The Puritan and the Cynic: Moralists and Theorists in French and American Letters

Oxford University Press (1987)
Abstract
Why do Americans, and so often, American writers, profess moral sentiments and yet write so little in the traditionally "moralistic" genres of maxim and fable? What is the relation between "moral" concerns and literary theory? Can any sort of morality survive the supposed nihilism of deconstruction? Jefferson Humphries undertakes a discussion of questions like these through a comparative reading of the ways in which moral issues surface in French and American literature. Humphries takes issue with the "amoral" view of deconstruction espoused by many of its detractors, arguing that the debate between the theory's advocates and opponents comes down to two opposing literary and moral traditions. While the American tradition views morality as a rigid system capable of being enforced by injunctions along the lines of "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not," the French tradition conceives of morality as a function of a relentless and unsentimental pursuit of truth, and finally, an admission that "truth" is not a static thing, but rather an ongoing process of rigorous thought.
Keywords French literature History and criticism  Ethics in literature  Literature and morals  Didactic literature History and criticism  Aphorisms and apothegms History and criticism  American literature History and criticism  Literature, Comparative French and American  Literature, Comparative American and French
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Call number PQ145.1.E83.H86 1987
ISBN(s) 0195041801   9780195041804
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