C. Namwali Serpell's Seven Modes of Uncertainty is, among other things, a bravura performance. I do not think she would object to my saying so, since it is precisely the performance of reading—reading as an “agonistic, participatory” (1) act that unfolds over time—that is Serpell's central concern in this ambitious, singular book. Serpell's aims in Seven Modes are dazzlingly, sometimes dizzyingly, manifold: she seeks to think anew—in the overlapping wakes of New Criticism, deconstruction, and postmodernism—about the significance of literary uncertainty; to reinvigorate the field of ethical criticism; to retheorize the relationship between readers, authors, and interpretation; and to raise even larger disciplinary questions about what literary history is and what literary criticism ought to look like. Indeed, given the brazenly New Critical spirit of the book itself, a reviewer confronted with the seven chapters, three section introductions, and two appendices of...

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