The hermeneutics of suspicion is a term coined by Paul Ricoeur to describe the practice of reading texts against the grain to expose their repressed or hidden meanings. This essay examines the distinctive features of such a hermeneutics as they have shaped literary theory and criticism in recent decades. Suspicious reading, it proposes, is not only an intellectual exercise in demystification, but also a critical style and scholarly sensibility that offers specific pleasures. These pleasures include the aesthetic and ethical satisfactions of fashioning detective-fiction-style plots. The literary critic, like the detective, interprets clues, establishes causal connections, and identifies a guilty party: namely, the literary work accused of whitewashing or concealing social oppression. Deconstructionist critics like Shoshana Felman seek to expose the dangers of such a suspicious hermeneutics but remain thoroughly entangled in the very method they seek to repudiate. The goal of the essay, then, is not to critique and be suspicious of suspicion. Rather, it seeks to take the hermeneutics of suspicion seriously and to understand why it has proved so attractive to contemporary scholars. At the same time, it also suggests that the present-day ubiquity and predictability of this critical method makes its claims to intellectual novelty or political boldness ever harder to sustain.

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