Theory’s Autoimmunity

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3780-6

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ISBN 978-0-8101-3778-3

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Publication Date
October 2018
Page Count
240 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Theory’s Autoimmunity

Skepticism, Literature, and Philosophy
Zahi Zalloua

Engaging scholars from across humanistic fields grappling with the role and value of theory in our times, Theory's Autoimmunity argues for reclaiming theory's skepticism as a value. To cultivate theory's skeptical impulses is to embrace what Jacques Derrida has termed autoimmunity: a condition of openness to the outside-openness of the self, the community, democracy, or other ideals-that allows for change. 

Openness to change comes with risks, and the self-protective temptation to immunize oneself or one's community against these risks is strong. Yet without such risks, without openness to otherness, no encounter with the new, with difference, can ever take place. Without autoimmunity, theory becomes stagnant and programmatic, unable to receive and respond to the other or the event, to address, revise, and produce new meanings. 

Taking up the challenge of thinking theory as skepticism, with and against philosophy, this study turns to literature as an interlocutor, investigating the ways theory, like the literary works of Montaigne, Baudelaire, Stendhal, Morrison, or Duras, declines to put on the interpretive brakes, to stop reading at a point of understanding. Undoing and remaking itself, theory—those critical interpretive practices that revel in the creation and proliferation of meaning—becomes autoimmune. 
About the Author

ZAHI ZALLOUA is the Cushing Eells Professor of Philosophy and Literature and a professor of French and Interdisciplinary Studies at Whitman College. He is the author of Continental Philosophy and the Palestinian Question, Reading Unruly: Interpretation and Its Ethical Demands, and Montaigne and the Ethics of Skepticism.

"Theory's Autoimmunity intervenes brilliantly in the field of postcritical theory. By cutting a swath through ideology critiques, object-oriented ontologies, and subjectless realisms, Zalloua demonstrates that theory flourishes by being at odds with itself." —Jean-Michel Rabaté, author of Crimes of the Future: Theory and its Global Reproduction

"Marvelously lucid, joyful, and rigorous, Theory's Autoimmunity relaunches the impulse to theorize across a broad front, confronting the disastrous impulse to protectionist mastery, dislocating immunity from itself through subtle acts of reading. Zalloua's book should be essential reading for any course in theory. But beyond that, in its militant advocacy of theory's 'hysteria,' its skeptical voice, it is existentially and intellectually vital." —Patrick ffrench, author of After Bataille: Sacrifice, Exposure, Community

"Zahi Zalloua’s provocative, timely, and delightfully readable Theory’s Autoimmunity argues that theory, far from a vestigial practice, is perhaps more necessary now than ever" —T. J. Martinson, symploke

“In this trenchant and vigorously argued book, Zahi Zalloua mounts a defence of theory and gives a compelling account of its specificity in relation to knowledge discourses in general and those of the literary and critical humanities in particular.” —Ian James, French Studies