Reading and Responsibility: Deconstruction's Traces

Reading and Responsibility: Deconstruction's Traces

Reading and Responsibility: Deconstruction's Traces

Reading and Responsibility: Deconstruction's Traces

Synopsis

Following a substantial introduction in which Derek Attridge discusses the relationship among deconstruction, literature, and ethics, this book pinpoints the importance of Jacques Derrida's work for literature and related areas and identifies the important literary theorists with whom he was associated (Emmanuel Levinas, Roland Barthes, and J. Hillis Miller). A conversation with the theoriest Jean-Michel Rabaté is followed by a final chapter on J. M. Coetzee. Illustrating the continuing vitality of deconstructive thinking in aesthetic analysis, this volume examines the role of ethics in literature, not for the purposes of moral instruction but for the fostering of responsibility through the act of reading.

Excerpt

At the outset, it seems appropriate to ask why I wrote this book and why anyone should want to read it.

There are two answers (at least) to the first question. the chapters that make up the volume were all initially responses to invitations – to give a talk, contribute to a collection, participate in a dialogue. I hope they retain the sense of direct address and of focus on a specific issue that marked their original production, even though they have been revised and in some cases considerably expanded. the other answer is that they trace a constant engagement with the work of Jacques Derrida over nearly two decades and reflect an interest in that work going back a further two decades. They thus exemplify a set of responses to or elaborations of Derrida’s writing, registering a few of the many ways in which it remains productive for our thinking about literary questions today and about culture more generally. To use Derrida’s own metaphor, they are my counter-signatures to his signature: attempts to affirm what is singular about his writings in a manner that does not simply repeat them but brings to bear on them my own peculiar situation, individual history and distinctive knowledge and interests.

To attempt to answer the second question is perhaps presumptuous, but let me say that – leaving aside the obvious readership of those who already have an interest in Derrida and deconstruction – I would like to think that anyone who is curious about the monster called ‘French theory’ (or worse, ‘Parisian theory’) will find here some indications of why it has proved to be such a fascinating and rewarding resource for so many and for such a long time, and that those who come to the book with questions about some of the topics it treats – topics such as the nature of ethical obligation, the language of literary theory and the distinctiveness of fiction – will find that it provides a stimulus for fresh . . .

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