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Although the idea of a “modernist ethics” is often thought to be something of an oxymoron, given the numerous attempts, around the turn of the twentieth century, to achieve a radical break with moral and aesthetic conventions, we believe there is a need:

  1. to examine the ways in which the dominant aesthetic and critical theories of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries respond to the predicament of relativism, and
  2. to determine what kind of ethical framework might be compatible with constructivism.


Among the many questions we might pose, the following are but a few: What are we to do, both as scholars and ethical agents, with the thesis, now a postmodern cliché, that reality is a “social construct”? What happens to a culture when it begins to see its ethical norms, its morals, as being no longer grounded in a metaphysical absolute such as God or reason? How, exactly, are we to understand arguments for the “ethical turn” in postmodernism, and what is its arena of manifestation? How do modernisms from those locations or visions of globality termed “postcolonial” and the various proposed “neopolitical” liberalisms, conservatisms, and colonialisms intersect with, challenge, or attempt to complete the projects of modernism and answer the problem of the ethical turn?

In investigating these questions and a plurality of others that arise, we invite you to join us in Fall 2008 and Spring 2009 for a series of three monthly meetings to be held at the Franklin Center. Each meeting will center on a primary reading distributed to our mailing list as a .pdf, as well as a 10-minute Intersession which will introduce other optional readings in order to promote further inquiries or reflections upon the seminar topic and the primary readings.

In addition, we will begin each session with a short five- to ten-minute introduction to or reflection on the week’s primary reading presented by a seminar participant. Both the intersessions and the introductions are included as opportunities for participants to present their research or to suggest lines of thought for the month’s discussion. The Intersessions are planned to take place approximately one hour into each seminar meeting, and will follow on a five-minute break in the discussion. The flow and pace of discussion will, of course, add a degree of flexibility to the placement of the break and Intersession.


To view the current schedule and obtain reading materials, visit:
Ethics After Modernism on Duke Wiki

Last modified: November 9th, 2009 at 6:28 pm
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