The Singularity of Literature

The Singularity of Literature

The Singularity of Literature

The Singularity of Literature


Literature and the literary have proved singularly resistant to definition. Derek Attridge argues that such resistance represents not a dead end, but a crucial starting point from which to explore anew the power and practices of Western art. In this lively, original volume, the author: *considers the implications of regarding the literary work as an innovative cultural event, both in its time and for later generations; *provides a rich new vocabulary for discussions of literature, rethinking such terms as invention, singularity, otherness, alterity, performance and form ; *returns literature to the realm of ethics, and argues the ethical importance of the literary institution to a culture; * demonstrates how a new understanding of the literary might be put to work in a "responsible," creative mode of reading. * The Singularity of Literature is not only a major contribution to the theory of literature, but also a celebration of the extraordinary pleasure of the literary, for reader, writer, student or critic.


What does it mean to respond to a work of literature as literature? When we read a novel, attend the performance of a play, or hear a poem on the radio, we are clearly doing many different things at once and experiencing many different kinds of pleasure (or displeasure). Which of these things is a response to specifically literary qualities? Can these qualities be found in works that are not normally classified as literature? And what kind of importance should we attach to them?

These are old questions, to which many answers have been suggested, and yet they remain puzzling. The new answers proposed in this book (some of which are old answers reinterpreted) arise from my own experience of literature, and art more generally, and from my engagement with philosophical discourses directly or indirectly concerned with such experiences. If I advocate the rethinking of a number of concepts familiar in the tradition of literary criticism - among them meaning, form, context, reading, inventiveness, responsiveness - this is because I believe that literature, fully appreciated, demands such a rethinking.

A great many others have responded in recent decades to these demands, and if The Singularity of Literature had been a different kind of book, it would have been awash with citations and references. However, my aim has been to write as accessible a work as possible, and I have therefore resisted the temptation to identify precursors and allies, engage in polemic, and situate my thinking in the various debates that have churned around the topic for a very long time. Instead, I have added a short appendix in which I try to be explicit about my major intellectual debts and to point out avenues for further reading.

I began trying to write about these questions with a double-barreled project in mind: a theoretical discussion of literature and the literary


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