The Ethics of Writing

The Ethics of Writing: Authorship and Legacy in Plato and Nietzsche

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Ethics of Writing
    Book Description:

    The ethical question is the question of our times. Within critical theory, it has focused on the act of reading. This original and courageous study reverses the terms of inquiry to analyse the ethical composition of the act of writing.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-2886-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. Key to References and Abbreviations
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Prologue: Friedrich Nietzsche in Auschwitz, or the Posthumous Return of the Author
    (pp. 1-18)

    Nietzsche’s story ends as our narration begins. Wheelchair-bound, intermittently lucid, he is, as before, tremulous and peremptory. Cavernous, his eyes retain a rheumy dignity. The void into which he so long gazed would now seem to gaze into him.

    It is October 1944, precisely one hundred years after his birth. ‘Only the day after tomorrow belongs to me’, he recalls writing so many years ago. ‘Some are born posthumously [Einige werden posthum geboren]’ (AC, 114). He remains the weary prophet of his own Second Coming. This afternoon, Alfred Rosenberg will honour his centenary with a speech broadcast to the mothers...

  6. Introduction: The Responsibilities of the Writer
    (pp. 19-45)

    Like writing, reading so often begins in romance and ends in pragmatism. On first looking into the Ion of Plato or Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’, the idea of the poet as divinely inspired enthrals. Only later do we recognise that such celebrations are of a piece with the banishment of the poets. The line ‘weave a circle around him thrice’ we either neglect or hazily register in magical, runic terms. Only on rereading do we discern the theme of exclusion, of quarantine, the structure by which society simultaneously celebrates and ostracises its artists, only by setting Plato’s Republic beside his Ion...

  7. 1 The Ethical Opening
    (pp. 46-104)

    The anxieties expressed in this double exergue are those of a writing construed in the simple sense of ‘sensitive’ information intended for dissemination to a very small circle of hand-picked initiates. This pairing is partly intended to show how little has changed in this regard in the twenty-five centuries that have elapsed since the cultural assimilation of writing in Socratic Greece. Written in the 1990s, James Ellroy’s American Tabloid is a factional account of the covert operations that surrounded the assassination of John F.Kennedy. This time span – 1959 to November 1963 – saw the composition and publication of Totalité et Infini,...

  8. 2 The Ethics of Legacy
    (pp. 105-143)

    One would not immediately associate the question ‘Who speaks?’ with Plato’s Socrates whom we remember for impersonal questions such as ‘What is the Just?’ ‘What is the Good?’ Yet, the demand for a speaker or author to give a further account of what has been said or written in his name is central to the Socratic elenchus, to his insistence that an oral or written text give a further account of itself in a public forum. The Socratic mission involves the ethical demand of its interlocutor that Kierkegaard describes. This modernising notion of responsive and responsible agency is ethical rather...

  9. 3 Signature and Authorship in the Phaedrus
    (pp. 144-191)

    Living, as we do, deep within a print culture (perhaps even in its twilight) we are at an incalculable remove from the sinister prospects offered by writing in Plato’s lifetime. The proprietorial ethic by which he seeks to limit discursive circulation is alien to our temper. Yet with a certain leap of empathy we might see that his concern with discourses being unable to discriminate between suitable and unsuitable readers need not be so remote from our own concerns.

    The reception histories of the Hegelian, Marxist, Nietzschean and Freudian discourses, for example, commend themselves to our attention precisely within the...

  10. 4 The Textual Estate: Nietzsche and Authorial Responsibility
    (pp. 192-221)

    Ecce Homo is the strange summation of the strangest oeuvre in modernity. Not looking back from any vantage of supposed or assumed maturity, it inscribes itself within an unfolding project. The text heralds the work, not only that of the promised revaluation but the corpus, the textual phenomenon that is ‘Nietzsche’ seen sub specie futuris. That the work has not been read is due, Nietzsche contends, to ‘the disparity between the greatness of [his] task and the smallness of [his] contemporaries’ (EH, 3). Nor indeed could those texts have been read if one sees writing as potentia to be realised...

  11. Conclusion: Creativity versus Containment: The Aesthetic Defence
    (pp. 222-233)

    It is, of course, too late in any case: just as Hegel did not preface his Phenomenology with the words ‘this is all a thought-experiment’, so history will not permit us to read Nietzsche with the codicil: ‘To be read as if spoken by a character in a novel’.¹ But the case of Nietzsche does point towards an ethic of discourse that began to take shape with the formation of the Vienna Circle, the logical positivist movement and which, after Auschwitz and Stalinism has never been far from the thoughts of responsible authors. Hence, the import and purport of the...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 234-239)
  13. Index of Names
    (pp. 240-244)