English 250

Research Seminar: The Novel and the New Ethics

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
3 Fall 2010 Hale, Dorothy J.
Hale, Dorothy
Thurs. 3:30-5:30 203 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Theoretical reading will draw from work by Trilling, Leavis, Booth, Levinas, Badiou, Derrida, Spivak, Butler, J.H. Miller, Harpham, Appiah, and Nussbaum. Novelists include H. James, Forster, Faulkner, Hurston, Murdoch, Roth, Coetzee, and Z. Smith. Although the twentieth-century novel will be our collective focus of study, students are encouraged to write their final papers on fiction from any period.


In the last decade, a new call for ethical criticism has been sounded from unexpected quarters of the academy. The renewed interest in ethics is sparked by the academy’s general dissatisfaction with the disenfranchisement of individual agency (and thus individual responsibility) that is seen to be the legacy of theories that have dominated scholarship in the humanities since the 1980s: de Manian deconstruction, Foucauldian sociology, and identity politics. For many literary critics, the turn to the ethical is not just the attempt to recuperate the agency of the individual reader or author; it is also an attempt to theorize anew the positive social value of literature and literary study. But are these new ethical defenses of literature substantially different from the old ethical defenses of literature? And if they are not, do they open themselves to the kind of critique that made deconstruction, new historicism and identity politics attractive theoretical positions to begin with? In addition to asking what is new about the new ethics, this course will also ask why the positive theorization of the value of “literature” is almost exclusively defined in terms of the ethical value of novels.

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