OSL Seminar 2015-16 – Literature and Ethics

Dates: Oct 16, Nov 6, Nov 20, Dec 4, Dec 11
Location: University of Amsterdam
Credits: 5 ECTS (RMA and PhD, who are member of a national research school)
Fee (non members): € 150,00
Organization: Megan Milota (University of Antwerp)
Lectures and seminars by: Yra van Dijk (Leiden University), Carrol Clarkson (University of Amsterdam), Jakob Lothe (University of Oslo), Liesbeth Korthals Altes (University of Groningen), Max van Duijn (Leiden University) and Derek Attridge (University of York)

Registration THIS EVENT IS FULLY BOOKED, Send an e-mail to osl-fgw@uva.nl if you want to be on our waiting list


 “As novels are about the ways in which human beings behave, they tend to imply a judgment of behavior, which means that the novel is what the symphony or painting or sculpture is not—namely, a form steeped in morality. […] We cannot prevent a moral attitude from creeping into our purely aesthetic assessment of a book.” (Anthony Burgess)

A core question in ethics, posed by the ancient Greeks and still grappled with today, is “how to lead a good life?” and how a community’s shared values and customs—ethos—can contribute to an individual’s sense of personal development and happiness. This course will focus on ethics and literature, for ethical discourse is often formulated as a narrative and ethical issues often constitute an important feature of literary texts. Anthony Burgess’s comment on the inevitability of a moral reading is a good starting point for a discussion about the possible ethical functions of literature because it raises a series of key questions. Does and should literature teach us something about social or moral codes? Are moral and aesthetic assessments really codependent? What role does the author play in the dissemination of ethical content? And how should we as researchers approach and assess the ethical elements in the narratives we study? In order to provide the participants with the opportunity to discover and discuss a variety of answers to these questions, this course will present relevant contributions by leading theorists in the field of literary ethical criticism. Alongside the theoretical texts, the participants will be expected to read a small corpus of fiction, which will be used throughout the course to test the applicability of the theories discussed.

Each of the five sessions will be led by a different scholar who incorporates ethical criticism or concerns into his or her work. Readings will include texts by Maurice Blanchot, Mikhail Bakhtin, James Phelan, Emmanuel Levinas, Suzanne Keen, J.M. Coetzee and Sophocles.