The essay offers a comparative study of “narrative ethics” in the prose of Fyodor Dostoevsky and Witold Gombrowicz. Analyzing the relationship between the texts' poetics and moral philosophy, the essay investigates how narrative dynamics of fiction shape the ethical parameters for the reader's engagement with the text. The argument aligns the differences in each author's narrative ethics with the differences between modernist and postmodernist modes of addressing the loss of ontological certainty as outlined by Brian McHale in Postmodernist Fiction. Thus, this comparison strives to trace the evolution of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature — from the ontologic instability of modernist prose to the ontologic plurality of postmodernist prose — with the focus on how this shift affects the formation of the subjectivity of the reader. The author proposes that Freud's conceptualization of melancholy and mourning as two processes describing the subject's dealing with loss can be a productive theoretical framework for understanding how modernist and postmodernist fiction in general (and that of Dostoevsky and Gombrowicz in particular) deals with the loss of ontological certainty. The essay argues that this psychoanalytic conceptual framework — elaborated further by an analysis of political and philosophical takes on it by Judith Butler and Julia Kristeva —allows us to see the shift between modernist and postmodernist fiction in intersubjective terms, thus situating it within the ethical discursive sphere.

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