1st Edition

Literature, Interpretation and Ethics

By Colin Davis Copyright 2024
    196 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    196 Pages 4 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Literature, Interpretation and Ethics argues for the centrality of hermeneutics in the context of ongoing debates about the value and values of literature, and about the role and ethics of literary study. Hermeneutics is the endeavor to understand the nature of interpretation, as it poses vital questions about how we make sense of works of art, our own lives, other people and the world around us.

    The book outlines the contribution of hermeneutics to literary study through detailed accounts of role of interpretation in the work of key thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, Umberto Eco, Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas. It also illustrates problems of interpretation posed by specific literary texts and films, emphasising how our interpretive acts also entail ethical engagements. The book develops a ‘hermeneutics of (guarded) trust’, which calls for attention to the agency of art without surrendering critical vigilance.

    Through a series of forays into theoretical texts, literary works and films, the book contributes to contemporary debates about critical practice and the cultural value. Interpretation, it suggests, is always fallible but it is also essential to our place in the world, and to the importance of the humanities.


    Introduction: Forays

    Part I: Literature and the Hermeneutics of Trust

    1.      Does Literature Matter?

    2.      The Hermeneutics of Suspicion and the Hermeneutics of Trust: Ricoeur, Gadamer, Camus

    3.      Derrida, Deconstruction and Radical Hermeneutics

    Part II: Misreading/Overreading

    4.      Overreading: Intentions, Mistakes and Lies

    5.      Reading and Overreading: Camus’s Whales

    6.      Reading Violence, Violent Reading: Levinas and Hermeneutics

    Part III: Reading/Ethics

    7.      Truth, Ethics, Fiction: Responding to Plato’s Challenge

    8.      Trauma, Poststructuralism and Ethics

    9.      Ethics, Stories and Reading

    10.  Limits of Reading, Overreading and Ethical Reading: Albert Camus’s La Chute

    Conclusion: Forays into Good Reading, Bad Reading, Misreading, Overreading and the Hermeneutics of (Guarded) Trust


    Colin Davis is Emeritus Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London. His research is mainly in the field of twentieth-century literature, film and theory.