Derek attridge the singularity of literature

The Journal of Aesthetics and also Art Criticism, Volume 65, Issue 4, October 2007, Pages 419–421, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-594X.2007.00277_2.x
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The Singularity of Literature is a thoughtful and also dense meditation on producing literary works and analysis it. The slimness of the volume belies its richness and also its capacity for inducing readers to ponder abrand-new their relation to literature. The writing is hoswarm and open up, importing Emmanuel Levinas"s formulations right into literary concept in an intelligent and rewarding manner, and also the selection of the concepts put forth transcends literature and also is applicable to other develops of art.

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Derek Attridge aims to respect literature"s resilience to its very own definition and exhaustive theoretical elucidation. Instead of an interpretation, he underscores the ties between literature and imagination, the latter being construed as a stepping beyond the acquainted. He utilizes three concepts: creation, singularity, and also alterity. These are unpacked as follows: creative thinking or “invention” is success in allowing a confrontation through “alterity”—that which lies past the establiburned horizons of a culture—to take area. A reading is, appropriately, an opening as much as alterity, an enrespond to occasioned by the job-related. Noting and articulating alterity cannot be willed right into visibility. It involves a mix of task and passivity, permitting a self‐remaking enabling perception and formulation of the hitherto unthought or unfelt. “Singularity” enters the photo as a regulative concept, separating uniqueness (the work"s mere difference from others) from the novelty that we look for in literary works. More than ssuggest differing from other works, singularity is “a distinction that involves the irruption of otherness or alterity into the cultural field” (p. 136). The inventiveness of (good) literary works does not reside in producing the simply new, however in bringing out otherness.

In assessing this account, I was worried much less by an overly tight circular interdependence of the three cardinal ideas and also even more with the nagging suspicion that some essential normative ingredient was being neglected. Like “novelty” or “originality,”“otherness,” also, is a parasitical worth (after all, exposing exclusion need to not immediately prompt us to reinstate that which was excluded). But how to wincurrently out the wwarm of omitted issue that should be importantly exposed from the chaff of the rightfully discarded, which must justifiably reprimary in cultural oblivion? Otherness, defined as implying “a wholly brand-new existent that cannot be apprehfinished by the old settings of expertise, and also can not have actually been predicted by suggests of them” (p. 29), numbers both in the book"s account of the artistic act and also in its description of reading. Yet even if such nomenclature adequately captures the essentials of the imaginative act, since experiential extension as such insufficiently characterizes effective literature, searching for literature"s singularity within a set of parasitical attributes—imagination, novelty, originality, creation, or alterity—suggests a partial account at best and also threats misplaced focus. Here, the book"s dissociation from explicitly political ideologies functions against it. For political criticism, the occluded various other is connected through the culturally repressed (and oppressed). Demarginalization presents a clear and also unchallenged ethical objective, clarifying exactly what aspects of alterity merit exposure and also why. “Selfhood,” by comparison, appears to me to be also thin to guide and also describe the worth of imagination or of perceiving alterity as such.

Ironically, the considerable anxiety Attridge places on imagination and inventiveness increasingly alerted me to the (surprisingly) restricted role that the originality of the work-related and its exposure of otherness play in my own strong experiences with excellent literature. To start with, Attridge"s appropriate readers are thoabout steeped in the cultural matrix within which the work was developed. Otherwise, they would be unable to endure the work"s novelty in sensing and also expressing otherness. Yet while familiarity through the work"s formative conmessage deserve to amplify pleasure, overemphasizing the import of such acquaintance runs respond to to the impression that much of our delight and also need of literary works is unconcerned text‐conmessage comparison. Nor does it square with my very own analysis endure of canonical or noncanonical literature, both as a seasoned reader and also as an inknowledgeable one. Several of the best novels I have actually read in current years, by authors such as Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, Zadie Smith, Tristan Egolf, and Michael Chabon, do not administer me simply through crude pleasure. Nor deserve to I lug myself to dismiss out on them as instances of “making” quite than “creating” (a difference invoked by Attridge to describe developing according to tested formula in opplace to real creation). Yet my admiration for these novels does not spring from them opening up a social blind spot. I will certainly not be surprised if movie critics would certainly expose such merits. But my pleasure in reading these had actually bit to perform via found alterity, and was pieced together from altogether various characteristics (being carefully written, complicated, insightful, richly identified, patient, subtle, funny, intense, moving, witty, multilayered, alarming, soaking up, and also so on).

How about canonical literature? In the first Shakespeare class I attended as an undergraduate, we review some moments from the first act of Ricdifficult II. I was struck by Mowbray"s response to his banishment, his sense of dissociation not, as could be meant, from friends and also kin, yet from language as such: “The language I have actually learnt these forty years, My indigenous English, currently I must forgo … Within my mouth you have actually engaoled my tongue, Doubly portcullised with my teeth and lips” (I.3). Appreciating the striking imperiods in this speech has nopoint to do with refashioning conventions of lament. I was taken by the liveliness of the lines and also the imagiindigenous leaps that they make in perceiving teeth as a portcullis of the tongue, construing displaced presence as a physically disrupted wish to stop. I freshly had occasion to revisit these lines—this time as a teacher. What I deserve to currently find in them is just how they subliminally discuss and also slam the dull, limited, and militant imperiods of “England” gave by some of the play"s primary personalities. Yes, it is possible to argue for some growing/emerging nationalism in Shakespeare"s England to which the lines respond, but doing so is unessential, and the power of the imeras does not depend on such debate. Cultural horizons are not being refashioned, for us or for Shakespeare"s audience, and alterity does not really enter the image. Yet this speech is sudepend among those moments in which it happens.

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Accordingly, for me, The Selfhood of Literature is ideal regarded as elucidating one modality of literature"s distinct capacities, not an extensive theory on literary value or literature"s singularity, or creative thinking in literature in basic. In its even more mindful moods the book denies that it provides an extensive explanation of singularity, or that it attempts to mitigate aesthetic merits to locating alterity. In its even more mindful moods, the book presents creativity as a everyday occurrence quite than some profound discovery. Weakening the thesis in these methods could probably cover all the counterexamples that I marshaled above. Nonetheless, the thrust of the book surely translates literature"s contributions right into the exposure of an alterity lying external cultural horizons. After permitting for the qualifications and also restrictions Attridge adds, I still fear that such comprehensive reliance on alterity is as well limiting.

As for the weaker variation of the argument (according to which some literary works operates in the methods Attridge specifies), here the trouble is that harping on literature"s capacity to step beyond the social matrix dangers ignoring the fictionality of what a “cultural matrix” is. Talk of “cultural horizons,”“constraints,”“lacunas,” and such is never simply descriptive, but is a fabricated photo that is hooked onto an infinish collage of messages. Although Attridge would certainly sucount acknowledge this, his focus on response to alterity appears to depend on the kind of streamlined realism that, if examined as such, he is bound to reject. The implication is that we are never in the theoretical place Attridge needs us to inhalittle bit in order to appreciate the singularity of literary works. We have the right to never before understand what these horizons and limitations are. Intellectual maps are implemented, and once this is conyielded, pushing us to look for the singularity of literary works in remolding borders sounds even more unsecure than what first meets the eye.

One intriguing component Attridge throws into his account of literary singularity is the principle of performance. Literature is an occasion, enacted—performed—by the reader. Specifically, Attridge proposes that salient facets of reading—relating to the message as referring to some truth, or as facilitating creates of witnessing, or as truth‐telling, or as discshedding emotional intensity—are all performances of language by a reader as enabled by a details message. Literature does not, for example, carry out truths: “We learn from literature, not truth, yet what the informing (or denying) of reality is … literary works does not existing themes as such but fairly takes the reader through a procedure of thematization” (p. 97). In a similar tack, while literary functions can be testimonies, their particular contribution lies not in recording distressing occasions however in staging “the activity of witnessing” (p. 97).

One would want to know more about this process, and to see some sophisticated examples of such performativity (the book uses two samples from poeattempt, and Attridge refers us to his book on Coetzee, J. M. Coetzee and also the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the Event—which I have not read—for examples from prose). But what he offers below is suggestive and also worthy. The novelty stays in what Attridge is positively ascribing to the act of analysis. Others (such as Peter Lamarque and Stein Haugom Olsen in their Truth, Fiction and also Literature: A Philosophical Perspective) have actually already distinguiburned in between comprehfinishing thematic content and asserting that it is true (literature, in their opinion, as in Attridge"s, exoften tends to the former and not the latter). What I find in Attridge on this front is a crucial expocertain of a further facet of literary works, located in in between comprehfinishing and also asserting. “Performativity” here designates the complying with via of a procedure that is configured by the message and undergone by the reader. We have the right to thus distill three layers of the partnership in between literary works and conceptual/thoughtful outcroppings: the initially relating to thematizing, the second to asserting that the thematized content is true, and the 3rd to the procedure of weaving together the truth‐claims as such. And while Attridge downplays the import (or the especially literariness) of the initially two functions, center‐staging the 3rd, I see nothing to prevent welcoming his contribution right into even more thorough accounts of the relationship in between literary works and also knowledge.

Hopecompletely, the counterthoughts that I have formulated in response to Attridge convey the book"s capacity to invite engagement and also even more investigation. In all, The Selfhood of Literature is a wise and also important exploration right into the distinctiveness of literature.