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“Ethnic Ethic and Aesthetic: Russell C. Leong and Marilyn Chin


This essay takes issue with the subordination of aesthetics to ethics in Ethical Literary Criticism. Ethics and aesthetics must coexist for either to realize its full value through literature. For any ethical lesson to take hold, it must be presented in a pleasing form so that the reader can learn without undue resistance. Part of the role of the critic is to discern beneath the seductive aesthetic form its ethical kernel, which more often than not remains elusive. The works by Russell C. Leong and Marilyn Chin, which provide literary entertainment and ethical illumination simultaneously, demonstrate the inextricability and interdependence of ethics and aesthetics. The “lessons” therein are exceptionally delectable on account of the two writers’ multiple consciousness as Chinese Americans and ethnic Americans concerned with other marginalized groups, their visceral empathy with racial and sexual minorities, and their scintillating poetics, especially their novel deployment of Chinese expressions and classical allusions. Their ethics and aesthetics are mutually constitutive and enabling.

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