"Ethical politics" is neither a field nor a trend but a focal point for diverse modes of inquiry that are now breaking with poststructuralism and cultural studies. It is the site where republicanism, communitarianism, feminism, and multiculturalism converge with theories of the polis, civil society, civic virtue, and the law to address issues of justice and governance. What connects these diverse approaches is their abandonment of negative hermeneutics, their disenchantment with identity politics, and their constructive emphasis on ethos—the autonomous and collective constitution of a polity based on democratic values and practices. Ethical politics not only reconfigures theory as commitment, but also commits theory to the idea of justice.
While a number of scholars and movements in American and European philosophy and political theory have already begun to take up this theoretical imperative and extend it to the ethical foundations of constitutional thought and public life, literary criticism has been slower to make the ethico-political turn—to find its own way into the polis. These essays assess the potential contribution of literature and literary studies to a constructive analysis of values in a citizen state. Contributors launch their explorations from a literary text—whether by Aristophanes, Milton, Saul Bellow, Yu Hua, or the Marquis de Sade, for example—but then proceed into such areas as law, statecraft, warfare, private/public virtue, and citizenship/political autonomy, among others. As a result, the essays focus on the ethico-political work rather than the aesthetic or cultural production of literature. Individually exemplifying public engagement, these essays collectively demonstrate the ways in which literary studies can contribute to an ethical politics that may redeem us from bankruptcies of party, social and cultural politics.
Publisher: Duke University Press
Year of Publication: 1996
Location: Durham, NC