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Character, Courage or Conceit: Towards an Ethics of the New in 1910

Character, Courage or Conceit: Towards an Ethics of the New in 1910 Jean-Michel Rabaté Form is the highest judge of life. Form-giving is a judging force, an ethic; there is a value-judgment in everything that has been given form. Every kind of form-giving, every literary form, is a step in the hierarchy of lifepossibilities [.] Georg Lukács, `The Metaphysics of Tragedy: Paul Ernst'1 Taking Virginia Woolf's statement that `on or about December 1910 human character changed' as a point of departure, the loaded term is `character'. Although hard to define precisely, Woolf gives a precious hint when she contrasts the Victorian cook who lived invisibly in the `depths' of the house with the Georgian cook, who, she says, has turned into a creature of `sunshine and fresh air'.2 The opposition she establishes is between traditional bourgeois slavery and a more recent emancipation that doubles as patronising camaraderie: the `modern' cook can enter into the drawing room, and she will not hesitate to borrow the daily newspaper or ask the house's lady for advice about fashion. It is tempting to claim that the concept of `character' as it is sketched here corresponds to what Hegel calls Sittlichkeit, the `ethical substance' that defines the shared values of a whole period. In the http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Modernist Cultures Edinburgh University Press

Character, Courage or Conceit: Towards an Ethics of the New in 1910

Modernist Cultures , Volume 8 (2): 179 – Oct 1, 2013

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Publisher
Edinburgh University Press
Copyright
© Edinburgh University Press 2013
Subject
Articles; Film, Media and Cultural Studies
ISSN
2041-1022
eISSN
1753-8629
DOI
10.3366/mod.2013.0060
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Jean-Michel Rabaté Form is the highest judge of life. Form-giving is a judging force, an ethic; there is a value-judgment in everything that has been given form. Every kind of form-giving, every literary form, is a step in the hierarchy of lifepossibilities [.] Georg Lukács, `The Metaphysics of Tragedy: Paul Ernst'1 Taking Virginia Woolf's statement that `on or about December 1910 human character changed' as a point of departure, the loaded term is `character'. Although hard to define precisely, Woolf gives a precious hint when she contrasts the Victorian cook who lived invisibly in the `depths' of the house with the Georgian cook, who, she says, has turned into a creature of `sunshine and fresh air'.2 The opposition she establishes is between traditional bourgeois slavery and a more recent emancipation that doubles as patronising camaraderie: the `modern' cook can enter into the drawing room, and she will not hesitate to borrow the daily newspaper or ask the house's lady for advice about fashion. It is tempting to claim that the concept of `character' as it is sketched here corresponds to what Hegel calls Sittlichkeit, the `ethical substance' that defines the shared values of a whole period. In the

Journal

Modernist CulturesEdinburgh University Press

Published: Oct 1, 2013

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