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Derek Attridge



Derek Attridge came to York from Rutgers University in the USA in 1998 as Leverhulme Research Professor, and in 2003 became Professor of English. He retired in 2017, and is now an Emeritus Professor.  His interests centre on the language of literature, but radiate in many different directions.

Professor Attridge was born in South Africa, where he first attended university, and some of his recent work is concerned with South African literature, including the Cambridge History of South African Literature (co-edited with David Attwell) and a study of the novels of J. M. Coetzee. He has a long-standing involvement in literary theory, and in particular the work of Jacques Derrida.  Other theoretical works include The Singularity of Literature and The Work of Literature.

He is also well-known as a Joyce scholar, having published several works on this author and served for many years as a Trustee of the International James Joyce Foundation. Another interest is poetry and poetic form, reflected most recently in his 2019 book The Experience of Poetry: From Homer's Listeners to Shakespeare's Readers. He has held fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Camargo Foundation and the Leverhulme Trust, and is a Fellow of the British Academy.



He is the author or editor of twenty-six books on literary theory, poetic form, South African literature, and the writings of James Joyce.

A number of publications reflect his long association with the philosopher Jacques Derrida, a selection of whose work he has edited. His best-known work of literary theory, The Singularity of Literature, raises the question of the distinctiveness of literature as a linguistic and social practice, and argues that a crucial element is the response to otherness that characterises both the writing of an inventive literary work and the reading of it as literature. This book is also informed by recent developments in ethics arising from the writings of Emmanuel Levinas. In September 2006 he won an ESSE Book Award for this work, which was reissued in 2017 in the Routledge Classics Series.  A further study of some of these questions, Reading and Responsibility: Deconstruction’s Traces, appeared in 2010. Theory after “Theory” (co-edited with Jane Elliott), published in 2011, is a collection of essays reflecting current theoretical developments.  The Work of Literature, a sequel to The Singularity of Literature, appeared in 2015.

Books on South African literature include Writing South Africa: Literature, Apartheid and Democracy, 1970-1995(co-edited with Rosemary Jolly); J. M. Coetzee and the Ethics of Reading: Literature in the EventThe Cambridge History of South African Literature (co-edited with David Attwell); and Zoë Wicomb & the Translocal: Writing Scotland & South Africa, co-edited with Kai Easton. Professor Attridge’s publications on Joyce include two books (Joyce Effects and How to Read Joyce), half of another book (Peculiar Language), and four edited or co-edited volumes on Joyce.

A final interest is poetic form, and he has published several books on questions of rhythm in poetry, including The Rhythms of English Poetry, Poetic Form: An Introduction and Moving Words: Forms of English Poetry, and The Experience of Poetry: Homer's Listeners to Shakespeare's Readers.


Professor Attridge has supervised a large number of PhD degrees, but is not able to take on any new students.

External activities


Derek Attridge is a Fellow of the British Academy, and a Life Member of the Modern Language Association of America.

Editorial duties

He serves on twenty-one journal editorial boards, including Modernism/Modernity, Textual Practice, New Literary History, Derrida Today, James Joyce Quarterly, Joyce Studies Annual, Interventions, The Oxford Literary Review, Language and Literature and Journal of Literature and Trauma Studies. He regularly reads book manuscripts for a number of publishers, and frequently acts as assessor for fellowships and scholarships, as well as for academic positions in other universities.

Derek Attridge

Contact details

Professor Derek Attridge
Department of English and Related Literature
University of York
Y010 5DD

Tel: 44 1904 323361