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Reading and Responsibility

Deconstruction's Traces

Derek Attridge

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What is the importance of deconstruction, and the writing of Jacques Derrida in particular, for literary criticism today? Derek Attridge argues that the challenge of Derrida's work for our understanding of literature and its value has still not been fully met, and in this book, which traces a close engagement with Derrida's writing over two decades and reflects an interest in that work going back a further two decades, shows how that work can illuminate a variety of topics.

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1. Deconstruction Today
2. Singularities, Responsibilities: Derrida, Deconstruction, and Literary Criticism
3. Following Derrida
4. The Impossibility of Ethics
5. Arche-Jargon
6. Deconstruction and Fiction
7. Posthumous Infidelity: Derrida, Levinas and the Third
8. Roland Barthes's Obtuse, Sharp Meaning and the Responsibilities of Commentary
9. Nothing to Declare: J. Hillis Miller and Zero's Paradox
10. The Place of Deconstruction: a dialogue with Jean-Michel Rabaté
11. Coetzee's Artists, Coetzee's Art.

About the Author

Derek Attridge is Professor of English at the University of York and a Fellow of the British Academy. He is the author or editor of numerous books on literary theory, James Joyce, poetic form, and South African writing. Born in South Africa, he has taught in Britain, the U.S.A., France, and Italy. He edited Jacques Derrida's Acts of Literature, and his recent books include The Singularity of Literature and J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading.


Over the past forty years, Derek Attridge has engaged, quite possibly more meticulously than anyone else, the work and thought of Jacques Derrida. In this book, he presents us with many of the richest fruits of that work of love. Through his abiding care for the working of language, he reminds us just how exacting, how adventurous, how serious and how deeply responsive Derrida could be to the words and potential meanings of others. That generosity, that hospitality, is something that Attridge himself now advances; and, by bringing Derrida into an encounter with thinkers and writers from the Renaissance to the contemporary world, he is able to make us feel the power and importance – the profound responsibility – of an attending to the words of others: it is, and becomes here, a matter of life and death, be it the life and death faced by Abraham and Isaac, the life and death of Derrida himself and of his friends, such as Levinas, or the life and death of cats at the mercy of humans. The stakes are always high; the writing always lucid; the demands of literature always exigent – and this is what Attridge knows, and allows us to feel. In these crude and barbaric times, we are fortunate to be made aware, once again, of the importance of responsibility in our human encounters with others, with the world.
- Thomas Docherty, Professor of English and of Comparative Literature, University of Warwick
This wonderful book admirably displays Derek Attridge's special gifts as a reader: clarity, learning, and penetrating understanding. It contains some of the best essays ever written about what is distinctive in Derrida's thinking.
- J. Hillis Miller, UCI Distinguished Research Professor of Comparative Literature and English, University of California at Irvine

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