The Wounded Animal: J. M. Coetzee and the Difficulty of Reality in Literature and Philosophy

Princeton University Press
2
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In 1997, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist J. M. Coetzee, invited to Princeton University to lecture on the moral status of animals, read a work of fiction about an eminent novelist, Elizabeth Costello, invited to lecture on the moral status of animals at an American college. Coetzee's lectures were published in 1999 as The Lives of Animals, and reappeared in 2003 as part of his novel Elizabeth Costello; and both lectures and novel have attracted the critical attention of a number of influential philosophers--including Peter Singer, Cora Diamond, Stanley Cavell, and John McDowell.

In The Wounded Animal, Stephen Mulhall closely examines Coetzee's writings about Costello, and the ways in which philosophers have responded to them, focusing in particular on their powerful presentation of both literature and philosophy as seeking, and failing, to represent reality--in part because of reality's resistance to such projects of understanding, but also because of philosophy's unwillingness to learn from literature how best to acknowledge that resistance. In so doing, Mulhall is led to consider the relations among reason, language, and the imagination, as well as more specific ethical issues concerning the moral status of animals, the meaning of mortality, the nature of evil, and the demands of religion. The ancient quarrel between philosophy and literature here displays undiminished vigor and renewed significance.

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About the author

Stephen Mulhall is fellow and tutor in philosophy at New College, University of Oxford. His books include On Film, The Conversation of Humanity, and Philosophical Myths of the Fall (Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Dec 8, 2008
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Pages
272
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ISBN
9781400837533
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / General
Literary Criticism / Semiotics & Theory
Nature / Animal Rights
Philosophy / Ethics & Moral Philosophy
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Stephen Mulhall
Did post-Enlightenment philosophers reject the idea of original sin and hence the view that life is a quest for redemption from it? In Philosophical Myths of the Fall, Stephen Mulhall identifies and evaluates a surprising ethical-religious dimension in the work of three highly influential philosophers--Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein. He asks: Is the Christian idea of humanity as structurally flawed something that these three thinkers aim simply to criticize? Or do they, rather, end up by reproducing secular variants of the same mythology?

Mulhall argues that each, in different ways, develops a conception of human beings as in need of redemption: in their work, we appear to be not so much capable of or prone to error and fantasy, but instead structurally perverse, living in untruth. In this respect, their work is more closely aligned to the Christian perspective than to the mainstream of the Enlightenment. However, all three thinkers explicitly reject any religious understanding of human perversity; indeed, they regard the very understanding of human beings as originally sinful as central to that from which we must be redeemed. And yet each also reproduces central elements of that understanding in his own thinking; each recounts his own myth of our Fall, and holds out his own image of redemption. The book concludes by asking whether this indebtedness to religion brings these philosophers' thinking closer to, or instead forces it further away from, the truth of the human condition.

Stephen Mulhall
Stephen Mulhall presents the first full-length philosophical study of the work of Stanley Cavell, best known for his highly influential contributions to the fields of film studies, Shakespearian literary criticism, and the confluence of psychoanalysis and literary theory. It is not properly appreciated that Cavell's project originated in his interpretation of Austin's and Wittgenstein's philosophical interest in the criteria governing ordinary language, and is given unity by an abiding concern with the nature and the varying cultural manifestations of the sceptical impulse in modernity. This book elucidates the essentially philosophical roots and trajectory of Cavell's work, traces its links with Romanticism and its recent turn towards a species of moral pefectionism associated with Thoreau and Emerson, and concludes with an assessment of its relations to liberal-democratic political theory, Christian religious thought, and feminist literary studies. It will be of interest to anyone concerned with the relationships between Anglo-American and Continental philosophy, and between philosophy and other disciplines in the humanities. 'an excellent presentation and discussion of [Cavell's] thought . . . very timely' Political Studies 'Learning to read Mulhall is both a suitable and a worthy first step to learning to read Cavell' British Journal of Aesthetics 'there can be no doubt as to the depth of Mulhall's knowledge of Cavell's writings or to his ability as an advocate. [The book] is also very well written. Mulhall's prose is capable of registering the fine grain in a subtle and elusive thinker and, while more conventional than Cavell's, is no less supple or eloquent.' Times Literary Supplement '[Mulhall's] explication is careful enough to explain the importance of Cavell's work, clarify the subtleties of Cavell's ideas, provide a complete overview of Cavell's thought, and show the coherence in Cavell's diverse writings . . .invaluable' Harvard Review
Stephen Mulhall
Can we talk meaningfully about God? The theological movement known as Grammatical Thomism affirms that religious language is nonsensical, because the reality of God is beyond our capacity for expression. Stephen Mulhall critically evaluates the claims of this movement (as exemplified in the work of Herbert McCabe and David Burrell) to be a legitimate inheritor of Wittgenstein's philosophical methods as well as Aquinas's theological project. The major obstacle to this claim is that Grammatical Thomism makes the nonsensicality of religious language when applied to God a touchstone of Thomist insight, whereas 'nonsense' is standardly taken to be solely a term of criticism in Wittgenstein's work. Mulhall argues that, if Wittgenstein is read in the terms provided by the work of Cora Diamond and Stanley Cavell, then a place can be found in both his early work and his later writings for a more positive role to be assigned to nonsensical utterances—one which depends on exploiting an analogy between religious language and riddles. And once this alignment between Wittgenstein and Aquinas is established, it also allows us to see various ways in which his later work has a perfectionist dimension—in that it overlaps with the concerns of moral perfectionism, and in that it attributes great philosophical significance to what theology and philosophy have traditionally called 'perfections' and 'transcendentals', particularly concepts such as Being, Truth, and Unity or Oneness. This results in a radical reconception of the role of analogous usage in language, and so in the relation between philosophy and theology.
Stephen Mulhall
Can we talk meaningfully about God? The theological movement known as Grammatical Thomism affirms that religious language is nonsensical, because the reality of God is beyond our capacity for expression. Stephen Mulhall critically evaluates the claims of this movement (as exemplified in the work of Herbert McCabe and David Burrell) to be a legitimate inheritor of Wittgenstein's philosophical methods as well as Aquinas's theological project. The major obstacle to this claim is that Grammatical Thomism makes the nonsensicality of religious language when applied to God a touchstone of Thomist insight, whereas 'nonsense' is standardly taken to be solely a term of criticism in Wittgenstein's work. Mulhall argues that, if Wittgenstein is read in the terms provided by the work of Cora Diamond and Stanley Cavell, then a place can be found in both his early work and his later writings for a more positive role to be assigned to nonsensical utterances—one which depends on exploiting an analogy between religious language and riddles. And once this alignment between Wittgenstein and Aquinas is established, it also allows us to see various ways in which his later work has a perfectionist dimension—in that it overlaps with the concerns of moral perfectionism, and in that it attributes great philosophical significance to what theology and philosophy have traditionally called 'perfections' and 'transcendentals', particularly concepts such as Being, Truth, and Unity or Oneness. This results in a radical reconception of the role of analogous usage in language, and so in the relation between philosophy and theology.
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