Textual Ethos Studies, or Locating Ethics

Textual Ethos Studies, or Locating Ethics

Textual Ethos Studies, or Locating Ethics

Textual Ethos Studies, or Locating Ethics

Synopsis

What is the relationship between texts and ethics? Who decides the ethics of a text, the writer or the reader? What happens to ethics in texts that portray dreams or psychoses? Is violence always inherently unethical? In dealing with others is violence to both them and oneself ever completely avoidable?Textual Ethos Studies does not attempt to provide definitive answers to these questions so much as to be a springboard to the further discussion of ethics in relation to specific texts. The essays illustrate varying perspectives - ranging from the philosophical to the psychoanalytical to the linguistic - that can be used to localize how texts engage or invite an engagement with ethics.

Excerpt

ANNA FAHRAEUS

In August 2003 I attended the first bi-annual conference of the British Shakespeare Association in Leicester, England. It had attracted the foremost European scholars and many international names in Shakespeare Studies and the sessions were well-attended and lively. Yet, while participating in the seminar on Cultural Exchange I had the strong sense that several people present were resistant or expected a different focus to the discussion than the panel members—a focus that they opposed. The discussion was harnessed on deck and never seemed to really get off the ground. Whereas we, the panel members, came prepared to discuss the ethos of Shakespeare’s texts in light of new ethical perspectives, there seemed to be a more or less general assumption that what we wanted was to focus on the ethicality of the texts or to deal with the relationship of morality to the texts. The confusion that resulted led to a desire on my part to define my own position on literature and ethics and to consider, on a more general level, what the attitudes of different researchers are in relation to distinguishing an interest in ethics and texts that focuses on ethos from one that focuses on ethicality.

The different perspectives on ethics that are present in texts are both worth exploring and important to try to understand, and it is not surprising that the concern with ethics is receiving renewed force in discussions of representation, especially in relation to gender and ethnicity, in an academic environment that has shown itself more than willing to engage with political issues on varied fronts. The focus on textual ethics can be seen in particular in the growing concern with the links between material and discursive forms of repression and usurpation. Ethics is recognized as deeply embedded in discussions of power, of voice and agency, and in textual concerns with the effects of presence and absence, as well as aporias—points at which a final interpretation is foreclosed in a text. As a field, modern ethical criticism is defined as this explicit concern with the relationship between ethics and texts. Critics interested in this relation usually focus on one of four things— and sometimes on more than one of the four at the same time: the overall ethics of reading; the ethics of writing; on how a text promotes or contributes to a positive ethics; and/or on how ethics is operative in the text. In this . . .

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