Abstract

While critics have remarked how The Sunset Limited stresses White's identity as a professor, they have had little to say regarding what this fact and White's suicidal longing reveal concerning McCarthy's view of the contemporary university. This article fills this gap by scrutinizing White's death wish through the lens of the academy's engagement with virtue. Drawing upon John Henry Newman's understanding of the relationship between the university and character formation, as well as traditional formulations of classical and Christian virtues, I show how White's arguments in favor of self-annihilation are grounded in an education lacking any pursuit of virtue of either kind. Representative of the modern academy, White has located all value not in an ethical consideration of how to be a good man in community with others, but in the artistic achievements of humanity; his vocation has concerned itself with aesthetics at the expense of virtue. Divorced especially from the theological virtues, the education White professes darkness by combining intellectual pride with moral skepticism in such a way as to subvert human solidarity, individual purpose, and indeed the project of the university itself.

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