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Reviews177 these lines from Günter Eich's "Old Postcards," which read eerily like the fragments of an interrupted intimate conversation: Fine, fine. But when the war is over we'll go to Minsk and pick up Grandmother, (p. 256) On the other, she has preserved widiin the personal what is political and power-laden. Robert Desnos's poetry (in Forché's translation) echoes the famous words of the philosopher Adorno on its impossibility: I am the verse witness of my master's breath— Left-over, cast off, garbage Like the diamond, the flame, and the blue of the sky (p. 231) The jewelry looted from the Jews upon their arrival in the deathcamps, the flames from the ovens, the blue, ironically, of both the sky and the stain on the walls of the crematoria left by Zyklon B, all remain. They are present in and as the words themselves, the witness in breath ofboth the poet and the Nazis. The two forms of diis witness are inextricably bound, and thus are the monstrosity of our age and the difficulty of describing it. What this book is after is nothing less than a redefinition of the social, its relation to the violence of the sacred and the political on the one hand, and the violation of the personal and the intimate on the other. If we are careful and lucky, we will learn nothing from uiis book about the past or about others, only about the impossibility of such displacements in our present circumstances , and thus only about what remains urgently before us and will continue to concern us for die foreseeable future. Who could ask for more from literature or philosophy? Cornell UniversitySandor Goodhart Agents and Lives: Moral Thinking in Literature, by S. L. Goldberg; xvii & 331 pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, $59.95. Goldberg works on a large canvas, painting a humanist view of the importance of literature as a form of moral thinking. The book takes as its focus the Socratic question, "How to live?" Goldberg assesses the credentials and exposes die pretensions ofboth literary critics and moral philosophers who respond to 178Philosophy and Literature diis question. The question apparently takes on quite different meanings, depending on whether one italicizes "how" or "live." According to Goldberg, how to live? concerns the "moral-in-a-narrow-sense," that is, the goodness or badness, Tightness or wrongness, of specific human actions. It is concerned with die conduct of moral agents or "conduct-morality." How to live, on the other hand, is concerned widi the "moral-in-a-large-sense," diat is, the ethical valuations of particular modes of life. It is concerned with moral lives or "lifemorality " (p. 36). Goldberg insists that these are two quite distinct kinds of moral thinking: one concerning conduct, the other, being. Any adequate moral thinking, he claims, will need to recognize human beings as both agents and lives (p. 62). It would be surprising if many readers would find much here with which to disagree and Goldberg's own appraisals of Eliot, Pope, and Shakespeare are compelling. The difficulty arises in relation to Goldberg's manufacture of a "demarcation dispute" concerning those who are qualified to theorize conduct -morality, on the one hand, and life-morality, on the other. According to Goldberg, these two kinds of moral thinking are "ultimately irreconcilable," and "we simply have to live with this uncomfortable truth" (p. 124). How do we live widi this truth? Goldberg's response seems to be that we recognize one as the domain of the literary critic (life-morality) and the other as the domain of the moral philosopher (conduct-morality) . Goldberg does not so much offer arguments for this claim as pronouncements, including the rather curious description of Aristode as a "conduct-moral" theorist who, on this score, is placed in the same camp as Kant (p. 269). From the last chapter, "Some Limits of Philosophy," it would appear that all moral philosophers, even the "highly thoughtful" and "sympathetic" ones, at best "conflate," and at worst reduce, literary "life-moral" thinking to "conductmorality ." This is perhaps the most contentious chapter, and this not merely from a philosopher's perspective. It is where...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 177-178
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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