“Embodiment, Embeddedness, and Kindness: Conditions of Reading and Living Together in Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello”
Yi-Ping Ong (Johns Hopkins University)
Thursday Sept 21, 2017
5pm Lecture, followed by Q&A
Ahmadieh Lecture Hall, C105
Smith Warehouse, Bay 4
Parking is free after 5pm
How do we come to share an ethical outlook with others? Is it possible to teach ethics? What does it mean to live with others, when we do not (always) inhabit the same world? Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello engages these profound ethical questions in and through its very form. Whereas critics have suggested that the formal strategies of the novel are intended either to take up or evade the task of ethical instruction, I argue that in fact the text advances a challenge to the basic assumption of ethical literary criticism – namely, that the reader ought to be improved in some way by the text. Rather than focusing upon what a text might do to us, Elizabeth Costello implicates the very ground of our capacities to read it. The result is not only a reconception of the value of reading, but also a reorientation of the task of the humanities as a whole.
Yi-Ping Ong is Assistant Professor of Humanities at Johns Hopkins University. Her research and teaching focuses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature and philosophy, reflecting interests in the history and theory of the realist novel, modernism, existentialism, and issues of justice and ethics in contemporary Anglophone literature. Her book Art of Being: The Poetics of the Novel and Existentialist Philosophy, is forthcoming with Harvard University Press in 2018.