Special issue of Ratio: Philosophy of Literature

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The new issue of Ratio, guest edited by Severin Schroeder (Philosophy, University of Reading) is devoted to the topic of “Philosophy of Literature.” To access the issue’s table of contents, click here. Here are the (hyperlinked) article titles, names of contributors, and article abstracts.

375-397 LITERATURE, KNOWLEDGE, AND THE AESTHETIC ATTITUDE (M. W. Rowe)

Abstract: An attitude which hopes to derive aesthetic pleasure from an object is often thought to be in tension with an attitude which hopes to derive knowledge from it. The current article argues that this alleged conflict only makes sense when the aesthetic attitude and knowledge are construed unnaturally narrowly, and that when both are correctly understood there is no tension between them. To do this, the article first proposes a broad and satisfying account of the aesthetic attitude, and then considers and rejects twelve reasons for thinking that deriving knowledge from something is incompatible with maintaining an aesthetic attitude towards it. Two main conclusions are drawn. 1) That the representational arts are often in a good position to communicate non-propositional knowledge about human beings. 2) That while our desire to obtain pleasure from a work’s manifest properties, and our desire to obtain knowledge from it, are not the same motive, the formal similarities between them are sufficiently impressive to warrant both being seen as elements of the aesthetic attitude.

398-420 THE ELUSIVENESS OF POETIC MEANING (Peter Lamarque)

Abstract: Various aspects of poetic meaning are discussed, centred on the relation of form and content. A C Bradley’s thesis of form-content identity, suitably reformulated, is defended against criticisms by Peter Kivy. It is argued that the unity of form-content is not discovered in poetry so much as demanded of it when poetry is read ‘as poetry’. A shift of emphasis from talking about ‘meaning’ in poetry to talking about ‘content’ is promoted, as is a more prominent role for ‘experience’ in characterising responses to poetry and its value. It is argued that the key to poetic meaning lies less in a theory of meaning, more in a theory of poetry, where what matters are modes of reading poetry. Content-identity in poetry is said to be ‘interest-relative’ such that no absolute answer, independent of the interests of the questioner, can determine when a poem and a paraphrase have the same content. Interpretation of poetry need not focus exclusively on meaning, but on ways in which the experience of a poem can be heightened.

421-438 FICTIONAL FORM AND SYMPHONIC STRUCTURE: AN ESSAY IN COMPARATIVE AESTHETICS (Peter Kivy)

Abstract: It is agreed on all hands that both fictional narratives and the familiar genres of classical music possess an inner structure that both can be perceived and be appreciated aesthetically. It is my argument here that this inner structure plays a crucially different role in fictional narrative than it does in classical music, confining myself here to ‘absolute music’ (which is to say, pure instrumental music without text, programme, dramatic setting, or other ‘extra-musical’ content). The argument, basically, is that whereas the sophisticated listener to the absolute music repertory is keenly, consciously aware of the inner structure, the sophisticated reader of fictional narrative, the principal exemplar being the novel, is not so aware. Therefore, whereas musical structure directly contributes to aesthetic satisfaction, narrative structure contributes only indirectly (which is not to deny that, at times, the reader is consciously aware of narrative structure, and that, at such times, it does contribute directly to aesthetic satisfaction).

439-463 CRITICISM OF LITERATURE AND CRITICISM OF CULTURE (Stein Haugom Olsen)

Abstract: There is a class of critics who are dissatisfied with the academic status of literary criticism and who want to re-establish for literary criticism the status it possessed in the early and mid nineteenth century as simultaneously cultural and social criticism. This is an impossible task. The ‘cultural critics’ of the nineteenth century possessed their authority because they were without competition and because they could command the attention and respect of the whole of the literate audience. However, at the end of the nineteenth century intellectual authority came to be based in specialised academic disciplines and individual authority was undermined and ultimately disappeared. At the same time, the arrival of universal literacy in Britain fragmented and ultimately destroyed the generally educated audience to which the cultural critics addressed themselves. Consequently there is today no role for the cultural critic. Literary critics cannot speak with authority about social, political, or cultural questions. They can, however, speak with authority about literature. Whether or not this criticism can be grounded in disciplinary knowledge, it serves a necessary function for an audience that no longer possesses the skill of reading literary works and lacks the background knowledge that is necessary to make sense of literature.

464-485 INCENSE AND INSENSIBILITY: AUSTIN ON THE ‘NON-SERIOUSNESS’ OF POETRY (Maximilian de Gaynesford)

Abstract: What is at stake when J. L. Austin calls poetry ‘non-serious’, and sidelines it in his speech act theory? (I). Standard explanations polarize sharply along party lines: poets (e.g. Geoffrey Hill) and critics (e.g. Christopher Ricks) are incensed, while philosophers (e.g. P. F. Strawson; John Searle) deny cause (II). Neither line is consistent with Austin’s remarks, whose allusions to Plato, Aristotle and Frege are insufficiently noted (III). What Austin thinks is at stake is confusion, which he corrects apparently to the advantage of poets (IV). But what is actually at stake is the possibility of commitment and poetic integrity. We should reject what Austin offers (V).1

486-507 PHILOSOPHY AND LITERATURE: YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW (Martin Warner)

Abstract: Plato’s rhetorical gesture invoking a ‘quarrel’ between philosophy and poetry points to a deep problem in our conception of rational discourse, often obscured or displaced in the history of philosophy’s relations with imaginative literature, especially with respect to analytic philosophy in the first half of the twentieth century. Recent developments have helped focus attention on the overlap between philosophy and literature, which the contemporary retreat from philosophy’s ‘narrative turn’ does little to undermine. Further work in the philosophy of language, the logic of the imagination, and the relations between dialectic and rhetoric promise to throw light on that ancient problem.

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