Postwar Academic Fiction: Satire, Ethics, Community

By Kenneth Womack | Go to book overview

6
The Professoriate in Love: David Lodge's Academic Trilogy and the Ethics of Romance

“What is it to love another person, and is it ever a good idea?”

– Annette Baier, “Unsafe Loves”

In addition to affording readers with the critical machinery for exploring the function of concepts such as truth and goodness in narratives, ethical criticism provides us with a useful rhetoric for examining the depiction of love in literary works. “Contemporary philosophers frequently connect consciousness with virtue,” Iris Murdoch observes in The Sovereignty of Good, “and although they constantly talk of freedom they rarely talk of love” (2). Because of its abiding interest in establishing vital interconnections between the reader and the text, ethical criticism devotes particular attention to highlighting the emotional transactions through which literary characters indulge their desires to give and receive affection. The investigation of their intimate motives and experiences likewise illuminates our own conceptions of the impulse for love and its role in the interpersonal fabric of the human community. In The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (1994), Martha C. Nussbaum argues that “in our time, when religious sources of individual salvation are widely mistrusted, personal erotic love (along with other secular sources of value) has come, even more intensely, to bear the weight of many people's longing for transcendence, for a perfection more than earthly, for mysterious union with that perfection” (142). By drawing upon the conclusions of contemporary moral philosophy, ethical criticism reveals the ways in which love operates both as a means for emotional fulfillment, as well as a

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