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Literature Glossary

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Aporia

Definition:

Ever been in the middle of an assignment and had the feeling that you just can't write anymore? Like, there's just no way you can keep writing that essay on Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"? Your brain just won't go there?

Yeah, that happens to Shmoop, too.

In literature, authors sometimes acknowledge these doubts using a rhetorical strategy known as aporia. It's a Greek word, meaning "impassable path". Aporia is writing that's about how you just can't write anymore. Or, in an aporia, the writer can openly express doubt about the current topic about which they're writing.

Aporia plays a big part in the work of deconstruction theorists like Jacques Derrida, who use the term to describe a text's most doubtful or contradictory moment. It's the point at which the text has hit a brick wall when it comes to meaning. It has contradicted itself one too many times, and now it's at an impasse. Oops.

But there's also a more rhetorical side to aporia; it can be useful. It can just refer to a useful expression of doubt when you want to convince someone of something. As in, "Do you really think juggling hand grenades is the best idea?"