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Christian Macharski. Christian Montillon. Christian Morgenstern. Ethical approaches to literature have a venerable tradition in Europe and the US, but Professor Zhenzhao tackles the issue from a new angle. A literary critic should not make subjective moral judgments of literary works but, rather, unfold objectively their ethical content, and read literature as an expres- sion of ethics.
One of the first requisites in a search for the ethical value in a given work, is, according to Professor Zhenzhao, the examination of the works particu- lar historical context. However, the requested careful reconstruction of the given historical context as the prerequisite of a properly ethical as against the rejected moral criticism recalls, in the European tradition, the historicist approach, which has been in the meantime exposed to serious critiques, by New Historicism among the others. Disregarding this critique, Professor Zhenzhao remains on a trans-subjective level in sketching a general history, within which literature emerged as a reflec- tion of the first human communal ties, which he characterizes as ethical.
Most critics and readers in the East as well as in the West will surely agree with this view, but many of them, on both sides, will probably ask, why he associates ethical concern only with written texts literature , excluding thereby a vast body of oral fiction, poetry, and drama, which includes such fundamental creations as Gilgamesh epos and the oral versions of the Homeric epics. These creative works of orality were eventually written up but only after centuries of oral transmission. It seems more likely that Professor Zhenzhao dismisses orality because he associates it with early humanity.
How- ever, contemporary research, in East as well as West, does recognize elementary forms of reason among animals, and it has conclusively shown that taboos, which constitute the earliest form of literature according to Professor Zhenzhao, are also rooted in the body. Did Flaubert really want to punish Madame Bovary? And if so, what ethical authority urged him to do so? The Catholic church? French common law? If human beings were driven by their primitive desires and did not obey the ethical orders built upon reason, they would be like the rest of animals, or they would lose their distinctive feature as ethical beings.
Some readers will regards this as a quasi-dictatorial imposition of ethical rules, whose origins are unclear. Yet, the ethical norms are constantly changing. What authority brings about and with what justification changes in ethics? One cannot but wonder, here and in the affiliate argument of Professor Biwu, whether rational behavior automatically and necessarily means ethical behavior. Adorno, Jacques Derrida or Giorgio Agamben.
Furthermore, how can the human procession of ethical decisions manage to remain exclusively rational? Does not this proces- sion, for its part, underlie animalization as well? A considerable number of scholars have taken interest in focusing on ethical elements in literature or investigating literature from the perspective of ethics.
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The boom of Western ethical criticism is manifest in the proliferation of works produced by such renowned scholars as Martha Nussbaum, Tobin Siebers, Wayne C. Booth, Charles Altieri, J. Several journals have also joined in this popularization of the ethical turn. Despite the flourish and popularity of Western ethical criticism it is striking that this scholarship has so far failed to consider ethical criticism as an indepen- dent discipline or school of critical theory.
Traces of this dual appropriation can also be found in contributions of Western scholars in this special issue of arcadia. Equally regrettable is the inadequate attention paid to ethical criticism outside the Western arena. Bhabha, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Altes In all these three trends, ethical criticism practiced in regions outside of Western academia is barely mentioned. From then on, ethical literary criticism has been much discussed and reconfigured in Chinese academics.
In the years that followed, Nie and his colleagues have written several monographs and edited a quite few collections on ethical literary criticism, apart from publishing a huge number of articles and delivering lectures on this issue in China, the United States and many other countries. A particularly fruitful result of this conference was the establishment of the International Association for Ethical Literary Criti- cism, the mission of which is to provide a forum and resource for scholars and advanced students all over the world to share their findings concerning the study of literature and ethics.
Though China enjoys a comparatively long history of ethical criticism, which can be traced to such classical works as The Book of Songs and The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons, ethical literary criticism founded by Nie Zhenzhao is rather different from both traditional Chinese and western ethical criticism. It is saliently marked by his arguments about the ethical origin of literature, ethical selection, ethical choice, Sphinx factor, ethical environment, ethical order, ethical chaos, ethical taboo, ethical knot, etc.
It attempts to reassess and reflect on the ethical studies of literature in recent decades, to illuminate the principles and working mechanisms of their different strands, to explore their potential areas of further development, to initiate a dialogue between Chinese and Western scholars studying literature, and, most important of all, to explore the ethical nature of literature and to seek new findings from an ethical perspective.
The essays in this special issue grapple with the intersections of ethics and literature in a variety of ways. He addresses issues chiefly involving the interdependence of ethics and aes- thetics. She examines ethical values of fictional narratives in light of recent research in psychology and narrative theory. Adam Zachary Newton deals with a different subject—the ethics of reading. Nie Zhenzhao steadfastly calls for an ethical literary criticism.
He argues that literature is a unique expression of ethic and morality within a certain historical period, and considers moral teaching as its primary function. The mission of ethical literary criticism, in his opinion, is to unpack ethical features of literary works, to describe characters and their lives from the vantage point of ethics, and to make ethical judgments about them. By making a distinction between natural and ethical selection, Nie attempts to unveil fundamental differences between man and nature.
He claims that natural selection allowed human beings to evolve from apes physically; while the ethical selection distinguishes them from animals spiritually. From a perspective of ethical literary criticism, Shang argues that the real appeal of the novel lies in the moral lesson conveyed by McEwan via an incredibly shocking story that happened to a group of parent- less children. Consequently, Jack, Julie, and Tom are taken over by their primitive desires and go against the ethical taboo, which ends in an ethical tragedy.
We feel extremely grateful to Biti, Liska and Neubauer for offering us a rare opportunity to hold these ground-breaking dialogues on ethical criticism between the East and the West. This may well be the first time, that Chinese and Western scholars have exchanged their ideas on literature and ethics. Through such dialogues, we hope to deepen the studies of ethical criticism in general and understanding the ethical nature of literature in particu- lar.
Works Cited Altes, Liesbeth Korthals. London and New York: Routledge, Cheng, Junying. The Book of Songs Annotated Edition. Parker, David. Cam- bridge: Cambridge UP, The article presents a new departure by elaborating a theory of ethics from the metanarrative dimension of the Odyssey. Significant ideas are in this context the notions that narrative gives structure and meaning to life and experi- ence, that narrative involves a conflict between good and evil and a tension between truth and lying and that in narrative the ethical interacts with the aesthetic.
After a discussion of extant positions in theory and criticism, the study elaborates a concept of ethical narratology, which is based on the theory that in narration there is an interdependence of ethics and aesthetics. In the course of the discus- sion, distinctions are drawn between ethics and morality and between ethics as part of philosophy and ethics as part of narratology. Suffice it to say that since the first reflections on poetry there has been a discourse which constantly oscillates from, on the one hand, subordination of poetry under moral and political aspects to, on the other, affirmation of its aesthetic autonomy.
The present study attempts to elaborate a concept of ethical narratology, which is founded on the notion that form has semantic relevance and, more specifically, that narrative form is a catalyst of ethical sensitization, which refers to value construction. However, the ethical values communicated by narrative art should not to be misunderstood as entities which can be identified as concepts or norms that exist without linkage to the text and that can be taken home as packaged goods. If this were so, or if ethical values in narratives could be abstracted from the text as identifiable moral entities, there would be no need for the text.
The values in question are inextric- ably contained in the form of the text. The text does not simply communicate values in a didactic way; rather, it sensitizes the reader to ethical issues and problems. The following study attempts to develop an ethical narratology based on the postulate that in narrative art there is an intricate relation of ethics and aesthetics. Some modern theories which address the interdependence of ethics and aesthetics in narrative works will then be discussed, and, finally, the theore- tical argument will be substantiated by textual analysis.
The narration is to a large extent self-reflexive. In this context it is significant that the epic also raises the issue of the relation between narrative and ethics. There is hardly another narrative work in world literature which more effectively opens the discussion of the problems of ethical narratology.
In what follows, principles of an ethics of narrative art are identified by looking at the metanarrative elements of the text of the Odyssey. His host, Alcinous, who has observed Odysseus weeping during the recital, asks his guest to tell his story: Explain to us also what sorrow makes you weep as you listen to the tragic story of the Argives and the fall of Troy.
An understanding of the world emerges here in which story- telling is of supreme importance. What Alcinous explains is that a tragic fate has been ordained to people in order to be transformed into narration and thereby be made available and transmittable. This is a stunningly modern idea, because recent narratological and philosophical theories have declared that it is narration which gives structure and meaning to life. The words of Alcinous, which tell us that the gods lead humans into disaster so that what ensues can be transformed into narrative, can be correlated with the following lines of Helen in Book Four, which also belong to the context of the topic of narration.
Odyssey, IV, 47 She points out to her husband that Zeus allots good and evil to humanity. As an example she tells the story of the care she once took for Odysseus in Troy. Narration is, as the scene implies, concerned with good and evil, with moral and immoral action. It is significant that in the Odyssey a moral quality is attributed to narration as such. Whenever a story is told in the epic, the question of truth and truthfulness is raised.
There are references to relevant literature in this work. Truth is, in the Odyssey, inseparably connected with the order and structure of the narrative. The ethical and aesthetical are inextricably conjoined. The ethical is insolubly related to the aesthetic, it is, in other words, contained in the aesthetic. This is a criterion of utmost significance for an ethics of narration, a criterion to which I will return later.
As the Odyssey several times insists, ethics is, in narrative, inextricably related to the aesthetic quality of narration. This is the rule in the wanderings of Odysseus. Whenever he arrives at a new place and is welcomed by his hosts, he is requested to tell his story, that is, to mention his name and his origin and to recount the adventures he has seen. The possibility and omnipresence of lying narration is ever and again referred to in the Odyssey.
In its most poignant form it emerges in relation to the person of the protagonist. It is notable that Odysseus is as successful with his forged stories as with his true stories. He receives praise for them regardless of their veracity, simply because, having been told so well, they are always considered to be true. In this context it should be noted that Odysseus never fabricates stories in order to deceive or harm his hearers. On the contrary, he wishes to please them and to do them good, as their reactions amply prove.
His plan of returning to his wife, Penelope, in Ithaca and of destroying her overwhelming number of suitors, who are ruining her household, would fail if he disclosed his true identity. Yet he clearly enjoys telling untruthful stories. A significant episode, in this respect, is his encounter with the goddess Pallas Athena, who is disguised as a young shepherd.
True as ever to his own interests, he held back the words that were on his lips. The moral criterion is subdued in this passage. His stories are even pleasing for them to hear because they are so well told. A notable example is the episode with the swineherd Eumaeus. This is a deeply moving scene. Odysseus, back in Ithaca and disguised as an old beggar in a tattered cloak, finds himself forced to conceal the truth about himself and to tell a lying narrative.
Telling a lying story to his long-waiting, loyal servant Eumaeus, a man who wants to hear the truth, is particularly difficult for Odys- seus. The story he offers Eumaeus wavers between a truthful account of his life as a wanderer and pure invention. He conceals his identity when speaking of himself, yet he relates having met Odysseus. You have certainly touched my heart with the story of your hardships and wanderings. What call is there for a man like you to tell such pointless lies? This shows that there is something like the truth of fiction, regardless of the degree to which the story in question is invented.
A similar and, as it were, even more poignant case is the story Odysseus, still disguised as an old beggar, tells to his wife, Penelope. If we consider the complex representation of the theme of true and lying narration9 in the Odyssey as one of the outstanding works in the history of narrative fiction, we must regard as too idealistic the apodictic position of recent theorists, who claim that narration is principally of a moral nature. The theoretical result of this overview can be summarized in five statements: 1.
Narrative gives structure and meaning to life and experience. Narrative in the form of I-narration contributes to self-constitution. Narrative involves a conflict between good and evil. Ethics is contained in aesthetics in narrative. Narrative always involves a tension between truth and fiction. These five findings are interrelated. This holds true particularly for I-narration. Narratives frequently address moral crises, and thereby involve the conflict between good and evil. Expressing the moral issues and values involved abstractly in narration is possible only through the specific form and techniques used to tell the story.
Thus, ethics is contained within narrative aesthetics. Since truth is also a moral value, another ethical aspect of narration derives from the tension between fiction and truth, or between fictionality and facticity. Each of these postulates can be derived from the Odyssey. I owe this reference to my Jena colleague Rainer Thiel, whose profound comments cannot be represented here in their entirety. See, for instance L H. Pratt, Lying and Poetry from Homer to Pindar.
The idea of the narrative unity of life ensures that the subject of ethics is the same subject to which the narrative assigns a narrative identity. Many philosophers have recently endorsed this idea, and narratologists have adopted it. It can be related to a tendency perceptible in various fields of contemporary culture, for instance in the recent marked upsurge in autobiogra- phical literature, a genre whose works evince a striving for self-constitution and self-assurance. In this context I-narration is of special importance. However, literary scholars who attempt to establish an ethics of narration must go beyond I-narration, which has recently been privileged by philosophers and narratologists exploring the relation between narrative and ethics; in short, the axiom that identity is gained in the process of narration cannot, despite its great significance, be used as the only key in an exploration of the ethical aspects of narrativity.
To adduce just one example, there are novels which show a withdrawal of the narrator and of the explicit narrative function. It should be noted that novels with a covert narrator and a dominance of figural perspective the point of view of characters who are not narrators are highly suited to expressing morality. Although I-narration may be symptomatic of the current cultural climate, a comprehensive ethics of narration cannot be accom- plished if it fails to consider essential parts of the inventory of narrative literature, which do not belong to I-narration.
One reason for this restriction is that the intimate and sustained interdependence of ethics and aesthetics in narrative fiction does not occur in this tense way in non-fiction. The aim of such a project would be to establish an ethical narratology, or an ethics of narration, which works out the moral potential of forms of narrative presentation. To speak of ethics of narration in the context of moral implications of narrative techniques may seem an undue appropriation of a term fundamental to another discipline, that of philosophical ethics.
I will return later to the philosophical pretention of an ethics of narration. As concerns ethics and morality in the context of narrative fiction, it makes little sense to simply use the adjective moral for example, moral narratology or the noun morality for example, the morality of fiction. The terms ethics and morality are sometimes applied synonymously; however, from a narratological perspective ethics is to be preferred to morality, although the latter term cannot and should not be dispensed altogether.
I prefer the term ethics, but such a terminological decision does not imply that the terms moral and morality have to be abandoned entirely. Applied to literature, morality can be understood as a set of rules and norms which can be abstracted from a work or which can be used to situate the work into a certain ideational context. It is certainly sensible and important to place literature in the context of moral philosophy and to look for moral values represented in literature; however, this is not the proper task of an ethical narratology, a discipline which searches for the way to ethical issues via narrative form or, put differently, via aesthetics.
In fiction, more so than in non-narrative genres, ethics can manifest itself with the greatest comprehen- siveness and intensity, since narrative techniques can mediate a multitude of attitudes, perspectives, changes of perception, inside views, etc. The distinction between the related terms morality and ethics is of essential importance to the narratological argument presented here.
Since this distinction is extremely difficult to convey, it is useful to illustrate it via a concrete example. While morality would be, in the context of my argument, something which can be abstracted from the text in the form of moral propositions and statements of values or norms, ethics is something inextricably linked to the text as an aesthetic entity. This study argues that it is possible to consider aesthetics as a means for sensitizing readers to ethical issues. The ethical dimension of narrative fiction provides not so much moral guidance, something designed to assist us in con- crete situations; rather, it stimulates our awareness of moral issues, that is, it alerts us to the complexities and multiplicities and the ambiguities and paradoxes in the sphere of moral actions, decisions and problems, which specifically emerge in the context of human relationships.
A moral problem inherent in narration, from the Odyssey onwards, is that of lying and truth-telling. At the close of the latter novel, a narrative fiction is created to atone for actual guilt. The issue of the truth and the untruth of fictions and of the curative power of fiction has been a concern of narrative literature since classic times. The use of the term ethics of narration is entirely justifiable and reasonable.
Studies for the Foundation of a Narrative Ethics Philosophers in their own right have attended to the connection between ethics and narratology. Martha Nussbaum, for example, is a pioneer in this field and has emphasized the affinity of philosophy and narration and accorded to the latter a capacity for knowledge which can outdo that of moral philosophy. It is indeed remarkable that the disciplines of philosophy and literary narratology have drawn so close to each other in the field of ethics, and that competence in questions of ethics is claimed by narratologists.
Dietmar Mieth has even suggested that philosophical ethics may be an ancillary discipline for literary studies. Eine Kritik The Teachings of Philosophy. A Critique , places much emphasis on narration. He even seems to delegate the capacity for knowl- edge or cognition from philosophy to narrative literature. A case in point he refers to is J. In one of her lectures she deals with animal ethics and vegetarianism, comparing the treatment of animals in the modern world to the annihilation of humans in the Holocaust.
Coetzee, The Lives of Animals. Since we have tied the ethics of narration to literary techniques which can have moral implications, it seems doubtful whether we should apply our concept to oral narratives in everyday language. As noted, it is interesting that narratology has recently seen a tendency to look at ethics in fiction from a cross-generic and inter- medial angle.
A related question is whether an ethics of narration can claim validity for all fictional narratives. A discussion of this problem would have to broach fundamental issues, not least the relation between literary and popular fiction. Narrative texts devoid of both moral substance and any techniques to expressing it abound in popular literature.
Yet even at the level of so-called high literature there are works in which morality is hardly relevant. It remains an open question whether the celebration of the rational faculty in humanity can be accorded any ethical impact. Even though this study does not postulate that all narrative texts are ethical, the term ethics of narration remains useful and necessary, for aesthetically mediated morality emerges in fiction neither by chance nor uncommonly.
It represents an essential possibility of the genre, with- out which the genre would not be what it is. If, according to Wayne C. However, it is certainly not advisable to make the presence of positive moral substance a criterion for the evaluation of fiction. When approaching fiction from an ethical viewpoint, one should consider those characters who are morally positive as well as those who are morally negative, those who are praiseworthy and those who are blame- worthy, and their respective actions and motivations.
For Rorty, suffering is a central term. According to Rorty, art and moral sensitivity are connected inseparably. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that representation of evil is generally more exciting and fascinating than that of goodness. Indeed, depiction of the shifts and tricks and pranks of rogues belongs to the delights of more than picaresque fiction alone. This analytical part of my study is necessary, because theory, in literary studies, is nothing without applicability. Yet if one were to describe her moral views and values, the result would be rather trivial and basic: hers was an emphasis on decency, propriety, charity, criticism of arrogance, greed, presumption, etc.
Of course, her work has been related to moral philosophers23 and to conduct books written for women Mergenthal ; however, the ethical quality of her novels can only be ade- quately explored by looking at her way of telling her stories, for ethics is, in her novels, related to aesthetics more so than in the works of most other novelists. The point- of-view technique is emphasized here by a syntax of suspense. In a remarkable instance of iconic structuring, the resolution of the relatively long sentence coincides with the moment of recognition.
She could not even thank him. The poignancy in the representation of the incident derives from the special situation in which Anne finds herself in the novel. Thus a small act of kindness on his part throws her into a tumult of conflicting emotions. I have bracketed the introductory sentence of narrative report: [He sat down with them, and improved their conversation very much.
Ten minutes were enough to certify this. And, indeed, Anne soon realizes that Mr. Elliot is too good to be true, and thus it is hardly surprising that he ultimately turns out to be a hypocrite and an imposter. The present study will focus on one moment in the novel. Maggie Verver, daughter of an American millionaire and art collector, is about to marry Amerigo, an impecunious Italian aristocrat known as the Prince or Principe. Crews, The Tragedy of Manners. Charlotte and Amerigo had previously had a liaison in Rome, which was discontinued because the lovers were too poor to marry.
However, Maggie discovers the real nature of the relationship between Amerigo and Charlotte, and successfully pursues a plan of restoring the proper grouping of the couples. Her plan involves innocent yet ingenious strategies of pretense and lying. They were silent at first, only facing and faced, only grasping and grasped, only meeting and met. They vowed it, gave it out and took it in, drawn, by their intensity, more closely together. Then of a sudden, through this tightened circle, as at the issue of a narrow strait into the sea beyond, everything broke up, broke down, gave way, melted and mingled.
Their lips sought their lips, their pressure their response and their response their pressure; with a violence that had sighed itself the next moment to the longest and deepest stillnesses they passionately sealed their pledge. Yet there is a contradiction between the passage and its context, for Charlotte wants to convince herself that what she and her lover are doing is also for the benefit of their respective partners.
The two lovers feel a sense of freedom. He even fantasizes about a situation in which there has passed no time between his earlier happiness with Charlotte and the blissful future of their renewed relationship: The sense of the past revived for him nevertheless as it had not yet done: it made that other time somehow meet the future close, interlocking with it, before his watching eyes, as in a long embrace of arms and lips, and so handling and hustling the present that this poor quantity scarce retained substance enough, scarce remained sufficiently there, to be wounded or shocked.
Assingham, who had made the match between her and Verver. Thus one cannot appreciate the powerful description of the love scene in question without unease. Here, however, the epic heroism of the ancient text is replaced by ordinary occurrences in the fictional Dublin of the early twentieth century. Yet, in contrast to works such as these, where the adulteresses are the central characters, the focus in Ulysses is on the deceived husband. The passage to be analyzed comes from the Calypso section of the novel: Letting the blind up by gentle tugs halfway his backward eye saw her glance at the letter and tuck it under her pillow.
Likewise, it cannot be argued that ethics, as a philosophical discipline, addresses moral problems in an abstract way and on a higher level, whereas narrative fiction represents them concretely, and on a lower level, and in a form which is closer to the real world of experience. On the contrary, if one omits explicitly didactic texts, the literary representation of ethics is a phenomenon sui generis. It opens a dimension of morality which emerges in this way only in narration and remains beyond the reach of philoso- phical abstraction and propositional discourse.
The Odyssey has proved to be a revealing text in this respect, insofar as storytelling emerges in this work as a means of self-constitution, a phenomenon which has become a topos in modern theories of narration. As the stories in the Odyssey paradigmatically show, morality emerges in narration under the condition of the aesthetic form of the story being told. This kind of procedure may be indispensable as ancil- lary work; however, it does not belong to the center of an ethics of narration.
In the analytical part of this study, I have shown that moral aspects of human relationships can be represented in the novel in ways which are inaccessible to other forms of discourse. This is why it may seem difficult to develop ethical narratology into a systematic science. But it is encouraging that Berning has, under the term Critical Ethical Narratology, successfully attempted to elucidate value construction in literary non-fiction.
Scholars should be aware that an ethics of narration can be adequately realized only if it takes storytelling seriously as an art and focusses on narrative technique, which contributes both to giving expres- sion to moral issues and problems and alerting readers cognitively to the com- plexities of human life and relationships. The moral substance of narrative texts cannot be expressed in an abstract form; in other words, it cannot be articulated in the form of philosophical argument and proposition.
As was noted at the beginning of this study, if it were possible to formulate in abstract terms the moral meaning of a fictional narrative and pinpoint the values it presents in the form of norms or principles, there would be no need for narrative art. Narrative art opens a dimension of human life and human relationships which is closed to the disciplines of philosophy and psy- chology.
Works Cited Austen, Jane. Claude Rawson. New York: Penguin, Berning, Nora. Booth, Wayne C. Los Angeles: U of California P, It is his aim to expand the concept of cognition beyond that of knowledge and thus to open philosophical discourse for literary forms of representation. See his work Erkenntnis Cogni- tion , Princeton: Princeton UP, Elizabeth Costello. London: Vintage, Collins, Wilkie. No Name. London: Penguin, Crews, Frederick C. The Tragedy of Manners. Hamdon: Archon Books, De Fina, Anna.
Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, A Narratological Commentary on the Odyssey. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, Emlyn-Jones, Chris. Second Series 33 : 1— Fludernik, Monika. London: Routledge, Gabriel, Gottfried. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, Hampe, Michael, Die Lehren der Philosophie. Eine Kritik. Berlin: Suhrkamp, Second Ed. Holler, Claudia.
Ham- burg, Unpublished Master Thesis. Rethinking Narrative Identity. Persona and Perspective. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Bemjamins, The Odyssey. Die Odyssee. Wolfgang Schadewaldt. Hamburg: Rohwoldt, James, Henry. The Golden Bowl. Harmondsworth: Penguin, Joisten, Karen. Narrative Ethik. Weimar: Akademie Verlag, Joyce, James.
Declan Kiberd. Kerby, Anthony. Narrative and the Self. Bloomington: Indiana UP, Knox-Shaw, Peter. Jane Austen and the Enlightenment. Korthals Altes, Liesbeth.
The Negotiation of Values in Fiction. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, Mergenthal, Silvia. Erziehung zur Tugend. Frauenrollen und der englische Roman um Meuter, Norbert. Das narrativische Paradigma in den Kulturwissenschaften. Stuttgart- Weimar: Metzler, Mieth, Dietmar, Dichtung, Glaube und Moral. Karen Joisten. Miller, J. New York: Columbia UP, Empathie, Sympathie und Narra- tion. Strategien der Rezeptionslenkung in Prosa, Drama und Film. Caroline Lusin.
Heidelberg: Winter, Niederhoff, Burkhard. Style 36 : — Newton, Adam Zachary. Narrative Ethics. Cambridge: Harvard UP, Nussbaum, Martha C. Oxford: Oxford UP, Phelan, James. Living to Tell about It. A Rhetoric and Ethics of Character Narration. Ithaca: Cornell UP, James Phelan, and Peter Rabinowitz. Oxford: Black- well, Pippin, Robert B. Henry James and Modern Moral Life. Pratt, L.
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Lying and Poetry from Homer to Pindar. Falsehood and Deception in Archaic Greek Poetics. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, Proclus Diadochus. Procli Diadochi in Platonis rem publicam commentarii. Guilelmus Kroll, Leipzig: Teubner, Reinhardt, Karl. Von Werken und Formen. Paris: Ed. Oneself as Another. Kathleen Blamey. Chicago: U of Chicago P, Das Selbst als ein Anderer. Jean Greisch. Rorty, Richard. Vladimir Nabokov. Pale Fire. Rushdie, Salman. New York: Random House, Ryle, Gilbert. Schabert, Ina.
Die Ethik der Fiktion und der englische Gegenwartsroman. Skalin, Lars-Ake. Weidle, Roland. Worthington, Kim L. Self as Narrative. Oxford: Clarendon P, Zacharias, Greg W. Henry James and the Morality of Fiction. New York: Peter Lang, Ethik und Moral als Problem der Literatur und Literatur- wissenschaft. Berlin: Duncker und Humblot, Columbus: Ohio State UP, If fictional as well as factual narratives can change the beliefs of readers, then they are ethically meaningful to disseminate values, emotional dispositions, and cognitive prac- tices.
Building on recent research in psychology and literary studies, this article explores in three steps the ethical value of fictional narratives. First, the persua- sive power of narratives is discussed from a cognitive perspective, which in- cludes consideration of the ethical consequences of taking the perspectives of others. Second, these insights are connected to a delineation of narrative con- ventions, which can foster the kind of deeper understanding associated with altruistic behavior.
In the third part, pertinent narrative strategies are discussed from an ethical perspective. A brief conclusion summarizes the most important results and sketches some fields that merit exploration in future studies of ethical criticism. Keywords: cognitive narratology, narrative conventions, persuasion, ethics, per- spective taking Narratives are persuasive: they can induce listeners to change their values and opinions. But even though the persuasive power of narrative is taken for granted and exploited in fields such as marketing and politics, literary scholars have as yet been reluctant to acknowledge this potential of narrative.
If narratives can alter the beliefs of readers, then they are important tools for spreading values, emotional dispositions, and cognitive practices. This does not mean, however, that fictional narratives are necessarily moral; instead, they can be used for myriad sorts of im moral purposes.
In the following, I will clarify the question concerning the ethical importance of narrative conventions by combining recent research in psychology with narrative theory. I argue that it is worthwhile to take the persuasive power of fiction seriously by practicing an ethical criticism that acknowledges the impor- tance of form, and, at the same time, developing criteria for evaluating the ethics of fictional works. At first sight, these results seem surprising: who would have thought that a simple story can induce American students to believe that eating chocolate helps you lose weight or that brushing your teeth is bad for your gums?
Yet this is exactly what studies have found, and these initial findings have subsequently been replicated and broadened in scope since the end 1 Though scholars such as Jay Hillis Miller, Paul Hernadi or Wayne C. Booth assume that fiction does have an ethical importance, they do not explicitly deal with the persuasive power of fiction, define it, explore the reasons for this potential of fictional stories or relate it to formal conven- tions. Moreover, it is not just factual stories that can persuade readers: indeed, though it seems unlikely that narratives which readers knew to be fictional and therefore without a factual truth-status could persuade them to change their mental encyclopaedia and general world knowledge, many experi- ments, like the path-breaking one conducted by Prentice, Gerrig and Bailis, have shown that fiction is just as powerful, if not more so.
The morals and values embedded in literary works matter. In their overview of recent research in this area, Green and Donahue show that these morals should be taken seriously and questioned with regard to the kind of ethics that are spread via particular kinds of fiction. To date, no definitive study has explained why stories known to be figments of the imagination can have such a potential for persuasion. The suspension of disbelief, thus, naturally accom- panies the process of reading good narratives. Contrary to the Romanticist belief that the reading of fiction involves the willing suspension of disbelief, it requires more cognitive effort to suspend belief and critically scrutinize the plausibility or correctness of what has been read see Gilbert; Schreier In the following, I will concentrate on the second function that reading, particularly of fictional stories, can fulfill, and I will propose a few hypotheses concerning the relationships between the two.
In order to explore which narrative conventions can evoke sensitive under- standing of others, it is necessary to first delineate the cognitive and affective processes involved in this kind of understanding. Related feelings, which are connected to pro-social behavior, have also been referred to as sympathy, pity, compassion, and sympathetic distress Batson, Ahmad, and Lishner ; they should be distinguished from the kind of empathic sharing involved in perspective taking.
Both processes are, in different combinations, practiced in interactive encounters and in the reading of fiction; in short, the understanding of people and the understanding of fictional characters bear many resemblances. Such an elaboration of implicit personality theories is a precondition for pro-social action, since one must under- stand the needs and feelings of others before one can put that knowledge into practice. Nonetheless, there is at least one kind of perspective-taking that can be practiced in reading fiction and that has been shown to correlate with altruistic behavior.
In contrast, imagining oneself in the position of another is not necessa- rily related to altruistic behavior. Several conditions must be met in order to adopt such a perspective, and I argue that fictional narratives are particularly apt to fulfil these. The combination of these factors allows the reader to regulate his or her own perspective and to imagine what the characters feel and think, all while remaining aware of his or her differences from the characters. Reading fiction thus affords a perfect opportunity for practicing perspective taking that is, due to its manifold inherent difficulties, precarious in interactive situations see Decety and Sommerville; and Rameson and Lieberman.
This is also linked to the persuasive power of fiction: the reader must imaginatively, emotionally, and cognitively engage with the tale in order to care about the characters and to adopt the beliefs and values that are being presented. Apparently, stories written by canonical or bestselling authors have had more impact than those produced by psychologists for the purposes of testing Green — However, I would argue that, from the perspective of literary studies, one can point to a number of narrative conventions that encourage perspective taking.
It is worth emphasizing that these conventions cannot deter- mine how individual readers respond to a text. Characters like Harry Potter or the hobbit Frodo would thus meet the criterion of perceived realism. Within their respective fic- tional worlds, the characters act in a way that is plausible to the extent that they correspond to current folk psychology.
This fits in well with the requirements for the imagine-other perspective: characters must be lifelike in the sense that they conform to beliefs about psychological processes, for this allows the reader to understand their thoughts, feelings, and actions. This does not mean, of course, that in order for characters to be perceived as lifelike they must be models of reason and internal consistency: on the contrary, small deviations or even obvious defects can prove fascinating because they remain within the bounds of the thinkable, despite also being beyond the pale of the normal.
Indeed, it could even be argued that the most lifelike characters are those that are complex and carry internal contradictions. Moreover, genre conventions, individual preferences, and the cognitive abilities of readers for instance, chil- dren as opposed to adults each play a large role in defining what is plausible within the frame of the fictional world. This allows the reader to follow and empathically share the mental processes and emotions of fictional characters, and thereby reduces the distance between reader and characters.
The second provides knowledge about the characters and offers insight into their respective personalities and current mental states, thereby allowing the reader to understand characters and adopt their perspectives without actually following their thought processes. The second provides knowledge about the characters and can, in turn, induce readers to feel for them. Both aspects are intri- cately related as far as the taking of perspectives is concerned, but they proceed via different means. The third, and equally time-honored, mode of heightening the interest and empathy of readers is that of setting a character into a precarious position.
In order to feel with and for characters, they must be in a situation that potentially allows for positive as well as negative endings.
In such situations, the reader is prone to evaluate the future development of events in light of his or her own wishes as well as those of the characters. It must be emphasized, however, that each of the three conventions discussed above can, by the same token, be employed in order to increase the distance between character and reader.
In particular, contemporary and multi-perspective works fre- quently present abhorrent, disgusting, or, at least, undesirable feelings that the reader understands though they evoke negative emotions instead of empathic sharing. In this respect, the character of a serial killer may serve as focalizer in precarious situations, with the reader hoping that the character will be apprehended in time.
The process of sharing thoughts and emotions can therefore be reduced to a merely rational process, one which evokes disgust and antipathy rather than empathy. I wish to argue that increasing the reader-character distance is of crucial importance for the process of perspective taking. This is rare, however, even as far as the empathic sharing of thoughts and feelings is concerned. This second process is intricately connected to an overall assess- ment of the situation and to the moral positioning of readers; it is closely related to questions of ethics. The Ethics of Form: Narrative Strategies from an Ethical Point of View So far, I have stressed that the adoption of the imagine-other perspective is ethically desirable.
This corresponds to the Western tradition of appreciating empathy, sympathy, and the power of literature to evoke these feelings. As the pro-social associations of the imagine-other perspective evidence, there is good reason to follow this tradition, to which authors such as George Eliot have contributed. With regard to the ethical value of literature, it is advantageous to differenti- ate between two aspects: On the one hand, there is the reduction of the distance between readers and characters, and the adoption of the imagine-other perspec- tive.
On the other hand, it is important to emphasize the ethical significance of distancing devices that contri- bute to an awareness of the differences between readers and characters. Especially in postmodern times, it is necessary to consider the experience of alterity, of the otherness of others. According to the French philosopher Alain Badiou 41 , the acceptance of alterity and the radical difference between oneself and everybody else including oneself is a cornerstone of a theory of ethics.
This view is compa- tible with a Levinas-inspired ethics, which has moved away from the prescriptive dimension of traditional values and towards a more tentative and open postmo- dern ethics. Because we live in a society marked by multiplicity, heterogeneity, and alterity, literary works have an ethical value that transcends the practice of the imagine-other perspective, for they not only enable us to appreciate this kind of heterogeneity and complexity, but also help us to accept otherness, to refrain from stereotyping and categorizing others, and to abandon the insistence on closure.
This does not imply a devaluation of the kind of perspective taking described above; rather, it makes it possible to appreciate the ethical value of narrative strategies that induce both sensitive understanding of lifelike characters and the acknowledgement of instability, openness, heterogeneity, and complexity. It therefore seems promising to briefly consider aesthetic devices that in- crease the distance between readers and characters.
Practicing empathy is only part of a more complex cognitive process as far as altruistic behaviour is con- cerned: it is also necessary to differentiate between persons whom one should empathize with and those whom one should not. Moreover, distancing strategies are closely linked to the aesthetic quality of literature. Defamiliarizing devices, which slow the reading process and enhance the dis- tance of what is being described to the reader who must puzzle out what is meant can also open the space necessary for questioning stereotypes and pre- judices and for affectively engaging with characters who may initially seem strange.
However, defamiliarizing devices do not always lead to cognitive closure; from an ethical perspective, what seems to be even more important is the flex- ibility and openness such devices require of readers. For example, it is frequently impossible to categorize characters; especially in modernist works, the first description of a figure often amounts to nothing more than hints about their opinions, attitudes, or dispositions.
In contrast to our routines in everyday life, in reading fiction our first impressions are often questioned and need to be revised. In many cases, it is possible in retrospect to recognize former misunderstandings and to reinterpret events in light of these new insights; in other cases, the uncertainty concerning the evaluation of a character remains.
Some literary texts necessitate the acknowl- edgement of complexity and otherness as well as only partial comprehension; they deny cognitive closure and complete comprehension. Shifts in focalization, which call for rapid adjustment to different points of view, can enhance the effects of defamiliarization.
This differen- tiation is also important for understanding the cognitive and the ethical value of reading fiction. This implies that the reader must choose which characters to empathize with and which to main- tain distance from. Various other aesthetic devices can also guide the processes of perspective taking. It is infeasible to discuss them here, as an effective and detailed account would have to explore, among other things, conventions concerning the handling of time and the importance of ambiguities and gaps or blanks Iser 67, Multi-perspective works especially necessitate the interpretation, evaluation, and weighting of different perspectives.
Readers are encouraged to accept alterity and heterogeneity. They practice a process that, from an ethical perspective, is arguably as valuable as adopting the perspectives of others. In literary works, this process is guided by distancing and engaging devices.
The complexity and denial of closure inspired by the use of narrative forms can thus induce readers to comprehend contradictory positions, thereby rendering alterity more acceptable and moving towards an ethics of alterity. Unreli- able narration is per se a problematic narrative device as far as the ethics of a novel are concerned. After all, unreliable narrators usually tell their story from their own point of view; particularly those sincere, but in some way misguided, deviant or mentally ill character narrators that Booth and many others dealt with allow us insight into their thought processes and justify their behaviors in accordance with their own norms, trying to encourage the reader to empathize with them.
The relation between ethics and unreliable narrators with questionable norms and values is thus fraught with that the villain of his novel Clarissa published in actually evoked the sympathy of many of his intended readers. Moreover, the dynamics of the reading process must be taken into account: just as the same character may appear in a different light in different situations, the relations between characters shift, and heroes may appear less admirable and villains less despicable at different stages of the text. I owe this reference concerning the wide spectrum between the bonding and distancing devices in the same narrative text to the editors of this volume.
On the one hand, the confrontation with radically different views may establish this kind of fiction as a valuable vehicle for ethics, because it evokes an experience of alterity. After all, cognitively following the thoughts of narrators or characters does not necessarily imply either affective sharing or a loss of critical distance on the part of the reader. A similar, perhaps even more important, kind of ethical reflection can be inspired by multi-perspective works featuring heterogeneous perspectives that can neither be reconciled with each other nor discarded as irrelevant or simply wrong.
Such novels, which require openness and acceptance of ambiguity and complexity on the part of readers, implicitly raise the question of whether there are absolute ethical values. The same function can be fulfilled by novels that include several narrators or present only a particular point of view while hinting at other, equally valid ones. The topic certainly merits further attention, but I would like to suggest that three interrelations espe- cially warrant exploration.
Second, shifts from categorization to individuation and the discarding of stereotyping a particular character may engender a change of attitude towards particular stereotypes or an awareness of the problems of stereotyping in general. Third, taking the perspec- tives of characters and temporarily adopting their values and traits may lead to a reflection on and appraisal of these values and thereby result in the dissemination of values. The ethical impor- tance of literature has been stressed by scholars in both Western and Eastern countries.
Rarely, however, has it been attempted to consider insights from psychology and cognitive studies in order to link the use of particular constella- tions of narrative conventions to specific kinds of ethical values. While the effects of particular narrative conventions always depend on their specific combination and weighting as well as on the content and context of the particular work, two aspects merit consideration with regard to the analysis of the ethical value of 6 I owe this suggestion to Shang Biwu and Nie Zhenzhao.
However, many questions remain open, especially as far as the effects of the arrangement of specific narrative strategies are concerned. A framework for understanding such combinations has been sketched here, yet this could be further detailed and modified in any number of ways worthy of exploration.
Which constellations of particular devices reduce the distance between reader and character and invite the reader to feel with and for the character in question?
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To what extent are these combinations subject to historical change, what role is played by cultural values, and is it possible to relate specific constellations to specific genres? And, last but not least, what role do specific cultural models play as far as concerns, for instance, features about the contents of the work or the depiction of the characters?
How do characteristics such as physical attractiveness, generally ideal personality traits, and emotional dispositions relate to the use of formal conventions? The number of open research questions could daunt scholars into surrender- ing before even making any attempt. However, there are good reasons for endea- voring to address these problems. At a moment when the legitimization of literary scholarship has become an urgent problem in many countries, the promise of such a benefit is particularly stimulat- ing and justifying.
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