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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 112 | volume  | March-April, 2017



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 112March-April, 2017

Comparative Literature, World Literature and Ethical Literary Criticism. Literature’s “Infra-Other”

p. 1
Jüri Talvet


Does ethical literary criticism mean the (only) righteous and correct one?

Since the term “ethical literary criticism” has been launched and is spreading among the world community of humanities scholars, it transparently hides a seed of ambiguity. It is because the adjective “ethical” itself is ambivalent. On the one hand, it denotes activities related to moral or ethical questions. Beyond any doubt, re-orientating cultural and literary research towards discussing questions related to ethics has been the main goal of the recently founded IAELC (International Association for Ethical Literary Criticism, founded in Yichan, China, in 2012).
     Yet, on the other hand it has become a commonplace to use “ethical” as a synonym of “correct”, “just”, “righteous” – in the sense of behavior or activity corresponding to certain established and accepted moral norms. A younger scholar belonging to the postmodern generation asked me: “Once you know beforehand what type of criticism and literature is ethical, what is the meaning of such research? Would criticism and literary creation not lose their sense altogether, if the goals are so explicit and transparent?”
      It would be in vain to start to explain that the meaning of “ethical” in the sense of “morally righteous” is misleading and erroneous. Once it has been included in most dictionaries and spread in the minds of broader communities, such an understanding must be accepted.
     Similar to ethical literary criticism (hereinafter abbreviated as ELC), we cannot ignore ambiguities related to other terms involved in my topic. Thus, comparative literature (hereinafter abbreviated as CL) is more than often understood as aimed at making a comparison between two or more literary works. Or on the contrary, in the recent decade the much-exploited term of interdisciplinary studies seems to denote relating literature and literary studies to other fields of research, such as history, sociology, politics, economics, biosciences, and other issues. As for world literature (hereinafter abbreviated as WL), it has often been imagined as a closed and defined canon established once and forever by the scholars of “major” and “leading” nations. Or, on the contrary, it has been identified with the truly unapproachable corpus of universally created literary, meta-literary, as well as non-literary texts.
     We certainly cannot deny anybody the right to understand, interpret and also to question terms that at least to some extent have been consecrated in our containers of knowledge – universal dictionaries and encyclopedias.
    The moral function and challenge of

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