The ethos of literature is its aspiration for the new.
More and more it becomes apparent to me that negative capability—the force behind ostranenie—is literature’s foremost ethical standard. To what extent does this work of literature take me to the brink of a great befuddlement as to what ought make a work of literature? That which does not aim remotely for any sort of ontological destabilization is unethical because it is a betrayal of the grounds on which literature as such stands, the grounds of estrangement.
Given that what has been previously accomplished in the field—tradition—constitutes the horizon for what is stable, destabilization can only be carried out by way of indulging what is outside of tradition, i.e., the new. To not pursue the new within a literary context is to engage in an unethical literary practice; I would even flirt with the dangerous notion that a literary practice that is not interested in the new cannot in the 1st place be literary.
This runs in tandem with Walter Benjamin’s plea that what ought to be asked, rather than the attitude of a work to the relations of production of its time, is its position in them. Only a work that aspires to newness can index such a position. This ability of the literary work to index its position—which I align with the formalist notion of faktura, the self-reflexive quality of a work that flags its mode of production—simultaneously indexes its newness, a newness whose condition of possibility is negative capability.
Angelo V. Suarez is the author of “Philippine English: a novel”, “Poem of Diminishing Poeticity”, & “Composition by Boggle: 52 Confessions”, among others. He makes his living writing ad copy.