Philosophers and theorists have often turned to literature to illustrate and inspire their arguments. Hegel reads Sophocles' Antigone to illuminate his account of ethical life and the dialectical ... read more
Philosophers and theorists have often turned to literature to illustrate and inspire their arguments. Hegel reads Sophocles' Antigone to illuminate his account of ethical life and the dialectical progression of history. Freud, of course, turns to Oedipus Rex. Lacan develops an account of desire in response to Poe's The Purloined Letter. Yet, whether literature functions as exemplum or inspiration, something is lost in this transition to theoretical language: literary form, the very 'literariness' of the text itself. Indeed, when philosophy and theory engage with literature, their habit is usually to read a theory into or out of a text, masking the text in the process. This seminar will look at other intersections of literature and philosophy by examining various accounts of the philosophical significance of literary form itself.
We will approach this question from two angles. Firstly, we will explore thinkers who consider literary form to be distinct from philosophical form. How do these thinkers account for the specific philosophical significance of literary form? Does literature express particular philosophical views that cannot be put in propositional form? Does it merely justify conventional philosophical views in a novel fashion? Or, does literature have a philosophical significance independent of the 'views' that it might contain? These questions will be explored in relation to a number of writers in both the analytic (Nussbaum, Cavell, Diamond) and continental (Adorno, Heidegger, Deleuze) philosophical traditions. Secondly, we will turn to writers who problematize the relation between philosophy and literature by underlining that both are forms of writing that constantly contaminate one another. This idea is most fully explored in the 'deconstructive' tradition, finding its roots in Nietzsche and being more fully expressed by Derrida, de Man, Lacoue-Labarthe, et al. We will attempt to establish a critical dialogue between these different traditions and perspectives, looking at whether 'analytic' categories can productively be applied to 'continental' thinkers, and finding important points of contact. For instance, all these thinkers believe that literary form shows us the limits of certain philosophical methods. What similarities can we find in their accounts? What differences? Who is most persuasive? And do they even tell us anything that literature didn't already?