Ethics and Eventfulness in Middle English Literature (The by J. Allan Mitchell

By J. Allan Mitchell

Medieval writers have been fascinated about fortune and misfortune, but the serious difficulties raised by means of such explorations haven't been competently theorized. Allan Mitchell invitations us to contemplate those contingencies relating to an “ethics of the event.”

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Extra info for Ethics and Eventfulness in Middle English Literature (The New Middle Ages)

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2 Chaucer added the passage in his rendering of Boccaccio’s Filostrato, amplifying and enriching the original Italian love story and raising the stakes on the moral and metaphysical issues involved in the ensuing events. The sentiment, expressed in all kinds of late medieval court poetry, attests to love’s radical dependency on Fortune. Troilus’s sorrow happily does turn to joy when he eventually consummates the affair, though certainly his weal proves quite transitory as his initial woe, a tragic conclusion some take as pessimistic proof that fortune has no merits, at least not in this case.

8 Fortune has been viewed uncritically as an evasion of responsibility or a feeble alibi; fortune is not the thing it appears to be. But what if the alternatives—contingency and necessity, fate and freedom, responsibility and irresponsibility—are not independent of one another in the way usually assumed? What if there is a responsibility for fortune? What if ethical responsibility arises as a radical passivity, a subjection to external fortunes and possible futures, a freedom entrammelled in contingency and temporality?

One way to put the point is to say ethics is situated in the factical event prior to congealing into abstract morality. There is no ethics of the event, but instead only ever an emergency here and now that demands ethics. Events are marked by an irreversible and irrational temporality, requiring new decisions all the time about what counts as ethical in the first place—just as Scoteity is a decision one makes about Scotus. F O R T U N E , P H I L O S O P H Y, A N D F I D E L I T Y 25 Medievalism and Anachronism in Theory Yet to speak of the event is already to say too much, too late.

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