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Afterword: Turning Back to Literature

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


Three times I rushed, and my heart urged me to hold her, and three times she flew from my hands like a shadow or even a dream.

—Homer, The Odyssey 11.206–08.

To speak of the future of literary criticism is always to speak of the future of literature, which is a mode of language and an institution whose very being essentially touches on the possibility and fragility of its own future. “The fragility of literature,” as Richard Klein suggests, “its susceptibility to being lost,” is at the heart of all literary writing, which emerges from the absence of a “real referent” and thus sustains itself through its reference to other texts, to the archive of literary writing that is made up of figures and other literary articulations that allow us to read. Klein reminds us, citing Jacques Derrida, that literary texts may always disappear: not only because they may be forgotten but also because they are susceptible to the erasure of the archive, to apocalyptic destruction, and to the collective loss of the knowledge of how to read—as a result of new modes of media saturation or, I would add, through the collapse of readability in the age of what Hannah Arendt calls “the modern lie” (“Truth” 253). The force and fragility of literature and of literary criticism are bound up with the possible disappearance of the literary archive, which we implicitly confront in reading literature and in pursuing its forms and thoughts as literary critics.

Research Article
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2010

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