The Ethical Turn in Canadian Literature & Criticism (UTQ Volume 76, Number 3, Summer 2007 )

The Ethical Turn in Canadian Literature & Criticism (UTQ Volume 76, Number 3, Summer 2007 )

ISSN: 0042–0247
E-ISSN: 1712-5278
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The Ethical Turn in Canadian Literature & Criticism (UTQ Volume 76, Number 3, Summer 2007 )

The idea for this special issue on ethics and Canadian literature grew out of a conference session organized for accute (the Association for Canadian College and University Teachers of English) at York University in 2005. In their call for papers, the organizers wrote: It can be argued that an interest in the Real, either in the form of cultural materialism or communal responsibility, is rapidly superseding Deconstruction’s world of signification; that the values of certainty and truth are increasingly supplanting concerns with the provisional, thus marking a widespread (re)turn to the ethical. ... Given recent announcements about the death of postmodernism and the resurgence of moralizing in literary studies, we are assembling a panel to discuss ... this shift in a Canadian context.

 

In many respects – not least the challenge to deconstruction and the privileging of the real – this call for papers was a response to a confluence of events that Martha Nussbaum referred to, in 1990, as ‘the turn toward the ethical’ (see Parker, 13). As early as 1988 David Parker had observed that there has been ‘a profusion of work, especially in the US, that looks very much like the beginning of a significant resurgence of ethical criticism’ (14). Citing the work of Nussbaum, Wayne Booth, Charles Altieri, and others, Parker notes that most of the critics behind the ethical turn are philosophers by training rather than literary critics and suggests that the turn was spearheaded by Richard Rorty, who had announced ‘nothing less than a major paradigm shift taking place in our own time in which the culture of positivism is being replaced by the culture of pragmatism’ (qtd in Porter, 14):

Pragmatism ... does not erect Science as an idol to fill the place once held by God. It views science as one genre of literature – or, put the other way around, literature and the arts as inquiries, on the same footing as scientific inquiries. Thus it sees ethics as neither more ‘relative’ nor ‘subjective’ than scientific theory, nor as needing to be made ‘scientific.’ Physics is a way of trying to cope with various bits of the universe; ethics is a matter of trying to cope with other bits. Mathematics helps physics do its job; literature and the arts help ethics do its. (qtd in Parker, 15)  … (from introduction by Marlene Goldman)

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