Ethics of Reading and Writing

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Pi-jung Chang

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Department of English, NTNU


Based on an ethics of reading and writing, this essay aims to study Proust's novel in terms of his treatment of the notion of self and truth associated with the attempt to come to terms with the other, and the ethical contributions of his work to the articulation of responsibility in modernity's predicament. Along with his problematization of the self, Proust draws our attention to his neurotic preoccupation with the fragility of the truth and the ethical problem of insular subjectivity. While his work has thus often been accused of implicated in or leading to subjectivism, relativism, or even nihilism, this essay argues that the ethical value of Proust's text does not derive so much from particular moral messages it articulates as from the narrative and stylistic techniques it employs and its concern with reading and writing as ethically relevant. Based as it is on an excess of signification and an anxiety in representation, Proust's work provides an alterity-oriented ethics of reading and writing, which necessitates a rethinking of the essence of self, truth and responsibility in Proust's work.