Literary Interventions in Justice

RAFE MCGREGOR, Kate Kirkpatrick, Karen Simecek

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In his Theses on Feuerbach, Karl Marx made the famous injunction: ‘Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.’ This is a daunting task for most academics specialising in literature, especially in a time of declining literacy. The purpose of this symposium is to explore the ways in which literature, broadly construed to include poetry and narrative in a variety of modes of representation, can change the world by providing interventions in justice. Our approach foregrounds the relationship between the activity demanded by some individual literary works and some categories of literary work on the one hand and the way in which those works can make a tangible difference to social reality on the other. We consider three types of active literary engagement: doing philosophy, ideological critique, and necessary rather than contingent performance. Kate Kirkpatrick opens with Kamal Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation (2013), reading the narrator as not only a critic of colonial and post-colonial discourse, but a literary exemplar of the search for justice when it is difficult to know to what level of explanation to attribute its absence. Rafe McGregor demonstrates how the final season of Prime Video’s The Man in the High Castle (2015-2019) makes a radical break from the previous three, exposing the misanthropy at the core of right-wing populism and calling for a fundamentally democratic response from the left. Finally, Karen Simecek argues that poetry in performance has a potentially reparative function for the ethically lonely – the vulnerable, the oppressed, and the persecuted – in society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)160-178
JournalEstetika : The Central European Journal of Aesthetics
Issue number2
Early online date16 Sept 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Sept 2021


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