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A Healthy Disorientation

A Healthy Disorientation MICHAEL BENVENISTE C. Namwali Serpell, Seven Modes of Uncertainty. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2014. viii + 393 pp. $49.95. n Seven Modes of Uncertainty, C. Namwali Serpell extends and nuances contemporary ethical literary criticism by arguing that the ethical demands of formally experimental novels arise from readerly experiences occasioned by their narrative structures. Rather than locating ethics in a particular position that a narrator or character represents or espouses, Serpell frames ethics as a temporal process of reasoning or questioning that accompanies narrative structures of uncertainty. Drawing inspiration from and openly invoking William Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), Serpell tethers her claims to a work that helped inaugurate modern literary criticism. Empson's landmark study asserted that literature's value was not traceable to the specific messages it expressed but, rather, to the experience of complexity and ambiguity--even inconclusiveness--it generated in readers. Similarly, Serpell posits that the temporal experience of uncertainty occasioned by experimental narratives creates the phenomenological opportunity for ethical engagement. Serpell's introduction outlines a "neo-phenomenology" (21) of uncertainty in the late-twentieth- to twenty-first-century Anglophone novel that establishes her proximity to and difference from Empson as she incorporates the temporality of narrative experience into her http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Contemporary Literature University of Wisconsin Press

A Healthy Disorientation

Contemporary Literature , Volume 56 (2) – Sep 1, 2015

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Publisher
University of Wisconsin Press
Copyright
Copyright © 2008 the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin.
ISSN
1548-9949
Publisher site
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Abstract

MICHAEL BENVENISTE C. Namwali Serpell, Seven Modes of Uncertainty. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2014. viii + 393 pp. $49.95. n Seven Modes of Uncertainty, C. Namwali Serpell extends and nuances contemporary ethical literary criticism by arguing that the ethical demands of formally experimental novels arise from readerly experiences occasioned by their narrative structures. Rather than locating ethics in a particular position that a narrator or character represents or espouses, Serpell frames ethics as a temporal process of reasoning or questioning that accompanies narrative structures of uncertainty. Drawing inspiration from and openly invoking William Empson's Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930), Serpell tethers her claims to a work that helped inaugurate modern literary criticism. Empson's landmark study asserted that literature's value was not traceable to the specific messages it expressed but, rather, to the experience of complexity and ambiguity--even inconclusiveness--it generated in readers. Similarly, Serpell posits that the temporal experience of uncertainty occasioned by experimental narratives creates the phenomenological opportunity for ethical engagement. Serpell's introduction outlines a "neo-phenomenology" (21) of uncertainty in the late-twentieth- to twenty-first-century Anglophone novel that establishes her proximity to and difference from Empson as she incorporates the temporality of narrative experience into her

Journal

Contemporary LiteratureUniversity of Wisconsin Press

Published: Sep 1, 2015

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