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Kamuf begins by analyzing the complex history of literary study within the modern university, critically reading developments from the French Revolution through the nineteenth century and beyond in Europe. She then turns to one of the most troubling works in the American literary canon—Melville's The Confidence-Man—to show how academic literary history has avoided confronting the implications of works in which meaning is never solely confined within a past. By engaging a future readership to which it applies for credit, Kamuf argues, literature cannot serve as a stable object of study. It locates, rather, a site of "the university in deconstruction."
Ranging from disciplinary histories of literature to our current culture wars, Kamuf offers a fascinating critique of academic literary study.