The Critical Difference: Essays in the Contemporary Rhetoric of Reading

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Barbara Johnson investigates the significant and illuminating ways in which both literature and criticism are critically different from what they purport to be. Her subtle and provocative studies of Balzac, Mallarme, Baudelaire, Apollinaire, Melville, Poe, Barthes, Lacan, Austin, and Derrida take a refreshing new approach to the fundamental questions of meaning, interpretation, and the relationship between literature and criticism. In each of seven essays, a clear, precise, and detailed reading of the rhetoric of one or more literary or critical works reveals the text's fundamental discrepancies, ambiguities, and contradictions. If rhetoric is seen as language's capacity to differ from literal statement, and if to differ can also mean to disagree, then the reading of the rhetoric of literature and theory here is an attempt to capture the logic of a text's own disagreement with itself.