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Bad Logic

, 232 pages
March 2018



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Bad Logic

Reasoning about Desire in the Victorian Novel

"Reader, I married him," Jane Eyre famously says of her beloved Mr. Rochester near the end of Charlotte Brontë’s novel. But why does she do it, we might logically ask, after all he’s put her through? The Victorian realist novel privileges the marriage plot, in which love and desire are represented as formative social experiences. Yet how novelists depict their characters reasoning about that erotic desire—making something intelligible and ethically meaningful out of the aspect of interior life that would seem most essentially embodied, singular, and nonlinguistic—remains a difficult question.

In Bad Logic, Daniel Wright addresses this paradox, investigating how the Victorian novel represented reasoning about desire without diluting its intensity or making it mechanical. Connecting problems of sexuality to questions of logic and language, Wright posits that forms of reasoning that seem fuzzy, opaque, difficult, or simply "bad" can function as surprisingly rich mechanisms for speaking and thinking about erotic desire. These forms of "bad logic" surrounding sexuality ought not be read as mistakes, fallacies, or symptoms of sexual repression, Wright asserts, but rather as useful forms through which novelists illustrate the complexities of erotic desire.

Offering close readings of canonical writers Charlotte Brontë, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, and Henry James, Bad Logic contextualizes their work within the historical development of the philosophy of language and the theory of sexuality. This book will interest a range of scholars working in Victorian literature, gender and sexuality studies, and interdisciplinary approaches to literature and philosophy.

Daniel Wright is an assistant professor of English at the University of Toronto.

"In this humane, eloquent book, Wright shows twenty-first-century readers all the good that bad logic does in nineteenth-century fiction. As he tracks the Victorians’ surprising readiness to make erotic desire an object for the reasoning mind, he transforms prevailing accounts of the novel’s achievement and makes familiar texts new again."

"Fascinated by our longing to make desire intelligible—our drive to find for the erotic a form faithful to its wayward energies—Danny Wright finds provocation equally from Victorian novelists, logicians, and queer theorists. A surprising and entirely individual book, lucid and large-hearted."

"A wonderful book that ably pulls together ordinary language philosophy and novel theory, Bad Logic is a powerful intervention into a number of current debates in Victorian studies. Lucidly and persuasively written, it is a model of responsible criticism. I recommend it wholeheartedly."

"As it offers superb analyses of novels by Brontë, Eliot, Trollope, Wilde, James, and others, Bad Logic sees literary indices of logical limit as revealing both the extraordinary at the heart of ordinary language and how ineluctably particular ways of talking and loving are met 'with perplexity' simply 'because we haven’t worked out what we say about this particular unforeseen reality yet.' This is a terrific book."

"Wright’s inventive claim is that logic is not desire’s bad other but its necessary bedfellow, a language for making the erotic answerable to the complexities of the everyday. Bad Logic is a striking contribution to the history of the realist novel and a compelling account of that genre’s philosophical importance."

"It is this attention to erotic energies and their struggle for articulacy that makes Bad Logic such a compelling intervention into a number of current debates in Victorian studies, and a striking declaration of fiction's wider philosophical exigency."

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