Peculiar Language: Literature as Difference from the Renaissance to James Joyce

Peculiar Language: Literature as Difference from the Renaissance to James Joyce

Peculiar Language: Literature as Difference from the Renaissance to James Joyce

Peculiar Language: Literature as Difference from the Renaissance to James Joyce

Synopsis

First published in 1988, Peculiar Language is now established as one of the most important discussions of the language of literature. This thought-provoking book challenges traditional notions of literary criticism, arguing that all attempts by writers, critics and literary theorists to define the language of literature have involved self-contradiction. Through examination of key moments in literary history, Derek Attridge demonstrates that such contradictions in accounts of literary language are embedded in our cultural concept of 'literature' and asserts that in order to appreciate the forces that determine the limits of literary language, we must look beyond the realm of the 'literary' and embrace the wider political and social sphere. Re-issued as a result of sustained critical interest in the book, this edition includes a new preface by the author.

Excerpt

Peculiar Language is a book I didn't realize I was writing until it was almost complete. I had been interested in the language of literature since my undergraduate studies at the University of Natal in the early 19608, where a training in close critical analysis fostered attention to linguistic detail, and this interest gained a new impetus when I was introduced to the emerging disciplines of stylistics and structuralism as a student at Cambridge at the end of the decade. My first book, Well-weighed Syllables: Elizabethan Verse in Classical Metres, published in 1974 as a revision of my PhD thesis, addressed one aspect of sixteenth-century attempts to theorize about what we now call “literature”, and was followed in 1982 by The Rhythms of English Poetry. Both these books were devoted to the most obvious way in which poetry is able to make distinctive use of the properties of language: by organizing its sounds and rhythms into pleasing and powerful patterns. Then, responding to an invitation from the Literary Studies Program at the University of Toronto, I began to explore further some of the central issues of Elizabethan literary theory as they arise in George Puttenham's often maligned manual for poets, The Arte of English Poesie (1589). At the same time, I was being drawn in my teaching and research to two different bodies of work (not entirely unrelated to one another): the fiction of James Joyce and the French philosophical developments that, in the anglophone world, went under the name “post-structuralism.” I gave a number of talks on Joyce and one on Ferdinand de Saussure (an important precursor of both structuralism and

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