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J. Hillis Miller

(b. 1928)

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Americanliterary critic (primarily a Victorianist) who was part of the group of scholars who were known as the Yale School of deconstruction. Born in Virginia, Miller attended Oberlin College and Harvard University, graduating from the latter in 1952 with a PhD entitled Symbolic Imagery in Six Novels of Charles Dickens. His first appointment was to Johns Hopkins University, where he remained for 20 years, coming under the influence of Geneva School critic Georges Poulet, who advocated a phenomenologically inflected critique of consciousness. He then moved to Yale in 1972, where he stayed for 14 years, working with Paul de Man, Harold Bloom, and Geoffrey Hartman, moving away from his strictly phenomenological interests towards deconstruction (as Derrida's various essays on Husserl show, these two approaches are not completely incompatible). He became a key popularizer of deconstruction, mediating its move out of French and Comparative Literature departments into more mainstream English departments. He then moved to the University of California Irvine, where the originator of deconstruction Jacques Derrida was based. In 1976, in a presentation at the annual MLA(Modern Languages Association) conference entitled ‘The Critic as Host’, Miller effectively summed up his view of deconstruction as a kind of parasitical practice which dwells within and feeds off, but also poisons, the text it is working on. The presentation became famous for the elegant, yet utterly comprehensive way it repudiated M. H. Abrams attempt to refute deconstruction and in the process showed that when it comes to the close reading of texts deconstruction is more than a match for its predecessor New Criticism. Miller's work tends to highlight the points of undecidability or tension in texts, showing that they never quite mean what they say, and somehow always mean more than they say.

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