Toward an Aesthetic Discursive Approach To Ethical Matters
Could we move from a theoretical examination of the aesthetic to an ethical approach to the problems of the world?
In her perceptive book, Precarious Life (2004), Butler has examined the interplay between mourning and violence and noticed that the deaths of certain individuals were mourned much less than others in society. In an earlier book, One Dimensional Man (1964), Marcuse warned against consumerism seen as a form of social control. But what accounts for the lack of interest in avoidable loss of human life and for the success of consumerism? This essay suggests that certain forms of discourse enable both. In the news, brief occasional announcements often list the deaths of soldiers or civilian casualties in current wars. Such a type of narrative stirs little public interest and requires no follow-up. Conversely, consumerism is promoted by advertising: brief repeated coherent narratives, with a clear final message. Thus, the type of discursive presentation may trigger diverse responses. Furthermore, from a literary perspective, an examination of most popular genres throughout history suggests that people might have always been interested in recurrent narratives. Ancient Greek tragedy, a genre enormous popularity initially, was revolving around a few families: playwrights were reworking a few well-known myths. The novel flourished in the nineteenth century, and its initial popularity that later faded may be explained by its publication in periodicals. People would wait with excitement to read the next installment of a novel by Dickens or Tolstoy (cf. nowadays TV soap operas, movie series).
The last part of this essay proposes ways in which we could perform the important contemporary events and social problems in a type of discourse that will arouse and maintain general interest: in coherent, repeated, and artistically compelling discursive forms.
Dana LaCourse Munteanu is Associate Professor of Classics at Ohio State University. She is the author of Tragic Pathos: Pity and Fear in Greek Philosophy and Tragedy (Cambridge 2012) and the editor of Emotion, Genre and Gender in Classical Antiquity (London 2011). Her interests include philosophy, ancient drama, and the musical as well as literary reception of classics.