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The Ethics of Writing

Authorship and Legacy in Plato and Nietzsche

Seán Burke

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Beginning amidst the tombs of the 'dead' God, and the crematoria at Auschwitz, this book confronts Nietzsche's legacy through the lens of Plato. The key question is how authors can protect against the possible 'deviant readings' of future readers and assess 'the risk of writing'. Burke recommends an ethic of 'discursive containment'. The ethical question is the question of our times. Within critical theory, it has focused on the act of reading. This study reverses the terms of inquiry to analyse the ethical composition of the act of writing. What responsibility does an author bear for his legacy? Do 'catastrophic' misreadings of authors (e.g. Plato, Nietzsche) testify to authorial recklessness? These and other questions are the starting-point for a theory of authorial ethics.

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Key to References and Abbreviations
Prologue: Friedrich Nietzsche in Auschwitz,
Or the Posthumous Return of the Author
Introduction: The Responsibilities of the Writer
Chapter One: The Ethical Opening
Speech and Writing: the Aporia
The Birth of Philosophy Out of the Spirit of Writing
Dionysian Orality versus Socratic ‘Inscription’
The Internal Scribe and the Athenian Legislator
Chapter Two: The Ethics of Legacy
The Ethics of Question and Answer
Suitable and Unsuitable Readers
Chapter Three: Signature and Authorship in the Phaedrus
Oral versus Graphic Signatures
Science and Signature

Dialectic and Mathematics: Iterability and the Ethics of Writing
Dialectic and the (Anxious) Origins of Authorship: Tribunal and Signature in the Phaedrus
Chapter Four: The Textual Estate: Nietzsche and Authorial Responsibility
Mixed Genres
The Will to Power as Art
Signature and the Ethical Future
The Estate Settled?
Conclusion: Creativity versus Containment: The Aesthetic Defence

About the Author

Seán Burke worked in the Department of English Studies at the University of Durham for thirteen years, and has now retired. His academic publications include The Death and Return of the Author: Criticism and Subjectivity in Barthes, Foucault and Derrida (3rd edn, 2008), Authorship: From Plato to the Postmodern: A Reader (1995) and The Ethics of Writing: Authorship and Legacy in Plato and Nietzsche (2008). His first novel, Deadwater (2002) has been published in France as Au bout des docks (2007). He is currently researching a study of discursive ethics in Plato, Levinas and Derrida.


Burke argues compellingly that no author is completely beyond ethical recall on the ground of artistic immunity or aesthetic irrelevancy... Highly recommended.
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