The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction / Edition 1

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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 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.

Wayne C. Booth argues for the relocation of ethics to the center of our engagement with literature. "What he has succeeded in doing . . . is to establish that ethical values must enter into our experience of literature."--Richard Eder, Los Angeles Times Book Review.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Building on the Aristotelianism of his The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961) and the critical pluralism of his Critical Understanding ( LJ 6/1/79), Booth argues that fictional characters provide alternatives for the social roles we play. In some stories we find virtuous examples of behavior, in others reprehensible ones. Readers discover the difference through ``coduction,'' that is, evaluative conversation. Booth's project has limitations, such as his reliance on a form of social psychology that he inadequately defines. Still, he frankly discusses Rabelais's sexism and Twain's racism, and he eschews mystifying and seducing jargon. Mark Hurlbert, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania, Ind.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520062108
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 12/15/1989
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 572
  • Sales rank: 1,049,898
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Wayne C. Booth (1921-2005) was George M. Pullman Distinguished Service Professor of English at the University of Chicago.

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Customer Reviews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2004

    should be read by everyone who values literature

    In his usual thorough, encyclopedic way, Booth discusses many of the issues of the effects of fiction in the real world on real people. And as usual, he bends over backward to be fair to everybody. He gives patient, exhaustive treatments of all arguments and claims, even the most idiotic, showing their inadequacies. But people who put forth idiotic arguments do not do so because they are stupid but because they are committed, and committed people do not respond to reason, however patient and thorough. Still, there is much thought-provoking material here, and the book should be read by all readers interested in the personal and social effects of literature. Booth is weakest when dealing with philosophical issues (because he is not a philosopher). His confusions about subjectivism and relativism are cases in point. For a competent discussion of these and the other ethical (i.e. value-theoretic) issues, readers would be better advised to get A Book Worth Reading. But as a compendium of arguments ¿clearing away the dead wood¿, Booth is impossible to beat.

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