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The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction

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In The Company We Keep, Wayne C. Booth argues for the relocation of ethics to the center of our engagement with literature. But the questions he asks are not confined to morality. Returning ethics to its root sense, Booth proposes that the ethical critic will be interested in any effect on the ethos, the total character or quality of tellers and listeners. Ethical criticism In The Company We Keep, Wayne C. Booth argues for the relocation of ethics to the center of our engagement with literature. But the questions he asks are not confined to morality. Returning ethics to its root sense, Booth proposes that the ethical critic will be interested in any effect on the ethos, the total character or quality of tellers and listeners. Ethical criticism will risk talking about the quality of this particular encounter with this particular work. Yet it will give up the old hope for definitive judgments of "good" work and "bad." Rather it will be a conversation about many kinds of personal and social goods that fictions can serve or destroy. While not ignoring the consequences for conduct of engaging with powerful stories, it will attend to that more immediate topic, What happens to us as we read? Who am I, during the hours of reading or listening? What is the quality of the life I lead in the company of these would-be friends? Through a wide variety of periods and genres and scores of particular works, Booth pursues various metaphors for such engagements: "friendship with books," "the exchange of gifts," "the colonizing of worlds," "the constitution of commonwealths." He concludes with extended explorations of the ethical powers and potential dangers of works by Rabelais, D. H. Lawrence, Jane Austen, and Mark Twain.


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In The Company We Keep, Wayne C. Booth argues for the relocation of ethics to the center of our engagement with literature. But the questions he asks are not confined to morality. Returning ethics to its root sense, Booth proposes that the ethical critic will be interested in any effect on the ethos, the total character or quality of tellers and listeners. Ethical criticism In The Company We Keep, Wayne C. Booth argues for the relocation of ethics to the center of our engagement with literature. But the questions he asks are not confined to morality. Returning ethics to its root sense, Booth proposes that the ethical critic will be interested in any effect on the ethos, the total character or quality of tellers and listeners. Ethical criticism will risk talking about the quality of this particular encounter with this particular work. Yet it will give up the old hope for definitive judgments of "good" work and "bad." Rather it will be a conversation about many kinds of personal and social goods that fictions can serve or destroy. While not ignoring the consequences for conduct of engaging with powerful stories, it will attend to that more immediate topic, What happens to us as we read? Who am I, during the hours of reading or listening? What is the quality of the life I lead in the company of these would-be friends? Through a wide variety of periods and genres and scores of particular works, Booth pursues various metaphors for such engagements: "friendship with books," "the exchange of gifts," "the colonizing of worlds," "the constitution of commonwealths." He concludes with extended explorations of the ethical powers and potential dangers of works by Rabelais, D. H. Lawrence, Jane Austen, and Mark Twain.

30 review for The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Robert Day

    This is a magnificent book that, largely, soars over my head and disappears in the far off blue skies of 'never again'. That said, I'll probably read the author's most-recognized book, The Rhetoric of Fiction, next. Writing in The New York Times Book Review in 1989, Anatole Broyard called this book "almost indecently satisfying." I wish I had AB's breadth of intellect. Although this is a good and useful book, the style is very uneven. I get the impression that it is a collection of articles masqu This is a magnificent book that, largely, soars over my head and disappears in the far off blue skies of 'never again'. That said, I'll probably read the author's most-recognized book, The Rhetoric of Fiction, next. Writing in The New York Times Book Review in 1989, Anatole Broyard called this book "almost indecently satisfying." I wish I had AB's breadth of intellect. Although this is a good and useful book, the style is very uneven. I get the impression that it is a collection of articles masquerading as chapters, some of which are unreadable and others more approachable. I particularly like the idea that the various theories about life and the world (Big Bang, Relativity, Creation, Evolution etc.) are merely competing metaphors. Just different ways to see the same thing. They are just the efforts of various humans to describe the indescribable. There's lots to like here, but I don't like everything. I also like what he says about friends. I'm heavily paraphrasing here, but what I get is that we should keep the company of those who can benefit us. and we should keep around us those we can, in turn, bring benefit to. The former category contains the books we read, and the latter, the books we write. Yeah, actually, that wasn't really in the book. I made it up. Good book if you're into ethics or books. Bad book if you don't know how to speed-read and/or can't recognise when you should do so.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jack Wolfe

    Why didn't I read this in college? Maybe because it makes perfect sense. Why didn't I read this in college? Maybe because it makes perfect sense.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Referenced positively in Leithart's essay in Ryken's The Christian Imagination. Referenced positively in Leithart's essay in Ryken's The Christian Imagination.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ahmed

    I am not done with it yet. But so far the book has so much to offer.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sabina Knight

    In _The Company We Keep_ (1992), Booth argues that we learn how to be human by incorporating others’ better selves. Readers thus engage in what he calls "co-duction," a practice in which qualified observers compare experiences. These observers may not share governing assumptions, which Booth calls “warrants.” Warrants require proof. You can say anything you like as long as your tone is right, but you can claim something only if you have evidence. An important corollary is that articles of faith c In _The Company We Keep_ (1992), Booth argues that we learn how to be human by incorporating others’ better selves. Readers thus engage in what he calls "co-duction," a practice in which qualified observers compare experiences. These observers may not share governing assumptions, which Booth calls “warrants.” Warrants require proof. You can say anything you like as long as your tone is right, but you can claim something only if you have evidence. An important corollary is that articles of faith cannot be proven. As in _The Rhetoric of Fiction_ (1961), where Booth inaugurated the concept of the implied author, he focuses again on rhetoric to approach art as communication and ethical persuasion (more than as aesthetic contemplation). Building on Rene Welleck's point that the work of art exists as a structure of norms, Booth looks at the performance and negotiation of those norms in and through reading practices, and in "the company we keep."

  6. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    This book has changed my life and was a significant emotional event in my life. I recommend that you read it. The bibliography itself is worth the price. It tells you how to evaluate the worth of a book, without trashing it or and without making any author feel inferior. It is fair in its methods of evaluating stories and novels and teaches you how to review a book before you invest a hundred hours into reading it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    Not uninteresting, but he goes on at far too great a length and far too diffusely. I ended up skipping through about half of it, after dutifully plowing through every page to begin with.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Liaken

    A good read filled with ideas and tie-ins and examples from all corners.

  9. 5 out of 5

    globulon

    Picked this up after reading the introduction to Nussbaum's "Love's Knowledge". I really liked what she had to say there about the relationship between philosophy and literature. She spoke quite highly of this there. So when I saw it I decided to pick it up. Picked this up after reading the introduction to Nussbaum's "Love's Knowledge". I really liked what she had to say there about the relationship between philosophy and literature. She spoke quite highly of this there. So when I saw it I decided to pick it up.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I was recently reminded of this book while reading Nussbaum's Cultivating Humanity. One of the most important books on literary criticism and interpretation you will ever read. Really--read it. I was recently reminded of this book while reading Nussbaum's Cultivating Humanity. One of the most important books on literary criticism and interpretation you will ever read. Really--read it.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Leslie Fincke

    Really great look at growing a small business without losing sight of its founding principles. Emphasis on the importance of employee ownership and empowerment.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kin Cosner

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sheikh Tajamul

  14. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

  15. 4 out of 5

    Gary

  16. 4 out of 5

    Gregory Sadler

  17. 5 out of 5

    Holly

  18. 4 out of 5

    Joanne

  19. 5 out of 5

    JoXn

  20. 5 out of 5

    Peter J.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Martin Wallace

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alan

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ethan Annis

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kenneth

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Harrison

  26. 5 out of 5

    Fanyun

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mary Ronan Drew

  28. 5 out of 5

    Elisabeth C. Gumnior

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul Mclaughlan

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kelsey

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