Ethics, Literature, and the Place of Poetry

David‐Antoine Williams

in Defending Poetry

Published in print September 2010 | ISBN: 9780199583546
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191595295 | DOI:

Series: Oxford English Monographs

Ethics, Literature, and the Place of Poetry

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This chapter offers an extended introduction to the philosophical debate over the ethical value of literature from Plato's expulsion of the poets from his ideal republic to the self‐styled ‘turn to ethics’ in recent literary theory. The sometimes allied tradition of poetic defence or apologia is traced in its development from the neo‐Classical arguments of Renaissance writers through its romanticist, Victorian, and modernist incarnations, to T. S. Eliot's writings, which became the lasting and most influential example for the next generation of poets. This chapter reassesses Eliot's career‐long defence of poetry, paying special attention to the way his late writings integrate the early ideals of ‘poetic integrity’ and ‘auditory imagination’ into a ‘duty to language’, which carries with it a concomitant duty to people.

Keywords: ethics and literature; ethical turn; ethical criticism; integrity; Romanticism; Modernism; Plato; T. S. Eliot

Chapter.  22261 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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