Ethical Sense and Literary Significance
Deep Sociality and the Cultural Agency of Imaginative Discourse
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This study blends together ethical philosophy, neurocognitive-evolutionary studies, and literary theory to explore how imaginative discourse addresses a distinctively human deep sociality, and by doing so helps shape cultural and literary history. Deep sociality, arising from an improbable evolutionary history, both entwines and leaves non-reconciled what is felt to be significant for us and what ethical sense seems to call us to acknowledge as significant, independent of ourselves.
Ethical Sense and Literary Significance connects literary and cultural history without reducing the literary to a mere expression of something else. It argues that affective differences between non-egocentric and egocentric registers of significance are integral to the bioculturally evolved deep sociality that verbal art addresses—often in unsettling and socially critical ways. Much imaginative discourse, in early societies as well as recent ones, brings ethical sense and literary significance together in ways that reveal their intricate but non-harmonized internal entwinement.
Drawing on contemporary scholarship in the humanities and sciences, Donald R. Wehrs explores the implications of interdisciplinary approaches to topics central to a wide range of fields beyond literary studies, including neuroscience, anthropology, phenomenological philosophy, comparative history, and social psychology.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Literary Signification and Biocultural Sociality
Part I: A Transcultural Historical Phenomenon and its Implications for Literary Theory
Chapter One: Platonic Poetics and Axial Cultural Revolutions
Chapter Two: Literary Theory and the Task of Accounting for Axial Hermeneutics
Part II: Neurocognitive Underpinnings and Evolutionary Prehistories of Significance Discernment and Ethical Sense
Chapter Three: Literary Significance’s Prehistory: Attentiveness, Affectivity, and Sociality
Chapter Four: Literary Significance’s Prehistory: Trust, Subjectivity, and Symbolic Culture
Chapter Five: Affective Dissonance, Moral Sociality, and the Prehistory of Ethical Sense
Conclusion: Life Sciences, Cultural Studies, and Literary History
Donald R. Wehrs is Hargis Professor of English Literature at Auburn University, USA. He is editor or co-editor of five collections, most recently Cultural Memory: From the Sciences to the Humanities (Routledge, 2023), and author of three books on African fiction and over forty scholarly publications.