What Is Ethical Literary Criticism? Some Reflections on the Lady Called Filosofia in Dante Alighieri and the Following


  • Jüri Talvet




ethical literary criticism, Dante Alighieri, aesthetics, sensuality, arts, Rabelais, Joyce, Cervantes, García Márquez


At the end of 2012, a new international association of literary scholarship was founded in China on the initiative of Chinese scholars, especially Professor Nie Zhenzhao of Wuhan Normal University, editor of the journal Forum for World Literature Studies. The main aim of the new International Association of Ethical Literary Criticism was to initiate a new trend of international literary scholarship that would form a certain counterweight to Western literary studies, which at least since the last quarter of the 20th century have indeed oscillated between two extremes: on the one hand, linguistic-formalistic research (including narratology, cognitivistics, language philosophy applied to literature, etc.) and, on the other hand, sociological approaches (discourses on power relations, postcolonial scholarship, gender studies, etc.). As Nie Zhenzhao puts it in his pivotal speech (largely coinciding with Nie 2010), there was very little hope that big or small “peripheries”, if they continued to follow the main fashionable trends proceeding from Western “centers”, could ever contribute to universal literary scholarship or world literature studies with their own, original points of view, reflecting realities beyond “centric” Western literary currents and criticism and their faithful imitations in the “periphery”.

The following is a reflexion about the possible origin of western ethical literary criticism (in the following abbreviated as ELC) in Dante Alighieri’s philo sophical treatise Convivio. My main claim is that the formation of a theory / philosophy of ethical literary theory ran in parallel with ethical practice in the first great European literary masterpieces of the budding new era – Dante’s own monumental Commedia and the following creation of the early Italian Renaissance writers. On the other hand, I will try to show that ethics in literature in the Western tradition has been from its very beginnings till our days essentially conditioned by the presence in literary works of an aesthetic dimension, sensual beauty and arts.


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