Political Acts and Others: Commitments of Literary Response

Hans Löfgren

Abstract


It is essential to distinguish between different kinds of political practice relevant to the writing and reading of literature as well as to inquire into the specific nature of other values that literary texts may possess: ethical, ideological,and aesthetic. Especially, one needs to be aware that these terms belong to various category types, not all of them mutually exclusive. Aesthetic value, for example, can also be political. This is the case when a writer like Toni Morrison reacts against the demand that she should document the culture of her perceived ethnic belonging. To take another example, since the 1970s it has become more common to speak of literature as political rather than ideological. This is justified when we consider the text as a form of practice or intervention as opposed to the encoding of a socially conditioned consciousness. The text constitutes a virtual act as performed in reading but also as extended into social practice. The political commitment of the literary scholar, as such, should be consistent with the production of knowledge within the expanded field of literature. The politics specific to literature as such emerges in consideration of literary function as situated within a moment of social conflict and change. With the use of various examples, I will in conclusion argue that reader responses focused on the virtual act are positioned to effectively engage its aesthetic and ethical issues as well as its specific political content.

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