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The Value of Literature

The Value of Literature

Rafe McGregor


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In The Value of Literature, Rafe McGregor employs a unique approach – the combination of philosophical work on value theory and critical work on the relationship between form and content – to present a new argument for, and defence of, literary humanism. He argues that literature has value for art, for culture, and for humanity – in short, that it matters. Unlike most contemporary defenders of literary value, the author's strategy does not involve arguing that literature is good as a means to one of the various ends that matter to human beings. It is not that literature necessarily makes us cleverer, more sensitive, more virtuous, more creative, or just generally better people. Nor is it true that there is a necessary relation between literature and edification, clarification, cultural critique, catharsis, or therapy. Rather than offer an argument that forges a tenuous link between literature and truth, or literature and virtue, or literature and the sacred, this book analyses the non-derivative, sui generic value characteristic of literature and demonstrates why that matters as an end in itself.
Rafe McGregor offers a fresh, compelling vision of literature as having a distinctive value of its own not reducible to the more tractable values of science, psychology or religion. He identifies the roots of this value in the peculiar kinds of experiences that literary works afford when attention to formal artifice is fused with the pleasures of plot and character. He deftly combines analytical reasoning with illuminating literary examples.
Peter Lamarque, Professor of Philosophy, University of York
Rafe McGregor is Lecturer in Criminology at Leeds Trinity University and Associate Lecturer in the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York. His publications include papers in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, British Journal of Aesthetics, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, and Orbis Litterarum.
McGregor's brilliant and careful defense of autonomism is an important addition to the philosophy of literature. Autonomists will be grateful for the sophistication, lucidity and depth in which their position finds its articulation. Opponents of autonomism (such as me) will discover a much stronger rival against which, from now on, they will have to argue…
Tzachi Zamir, Associate Professor of English and General and Comparative Literature, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
With his first monograph, The Value of Literature, Rafe McGregor delivers a provocative contribution to the long-standing debate about the nature and source of literary value. … In many ways, The Value of Literature reads like the startof a fascinating journey, with McGregor’s throwaway references to ‘freedom in literature’ offering tantalizing hints at exciting future developments and directions. As he pursues the implications of literary thickness, I look forward to McGregor engaging with those, like Harrison, who share a commitment to humanism but not autonomism; and those, such as Danièle Moyal-Sharrock, who share McGregor’s resistance to the literary relevance of truth-orientated cognition, but for whom the value of literature, as Moyal-Sharrock appreciates, nonetheless uniquely ‘enhances our understanding of ourselves … and incomparably contributes to the formation of our concepts’. Might not Leopold Bloom and James Joyce concur?
Smart, provocative, and engaging, The Value of Literature is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the philosophy of literature. McGregor reinvigorates debates on the cognitive value of literature, the ethical significance of narrative, the aesthetics of appreciation, and the nature of literary value itself. This book is a major achievement.
John Gibson, Professor of Philosophy, University of Louisville
Rafe McGregor argues for a conception of literary value that avoids the perils of both instrumentalism and formalism; preserving the autonomy of literature, while still maintaining the link to the world. He steers a clear path through a dense thicket, arguing his points with rigour. Whether or not you agree, you will be clearer for having read this book.
Derek Matravers, Professor of Philosophy, The Open University

Table of Contents

Section Title Page Action Price
Table of Contents 7
Preface 9
Acknowledgements 13
1 Literary Representation 15
1. Carey’s Kelly: Fact or Fiction? 15
2. Types of Value 20
3. Literature, Fiction, and Art 25
4. Values of Literature 27
5. Autonomy versus Heteronomy 34
Notes 39
2 Literary Education 43
6. Art in Three Dimensions 43
7. Clarificationism and Literary Realism 47
8. Literature as Moral Philosophy 51
9. Ethical Criticism and Moral Improvement 55
Notes 58
3 Poetic Thickness 61
10. Form and Content 61
11. Resonant Meaning 64
12. Poetic Thickness 67
13. Objections 72
Notes 79
4 Narrative Thickness 83
14. Literary Narratives 83
15. Narrative Thickness 86
16. Work Identity 92
17. Didactic Thinness? 96
Notes 103
5 Literary Thickness 107
18. Literary Thickness (I) 107
19. Reference and Truth 109
20. Aboutness 118
Notes 122
6 Literary Value 125
21. Literary Thickness (II) 125
22. Experiential Value 131
23. Thickness and Value 140
24. The Argument from Literary Thickness 143
Notes 144
7 Literary Autonomy 147
25. Vice and Mimesis 147
26. Literature in Two Dimensions 154
27. Moral Merits and Empirical Evidence 156
28. Literary Humanism 161
Notes 163
Bibliography 165
Index 171
About the Author 175