Much of what has driven recent developments in political theories of recognition has been the attempt to diagnose recognition failures as particularly salient forms of injustice – be they distributive or cultural. If we wish to bring literary theory into dialogue with political theory around questions of recognition, as Rita Felski has proposed, perhaps the case of Elizabeth Costello in J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals is a particularly good, because particularly difficult, place to start. Not least because the failure of recognition at issue here is the failure to recognize—in some full-blooded sense of the word—the life and death concerns of a fictional person. What kind of failure is that? Does anything much hang on it? If so, what? What does such a failure tell us about the subject of recognition? What does it tell us about ourselves? What would it tell us about ourselves if this sort of failure, concerning the life of a fictional person were a failure to which we could be indifferent or unaccountable? Is there another form of normative response that does what recognition cannot? Is there something that political theorists can learn about their own concerns from the way they are figured in literature? How must literature mean for political theorists if they are to learn from it what they cannot learn from political philosophy or political theory?”


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