This book offers an analysis of the ways a linked set of ethico-political concepts-responsibility, rights, freedom, equality, and justice-might be re-thought, not simply jettisoned or reactively defended, in view of the linguistic deconstruction of their underlying principle, the individual human subject.
In a series of readings of contemporary thinkers (notably Foucault and Derrida) and their philosophical antecedents (Marx, Nietzsche, Sade), the author argues that an encounter with the difficulties of reading (literary) language, precisely what resists the immediate comprehension or mastery of a subject, enables in turn a new thought of rights and responsibility. What literature teaches us about politics is that the absence of foundations, whether in the world or in the subject, far from being its downfall, is its very condition of possibility: because a foundation or a final resolution is lacking, we have politics and ethics and their predicaments.
Like the reading of a text, which is never quite done, any responsibility worthy of the name cannot rest in the good conscience of its certain accomplishment; likewise, the assertion of rights can never be circumscribed or guaranteed-hence the ongoing necessity of the ethical and the political. The book is driven by a sense that literary and theoretical questions, and the ideas or concepts they appeal to or provoke, play a critical role in the way we think about and experience politics, but that literary critics and theorists do far too little to understand those links or make them matter outside a very restricted sphere.
The author seeks to harness this specialized discourse in order to consider what ethical and political thinking might learn from literature and its theorists.