Eileen John: "Ethics and the Appreciation of Tormenting Fiction"
- Date: 21 February, 19:00–21:00
- Location: Engelska parken - Eng2-1077
- Organiser: The Philosophical Society in Uppsala
- Contact person: Sebastian Lutz
The Philosophical Society in Uppsala
Eileen John, University of Warwick: "Ethics and the Appreciation of Tormenting Fiction"
This paper responds to experiences of literary fiction that I find to be philosophically challenging. I think it is plausible to view certain works as aiming to torment readers, offering experiences such as the following: close scrutiny of repellent fictional content; narration that avoids or suppresses change of perspective; discouragement of desires for progress, transformation, and narrative resolution; feelings or moods of helplessness, boredom, revulsion, and perhaps defensiveness. These works relate in provocative ways to some attractive claims by thinkers such as Martha Nussbaum and Wayne Booth about the ethically salutary powers of literature. In Booth’s The Company We Keep (1988), he speaks in the terms of friendship to describe what readers ideally find in fiction: ‘Even satiric fictions that present a snarling surface address us with what amounts to a friendly offer’. I will argue that, to preserve the distinctive literary value of these ‘tormenting’ works, we cannot approach them looking for friendship or ethically constructive relation. I count these as works that support ‘immoralism’ with respect to literary value. Considering works such as Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground and Brett Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, I will present their ethically ‘unsafe’ qualities as positive contributors to their literary value. Further examples from the audience would be very welcome!