Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Postmodern Liberal Literature: Richard Rorty's "Liberal Ironists"

Academic journal article Journal of Literary Studies

Postmodern Liberal Literature: Richard Rorty's "Liberal Ironists"

Article excerpt

Summary

This article explores the notion of postmodern liberal literature through the filter of the political theory of Richard Rorty. It is generally assumed that the rival claims to validity of liberalism and postmodernism are mutually contradictory and therefore irreconcilable. Rorty's work, however, is characterised by the attempt to accommodate the most valuable insights of postmodern theory within the political ideals of liberalism. For Rorty, it is perfectly possible to be both a political liberal and a postmodern sceptic, or "ironist", at the same time: hence his coinage of the term "liberal ironist". Rorty argues further that the figure of the liberal ironist is best represented by writers of literature, in the narrow sense of poets, dramatists, and especially novelists. Ironist writers are, in Rorty's view, primarily interested in the private goals of self-creation and redescription within the context of an acute awareness of the contingency of their belief system. Nevertheless, in so far as their work also concerns itself imaginatively with issues of human pain and suffering, it will have utility within the public sphere of political action, and so influence moral progress. Even if Rorty's ambitious project is ultimately unsuccessful as a political theory per se, many of the insights which he provides may nonetheless be shown to have great value and significance for contemporary cultural and literary studies. To demonstrate this, the article will consider a number of writers, from a variety of backgrounds, whose work displays the characteristics, on Rorty's terms, of liberal ironism.

Opsomming

Hierdie artikel ondersoek die idee van postmoderne liberale letterkunde deur die filter van die politieke teorie van Richard Rorty. Dit word algemeen aanvaar dat die wedywerende else tot geldigheid van liberalisme en postmodernisme wederkerig teenstrydig en dus onverenigbaar is. Maar Rorty se werk word gekarakteriseer deur die poging om die waardevolste insigte van postmoderne teorie binne die politieke ideale van liberalisme aan te pas. Vir Rorty is dit heel moontlik om 'n politieke liberaal en 'n postmoderne twyfelaar, of "ironis", gelyktydig te wees, vandaar sy skepping van die uitdrukking "liberale ironis". Rorty argumenteer verder dat die figuur van die liberale ironis die beste verteenwoordig word deur skrywers van letterkunde, in die eng sin van digters, toneelskrywers, en veral romanskrywers. Ironistiese skrywers is, volgens sy mening, hoofsaaklik geinteresseerd in die privaatdoeleindes van selfskepping en herbeskrywing binne die konteks van 'n skerpsinnige bewusheid van die toevalligheid van hul geloofsisteem. Nietemin, vir sover as hul werk ook op verbeeldingryke wyse vrae van menslike pyn en lyding aanspreek, sal dit nuttig wees binne die gebied van openbare politieke aksie, en dus morele groei beinvloed. Selfs al sou Rorty se ambisieuse projek uiteindelik faal as 'n politieke teorie per se, kan baie van die insigte wat hy verskaf nogtans van groot waarde en betekenis vir moderne kulturele en literere studies wees. Om dit te demonstreer, sal hierdie artikel verskeie skrywers, van verskillende agtergronde, wie se werk die kenmerke van Rorty se "liberale ironisrne" toon, oorweeg.

Introduction

It is generally assumed that the rival claims to validity of liberalism and postmodernism are mutually contradictory and therefore irreconcilable. For liberal political philosophers, postmodern political theory represents a systematically incoherent, irrationalist and ultimately non-serious body of thought. Postmodernists, in their turn, regard liberal democratic theory as deriving from an unfounded conception of reason and the individual self which is unprovably essentialist, universalist, and hypostatic. And that is where the conversation, such as it is, usually rests. A notable exception, however, is the American philosopher, Richard Rorty, whose work is characterised by the attempt to accommodate the most valuable insights of postmodern theory within the political ideals of liberalism. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.