The Unreadable (Oxford Literary Review 33:1)

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OLR 33:1 The Unreadable

Call for Papers

‘We read because we do not know how to read.’ (Jean-François Lyotard, Augustine’s Confession).

‘The unreadable is not the opposite of the readable, it is the arête that also gives it the chance or force to start up again. “The impossibility of reading should not be taken too lightly.” (Paul de Man.) That the unreadable give to be read is not a compromise formulation. Unreadability is no less radical for all that: it is absolute, if you read ne correctly.’ (Jacques Derrida, “Living On – Borderlines.”)

What is the relation of reading to the unreadable? Once we separate the unreadable from the merely difficult, obscure, boring or offensive, how are we to conceive of it?
If “there is no code (organon of iterability) that is structurally secret” (Derrida, “Signature, Event, Context”), then we might assume that deconstruction in principle affirmed the readability of everything; but this apparent openness is also, in its very indeterminacy and even freedom, what separates reading from any possible horizon of hermeneutic exhaustion or retrieval.
Once reading is thus prised away from its always-threatened reduction by different interpretative models that teleologically orient our efforts toward a recovery of truth (however distant or unattainable that truth may be), how are we to conceive of it, if not as harbouring (and even welcoming) an irreducible unreadability?
If reading is always a response to the other, must it not always encounter an irreducible opacity? What becomes of the concept of truth in this (non-)perspective? What becomes of the so-called ‘ethics’ or ‘politics’ of reading? What institutional space might tolerate or even encourage a practice of reading that affirmed the unreadable as its permanent and essential resource?

OLR 33:1 will aim to address these questions in the light of the non-oppositional complication of readable and unreadable suggested by Derrida, De Man and Lyotard, and welcomes submissions dealing with these questions theoretically or in specific textual detail. Maximum length c. 6000 words

For more on the OLR see

Deadline for expressions of interest: July 31, 2010. Final version due December 31, 2010. End of editing process 1st April, 2011.

Contact. Geoffrey Bennington, Comparative Literature, Emory University, 537 Kilgo Circle, Atlanta, GA 30322 USA (

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