Postwar Academic Fiction: Satire, Ethics, Community

By Kenneth Womack | Go to book overview

5
Searching for Goodness and the Ethical Self: Joyce Carol Oates's The Hungry Ghosts

“The academy is, despite everything, a good place. . . .”

– Geoffrey Hartman, Criticism in the Wilderness

In an effort to abstain from the textual violence of censorship, contemporary ethical criticism naturally eschews the strict codification of moral standards to afford readers instead with a pluralistic means for examining the depiction of concepts such as truth and goodness in narratives. Yet as Lawrence Douglas observes, “For all our savvy and theoretical sophistication, we have lost the capacity to make very simple judgments about a text – such as, for example, whether it claims to be true or intends to make us laugh” (A56). For this reason, ethical critics advocate the parlance of moral philosophy over the critical finesse of poststructuralism. The rhetoric of moral philosophy empowers critics with the interpretive latitude to account for ethical issues and their substantial roles in the creation and interpretation of literary works. In their desire to highlight the interconnections between readers and their textual experiences, proponents of an ethical paradigm challenge us to render value judgments about narratives and their propensity to enlighten us about the human condition. In this manner, ethical criticism informs us about the essential nature of ourselves, while inviting us to deliberate, moreover, about our own notions of good, evil, truth, and knowledge, among other moral issues.

In her important volume of moral philosophy, The Sovereignty of Good (1970), Iris Murdoch elaborates upon the concept of goodness

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