Ethics, Value and the Politics of Recognition

  • David Parker


The present volume testifies to the claim I have been making for some time that the 1990s have seen a significant turn to ethics in contemporary literary studies.1 This claim is nowhere more forcefully summarized than in Steven Connor’s review of a book of mine, among others, when he says that ‘the word “ethics” seems to have replaced “textuality” as the most charged term in the vocabulary of contemporary literary and cultural theory.2 I still believe that claim to be true, although I have now come to feel misgivings about some of the things that go by the name of ethics. It would take a further chapter to explain these misgivings fully, but they could be roughly summed up by saying that a range of Deconstructive and political approaches of the 1970s and 1980s recently appear to have found new puff by changing tack slightly and declaring themselves forms of ethics. They have some entitlement to do this as they do offer some view of how a human being should live. The main problem, as I suggest below, is that they tend to place an almost exclusive emphasis on the obligation to respect the ‘difference’ or ‘alterity’ of others, which produces a skewed, one-sided and ultimately attenuated ethics that is often silent, and dangerously so, on the whole range of ethical issues not illuminated by their favoured key terms.


Critical Ethic Political Approach Young Writer Charged Term Australian Literature 
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  1. 3.
    Helen Demidenko, The Hand that Signed the Paper (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1994) 3.Google Scholar
  2. 19.
    See Robert Manne, The Culture of Forgetting: Helen Demidenko and the Holocaust (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 1996) 20 and ff.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

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  • David Parker

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