Drawing on literary theory and canonical French literature, Reading Unruly examines unruliness as both an aesthetic category and a mode of reading conceived as ethical response. Zahi Zalloua argues that when faced with an unruly work of art, readers confront an ethical double bind, hesitating then between the two conflicting injunctions of either thematizing (making sense) of the literary work, or attending to its aesthetic alterity or unreadability.
Creatively hesitating between incommensurable demands (to interpret but not to translate back into familiar terms), ethical readers are invited to cultivate an appreciation for the unruly, to curb the desire for hermeneutic mastery without simultaneously renouncing meaning or the interpretive endeavor as such. Examining French texts from Montaigne’s sixteenth-century Essays to Diderot’s fictional dialogue Rameau’s Nephew and Baudelaire’s prose poems The Spleen of Paris, to the more recent works of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s Jealousy, and Marguerite Duras’s The Ravishing of Lol Stein, Reading Unruly demonstrates that in such an approach to literature and theory, reading itself becomes a desire for more, an ethical and aesthetic desire to prolong rather than to arrest the act of interpretation.
Zahi Zalloua is an associate professor of French and interdisciplinary studies at Whitman College. He is the coeditor of Torture: Power, Democracy, and the Human Body and the author of Montaigne and the Ethics of Skepticism.
“This is a work of fundamental importance. As Zalloua points out, questions of the ethics of reading are central to contemporary theoretical concerns. . . . This will be a major intervention in contemporary debates on the ethics of reading and in theory.”—Paul Allen Miller, author of Postmodern Spiritual Practices: The Reception of Plato and the Construction of the Subject in Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault