reformers' opposition to the rhetoric of the ascendant power groups can only be more of just the same thing - that is, more mere rhetoric for it has no way of sorting out the right or wrong of specific issues and no way of demonstrating the superiority of the poststructuralists' proposed changes. To try to produce a world with less oppression and brutality in it on the grounds that such a world would be a better world than the one we now have is to appeal to a "better" beyond the pale of mere rhetoric or partial perspectives. Ethnic oppression, the marginalization of women, and racial discrimination are not wrong because they are political positions but because they are morally offensive, and it is their moral offensiveness that makes them politically objectionable, not the other way round. Making political arguments about the reconfiguration of power cannot be made without the arguer assuming that at least some moral judgments and moral arguments are intrinsically and not just contingently compelling. Otherwise the moral authority of arguments becomes moot and arguers are left with only the authority of whatever is or the authority of whatever has enough muscle to displace whatever is. Thus we see that all arguments about politics and power are subsets of moral arguments, for all political judgments are of necessity derived from moral and ethical assumptions about such issues as better, best, and just, terms that literally make no sense outside of an ethical framework of discussion. As Geoffrey Harpham makes clear, this claim is true even for those points of view that most emphatically insist on the primacy of culture and contingency. Strikingly [says Harpham], it is when culture is analyzed from a Marxist perspective as a selftransforming, self-discovering, self-defining body politic, that the purely social necessity of morality emerges most powerfully. For when cultural values are unworthy, uncertain, or disputed, only an appeal to some imperative that convincingly transcends culture and privatized conceptions of interest can legitimate action. In a society that holds slaves and disempowers women, exploitation and misogyny express shared values, and those who hold these values hold

them with confidence. Any effort to question these practices, or indeed the autistic tendencies of any localism, must base itself on some value or standard that lies - again, convincingly - outside the cultural horizon. (53) While Stanley Fish attempts to get at a postmodern politics of reform through the door of rhetorical analysis, Fish's claim that "everything is rhetorical" (217) winds up being, in practice, far too close to "might makes right" to be considered truly reformist. Fish wants to claim (and does) "that the radically rhetorical insight of Nietzschean/Derridean thought can do radical political work" (217), but he seems unaware that his "everything is rhetorical" view is politically reactionary: it undercuts "radical political work," since "everything is rhetorical" robs "radical political work" of any ability to explain why radical reform will produce a better society than it proposes to replace. Fish cannot escape from this problem by saying that the "betterness" of freedom over oppression is simply self-evident, because to do so would take him out of the "everything is rhetorical" world and into the world of self-evident first principles, the last place a rhetorical relativist wants to find himself. Neither Fish, Rorty, Derrida, nor any of the other proponents of the "radically rhetorical insight" can escape the paradox that this insight not only undercuts the authority of their social agenda but nullifies it. If poststructuralists claim that there are no transcendent or universal principles against which to discredit anyone else's rhetorical messages, then they must concede all domains of power to whoever has the most might, not to those who are right. But since the might of what is is precisely what poststructuralist reformers don't want, they must further concede one of two things. Either they must concede that their discontent with things as they are is intellectually incoherent (because it presumes a better that their own epistemology of "mere rhetoric" denies) or they must concede that they are indeed invested in an authority that lies beyond mere rhetoric. The poststructuralist attempt to disconnect politics and morality cripples their ability to explain why literary and other fictional representations of power, politics, and race, class, and gender are so important. If we disconnect the passion that informs these issues from the moral and ethical considerations that generate that passion, then it becomes hard to say what all the fuss is about. Moving in the opposite direction from postmodernism's rejection of ethical criticism, Wayne Booth is the leading contemporary critic who has done most to rehabilitate the language and practice of ethical criticism. In The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction, Booth's leading question is "[W]hat kind of company are we keeping as we read or listen [or watch]? What kind of company have we kept?" (10). Booth's operating assumption is that the company we keep as we read, watch, or listen to fiction can be assessed for its potential influence on our hearts and minds just as legitimately as we can assess real life potential influence of the friends and acquaintances who influence our hearts and minds. All of our friends have a potential influence on our "virtues," says Booth, who uses "friends" as a metaphor for fiction's appeal to our desire for the intimate companionship of others, and "virtues" in its older sense of referring not just to our praiseworthy tendencies but to something more general, such as, he says, "the whole range of human 'powers,"strengths,"capacities,' or 'habits of behavior.' Thus an 'ethical' effect here, as in pre-modern discourse, can refer to any strengthening or weakening of a 'virtue,' including those that you or I would consider immoral; a given virtue can be employed viciously" (10). This crucial positioning of the terms "friend" "ethical," and "virtue," then, allows Booth to formulate the following definition of ethical criticism:

If "virtue" covers every kind of genuine strength or power, and if a person's ethos is the total range of his or her virtues [to behave badly or well], then ethical criticism will be any effort to show how the virtues of narratives relate to the virtues of selves and societies, or how the ethos of any story affects or is affected by the ethos - the collection of virtues - of any given reader. (11) Booth's incisive clarification gives us a chance to gain some real traction on the relationship between politics and morals, as well as helping us avoid the murkiness and self-contradictions foisted on us by postmodernism's butter-fingered grip of these same issues. Emotivism, Entertainment, and Ethical Discourse Perspectivism, however, is not the only obstacle facing ethical criticism in today's society. Even though various social, political, and religious groups in our society engage in almost non-stop moralistic mud-slinging, and even though there is hardly any kind of criticism our society engages in more often than ethical criticism, there is also hardly any kind of criticism more discredited and more resisted. This inconsistency points to deep confusions. A friend of mine well-known in the field of educational theory used to say to me in conversation that "when you see smart people doing dumb things you know you're in the presence of powerful forces."(5) What powerful forces? Alasdair MacIntyre offers a keen insight into this situation when he identifies emotivism as "the doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character" (11) and then avows that "emotivism has become embodied in our culture" (21). What viewer of television programs or teacher of undergraduates could deny the accuracy of these observations? What MacIntyre calls "emotivism" is what soap-opera characters and many students simply call "everyone deciding what's right or wrong for themselves," a view of morality reiterated with billboard simplicity everywhere in contemporary culture. If, at one end of the intellectual spectrum, doctrinaire dogmatism kills moral discussion, what kills it at the other end of the intellectual spectrum is emotivism's conflation of subjective preference and moral claims, as if moral claims had no more general authority than Jane's preference for vanilla ice cream or Bill's taste in clothes. Whether people are talking about social issues or about the ethical significance of literature and the other arts,(6) emotivism empties moral discussion of any real content. Since emotivism cannot give us traction on moral issues, it attempts to pretend that such issues are really nonissues by relegating them to the domain of entertainment rather than morality, as if entertainment comprises a category of experience that somehow lies beyond moral examination. A colleague of mine who spends a lot of class time pointing out to her students how many representations of women in literature show the evils of the patriarchy is the same person who watches Pretty Woman over and over "just for entertainment." An ethical critic, however, will want to interrogate closely the potential effects of entertainment, when it is clear that when highly-educated and highly-intelligent people think they don't need to employ their critical powers because they are "merely being entertained," then it follows that those are the very moments when their sympathies, feelings, and moral judgments are most vulnerable to influence. Ethical criticism will attempt to help readers understand that there is no such thing as being

"merely" entertained, that even at the lowest possible level of engagement, the intellectual and affective exertions that are required just to understand the content, shape, and direction of a story in fact involve a complicitous agreement to let the story have its own way with their beliefs and feelings - at least for the time being. As Wayne Booth says, "[T]he energy I expend in reconstructing the figure [of a fiction] is somehow transferred to retaining the figure itself and bonding with its maker. [. . .] A figure used not only calls for the recognition that a figure has been used but for a special kind of re-creative engagement with the figurer" (299). When readers begin to see, then, that the figures of fiction figure the mind, they can be brought to take seriously, indeed to welcome, the insights of ethical criticism. The way entertainment provides ethical models for direct imitation is discussed below. Ethical Criticism and Direct Imitation of Literary Models If, then, neither emotivism nor epistemological relativism gets us off the hook for taking moral and ethical considerations into account and if such considerations do indeed saturate life, then it follows that ethical criticism can claim a natural and important function in the study and evaluation of literature. But saying this does not answer in concrete terms the question of what important work ethical criticism does. I recently had a colleague say to me, "So, as an ethical critic you would object to a novel that gives a vivid and sympathetic portrayal of an ax murderer on the grounds that reading it might turn me into an ax murderer, right?" Well . . . no. I'm not worried in her case that any fiction she reads could ever turn her into a murderer. But, in principle, she has a point. Direct imitations of fiction do occur and clearly have moral and ethical consequences. I venture to assert, moreover, that we all imitate fictional models much more frequently than we think. The reason we think that we're the ones "above" such influence is that we largely think of direct imitation only as it occurs in its most sensationalistic and gross forms. We think of the hoodlums in New York who, immediately after the release of Money Train, killed a man by imitating the movie's horrific scene in which a subway ticket seller is squirted with gasoline and burned to death in his toll booth. Or we remember the two boys who accidentally killed themselves in New Jersey in 1995 when, right after the release of The Program, they tried lying down in the middle of the freeway, intending like the movie heroes to let the cars straddle them harmlessly. Or we remember the large number of young people who, after reading On the Road in the 1960s, bought Volkswagen buses and struck out for the highways and byways of America in direct imitation of Jack Kerouac. In all of these cases we undoubtedly think, "How gullible, how immature, how uncritical, how unlike me. I could never be like that." But it all depends on what "like that" means. Our confidence in the immovability of our character may be complacent and premature. We all do the same thing as the people in these previous examples, not, to be sure, by committing such immoral or directly imitative actions, but we do imitate less obviously tangible features of fictions such as values and attitudes. In the end, of course, values and attitudes influence action but at such a remove of distance and time as may leave us unaware of how deeply our actions are rooted in fictional models. One of the most incisive, vivid, thoughtful, and developed illustrations of the ethical criticism of narrative role models is conducted by Gustave Flaubert in Madame Bovary.(7) Throughout the novel Emma Bovary is shown to be a delighted and obsessive consumer of sickly romantic novels that provide her with models - fictional friends and companions - who accompany her thoughts all through

her life and who, in their shimmering and shallow allure, do much to prevent Emma from ever growing into a mature and ethically sensitive person. Flaubert does not ask us to believe, nor does he himself seem to believe, that Emma's life is ruined by novel reading alone, but at the same time he not only takes narrative modeling as crucially important in Emma Bovary's development, he also takes seriously the ethical criticism of those models. Flaubert's description of the contents of the contraband novels that Emma receives from an old mending woman provides a detailed account of how specific images carry affective and ethical freight. The novels given to Emma by the old maid were all about love, lovers, sweethearts, persecuted ladies fainting in lonely pavilions, postilions killed at every relay, horses ridden to death on every page, somber forests, heart-aches, vows, sobs, tears and kisses, little boat rides by moonlight, nightingales in shady groves, gentlemen brave as lions, gentle as lambs, virtuous as no one ever was, always well dressed, and weeping like fountains. [. . .] [Illustrations in keepsake books showed such scenes as] a young man in a short cloak, holding in his arms a young girl in a white dress who was wearing an alms-bag at her belt; or there were nameless portraits of English ladies with fair curls, who looked at you from under their round straw hats with their large clear eyes. [. . .] Others, dreaming on sofas with an open letter, gazed at the moon through a slightly open window half draped by a black curtain. The innocent ones, a tear on their cheeks, were kissing doves through the bars of a Gothic cage. (26-27) I have omitted a good portion of this passage, but there still remains a great wealth of concrete detail to feed the imagination of a fifteen year-old Emma looking for role models to show her the behaviors - the facial expressions, the attitudes, the gestures, the postures, the dresses and hats and how to wear them - that promise her a life of whirlwind excitement, exquisite sensibility, and thunderous passion. What makes Flaubert's criticism of these images - and their ethical influence - so incisive is that Flaubert only shows Emma doing what we all do. In order to come into our humanity, in order to take a place in society and to be recognized as persons, we know that we must assume roles, and we therefore look for models to show us the "look" that expresses our beauty, the posture that communicates our sensibility, or the walk that conveys our power and self-confidence. If no one in real life shows us models of thoughtfulness or reasonableness or self-control or generosity, we will, like Emma, settle for whatever fictional models we can find and never know what we are missing - or what we are becoming. None of us remains unaffected as moral agents by the models we choose, whether they come from real life or from fictions. As children we tie towels around our necks so we can be as powerful as Superman. As adults we disguise our Superman capes as carefully selected conference wear. Silk ties reveal our sophisticated taste; thick-soled work boots express our populist sympathies; "power suits" assert our aggressive professionalism. We do all of this with deft nonchalance, with more or less conscious awareness. In our classrooms such teaching models as Mr. Chips, Mr. Gradgrind, Jean Brodie, the Clerk of Oxenford, or our favorite college or grad-school teacher hover over our pedagogy like ghosts. We cannot help but be influenced, for good or ill, by those we have taken into our hearts, and the "people" we imitate come just as often from second-hand fictions as from first-hand experience. It follows, then, that the ethical analysis of fictional models, those whom we accept as "friends" (see chapters 6 and 7 of Booth's Company), is not only as permissible as the ethical analysis of real-life models and friends, but,

for all those who really care about the quality of their life, just as necessary. Our friends, both real and fictional, play important roles in our formative development. To say this returns us to the necessity of ethical criticism and to the question of how ethical criticism conceives of its work. Aims of Ethical Criticism Readerly Understanding of Potential Literary Effects. The aims of ethical criticism do not include thought control, censorship of literature, or the management of others' conduct. Ethical criticism addresses readers of literature (or, more accurately, consumers of fictions both literary and non-literary) with the aim of helping them see, understand, and appreciate the powerful ways in which fictions invite them into specific ways of feeling, thinking, and judging. In addition, ethical criticism tries to help readers see that if these invitations are accepted, especially on a repeated basis, one very likely consequence is a permanent influence on readers' hearts and minds. Until readers understand that their responses to stories occur on a continuum with their responses to real life - until they understand that their responses to fiction are in some important sense a kind of practice at forming responses to real life - they are likely to dismiss the ethical significance of their relationship to fiction. While ethical criticism helps readers gain (or perhaps regain) a sense of the ethically formative power of story and thus bring them back in touch with the reasons why reading and literature are not only entertaining but important, it also offers the insight that the formative effects of story are always potential rather than determined. Literature invites responses but cannot coerce them. Once we "agree" to let a story have its way with us - an agreement that is generally granted without much critical thought, because it is the foundation for any pleasure the story yields - then we can indeed be, if not coerced, at least led, but this is neither coercion nor hostile takeover. We can always refuse to become engaged, or we can be too tired or too distracted or too ignorant of the contents or setting of a work, in which case the consideration of possible effects becomes moot (see Rabinowitz on how the beliefs and previous experiences of our lives influence our degree of engagement with literary texts, especially what he has to say about genres as "packages of [reading] rules" [177]). On the other hand, ethical criticism wants readers to understand that more often than not they do agree to accept the fiction's invitations - else there is no payoff - and that, once accepted, the means by which the fiction gets delivered from the author and comprehended by the reader constitute powerful shapings of the mind. Readerly Understanding of Moral Criteria. Another aim of ethical criticism is to guide readers toward an understanding of the moral criteria that are relevant to making ethical judgments about fictional representations. Like the first aim, this one is also addressed primarily to the intellect: to help readers see that moral and aesthetic responses to texts unfold inside of each other rather than live in separate domains. Any reader who thinks that the ending of Hamlet is genuinely funny or that the wolf really should get to eat the three little pigs is a reader who has not only misapprehended the aesthetic shape of both stories but their different ethical presuppositions as well. Ethical criticism wants to help readers see that they are making ethical judgments every time they decide who the "good and bad guys" are in any story, to help them see that they are not only affirming ethical values within the story every time they identify with fictional characters

but that they are affirming ethical values within themselves that their reading of the story has just reinforced. Critical Recommendations. The third aim of ethical criticism is not so much intellectual as exhortative: it is to proffer readings of texts based on the critic's evaluation of a story's ethical presuppositions and the potential ethical impact of the story on the reader. It is this aim, of course, that gets everyone's back up. Approving or not approving books for moral reasons is considered by many critics to be thoroughly reprehensible. I contend, however, that ethical critics tend to make explicit what nearly everyone else does either implicitly or in non-ethical terms, and that it is only reprehensible when it is done badly, that is, when it is done unintelligently or dishonestly or manipulatively. The truth is, even critics who work with theories far removed from ethical criticism find it very hard not to employ some ethical presuppositions. For example, traditionalists who prefer to teach canonical literature recommend those works because they "bring their readers to an understanding of the timeless circumstances of the human condition."(8) Multiculturalists recommend certain works because they "bring their readers to a greater appreciation and respect for cultural and ethnic diversity." Deconstructionists recommend literary texts because they "bring readers to an ecstatic appreciation of the infinite free play of signification into which readers can throw themselves with joyous abandonment." Translation for all: "reading either the books that I recommend or reading books in the way I recommend will be good for you: good for your social sense, good for your mind, good for your responsibility as a moral agent. Good for you." Ethical critics want to bring the discussion of ethical presuppositions and potential ethical effects out into the open where the claims about them can be criticized, contested, and improved. The Content of Ethical Criticism The central content of ethical criticism can be summarized by two propositions. The first proposition is about the formation of selves and the second proposition is about the ethical status of selves. These propositions are not necessarily new or original ideas in themselves, but the use to which ethical criticism puts them is, if not original, strikingly unfamiliar today. I am well aware that by confidently talking about "selves" instead of employing one of postmodernism's preferred terms of displacement for it, such as "subject" or "subject position," I have violated a commonplace dictum to which most postmodern theorists automatically subscribe. Two authors in recent issues of flagship journals in the discipline of English suggest the extent to which postmodern notions of "the subject" rather than "the self" are not only taken for granted but just how much of what is taken for granted is explicitly opposed to notions of the self generally advanced by the traditional humanities. As Pamela Caughie says in a recent issue of PMLA, "[P]oststructuralist theories [. . .] have revealed the humanist subject to be a sham insofar as it is the effect, not the origin, of representation" (26; emphasis added). Likewise, Jeffrey Nealon, in a recent issue of College English, reinforces the unassailability of the postmodern view of "self" as not a stable center of knowledge about itself or the world, but as an unstable product created at the site where language, culture, history, and politics intersect. In Nealon's words, "[A] certain critique of the humanist or Enlightenment subject remains firmly in place. While there is a great deal of sympathy for rethinking notions of subjectivity in the current theoretical field, no one wants anything to do with the appropriating instrumental rationality of the bourgeois subject. In

fact, virtually all critical camps [. . .] remain aligned in their attempts to critique a subjectivity that [. . .] understands the other as simply 'like the self'" (129 emphasis added). With all due respect to Nealon's sweeping - and, dare I add, smug? - confidence that "no one wants anything to do with" the old notions of a humanist self, I must disagree. The self whose existence I assume in this essay is exactly the self that Nealon says I cannot assume (Because Nealon's complacent certitude curiously essentializes all of those anonymous "no ones," he expresses an intellectual rigidity that almost always accompanies dogma rather than thoughtfulness.) Though the sweeping claim that human beings are the product of language and culture is certainly right in many respects, it is almost always insisted on not only in its most extreme version - as if human beings are entirely created by culture rather than influenced by it but is also insisted on as a dogma rather than advanced as a hypothesis. If you're not a "constructionist," the dogma goes, then you're an "essentialist," and if you're an essentialist then may the Transcendental Signified be with you, you poor slob, because no one else in the humanities will speak to you. Better and Worse Selves. The first proposition about selfhood that ethical criticism rests on is the assumption that there are ethically better and worse versions of our selves always pending and always being realized. Even though we are all surrounded by a lot of very loud and frequently repeated talk about the inevitability of moral relativism, we all expend a great deal of energy and time trying to decide "the right thing to do" in a whole variety of circumstances. Moreover, we make this expenditure as if "the right thing," such as being honest rather than lying or being responsible rather than irresponsible, were matters of objective reality rather than mere subjective preferences. I have not noticed that poststructuralists who adhere strongly to epistemological perspectivism and moral relativism are any less likely than the rest of us to take seriously their ethical commitments to students, colleagues, and family. When they see people not taking those commitments seriously, they don't say, "Well, everyone has to make up his or her own mind about ethical issues." We all say, instead, humanists and poststructuralists alike, that "sexual harassment is wrong," "cheating on tests is wrong," "habitually showing up to teach classes unprepared is wrong," "humiliating students the teacher doesn't like is wrong," "not carrying one's fair load of departmental duties is wrong," "cheating on spouses is wrong," "beating children is wrong," and on and on. I have been amazed over the years to see that in general there seems to be such little interest in this curious but telling discrepancy between poststructuralists' theories and poststructuralists' conduct. To my mind nothing is more suggestive of the inadequacy of anyone's theories than the fact that the propounders of them cannot live by them. If poststructuralist theories of epistemological relativism are good enough only for our written papers and books but not good enough to guide the way we deal with our students, our colleagues, and our families, then what in fact are they really good enough for at all? In academe many of us may be relativists in our theories but we are quite moral and, indeed, quite moralistic, in our conduct. The strictures of morality and ethics that we observe so scrupulously in our conduct - and no matter how frequently they are violated we never give them up - clearly imply that we all have some notion, perhaps mostly implicit but there nonetheless, of better and worse ethical selves that we may be and that we may become. We don't pay ourselves the disrespect of assuming that what we do in our personal and professional relations does not matter. We think it matters a great deal, and if we fail ourselves or others we feel shame, we

apologize, or we resolve to - to what? - we resolve to do "better." Yes: we resolve to become ethically improved versions of ourselves. Moral Character Always in Motion. To the ethical critic, moral character is always in formation, never fixed. Every choice we make in life is both a reflection of the self we are and a creation of the self we are becoming. This means that as long as we retain command of our intellectual faculties we remain permanently and potentially open to ethical influences from a variety of sources. It also means that becoming a self is something we do, not just something we are. As Aristotle says, "[L]ife consists in action, and its end is a mode of action, not a quality" (62). It also means that becoming a self is not just a consequence of the actions that are done to us by culture, history, language, master narratives, gender, class, race, or bourgeois masters, but is a consequence of the actions that we choose. This is not to say that actions exerted on us from the outside are not formative, but it is to say that the self does not react to these forces with no intervention from inside, i.e., from the individual's will or consciousness. I am not necessarily assuming the existence of some completely stable, completely atomistic self. I am merely assuming that poststructuralist views of an entirely constructed self "built up" at the site of cultural intersections is either an implausible hypothesis or, at best, an exaggerated truth. To make such assertions as are common in contemporary criticism - language speaks us, culture creates us, history shapes us, gender determines us, or to make Marx's claim that the material and political forms of social existence determine consciousness - asserts what is only half true. We are never so situated that we are fully formed and forever fixed. We are not selves just passively molded or shaped by cookie-cutter forces of language or history. We actually negotiate our selves through time by forms of individual resistance, acceptance, and suspension of judgment. The evidence for this last claim lies in our conduct. Every time we check an impulse, apologize to someone for having yielded to an impulse, bite our tongue to preserve social harmony, choose to vote our conscience rather than our interest, or deliberately choose an act or expression of charity toward another even when we feel unjustly used, we affirm our freedom to choose who we will become as moral agents. Achilles yielding the body of Hector to Priam, Socrates declining his friends' offer to rig a life-saving escape from prison, Atticus Finch being spat on but not spitting back, Sidney Carton going to the guillotine in Charles Darnay's place, civil rights workers in the 1960s practicing passive resistance rather than terrorism, a tired teacher who is eager to go home taking off her coat and spending extra time to counsel a frightened freshman about his low grades on hard-worked essays: such acts of patience, forbearance, forgiveness, generosity, compassion, and kindness may be influenced by but they are certainly not acts of language, history, culture, or gender. They are the acts of individuals choosing. Because in each case the moral agent could have behaved otherwise, in that "could have" lies freedom, the moment of moral choice, the moment we choose this ethos rather than that ethos and thus decide not only who we are but who we are to become. Ethical criticism takes the experience of these moment-by-moment choices as moral character in formation. It insists on our status as persons who are becoming rather than finished. Into the space created by the distance between what we now are and what we may yet become, fiction (along with a great many other forces) finds room to exert its influence. The ethical critic is the taxonomist who eagerly categorizes the forms and kinds of that influence as well as analyzes the mechanisms by which it does its work.

Ethos and the Vicarious Imagination. Another idea about the formation of selves that ethical criticism brings to the table is the importance of the vicarious imagination in determining character. The vicarious imagination gives us the power to identify, to experience others' feelings and ideas and experience - their entire mode of being - as if they were our own. Without reference to the vicarious imagination, we cannot explain how fictional representations get out of the text and into our heads. We know by both description and experience that identification not only "works," but that it determines for us much of the quality of our existence. How identification works seems tied, once we take the craft of the artist for granted, to the way our imagination, acting as a bridge, allows us to leave the boundaries that make up our own sense of self, like passing through some marvelously permeable membrane between souls, in order to take on other senses of selves. Significantly, this temporary and imaginative merging of selves produces clarity rather than confusion. In literary experience we are given the gift of identification without the pathology of delusion. When we read or see a story, we apply for temporary foreign citizenship in other times, places, and modes of being. We become citizens of the world that the literary characters inhabit. It is such a common thing that we think too seldom about what a profoundly moving and potentially formative thing it is. Sven Birkerts describes "the slow and meditative possession of a book" as "deep reading": "we don't just read the words," says Birkerts, "we dream our lives in their vicinity" (146). Stories take us not just to other places the way a freeway takes us to other places: zipping us through the space of otherness without our feeling or absorbing any of it. On the contrary, stories take us to other places that get vividly realized in our heads, places about which we "know" the details, their aromatic essence, the tactile and emotional feel of the total environment. The mechanism for this is the vicarious imagination. In the words of Eva Brann: "[T]hat seems to be, in sum, the nature of the feeling peculiar to the imaginative state: It is the feeling of that image, be it figure or scene, and of no other; it is its soul or genius loci - at once unarticulable in its particularity and archetypal in its significance, fascinating in its familiarity and elusive in its candor" (769). Vicarious imagining is a powerful and important form of learning, and, obviously, learning is a powerful and important constituent of character, for what we know is a large part of who we are. In very basic terms, the first and foremost thing we all need to learn is how to be a human being, whatever the social context in which we find ourselves born and reared. Since we are not born with this knowledge programmed into our genes, we have to learn it from others, but life is so limited in its pedagogical resources that no one can or does rely on first-hand experience alone. The most obviously limiting feature of first-hand life is the way it requires us to live at one point in space and time at a time when our education would be vastly larger if we could live in different times and other spaces simultaneously. This constraint is made even more stringent by life's brevity, by the fact that we simply don't live long enough to move across the whole range of life's categories. Enter stories. Stories are surely human kind's most imaginative answer to the constraints of brevity and linearity. Every human culture has developed an important, universal, and deep way of reflecting on the human condition that cleverly and profoundly transcends the limitations of first-hand life: the way of stories. In fiction we can learn about the quality of lives and the manner of living in times, places, and conditions not our own. This activity gives us those in-

depth views of the human condition that existential richness requires, but that the short-armed grasp of first-hand experience is never capacious enough to provide on its own. The ethical implications of literary experience should now be more clear. We become the ethical and moral agents that we are through the experience of "taking in" from the world around us data, models, ideas, feelings, motives, judgments, and so on. The strands of such knowledge we take in are like threads of the world running one way and threads of life running the other way. We take these crossing threads and weave them into the ever-changing fabric of that thing we call our self, a fabric and a pattern that are always in formation, never complete, never "done." Life and literature both lead us to form reactions that I like to call, after Bellah, habits of the heart: the typical patterns of our intellectual, emotional, and ethical responses. The Nutritional Analogy. The third idea that ethical criticism brings to the table of discussion is an analogy to the claim of nutritionists that "we are what we eat." For nutritionists, "we are what we eat" is a thumbnail way of saying that our regular diet is an important factor in our overall health. For ethical critics, a similar assumption is that readers' regular imaginative diet - the consistent consumption of fictional images - is an important constituent of moral and ethical health (or ill health). According to the operations of the vicarious imagination and the terms of the analogy, our literary diet helps develop within us such ethical features as emotions, attitudes, values, beliefs, aspirations, and possible actions. This analogy leads to two extensions, one dealing with further implications for the consumer/reader, the other dealing with the role of the nutritional specialist, the ethical critic. Nutritionists deal with exercise in addition to diet. They know that our bodies become what they are not only because of what we take in, but also because of how we exercise them. Never exercising will certainly offset the benefits of a good diet. In like manner, our minds and hearts become what they are not only because of the moral, intellectual, and emotional content of what we take in, but because of the way that content exercises our minds and hearts. The formal strategies of stories exercise our ethical responses and, over time, shape them into patterns that become distinctive habits of the heart. Every narrative - very narrative commercial, song lyric, novel, TV program, movie, and so on - not only pulls out of us a specific set of responses but also structures those responses. Working our way through a narrative results in an orchestrated, patterned set of responses. As long as we are attentively engaged, as long as we think we understand what is happening, and, most importantly, as long as we desire to receive any profit of pleasure in return for the investment of our time and energy, we are at least potentially open to the kinds of emotional, intellectual, and ethical interactions with literary texts that influence our typical ways of responding to life, not just to fictions. Kenneth Burke throws light on this issue of ethical exercise. In a chapter that he calls "Literature as Equipment for Living," Burke lays down an argument - sketchy but pregnant - asserting that literature, specifically fiction, "names" the situations of life to which we must form responses and, moreover, helps us adopt the attitudes toward these situations that define and create our own moral agency. By representing these situations in all of their concrete embededness and by helping us "adopt an attitude," Burke argues that fictions provide us with models for how to face and deal with life's situations.

[T]he main point is this: A work like Madame Bovary (or its homely American translation, Babbitt) is the strategic naming of a situation. It singles out a pattern of experience that is sufficiently representative of our social structure [. . .] for people to "need a word for it" and to adopt an attitude toward it. [. . .] Art forms like "tragedy" or "comedy" or "satire" would be treated as equipments for living that size up situations in various ways and in keeping with correspondingly various attitudes. (296-304; emphasis added) In adopting attitudes we create character, yet the assumption behind Burke's comment - and behind the nutritional analogy as well - is not that a literary diet is all-determinative of character. Many forces other than story, after all, influence character. However, the influence of our fictional diet is generally underrated as far as effects go and is generally misunderstood as far as go the mechanisms that convey the effects (see Gregory, CEA Critic 1990 and Gregory, Narrative). For the critic, the main implication of the nutritional analogy touches on one of the most sensitive - that is, controversial - roles of the ethical critic: the attempt to evaluate both the contents and effects of literature in ethical terms. The ethical critic ventures into this field of controversy because the nutritional analogy suggests to him a proper function. As the person who has tried to think long and deeply about the relationship between literature and ethics, the ethical critic has an obligation to assist others to think better about that relationship as well. Nutritionists worth their professional degrees would never let a client who needed to lose weight get by with the flabby argument that, after all, chocolate cake is "merely entertainment," or is subject to a variety of interpretations, or is composed of rhetorically unstable perspectives, or is semantically indeterminate, or must be viewed in its historical context, or is the favorite dessert in the English Department at Duke University. Without being diverted even momentarily by such self-serving and diversionary rationalizations, but also without arrogating or desiring the authority to force the client to forgo chocolate cake, responsible nutritionists would nevertheless be aggressive in presenting the most reasonable and carefully thought-out arguments they can muster for healthy food and against rich desserts. It is precisely at this point that horrified exclamations of "Oh, my God, we're talking censorship!" begin to appear. But "we" aren't talking censorship. Censorship is a red-herring and has no more to do with ethical criticism in any necessary way than the precious Unities had to do with good drama. Once Samuel Johnson grabbed the Unities by the throat in his "Preface to Shakespeare" (231-33) and demanded that they leave drama alone, they gave up the ghost at once and have never been heard from again. The connection between ethical criticism and censorship should die the same kind of death. No ethical critic supposes that censorship will even or ever work, much less that it will make people virtuous. In Areopagitica, John Milton put this issue to rest as comprehensively and decisively in his day as Johnson put the issue of the Unities to rest in his day: "They are not skillful considerers of human things," says Milton, "who imagine to remove sin by removing the matter of sin" (24). And no ethical critic who has really thought about the complexity of the relationship between ethics and literature has such faith in the infallibility of his or her judgment that he would even want, much less attempt to exercise, the

power to coerce other people to do her literary bidding. Those who do wish to censor writers or libraries or readers are not ethical critics but dogmatists. The two should not be confused. But the ethical critic who warns his or her "friends" (even if they are unknown readers) of a danger that the friends have perhaps not thought about, or warns them of a relationship that may not be as innocent as they suppose, or who makes arguments about the possible negative effects of yielding to certain invitations of feeling, thinking, and judging is not performing a censor's function. To warn is not the same thing as forcibly stopping. Nor is warning the same thing as forcibly ridding the world of the dangers you are warning about. To an ethical critic, censorship simply is not the important issue in ethical criticism. In ethical criticism, the important issue is what we make of ourselves by the choices we make and the actions we perform. None of us chooses our actions or makes our choices in a social and moral vacuum. We seek help from friends, from models, from ideas, from value systems, and from different fields of discourse. Ethical critics attempt to create a kind of discourse about literature's potential effects on feeling, thinking, and judging that will be helpful, sometimes by warning, sometimes by praising, but always by foregrounding for readers the importance of being self-critical about the kinds of literary and other fictional invitations they accept. Ethical critics can help readers not only by questioning the potentially negative effects of certain fictions, but also by finding grounds for showing the potentially positive effects of other fictions. The attack on literary meaning conducted by many contemporary critics has made it difficult for teachers and other lovers of literature to find grounds on which to defend their literary commitments and has especially made it difficult for teachers to find grounds for recommending the books they love to their students. Ethical criticism finds ways of arguing the positive value of many different kinds of literary encounters. William Kennedy recalls his initial confusion when, as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, he first heard William Faulkner talk in class about literature's ability to "uplift" the human heart. This uplift business baffled me. I was reading and rereading The Sound and the Fury, Sanctuary, Light in August, The Wild Palms and Absalom, Absalom! - tales of incest and whoring and rape and dying love and madness and murder and racial hate and miscegenational tragedy and idiocy and saying to myself, "This is uplift?" But I kept reading and found I couldn't get enough; I had to reread to satisfy the craving, and came to answer the question in a word: yes. I felt exalted by the man's work, not by reveling in all the disasters, but by learning from his language and his insights and his storytelling genius how certain other people lived and thought. I was privileged to enter into the most private domains of their lives and they became my friends or people I'd keep at least at arm's length or people I pitied, feared or loved. This was truly an uplifting experience, something akin to real friendship, and I began to understand the process by which writing reaches into another person's heart.(9) (35) Here the friendship and the nutritional analogy both apply: the friends Kennedy took in acted as forms of intellectual, emotional, and ethical nourishment. Thus story works its way into the very nerve endings of our ethical lives.

Conclusion So ethical criticism does matter. It matters because who we become matters and because literature, or, rather, story in general, as an important midwife to our becoming, helps usher us into the world. Insofar as ethical criticism helps us understand how this influence gets exerted, how our responses get elicited, and how these responses get both shaped up and filled in by literary experience, it contributes to the ongoing human enterprise of getting to know ourselves better in order that, in our improved understanding, we can come closer to creating the kind of world we want rather than settling for the world we have. Ethical criticism can make a contribution to literary study, to the humanities, and to civilized living by helping readers recognize the Janus face of literary experience. While one countenance looks outward at society, the other countenance looks inward at our own souls. Finally, ethical criticism can help us understand how the perspectives of these two countenances eventually merge into the public and private entity we call an ethos. The old adage, "It is never too late to become what you might have been" is pertinent here, for all of us are trying to become what we might have been, and in our efforts we use experience both from first-hand life and from second-hand fictions. These fictions are frequently so powerful, so beautiful, so jolting, so vivid, so intimate, so challenging, so repeated, and so long-lasting in their effects that they sometimes exert a gradually transformative effect: they enter into and partly form the habits of our heart and thus help us see not only who we are but what we might become. Notes 1 Clearly, I am not speaking here of only printed stories or literature written as fine art. I am including the oral stories and fables and apologues of tribal societies and, indeed, of our own society. In short, I am talking about stories in all their shapes and forms and in all the media by which they get conveyed to those who consume them. 2 Helen Gardner makes much the same point in even more detail: "Since imaginative literature gives us images of human life and records human experience, it is inevitably full of moral ideas and moral feelings, strongly engages our moral sympathies, and tests our moral allegiances. [. . .] The writers [. . .] who most notably expand our knowledge of the world and of ourselves [. . .] [are] those who, while they amuse us, evoke our curiosity and engage our sympathies, involve us in a world of moral choice and moral values through our 'fond participation' in imagined adventures, crises, joys and distresses" (37). 3 The following catalog is a short list of some of the accusations against ethical critics that most literary critics for the last 100 years have readily accepted. * Ethical critics are just censors in sheep's clothing who want to tell artists what they can write and readers what they can read, or at least what will be good for them to write and read. * Ethical critics think it is literature's job to teach moral lessons and, in consequence, they reductively transform every text into an apologue, a moral fable, or a Sunday School lesson.

* Ethical critics are narrow-minded, doctrinaire moralists who, like the stereotype of the oldfashioned house mother looking for men in a women's dorm, concentrate salaciously on sniffing out sin from its literary hiding places so they can hang both the sin and the book on the gallows of dogma. * Ethical critics naively believe that reading canonical literature automatically elevates readers' morality. * Ethical critics are either sexual prudes or religious fundamentalists, neither of whom understand anything about aesthetic imperatives or the first amendment to the Constitution. * Ethical critics are intellectual guerrillas, both anti-philosophical and anti-theoretical, who ambush literary texts on moral grounds without ever taking into account the ought/is distinction or the fact/value split. * Ethical critics willfully ignore the wisdom of Henry James's dictum that "questions of art are questions [. . .] of execution; questions of morality are quite another affair" (446); Kant's assertion that "the beautiful, the judging which has at its basis a merely formal purposiveness, i.e., purposiveness without purpose, is quite independent of the concept of the good" (386); Philip Sidney's dictum that "for the poet, he nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth" (149); Northrop Frye's statement that "there's no such thing as a morally bad novel: its moral effect depends entirely on the moral quality of the reader" (94); Derrida's view that "the absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and interplay of signification ad infinitum" (961); Michel Foucault's assertion, following Roland Barthes's lead, that "the author function [. . .] does not refer purely and simply to a real individual, since it can give rise simultaneously to several selves, to several subjects - positions that can be occupied by different classes of individuals" (153); or Barbara Herrnstein Smith's view that "all value is radically contingent, being neither an inherent property of objects nor an arbitrary projection of subjects but, rather, the product of the dynamics of an economic system" (11); and many other such assertions in the same vein. 4 John Morley railing at Swinburne for "persistently and gleefully [flying] to the animal side of human nature" (880); Robert Buchanan accusing "the fleshly school of verse writers" (Rossetti) of "diligently spreading the seeds of disease broadcast" (889); Elizabeth Rigby attacking the politically incendiary and "anti-christian" tendencies of Jane Eyre (449-50); the trial in which Gustave Flaubert was charged with an "outrage to public morality and religion" (7) for publishing Madame Bovary; the bannings in America of the sale of Lady Chatterly's Lover and The Tropic of Cancer; and the persistent attempts of some parents and some school boards today to pull The Catcher in the Rye and Huckleberry Finn from school libraries. 5 William Perry, author of Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme. 6 Emotivism produces contradictions that sometimes seem hopeless, sometimes seem comic, but that in either case speak to our deep confusions about ethical discourse. Just recently, as I was taking one of my periodic beatings at the faculty lunch table for my interest in ethical criticism, a colleague asserted to me decisively that "literature has no more to do with making moral

character than it has to do with making shoes." Two minutes later he was applauding me for my efforts to teach Areopagitica in a freshman class on the grounds that "working through Milton's ideas about censorship will be good for your students." When I hazarded that he had just made a judgment about the (potential) ethical benefits of reading a certain text, he responded, "that's not an ethical judgment; it's just my opinion." The presumption here is what? - that ethical judgments are not opinions, or that mere opinions can never carry the weight of ethical judgment? I think the presumption is simply that making ethical judgments is intellectually retrograde but that opinions are defensible. The danger of such confusion is that it threatens to deprive us of any grounds for conducting moral discourse at all, and the danger of this is that, since moral issues comprise an unavoidable and permanent part of human sociability, depriving ourselves of the ability to discuss these issues only deepens the confusion in which we live and leads to an impoverishing sense of randomness and formlessness. 7 If it seems odd to offer a fiction as an example of the criticism of fiction, I refer my reader to Wayne Booth's incisive comment that "powerful narratives provide our best criticism of other powerful narratives" (283). 8 Here and in the remainder of this paragraph I am not quoting particular persons; the quotation marks indicate typical positions and typical views. 9 Martha Nussbaum corroborates Kennedy's sense of friendship with literary characters and books in a parallel account of her own schooling: "In my school there was nothing that AngloAmerican conventions would call 'philosophy.' And yet the questions of this book (which I shall call, broadly, ethical) were raised and investigated. The pursuit of truth there was a certain sort of reflection about literature. And the form the ethical questions took, as the roots of some of them grew into me, was usually that of reflecting and feeling about a particular literary character, a particular novel; or, sometimes, an episode from history, but seen as the material for a dramatic plot of my own imagining. All this was, of course, seen in relation to life itself, which was itself seen, increasingly, in ways influenced by the stories and the sense of life they expressed. Aristotle, Plato, Spinoza, Kant - these were still unknown to me. Dickens, Jane Austen, Aristophanes, Ben Jonson, Euripides, Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky - these were my friends, my spheres of reflection" (11). Works Cited Aristotle. Poetics. Trans. S. H. Butcher. New York: Hill and Wang, 1961. Bellah, Robert N., et. al. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. Berkeley: U of California P, 1985. Birkerts, Sven. The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age. New York: Fawcett, 1994. Booth, Wayne C. The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction. Berkeley: U of California P, 1988.

Brann, Eva T. H. The World of Imagination: Sum and Substance. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994. Buchanan, Robert. "The Fleshly School of Poetry: Mr. D. G. Rossetti." Victorian Poetry and Poetics. 2nd ed. Ed. Walter E. Houghton and G. Robert Stange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968: 888-98. Burke, Kenneth. The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action. 2nd ed. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1941, 1967. Caughie, Pamela L. "Let It Pass: Changing the Subject, Once Again." PMLA 112.1 (January 1997): 26-39. Fish, Stanley. "Rhetoric." Critical Terms for Literary Study. 2nd. ed. Ed. Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995: 20322. Flaubert, Gustave. Madame Bovary. Ed. and trans. Paul de Man. New York: Norton, 1965. Foucault, Michel. "What Is an Author?" Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-Structuralist Criticism. Trans. and ed. Josue V. Harari. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1979: 141-60. Frye, Northrop. The Educated Imagination. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1964. Gardner, Helen. In Defence of the Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1982. Gregory, Marshall. "Humanism's Heat, Postmodernism's Cool." CEA Critic 57.2 (Winter 1995): 1-25. -----. "The Sound of Story: An Inquiry Into Literature and Ethos." Narrative 3.1 (January 1995): 33-56. -----. "Character Formation in the Literary Classroom." CEA Critic 53.2 (Winter, 1990): 5-21. Harpham, Geoffrey Galt. Getting It Right: Language, Literature, and Ethics. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992. Horace. The Satires of Horace. Ed. Arthur Palmer. New York: St. Martin's, 1959. James, Henry. "The Art of Fiction." The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 2nd ed. Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin's, 1998: 436-47. Johnson, Samuel. "Preface to Shakespeare." The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 2nd ed. Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin's, 1998: 224-38. Kant, Immanuel. "Critique of Judgment." Critical Theory Since Plato. Ed. Hazard Adams. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 377-99.

Kennedy, William. "Why I Took So Long." New York Times Book Review, 20 May 1990:1 . LaCapra, Dominick. Madame Bovary on Trial. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1982. Louden, Robert B. Morality and Moral Theory: A Reappraisal and Reaffirmation. New York: Oxford UP, 1992. MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. Notre Dame, IN: U Notre Dame P, 1981. Midgley, Mary. Can't We Make Moral Judgements? New York: St. Martin's, 1991. Milton, John. Areopagitica. 1664. Santa Barbara, CA: Bandanna Books, 1992. Morley, John. "Mr. Swinburne's New Poems: Poems and Ballads." Victorian Poetry and Poetics. 2nd ed. Ed. Walter E. Houghton and G. Robert Stange. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968: 880-84. Nealon, Jeffrey T. "The Ethics of Dialogue: Bakhtin and Levinas." College English 59.2 (February 1997): 129-48. Norris, Christopher. Truth and the Ethics of Criticism. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1994. Nussbaum, Martha. Love's Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature. New York: Oxford UP, 1990. Perry, William. Forms of Intellectual and Ethical Development in the College Years: A Scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1970. Plato. Symposium. Trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989. Rabinowitz, Peter J. Before Reading: Narrative Conventions and the Politics of Interpretation. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1987. Rigby, Elizabeth. "An Anti-Christian Composition." Jane Eyre: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds, Criticism. Ed. Richard J. Dunn. New York: Norton, 1971: 449-53. Sidney, Philip. "An Apology for Poetry." The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends. 2nd ed. Ed. David H. Richter. New York: St. Martin's, 1998: 134-59. Smith, Barbara Herrnstein. "Contingencies of Value." Critical Inquiry 10.1 (September 1983): 135. Todorov, Tzvetan. Literature and Its Theorists. Trans. Catherine Porter. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1987. Wilson, James Q. The Moral Sense New York: Free Press, 1993.

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Bibliography for: "Ethical criticism: what it is and why it matters"


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ETHICAL CRITICISM OF GENRE FICTION (PART 2)


Jun 03 2010 Published by Jessica under Pop Culture Association 2010

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This is a sketch of a project I am working on, and of a paper I gave at the Popular Culture Association conference in April. Part 1 is here. Part 3 to come. I. In Part 1 I argued that ethical criticism is not about rating books for how well they provide moral education. That view, known as instrumentalism, reduces the role of art to handmaiden of morality. As a reaction to instrumentalism, aestheticism claims that there is no connection between art and morality. Oscar Wildes comment that There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all. is the classic example of aestheticsm. It turns out that aestheticism has its own reductionist problems, which become clear once one considers how to keep morality out of an evaluation of any novel that attempts to deal seriously with moral matters.

So ethical criticism tries to steer clear of the faults of both instrumentalism (aka moralism) and aestheticism (aka autonomism). Different ethical critics have cashed out the relationship in different ways. Here are a couple of contenders: a. Noel Carroll: clarificationism : The idea here is that dont gain new moral knowledge, especially not in the form of propositional knowledge, but rather that art works have to engage their audience, and to do this they have to fit them. The audience has to mobilize its knowledge, including moral knowledge, and its emotions, in order to experience the work. This is especially true with respect to mass art, which has to be accessible. Narrative art deepens our moral understanding by encouraging us to apply our moral understanding to specific cases. It forces us to move from knowledge to understanding (ability to application). When we read fiction, we connect different parts of our moral knowledge stock. Fiction thus exercises and enlarges our moral understanding. Just understanding the narrative often requires exercising our moral powers. So reading a novel just is a continuous process of moral judgment. This is not a consequence or result of reading. It is reading. It is not going outside the work. It is of the work. b. Martha Nussbaum: virtue ethics: Martha Nussbaum has argued that engagement with fiction can cultivate certain highly cognitive moral abilities related to attention, attunement, and discernment, including the ability to notice morally relevant details, empathy, and the ability to better understand complicated moral issues. In discussing James The Golden Bowl, she writes: [T]his novel calls upon and also develops our ability to confront mystery with the cognitive engagement of both thought and feeling. To work through these sentences and these chapters is to become involved in an activity of exploration and unraveling that uses abilities, especially abilities of emotion and imagination, rarely tapped by philosophical texts. (Nussbaum 1990, 143) Nussbaum has certain goals in mind that have more to do with moral philosophy than art criticism. Her arguments about the moral importance of literature have a lot to do with her development of a neo-Aristotelian ethic. She thinks that morality is less about universal principles and more about human flourishing and the capacities needed to do so. In making that kind of claim, she situates herself as part of a later twentieth century philosophical take on morality that emerged as a critique (some would say antidote) to the abstract formalism that had dominated moral philosophy for a long time. My own views on moral philosophy have been shaped mostly by this tradition.

Nussbaum actually says that fiction itself can be moral philosophy, and can be better moral philosophy than what you find in philosophy journals. This is because fiction captures the elements of moral life that an Aristotelian sees as most important, like character, emotion, and visions of the good, while traditional ethics essays remain at a level of abstraction even their example of ethical dilemmas tend to be schematic and far fetched that bears no resemblance to how moral deliberation actually works. Nussbaum has interesting things to say about the inseparability of form and content. James isnt just Aristotle dressed up with pretty images that you can remove like ornaments on a Christmas tree and have the essence left over. You cant summarize or paraphrase any passage in fiction and hope to keep the same meaning, the way you can with a philosophical argument. There are a number of other takes on ethical criticism, of course. I just give these as examples of kinds of ethical criticism that are more intelligent and compelling than those that seek to glean nuggets of moral lessons from books and throw out every thing else. Note that for ethical critics, active reading is assumed. Carroll in particular emphasizes the way readers must fill in gaps in the narrative with their own stock of knowledge. Narrative also calls for us to feel certain emotions. If we dont, we simply cannot understand the text. II. What exactly do ethical critics evaluate? This seems obvious: the book. But what is that? Heres my view (not unique to me. Its from arguments found in Alexander Nehamas for example, and others, like Seymour Chatman) I dont know how to read a novel other than as someone trying to tell me a story. It is natural to posit a rational agent when we read a book. We assume the text is organized in a certain way for certain reasons. We realize we can find all of these words elsewhere but they are here, together, in a specific purposeful arrangement. More, the text is for us, the readers. We are engaging with someone who is deliberately engaging with us, aesthetically, morally, politically, cognitively. I think that positing an author is just part of what reading is. It is not some extra psychological effort readers may or may not undertake. The idea of a purpose leads naturally to the idea of an agent. But who is that? It isnt the narrator or the protagonist, because the first can be unreliable, and the second is limited in understanding (her point of view may not be the only one we get).

The writer is the individual person who writes the book. But thats not who I am thinking about when I review a book or do ethical criticism. You can tell because I make claims about the text and not about the flesh and blood writer. (Wayne Booth has a set of terms for this, as do others. Booth calls it the implied author. For Nehamas is it just the author. ). There are probably lots of things that go into the writing from the writers standpoint that, in caring deeply about the text, I do not care about like that she needed to finish this book to make a mortgage payment or that the name of the protagonist came from the name of her best friend in first grade. So the author (or implied author or posited author) is a fiction, with one main function: to allow us to read the text as purposive. It follows that in ethical criticism, moral judgments are made about the literary work, i.e. about the author, not about the writer. In my experience on this blog, this can be a challenging distinction for some authors to grasp. And in some ways I dont blame them: it is a very tight circle indeed. (The reader constructs the author, but the author constructed the narrator, so does the reader construct the narrator, and thus the text, too? Something has gone awry.) Are we just adding agents when we would do well to stick with 2 the narrator and the writer? Luckily, I dont have to solve this problem to get to my main point. I just wanted to let you know I know it exists. For my purposes, all we need is some conceptual space between the flesh and blood writer and the posited or implied author, enough so that when we make moral judgments about the text, we are not seen as making, mutatis mutandis, moral judgments about the flesh and blood writer. Why am I spending time on this? I think it is because I am coming at this as a reader of genre fiction, and genre fiction is different from literary fiction in the closeness of its readers, who may aptly be called fans, to the authors. The question of the relationship between writers and readers is there in literary criticism, but it has special resonance for genre readers because of the relative closeness of genre writers to their readers in comparison to literary writers. III. The relation of the moderate moralists theories to genre fiction. I teach a course in philosophy and fiction, particularly ethics and fiction. I have read a lot of ethical criticism. And most of it almost all of it, really is criticism of literature, and not just literature but the classics. (And not just the classics, but a mini-canon of works, as I explain below). Here I am mainly referring to philosophers who write about ethical criticism. (Also, I am using the terms literature and genre fiction in their loose and popular senses. I am not, in

doing so, necessarily buying in to invidious distinctions between them, least of all to an invidious distinction between their relative literary merits.) So we are finally at the central motivating question of the paper: What is the relationship of our best known philosophical champions of ethical criticism to genre fiction? And is that relationship contingent or necessary (that is, do they just pick the classics because thats what they happen to read or like, or do they not pick genre fictionspecifically because they believe that ethical criticism of genre fiction doesnt merit ethical criticism in some sense?) a. Nussbaum, like most philosophers who engage with literature, focuses exclusively on the classics, especially Henry James. She does not engage with genre fiction at all. b. Booth As an aside, I will say that I have problems with his theory overall, as it comes very close to moralism not moderate moralism about literature. But the moralism is most noticeable when he is talking (which he rarely does) about genre fiction. For example, Booth worries about what [Stephen] Kings 300 million sold copies have taught the worlds unsophisticated readers, and when challenged on whether he has actually read even one of Kings books, he says in a footnote: Ive tried to. This is a very common tendency: to use literary classics are exemplars of salutary moral effects and genre fiction as exemplars of potentially corrosive moral effects. Its quite amazing, really. I mean, would you take your lessons on father/daughter relations from The Golden Bowl, as Nussbaum suggests? Squicks me right the heck out. But Booth unlike most others in this group at least tackles head on the question of what kind of books work best for ethical criticism. And heres what he says: i. Using Sheldon Sackss typology of authorial invitation satire, apologue (idea novels) and action novels, in which category Booth includes novels like those of Jane Austen or Cormac McCarthy or, moving down the line in quality, Agatha Christie or Louis LAmour. He notes that that writers of action novels get furious when ethical critics focus on their work, because for them, it is the beautifully formed action, conveyed in beautiful or witty or original style that counts. Consign the ethicists to hell, where they belong so the authors of action novels are purported to say. My own view is that such authors are probably sick unto death of critics using genre fiction as an ethical punching bag. But it is not just the authors faults: Booth claims without argument that action stories do not openly demand ethical criticism. This is very interesting to me, since actions and the people who take them are the natural subjects of moral judgment.

For Booth, the most important literary kind for ethical criticism has no label it engages us in serious thought about ethical matters, based on the reinforcement of certain ethical positions as admirable and others as questionable or indefensible, but also hooks us into plots of conflict that are inseparable from that thinking (note that he implies action stories do not do this). His example of such writing? Henry James. (From Why Ethical Criticism Can Never Be Simple, Style, 1998). ii. In his earlier (1988) book, The Company We Keep, Booth offered a list of passages written

God Ford Maddox Ford DH Lawrence, Barbara Cartland Penthouse I am guessing the order of this list tells us in no uncertain terms what he thinks of the ethics of romance novels. Booth allows that all of these texts claim to offer the reader something (his model is of the implied author as a friend, a friend who is always offering the reader something via the text). He writes: The simple and obvious question, for example, Do you, my would be friend, wish ME well, or will you be the only one to profit if I join you? can make the implied creators of the Cartland romance and the Penthouse garbage writhe with embarrassment. When he says, in a footnote, that almost any of the literary classics could for most readers be said to provide the kind of friendship we are celebrating, he is at his clearest. c. Carroll, who has done important work on horror, comedy, film, and on mass art in general (The Philosophy of Horror, or Paradoxes of the Heart, New York, Routledge, 1990, A Philosophy of Mass Art, New York, Oxford University Press, 1998), is, not surprisingly, an important counterexample. He is explicit that Harlequin romances (despite being a more mundane example, contrasted with a special case like Citizen Kane) can engage our imaginative and reflective powers.

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Yet, even someone like Carroll, who defends the potential of ethical criticism of mass art, tends, in his examples of morally significant narratives, to rely on literary fiction. And his examples of morally obfuscating fiction tend to be from genre works for example, when he singles out Silence of the Lambs and Pulp Fiction, both of which encourage us to forge an emotive link between gayness and horror. I am not claiming he is wrong about those films he makes a persuasive case, actually just noticing where the chips tend to fall when philosophers are mining for examples of ethically bad art. IV. Textbooks You can tell a lot about the commitments of a field of study by looking at textbooks. There are a few popular ethics textbooks that use literature as a source of examples. (I would never use them. I dont like making literature the handmaiden of philosophy.) These focus heavily on the classics. So, for example, in The Moral of the Story: An Anthology of Ethics Through
Literature, the chapter on Love and Marriage has selections from:

Jane Austen (PP) Leo Tolstoy (AK), Shakespeare (R&J) George Bernard Shaw Daniel Defoe (Moll Flanders) Guy de Maupassant (The Model) John Cleland (Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure). When it comes to ethical dilemmas in love and sex, wouldnt you think contemporary romance is the obvious place to start? But there is very little genre fiction among dozens of selection in the entire textbook. ii. Ethics, Literature, and Theory. This is the book I used in Ethics and Fiction, and it is very good, but it makes use of all the usual suspects. At this point there is a mini-canon in ethical criticism of Huckleberry Finn, Beloved, To Kill a Mockingbird, anything by Henry James, Frankenstein, anything by Joyce or Flaubert, etc. We cant explain this by pointing out that philosophers chose them because they can ssume audience familiarity, because cant they also assume audience

familiarity with Harry Potter, or The Godfather, or Gone with the Wind, or Miss Marple? Not insignifiantly, in this collection, genre fiction gets the most attention in a section on writers responsibilities. iii. There is one popular intro to ethics textbook, The Moral of the Story: An introduction to ethics through
literature, which is a bit misleadingly titled, as the

majority of its narratives are actually popular

film narratives. But when it uses fiction, it tends to be literary fiction. Summing up this section, ethical critics tend to focus almost exclusively on literary fiction. I think we should turn at least some of our ethical attention to genre fiction, especially romance. In the next part I will say more about why we should, about why that idea may not be enthusaistically embraced by all genre writers, and also about the difference genre makes in ethical criticism.
Tags: Ethical Criticism, Martha Nussbaum, Noel Carroll, Wayne Booth

13 responses so far

1
Victoria Janssen says:
June 3, 2010 at 12:07 pm

ethical critics tend to focus almost exclusively on literary fiction *sigh*


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2
Pam Regis says:
June 3, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Jessica, A thought that recurs to me as I review your argument from PCA: In teaching the novels of Jane Austen, I have found that one of the most fruitful ways to open analysis of the characters and plots is through Austens deployment of the virtues. Jane Austens Philosophy of the Virtues by Sarah Baxter Emsley is my source for this discussion thread. I do not know that in exploring the virtue of fortitude, to name just one virtue, my students become more courageous. But their exploration sounds like the highly cognitive moral abilities that Nussbaum identifies as importantly at work in reading. Austens courtship narratives (and all six of the novels are courtship narratives) differ in degree, but not in kind, from the works of Barbara Cartland, to choose the least respected of the scorned. Every work of fiction, every narrative, I would venture to say, invokes this sort of attention from a follower of that narrative. The evolutionary psychologial argument of William Flesch in Comeuppance (2007) may support this claim. I dont understand his argument very well, but he tries to account for the indisputable fact that we are the sort of creatures who exhibit absorbed and anxious interest in what happens to nonexistent beingsbeings in works of fiction. Both Austen (and every other canonical author you can name) and Cartland (and every other genre author you can name) wrote works of fiction. I do realize that their novels are quite different, but would argue that they are importantly the same in certain basic responses that they evoke in readers. Pam Regis (Its so welcome to have a philosopher working on romance!)
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3
Julia Rachel Barrett says:

June 3, 2010 at 12:31 pm

Im trying to pull my brain together because you have quite a bit to say on the subject. Genre fiction is, for the most part, ignored by literary and ethical critics probably because its too obvious, too black and white, too good vs. evil, or just plain old beneath their notice. If you look at the romance genre, the theme is pretty universal, a triumph of true love, truth and the good. Yes, occasionally, say in a series, evil will appear to triumph or get the upper hand at least for a time, but in the end, usually good will out. Ethical criticism presumes that the author intends a lesson. Any lesson is subjective and any lesson learned is dependent upon the quality of the writing.
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4
Jocelyn Z. says:
June 3, 2010 at 4:16 pm

This is fascinating stuff. Im especially interested in your comments on reading as an ethical process, and how the moral lesson of a novel isnt something that can be removed and analysed on its own, its too interwoven with the text. The concept of the author as a construct of the readers experience as opposed to the person who actually wrote the book is also interesting. I think this dichotomy explains why so many writers have such a strong reaction to the Dear Author site, which addresses each review to the author, but is really written for readers. Are the Ja(y)nes addressing this author construct theyve created while reading? Theyre clearly not writing a letter to the real author. Also, I agree with a lot of what Julia (comment #3) said, but I think that the moral tone of genre fiction isnt as clear, especially if you look at the way society and women are depicted. I think analysis of the role of society and the position of women in romance novels is fascinating (see many of Candys old posts on the SBTB blog). A lot of readers seem to be more open to moral complexity in their fiction with the surge in Urban Fantasy, and with the ambiguous morality in some straight

romances. Sherry Thomas is a good example where her characters make some dubious moral choices and dont always act in a way thats good per se. Thank you for the post! Im looking forward to Part 3.
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5
Jeannie Lin says:
June 3, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Wonderful! I had to hold up until after work so I could read more thoroughly. Im always enamored of how you deconstruct and qualify your focus. Your break down of the role of the implied author was very clear and concise. Perhaps its not so much assumed that the author intends a lesson as much as the author intends a message. It seems like splitting hairs maybe. Characters and storylines reach decision points and a choice is made based on author message direction one way or another. The author definitely intended to provoke and evoke something with his/her writing, Id assume. Perhaps the moral tone is not clearly good or bad, but that doesnt necessarily speak to fuzziness of message does it? I liked what you discussed at PCA about not just examining decision points, but going on to follow up on consequences down the road. (At least this is from my fuzzy recollection.) Very intrigued to read up on the next part!
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6
Liz says:
June 3, 2010 at 7:11 pm

Im really enjoying these posts and am looking forward to Part 3. Having begun my professional life as a Victorianist, Im cool with authors who think theres a moral purpose to reading fiction (George Eliot has some lovely passages on the ways that realist fiction teaches us sympathy for our ordinary, unheroic neighbors, for instance). Theres quite a difference, though, between that and the sort of moral contract that some romance readers seem to feel they have with authors. Im thinking of, for instance, the way people say they were betrayed by certain authors and their cruel plot twists (e.g. Suzanne Brockmann, Karin Slaughter) and will never read that author again. As if a friend or lover has broken their trust. Im not sure if that is because readers feel closer to the author in some way, as you say, or because they feel the rules of the genre have been broken. But its interesting how often people use ethical language to discuss this rule breaking. This kind of response extends to characters in ways I find odd as well. Maybe because, as you said in the Jane Eyre discussion, we expect to root for romance characters or expect emotional justice (I think thats Jennifer Crusies term) for them. Here Im thinking of the periodic discussions of what behavior readers can/cannot forgive (e.g. can you forgive a hero/heroine who cheats). I think a cheating hero hasnt wronged ME, so it isnt my place to forgive. (Though if the heroine forgives him, I want the author to make me believe in and respect her choice). But many readers seem to feel differently: they DO feel somehow wronged by a cheating hero. Its not that readers dont judge, and arent invited by the text to judge, characters in literary fiction. I think we do and often are. But the discussion about romance characters often seems more intensely personal. Im not sure why, exactly. Maybe again because of genre expectations: these arent just main characters but HEROES and HEROINES. So Ill be curious to see what you have to say in Part 3 about what difference genre fiction makes.
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7
Jocelyn Z. says:

June 3, 2010 at 8:18 pm

@Liz: But the discussion about romance characters often seems more intensely personal. Im not sure why, exactly. My theory on this is that romance deals with a spectacularly personal subject (falling in love), a personal subject thats happy. Because of that, readers may identify more thoroughly or allow themselves to be swept up by the book more completely than they otherwise would. I dont identify with the hero or heroine while reading, but I definitely allow myself to become more emotionally involved in romance novels than I do with other fiction. I usually hold a part of myself back from literary fiction, and critique the text while reading. I dont expect to always have a positive emotional reaction to what Im reading. Im interested in the characterization, but I dont really care what happens to the characters. On the other hand, I dont keep that level of remove when reading romances because I expect to close the book and feel emotionally at peace with where the author left the characters. That kind of trust in the author allows a genre reader to stay immersed in a novel when he or she might otherwise recoil, but it also means that readers will be extremely angry if that trust is broken at the end of the book (by a failure to provide emotional justice? by having an unhappy ending? by having a main character cheat? I think the line is different for different people).
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8
Jessica says:
June 4, 2010 at 6:59 am

@Victoria Janssen: Its no suprise, of course, but I thought it wise to document it and identify it! @Pam Regis: Pam, thanks for your comment. I had not heard of the Emsley, but will acquire it. She was inspired by Alistair McIntyre, a crucial exponent of the philosophical tradition I mention in the

post, who claimed, in After Virtue, that Austen was the last great representative of the virtue tradition. McIntyre never did much to substantiate this claim, so I am glad someone has taken it up. There is a whole literature in philosophy on the irrationality of our emotional responses to fictional people. We call it the paradox of fiction and Carroll is one person who has written a lot on it. I had not heard of Comeuppance, so thank you I will follow up. I think the lack of attention to genre fiction is rooted mainly in the idea that it is bad fiction, and that bad fiction just doesnt repay ethical criticism. Not only that, but bad fiction may do us harm in some way, perhaps by making it harder for us to appreciate or enjoy good fiction. I think that goes wrong on all counts, but especially the idea that genre fiction is bad fiction (and that fiction with literary aspirations, or even canonical fiction) is good). I disagree also with the idea that bad fiction doesnt merit ethical criticism. The last claim might have some merit, but is not a good enough reason to argue against reading genre fiction unless you smuggle in the first two claims. @Julia Rachel Barrett: Yes, I think youve identified some of the reasons critics eschew genre fiction. And lots of genre fiction is formulaic and black and white. But a lot of it isnt. I tend to be drawn to the writers who let the gray in myself, although I am not sure it is moral ambiguity per se that I am attracted to, or just writing that reflects how complicated actual human moral life really is. But I dont think ethical criticism presumes that author intends a lesson. I think it assumes that if you are telling a story about human beings (or human like beings) that works on any level, it will contain certain commitments to a vision of the good life, to what counts as a virtue or a vice, a good person or a bad one. etc.. In other words, a writer cannot create a recognizably human like world without also creating a moral one. @Jocelyn Z.: Thank you for that point about urban fantasy. I had mentioned the moral ambiguity in Carolyn Cranes UF Mind Games in my review of it, but it did not occur to me but it did not occur to me to think about the ethical influence of UF on romance in the context of this project. @Jeannie Lin: Oh, thank you. Thanks for reading. Perhaps the moral tone is not clearly good or bad, but that doesnt necessarily speak to fuzziness of message does it?

No, I dont think so, because the message may be that moral life is fuzzy. That can be a clear message. I will get to your last point in the 3rd part. I think the fact that romance is written primarily by women and for women must be acknowledged in this discussion. @Liz: I am also fascinated by all of those varieties of reader response to romance, and the challenge for me is how to engage them (or whether I should) in this project. I think ethical critics need to do more to incorporate these elements (although Booth did a lot of work here), and genre critics need to pay attention to the specific modes of author engagement unique to each genre.
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9
Carolyn Crane says:
June 5, 2010 at 9:52 am

That problem you point out and dont solve is just like the problem in Terminator! John Connor sent his friend back in time to protect his mother, and his friend had sex with her, and the resulting baby .was John Connor! I enjoyed this post. Honestly, I didnt realize there was this whole field of thought and its fun to read about it, especially in relation to genre work like this. With those examples, at first I was like, Oscar Wilde, yeah! But then, I see where that view wouldnt entirely work out. (After it being pointed out to me, of course.) This bit about the construct of the author is totally interesting. When I reflect on it, it does feel true, especially when I read multiple books by an author, and it sort of adds to an author person in my mind. The idea that author is a construct of the reader would be a nice thing to keep in mind, in the case of personal attack, which luckily I havent ever experienced, but I sure see it. Its just so interesting. Even if you reach through to the writer end of things, in my mind, the writer Carolyn Crane is just a facet of the person Carolyn Crane.

Your point about how the relationship between writers and readers is intensified in genre literature is something that had certainly never occurred to me. Are we going to hear more about that? I so wonder why that would be.
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10
Julia Rachel Barrett says:
June 5, 2010 at 2:01 pm

I do agree that a book lacking an inherent morality let me figure out how to phrase this a story that takes no stand, either for the good or the bad or even the gray area in between, but rather attempts to remain neutral from the perspective of both the characters and the narrative, does not work for me. Yes, I suppose I can layer my own sense of right and wrong or like and dislike on top of a story but if theres no inherent meaning in the story, why should I even bother? Maybe the message Im missing is that there is no message. In any case, Ive read several works of fiction this past year that seem to be cut from the same cloth as if the authors deliberately tried to remove all meaning from the narrative. Why?
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11
Tumperkin says:
June 6, 2010 at 7:18 am

So many ideas in this post, but Ill restrict myself to commenting on the posited author, which is useful way of thinking about the author lens issue I keep coming up against in romances where I detect (or think I detect) things about the authors views and this affects how I read the text, relate the characters and even how I view the specific events in the story.

Have you read Margaret Atwoods collection of essays on writing, Negotiating with the Dead?
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12
william flesch says:
June 9, 2010 at 9:48 am

This is really good. Obviously I came to it through standard narcissistic google alerts, and I am glad I did. I happen to have been thinking about genre fiction, esp. Cartland, recently (I do try to talk about some of this in Comeuppance, and I admire Noel Carrolls work). One very important insight (from evolutionary biology) I put to use is the potentially positive ethical attitude that spitemight manifest (as altruistic punishment) but also the difficulty of preventing vindication (justice for the wronged) from degenerating into vindictiveness (the costs in reputation the spiteful are willing to pay because theyre so bitter). I think (in genre romance without an apparent villain) that the reader is in a kind of ethical debate with the naive narratee (whom I regard as a fictional being). The narratee thinks that things wont work out, that the author wont do the right thing by the characters. The reader has more faith than the narratee. Ive been thinking about these things in terms of Newcombs problem recently: the engaged and anxious reader trying through a kind of genuine moral commitment to wanting the right ending strongly enough to spin or nuance a story already fixed. I do think its something like a moral commitment to a good outcome for well-judged (approved-of) others, attempting to influence that outcome; this partly depends on my denial (shared with Carroll) of the explanatory force of so-called identification with a character. Sorry to be so gnomic. But I am happy to go on and on if youre interested. Anyhow I thought this was great and look forward to reading more of your work.
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13
Jessica says:
June 10, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Carolyn wrote, Your point about how the relationship between writers and readers is intensified in genre literature is something that had certainly never occurred to me. Are we going to hear more about that? I so wonder why that would be. I think so, but I am armchairing that, so I may be wrong. Julia wrote, Ive read several works of fiction this past year that seem to be cut from the same cloth as if the authors deliberately tried to remove all meaning from the narrative. Why? I dont know. Maybe they arent really writers in some important sense, but are just trying to earn a buck and their insincerity comes through. Tumperkin wrote, Have you read Margaret Atwoods collection of essays on writing, Negotiating with the Dead? No, but I love Atwood so I just bought it. Thanks! William Flesch, thank you for stopping by, and for your kind words, and for sharing some of your thoughts. I really appreciate it. In regards to the Newcombs problem, you may have have seen Carrolls work on the paradox presented by genre fiction, but your comment brought it to my mind. The paradox is that people read junk fiction for the story, for the page turning aspect. But these readers know antecedently how the story will turn out. (I talk about it a bit here: http://www.readreactreview.com/2010/02/07/monday-morning-stepback-is-there-a-paradox-ofjunk-fiction/). And there is the paradox of fiction, per se, the idea that it is irrational to feel emotions for fictional characters. But I am sure you deal with that in your book.

As far as identification with characters, romance readers are extremely wary of that for our own reasons: we are tired of being told that we read to escape our dreary lives, and that identification provides a means for doing that. I tend to be critical of both game theory and evolutionary biology but I am very interested in any new account of our commitment to narrative, so I will be reading your book for sure.

Art and Ethical Criticism, edited by Garry L. Hagberg.


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Anatomy of Criticism Second Essay: Ethical Criticism: Theory of Symbols

The project to read and blog about Northrop Frye's Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays continues after a slight pause while several of us were inundated with work. Today, I'd like to welcome my second guest blogger, Niall Harrison, editorin-chief at Strange Horizons, who will be introducing us to Frye's second essay, on 'Ethical Criticism: Theory of Symbols'.

What an inexplicable, long-winded, contradictory, pompous writer is Northrop Frye. For paragraphs at a time he seems happy to stray from his ostensible subject with the skimpiest of excuses, and spin an idea until it topples over. And the language! At least when Clute invents a critical term, he usually appropriates a word you've never heard before; here defenselessly normal words are turned to Frye's purpose to construct an edifice that may make sense only on its own terms. And yet outside the essay itself -- back in the introduction -- Frye is an engaging and frank writer. And open, too, about his work's limitations: "A book of this kind," he affirms, "can only be offered to a reader who has enough sympathy with its aims to overlook, in the sense not of ignoring but of seeing past, whatever

strikes him as inadequate or simply wrong" (29). In that spirit, then, I approach the theory of symbols.

Frye's aim here is to speak in generalities about the kinds of meaning that can be extracted from literature. A symbol ("in this essay", at least) is "any unit of any literary structure that can be isolated for critical attention" (71). In each of Frye's kinds of meaning there are different kinds of symbols. The relationship, he insists, is not hierarchical -- although the way he structures the essay, which rises from particles to god, suggests otherwise -- and so he wil speak of different "phases" of meaning: and he will characterise all literary structures as "poems", "by synecdoche, because they are short words" (71), and perhaps because nobody suggested "text".

Three of the phases I find relatively straightforward, two somewhat impenetrable. In order:

The literal phase: the marks on a page that represent sounds that represent meanings. Symbols in this phase are "motifs", and are understood "inwardly", as part of a larger verbal pattern. Pattern is an important property of literature: indeed "the reason for producing the literary structure", seen from this perspective, is to stimulate "the field of responses connected with pleasure, beauty and interest" (74). And because literature -- as opposed to other kinds of writing, it seems -- contains this level of structure, it is always ironic "because 'what it says' is always different in kind or degree from 'what it means'" (81).

The descriptive phase: more or less the level of what happens, the "sequence of gross events" (79). In this phase symbols are "signs", and are understood "outwardly", directing us to engage with the world beyond the text. Symbols that function as signs must be "large and striking"; that is, "nouns and verbs, and phrases built up out of important words" (79). Crucially there is no distinctin here between things and ideas: in terms of their function within this sort of critical reading, they are the same.

So far so good. We have the basic units, and a level of higher-order structure, and the tensions between the two seem evident. The next one foxes me a little, however.

The formal phase: I'm not even sure Frye knows precisely what this means, because he seems to define it in particularly vague and possibly inconsistent ways. In the formal phase, poetry "exists between the example and the precept" (84). What? He talks about form being either "stationary" or "moving", a distinction whose meaning I entirely failed to grasp. A little bit closer to comprehensible is this: "The form of the poem is the same whether it is studied as narrative or meaning" (85), which is clearly talking about form as some sort of unifying principle behind a literary work, but not in such a way that I could point to or describe an example of it. On the other hand, his statement of how formal criticism is done: "the units [the formal critic] isolates are those which show an analogy of proportion between the poem and the nature which it imitates" (84); pattern again, but this time at the interface between the work and the world.

The mythical phase: On surer ground here -- home ground, almost, since this is where we come to "convention and genre" (which are "based on analogies of form, but we'll gloss over that). These are of interest because they are part of "our actual experience of literature" (95); indeed, Frye goes so far as to assert that "all art is equally conventionalised, but we do not ordinarily notice this fact unless we are unaccustomed to the convetion" (96), which should be sent to John Mullan on a post card. I'd take issue with that "equally", except that a little bit later Frye does it form me, setting out a spectrum from "pure convention" to "pure variable". It's really striking how much more familiar this section felt than any of the others -- even allowing for the fact that the genres Frye is thinking of here are primarily the genres of struture, novels vs plays or what have you, rather than of content -- how much the understanding of genre here is the one I read with on a daily basis.

Finally: The anagogic phase: which is an attempt to talk about "universal meaning" that acknowledges cultural specificity (to a point: "they may be confidently excluded from the human race if they cannot understand the conception of food" [125]) and then tries to imagine the whole of literature

contained within an imaginary godmind (I think) about which critics must remain agnostic (I think). (This was the other one that had me a bit baffled.) The most interesting notes here, for me, were those that returned to the importance of pattern once more -- or ritual here -- which becomes almost a living thing, aspiring to dominate nature, to bend the world to its form. It reminded me quite a lot of Clutean Story.

Having laboured through this edifice of phases, I'm left with two main thoughts. The first is that it's not clear to me in which sense the theory of symbols is "ethical criticism"; or rather, in the sense that I normally understand "ethical", it's not, which means there must be another definition somewhere that either I missed or Frye is taking for granted. There is a brief discussion during the mythical/social phase to the effect that "Beauty in art is like happiness in morals: it may accompany the act, but it cannot be the goal of the act" (114), which is an interesting association, but that's about it. My second thought is that I'm not sure what to do with this structure now that I have it. I suppose that's what the rest of the book is going to articulate, but I'm not sure at this stage that the phases are distinct and coherent enough for it to be helpful to me to think about addressing them separately as I write about literature, or even that I understand them fully enough to argue with productively. The insights -- or at least assertions -- that interest me most seem to be scattered through the essay without being integral to any particular phase. I'm fascinated, for instance, by Frye's seeming vacillation on artistic intentionality and creativity. AT one point he insists that literature must be read as intentional, that "For many of the flaws which an inexperienced critic thinks he detects, the answer 'But it's supposed to be that way' is sufficient" (87); later, he seems to indulge the idea of independent creations, speaking of artists as custodians of great themes that in some sense work through them, or make them "at best a midwife" to the final work. It may be that the impossibility of knowing an author's mind, for Frye, necessitates reading a text in both ways just to see what you come up with. So maybe that's the point: maybe the theory of symbols is an extended argument that a critic should never say a literary work "is" any one thing. (Oops.)
Posted by Maureen Kincaid Speller at 8:03 PM Labels: anatomy of criticism, books, criticism, genre, northrop frye

4 comments:

Paul Kincaid said... Niall, I agree with you totally about Frye's use of language. I often found myself wondering whether it was simply that critical language has changed quite dramatically in the 50-odd years since he wrote this book. On the other hand, Auerbach's Mimesis had appeared in America at the beginning of the decade, but Frye shows no awareness of it and continually uses 'mimesis' in a way that seems slightly off-kilter to me at one point he defines it as: "an emancipation of externality into image" (113), that "emancipation" is a curious word. And then, as I noted in comments to the first essay, there are places where he cheerily admits to using the same word with different meanings in different places in the essays. The end result is that I found myself distrusting every word, particularly 'criticism' and any word he uses as a title for any part of his structure. Part of the slipperiness of the language is there in the whole notion of "ethical criticism" which I came to realise is not based on morality but on "ethos" or characterisation. We may assume that characters are moral beings, but moral readings of their actions are notably absent from this essay. We are most of the way through the essay before we come to: "the social context of art is also the moral context" (113), an equivalence with which I have some hesitation, to say the least. On the other hand, it was in reading this essay that I think I came to an understanding of what he was trying to do. He implies this several times, though if he ever makes it explicit (does he ever make anything explicit) I missed it. The aim is to construct a critical framework for literature that is entirely independent of anything outside the literature. In other words, we're talking about the skeleton of the work before any of the more culturally specific layerings of organs and muscles and flesh are built on top of it. That, at least, is what I think is the idea, but I have major doubts about the enterprise on three counts. 1) I am not convinced that you can ever completely sever literature from context: there is not such skeleton. 2) I don't think Frye himself achieves this, since his schema is itself littered with cultural references, though I'm not sure he's always aware of the extent to which he is making these references. And 3), I have doubts about the structure that is presented to us. Frye is very fond of patterns, everything comes in a set number of groups with a set number of subdivisions springing from them. Yet I could not say how much these patterns are extracted from the literature (the inductive method he raises then abandons in the introduction), and how much they are constructed independent of the literature and then laid over it. The all too neat way in which the 5 phases of symbolism match the 5 modes in the first essay, except in reverse, rather makes me suspect the latter. [This comment is growing long, I'll continue in another.] 2/4/11 8:59 AM

Paul Kincaid said... [My comment continued ...] That last point, about the way the 5 symbols are mapped upon the 5 modes raises another problem for me. The literal symbol equates with the ironic mode (lowest and latest of his historic modes), while the anagogic phase, which is the most esoteric and therefore seemingly closest to the purely literary detached from all external influences, equates with the earliest mythic mode. If this is anything more than a metaphorical linkage, then it seems to periodise symbols just as the modes are periodised. And as I said before, I have a real problem with periodisation. It would help if I didn't suspect that Frye's grasp of literary and cultural history was rather dodgy. He says, for instance, that "the great age of documentary naturalism, the nineteenth century, was also the age of Romantic poetry" (80), though these were at opposite ends of the century. The only thing that links them is the human tendency to group years into bunches of 100, and these two trends happen to fall more or less within the same bunch. When I said before that you have to question every word, starting with the word 'criticism', one of the points I had in mind was when he says: "Formal criticism (ie criticism of form) ... is commentary, and commentary is the process of translating into explicit or discursive language what is implicit in the poem" (86). It occurs to me that such commentary is mostly what we mean when we talk of criticism. But if criticism isn't just commentary what is it? He doesn't say. "But even continuous allegory is still a structure of images, not of disguised ideas, and commentary has to proceed with it exactly as it does with all other literature, trying to see what precepts and examples are suggested by the imagery as a whole" (90). In other words, art is a construct of images and no more (art is dumb) and abstracting ideas from the images (giving voice to art) is the job of the reader/critic not the writer. What he says about the "intentional fallacy" (86/7) calls to mind what he said about art being dumb in the introduction. "[W]hat the poet meant to say, then, is, literally, the poem itself" (87) - actually, no. We can't know that. The poem is what the poet said, but whether that is what she meant or simply the limit of her skill is another matter. I have similar problems when he comes as close as he can manage to what we would understand by ethical criticism. "Beauty in art is like happiness in morals: it may accompany the act, but it cannot be the goal of the act" (114) though there are some moral philosophers who would be happy to challenge the last part of that statement. All the way through this discussion (apropos my earlier remarks about the impossibility of separating literature from context), I felt that Frye seems to confuse the beauty of an object being painted with the beauty of the painting. Surely it is possible to paint an ugly object beautifully? "But if no social, moral, or aesthetic standard is in the long run externally determinative of the value of art, it follows that the archetypal phase, in which art is part of civilisation, cannot be the ultimate one. We need still another phase where we can pass from civilisation, where poetry is still useful and functional, to culture, where it is disinterested and liberal, and stands on it's own feet" (115) This is the clearest statement we have had so far about his aim.

Criticism must exclude all political, moral and aesthetic influences, it must be entirely in and of the art. This is another way of excluding Marxism from criticism, but it also excludes ethics or any sense that art has a function to be explored. 2/4/11 9:16 AM

Paul Kincaid said... Having said all that, I should add that there were some things I really, really liked about this essay, perceptions that I think are wonderful and valuable. Almost at random: "It is better to think, therefore, not simply of a sequence of meanings, but of a sequence of contexts or relationships in which the whole work of literary art can be placed, each context having its characteristic mythos and ethos as well as its dianoia or meaning" (73). "The basis of poetic expression is the metaphor, and the basis of naive allegory is the mixed metaphor" (91) lovely! "The literary relation of ritual to drama ... is a relation of content to form only, not one of source to derivation" (109) so, by extension, it is never correct to criticise a work by saying 'that never happened' or 'it wasn't like that'. Finally, since I am here just dropping in random apercus rather than trying to construct a coherent argument, I note: He doesn't mention him, but his brief discussion of signs and symbols (73-4) seems to pick up on Saussure. Except "the poet does not equate a word with a meaning; he establishes the functions or powers of words" (78) separating meaning from function, not sure what I make of this.

Why Ethical Criticism Can Never by Simple. Mapping the Ethical Turn: A Reader in Ethics, Culture, and Literary Theory. Eds. Todd F. Davis and Kenneth Womak. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 2001. 16-29. Argument In suggesting that ethical criticism can never be simple Booth is arguing that it is relevant to all literature (and thus cannot be easily contained in one simple definition or category), and that it can also be a genuine form of rational inquiry (16). In a time where conclusions are often thought to be relative and yet indictments and calls for censorship seem increasingly fashionable (17), Booth argues that ethical criticism enters into most critical discussion; nevertheless, it is often actively ignored or even repudiated.

Booth thus traces the importance of stories in our lives, including the effect of narrative on the ethos of the reader, what stories teach, why we need to acknowledge that texts have intentions, and how criticism needs to include ethical elements because of the various types of literary effects (such as learning from satire, learning an idea or way of thinking, and becoming involved with plots and characters). Booth then traces the literary effect of plots-of-conflict that consist of and engage the reader in serious thought about ethical matters (26). Critical Overview This essay explores many of the ideas found in The Company We Keep and various articles written by Booth, re-enforcing the idea that ignoring ethical criticism is nave (27), particularly in regards to works that are centered around ethical matters (like the works of Henry James). He also argues that ignoring ethical criticism is cause by the fact/value split (see Modern Dogma) that should not actually exist after all, whenever they [the purists and valuedodgers] engage with a story, privately or publicly, they encounter evidence that refutes their dogma (28). Ethical criticism
Until the late eighteenth century, it was a commonplace of criticism that literature should promote virtue. From The Epistles of the Roman poet Ovid (43 BCAD 17) to the novels of Samuel Richardson (16891761) literature was expected not so much to imitate nature as to improve it by providing examples of good behaviour which readers could emulate. This changed with the advent of romanticism. Literature was now seen as an expression of emotion rather than a guide to ethics. Of course, writers did not cease to be concerned about ethical issues-look, for example, at how the Victorian novelists tried to raise awareness about the plight of the poor, but literature was no longer conceived primarily as a guide to right action. This became even more pronounced at the end of the nineteenth century with the aesthetic movement which promoted the idea of art for arts sake: beauty, not morality was to be the new touchstone of literature. Nor did ethics seem to be a priority of modernist art where the interest was more in the nature of consciousness than in the workings of conscience. Moreover, the nature of modernist art made it difficult to engage with ethical issues. The emphasis on formal experimentation rather than accurate representation made it difficult for the reader to connect any moral matters that might arise in a work with his or her own experience of the world. Ethics is central to the work of F. R. Leavis (18961978) but he did not believe that

literature should be used as a guide to behaviour. His was a much more subtle conception, one which stressed the power of literature to make us more responsive to the possibilities for growth and development in both ourselves and the society in which we live. The advent of French critical theory in the 1970s signalled another change in the perception of literature. Thinkers, such as Jacques Derrida (19302004), Michel Foucault (192684) and Jacques Lacan (190181) focussed on the nature of signification while in Britain CULTURAL MATERIALISTS drew attention to the role literature played in legitimizing the social order. One criticism of these developments is that they undermined the idea of individual responsibility, not only by showing that social and economic and even linguistic structures limited the freedom to act, but also by questioning the very idea of the human itself. To be fair, there was something deeply ethical about theorys aim to give a voice to those on the margins but such concerns often seemed lost in the sort of highly abstract, formal analysis that can be found, for example, in the writings of Derrida. It was dissatisfaction with these and other elements of theory that led to a revival of ethical criticism. A key figure in this change was Emmanuel Levinas (190695) whose idea that we have an absolute obligation to the other struck a chord in a society where social bonds were disintegrating under the impact of market forces. There is no one form of ethical criticism. Instead, there are a range of ethical concerns, all of them rooted in the fact that a work of literature presupposes a relation between the author and the audience and is therefore ethical by nature. There is the conventional view that literature is ethical because it enables us to empathize with others. It does this by its special use of language which appeals simultaneously to the intellect, the passions and the affections thereby reminding us that ethics is not a matter of following rules but of balancing all kinds of conflicting claims and then taking responsibility for whatever decision we finally make. Ethical criticism is based on close reading which respects the unique character of the work. It also concerns itself with how a work represents the world, especially if it is based on a true event, and with how a work relates to the writers or the readers own life. More broadly, there are debates in ethical criticism about whether we should or should not try to speak for others as this has the potential to oppress them and whether we should judge an act as good in itself or according to the consequences that follow from it. Finally, there is the question of how ethics relates to literary form: are some forms, such as REALISM, more amenable to the exploration of ethical issues than, say, self-referential works? But there are also more straightforward issues here, such as how clearly writers communicate, or how sincere they may be. See Todd Davis and Kenneth Womack (eds), Mapping the Ethical Turn: A Reader in Ethics, Culture and Literary Theory (2001); Andrew Hadfield (ed.), The Ethics in Literature (1999); Dominic Rainsford and Tim Woods (eds), Critical Ethics: Text, Theory and Responsibility (1999).

Marshall W. Gregory

Redefining Ethical Criticism The Old vs. the New


1. Ethical Criticisms Fall and Postmodernisms Rise

For roughly 2500 years, ethical references constituted the starting point (and often the ending point) for most literary commentary. From Platos attack on tragedy up through the Victorians scandalized indignation over the work of Oscar Wilde and the Pre-Raphaelite poets, ethical criticism was the default position for most critics of literary art. However, like many long-lived positions not kept intellectually honest by ongoing criticism, ethical criticism over the centuries got fat, lazy, repetitive, shallow, doctrinaire, self-indulgent, platitudinous, and sometimes mean spirited. [1] By the end of the 19th century, ethical criticisms fatuity had brought it to the lip of the very cliff over which it was about to be pushed by a great many intellectual and societal forces that it never saw coming. What began as a fairly local that is, British late 19th-century backlash against ethical criticism swelled throughout the 20th century into a tsunami of new ideas from all across Europe and America that swept ethical criticism away. At the academic and professional levels [2] ethical criticism was killed, crushed, annihilated. I need to concede early on, however, that my own contribution here reflects on the critical debate about ethical criticism from a clearly Anglo-North-American perspective. As a consequence, some European positions go unmentioned (such as reception theory and hermeneutics). I am focusing on the history of and debate about ethical criticism that occurred mainly in England and America ranging from the late 19th-century to the present. Persistently throughout the entire 20th century, the higher the prestige of other modes of criticism ascended first, New Criticism, and, second, postmodernism [3] the lower the prestige of ethical criticism descended. Since, however, for todays disciplinarians even the history of this descent is hardly available, it may be useful here to string together a sketchy set of references to some of the most important 20th-century theories in criticism and philosophy that, in Cockney locution, did for ethical criticism. The complete rout of such a centuries long mode as ethical criticism becomes intelligible only when one pulls all of these later views together and takes a moment to contemplate the credibility they claimed throughout most of the 20th century. These 20th-century theories did more than merely discredit ethical criticism of the arts; they tended to discredit ethics as a general human enterprise. I refer to such movements and theories as modernism, [4] logical positivism, [5] the writings of Karl Marx, [6] the cultural aftermath of World Wars One and Two, [7] the 20th-century elevation of scientific knowledge over humanistic inquiry, [8] New Criticism, [9] post-colonial studies, [10] Freudianism, [11] deconstruction, [12] the work of Michel Foucault, [13] anthropological relativism, [14] changing views of human nature, [15] and, finally, changing notions of truth. [16] Under the force and weight of all of these influences, ethical criticism bent and broke, and remained stuck for most of the 20th century in a literary criticism version of John Bunyans Slough of Despond. A few critics made sidebar attempts to do something now and then that might have been called ethical criticism some of the work of F. R. Leavis, Irving Babbit, Ivor Winters, Lionel Trilling, and Kenneth Burke comes to mind but either this work proved completely ineffectual at refocusing the attention of academic and intellectual critics (Leavis,

Babbit, and Winters) or the critics who took such lines of argument became well-known for other lines of argument, not their ethical criticism (Trilling and Burke). [17] It is curious, however and, more than curious, it tells a compelling story about the inescapability of ethical concerns to note that no matter how forcibly 20th-century critics tried to manage the house of criticism such that ethical criticism was kept locked in some Closet of Disrepute, the human concerns from which ethical criticism springs kept pushing it back into the middle of the room. During the nearly forty years of postmodern hegemony in criticism, it was considered almost an intellectual felony punishable by ridicule-unto-professional-death to introduce ethics in literary theory, yet politics played a vastly important role in theory during this entire period. The fact that political theory and the agendas of political policy are always nested inside ethical assumptions was an inconvenient fact that simply never got mentioned. As I put it in a previous publication,
Both within the academy and within society as a whole, someone is always claiming that a given novel, movie, or TV program is either uplifting or degrading, inspiring or demeaning, should be read and seen by everyone or shouldnt disgrace either video airwaves or the shelves of the public library. Every time a feminist exposes Hemingways complicity with the patriarchy, or every time an African-American critic recommends the retrieval of slave narratives because such narratives shame our past and help us shape the future, and every time a Judith Fetterley, a Terry Eagleton, or a Michel Foucault decries the dehumanizing effects of master narratives on subject-readers, such critics are deeply engaged in important versions of ethical criticism that are not at all diminished in robustness for being disguised as any kind of discourse but ethical criticism. (Gregory 1998, 195)

Allow me to offer one typical example of an important and well-known work of 20th-century criticism that, right in the middle of a critical discourse that ostensibly opposes ethical criticism, nevertheless deploys ethical commentary as an apparently unavoidable dimension of literary analysis. If this sounds self-contradictory, it is. I offer this one example here and refer to other examples in a footnote all of which stand in for a much larger range of examples that could be offered. [18] In one of the iconic, foundational texts of New Criticism, Cleanth Brookss Irony as a Principle of Structure (1949), Brooks performs a typical, New Criticism close reading of a poem, Randall Jarrells Eighth Air Force. After repeating intellectual gestures that we all recognize as the standard stuff of New Criticism (There are no superfluous parts, no dead or empty details, The Pontius Pilate metaphor, as the poet uses it, becomes a device for tremendous concentration. ibid., 1047), Brooks insists explicitly that the poem has nothing to do with ethics because it exists solely on an aesthetic plane We do not ask a poet to bring his poem into line with our personal beliefs still less to flatter our personal beliefs (1048) yet at the end of his essay he introduces considerations that are unequivocally ethical, almost, one is tempted to say, against his will, if not against his better judgment.

Jarrell manages to bring us by an act of imagination, to the most penetrating insight. Participating in that insight, we doubtless become better citizens. (One of the uses of poetry, I should agree, is to make us better citizens.) [ ] Finding its proper symbol, defined and refined by the participating metaphors, the

theme becomes a part of the reality in which we live an insight, rooted in and growing out of concrete experience, many-sided, three-dimensional. (ibid., emphasis added)

It is impossible to read this conclusion to Brookss essay without being confused, or without thinking that Brooks himself is confused. Clearly, Brooks says, poetry has nothing to do with ethics, but, just as clearly, Brooks says, poetry has ways of engaging readers that make us better citizens. Evasively, Brooks does not say what he means by better citizen, but this notion makes sense only if it is based on (covert) ethical assumptions. Regardless of whether one is reading Brookss fellow New Critics such as Empson, Warren, and Ransom; or whether one is reading Sklovsky, Bakhtin, Todorov, Frye, Foucault, Fish, Derrida, or other prominent critics of the period, Brookss confusion and inconsistency is typical of many literary critics of the 20th century. Ethical considerations get dragged in sideways, often at the end of an essay or book, and usually uttered in a parenthetical, passing, or oh-by-the-way tone. The point needing emphasis here, however, is that no matter how evasive or confused they are, ethical considerations almost always do get dragged in one way or another. Surely it is neither whimsical nor intellectually willful to insist that something both intellectually and culturally significant is occurring when one 20th-century critic after another who explicitly disesteems ethical considerations at one level cannot seem to help referring to such considerations at another level. (See footnote 18 for further examples.) In this first decade of the 21st century, intellectual room for a renewed ethical criticism is expanding as the credibility of postmodernism is shrinking. To understand the see-saw relations of this dynamic, it will be helpful to discuss briefly three main reasons (both intellectual and cultural) that show why the credibility of postmodernism has shrunk so drastically. What is important about these reasons is how they help explain a new robustness in ethical criticism. The first two of these reasons occurred almost simultaneously near the end of the 20th century; the third reason occurred fourteen years later in the second year of the 21st century. First, ethics came roaring back into criticism like an old-fashioned locomotive under a full head of steam at the end of 1987 with the explosive revelation of Paul de Mans collaborationist writings for the Nazis in occupied Belgium during World War Two. The postmodernists claim that ethics has no place in literary criticism, a claim that de Mans own writings had not only strongly supported but, indeed, had made the most radical claims for, were suddenly trumped by the profound ethical shock that ran through the academy as de Mans duplicity came out in a series of articles first advanced by The New York Times in December, 1987 (cf. Anon. 1987). During all the years that de Man had been granted the status of unimpeachable integrity by his American and European peers with a fervency that was at times weirdly reverential de Man had never made one single reference to these collaborationist writings, sitting on them in absolute silence, and, indeed, telling lies that misdirected anyones potential interest in them. [19] (de Man, when he adverted to his war years at all, told people that hed gone to England and worked as a translator, or that hed studied in Paris, or that hed joined the underground in

France three palpable falsehoods. Lehman 1991, 160) The effect on the field of criticism was like an earthquake, and
the academic equivalent of a guerilla war broke out in the pages of the Times Literary Supplement and the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New Republic and the New Criterion, the Village Voice and the London Review of Books. [ ] One felt that one might just possibly be witnessing a crucial turning point in the history of an idea. (Lehman 161, emphasis added)

As tempting as it is to rehearse this entire story, the point of the story for my argument in this essay is that the fall of Paul de Man was a crucial turning point in the history of an idea, or, more accurately, a whole set of ideas that lay at the center of post-structuralism in particular and postmodernism in general. Paul de Mans fall created compelling grounds for the reintroduction into literary discourse of the very kinds of ethical considerations that, in a deeply ironic turnabout, de Mans own theories had been designed to forestall. Second, and nearly simultaneously with de Mans downfall, a remarkable cluster of new publications beginning in the late 1980s and continuing into the present have provided a new set of arguments for not just the relevance of but the importance of ethical criticism. Some of these publications are, predictably, works in literary criticism, but others are works in philosophy, while some are works in science. Taken all together, with special credit for an unprecedented high level of argument going to Wayne Booth and Martha Nussbaum, these publications create a strong case against postmodernist assumptions that human beings are entirely creatures of social construction, and an equally strong case for the intrinsic importance of ethics to human beings. All of these works have done much to rehabilitate the dignity and value of thinking about ethics in relation to literature in particular, to narratives in general, and to the arts of all kinds, especially the representational arts. One of the earliest defectors from deconstruction was Frank Lentricchia, in whose Criticism and Social Change (1983) he paved the way for the reintroduction of ethical analysis into literary criticism with his assertion that politically, deconstruction translates into the passive kind of conservatism called quietism; it thereby plays into the hands of established power. Deconstruction is conservatism by default in Paul de Man it teaches the many ways to say that there is nothing to be done. (ibid., 51) The primary sources from which intellectual capital was invested in a new ethical criticism of literature came, however, from Wayne Booth and Martha Nussbaum. In 1986 Nussbaum published The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy, followed in 1988 by Wayne Booths magisterial The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction, followed two years later (1990) by another important Nussbaum book, Loves Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature. Two years later, in 1992, Frederick Crews published The Critics Bear It Away, which received much attention as a scorching attack on postmodernist inconsistencies and weaknesses. At the same time these intense books focused on literature were appearing, philosophers such as Mark Johnson and Richard Eldridge were publishing works arguing that notions hitherto thought by many people to be exclusive to literary criticism, such as metaphor and other figures of speech, have instead a biological basis, and that, instead of human beings being creatures of social construction all the way down, human beings have a nature in which, not very far down at all, lies a vast network of inclinations, dispositions, neural programming, and perceptual protocols that come installed in every human beings brain as a part of our evolutionary heritage. In 1987 Mark Johnson published The Body In the Mind: The Bodily Basis

of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason, while two years later Richard Eldridge published On Moral Personhood: Philosophy, Literature, Criticism, and Self-Understanding. In 1991 Mary Midgley published Cant We Make Moral Judgments?, and in 1992 Robert Louden published Morality and Moral Theory: A Reappraisal and Reaffirmation, both of which argue that ethics comes neither from transcendental sources nor entirely from culture, but from intrinsic human needs that get mediated and tweaked by culture but that are not created by culture. The next year, in 1993, two books appeared that argue strongly against the postmodern view of an infinitely malleable human nature entirely shaped by cultural forms of pressure and embodiment: James Q. Wilsons The Moral Sense and Mark Johnsons Moral Imagination: Implications of Cognitive Science for Ethics. In 1996 Steven Mithen published his ground breaking The Prehistory of the Mind, giving readers a sense of the vastness of time in which evolutionary pressures shaped the human brain, and, thus, also shaped many features of human cognition, emotion, perception, and interpersonal protocols, such as ethics. Also in 1996, Frans de Waal, a research scientist at the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center at Emory University, published Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals, arguing that some features of ethics are shared with other species of animals and that, while ethics is centrally important to human beings, it is not unique to human beings, a view that reinforces the notion that ethics is an intrinsic human orientation, not a product of culture entirely, and certainly not just a product of any particular set of cultural biases. Two years later, in 1998, E. O. Wilson published Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, in which he asserts that the arts are not solely shaped by errant genius out of historical circumstances and idiosyncratic personal experience. The roots of their inspiration date back in deep history to the genetic origins of the human brain, and are permanent. (ibid., 218). Lewis Wolperts 1996 book, Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief, takes a line of argument similar to Wilsons. In 1999 Geoffrey Galt Harpham published a searching inquiry into ethics, ethical criticism, and postmodernism, Shadows of Ethics: Criticism and the Just Society, a work that has received too little attention. In 2005 Jonathan Gottschall and David Sloan Wilson published an anthology of essays on the new approaches in criticism drawn from research done in the fields of cognitive science and evolutionary psychology, The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative (with forewords by E. O. Wilson and Frederick Crews), but perhaps the two most well-known and influential books arguing for the value of applying the evolutionary perspective to the arts and ethics are Stephen Pinkers The Language Instinct (1994) and The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature (2002).My own book on ethical criticism, Shaped By Stories: The Ethical Power of Narratives, appeared in 2009. I have not seen anywhere else the third point to which I now turn, but for nearly a decade it has seemed clear to me that an additional major blow to the cachet and swagger that postmodernism enjoyed for almost forty years was the attack on the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001. After 9/11, the typical postmodern ethos of mooning the establishment and indulging in a rhetoric of sophomoric naughtiness, subversion, and transgression ran distastefully counter to the emotional mood of the national moment (a moment that is still ongoing, at least in America). To a nation in the throes of shock and grief, a discourse of subversion and paradox seemed profoundly deficient in gravitas. It was not a discourse that offered comfort or made sense out of tragedy, loss, grief, bewilderment, and fear. To many people, 9/11 made postmodernism seem cheap, cynical, and shallow. There was in fact a mood of national urgency about the need for a frankly ethical discourse, an urgency that helps explains why George W. Bushs simplistic attempt to meet that need by giving the nation an ethical discourse revolving around his accusation about an axis of evil collection of terrorist states (State of the Union speech, January 29, 2002) was met with general acceptance instead of being widely ridiculed for the feeble notion that it was. The nations social and political context then (and now) was not a context in which postmodernism could continue to thrive.

2. Ethical Criticisms Second Chance Whats At Stake?

So ethical criticism is back, after a fashion if not exactly in fashion. At least it seems no longer despised. Does this matter? And if ethical criticism is going to get a second chance to make a lasting and valuable contribution to critical discourse in the academic and intellectual spheres, how is it going to avoid making the same mistakes that plagued it in the past: fatuity, doctrinaire shrillness, empty moralizing for the sake of moralizing, and fruitless debates with critical enemies over the imputed ethical purity or ethical rot of one preferred or reviled work over another? Whats at stake in ethical criticism anyway? Ethical critics, regardless of the very long time they had to work out a decent theory, have in fact never clearly done so. Typical of the history of ethical criticism are infuriatingly evasive claims such as Matthew Arnolds statement near the end of Preface to Poems, 1853 that, I know not how it is, but their commerce with the ancients appears to me to produce, in those who constantly practice it, a steadying and composing effect upon their judgment, not of literary works only, but of men and events in general. (1968, 493) This claim is supported by no arguments or evidence and is left hanging, intellectually, by that frustrating clause, I know not how it is. This is the way ethical criticism was typically done until the late 20th-century work of Wayne Booth and Martha Nussbaum. As ethical critics now contemplate the possibility of reclaiming a hearing for their point of view, they must do better at developing real arguments rather than run on brainlessly and tediously about which works teach readers the right lessons about ethics, right usually referring to whatever ethical scheme the critic prefers. Whats at stake in ethical criticism is the centrality of both ethics and literary art to human beings lives as morally deliberative, socially embedded, imaginatively fertile, and persistently emotional creatures who are capable, even if frequently unwilling and clumsy about doing so, of submitting their moral deliberations, their social relations, their imaginative constructions, and their emotional impulses to rational inspection, intellectual analysis, and ethical evaluation. Ethics refers to all the ways that people perform the essentially important social and moral task of evaluating human beings conduct as right or wrong, their own as well as others. Literary art refers to those structures of language designed for the stimulation of aesthetic, imaginative, emotional, and ethical responses rather than for instrumental or utilitarian purposes. Artistic structures of language include the entire range of literary art: narratives, poems, chants, songs, movie scripts, TV scripts, and so on. The question for ethical criticism is whether there exists any space for enlightening and fruitful arguments about the dynamics between ethics and literary experience. There are more than 2000 years worth of yes answers to this question, but, frankly, these yes answers despite the fact that they are often inspiring, erudite, and moving testimonials to critics deep engagement with various texts are seldom analytical in mode and seldom convincing as arguments. There have been about 130 years worth of no answers to this question, but, frankly, these answers are also unconvincing, not to mention inconsistent enough to give one intellectual whiplash. Ethical criticism needs a new start. In the remainder of this essay I will be working toward a new yes answer yes, there is both space and need for fruitful and enlightening arguments about the dynamics between ethics and literary art but this new yes argument will entail rejection of most of what both traditional ethical critics and their detractors have had to say.

As an abstract concept or as an academic or intellectual topic of discussion, people with certain agendas may be able to talk themselves around ethics this is what postmodern theorists who viewed ethics as a tool of oppression attempted to do but they never manage to live their way around ethics, and most of the time (to their ethical credit if not to their intellectual consistency) they do not even attempt to do so. For postmodernists as for all the rest of us, honesty counts not just peripherally but centrally in all arenas of real life (even if it does not count, curiously, in postmodern theory). [20] Ethics counts because ethics is an evolved adaptation that served the survival interests of the individuals among our ancient ancestors who figured out behaviorally if not consciously that a persons odds of survival were greater if everyone in the tribe observed certain injunctions about right and wrong, such as fairness in the distribution of resources, honesty in discussions about the adjudication of internal group conflicts, and compassion toward tribal members suffering from injury, illness, or loss. In other words, ethics counts because the rights and wrongs of everyday life count, and they dont count just because we have not yet become sufficiently sophisticated in mind or manners to cease letting them count. They count not only because they have helped us survive, but because the rights and wrongs of everyday life have more to do with the quality of our lives than any other considerations. In everyday life at every level ethics is the central issue of human interactions because nothing is more important to us than whether other people treat us with honesty or deceit, kindness or cruelty, stinginess or generosity, compassion or callousness, contempt or charity, fairness or unfairness, respect or disrespect, and whether they acknowledge, apologize for, or offer restitution for any violations of these ethical standards they may have committed against us. Not only are these standards always crucial to our own quality of life, but they also carry an imperative of reciprocity. It matters to us not only how others treat us, but how we treat others. The deep claim of ethics on human beings is illustrated clearly by the tenacity with which we hold on to some fundamental ethical standards despite the frequency with which they are violated. Cheating is common, for example, and so is deceit, but we never cease being shocked, angry, hurt, or outraged when our friends, family members, our bosses, or the politicians who represent us turn out to be cheaters and deceivers. The commonness of cheating and deceit never makes us blas about being the object of these unethical behaviors. We cut off friends who lie to us and we vote politicians out of office or send them to jail for cheating. We may talk about ethics as an outmoded structure of moralistic injunctions, but the moment a spouse cheats or a child lies or a friend steals, it turns out that ethics counts. The unavoidability of ethics explains why New Critics and postmodernists who try to ignore ethics in their discussions of literary art nevertheless keep trundling ethics back into their discussions like dieters who find themselves sneaking desserts at night right in the middle of their most determined efforts to lose weight. Human beings are built to like sweetness and they are also built to assess their interactions with each other by the application of ethical criteria. Ethics is primal, not discretionary. Ethics lies at the center of and derives from the nature and requirements of sociability itself. This does not mean that all human beings in all cultures share the same ethical standards for all human interactions, but what is less important than variations among ethical standards is the fact that there are no cultures in which ethical standards are not central to human interactions. As I put it in Shaped By Stories,
Every culture fills in the educational gaps left by first hand experience by means of stories. As Philip Sidney said so long ago (in 1583), poetry hath ever been the first light-giver to ignorance. Stories

ethical visions enlighten our ignorance by giving us information that goes deeper than mere description. The real problem of life for human beings is not deciding on the one right description of the world, because the truth is that we can live quite comfortably as the fervent believers of many (and sometimes vast) descriptive errors. You can live as complete and happy a life thinking that the world is flat as you can knowing that its round, but if you cannot read other peoples ethical dispositions if you cannot tell whether other people are prone to help you or harm you, deceive you or tell you the truth, hate you or love you, be kind or unkind to you, be generous or stingy with you, and so on then it wont matter if you think your world is flat or round because it will just be a mess. The real problem in life is knowing how to judge things, and this is a problem that, over and over, narratives ethical visions help us think about in richer ways than if we had to rely solely on our own first hand experience. (Gregory 2009, 36)

But everything I have just said about ethics is also true of literary experience. Human beings are built for art, including literary art, as deeply as they are built for ethics. Both are human universals. There are no cultures without ethics and art, and both are coeval with the emergence of modern human beings. In The Art Instinct, Denis Dutton gives a vivid account of the immensely long period of evolutionary time during which human beings behaviors and dispositions were shaped by adaptive pressures and the mechanisms of natural and sexual selection. It is only against the backdrop of this immense span of time that the shaping of the human brain into something that we might call a narrative brain makes sense. According to Dutton,
the Pleistocene itself the evolutionary theater in which we acquired the tastes, intellectual features, emotional dispositions, and personality traits that distinguish us from our hominid ancestors and make us what we are was 80,000 generations long [and only] a slight pressure over [only a few] thousands of generations can deeply engrave physical and psychological traits into the mind of any species. (2009, 42)

The Neanderthals disappeared in a mere 30 generations, in a mere 1000 years, which leads to the robust hypothesis that during the vast span of the Pleistocenes 1.6 million years, the socially cohesive functioning and imaginatively stimulating effects of story telling and poem making became indelible features of human consciousness through the slowly evolving brain functions of the survivors, our forebears, whose survival was in part the consequence of just those socially cohesive and imaginatively stimulating devices of counterfactual and as if modes of thinking developed by literary art. Dutton relies on the work of two of the most well known researchers in the field of evolutionary psychology, John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, to make the powerful point that

Where Kant claimed that a suspension of interest in the existence of an object was fundamental to a proper imaginative response to art, Tooby and Cosmides argue more broadly that our imaginative lives are fundamental to our humanity, integrated into our nature by evolution. In particular, narrative art is for them an intensified, functionally adaptive extension of mental qualities that largely set us apart from other animals. [ ] Fiction-making is an evolved adaptation. [ ] By allowing us to confront the world not just as

nave realists who respond directly to immediate threats or opportunities (the general condition of other animals) but as supposition-makers and thought-experimenters, imagination gave human beings one of their greatest evolved cognitive assets. For Tooby and Cosmides, It appears as if humans have evolved specialized cognitive machinery that allows us to enter and participate in imagined worlds. (Dutton 2009, 105106)

In the evolution of modern human beings, then, the human, the ethical, and the narrative unfolded and developed inside of and around each other as integral components of a holistic, organic form. Poetry and story telling are no less primal and nondiscretionary than ethics. Also, as with ethics, what is less important than variations of literary art in different cultures is the fact that there are no cultures in which both ethical standards and story telling do not play crucially important roles in human psychology and individual socialization. The importance to ethical criticism of contemporary work being done in the fields of cognitive science and evolutionary psychology can hardly be overstated. For 2500 years ethical critics have been making claims about the formative, shaping power of narratives and literary art, but such critics have never been able to support these claims with anything even remotely resembling deep psychological argument and empirical evidence until now. Today, however, with the emergence of fMRI scanners and the development of cognitive science and evolutionary psychology as distinct fields, deep arguments and empirical evidence about how literary art makes its impact are beginning to emerge. For the last fifteen years or so, one of the most exciting and significant terms in neural research and cognitive science is brain plasticity, a term that refers to contemporary notions of brain functioning and development that are radically different from older, traditional notions, especially the traditional notion that brain development is essentially completed, closed, and fixed by late adolescence. Brain plasticity refers to the brains capacity to do two things, first, to continue developing until about age twenty-five, with judgment and decision-making functions the last to develop, and, second and most significant for ethical criticism the brain is now known to change physical structure and functioning on the basis not merely of physical input, such as the input from a brain injury, but on the basis of imaginative and hypothetical input, such as that stimulated by poetry, narratives, and story telling. Ethical criticism is ready to begin supplementing anecdotal storytelling and descriptive accounts of literary art with accounts that begin to blend these traditional modes of criticism with new modes of research in psychology and biology. [21] From Plato on, most philosophers, writers, and critics commenting on literary art, whether they are disposed to view literary art with favor or not, have founded their ruminations on the same deep intuition about its powerful educational potential. Turned into discourse, this intuition becomes the default assumption that defines an ethical critic: the assumption that literary representations have the power to influence peoples character and conduct. The problem,

however, as I showed in the case of Matthew Arnold, is that being an ethical critic by default does not make one an ethical critic by argument. The history of ethical criticism is marked by two kinds of ethical critics. First, there are ethical critics who, like Sidney and Shelley, wish to emphasize literary arts power to uplift the human spirit and improve readers morality. Second, there are ethical critics who, like Plato and the Puritans and Richard Posner, wish to emphasize literary arts capacity for corrupting readers moral character by making them believe a bunch of lies and by leading them into moral confusion. But instead of making analytical arguments that actually support their claims, both of these camps, whom we might call, respectively, the Ethical Critics of Uplift vs. the Ethical Critics of Skepticism, tend to operate like full-bore partisans rather than judicious critics. Like defense attorneys eager to show their client from every advantageous angle, Ethical Critics of Uplift obdurately deny that literary art could ever be morally suspect (Your honor, the book did not pull the trigger!). Simultaneously, the Ethical Critics of Skepticism operate like prosecution attorneys who are determined to show every weakness and wart the defendant has ever had, and obdurately recount the many literary representations of chaos, cruelty, and mayhem, or the many examples of literary artists who were feckless or immoral, as if piled up citations of literary arts representations of these terrible things constitute obvious proof that literatures ethical influence is always suspect.
3. How to Reframe A New Ethical Criticism, Clarifying Whats At Stake and Introducing A New Methodology

At the heart of the old ethical criticism lie three confusions that have plagued it from the beginning. The first confusion is methodological. Whether the criticism comes from an Ethical Critic of Uplift or an Ethical Critic of Skepticism, critics from both camps tend to rely on a twopronged methodology of argument. The first prong entails relating anecdotes of personal experience this work moved me immensely and let me tell you what this felt like and how I was changed for the better (or worse) by it, as if these personal accounts prove something about the inevitable or necessary effects of not just the works under discussion, but of literary works in general. The second prong entails the piling up of multiple examples that map onto the ethical critics positive or negative views of literary art, as if the piling up of examples, like the relating of personal anecdotes, says something predictive or determinative about literatures ethical effects. Sidney and Shelly pile up examples from the classics that show heroism, nobility, and goodness, while Plato and Posner pile up examples from the classics that show brutality, meanness, and wrong doing. The second confusion is an intellectual confusion about how literary content achieves ethical traction in the first place. [22] This confusion generally expresses itself as claims about the ethical lessons that a works contents are alleged to teach and that the reader, presumably, learns. No matter how many times ethical critics repeat these kinds of claims, however, the frequency of their reiteration does not disguise their bogus status. No one can ever foresee exactly what sense, meaning, or application of any literary content that any particular reader may draw from any work, see in any work, or impose on any work. It follows that if no one can ever make confident predictions about what anyone else will make of a work of literary art, then claims about that works allegedly inevitable effects are rendered impotent. The third confusion is a combined ethical and rhetorical confusion. Typically, the old ethical criticism employs a rhetoric of definitive claims this work is terrible for you, that work is uplifting and wonderful for you, end of story designed to shut down all discourse that does not echo the critics own position. This rhetorical rigidity is based on an even deeper ethical

rigidity that assumes that the ethical critics role is to tell people, not to ask them or discuss with them, how they identify and evaluate the good and bad influences in their lives. There are many reasons why a new ethical criticism could be highly useful in contemporary criticism and discourse, not the least of which is ethical criticisms potential helpfulness in creating language, categories of thought, and deliberative models for processing the persistently important ethical questions that occupy so much of everyones intellectual, emotional, psychological, and emotional energy. All of us are perpetually engaged with such ethical questions as am I doing the right thing in this situation or that situation, am I being treated fairly or unfairly by other people, what are my obligations to this person, to my colleagues, to my family, to my neighbors, to my country, and so on, when does honesty compel me to say things that might be hurtful to others, am I justified in pretending that I dont see Person Xs appeal to me for help, am I really obliged to forgive the person who hurt my feelings last week, and on and on. Beyond these ethical questions of daily conduct, all of us also persistently engage with even deeper issues about ethos as we struggle with such questions as is my quick temper hurtful to people that I love, am I too susceptible to other peoples manipulations, am I an honest person if I cheat on my taxes, am I too much of a grudge holder, why do I lash out when Im angry, how much material and emotional support do I owe my grown children, am I as good a person as I want to be, and so on. Most of us are forced to process these kinds of ethical conundrums by relying only on our intuitions and the Sunday-school bromides that were crammed into us in our youth, but we would undoubtedly find it easier to act as reasonable creatures if we could also rely on a vital tradition of ethical criticism that opens up ethical conundrums for productive discussion instead a rigid ethical criticism that shoves doctrinaire or religious solutions down peoples throats. A helpful rather than a managerial kind of ethical criticism would be a new ethical criticism, such as that initiated by Martha Nussbaums and Wayne Booths groundbreaking books at the end of the 20th century, but much work remains to be done. In the remaining space of this essay I want to suggest ways in which ethical critics can think in fresh terms about some of the hoary confusions that have plagued ethical criticism since Plato, and show how we can rethink such issues as the dynamic porosity of selfhood, the ethical content of literary art in relation to selfhood, the rhetoric of ethical argumentation, the methodology of ethical argument, and the reasons why any of these issues matter in the first place. Analyzing the ethical content of literary art is a much more complex intellectual challenge than most ethical critics have ever understood. In some ways, the contents of literary art are static and fixed. Robert Brownings My Last Duchess, for example, always has the same words in the same order, even down to the same punctuation and capitalization. It does not have the autonomy to suddenly begin discoursing about the Dukes finances or the Duchesss childhood or the need for fence repair around the Dukes gardens. On the other hand, works of literary art have a kind of agency about them that belies their fixed structure, and the special agency they have is their power of invitation, a notion that I would like to introduce as central to a new ethical criticism, and as a replacement for the notion of lessons, a central concept in the old ethical criticism. The notion of ethical lessons tends to assume that the text or at least the texts ethical content operates as a kind of signet ring that, through the brute pressure exerted by the authors intentionality, impresses itself into the soft wax of the readers receptive self. Such a notion is based on an inadequate understanding of selfhood and a shallow view of the dynamic interface between a works aesthetic tactics and the works potential ethical influence on a reader.

If at the center of a new ethical criticism we replace the notion of lessons with the notion of invitations, we open up a way of getting at, identifying, and analyzing the dynamic interface I just alluded to without having to rely on misleading notions of selfhood such as that suggested by the signet ring. A self is not a thing that hardens into whatever pattern got pushed into it earliest or hardest. We do indeed experience external pressures, but our relationship to those pressures is more of a complex, give-and-take relationship than it is a once-and-for-all pressure that gives us a shape we harden into. The self that defines a person is a process, not a thing, and it is always in motion. It is always becoming; it never just is, and the mechanism of anyones perpetually emerging selfhood is the pattern of the yeses and noes that the person extends to all of lifes invitations. The fatal flaw in the postmodern notion of a self as a product of culture that goes all the way down is that if this notion were true, it would not be a truth available to anyone, including the postmodern critic who intones it. In Stanley Fishs essay Rhetoric, for example, a kind of summative statement on his part of what rhetoric is, he devotes most of his essay to an explicit rejection of the authority of all ethical discourse. Everything is rhetorical, he says, by which he means that there are no points of view and no motives that are not constructed by cultural and political interests. In one of his most energetic restatements of this view, however, Fish slides into a quite old-fashioned ethical discourse without, apparently, either wanting to or intending to. The political benefits of rhetorical criticism, Fish states, are
that by repeatedly uncovering the historical and ideological basis of established structures (both political and cognitive), one becomes sensitized to the effects of ideology and begins to clear a space in which those effects can be combated; and as that sensitivity grows more acute, the area of combat will become larger until it encompasses the underlying structure of assumptions that confers a spurious legitimacy on the powers that currently be. (1995, 217, emphasis added)

Fish apparently fails to see two implications of his rock bottom notion that all discourse is rhetorical all the way down. In the first place, this not a rhetorical claim; it is an ontological claim it is a claim about being, not about rhetoric and thus contradicts Fishs assertion that there are no ontological claims. In the second place, Fishs claim that the authority wielded by the current powers-that-be is spurious is a claim one could not make in a world in which everything is rhetorical. In that world any space for combating spurious assumptions could only be another self-interested rhetorical claim, not a space that represents what Fish illogically thinks it represents: a space beyond rhetoric where the injustices and wrongs of illfounded power can be exposed. In the end, Fish can only be supposing, silently, that justice is not merely a rhetorical gesture; otherwise, the criticism of established power in the interests of justice makes no sense. If you are a fish in a barrel, the only way for you to know that your environment is a barrel is for you to somehow acquire a point of view outside of the barrel, but if your barrel is all there is, then that outside point of view is impossible, and, in the end, postmodernism breaks its intellectual back on this illogical contradiction. If we really are formed by culture all the way down, the postmodern critic could never know it any more than the fish in a barrel could yearn for a stream.

The truth is that despite all the cultural pressures that postmodernists and Marxists love to catalog, it remains the case that yeses and noes are available to human beings as agents, no matter how powerful the molding forces that press on us might be. We are never as free in our agency as we perhaps think we are, but never are we totally devoid of agency, either. As we respond to the worlds invitations in this way or that way, we make up a self out of these responses because such responses configure or, more accurately, they consistently reconfigure our intellects, our beliefs, our emotions, and our ethical judgments. The discourse of a new ethical criticism needs to refocus itself from two perspectives that ethical critics can actually make arguments and produce evidence about, the two perspectives of ethical invitations and aesthetic tactics. Every work of literary art extends to its readers at least three invitations that call for responses at three different levels. First, the work extends invitations to feeling. Every work invites its readers to respond in specifically emotional ways to the represented content: dread, suspense, indignation, gratification, curiosity, and so on. Second, the work extends to the reader invitations to belief, invitations, that is, for reader to believe certain facts or notions that the effects of the work depend on. The readers assent to these invitations may be more of an operational assent than a deep existential commitment the pleasure to be gleaned from the work usually depends on the readers compliance but it is not an insignificant ethical gesture on the part of readers that they willingly try on beliefs that may lie outside the scope of their everyday beliefs. Third, the work extends to the reader invitations to ethical judgment. At a fundamental level, readers interacting with artistic representations have to make judgments about who the good guys and the bad guys are, whose successes are deserved and are therefore gratifying, whose actions, thoughts, and speech demand disapproval, whose inner selves hang uncertain in the moral balance, and so on. In a new ethical criticism focused on a literary works invitations to feeling, belief, and judgment, ethical critics have no need to fall back on the belligerent rhetoric of definitive, authoritative claims. This new perspective encourages the construction of hypothetical arguments of the sort that say, if a reader accepts the works invitations if he or she says yes to the works prodding to feel this emotion here, to believe this idea here, to approve of this character here then these ethical valences of influence may follow. Note the necessity of limiting claims about ethical influence to possibilities, not certainties. Hypothetical, conditional claims rely for their authority on argument and textual evidence, not on the self-imputed superiority of one ethical critics preferred ethical agenda over anothers.
4. Literary Art and Invitations of Ethical Import: An Exemplum

Let me illustrate how an ethical criticism focusing on the analysis of invitations and aesthetic tactics can work by analyzing a poem that on its surface offers no obvious traction for ethical commentary, Robert Herricks brief 17th-century poem, Upon Julias Clothes. Even a work as apparently devoid of ethical references as this one, it turns out, can yield a rich crop of intellectually challenging and aesthetically productive insights that not only reveal but that underwrite the poems potential ethical effects.
Whenas in silks my Julia goes, Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows

That liquefaction of her clothes.

Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see That brave Vibration each way free; O how that glittering taketh me! (Herrick 1891, 77)

My students would be prone to ask, so whats ethical about this poem? Wrong question. The subtext of this question presumes that if there are any ethical, or, for that matter, unethical features to Herricks poem, they will lie in some lesson that the reader, if she gets it, will have absorbed into or impressed onto her character. But according to the new terms in which I am attempting to reframe ethical criticism, the power of this poem to carry, or exert, an ethical influence on a reader or listener depends more on a set of invitations that ask the reader to actively do something rather than to be passively impressed by a lesson. Part of the reason so many ethical critics have missed this point over the centuries is that they have been misled by an inadequate educational theory. When they picture people learning lessons, ethical or otherwise, as, for example, children learning their lessons in school, the prevailing notion is often one of student minds storing academic content in mental warehouses, but this is bad education theory. Every adult knows that most of the lessons he or she learned in school have now been long forgotten, and, if the truth were admitted freely by everyone, even many of the more recent lessons directly connected with our adult lives have also been forgotten. Right now I cannot remember the name of Henry Jamess sister or the publication date of Mark Twains Puddnhead Wilson, but I know I learned these content tidbits once upon a time. As for fields more remote from my everyday practices, I would dread to see the results of my being forced to retake high school biology tests now that I once got high grades on. My guess is that you would too. So what are the lessons that we remember? The truth is, not many, and when we do remember valuable things, we generally do not remember them in lesson form; we remember them in the form in which we use them because, in fact, the sort of memory we employed when we first learned things that we now do well cannot take much credit for our present skill. When we now do something well, we do not rely on the memory of our lessons. We go beyond our lessons and we transform the memory of into the power to do. At this point our knowledge has become embedded within our cognitive apparatus, within our perceptual system, within our intellectual framework, and within our scheme of values. Some skills even get embedded within our muscles. But not much of our ability to do complex things comes from the memory of lessons. Thus the question, so whats ethical about Herricks poem is a bad question because, if complex learning is best described as a kind of practice the ability of active doing rather than passive remembering then this gives us a clue to the way poems in general, including Herricks, exert their various forms of influence, including ethical influence. The most obvious invitation in Herricks poem is an invitation for the reader to enter the feelings and thoughts of the speaker. More precisely, the reader is invited to re-create in his or her own mind and heart, via the resources of the vicarious imagination, the speakers ethos, using the speakers words as the cues and prompts for that re-creation. If the ethos of a self, yours and

mine, say, gets shaped primarily as you and I give our yeses and noes to lifes invitations for response, the same kind of analysis and the same kinds of inferences will be relevant to what happens when we attentively engage Herricks speakers words. But not just his words: also his attitudes, his point of view, his sensibility, his values, and in fact his entire character. As we say yes or no to the poems invitations, we are engaging in the same principle of ethos construction and thus participating in an interaction with ethical consequences that we are engaging in whenever we say yes or no to any number of lifes other invitations that ask us to use the power of our vicarious imagination to identify empathetically with the feelings and character of our friends, family members, and admired heroes. The same process occurs in our interactions with characters who ask us for the kind of empathetic identification based on our attentive engagement with the poems, novels, operas, movies, or TV programs in which they live. When we claim a genuine understanding of another persons feelings, thoughts, and character we mean we have gone out of ourselves, deployed our capacity for vicarious imagining, and have entered into a field of reference that was not our own. Assuming another persons field of reference, however, is an ethical activity because entering this alternative field of reference actually reconfigures our own. The field of reference that wasnt our own henceforth will be our own, insofar as it will now exist among our own repertoire of possibilities for how to feel and think and judge. The self that we were prior to entering another persons field of reference is not there for us to return to once our act of understanding is achieved, and that is an ethical change. Even saying no constitutes a sharpening of our ethos; it is a declaration of who we are. No matter how slightly, we will have become someone different from who we were before because we will have enlarged our capacity for thinking some thoughts we would not have thought in just this way, for feeling some emotions we would not have experienced in just this way, and for making some judgments that we would not have constructed in just the way that reading Herricks poem invites us to do. Understanding how Herricks poems invitations work entails analyzing the poems aesthetic tactics. At a first level of aesthetic analysis, the poem invites us to recognize that the speakers feelings are multiple and complex, not single and simple; nuanced and subtle, not straightforwardly declamatory; passionate, intense, and tightly focused, not random, speculative, or lukewarm; introspective and quiet, almost as much addressed to the speakers own mind as to a reading audience; and structured, even in an artistic work so small, such that the emotions progress from sensory and sensual observations at the beginning to a tightly and quietly controlled explosion, or surge, of summative emotion at the end primarily produced by taketh, a word that viscerally evokes those moments in life when an unexpected realization, idea, or memory suddenly stops our breath, or, in this case, a passion that suddenly buckles the knees and implies that the speaker is helplessly seized by emotions of longing and love more powerful than himself. Given Herricks theme a man in love looking at a woman who excites him and the deliberately brief scope of his expression thirty seven words this poem could very easily have wound up as an 17th-century forerunner of a Hallmark card: sentimental and sappy, full of false pathos. What could be more common than a poem about longing and love, the theme of every pop song from medieval ballads up to this mornings Top 40? But Herrick challenges himself to make a new exploration of this potentially trite theme arresting, primarily by contrasting trite feelings of longing and love (unspoken, lying in the background) with fresh and vivid feelings of longing and love, and he does so by using language that complicates those feelings and makes them subtle, nuanced, and complex.

The trite version of male longing is the stereotype of a man wanting sex, but Herricks version of longing and love confounds this stereotypical expectation. By distancing the speaker from Julia physically, the poet keeps sexual longing in the background. In the foreground, the speakers longing is a nuanced yearning not for nakedness, sweat, or touch, but for the more removed, non-tactile sensations of visual and auditory experience. As the reader empathetically replicates the speakers feelings and point of view, he or she undergoes the ethically significant activity of seeing the world in this poem through another persons eyes, mind, heart, and feelings. Herricks lover reveals a sensibility that is taken merely by the sight of Julias clothed body; the sound of her movement, and the way the sight of her shimmering gown suggests to him the appearance of silver melting into liquid. Moreover, that shimmering silk seems to move of its own accord (that brave vibration each way free), a locution in which free suggests perhaps the independent agency of the woman wearing these silks, as well as the speakers appreciation of that independence. The speaker is sufficiently self-controlled, relying more on art and thought than on impulse, not to demand any return declaration of love from Julia, or, indeed, not to demand any response from her at all. He is, at least at the moment, content to enjoy his beloved in an act of intensely introspective observation and contemplation that does not entail direct discourse. The poet also distances his speaker from Julia psychologically, an effect that is created and then enhanced by his putting particular words into the speakers mouth that are chiseled in their precision, showy in their artsiness, and immensely evocative in their emotional expressiveness. There are three examples of such careful diction in a poem of only thirty-seven words. First, whenas and methinks are words drawn from medieval English and were thus archaic even in Herricks day. These words create an ethos for the speaker of a man at least as interested in art and language as in physicality. Second, the projection of this ethos is further enhanced by the explosively unexpected brilliance of liquefaction, a word that refers to a process in motion something that is becoming liquid not to something that is already liquid. No one in Herricks time, or ours, could use this flagrantly beautiful onomatopoeic word unselfconsciously; it was a word as uncommon in Herricks day as in ours. By using such recondite, artsy, but precise language, the poet rivets our attention on the nature and quality of the speakers special powers of expression and attentiveness. Third, the subtle evocations of brave vibration, a phrase that draws on the semantic association between brave and bravado, suggests that Julia may be fully aware of the magnetic attractiveness that her flouting, shimmering silks exert on men in general and on the speaker in particular. But regardless of what Julia may or may not know, and regardless of what her own intentions may be, a lover such as the poems speaker who shapes the expression of his passion around archaic and unusual words used clearly for artistic rather than for instrumental purposes is a lover much less interested in a slam-bam sexual score than in the complex apprehension of a woman whose sweetness and femininity it pleases him to represent to himself by images of soft rustlings and liquidity rather than by clichd images of bare flesh and heavy breathing.
5. So Youve Made Me Look At the Poems Aesthetic Tactics Are You Seriously Arguing That These Tactics Generate Ethical Influence?

Am I really saying, as my students might ask, that anyone who reads this poem attentively will have I become a better person because of it? This question is too crude and blunt to be of much help. Starting with this question would be like using a hammer to open a package with crystal goblets in it: you will smash the crystal out of all recognition before you even know what you are looking for. Better question: has an attentive engagement with this poem invited me to become in any way a different person than I was before, and, if it has, how do I identify the spots in the

poem where I have said yes or no to its invitations, how do I identify what those differences are, and how do I evaluate their potential effect on my character? I have certainly said yes to the poems invitations to hold certain operational beliefs and to make certain operational judgments. The poem asks me to believe, for example, that the speaker is sincere, that his longing and love for Julia are authentic, and that nothing he says can be understood as cynical, ironic, or dismissive. Above all, perhaps, I am asked to believe that the speaker is paying attention, that his longing and love for Julia are not idle fancies, not mere distractions, not random impulses, but exist, instead, at the center of his feelings. As for ethical judgments, the poem invites me to approve of the speakers character, to approve of his intensity, complexity, and subtlety of feeling, and, above all, to approve of his ability to build a context for his longing and love out of a wide range of feelings about and responses to Julia that are nuanced, neither dominated by nor limited to physical impulses, physical satisfactions, or male mastery. The ethos of the speaker is that of a man balanced in his capacities: he has passion but leavens passion with thought; he has impulses but mediates and thus controls them through language; he looks at surfaces but sees deeper than surfaces; he yearns but he has his yearning under such control that he is liberated to enjoy the more complex forms of apprehension that self-control makes available to him. The ethical significance of saying yes to these invitations was pointed to long ago by Aristotle, who observed that imitation not in some superficial sense but in the deep sense of reconstructing as our own the feelings and conduct and ideas we see in other people is the primal strategy we all deploy in order to educate ourselves about what it means to be human. For Aristotle, imitation is not slavish copying. Trying on one feature or another from the large range of people we imitate takes us, ultimately, beyond imitation and makes autonomy possible, but it all begins with imitation, with the reconstruction inside ourselves of what others feel, think, and do. An ethical influence looked at from this perspective, then, we may define as any influence that exerts shaping pressure on ones ethos, on who we become as a result of bending with or internalizing that influence. All of us register the impact of models from literary art by persistently using literary characters as points of reference in everyday life. That person is such a Scrooge, we say, or a Scarlet OHara a Shylock a Wife of Bath a Rochester an Emma Bovary a Jo March a Judas a Prince Hal a Huck Finn a Lizzy Bennet a Willy Loman a Jane Eyre a Nora Helmer a Bugs Bunny an Ophelia and on and on. All of us try on characters from stories we have encountered try on in the deep sense of internally reconstruct but because this activity is such a default mode of human psychology, we often dismiss the ethical significance of doing so on the argumentatively sloppy, observationally superficial grounds that mere entertainment is too lightweight to have any significance. This is a brainless claim that ignores how human minds work. It ignores the fact, for example, that children are most deeply shaped by imitation while being entertained, and it also ignores the fact that even for adults, the moments when human minds are being entertained are the very moments when their minds think least critically about the nature of the engagement, and are thus most open to influence from that engagement. Although the history of autobiography is full of accounts from readers who claim that this or that book or seeing this or that movie changed my life, it still remains the case that not every readers ethos shifts vastly from the influence of a single engagement with a single work of literary art, and this obvious fact may induce some people to underestimate the potential for change that we submit ourselves to when we say yes, yes, yes to the repeated invitations for

empathetic identifications throughout an entire lifetime of empathetically ingesting hundreds of thousands of works of literary art that range from Homer and Shakespeare to Excedrin commercials. We should not forget to take into account the cumulative effects thus lodged within us. Even if each change we make is slight, our lives and character are made up of these small changes. During the 20th century, the popularity of Freudian psychology imposed on Western culture the notion that the really important events in our lives are the painful ones, the traumas, but this view is almost entirely wrong. We are not so much shaped by our traumas as misshaped by our traumas. The focus on the importance of traumas misleads us to ignore the cumulative effects those ongoing occasions in life that we might call small at the time but to which we respond with a steady flow of yeses and noes that, like cell division, constitute the building blocks of a self. These yeses and noes include, of course, our responses to literary art, and it is worth pondering the fact that we all know a vastly huger array of potential models from literary art than we know in real life. We accept invitations from literary art to empathetically assume different identities partly because it feels invigorating and liberating to enrich and enlarge our own lives in this way, partly because doing so helps us understand how other people feel and think, and partly because we all need to experiment with the possibility of adding new parts or qualities to ourselves from sources outside of us in the larger world. Finally, then, returning to Herricks poem, I can say that insofar as I have paid deep attention and have been able to replicate the pattern of feelings, thoughts, and judgment that his poem invites me to replicate, I have been led into an active practice of thought and feeling that will allow me to add the sensitivity and sensibility of Herricks speaker to my repertoire of feelings and thoughts about longing and love. However minute and, who knows, for some people the effect might not be minute at all this is an ethical effect, and while I cannot predict with certainty that this effect will improve my moral character, it is also true that no one else can predict with certainty that it wont. The point is that whether I am better or not, I am different, and the fact that I am a different someone after a full engagement with this poem at least allows me the opportunity to deploy in my world an enhanced understanding derived from this full engagement. Every change in ones ethos is an ethical effect. The ethical critic who can show how this or that work of literary art may exert an ethical influence on its readers does a real service to those of us who want to know not only why works of literary art are interesting, but why they might be important. Whats at stake for human beings in ethical criticism is a better, clearer understanding of the ethotic influences that help us eventually become the persons that we turn out to be. Along the way, ethical critics focusing on literary arts invitations to feeling, belief, and judgment and the aesthetic tactics that extend those invitations can find ways of engaging in productive discourse with other critics rather than wasting their energies in fruitless arguments about works of literary art to which they arbitrarily impute automatically uplifting or inevitably pernicious effects. In a world riven by the polarities that often seem to be tearing society apart; in a world where we are persistently confronted with a vast number of competing and contradictory claims about ethical notions; in a world in which reasonable and productive talk becomes more and more difficult as public discourse becomes more and more partisan and more and more bitter; in a world in which those without power seem to claim less and less attention from those who do have power; and in a world where most people would actually respond gratefully and positively if they just knew what to do to make things better, the contributions of a robust, reasonable, open-ended ethical criticism could be immensely useful. All of us know that the world is worse than it needs to be. All of us know that the world could be better. I, for one, think that ethical

criticism has a role to play in helping this better world emerge, not by telling people what they should believe, but by helping them learn how to make arguments rather than encouraging them merely to crush their opponents. I also believe that a new ethical criticism that helps all of us analyze productively the relationship between the development of selves and the invitations of literary art is a promising mechanism for making that contribution in a way that draws others into an ongoing discussion about not only who we are, but, more important, about who we want to become. Marshall W. Gregory Department of English Butler University, Indianapolis
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Notes
[1] Robert Buchanans 1871 review of Daniel Gabriel Rossettis House of Life sonnet sequence is a prime example. After quoting Rossettis poem, Nuptial Sleep, Buchanan fumes thus: Here is a full-grown man, presumably intelligent and cultivated, putting on record for other full-grown men to read, the most secret mysteries of sexual connection, and that with so sickening a desire to reproduce the sensual mood, so careful a choice of epithet to convey mere animal sensations, that we merely shudder at the shameless nakedness. And then he hilariously adds, completely without irony, in the manner of the anti-Semite who hastens to assure you that some of my best friends are Jews, We are no purists in this matter. He then demonstrates his freedom from any purist bias by saying that the poem is neither poetic, nor manly, nor even human. [ ] It is simply nasty. (ibid., 338)No wonder ethical criticism wound up being despised by artists and intellectuals. Elizabeth Rigbys 1848 attack on Jane Eyre is another prime example. Altogether the autobiography of Jane Eyre is pre-eminently an anti-Christian composition. [ ] We do not hesitate to say that the tone of mind and thought which has overthrown authority and violated every code human and divine abroad, and fostered Chartism and rebellion at home, is the same which has also written Jane Eyre. (ibid., 91)No wonder ethical criticism had come to seem shrill, narrow minded, and mean spirited. [zurck] [2] Of course, ethical criticism went on merrily, or at least robustly and totally unimpeded in popular culture, as, indeed, it still does today. Two random examples caught my eye in a recent issue of Rolling Stone. In Peter Traverss review of Please Give, a Nicole Holofcener film, Travers closes his commentary by saying, the pitch-perfect performances help Holofcener stir up feelings that cut to the heart of what defines an ethical life. Theres no movie around right now with a subject more pertinent. (2010, 74) In another review in the same issue, Travers judges Daniel Barbers Harry Brown to be a significantly inferior movie to Clint Eastwoods Gran Torino because Eastwood took on the moral issues that screenwriter Gary Young and first-time director Daniel Barber studiously avoid. Its the difference between riveting and repellent. (ibid.) In this essay I intend to focus on the fate of ethical criticism inside the professional, intellectual, and academic domains, but the persistent robustness of ethical criticism in popular culture is relevant to the story I am telling here; I simply have neither space nor time here to pursue both lines of inquiry. [zurck] [3] Throughout most of this paper I am going to use postmodernism as a catch-all term for most of the critical approaches that dominated discourse during what many call, looking back, the turn to theory. It might be important in some contexts to make some discriminations among post-structuralism, deconstruction, and postmodernism, and I will make such discriminations when they are necessary, but, mostly, they will not be necessary in this essay. [zurck] [4] Modernism as a 20th-centurymovement in the arts was driven in part by a strong desire to oppose all artistic expression that gave off even the slightest 19th-century odor of concern for respectability, propriety, and ethical complacency, and an equally strong desire to do art in any way that repudiated rather than replicated the stuffiness of Victorian moralism. [zurck] [5] Logical positivism in philosophy asserted powerfully and repetitively that all language about arts and ethics was merely emotive, not referential, and that such language had therefore had no status as a basis for truth claims (Gregory 1998b; MacIntyre 1981). [zurck] [6] Karl Marxs recorded his seminal claim in 1846 (although it was not published until 1932) that what [human beings] are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production. [ ] Life is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life. (406409) This claim established a general perspective on human nature that over the course of the 20th century completely changed what human nature came to mean. Looking at things from Marxs perspective, human nature came to mean not a collection of capacities or traits or developmental imperatives inherent to the species, but a product of whatever cultural forces get to the organism first, especially the cultural forces buried in the structures of the means and production of material goods. The influence of this view human beings are products of forces outside of them rather than shapers of those forces cannot be overstated in its causal relationship to 20th-century developments in political theory, economic programs, social policies, national revolutions, and, of course, literary criticism. [zurck]

[7] The unprecedented ravages of World War One and the shock of the opening of the Holocaust camps at the end of World War Two, especially when viewed as the policies of men some of whom had been educated at the best universities in Europe, profoundly undermined for many people their previous belief in comfort giving ethical systems. [zurck] [8] The growing prestige of science throughout the 20th century led to a correlative cultural conviction, at least in the West, that as scientific knowledge advanced, disciplines such as ethics and aesthetics would ultimately be reduced to predictable rules or behavioral protocols that could be totally explained and perhaps even be controlled or at least manipulated by science (Skinner 1971). [zurck] [9] The aesthetic theories of the New Criticism that dominated critical discourse from the 1920s through the 1960s developed a powerful pedagogical dimension that swiftly worked its way down from graduate schools to colleges and then into high schools, and convinced thousands of literary scholars and teachers (who, in turn, convinced tens of thousands of students) that the only proper ground of artistic response is a kind of disinterested contemplativeness based on notions drawn largely from Kants ideas as expressed in his Critique of Judgment (1790), even though thousands of those promulgating this perspective had no idea of its Kantian origins. [zurck] [10] Following World War Two and during the emergence of what people afterwards called the atomic age, virulent attacks, some of them well developed, were repeatedly launched against Western educational traditions by such thinkers as diverse as Elie Wiesel, George Steiner, and Malcolm X. These attacks often had the effect of making ethics seem like nothing more than a cynical tool employed by imperialistic bureaucrats or thuggish thieves of the resources that rightly belonged to third world countries. These attacks also paved the way for post-colonial studies that have become a standard mode of criticism in literary criticism and anthropology. [zurck] [11] Throughout the 20th century Sigmund Freuds views became so widely accepted that they crept into everyday discourse (the Oedipus complex and the Freudian slip, for example), and these views painted a picture of human accountability that seemed to remove ethics from the equation because, according to Freud, human motives are mostly unseen and incapable of willful inspection, meaning that whatever actions those motives lead us to commit are in some sense never our fault because we literally dont know why we are doing what we do. [zurck] [12] Jacques Derridas theory (generally known as deconstruction), profoundly dominant among academic critics for the last thirty years of the 20th century, argued that texts never make ethical claims because they do not even refer to the world but only refer to other acts of language, and that, in any event, all textual meaning is indefinitely postponed, a view that seemed to most people to make ethical deliberation if not entirely senseless, at least hopelessly feeble. [zurck] [13] Michel Foucaults claim that writers are partly to blame for the Western worlds oppression of the weak, the poor, and the different threw confusion into ethical discussion because of his view that writers, the people from whom, traditionally, we thought we could expect to be given models of productive ethical deliberation as well as the elucidation of deep ethical insights, are manipulated by culture (the episteme) to help keep the rest of us in line with the desires of our economic and political masters. Foucault gave criticism the metaphor of writers as mere pencils in the hands of societys power agents who were the real authors of the master narratives of social and political oppression. [zurck] [14] For most of the 20th century the discipline of anthropology spread widely the notion that different cultures are so distinct in their traditions and value systems that all ethical codes must be understood as cultural artifacts that apply only within limited cultural contexts. [zurck] [15] The anthropological perspective referred to in the previous note dovetailed with Marxism and produced a view that by the 1990s had become nearly de rigueur in the humanities and social sciences, the view that human beings are not human beings at all, at least not in the old-fashioned sense of being agents who possess autonomy of will and independence of cognition, but, are, instead, formed subjects social constructs made of cultural influences (language, race, class, gender, ethnicity, and so on) that go all the way down. [zurck] [16] The postmodernist claims that truth is never Truth and is always a product of perspectives, not knowledge; that truth is always a product of interests, not facts; and that truth is always a product of historical contingencies and particularized forms of embodiment (race, class, gender), never universal human needs or interests, are claims that seemed to make ethics not only irrelevant to an analysis of human problems and human products such as literary works, but seemed to make ethics an integral part of the problems we endure, not an integral path to the solutions that we need. [zurck] [17] The disesteem in which ethical criticism was generally held during the entire 20th century is well illustrated by the reception at mid-century (1961) of the final chapter of Wayne Booths The Rhetoric of Fiction. Even an author who achieved Booths elevated influence for his contributions to technical analysis found himself attacked again and again for what he had to say in the final chapter of his book, The Morality of Impersonal Narration, where he had the temerity to suggest that impersonal narration has raised moral difficulties too often for us to dismiss moral questions

as irrelevant to technique. (ibid., 378) The resistance to this chapter almost always boiled down to the claim, summarizing broadly, that art is one thing, morality another thing, and never the twain should meet. The attitude on the part of Booths many critics of this chapter is that the twain should especially not be made to meet by a highly esteemed member of the literary establishment holding an appointment at a prestigious institution such as the University of Chicago. [zurck] [18] A few other brief examples selected almost at random will further corroborate my point. When Victor Sklovsky argues, for example, that habitualization his term for living a life of unselfconscious habit drains the vitality and vividness from life (so life is reckoned as nothing 2007, 778), and that art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony (ibid.), he is clearly making the ethical claim that art is good for us in its ability to bring us more life, and to bring it more abundantly, than life without art. John Crowe Ransom echoes this notion with great fidelity in his claim that the poetic impulse [ ] means to reconstitute the world of perceptions (1971, 877). In a second example, the confusing strangeness of Foucaults question, How can one reduce the great peril, the great danger with which fictions threatens our world? (2007, 913) is resolved by the realization that while he seems to be making a technical point, he is really making a point that is fundamentally ethical. The danger he sees in fiction is the ethical danger of readers deriving their notions of what ideas are acceptable in society from established and acclaimed authors, whose established status means, to Foucault, that they always speak for the establishment, and thus exert an influence that tends to shut down the free flow in society of alternative, different ideas: the author [ ] is a certain functional principle by which, in our culture [ ] one impedes the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, and recomposition of fiction. (ibid.) In other words, authors play a negative ethical role in our culture by limiting the ideas we draw on to establishment ideas; Foucault is convinced that the recirculation of such ideas in a society ah, here comes the ethical payoff point contributes to the oppression of those with radical, alternative notions of justice and fairness. To take a third example, Robert Penn Warren claims that a good poem involves the participation of the reader; it must, as Coleridge puts it, make the reader into an active creative being (1971, 991), which is tantamount to the ethical claim that being passive readers is not just an aesthetic violation, but a mode of existence that denies and evades the complexities and resistances of life in favor of taking the easy statement as solution . Such a mind , says Warren, will seem merely an index to lukewarmness, indecision, disunity, treason. (ibid., 992) Treason? Treason to what? Typical of New Critics ethical references, Warren is vague and indeterminate about what he means by this ethical accusation of treason, but the fact that it even occurs to him as an appropriate word to use suggests the underlying ethical thrust of his comment. [zurck] [19] I have often wished that de Man had been moved by some sudden and overwhelming spirit of confession to make a full revelation to me the night that he and I, along with a group of other people (sometime in the early 1980s) were attending a reunion at Northwestern University of scholars connected with The School of Criticism and Theory. We were sitting on the floor around a huge coffee table at Larry Lipkings house in Evanson, IL, chewing our way through an immense pile of greasy, saucy spare ribs placed on a platter in the center of the table. We were doing so with extreme clumsiness. Spastic might better describe our efforts: we were English professors, after all, not Nascar race fans, and we lacked certain skills. Like characters from some Dickens novel, all of us were industriously smearing grease and barbeque sauce everywhere on our clothes, the rug, and the unfortunate Lipkings coffee table. In one of the more comical moments of my career, de Man, on my left, was determined to carry on a conversation with me, on his right, whom he did not know from Adam, about the comparative merits of graduate students at Yale and the U. of Chicago, where he had enjoyed a recent guest appointment. He was doing so because he was determined to avoid the appeals of engagement being directed at him from his left by Murray Krieger, who wanted to stir the great man to say something great, an opportunity that the great man, who grew more detached as Krieger grew more animated, was quite determined to avoid. (As a U of C Ph.D. alumni, I am pleased to repeat that de Man reported his U of C students more intellectually aggressive than his Yale students.) Krieger was pushing harder and harder by getting more and more urgent, and while this little mini-drama of push-and-pull was unfolding, I was exchanging amused glances off and on with Wayne Booth on my right and with Gerald Graff, who was sitting behind me on the sofa. Of course, the movement that was necessary for making eye contact with Booth and Graff only spread my barbeque sauce around more grubbily, but I wanted to make sure that I was not the only person taking in the show. Krieger finally had to give up, and de Man and I continued our conversation about graduate students as if the entire convention had been organized for no other purpose. De Man did not, alas, decide that this was the moment or that I was the person to whom to confide about his collaborationist writings in Belgium in the 1940s, and I thus missed my chance to bring to light the biggest journalistic scoop in the history of literary criticism. [zurck] [20] It has stunned me numerous times over the last thirty-five years to see the number of occasions on which my postmodernist colleagues exhibit complete lack of awareness that their deconstruction and post-structuralist theories absolutely pull the rug from underneath their quite ethical selves. The frequency and persistence of this intellectual inconsistency has been bewildering, and sometimes breathtaking, to witness, especially among people for whom the life of the mind is, at least imputedly, centrally important. My only hypothesis for explaining this intellectual disjunction is to suppose that loyalty to an ideology, and postmodernism has been nothing if not an ideology, always nourishes

the tendency to make the ideologist ignore everything in other peoples commentary, and even in the ideologists own behavior, that does not square with the tenets of the ideology. [zurck] [21] Authors who are developing the emerging field of literary criticism based on theories from evolutionary psychology and cognitive science include Noel Carroll, Joseph Carroll, Sharon Begley, Brian Boyd, Ellen Dissanayake, Morris Dickstein, Britt Peterson, Roberto Casati, Ronald de Sousa, Shaun Nichols, Gregory Currie, D. T. Max, Perrine Ruby and Jean Decety, Lydialyle Gibson, Susan Gilbert, and many others. Published material by the authors I have mentioned here can be found below in the References. [zurck] [22] Whether we are examining ethical criticism as suspicious of literary art as Plato claiming that all these poetical individuals, beginning with Homer, are only imitators, who copy images of virtue and the other themes of their poetry, but have no contact with the truth (1971, 36), or ethical criticism as confident of literary arts ethical uplift as Sidney claiming that poetry move[s] men to take that goodness in hand, which without delight they would fly as from a stranger, and [ ] make[s] them know that goodness whereunto they are moved, (1971, 158), or ethical criticism in our own time as suspicious of ethical uplift as Richard Posner claiming that the classics are full of moral atrocities [ ] the world of literature is a moral anarchy, (1997, 5) the similarity among all of these versions of ethical criticism is the assumption that literary arts ethical effects is a function of its content. [zurck]