Friday, April 05, 2019

New Book on Austen and Philosophy

This looks interesting, and I hadn't heard of it before.

E.M. Dadlez (ed.), Jane Austen's Emma: Philosophical Perspectives, Oxford University Press, 2018, 246pp., $29.95 (pbk), ISBN 9780190689421.

E. M. Dadlez writes in the introduction to this collection of eight commissioned essays that their authors' engagement with Jane Austen's Emma is "philosophical in a variety of ways" (p. 7). These writers certainly relate Austen's novel to philosophical theories or concepts for a variety of reasons. Peter Knox-Shaw argues that Austen participates in debates to which David Hume and Francis Hutcheson made significant contributions. Hume reappears when Peter Kivy discusses the issue of potential reader responses, and invokes the idea of "reader resistance." Christine Korsgaard's notion of what it means to be an autonomous person provides Eileen John with her point of departure. Most contributors suggest that certain philosophical concepts seem to resonate with themes in the novel. Heidi Silcox and Mark Silcox explore the functions of "gossip," proposing connections with the thought of Heidegger; while Richard Eldridge finds the ideas of Gilbert Ryle and Richard Wollheim useful in highlighting the problematic nature of self-understanding. In the essays of Neera K. Badhwar and Dadlez, and of Cynthia Freeland aspects of Aristotle's thought function as a framing device for discussions of the heroine's character -- a subject of extensive debate amongst literary critics to which Freeland pays scarce or no attention....

The reviewer is very unimpressed, but given her characterization of what she would have liked in the volume, I'm not really sure I trust her evaluation of it, particularly since Wainwright's own work, while moderately interesting, is, in my view, largely wrong (although for reasons having more to do with her conception of the lay of the land in moral psychology rather than Austen exegesis).

In any case, the work, like many collections of this sort, looks like a bit of exploratory miscellanea. I think the field of Austen & Philosophy is very much endangered by the talk-about-literary-critics-debating-Austen approach Wainwright prefers, and desperately in need of the starting-fresh approach she attacks the contributors for using and so really needs more exploratory work right now, so I've put it on my list to buy at some point.

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