Prof. Dr. Tomo Virk, professor at the Department of Comparative Literature and Literary Theory at the Faculty of Philosophy in Ljubljana, a top expert in both areas, added new value to his award-winning publications with the monograph Literature and Ethics. The text solves the essential problem of contemporary societies: how to avoid the relativization of good(ness) by insight into the inevitable cognitive and historical relativity of it. With his characteristic interweaving of theoretical-philosophical insight, literary and cultural-historical erudition, and lucid interpretation of fundamental sources, the author responds to the reflected vitality of literary discourse. He establishes that in the latter in a similarly non-trivial way as in life, the general, singular, (supra)historical, cognitive and emotional dimensions of ethical dilemmas are intertwined and mirrored. That is why literature can be ethical in codifying the fundamental rules of cohabitation and in the auto-reflexive opening of their enigmatic foundation. Everything points to the fact that in literary discourse we must reflectively experience the infinite openness of life’s ethos. Just like literature, Literature and Ethics does not offer an unequivocal solution to the aforementioned dilemmas, and at the same time, in the way they are considered, we sense the living secrecy of absolute openness, which in its last extract rejects the reasons for that which is not good. Thus, the monograph offers us an original answer to the super-historical dilemma about the connection between the good, the true and the beautiful: we do not find the good in the (hypothetical) knowledge of truth and beauty, but only the empathic experience of a non-trivial ethical judgment can be truthful and aesthetic.
Potential readers of Literature and Ethics are primarily (future) connoisseurs of these subject areas. With its erudite momentum and dialogic attitude, the monograph will expand the horizons of the interested public and experts in the field of philosophy, (cultural) history, sociology and related sciences. It will be of interest to everyone who wants to be a part of the vital power of humanities – preserving the meaning of life.
The cognitive power of Literature and Ethics springs from a superior theoretical thought which, in its latest refinement, has devised its own limitations. Namely, in the autoreflexive turn, it not only realizes that it cannot encompass the complexity and singularity of life situations in which we follow (un)ethical decisions, but also the fact that in this intertwining, it essentially approaches to (and at the same time builds on) the literary simulacrum of life. Thus, the programmatic departure from the “scholarly” discourse towards the dialogic one is not a sign of abandoning the cognitive potentials of theoretical speech, but quite the opposite – in openness to literary openness, these potentials are enhanced. After the introductory explanation of the basic problem, Tomo Virk reveals a range of situations in which literature embodies the ethical non-triviality of human existence. The first three chapters consider the cultural-historical period of ancient ethics and literature from normativity to the field of reflection, and the following seven concentrate on ethical issues that summarize the autoreflexive nature of modern literary discourse (theodicy, conscience, empathy, otherness, political correctness). Selected examples (Voltaire, Goethe, Poe, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Bulgakov, Borges, Camus, Roth, Schlink, Morrison, Coetzee) establish a framework for literary-scientific and philosophical thinking about the most demanding epistemological and ethical problems. Despite the challenging nature, the argumentation always remains friendly to the reader’s horizon of understanding, especially by means of expert syntheses of a complicated intertextual network of literary and cultural-historical references. The text is imbued with the spirit of both ethics and literature – not only because it is thematically interwoven with the red thread of empathic openness, but also because it constantly manifests this openness with its focus on discussion. In the monograph Literature and Ethics, which is exceptional both in terminological and didactic terms, ethics becomes, so to speak, performative. (“…”).
prof. Dejan Kos