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This article is taken from PN Review 18, Volume 7 Number 4, March - April 1981.

The Impossibility of Reading Roger Scruton

'SINCE the introduction of printing,' Oscar Wilde observed, 'and the fatal development of the habit of reading amongst the middle and lower classes . . . there has been a tendency in literature to appeal more and more to the eye, and less and less to the ear, which is really the sense . . . which it should seek to please.'

Perhaps Wilde would have taken comfort from the fact that, after some years of research, several well-known professors of literature at Yale have concluded that reading may be impossible. Or at least, to borrow the words of Professor Paul de Man, 'the impossibility of reading should not be taken too lightly.' Professor Jacques Derrida endorses the thought, adding that the critic should aim not to read but to 'deconstruct' the text before him. Others of similar persuasion have joined them in producing a book-called Deconstruction and Criticism-in which a new critical stance or theory is presented to those prepared to take the impossibility of reading a little more lightly than the authors.

According to the dust-jacket, the authors are known among their antagonists as the 'hermeneutical Mafia'. They are also known by other names, but it would be wrong to think of them as a school. They consist of critics catalysed into verbal activity by Jacques Derrida, a late product of the linguistic criticism which flourished in Paris during the sixties. But Derrida speaks only in inverted commas, denying in the act of ...


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