Ethics and Love in the Aesthetics of Alice Munro
MetadataShow full item record
Whether classified as realist, modernist, or postmodernist, the fiction of Alice Munro combines a strong mimetic impulse with a recognition of the limitations of mimesis. This dissertation examines the ethical dimensions of the balance between mimesis and the recognition of its limits. Chapter one provides an overview of Munro scholarship and brings particular attention to the manner in which this balance between mimesis and metafictional self-reflexivity has been analyzed since the earliest days of Munro criticism. Chapter two draws on the Munro scholarship of Naomi Morgenstern, Robert McGill, and Robert Thacker to argue that Munro’s fiction is connected, though not reducible to, her experience of reality. This connection, however imperfect, gives her aesthetics its ethical weight, particularly when the subject of her writing is the human Other. Munro’s combination of a sense of alterity with a powerful feeling of reality reflects a desire to understand and represent the Other without compromising the Other’s radical alterity. The tension that arises from this desire can find a resolution in an aesthetics of love akin to eros as described by Emmanuel Levinas and refigured by Luce Irigaray: a representation, inscribed in each story’s form, of the possibility of a subject-to-subject relationship that preserves difference and ends in mutual fecundation. Chapter three compares the ethical vision in “The Ottawa Valley,” which ends on a moment of continuing, uncompromised alterity, with the feeling of love and catharsis produced in “The Moons of Jupiter.” Chapter four reads “Material” as an oblique gesture at the possibility that literature can open a relationship to the Other that is a kind love. Chapter five examines “Deep-Holes” as an attempt to reconcile the ethical tensions inherent in writing by representing a collaborative mode of meaning-making linked to love and fecundity. This dissertation also, however, follows Derek Attridge and Munro herself in observing some distinction between the self-Other dynamic as a face-to-face relation and this dynamic as a problem of literary representation, even if the two cannot be neatly separated.