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Why Literature Matters in the 21st Century

Why Literature Matters in the 21st Century

Mark William Roche
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Why Literature Matters in the 21st Century
    Book Description:

    Not just another jeremiad against prevailing isms and orthodoxies,Why Literature Matters in the 21st Centuryexamines literature in its connection to virtue and moral excellence. The author is concerned with literature as the teacher of virtue. The current crisis in the humanities, Mark William Roche argues, may be traced back to the separation of art and morality. ("When the distinction between is and ought is leveled," he writes, "the power of the professions increases.")The arts and humanities concern themselves with the fate and prospects of humankind. Today that fate and those prospects are under the increasing influence of technology. In a technological age, literature gains in importance precisely to the extent that our sense of intrinsic value is lost. In its elevation of play and inexhaustible meaning, literature offers a counterbalance to reason and efficiency. It helps us grasp the ways in which diverse parts form a comprehensive and complex whole, and it connects us with other ages and cultures. Not least, great literature grapples with the ethical challenges of the day.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12959-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Sources and Translations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    The arts and humanities, including literature and literary criticism, concern themselves with the fate and prospects of humankind. These fields have been placed under increasing pressure to give an account of themselves—partly because unlike science and technology the value of the arts and the humanities is not immediately apparent, partly because states and universities have suffered harshly competitive fiscal demands, and partly because increased criticism has been lodged against the arts and humanities from both within and beyond the academy. Any attempt to justify the arts and humanities must account for their universal purpose and their specific role in...

  6. Part I Moral Principles of Literature and Literary Criticism

    • Chapter 2 The Value of Literature
      (pp. 17-48)

      In our age of normative crisis, such terms as “art” and “literature” tend to be reduced to current usage. Art is whatever a certain group deems it to be. To suggest otherwise is to risk being viewed as a censor of others’ perspectives, instead of a critic seeking the best truth claims. In contrast to this reigning sociological view, the definition of art I develop is normative: I do not describe what various persons, institutions, or cultures consider art to be, I ask what art should and can be if it has moral value. Why can artistic, and in particular...

    • Chapter 3 The Value of Literary Criticism
      (pp. 49-86)

      Under aesthetics we traditionally consider three subfields: production aesthetics, artwork aesthetics, and reception aesthetics. All art can be studied from these three perspectives, which might be viewed along a spectrum, as there is natural overlap in many areas. In production aesthetics we deal with those forces that contribute to the generation of a work, such as the formal prerequisites of artistry, including the relationship betweenphysisandtechneoringeniumandars;the concepts of creation dominant in an age, including the level of originality desired and expected; biography, including family and other influences and issues related to the author’s...

    • Chapter 4 Contemporary Models
      (pp. 87-116)

      What aesthetic and hermeneutic principles guide literary criticism today? In answering this question, I begin with those characteristics of literary works privileged by contemporary critics and then move on to the dominant principles of exegesis. I provide a cursory evaluation of the two reigning methodologies of the era—the historical and the formalist—and, in slightly more detail, the two more recent schools they have engendered—culture studies and deconstruction. After recognizing the moments of truth in these methodologies, I discuss their weaknesses, including their internal contradictions and their neglect of the aesthetic dimension and unique value of literature. The...

  7. Part II The Technological Age

    • [Part Two Introduction]
      (pp. 117-121)

      When considering the impact of technology on society, we must account for its various phases. The first industrial revolution was powered by the steam engine. Driven by coal and heavily dependent on iron, this revolution led primarily to advances in mechanics, manufacturing, and transportation. The second industrial revolution was powered by electricity; it encompassed the chemical, pharmaceutical, machine-tool, and electrotechnology industries. Even if the steam engine is now obsolete, each of these industries continues to advance and help drive our economies. Nonetheless, we are already in the third industrial revolution, whose defining element is information. The information-driven technologies encompass cybernetics,...

    • Chapter 5 Categories of the Technological Age
      (pp. 122-166)

      This chapter attempts an analysis of some of the overriding categories of the technological age, those that emerged in tandem with the technological age and those that changed dramatically in this age. My concern is less with specific artifacts of technology than with the intellectual-historical presuppositions of technology and the effects of technology on social structures. As Rolf Peter Sieferle has argued, the human reception and evaluation of technology are driven both by the immediate impact of new technologies and the mediated effects of technology on social and intellectual life. Of interest in this context are: the dominance of technical...

    • Chapter 6 Aesthetics in the Technological Age
      (pp. 167-202)

      Each sphere of aesthetics can be viewed through the lens of technology. The above analysis has already introduced the indirect impact of technology on aesthetics, by way of some of the central categories of the age. Here the focus is on the more direct relationship between technology and aesthetics. Although I break my analysis down into the three areas of production, artwork, and reception aesthetics, each area can have an impact on the other two. Photography, for example, is not simply a new mode of production: photography also influences the subject matter of art (insofar as a new art form...

  8. Part III Possibilities for Literature and Literary Criticism in the Technological Age

    • Chapter 7 The Value of Literature Today
      (pp. 205-237)

      In this chapter I discuss to what extent art, both in its transhistorical dimensions as analyzed in Part I and in its specific manifestations today, can address technology and its consequences. I highlight the ways in which aesthetic experience counters some of the defining features of the technological age. In this spirit my analysis incorporates one of Adorno’s ideas. I do not endorse Adorno’s extreme elevation of the dissonant and the incomprehensible, but I do recognize, with Adorno, art’s role as countercultural, a position that he shares, for all their differences, with Schiller, who saw in art’s harmony an otherness...

    • Chapter 8 Technology, Ethics, and Literature
      (pp. 238-248)

      In his award-winningImperative of ResponsibilityHans Jonas offers new insights into the ethical challenges of the technological age. Karl-Otto Apel eleborates in his work on transcendental pragmatics the contemporary threats against humankind and develops an important reformulation of the categorical imperative. Vittorio Hösle, finally, offers a series of systematic reflections on the philosophy of the ecological crisis. Although none of these thinkers focuses on aesthetics, we can develop some of their reflections on technology and ethics in relationship to the question, How can literature and literary criticism respond to the technological age?

      Jonas recognizes that previous ethical models presupposed...

    • Chapter 9 The Literary Canon and the Literary Critic in the Twenty-First Century
      (pp. 249-260)

      For centuries literary critics did not doubt that some works of literature were greater than others and that one could defend and revise these judgments by an appeal to rational criteria. A consensus about the canon has essentially evaporated.¹ This erosion of the canon has had several catalysts. First, some critics accepted the value of literary works on the basis of tradition and authority alone. These critics were vulnerable in their judgments—on the one hand, because they could not defend them with an appeal to rational criteria, of which they no longer had command, and, on the other hand,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 261-274)
  10. Works Cited
    (pp. 275-292)
  11. Index
    (pp. 293-308)