Erica Baum, "Wild Tumult" Dog Ear (2010)
courtesy Erica Baum, Bureau New York and Ugly Duckling Presse
Issue #4: No Quarrel (Part 2)

This issue of nonsite presents the continuation of a conversation between literary scholars and philosophers, revisiting the ancient quarrel between literature and philosophy in a modern disciplinary context.  These essays are revised and extended versions of papers originally delivered at “No Quarrel: Literature and Philosophy Today,” a conference organized at Boston University in April, 2011 by Robert Chodat and Oren Izenberg, and sponsored by the BU Humanities Foundation. The first five essays may be viewed here.

The schism between literary study and philosophy has long been sharper in America than in Europe.  For more than a half-century, mainstream Anglo-American academic philosophy has been dominated by work that looks to science, logic, and mathematics for its models of knowledge, marginalizing questions of narrative, interpretation, and beauty.  Over the same period, American literary scholarship has invested in eclectic versions of “theory” that address questions about meaning, intention, and culture without sustained attention to contemporary work in epistemology, the philosophy of language, or the philosophy of mind.  As a result, any conversation that takes the disciplinary foundations of interdiscplinarity seriously is bound to reveal differences in assumption (about the stability of a historically variable term like “literature”; about the rigor of a vague concept like “style”).  It will also highlight differences  of method (e.g., is a discussion of Wordsworth undertaken to improve our account of Romanticism or to improve our account of the self?).

Nevertheless, the writers assembled here seek common ground, connecting high-level conceptual problems with questions of historical change and the particularities of what Wittgenstein called “the stream of our lives,” and making explicit how they understand some of the perennial questions hovering over all discussions of literature and philosophy: Can literature offer some kind of “truth”? What does a fiction have to offer a life?  Do poems mean in some special way?  We hope that “No Quarrel” might provide a model for how two different humanistic disciplines—disciplines with quite different institutional and intellectual histories—can come to understand one another more fully.

Many thanks to those who helped make that event a success: Juliet Floyd, Charles Griswold, Susan Jackson, Maurice Lee, Carrie McGrory, Michael Prince, Amelie Rorty, Allen Speight, James Winn, and everyone who attended the sessions.

The Question of Poetic Meaning

By (University of Louisville)

[W]e frequently do not, strictly speaking, hear the meaning of a poem so much as we hear a poem as occasioning a question of meaning, a question we devote ourselves to answering if we are to make sense of the encounter with meaning a poem initiates. In the context of poetry, we usually take meaning to be a destination and not a point of departure.

On Going On: Rules, Inferences and Literary Conditions

Do literary conditions have their own forms of entitlement? Would such conditions—say, Wittgenstein’s particular scene-setting, thought experiments, aphorisms, and dialogues—amount to an alternative form of justification? Could a tactful or artful (or beguiling or captivating or worrisome) ordering of words—what we might simply call a style—itself generate the criteria for claiming? How exactly can, as Cavell puts it, “an ordering of words [be] its own bottom line, [and] see to its own ground?”

Confiance au Monde; or, The Poetry of Ease

By (University of California, Irvine)

Just as “confidence” is hope cut free from its surrounding dangers, so too a “reminder” is an invitation cut free from a discursive environment of argument and persuasion. It is a performance of knowledge that causes anxiety to lapse, that opens our eyes to the obvious without insisting upon it. Or to put the point slightly differently, the idea of a reminder is the idea of a poetry of ease.

Overlooking in Stendhal

By (University of California, Irvine)

As a boy, Stendhal searched for the perfect mathematical equation: “At the age of fourteen, in 1797, I imagined that higher mathematics, which I have never known, contained every or almost every aspect of objects, so that by going on I would come to know certain, indubitable things, which I could prove to myself whenever I wanted, about everything.” But the inescapable pressures of the social world turn even mathematics into an occasion for hypocrisy, rather than knowledge. Stendhal’s development of a theory of vagueness seeks to redress the failure of certainty and indubitability, to explain all the ways language can go right in a social situation, and all the not-unrelated ways it won’t. is an online, open access, peer-reviewed quarterly journal of scholarship in the arts and humanities. is affiliated with Emory College of Arts and Sciences.
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