2004
Volume 113 Number 4
  • ISSN: 0002-5275
  • E-ISSN: 2352-1244

Abstract

Abstract

When philosophers analyze the moral value of literature, literary theorists brace themselves: the reduction to a set of propositions is quickly made. In her work on the philosophy of literature, Martha Nussbaum has always resisted such reduction: literature derives its power from the interweaving of form and content. Yet her analyses are characterized by reductions that negate that very power. In the first part of this paper, I briefly discuss some of these reductions. I do this starting from the practice of literature: although Nussbaum states that she is pluralistic and wants to let the richness of the work speak for itself, in her analyses she overlooks certain aspects of literary autonomy, and thereby also excludes their moral potential.

In the second part, I contrast Nussbaum's view on the moral relevance of literature successively with those of Cora Diamond and Vladimir Nabokov. Although both are convinced that literature has a moral relevance and that moral themes can be part of the aesthetic value of the work, that power only comes to the fore when one is open to the literary nature of the work, in a more amoral way. Diamond's notions of exposure, complexity and adventure and Nabokov's conception of close reading and the inherent morality of uninhibited art form the starting point for a moral value of literature with more literary sensitivity. The question underlying is: how can the moral value of literature be conceived without foregoing its literary dimensions?

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