Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
American Literature's Aesthetic Dimensions$
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content.

Cindy Weinstein and Christopher Looby

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780231156172

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231156172.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM COLUMBIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.columbia.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Minnesota Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CUPSO for personal use.date: 24 September 2021

Aesthetics and the New Ethics

Aesthetics and the New Ethics

Theorizing the Novel in the Twenty-First Century

(p.313) [14] Aesthetics and the New Ethics
American Literature's Aesthetic Dimensions

Dorothy J. Hale

Columbia University Press

This chapter argues that modern novel that Henry James helped to invent and the tradition of novel theory that he inaugurated provide a foundational aesthetics for the novel that underlies both Martha Nussbaum's ethical philosophy and the new ethical theory that has emerged, especially in the past decade, in the attempt to articulate a positive social value of literature for our postmodern age. To mention J. Hillis Miller, Gayatri Spivak, Judith Butler, Derek Attridge, Geoffrey Galt Harpham, and Michael André Bernstein is to invoke some of the most influential contributors to the new ethical defense of literary value. And while these theorists do indeed derive their ethics from diverse political theorists (Foucault, Agamben, Adorno, Benjamin, Levinas, and Derrida), the heterogeneity of these political influences has coalesced in a surprisingly unified account of literary value. For these new ethicists, the ethical value of literature lies in the felt encounter with alterity that it brings to its reader. It is the untheorized understanding of the form of the novel as inherently politicized that establishes a bridge between the poststructuralist ethicists and the “pre-Barthesian” Nussbaum. The development in the twentieth century of a novelistic aesthetics of alterity cannot be adequately explained (away) by the ideological notion of disavowal since the avowal of disavowal is part of what defines it as an aesthetics. The chapter shows how the achievement of alterity is, for both ethical camps, not only taken for granted as the novel's distinctive generic purpose, but understood to be accomplished through novelistic form. It suggests how the aesthetics of alterity derives from James' own acute awareness that the politicized struggle between art and its ideological instrumentality is constitutive of novelistic aesthetics itself.

Keywords:   Henry James, novel theory, Martha Nussbaum, ethical philosophy, ethical theory, literary value, alterity, aesthetics

Columbia Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.

Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us .