In The Value of Literature, Rafe McGregor employs a unique approach – the combination of philosophical work on value theory and critical work on the relationship between form and content – to present a new argument for, and defence of, literary humanism. He argues that literature has value for art, for culture, and for humanity – in short, that it matters. Unlike most contemporary defenders of literary value, the author's strategy does not involve arguing that literature is good as a means to one of the various ends that matter to human beings. It is not that literature necessarily makes us cleverer, more sensitive, more virtuous, more creative, or just generally better people. Nor is it true that there is a necessary relation between literature and edification, clarification, cultural critique, catharsis, or therapy. Rather than offer an argument that forges a tenuous link between literature and truth, or literature and virtue, or literature and the sacred, this book analyses the non-derivative, sui generic value characteristic of literature and demonstrates why that matters as an end in itself.
Preface / Acknowledgements / 1. Literary Representation / 2. Literary Education / 3. Poetic Thickness / 4. Narrative Thickness / 5. Literary Thickness / 6. Literary Value / 7. Literary Autonomy / Bibliography / Index
McGregor's brilliant and careful defense of autonomism is an important addition to the philosophy of literature. Autonomists will be grateful for the sophistication, lucidity and depth in which their position finds its articulation. Opponents of autonomism (such as me) will discover a much stronger rival against which, from now on, they will have to argue…
Rafe McGregor argues for a conception of literary value that avoids the perils of both instrumentalism and formalism; preserving the autonomy of literature, while still maintaining the link to the world. He steers a clear path through a dense thicket, arguing his points with rigour. Whether or not you agree, you will be clearer for having read this book.
Rafe McGregor offers a fresh, compelling vision of literature as having a distinctive value of its own not reducible to the more tractable values of science, psychology or religion. He identifies the roots of this value in the peculiar kinds of experiences that literary works afford when attention to formal artifice is fused with the pleasures of plot and character. He deftly combines analytical reasoning with illuminating literary examples.
Smart, provocative, and engaging, The Value of Literature is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the philosophy of literature. McGregor reinvigorates debates on the cognitive value of literature, the ethical significance of narrative, the aesthetics of appreciation, and the nature of literary value itself. This book is a major achievement.
With his first monograph, The Value of Literature, Rafe McGregor delivers a provocative contribution to the long-standing debate about the nature and source of literary value. … In many ways, The Value of Literature reads like the startof a fascinating journey, with McGregor’s throwaway references to ‘freedom in literature’ offering tantalizing hints at exciting future developments and directions. As he pursues the implications of literary thickness, I look forward to McGregor engaging with those, like Harrison, who share a commitment to humanism but not autonomism; and those, such as Danièle Moyal-Sharrock, who share McGregor’s resistance to the literary relevance of truth-orientated cognition, but for whom the value of literature, as Moyal-Sharrock appreciates, nonetheless uniquely ‘enhances our understanding of ourselves … and incomparably contributes to the formation of our concepts’. Might not Leopold Bloom and James Joyce concur?
Rafe McGregor is Lecturer in Criminology at Leeds Trinity University and Associate Lecturer in the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York. His publications include papers in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, British Journal of Aesthetics, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, and Orbis Litterarum.