The politics of criticism and the question of morality : a critical study of F.R. Leavis, Jean-Paul Sartre and Lionel Trilling
The object of my research is the examination of the ambivalent relationship of ethics and politics in the context of twentieth-century literary criticism. The main and most general thesis that I put forward is that all moral discourses are directly complicit with the broader political and economic realities within which they are articulated. In my case, I attempt to show the validity of this proposition by examining three instances where literary criticism and ethics have converged, each instance belonging to a different national and ideological paradigm. In doing so I attempt to identify those elements that may be said to constitute a sort of an archaeology, in the Foucaultean sense, of the contemporary trend in literary theory that openly espouses a moral/ethical problematic. I do this by looking closely at the critical work of F.R. Leavis, Jean-Paul Sartre and Lionel Trilling. In the process of discussing the work of these critics I attempt to show to what extent their moral critical discourse was determined by their own ideological assumptions, on the one hand, and the general historical context, on the other. In my view, their critical work, with the notable exception of Sartre's, betrays a double need. Firstly, the need to distance themselves from the denotative language of politics and secondly, the need to articulate desires that are thoroughly political in their nature and consequences. In doing favis and Trilling, in contradistinction to Sartre, only succeeded in mystifying the conditions that enabled the articulation of their literary and cultural critiques and thus disassociated themselves from social, political and economic interests. Finally, my work implicitly argues for the need for the rearticulation of the relation btween ethics and material interests not only in the rather confined space of literary criticism but in all aspects of critical endeavour and social practice.