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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Stories as Equipment for Living

Posted by Bill Benzon on 03/26/10 at 08:15 AM

A couple weeks ago I put up a post on Time’s Arrow in Literary Space in which I ended up “workshopping” a current piece of work on three of Osamu Tezuka’s early manga. The discussion convinced me that I needed a short “methods” or even, Heaven forfend! a “theory” section. So here’s a draft, based on a short passage by Kenneth Burke:

Before making this argument I want to clarify just what I am arguing. And to do that I must first state what I’m not doing. I’m not arguing that the death and re-creation is a meaning that is somehow hidden in these texts somewhere below the surface, as we often say, perhaps without even thinking about what such language might mean. What surface, the page? How can meaning hide under there? Somewhere between the recto and the verso? There’s not much room there. “No,” you say, “it’s a metaphor, a way of speaking.” A metaphor for just what, exactly?

That is, I’m not arguing that these science fiction stories about boys and detectives and radiation and robots and all that stuff, that these stories are really and deeply about something else. They’re not. They’re about just what they appear to be about. But they can be put to both cognitive and emotional use.

Consider the position which Kenneth Burke articulated in his essay on “Literature as Equipment for Living” from The Philosophy of Literary Form. Using words and phrases from several definitions of the term “strategy” (in quotes in the following passage), he asserts that:

. . . surely, the most highly alembicated and sophisticated work of art, arising in complex civilizations, could be considered as designed to organize and command the army of one’s thoughts and images, and to so organize them that one “imposes upon the enemy the time and place and conditions for fighting preferred by oneself.” One seeks to “direct the larger movements and operations” in one’s campaign of living.  One “maneuvers,” and the maneuvering is an “art.”

Further, to the extent that these stories are shared, members of a society can articulate their desires and feelings to one another thereby making themselves mutually at home in the world. I am simply arguing that in these three manga Tezuka provided his readers with templates for making conceptual and emotional sense of their utterly changed world. Obviously, other people from different times and places are going to bring different concerns and interests to these texts. They aren’t going to “find” the concerns of post-war Japanese “hidden” in these texts. They’ll use the texts to cope with their own lives.

* * * * *

Department of D’oh!

As I was stepping into the shower this morning it hit me: This provides a space and a rationale for ethical criticism, aesthetic too. The ethical critic is judging the suitability of a given text for situational use. This doesn’t require figuring out authorial intention and it certainly doesn’t dictate that the text have one TRUE meaning. Texts can be appropriate for various situations and can be judged according to various ethical precepts.

The tricky business starts when you use the text, and some tradition in which you place the text, as a source of authority for your standards of ethical judgement. Rohan, what does Wayne Booth say about this?


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