Volume 2, Number 2 (June 2004) : 1-25|
On Being Too Deeply Loved
Rubric A: Then and Now
This reading of Othello offers an explanation of Othello's own reasons for withdrawing from love through the distinctly murderous route he chooses. I read Othello as cooperating with, and perhaps even using, Iago in order to work himself out of love. In this he is responding to a multi-dimensional attack, which is how he experiences Desdemona's "too deep" love. The play is thus gradually building up a spectacle of Liebestod: once in Desdemona's annihilating love, twice in Othello murdering her--dying "upon a kiss." More generally, this essay considers the competing claims of the ideology of erotic merging on the one hand and the ideal of developing a clearly bounded self on the other. I argue that a “moral negotiation” with a work of literature (Othello) can create a fruitful confrontation with this familiar tension. The rewards for such criticism are both moral and literary: moral, since literature facilitates modes of moral reflection that cannot be activated by employing non-literary moral reflection; literary, because a moral dialogue with literary texts is not only possible but also aesthetically enriching. On the theoretical front, this essay thus continues what has been called “the literary turn” in moral philosophy, which supplements the work of other philosophers of literature by highlighting the capacity of the literary work to form a critique of an embedded ideology (in my reading, a prevalent erotic ideology). Finally, I relate ethical criticism to the current debate over cultural studies and the anxieties associated with the disappearance of the literary. I argue that taking an “ethical turn” enables literary criticism to claim an important distinctiveness in contrast to other modalities of cultural critique.