Literature, Life, and Modernity

Literature, Life, and Modernity

Richard Eldridge
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    Literature, Life, and Modernity
    Book Description:

    Richard Eldridge explores the ability of dense and formally interesting literature to respond to the complexities of modern life. Beyond simple entertainment, difficult modern works cultivate reflective depth and help their readers order and interpret their lives as subjects in relation to complex economies and technological systems. By imagining themselves in the role of the protagonist or the authorial persona, readers become immersed in structures of sustained attention, under which concrete possibilities of meaningful life, along with difficulties that block their realization, are tracked and clarified.

    Literary form, Eldridge argues, generates structures of care, reflection, and investment within readers, shaping-if not stabilizing-their interactions with everyday objects and events. Through the experience of literary forms of attention, readers may come to think and live more actively, more fully engaging with modern life, rather than passively suffering it. Eldridge considers the thought of Descartes, Kant, Adorno, Benjamin, Stanley Cavell, and Charles Taylor in his discussion of Goethe, Wordsworth, Rilke, Stoppard, and Sebald, advancing a philosophy of literature that addresses our desire to read and the meaning and satisfaction that literary attention brings to our fragmented modern lives.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51552-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1. Introduction: Subjectivity, Modernity, and the Uses of Literature
    (pp. 1-26)

    The term “literature” has a fairly wide range of reasonable uses. One can talk of the literature on x—ladybugs or chess or cello varnishes, as may be—and mean only all or much of what has been written about a particular subject. In German-language scholarship, one often begins an essay with a Literaturverzeichnis, a review of the most important prior work on a topic, whatever the topic might be. Children’s literature refers to books specially written for children to enjoy. These uses, however, are surely not what the Nobel or Booker Prize committees have in mind in awarding prizes...

  5. 2. Romanticism, Cartesianism, Humeanism, Byronism: Stoppard’s Arcadia
    (pp. 27-48)

    What philosophy knows as the mind-body problem is also and perhaps more deeply a problem in our practical, cultural lives and in the self-images that are woven through them. It is hard to avoid thinking of ourselves as “free subjectivities,” capable of choice and responsiveness to reasons, who stand “over against” a physical nature in which objects are composed and events occur according to laws that make no reference to choices or reasons. But this makes it difficult to see how choice and responsiveness to reasons can be expressed within a “mere” nature that somehow “houses” our lives and practices....

  6. 3. Romantic Subjectivity in Goethe and Wittgenstein
    (pp. 49-68)

    As a result of the fine work of Mark Rowe, Joachim Schulte, and Gordon Baker and Peter Hacker,¹ it has now been evident for some time that there are deep affinities—affinities in style and textual organization, in conceptions of elucidatory explanation via comparisons, and in a sense of subjectivity housed within nature—between the Goethe of the Farbenlehre and the Wittgenstein of Philosophical Investigations. Among the very deepest of these affinities is their shared sense of the limits of metaphysical explanation. The identification of simple elements is always relative to purposes and circumstances, never ultimate. Hence there is no...

  7. 4. Attention, Expressive Power, and Interest in Life: Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey”
    (pp. 69-100)

    In the first sentence of section 1 of The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche urges us to think about art in relation to life in a new way: “We shall have gained much for the science of aesthetics, once we perceive not merely by logical inference, but with the immediate certainty of vision, that the continuous development of art is bound up with the Apollinian and Dionysian duality—just as procreation depends on the duality of the sexes, involving perpetual strife with only periodically intervening reconciliations.”¹ This claim forces us to ask two sets of questions.

    (1) What is the vision...

  8. 5. The Ends of Literary Narrative: Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo”
    (pp. 101-120)

    The claim of works of literature to represent truths about the world is, at best, peculiar. Most literary works are fictional. Authors spend their time and energies in thematizing, in developing attitudes toward subject matters, and in seeking formal power and coherence. There are no procedures in view that can arrive at results about matters independent of human subjects and attitudes. In contrast, a proof in mathematics ends by reaching its final line, where each line that is not an axiom is generated in explicit accord with a rule of inference that in principle anyone might follow. Reports of experimental...

  9. 6. “New Centers of Reflection Are Continually Forming”: Benjamin, Sebald, and Modern Human Life in Time
    (pp. 121-150)

    In a poignant passage in the introduction to his Lectures on Fine Art (1820), Hegel describes how, in his view, human subjects express themselves in the world through practical activity in order to recognize themselves.¹

    Man brings himself before himself by practical activity, since he has the impulse, in whatever is directly given to him, in what is present to him externally, to produce himself and therein equally to recognize himself. This aim he achieves by altering external things whereon he impresses the seal of his inner being and in which he now finds again his own characteristics. Man does...

  10. Appendix: Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798
    (pp. 151-156)
    William Wordsworth
  11. Notes
    (pp. 157-174)
  12. Index
    (pp. 175-178)