Publication Date



Open access

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


English (Arts and Sciences)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

Ranen Omer-Sherman

Second Committee Member

Frank Palmeri

Third Committee Member

Joel Nickels

Fourth Committee Member

Derek Attridge


This dissertation presents an argument for the ethical value of a reader's inability to fully comprehend works by Jorge Luis Borges, G.K. Chesterton, William Faulkner, and Brian O'Nolan (aka Flann O'Brien). Such texts demand creative engagement by the reader which could be described as a necessary betrayal of the text. Viewed in the context of the so-called "ethical turn" in literary theory, the revaluation of infidelity accomplished by such unfaithful reading can foster a greater openness toward the unknown, and ultimately unknowable, other. Similarly, by juxtaposing the work of Faulkner, a canonical modernist writer, with more nontraditional writers such as Chesterton and O'Nolan, I mean to betray the sort of limitations created by employing such categorical terms as "modernism" itself. In an introductory chapter, I use the work of ethical theorist Emmanuel Levinas, as well as the socio-political theory of Zygmunt Bauman and Ernesto Laclau, to develop a theoretical framework for the project, taking some examples from the writings of Borges. My chapter on Chesterton presents "The Man Who Was Thursday" as a site of multiple betrayals which can awaken the reader to the instability of any fixed notion of identity. I conclude the chapter with a specific show of infidelity in the 1924 Russian adaptation of Chesterton's novel for the Kamerny theater in Moscow, an intentional "misreading" that reveals aspects of the work glossed over by years of more ostensibly faithful interpretations. My third chapter features a sustained reflection on the ethics of reading Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying," a work which stubbornly "keeps its secret," to use Derrida's phrasing. Since any reading of this story must be, on a certain level, a betrayal, I discuss the possibilities opened up by resisting the tendency to fix the meaning of such an undecidable work. In my final chapter, I consider the work of O'Nolan as a testimony to the constitutive power of betrayal. In his deconstruction of authorial presence, his Judas-like betrayal of James Joyce, and his provocative 1943 "translation" onto the Dublin stage of the Capek brothers' "Insect Play," O'Nolan is always unfaithful to his object; however, the revaluation of infidelity posited by this dissertation suggests that his traitorous stance could paradoxically do more justice to the objects of his focus than would a more ostensibly faithful approach.


Hegemonic Logic; Myles Na GCopaleen; Responsible Reading; Literary Modernism