In a world that promotes assertion, agency, and empowerment, this book challenges us to revalue a range of actions and attitudes that have come to be disregarded or dismissed as merely passive. Mercy, resignation, politeness, restraint, gratitude, abstinence, losing well, apologizing, taking care: today, such behaviors are associated with negativity or lack. But the capacity to give way is better understood as positive action, at once intricate and demanding. Moving from intra-human common courtesies, to human-animal relations, to the global civility of human-inhuman ecological awareness, the book's argument unfolds on progressively larger scales. In reminding us of the existential threat our drives pose to our own survival, Steven Connor does not merely champion a family of behaviors; he shows that we are more adept practitioners of them than we realize. At a time when it is on the wane, Giving Way offers a powerful defense of civility, the versatile human capacity to deflect aggression into sociability and to exercise power over power itself.
About the author
Steven Connor is Grace 2 Professor of English, University of Cambridge.
"Can one be effusively enthusiastic or unreservedly supportive of a book that asks its audience to exercise restraint? Connor helped me see why civility might be one of the most radical things we can aspire to in the contemporary world. Giving Way gets to the root of what it means to be an ethical human being."
—David Kishik, Emerson College
"If anyone can persuade us of the merits of abstaining and refraining, holding back and backing down, it is Steven Connor, one of the most consistently interesting critics writing today. Displaying the author's characteristic blend of learnedness and verve, Giving Way is a bold, wide-ranging, and highly original work—a dazzling exercise in what he dubs cultural phenomenology."
—Rita Felski, University of Virginia
"Steven Connor once again demonstrates his ability to produce an erudite study that reveals the historical, literary, cultural, and philosophical dimensions of a seemingly mundane topic, examining human interaction and 'civility' from different, and often delightfully surprising, points of view."
—Benet Davetian, University of Prince Edward Island