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date: 28 May 2020

Summary and Keywords

The term singularity has been put to a variety of uses by philosophers and literary theorists with a limited degree of consistency among them. It is very often contrasted with one or more other terms which might seem to be synonyms, such as particular and individual, and its relation to universality and generality is frequently discussed. Although the term itself is not an important one for Kant, his discussion in the Critique of Judgment of the peculiar nature of aesthetic or reflective judgment marks the beginning of a long history of philosophical attention to the artwork as a singular entity resistant to analysis and the experience of art as unamenable to explanation. Some philosophical deployments of the concept of singularity stress uniqueness, self-sufficiency or transcendence (Martin Heidegger, Gilles Deleuze, Hans-Georg Gadamer); others see singularity as self-divided and existing only in relation to other singularities (Jean-Luc Nancy) or to generalities (Jacques Derrida). Singularity is sometimes understood as an event rather than an entity (Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Nancy, Derrida); for some thinkers, it is closely connected with community (Giorgio Agamben, Nancy). For Derrida, the most influential of these philosophers for literary studies on this topic, singularity is inseparable from iterability; a mark or sign is able to remain the same through history and in various realizations if it is able to change with each new context in which it appears. As a term in literary theory, singularity is usually regarded as a distinctive quality of the literary work, combining as it does a sense of the work’s uniqueness with its participation in general and generic codes and norms. The reader’s encounter with the singularity of the work is an encounter with otherness that necessitates a change in his or her frameworks of understanding and feeling; every such reading is singular in that the reader and the context of reading will always be different. Iterability is a condition of literary singularity: works retain their identity only because they are open to change.

Keywords: singularity, individual, particular, universal, generality, uniqueness, reading, iterability, event, otherness

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