In "The Company We Keep", Wayne C. Booth argues for the relocation of ethics to the center of our engagement with literature. But the questions he asks are not confined to morality. Returning ethics to its root sense, Booth proposes that the ethical critic will be interested in any effect on the ethos, the total character or quality of tellers and listeners. Ethical criticism will risk talking about the quality of this particular encounter with this particular work. Yet it will give up the old hope for definitive judgments of 'good' work and 'bad'. Rather it will be a conversation about many kinds of personal and social goods that fictions can serve or destroy. While not ignoring the consequences for conduct of engaging with powerful stories, it will attend to that more immediate topic, What happens to us as we read? Who am I, during the hours of reading or listening? What is the quality of the life I lead in the company of these would-be friends?
Through a wide variety of periods and genres and scores of particular works, Booth pursues various metaphors for such engagements: 'friendship with books', 'the exchange of gifts', 'the colonizing of worlds', 'the constitution of commonwealths'. He concludes with extended explorations of the ethical powers and potential dangers of works by Rabelais, D. H. Lawrence, Jane Austen, and Mark Twain.
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(229mm x 152mm x 38mm)
University of California Press
Publisher: University of California Press
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US Kirkus Review »
Vast, ecumenical defense and reappraisal of the Old Guard Humanist/Subjectivist critical line in literary criticism. Booth (English/U. of Chicago; The Rhetoric of Fiction) goes for it all here, invoking and assimilating everyone from Plato to new feminist criticism in reprivileging the notion of an ethical criticism. Taking quite seriously the spirit of I.A. Richards' claim that "Poetry is capable of saving us," Booth wends his way through the literary history of the world - from Genesis to Jaws - to explain and demonstrate the way narrative literally acts on our souls. Booth essentially consecrates the experience of literature, praising authors and books that provide "a richer and fuller life than I could manage on my own," and invents his own neologism - "coduction" - to define the act of reading ethically, relatively, openly. This bit of critical sleight of hand - since there is little new about Booth's methodology but the term he invents for it - is then extended into virtually every area of critical thought. He examines the rise and fall of ethical criticism, the relationship of critical ethics to other ideological models like Marxism and feminism, and conducts a sometimes dazzling rhetorical analysis of metaphor and cosmology. The book finally settles down into application in the closing chapters, where Booth tests his paradigm against the works of Jane Austen, D.H. Lawrence, and, in a truly inspired revisionist reading, Huckleberry Finn. More earnest than original, comprehensive than precise, Booth nevertheless delivers up a profound and timely treatise that will cheer traditionalists, annoy revisionists, and without fail refuel critical debate among literary theorists of every stripe. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Wayne C. Booth
Wayne C. Booth (1921-2005) was George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor of English at the University of Chicago.