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

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is a superb study, its ideas well-researched and its conclusions convincing and always provocative."—Beverly Coyle, Vassar College

"Humphries' elaboration of the literary 'fragment'—axiom, aphorism, fable, etc.—in both its pre- and post-Romantic manifestation adds an interesting and informative historical twist to our changing sense of literature's role in our moral economy."—Joseph Riddel, University of California at Los Angeles

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195041804
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 1/28/1987
  • Pages: 124
  • Product dimensions: 5.75 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 0.66 (d)

Meet the Author

Louisiana State University
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