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Introduction Formalism and Ethics: The Practice of Literary Theory

Introduction Formalism and Ethics: The Practice of Literary Theory

Chapter:
(p.1) Introduction Formalism and Ethics: The Practice of Literary Theory
Source:
Practicing Literary Theory in the Middle Ages
Author(s):
Eleanor Johnson
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226015989.003.0001

This chapter introduces medieval literary theory, beginning with Horace's Ars poetica, wherein he famously insists that literary writing can either be delightful or useful, but constitutes both when at its best. Isidore of Seville reiterates this Horatian lesson, adding that the highest mode of literary experience is that which contributes to the moral understanding of its readers. These theories on literature's ethical work, however, carry with them two lacunae. First is the understanding of “ethical work.” Should “ethics” be understood in line with the contemporary critical discourse on medieval literature? Ethics, in this case however, is apparently not exclusively concerned with political or interpersonal conduct. Thus, this chapter is concerned with the role of formalism and ethics in the practice of literary theory.

Keywords:   horace, ars poetica, isidore of seville, ethics, ethical work, practice of literary theory, formalism

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