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Literature and Error

A Literary Take on Mistakes and Errors


Marc Porée and Isabelle Alfandary

Literature and Error comprises a series of essays by French scholars who seek to lay down the foundations of a theory that would argue for the productivity of errors and mistakes in literary works. While the "necessity of errors" has repeatedly been tackled from a philosophical angle, rarely has the demonstration been attempted from the standpoint of literature. Beyond the thematic importance of errors (evidenced in the age-old motifs of learning from one’s errors, mistaken identities, malapropism, comic or tragic misunderstandings, hamartia, the fallibility of man, etc.), the proposition is made here that errare is not just humanum but also literarium—that "Erring Becomes Literature" with or, preferably, without corrections. Indeed, approached from various angles, it is the literariness of errors and mistakes that this joint study sets out to explore. Modern and contemporary Anglo-American literature structurally accommodates and even welcomes errors. Ranging from Edgar Allan Poe, James Joyce, and Jonathan Franzen to Robert Browning and Elizabeth Bishop, the authors and works discussed assess the seaworthiness of errors when launched into deep (literary) water. Viewed in that light, errors not only cease to be errors of something (of taste, conception, judgment, calculation), they become errors per se, valued for their own sake. Deliberately comprehensive and broad-ranging, this volume should appeal not just to scholars and students but also to readers who share an interest in theory and close reading alike.

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