Reading Unruly: Interpretation and Its Ethical Demands

Reading Unruly: Interpretation and Its Ethical Demands

Reading Unruly: Interpretation and Its Ethical Demands

Reading Unruly: Interpretation and Its Ethical Demands

Excerpt

There is ethics —that is to say, an injunction which
cannot be grounded in ontology —in so far as there is a
crack in the ontological edifice of the universe: at its most
elementary, ethics designates fidelity to this crack.

SLAVOJ ŽIŽEK

The late twentieth century witnessed unprecedented attention to ethics in literary studies. This burgeoning academic interest proved strong enough to earn the label “Ethical Turn,” a term that points to an undeniable shift in the concerns of interpretive communities but risks homogenizing the unruly voices responsible for such a change. A genealogy of the turn quickly reveals its contested origins, its fraught beginnings, and its uncertain duration. Is/was the “Ethical Turn” a mere moment in the cyclical history of interpretive turns, situated between the “Linguistic Turn” and the nascent “Aesthetic Turn,” with the “Political Turn” eagerly waiting in the hermeneutic queue? While debates over the function of literary criticism surely date back to the very inception of literature, Frank Kermode detects among contemporary critics an unparalleled hostility to both the ethical value of criticism (which, in the past, “was extremely important; it could be taught; it was an influence for civilization and even for personal amendment” ) and the aesthetic value of literature in its own right. It might be tempting to see the “turn to ethics” as a kind of exorcism of the post-68 mentality that gave us the slogan of “the death of the author” and the rise of symptomatic readings. The turn to ethics would be . . .

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