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Grant number: FA-57361-13

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Robert Andrew Chodat
Boston University (Boston, MA 02215-1300)

Intention and Perfection in Contemporary American Fiction

This project examines how certain post-WWII American novelists respond to the reductivist impulses of contemporary theories of mind and action, and defend the possibility of moral knowledge and moral perfectionism. Ranging from Walker Percy and Marilynne Robinson to Susan Sontag and David Foster Wallace, these figures pose two questions heard in the Wittgensteinian philosophical tradition. First, why are intentional states not reducible to behavior, neurons, or genes? Second, if humans are irreducibly intentional, are some intentions--and in turn some ways of life--higher than others? The form of their answers also echoes Wittgenstein: much as he mixes argument with metaphor and parable, so their writing moves between narrative and essayistic modes, "showing" and "telling." Their work, then, forces us to reconsider many familiar ideas about 20th-century literature, as well as a central question in all humanistic study: how discursive claims relate to our descriptions of human experience.

Project fields:
Literary Criticism

Fellowships for University Teachers

Research Programs

Total amounts:
$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
1/1/2014 – 12/31/2014