The conjunction of posthumanism and ethics asks us to reconsider both the modernist legacy of critique and poststructuralist ethical rhetorics of absolute alterity. Bruno Latour’s recent reconsideration of politics and ethics through a “nonmodern” account of nature and culture offers us a distinctive alternate mode of thinking the relationship among critic, world, and ethos. This article summarizes Latour’s recent “compositionist” ethical thinking and uses that thinking to reread two exemplary works of modernist ethics: Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Archaïscher Torso Apollos” and Virginia Woolf’s experimental novel Jacob’s Room. To modernist and poststructuralist ethical positions, this account contrasts a “compositionist” ethics, oriented toward the sustainable assembly of the claims of nonhuman as well as human actors within our accounts of modernist ethics.
The Objects of Ethics: Rilke and Woolf with Latour
Gabriel Hankins is assistant professor of English at Clemson University, specializing in modernism and digital literary studies. His current book project is Modernism and Liberal World Order, and he co-leads a research group interested in digital investigation of literary correspondence (the Twentieth Century Literary Letters Project).