Aesthetica Preprint, 93 (December 2011)

Rita Messori: An Ethics of the Word: Between Ricoeur and Dufrenne

In recent years, contemporary ethics has focused its attention on the importance of "feeling", and more specifically on emotions as structurally intentional experiences that reveal non only the "value" that persons or objects acquire for the subject, but also his/her lifestyle. According to authors like Martha Nussbaum, Iris Murdoch, and Cora Diamond, literature becomes an expression of the nature of emotions and, at the same time, a sort of laboratory, a "virtual space", a staging of the possible. However, the underlying unsolved question concerns the relationship between the modes of feeling, the articulation of meaning, and the practical life of a subject rooted in a pre-reflective dimension.
The present volume by Rita Messori ( aims to address this problematic junction by adopting a different approach, one connected with the phenomenological interpretation of language. Both Paul Ricoeur and Mikel Dufrenne (whose poetics are rarely compared) believe that literary language does not only safeguard the dimension of the particular, but that it also enables the articulation of a logos, a qualitatively expressive order that the subject experiences and expresses aesthetically.
The relationship between language and the living world thus acquires a novel centrality and draws attention to the limits, to what is "before" but also "beyond", literary discourse: the rootedness in a pre-reflective dimension (lived as an aesthetic-practical experience) and the actualization of new living possibilities. Ricoeur's and Dufrenne's poetics foreground the "multivalence" of literary language, which is fundamentally imaginative: its ethical valence, in fact, is inseparable from the ontologic, gnoseologic, and aesthetic ones. The imagination links these valences and creates an ever-changing interconnectedness that possesses the peculiarity of holding together various aspects of the human experience and, simultaneously, to reveal its unknown potentialities.