Preface: Fidelity to the Unruly


The late twentieth century witnessed unprecedented attention to ethics in literary studies. The notion of an “Ethical Turn” was in fact coined to attest to this burgeoning academic interest. Unfortunately this kind of designation, while useful in pointing to a perceived shift in the concerns of interpretive communities, risks homogenizing the unruly voices responsible for such a turn. A genealogy of the turn quickly reveals its contested origin, its fraught beginnings. Is/was the “Ethical Turn” a mere moment in the cyclical history of interpretive turns, situated between the “Linguistic Turn” and the nascent “Aesthetic Turn,” with the “Cultural Turn” eagerly waiting in the hermeneutic queue? While debates over the function of literary criticism surely date back to the very inception of literature, Frank Kermode detects in today’s generation of critics an unparalleled hostility to both the ethical value of criticism (which, in the past, “was extremely important; it could be taught; it was an influence for civilization and even for personal amendment” [“Literary Criticism” 194]) and the aesthetic value of literature in its own right

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