Call for Papers: Forum Kritika on Ethical Literary Criticism, Brain Text, and New Readings of World Literature

August 01, 2020

Guest Editors

Prof. Biwu Shang, Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Prof. Maria Luisa T. Reyes, University of Santo Tomas

About the Forum Kritika

The second decade of the 21st century witnessed a quick upsurge and rapid development of ethical literary criticism, which seeks "to unpack the ethical features of literary works, to describe characters and their lives from the vantage point of ethics, and to make ethical judgments about them." (Nie, "Towards an Ethical Literary Criticism" 83) The boom of ethical criticism in the West may be gleaned from the proliferation of works by such renowned scholars as Martha Nussbaum, Tobin Siebers, Wayne C. Booth, Charles Altieri, J. Hillis Miller, James Phelan, Adam Zachery Newton, and many others.Interestingly and surprisingly, however,  contemporary Western ethical theories have been further promoted, strengthened and enriched by their Chinese counterpart, though its own ethical turn occurred two decades later and ascended against a different background. 

Unlike moral criticism, ethical literary criticism does not simply evaluate a given work as good or bad from the vantage of today’s moral principles. Instead, it emphasizes what might be deemed to have come under the rubric of "ethical historicism"—that is, the examination of the ethical values in a given work with reference to a particular historical context or period in which the text under discussion was written. The overarching goal of ethical literary criticism is to uncover ethical factors that bring literature into existence and the ethical elements that underpin the development of characters or events in literary works. As such, it seeks to illuminate issues concerning the events, characters, their action, and other textual features from an ethical perspective, and to make an ethical judgment about them accordingly.

One of the theoretical models in ethical literary criticism which has gained considerable traction among its practitioners in the last several years posits that the text as the literary work’s embodiment comes in three basic forms: brain text, material text, and electronic (digital) text. Conceived thus, brain text is a kind of text stored in the human brain and thus acquires a distinctive biological form. It mainly preserves human beings’ experience of perception and cognition through memory. Before the creation of written symbols, there appeared a wide array of brain texts displaying such salient features of literature as myth, heroic epics, folk tales, and historical narratives. To a large degree, brain text is the prototype of oral literature in its textual form, though it is not hereditary and can only be passed down orally from one generation to another. However, it is unlikely for people to perceive and receive brain text before it gets externalized orally or converted into material text which is perceived via visual and auditory organs, and the electronic text which may be interpreted with the aid of appropriate tools. 

Brain text, as a form of text, did not only exist in the early period of human civilization or before the invention of written symbols, as might be construed; rather, it has continued to be the source of material text and electronic text. Before producing a literary work, the writer usually has the "raw materials" such as the basic story and narrative structure stored in his mind in the form of brain text, which can be generally seen as a mother text that generates various forms of literature. In other words, brain text can be fruitfully seen as a prototype of other texts. It is from the brain text that stories could be presented orally, materially or electronically. From this perspective, it may be said that as long as the human brain works, it will produce various brain texts. In fact, it is arguable that literary creation and circulation, either in the form of material text or in the form of digital text, cannot do without brain text. In this sense, there would be no literature without brain text. Unlike the existing conceptions of ethical literary criticism coming from both the West and the East, brain text enables critics to pin down the very mechanism of production, reception and circulation of literature. As such, it is suggested that the investigation of world literature take its departure from brain text, which may not only bring out insights about the production and circulation of world literature but also reveal what is traditionally referred to as the "moral" dimension of world literature within the framework of ethical literary criticism.  

To further explore brain text and its relevance to ethical literary criticism, Kritika Kultura will be initiating a forum on "Ethical Literary Criticism, Brain Text, and New Readings of World Literature," slated for the journal’s August issue in 2022. The forum not only aims to reveal the material nature of literature and its form of brain text, but also attempts to investigate the ethical function and educational value of brain text in the arena of world literature. Contributions are invited from the perspective of ethical literary criticism and might include, but will not be limited to, the following topics:  

1. Brain text and oral literature  

2. Brain text and moral teaching function

3. Brain text and written text 

4. Brain text and literary adaptation 

5. Brain text and theatrical performance 

6. Brain text and the formation of world literary canons

Contributions should be 7,000-8,000 words in length and should follow the conventions of MLA 8th ed. The aim is to have a diversity of methodological approaches, theoretical underpinnings, and objects of study represented in the forum. 

Proposals of 500 words maximum, accompanied by a biographical note of 150 words, should be sent to Biwu Shang ([email protected], Shanghai Jiao Tong University) and Maria Luisa T. Reyes ([email protected],University of Santo Tomas) (cc: [email protected]). Any inquiries should be sent to the same email addresses. Proposal deadline is extended to Oct. 1, 2020. All communication should use the subject heading "Ethical Literary Criticism."

For authors with accepted proposals, the deadline for submission of the essay will be Oct. 1, 2020. Each essay will undergo double blind peer review.

About Kritika Kultura

Kritika Kultura is acknowledged by a host of Asian and Asian American Studies libraries and scholarly networks, and indexed in the MLA International Bibliography, Arts and Humanities Citation Index (Clarivate), Scopus, EBSCO, the Directory of Open Access Journals, and the International Consortium of Critical Theory Programs (ICCTP). For inquiries about submission guidelines and future events, visit or email [email protected].

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