The Singularity of Literature: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Singularity of Literature

1st Edition

By Derek Attridge


222 pages

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The Iliad and Beowulf provide rich sources of historical information. The novels of Henry Fielding and Henry James may be instructive in the art of moral living. Some go further and argue that Emile Zola and Harriet Beecher Stowe played a part in ameliorating the lives of those existing in harsh circumstances. However, as Derek Attridge argues in this outstanding and acclaimed book, none of these capacities is distinctive of literature. What is the singularity of literature? Do the terms "literature" and "the literary" refer to actual entities found in cultures at certain times, or are they merely expressions characteristic of such cultures? Attridge argues that this resistance to definition and reduction is not a dead end, but a crucial starting point from which to explore anew the power and practices of Western art.

Derek Attridge provides a rich new vocabulary for literature, rethinking such terms as "invention," "singularity," "otherness," "alterity," "performance" and "form." He returns literature to the realm of ethics, and argues for the ethical importance of literature, demonstrating how a new understanding of the literary might be put to work in a "responsible," creative mode of reading.

The Singularity of Literature is not only a major contribution to the theory of literature, but also a celebration of the extraordinary pleasure of the literary, for reader, writer, student or critic.

This Routledge Classics edition includes a new preface by the author.


"A deeply important book"—Rob Pope, Language and Literature

"A significant and enduring contribution towards readable, ethically engaged literary criticism" – Justin Neuman, Journal of Postcolonial Writing

"This book constitutes a timely, rigorous and thought-provoking alternative to the exigencies of politicised criticism" – Lucy O’Meara, Textual Practice

Table of Contents


Preface to the Routledge Classics Edition

1. Introductory

2. Creation and the other

3. Originality and invention

4. Inventive language and the literary event

5. Singularity

6. Reading and responding

7. Performance

8. Form, meaning, context

9. Responsibility and ethics

10. An everyday impossibility

Debts and Directions




About the Author

Derek Attridge is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of York, UK. He is the author or editor of twenty-five books, including Peculiar Language: Literature as Difference from the Renaissance to James Joyce (Routledge, 2004), The Work of Literature (2015) and, with Henry Staten, The Craft of Poetry (Routledge, 2015).

About the Series

Routledge Classics

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Author Interview

We are delighted to share with you an exclusive interview with Derek Attridge where we discuss some of the central issues in The Singularity of Literature.

Read the interview

Book Launch Video

The Singularity of Literature – Launch Party

On 17 May 2017 we celebrated the publication of The Singularity of Literature at Blackwell’s Bookshop in Edinburgh. At this event renowned literary theorist Professor Derek Attridge joined Professor Penny Fielding and Alex Thomson to discuss questions relating to the central themes in the book.

The event was filmed and streamed live via our Facebook Literature page, meaning that you can watch this video at any time convenient to you.