The Literary Work as Stranger: The Disrupting Ethics of Defamiliarization and the Literariness of Literature
Ven, I.G.M. van de
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This thesis addresses the ethical effects of the defamiliarizing experience of literary reading in the context of a post-critical academic landscape. Starting with a critical assessment of contemporary expressions of a renewed desire for values as an ultimate consequence of poststructuralist thought, as embodied in ‘ethical criticism’ and the ‘return to beauty,’ a contemporary tendency towards universalization and symmetry in theories of literature and art is identified and critiqued as a regression into liberal humanism. Through a reading of Ian McEwan’s Saturday (2005), the idea of the novel as a ‘friend,’ as a locus of compassion through empathic investments with fictional characters, followed by a lucid understanding of the other, is presented as a project that turns otherness into self/sameness. A case is made for an attention to the integrated nature of ‘artfulness’ and ‘textfulness’ in literature, followed by the construction of a model of literary reading that revolves around (an expanded notion of) Viktor Shklovksy’s defamiliarization. This experience is linked to an asymmetrical ethics, which, in the context of the renewed desire for fixed values and certainties, is shown to amount to the contrary: a ‘knowing less,’ the impossibility of fully integrating the other into the same. Instead of proposing the novel as friend, this model for literary reading conceives of the text as a stranger that can never fully become familiar. This asymmetrical relation to the other is concretized by a reading of Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (2005).