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Title: The autonomy of literature
Author: McGregor, Rafe
Awarding Body: University of York
Current Institution: University of York
Date of Award: 2013
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In this thesis, I present a new argument for the autonomy of literature. The conclusion that literature is autonomous is a claim that there is, first, a distinctively literary value, and second, that this distinctively literary value is independent of the other values associated with literature. In Part I, I enumerate the premises of my argument, distinguishing between final and instrumental value on the one hand and non-relational and relational value on the other. I accept literature as characteristically fictional and literary works as institutional objects. I argue for two different instantiations of form-content inseparability, poetic thickness and narrative thickness, which I then subsume under the concept of literary thickness. Part II argues that there are two conflicting interests that can be taken in literary works, the formal and the substantive, and that these are reconciled in the integrative standpoint. I contend that the integrative standpoint is characteristic of literary appreciation and that the distinctively literary value is the literary satisfaction that accompanies the experience of a literary work. I complete my argument by establishing a necessary relation between the integrative standpoint and final value rather than instrumental value, with the consequence that literature is autonomous. I address the two strongest objections to my argument in Part III. Both Noël Carroll and Martha Nussbaum maintain that cognitive value and moral value are part and parcel of literary value, which is thus heteronomous. I demonstrate why neither objection succeeds, focusing on the failure of Carroll’s literature in three dimensions approach to account for the literary value of morally ambiguous works of literature and the failure of Nussbaum’s theory of literary education to account for the literary flaws in morally meritorious works of literature. I conclude that my argument from literary thickness stands and that literature is therefore indeed autonomous.
Supervisor: Lamarque, Peter Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available