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. 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.

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 poetic form, reflected most recently in his 2013 book Moving Words: Forms of English Poetry. 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-one 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.  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.

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 Event; and The Cambridge History of South African Literature (co-edited with David Attwell). 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. One current project is a history of poetry in performance, starting with the oral performances of Ancient Greece. In 2013 Oxford University Press published Moving Words: Forms of English Poetry.


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 fifteen 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

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

Tel: 44 1904 323361