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January 2015 Vol. 52 No. 5

University of Nebraska Press

The following review appeared in the January 2015 issue of CHOICE. The review is for your internal use only. Please review our Permission and Reprints Guidelines or email

Language & Literature - Romance

2013-41119 CIP
Zalloua, Zahi. Reading unruly: interpretation and its ethical demands. Nebraska, 2014. 216p bibl index afp ISBN 9780803246270 pbk, $35.00; ISBN 9780803254701 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Drawing on sustained scholarship on Barthes, Blanchot, Bourdieu, Badiou, Derrida, Levinas, and Žižek, among others, Zalloua (French, Whitman College) adopts a case-study approach to advocate an “ethics of interpretation that foregrounds fidelity to literature’s unruliness,” which he defines as “its resistance to hermeneutic mastery, its ungovernable character.”  Also author of Montaigne and the Ethics of Skepticism (2005), Zalloua succeeds in bringing unity to six unquestionably inventive French writers from various epochs whose primary distinction is an unwillingness to be corralled: Montaigne, Diderot, Baudelaire, Sartre, Robbe-Grillet, and Duras.  This is clearly a title for the scholar; the critical language of Zalloua’s superb close readings is by no means tailored to the novice.  For example, introducing the chapter on the Essais—an original and disruptive document that inaugurates a new mode of thinking alongside a transcendental style of writing—Zalloua wields the full power of his erudition, noting that “the essay unavoidably imposes form on Montaigne’s ‘unruly fantasies’ but a form that relentlessly refuses its own homogenization, illustrating but also performing the elusive, fluctuating, and imperfect character of the self that frustrates metaphysical permanence, ontological stability, or any sense of completion.”

--W. Edwards, Longwood University

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.