J. Hillis Miller has been an important humanities and literature scholar specializing in Victorian and Modernist literature, with a keen interest in the ethics of reading and reading as a cultural act. From 1952 to 1972, Miller taught at Johns Hopkins University. During this time, Miller was heavily influenced by fellow Johns Hopkins professor and Belgian literary critic Georges Poulet and the Geneva School of literary criticism, which Miller characterized as "the consciousness of the consciousness of another, the transposition of the mental universe of an author into the interior space of the critic's mind."
In 1972, he joined the faculty at Yale University where he taught for fourteen years. At Yale, he worked alongside prominent literary critics Paul de Man, Harold Bloom, and Geoffrey Hartman, where they were collectively known as the Yale School of deconstruction. As a prominent American deconstructionist, Miller defines the movement as searching for "the thread in the text in question which will unravel it all," and cites that there are multiple layers to any text, both its clear surface and its deep countervailing subtext:
On the one hand, the "obvious and univocal reading" always contains the "deconstructive reading" as a parasite encrypted within itself as part of itself. ON the other hand, the "deconstructive" reading can by no means free itself from the metaphysical reading it means to contest.
In 1986, Miller left Yale to work at the University of California Irvine, where he was later followed by his Yale colleague Jacques Derrida. During the same year he served as President of Modern Language Association, and was honored by the MLA with a lifetime achievement award in 2005. Both at Yale and UC Irvine, Miller mentored an entire generation of American literary critics including noted queer theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick.
Currently, he is Distinguished Research Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California Irvine.
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“I began my editorial career with the presidency of Mr. Adams, and my principal object was to render his administration all the assistance in my power. I flattered myself with the hope of accompanying him through [his] voyage, and of partaking in a trifling degree, of the glory of the enterprise; but he suddenly tacked about, and I could follow him no longer. I therefore waited for the first opportunity to haul down my sails.”
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