The Work of Literature by Derek Attridge Oxford University Press | 2015 | ix + 324pp | isbn 9780198733195

Rafe McGregor

    Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article review

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    In The Singularity of Literature (2004), Derek Attridge set out the three cornerstones of his literary theory: singularity describes the work of literature’s capacity for endless transformation while retaining its identity as an act-event; inventiveness characterises the work as something absolutely new that has been both made and discovered; otherness is the quality of unpredictability and difference that challenges the expectations and values of the reader. In The Work of Literature, Attridge amplifies, clarifies, and refines these ‘three different aspects of the literariness of the literary work’ (p.57), which are irretrievably interlocked in the experience of the act-event and cannot be elucidated in isolation. A culture is sustained by that which it excludes and authors exploit this exclusion by means of inventiveness, creating a space in which otherness (also called alterity) can be apprehended. Otherness is not merely other to the culture in which the work is produced and received, but necessarily other such that it cannot be assimilated without the deconstruction of cultural norms that facilitates the work’s singularity. A central concern of The Singularity of Literature was the relationship between the institutions of literature, modernism, and form on the one hand and ethical responsibility, irresponsibility, and insignificance on the other. Attridge offered a compelling argument for the continued significance of form to literature, augmented with a critical response to ten of J.M. Coetzee’s works in J.M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading (also published in 2004). A central concern of The Work of Literature is the similarity between literature and other art forms – music and painting in particular. Attridge is, however, over-ambitious and his case for singularity, inventiveness, and otherness as three different aspects of the artiness of the work of art is somewhat unconvincing.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)112-115
    Number of pages4
    JournalCritical Quarterly
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 14 Oct 2015


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