chapter  15
13 Pages

Aesthetic Nervousness

Thomson’s notion of the relations between the normate and the disabled derives ultimately from a symbolic interactionism model. To put it simply, a symbolic interactionism model of interpretation operates on the assumption that ‘‘peopledonot respond to theworlddirectly, but instead place social meanings on it, organize it, and respond to it on the basis of these meanings’’ (Albrecht 2001, 27). The idea of symbolic interactionism is pertinent to the discussion of literary texts that will follow because not only do the characters organize their perceptions of one another on the basis of given symbolic assumptions, but as fictional characters they are themselves also woven out of a network of symbols and interact through a symbolic relay of signs. Furthermore, as I shall show incrementally in different chapters and in a more situated form in the chapter on J. M. Coetzee (chapter 6 [original volume]), symbolic interactionism also implies the presence of an implied interlocutor with whom the character or indeed real-life person enters into a series of dialogical relationships, thus helping to shape a horizon of expectations against which versions of the self are rehearsed. Following Thomson’s lead, the first aspect of aesthetic nervousness that I want to specify is that it is triggered by the implicit disruption of the frames within which the disabled are located as subjects of symbolic notions of wholeness and normativity. Disability returns the aesthetic domain to an active ethical core that serves to disrupt the surface of representation. Read from a perspective of disability studies, this active ethical core becomes manifest because the disability representation is seen as having a direct effect on social views of people with disability in away that representations of other literary details, tropes, and motifs do not offer. In other words, the representation of disability has an efficaciousness that ultimately transcends the literary

domain and refuses to be assimilated to it. This does not mean that disability in literature can be read solely via an instrumentalist dimension of interpretation; any intervention that might be adduced for it is not inserted into an inert and stable disability ‘‘reality’’ that lies out there. For, as we have noted, disability in the real world already incites interpretation in and of itself. Nevertheless, an instrumentalist dimension cannot be easily suspended either. To put the matter somewhat formulaically: the representation of disability oscillates uneasily between the aesthetic and the ethical domains, in such away as to force a reading of the aesthetic fields in which the disabled are represented as always having an ethical dimension that cannot be easily subsumed under the aesthetic structure. Ultimately, aesthetic nervousness has to be seen as coextensive with the nervousness regarding the disabled in the real world. The embarrassment, fear, and confusion that attend the disabled in their everyday reality is translated in literature and the aesthetic field into a series of structural devices that betray themselves when the disability representation is seen predominantly from the perspective of the disabled rather than from the normative position of the nondisabled. In his essay entitled ‘‘Who Put the The in

The Novel?’’ Lennard Davis (2002) explores the links that have largely been taken for granted in literary history between the novel form, an English nation, and the various destabilizations of the social status of character that help to define the essential structure of the novel in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The realist novels of the two centuries were based on the construction of the ‘‘average’’ citizen. This average citizen was nonheroic andmiddle class. But the average citizen was also linked to the concept of ‘‘virtue.’’ AsDavis notes, ‘‘Virtue implied that there was a specific and

knowable moral path and stance that a character could and should take. In other words, a normative set of behaviours was demanded of characters in novels’’ (94). Entangled with these dual notions of the average citizen and of virtue were implicit ideasofwholeness,withnomajorprotagonist in the entire periodmarked by a physical disability.Undergirding thenovel’s rise then is a binary opposition between normal/ abnormal, with this binary generating a series of plots. Essentially, the key element of such plots is the initial destabilization of the character’s social circumstances, followed by their efforts to rectify their loss and return, perhaps chastened, to their former position. Crucially, however, as the nineteenth century progresses the negative or immoral gets somatized and represented as a disability (95-98). One of the conclusions Davis draws from his discussion is that plot functions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries ‘‘by temporarily deformingordisabling the fantasyofnation, social class, and gender behaviors that are constructed norms’’ (97). In taking forwardDavis’s argument, there

are a number of qualifications I want to register. Distinctive in his account is the link he persuasively establishes between nation, the average citizen, virtue, and specific forms of novelistic emplotment. That cannot be questioned. However, it is not entirely accurate that the binary of normal/abnormal starts with the eighteenth-and nineteenth-century novels or indeed that they inaugurate the plots of the deformation of social status. On the contrary, as can be shown from an examination of folktales from all over the world, the plot of physical and/or social deformation is actually one of the commonest starting points of most story plots (see Propp 1958; Zipes 1979), somuch so that it is almost as if the deformation of physical and/or social status becomes the universal starting point for the generation of narrative emplotment

as such. As Davis points out, in agreement with established scholarship on the novel, the crucial term that is introduced in the eighteenth and nineteenth century is ‘‘realism,’’ the notion that somehow the novelistic form refracts a verisimilar world outside of its framework. But realism is itself a cultural construction, since for the Greeks their myths were also a form of realism. What needs to be taken from Davis’s account is the effect that the collocation of the social imaginary of the nation and the production of a specific form of bodily and sexual realismhad on theway the novel was taken to represent reality. In each instance, the assumed representation of reality depended upon unacknowledged views of social order deriving not just from an understanding of class relations but from an implicit hierarchization of corporeal differences. Even though Davis is not the only one to have noted the peculiar place of the disabled in the eighteenth-and nineteenth-century novel (see Holmes 2000, for example), it is in clarifying the status of the disabled body as structurally constitutive to the maintenance of the novel’s realism that he makes a distinctive contribution to literary history. However, in trying to extend the signifi-

cance of the constitutive function of deformation from the novel to other literary forms, we also have to note that ‘‘deformation’’ can no longer be limited solely to that of social or class position, as Davis suggests in his discussion. From the novels of the early twentieth century onward, the deformations emerge from the intersection of a variety of vectors including gender, ethnicity, sexuality, urban identity, and particularly disability, these providing a variety of constitutive points for the process of emplotment. Indeed, Davis himself notes in another context the reiteration of disability in the works of Conrad. A similar view can be expressed of the work of Joyce (Ulysses, Finnegan’s Wake), Virginia Woolf

(Mrs. Dalloway), Thomas Mann (The Magic Mountain), and T. S. Eliot’s ‘‘The Waste Land,’’ among others. I choose the phrase ‘‘constitutive points’’ as opposed to ‘‘starting points’’ to signal the fact that the social deformation does not always show itself at the beginning of the plot. In much of the work we will look at, from Beckett and Soyinka through Morrison and Coetzee, there are various articulations of a sense of social deformation. However, the deformation is not always necessarily revealed as inaugural or indeed placed at the starting point of the action or narrative as such. It is often revealed progressively or in fragments in the minds of the characters, or even as flashbacks that serve to reorder the salience of events within the plot. The varied disclosures of social deformation are also ultimately linked to the status of disability as a trigger or mechanism for such plot review and disclosure. In that sense, the range of literary texts we shall be exploring is not undergirded exclusively by the binary opposition of normal/abnormal, but by the dialectical interplay between unacknowledged social assumptions and the reminders of contingency as reflected in the body of the person with disability. The notion of dialectical interplay is

crucial to my model of interpretation, because one of the points I will repeat throughout the study is that a dialectical interplay can be shown to affect all levels of the literary text, from the perspectival modulations of the narrator (whether first or third person) and the characters to the temporal sequencing and ordering of leitmotifs and symbolic discourses that come together to structure the plotlines. Even though, as Davis rightly notes, the plots of social deformation dominated the eighteenth-and nineteenth-century novel, this view cannot be limited solely to novelistic discourse. Following the point I made a moment ago about the near universality of such plots, I want to suggest

that we consider the plot of social deformation as it is tied to some form of physical or mental deformation to be relevant for the discussion of all literary texts. This is a potentially controversial point, but given the ubiquity of the role of the disabled in texts from a range of cultures and periods it is difficult to shake off the view that disability is a marker of the aesthetic field as such. Disability teases us out of thought, to echo Keats, not because it resists representation, but because in being represented it automatically restores an ethical core to the literary-aesthetic domain while also invoking the boundary between the real and the metaphysical or otherworldly. Along with the category of the sublime, it inaugurates and constitutes the aesthetic field as such. And like the sublime, disability elicits language and narrativity even while resisting or frustrating complete comprehension and representation and placing itself on the boundary between the real and the metaphysical. When I state that disability ‘‘inaugurates’’ the aesthetic domain, it is not to privilege the ‘‘firstness’’ or ‘‘primariness’’ of first-time encounters between the disabled and nondisabled characters, even though this has been implied in my reliance on Thomson. Rather, I intend the term ‘‘inaugurate’’ in the sense of the setting of the contours of the interlocking vectors of representation, particularly in narrative and drama, which are the two literary forms that will feature mainly in this study. My position overlaps with Davis’s but extends his insights to accommodate a more variegated methodology for understanding the status of disability in literary writing. The analogy between the inaugural status

of the sublime and of disability serves to open up a number of ways in which the structurally constitutive function of disability to literary formmight be explored. In the Critique of Judgment, Kant follows his discussion of the beautiful and its relation to

purposelessness or autonomy with the discussion of the sublime and its inherent link to the principle of disorder. For Kant, ‘‘Beauty is anobject’s formofpurposiveness insofar as it is perceived in the object without the presentation of purpose’’ (1987, 31), the idea here being that only the lack of a determinate or instrumental end allows the subjective feeling of beauty to occur. The sublime, on the other hand, is an aspect of understanding in confrontation with something ineffable that appears to resist delimitation or organization. It exposes the struggle between Imagination and Reason: ‘‘[Whathappens is that]our imagination strives to progress toward infinity, while our reason demands absolute totality as a real idea, and so [the imagination,] our powerof estimating themagnitudeof things in the world of sense, is inadequate to that idea. Yet this inadequacy itself is the arousal in us of the feeling that we have within us a supersensible power’’ (108; translator’s brackets). Evenwhile generative of representation, the sublime transcends the imaginative capacity to represent it. As Crockett (2001, 75) notes in glossing the nature of this struggle, ‘‘the sublime is contra-purposive, because it conflicts with one’s purposeful ability to represent it.’’ The implicit dichotomy in the Critique of Judgmentbetween the sublime and thebeautiful has been explored in different directions by scholars in the intervening 350 years since its formulation, but what has generally been agreed upon is the idea of the resistance of the sublime to complete representation, even if this resistance is then incorporated into a motivation for representation as such.2 What the representation of disability suggests, which both overlaps and distinguishes itself from the sublime as a conceptual category, is that even while also producing a contradictory semiotics of inarticulacy and articulation, it is quite directly and specifically tied to forms of social hierarchization. For disability, the semiotics

of articulation/inarticulation that may be perceived within the literary domain reflect difficulties regarding its salience for the nondisabled world. This, as can be gleaned from the Ingstad and Whyte collection already referred to, cuts across cultures. Thuseven if theambivalent statusofdisability for literary representation is likened to that of the sublime, it must always be remembered that, unlike the effects of the sublime on literary discourse, disability’s ambivalence manifests itself within the real world in socially mediated forms of closure. We might then say that disability is an analogue of the sublime in literaryaesthetic representation (ineffability/ articulation) yet engenders attempts at social hierarchization and closure within the real world. Disability might also be productively

thought of as being on a continuum with the sublime in terms of its oscillation between a pure abstraction and a set of material circumstances and conditions. Considered in this way, we can think of the sublime as occupying one end of the spectrum (being a pure abstraction despite generating certain psychological effects of judgment and the impulse to represent it in material forms) anddisability occupying the other end and being defined by a different kind of oscillation between the abstract and the material. For unlike the sublime, disability oscillates between a pure process of abstraction (via a series of discursive framings, metaphysical transpositions, and socially constituted modalities of [non] response, and so forth) and a set of material conditions (such as impairment, accessibility and mobility difficulties, and economic considerations). It is not to be discounted also that many impairments also involve living with different levels of pain, such that the categories of pain and disability not infrequently imply each other. It is disability’s rapid oscillation between a pure process of abstraction and a set of material

conditions that ensures that the ethical core of its representation is never allowed to be completely assimilated to the literaryaesthetic domain as such. Disability serves then to close the gapbetween representation and ethics, making visible the aesthetic field’s relationship to the social situation of personswith disability in the real world. This does not necessarily mean that we must always read the literary representation in a directly instrumental way. As noted earlier, the interventionof the literary representation is an intervention into a world that already situates disability within insistent framings and interpretations. The literary domain rather helps us to understand the complex processes of such framings and the ethical implications thatderive fromsuchprocesses. Finally, it is to Mitchell and Snyder’s book

NarrativeProsthesis (2001) that Iwish to turn in elaborating what I mean by aesthetic nervousness. Mitchell and Snyder follow David Wills (1995) in trying to define literary discourse as essentially performing certain prosthetic functions. Among these prosthetic functions are the obvious ones of using the disabled as a signal of moral disorder such that the nondisabled may glean an ethical value from their encounter with persons with disabilities. Since Mitchell and Snyder are also keen to situate narrative prosthesis ashavingsignificance for the lived experience of disability, they also assign an inherently pragmatic orientation to what theydescribeas textualprosthesis: ‘‘Whereas an actual prosthesis is always somewhat discomforting, a textual prosthesis alleviates discomfort by removing the unsightly from view. : : : [T]he erasure of disability via a ‘quick fix’ of an impairedphysicality or intellect removes an audience’s need for concern or continuing vigilance’’ (8). They make these particular remarks in the context of films and narratives in which persons with disabilities somehow manage to overcome their difficulties and live a happy life within the realm of art. In such instances, the rep-

resentation of disability serves a pragmatic/ cathartic function for the audience and the reader. More significantly, however, they also note that even while disability recurs in various works as a potent force to challenge cultural ideas about the normal and the whole, it also ‘‘operates as the textual obstacle that causes the literary operation of open-endedness to close down or stumble’’ (50). This last observation brings their dis-

cussion of narrative prosthesis very close to my own notion of aesthetic nervousness, except that they proceed to expound upon this blocking function in what can only be nonaesthetic terms. This is how they put it:

Thus Mitchell and Snyder’s idea of the shutting down or stumbling of the literary operation is extrinsic to the literary field itself and is to be determined by setting the literary representations of disability against sociocultural understandings. While agreeing with them that the ultimate test of the salience of a disability representation are the various social and cultural contexts withinwhich theymight be thought to have an effect, I want to focus my attention on the devices of aesthetic collapse that occur within the literary frameworks themselves. Also, I would like to disagree with them on their view of the programmatic identity assigned to the disabled, because, as I

will try to show by reading the disabled characterwithin thewider discursive structure of relations among different levels of the text, we find that even if programmatic roles were originally assigned, these roles can shift quite suddenly, thus leading to the ‘‘stumbling’’ they speak of. I choose to elaborate the textual ‘‘stumbling’’ in terms of aesthetic nervousness. When it comes to their specific style of

reading,Mitchell andSnyder are inspiredby Wills to elaborate the following provisional typology:

Again, theirmethod isdefinedbyanassumption of narrative pragmatism or instrumentalism; that is to say, the literary text aims solely to resolve or correct a deviance that is thought to be improper to a social context. Unlike them, I will be trying to show that this prostheticizing function is bound to fail, not because of the difficulties in erasing the effects of disability in the real world,

but because the aesthetic domain itself is short-circuited upon the encounter with disability. As mentioned earlier, disability joins the sublime as marking the constitutive points of aesthetic representation. Aesthetic nervousness is what ensues and can be discerned in the suspension, collapse, or general short-circuiting of the hitherto dominant protocols of representation that may have governed the text. To my mind, in this paragraph Mitchell and Snyder are attempting to define processes of representation that may occur separately (i.e., across individual and distinguishable texts) aswell as serializedwithin a particular text.Oneofmycentral points isprecisely the fact that even when the disabled character appears to be represented programmatically, the restless dialectic of representation may unmoor her from the programmatic location and place her elsewhere as the dominant aesthetic protocols governing the representation are short-circuited. To establish the central parameters of

aesthetic nervousness, then, a number of things have to be kept in mind. First is that in literature, the disabled are fictional characters created out of language. This point is not made in order to sidestep the responsibility to acknowledge language’s social efficaciousness.Rather, Iwant tostress that as linguistic creations, the disabled in literature may trade a series of features with the nondisabled, thus transferring some of their significations to the nondisabled and vice versa. Furthermore, I want to suggest thatwhen the various references to disability and to disability representation are seen within the broad range of an individual writer’s work, it helps to foreground hitherto unacknowledged dimensions of their writing and, in certain cases, this can even lead to a complete revaluation of critical emphasis. Consider in this regard Shakespeare’s Richard III, for instance, which is of course very widely discussed in disability studies. However, in Shakespeare disability

also acts as a metaphor to mark anomalous social states such as those involving halfbrothers and bastards. Indeed, there is a studied pattern in Shakespeare where bastards are considered to be internally deformed and villainous, their bastardy being directly correlated to a presumed moral deficit. And so we have the elemental and almost homicidal competition between half-brothers that reappears in conflicts between Robert Falconbridge and his bastard brother Philip in King John, between Don John and Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing, between Edmund and Edgar in King Lear, and between Richard III and Edward in Richard III. This last play is of course grounded on the resonance of jealousy and brotherhood, as well as on the Machiavellianism of a deformed protagonist. There the disability is placed at the foreground of the action from the beginning and brings together various threads that serve to focalize the question of whether Richard’s deformity is an insignia of or indeed the cause of his villainy.3 Thus to understand Richard III properly, we would have to attend equally to his disability and his bastardy in the wider scheme of Shakespeare’s work. Once this is done, we find that our interpretation of the character has to be more complicated than just recognizing his villainy, which of course is the dominant invitation proffered by the play. The choice of Beckett, Soyinka, Morrison, and Coetzee is partlymeant to serve this function of establishing the interrelations between disability andother vectors of representation among the wide oeuvre of eachwriter. However, comparisons and contrasts within the work of individualwriters or indeed between them will not be made chronologically or with the suggestion of evolution and change in the representation of disability. Rather, I shall be focusing on thematic clusterings and on making links between apparently unrelated characters and scenes across the various texts to show how the parameters

of aestheticnervousnessoperatewithin individual texts as well as across various representations. Also, the writers will be used as nodal points fromwhich tomake connections to the work of other writers. Thus each chapter, though focusing predominantly on the individual writer in question, will also provide a gateway for connecting these writers to various others that have had something to say about disability. Each chapter is conceived of as comparative both in terms of the relations among the works of the main writers in the study and between these and the many other representations of disability that will be touched upon over the course of the discussions. I want to emphasize my view that to

properly establish the contours of aesthetic nervousness, we have to understand disability’s resonance on amultiplicity of levels simultaneously; disability acts asa threshold or focal point fromwhich various vectors of the text may be examined. Thus, as we shall see with respect to Toni Morrison, though her physically disabled female characters seem to be strong and empowered, there is often a contradiction between the levels of narratorial perspective, symbolic implication, and the determinants of the interactions among the characters themselves that ends up unsettling the unquestioned sense of strength thatwemight get from just focusing onwhat the disabledwomen in her texts do or do not do. With Beckett, on the other hand, we find that as he proliferates devices by which to undermine the stability of ontological categories, he ends up also undermining themeans by which themany disabilities that he frequently represents in his texts may be interpreted. As can be seen from the vast scholarship on Beckett, it is very rare that his impaired characters are read as disabled, even though their disabilities are blatant and should be impossible to ignore. Rather, the characters are routinely assimilated by critics to philosophical categories and read off as such. This is due

to the peculiarly self-undermining structures of his works, both the novels and the plays. Beckett is also unusual among the writers in this study in that he seems to fulfill a central feature of what Sandblom (1997) describes as the inextricable link between disease and creativity. Pertinent to the discussion of Beckett’s work is that he himself suffered endless illnesses ranging from an arrhythmic heartbeat and night sweats to cysts and abscesses on his fingers, the palm of his left hand, the top of his palate, his scrotum and,most painfully later in life, his left lung. Often these cysts and abscesses had to be lanced or operated upon, leading to great and regular discomfort. It is not for nothing then that the deteriorating and impaired body held a special fascination for him. He used the disabled, maimed, and decaying body as a multiple referent for a variety of ideas that seem to havebeen at least partially triggered by encounters with others and his own personal experience of pain and temporary disability. This is something that has passed largely unremarked in the critical writings on Beckett, and. I propose to center on it to discuss the peculiar status he assigns to disability and pain in works such as Endgame and Molloy, both of which should to all intents and purposes be ‘‘painfull’’ but are not. In a way, Wole Soyinka’s work is quite

different from that of the other three in the study.Hiswriting focusesmore securely ona set of ritual dispositions drawn from a traditional Yoruba and African cultural sensibility. This sensibility is then combined with an intensepolitical consciousness, such that each of his plays may be read as partial allegories of the Nigerian and African postcolonial condition. The combination of the ritualistic with the political is something for which Soyinka has become notably famous. What I shall show with regard to his work are theways inwhich disability acts as a marker of both ritual and the political,

but in ways that interrupt the two domains and force us to rethink the conceptual movement between the two. The final chapter, on Robben Island, will be used to bring to conclusion a particular vector of interpretation that will have been suggested in the chapter on Beckett, given further elaboration in the discussions of Morrison and Soyinka, and picked up and intensified in the one on Coetzee. I shall discuss this in variousguises,but theywill all cometogether under the conceptual rubric of the structure of skeptical interlocution. In essence, the idea derives from Bakhtin’s proposition of the inherent dialogism of speech acts, that anticipation of an interlocutor even when the context of communication does not seem to explicitly denominate one. The choice of the plays of Beckett and Soyinka allows a certain salience to the idea of the (skeptical) interlocutor, since as dramatic texts they incorporate dialogue as an explicit feature of dialogism.Butwhat I have inmind in relation to the structure of skeptical interlocution is a little bit more complicated than can be captured solely in dramatic texts. Rather, Imean to suggest that there is always an anticipation of doubt within the perceptual and imagined horizon of the disabled character in literature, and that this doubt is incorporated into their representation. This is so whether the character is represented in the first person, as we see in Beckett’s Molloy, or in the third person, as we see in Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K. The chapter on Coetzee will be used to focus on the difference between speech and the elective silence of autistic characters and on the ways in which these raise peculiar problems for the status of the skeptical interlocutor in literarywriting. Autism features in that chapter not just as a dimension of disability but as a theoretical paradigm for raising questions about narrativityas such.However, it iswhenwecometo the chapter on Robben Island that the structure of skeptical interlocutionwill be allowed

to take life (literally and metaphorically, as will bedemonstrated).Thestructureof interlocutionwith regard to thehistory of Robben Islandwillhelp toshed lightonhowaesthetic nervousnessmightbe extended fromdiscussions of the literary-aesthetic domain to an analysis of historical personages and reallife events. I should like to address a point of

potential confusion that may have arisen in this introduction. So far I haveproceeded as though the literary representation of disabled persons and the aesthetic nervousness that attends such representation can be taken as an analogue to the real-life responses toward people with disabilities by society at large. This fusion of levels is only partially intended. For, as I noted earlier, there is no doubt that literary representation of disability somewhat subtends real-life treatment of disabled people in a variety of ways. However, I also want to note that the aesthetic nervousness of the literary-aesthetic domain cannot by any means be said to be equivalent to the responses to disabled persons in reality. To say that the literary model provides an analogue to reality does not mean that it is the same as that reality. The epistemological effect of representation is quite different from the emotional effects of misunderstanding and stereotyping in the real world. Thus the first may be used to illuminate aspects of the secondbutmust not be taken to have exhausted or replaced it. Our commitment must ultimately be to changing the world and not merely reading and commenting on it. It is important also to state at the outset

that central to the ways in which I propose to establish the parameters of aesthetic nervousness is the device of close reading. This seems to me necessary in order to be able to do full justice to the subtle cues by which the literary text ‘‘stumbles’’ (to return to Mitchell and Snyder) and by which the literary representation reveals

the parameters of aesthetic nervousness. Apart fromMorrison, none of the writers in this studyhaspreviouslybeen read fromthe perspective of disability studies. Part of my taskwill involve the rather boringprocess of taxonomizing thedisability representations we find in the works in question. This will be done to provide amap of the varied uses to which the writers put the disabled in order to allowus to discernpatterns that are elaborated upon or repeated across the works. It is a happy coincidence that all four writers are Nobel Prize winners and thus likely to be widely taken up in literary curricula. My choice of them was not informed by this fact, however (in fact, Coetzee was part of my study long before his Nobel Prize). I settle on thembecause of my years of teaching and thinking about their work in different contexts and the fact that they enable us to see a full range of discourses regarding disability and other details of literary representation. I wish to see students andother readers being able to paycloseattention toall the subtle details of literary representation well beyond the focus on disability, even if that is their starting point. The focus on disability is thus meant to achieve two related effects: One is to make more prominent the active ethical core that is necessarily related to disability and thathopefullyhelps to restore a fully ethical reading to literature. The other is that from using disability to open up the possibility of close reading, I hope to encourage us to lift our eyes from the reading of literature to attend more closely to the implications of the social universe around us.