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On Purpose: Interest, Disinterest, and Literature we can live by

Hutchinson, Ben (2022) On Purpose: Interest, Disinterest, and Literature we can live by. Forum for Modern Language Studies, 58 (2). pp. 137-152. ISSN 0015-8518. E-ISSN 1471-6860. (doi:10.1093/fmls/cqac026) (KAR id:95366)


The idea of ‘literature we can live by’ crystallizes the paradox of art: defined by its distance from life, it requires, at the same time, proximity to life. We turn to art because it offers a protected space of disinterested play – yet we are also profoundly interested in its ethical implications. In the words of Rilke’s ‘Archaic Torso of Apollo’, the work of art – and through its Apollonian pa- tron, literature in particular – tells us that we must change our lives. Ranging widely from antiquity to modernity while highlighting key moments in early modernity and the Enlightenment, this essay identifies a recurring tension between two visions of literature: to be able to comment insightfully on life, it must be apart from it; to be able to respond adequately to life, it must be a part of it. It is not just the metaphors we live by, in other words, but also the metonyms.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1093/fmls/cqac026
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PB Modern Languages
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
Depositing User: Benjamin Hutchinson
Date Deposited: 09 Jun 2022 20:48 UTC
Last Modified: 03 Aug 2022 15:14 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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