In Allegories of Reading, Paul de Man quips, “not that the act of reading is innocent, far from it. It is the starting point of all evil” (194). This paper seeks to re-inscribe evil into reading, and evil in the precise sense of the eternal question of the serpent—“did God really ask you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?”—the question that is never answered; and that perhaps does not have an answer. For only if the question remains as such do we manage to avoid reading as a phenomenological act, centred in the self, and which effaces all texts. By retaining the uncertainty, and unknowability of a pure question—and a reconstituting of reading as testing, testing everything including itself—reading can then be thought of as a pre-relational relationality between the text and the reader; illegitimate and violent, but responsible to the text, and in fidelity to the possibility of reading. In order to do so, this paper will negotiate reading as the ethical relation par excellence through the works of Werner Hamacher, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean-Loup Thébaud, Slavoj Žižek and Avital Ronell. As such, it will attempt to tread the boundaries of philosophy and literature; and in particular the notions of exteriority and finitude. This paper will posit that the ellipsis is not an aberrant punctuation of writing, but the very figure of writing, and reading, itself. For only when the ellipsis is acknowledged in each sentence—whether it is seen or not is irrelevant—is the terroristic gesture of totality, effacement, and non-response avoided. Hence what is usually seen as exterior to the sentence, and beyond its limit of knowledge, is what allows the sentence to be a continual question; by extension, the ellipsis is precisely what allows reading itself to occur, and to continually occur. Hence, this will be a thinking of reading that is not only a non-phenomenological act, but an event that undoes phenomenology itself: reading as an event that exposes itself to nothing but the possibility of reading.
KEY WORDS: reading, violence, evil, terror, post-structural philosophy, ellipsis