Material Inscriptions: Rhetorical Reading in Practice and Theory 9780748681235

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Material Inscriptions: Rhetorical Reading in Practice and Theory

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Material Inscriptions

The Frontiers of Theory Series Editor: Martin McQuillan Available Titles Reading and Responsibility: Deconstruction’s Traces Derek Attridge Of Jews and Animals Andrew Benjamin Not Half No End: Militantly Melancholic Essays in Memory of Jacques Derrida Geoffrey Bennington

Geneses, Genealogies, Genres and Genius Jacques Derrida Scandalous Knowledge: Science, Truth, and the Human Barbara Herrnstein Smith To Follow: The Wake of Jacques Derrida Peggy Kamuf

Dream I Tell You Hélène Cixous

Death-­Drive: Freudian Hauntings in Literature and Art Robert Rowland Smith

Insister of Jacques Derrida Hélène Cixous

Veering: A Theory of Literature Nicholas Royle

Volleys of Humanity: Essays 1972–2009 Hélène Cixous

Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man Andrzej Warminski

Poetry in Painting: Writings on Contemporary Arts and Aesthetics Hélène Cixous, ed. Marta Segarra and Joana Masó

Material Inscriptions: Rhetorical Reading in Practice and Theory Andrzej Warminski

The Poetics of Singularity: The Counter-­­Culturalist Turn in Heidegger, Derrida, Blanchot and the later Gadamer Timothy Clark About Time: Narrative, Fiction and the Philosophy of Time Mark Currie The Unexpected: Narrative Temporality and the Philosophy of Surprise Mark Currie The Post-­Romantic Predicament Paul de Man, ed. Martin McQuillan

Forthcoming Titles Working with Walter Benjamin: Recovering a Political Philosophy Andrew Benjamin Readings of Derrida Sarah Kofman, trans. Patience Moll Hélène Cixous’s Semi-­Fictions: At the Borders of Theory Mairéad Hanrahan Against Mastery: Creative Readings and Weak Force Sarah Wood The Paul de Man Notebooks Paul de Man, ed. Martin McQuillan

Visit the Frontiers of Theory website at

Material Inscriptions Rhetorical Reading in Practice and Theory

Andrzej Warminski

For Cathrine

© Andrzej Warminski, 2013 Edinburgh University Press Ltd 22 George Square, Edinburgh EH8 9LF Typeset in 10.5/13 pt Sabon by Servis Filmsetting Ltd, Stockport, Cheshire, printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon CR0 4YY A CIP record for this book is available from the British Library ISBN 978 0 7486 8122 8 (hardback) ISBN 978 0 7486 8123 5 (webready PDF) ISBN 978 0 7486 8124 2 (epub) The right of Andrzej Warminski to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.


Series Editor’s Prefacevi Author’s Prefaceviii Acknowledgementsxii 1. Facing Language: Wordsworth’s First Poetic Spirits (“Blest Babe,” “Drowned Man,” “Blind Beggar”) 1 2. Aesthetic Ideology and Material Inscription: On Hegel’s Aesthetics and Keats’s Urn 35 3. Spectre Shapes: “The Body of Descartes?” 63 4. Reading for Example: A Metaphor in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy79 5. Towards a Fabulous Reading: Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense” 101 6. Reading Over Endless Histories: Henry James’s “The Altar of the Dead” 130 7. Ending Up/Taking Back (with Two Postscripts on Paul de Man’s Historical Materialism) 159 8. The Future Past of Literary Theory 190 Appendix: Interview: “Deconstruction at Yale”213 Index233

Series Editor’s Preface

Since its inception Theory has been concerned with its own limits, ends and after-­life. It would be an illusion to imagine that the academy is no longer resistant to Theory but a significant consensus has been established and it can be said that Theory has now entered the mainstream of the humanities. Reaction against Theory is now a minority view and new generations of scholars have grown up with Theory. This leaves so-­called Theory in an interesting position which its own procedures of auto-­critique need to consider: what is the nature of this mainstream Theory and what is the relation of Theory to philosophy and the other disciplines which inform it? What is the history of its construction and what processes of amnesia and the repression of difference have taken place to establish this thing called Theory? Is Theory still the site of a more-­ than-­ critical affirmation of a negotiation with thought, which thinks thought’s own limits? ‘Theory’ is a name that traps by an aberrant nominal effect the transformative critique which seeks to reinscribe the conditions of thought in an inaugural founding gesture that is without ground or precedent: as a ‘name’, a word and a concept, Theory arrests or misprisions such thinking. To imagine the frontiers of Theory is not to dismiss or to abandon Theory (on the contrary one must always insist on the it-­is-­necessary of Theory even if one has given up belief in theories of all kinds). Rather, this series is concerned with the presentation of work which challenges complacency and continues the transformative work of critical thinking. It seeks to offer the very best of contemporary theoretical practice in the humanities, work which continues to push ever further the frontiers of what is accepted, including the name of Theory. In particular, it is interested in that work which involves the necessary endeavour of crossing disciplinary frontiers without dissolving the specificity of disciplines. Published by Edinburgh University Press, in the city of Enlightenment, this series promotes a certain closeness to that spirit: the continued

Series Editor’s Preface    ­vii

exercise of critical thought as an attitude of inquiry which counters modes of closed or conservative opinion. In this respect the series aims to make thinking think at the frontiers of theory. Martin McQuillan

Author’s Preface

This is a book of rhetorical readings whose theory and practice comes out of a particular teaching experience at Yale University: an undergraduate course called “Reading and Rhetorical Structures.” Indeed, a number of the chapters started out as lectures in this course. The course was conceived by Paul de Man and co-­taught by him and Geoffrey Hartman, together with a number of Teaching Assistants who would usually give one lecture during the semester. I had the good fortune to serve as Teaching Assistant in this course and then as co-­lecturer – once with Hartman, once with de Man, and then twice with Kevin Newmark – from 1979 to 1987. (De Man designed the course somewhat on the model of still another undergraduate course at Harvard [Hum 6] in which he served during his graduate student days as a Teaching Assistant for Reuben Brower.1) The course was focused insistently on the practice of rhetorical reading and followed an itinerary from short poetic texts to narratives by way of a detour through philosophical or theoretical texts. The book follows this itinerary. It begins with some readings of poetry by Wordsworth and Keats that try to take into account the rhetorical dimension of the texts. After a detour through rhetorical readings of the interplay of trope and concept in (and the peculiar narrativity of) some “theoretical” texts by Descartes and Nietzsche, it reads a tale by Henry James to demonstrate how the self-­undoing of tropological systems necessarily generates narratives which, in the end, turn out to be allegories of their own conditions of (im)possibility. The volume also contains a couple of essays on literary theory (as literary theory) and an interview 1  On Hum 6 see de Man’s “The Return to Philology” in The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986). On Lit. z (later Lit. 130) at Yale, see Marc Redfield’s remarks and de Man’s original course proposal in Marc Redfield (ed.), Legacies of Paul de Man (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007).

Author’s Preface    ­ix

on the topic of “Deconstruction at Yale.” All three of these latter texts are explicitly about the “place” of rhetoric – for example, “between” grammar and logic in the trivium – and its importance for any critical reading worthy of the name. Rhetoric in this volume means above all the rhetoric of tropes, and its place “between” grammar and logic amounts to the following: that tropes, which on the one hand make the passage from grammatical structures to meaning possible, on the other hand also always make it impossible for this “passage” to take place in an epistemologically stable or reliable way. This renders the meaning of any and every text not simply “indeterminate” but radically overdetermined. Hence the practice of “rhetorical reading” in this volume is not a matter of identifying and classifying tropological structures to show how the meaning of literary and philosophical texts depends on them. Although it is true that attempting to determine the meaning of a text always begins with a reconstruction of the text as a tropological system, reading the text “rhetorically” entails a demonstration of how this tropological system, in its attempt to close itself off, undergoes a process of self-­undoing. This process leaves a residue or remainder: the materiality of an inscription that lies at the origin of the text and that made the text possible in the first place but that also makes it forever impossible for the text to know or to account for its own production. Such “rhetorical reading” is indeed a species of “deconstructive reading” – in the full “de Manian” sense – but one that, rather than harkening back to a past over and done with, would open the texts to a different future. Serving in place of an Introduction, the programmatic Chapter 1 is a reading of three moments in Wordsworth’s Prelude – “the Blest Babe,” “the drowned man,” and “the Blind Beggar” – as examples of “performative,” “tropological,” and “inscriptional” models of language and the text that leave something of a material residue. In doing so, the chapter also offers a “paradigm” for how to read the Prelude. After an introductory section on how Hegel’s Aesthetics already in its Introduction winds up undermining the category of the aesthetic, Chapter 2 reads Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” as a late example of the minor poetic genre called “inscription” (or “epigram”). Once the hypogram underlying Keats’s ode is read, this arch-­aestheticist poem turns out to be a text that puts into question the value of the aesthetic as it issues in a peculiar “historical materialism.” Chapter 3 turns to a reading of Descartes’ Cogito as trope by following the figure of garments (“hats and cloaks that may cover ghosts or automatons”) through the First and Second Meditations. The upshot is that the ego cogito can constitute itself only by virtue of a tropological system

­x    Material Inscriptions that renders it a ghostly or a mechanical Cogito. Chapter 4 reads an elaborate metaphor (for the relation between the Dionysian and the Apollinian) in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy to demonstrate that the Dionysian and the Apollinian can be “mediated” only by means of an impossible metaphor of metaphor, a stutter or a syncope rather than any kind of bridge. This is the oldest chapter in the book; I include it because it follows through the steps of rhetorical reading perhaps more deliberately and methodically than the later pieces. Chapter 5 reads Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense” – a text not only explicitly about the rhetoric of tropes but also one that performs a certain “rhetorical deconstruction” as it mounts its critiques of knowing (and thus consciousness), of language, of concepts (both those of natural science and those of ethics), and of the category of the aesthetic. Since the text cannot do this without at the same time deploying a host of its own metaphors of metaphor, it is subject to a “self-­deconstruction” that nevertheless leaves a remainder rather than an infinite regress or a mise en abîme. Chapter 6 reads Henry James’s “The Altar of the Dead” in terms of the tropological system of impossible and asymmetrical “exchange” between one and zero that constitutes this novella. Chapter 7 reads the asymmetrical chiasmus between the “rhetorization of grammar” and the “grammatization of rhetoric” that structures the argument of de Man’s (in)famous “Semiology and Rhetoric” to demonstrate that a certain materialism can be drawn out of a text putatively only about linguistic structures. Chapter 8 begins with an analysis of how de Man understands “the resistance to theory” as the resistance to language, to language about language, and, ultimately, to rhetoric. It also offers a way to study and to teach literary theory on the model of the trivium and rhetoric’s unstable role in it. The second half of the chapter is a reading of Aristotle’s Poetics as an example of a rigorous literary theoretical discourse based on a grammatical model of language which nevertheless undoes itself when it necessarily arrives at the question of metaphor. The book ends with an Appendix from (and for) the archive of “Deconstruction in America”: an interview with the author by Stuart Barnett originally destined for a volume of interviews on deconstruction with some of its main practitioners and participants at Yale and Johns Hopkins Universities. The topic is “Deconstruction at Yale,” and the interview discusses how J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey Hartman, and even Harold Bloom for a time (the 1970s) shared in de Man’s intellectual project. The interview also takes up the difficult question of deconstruction’s institutional place and role in the academy (for example and pre-­eminently, at Yale). A number of the chapters – in particular, Chapter 7 – are marked by the lecture or

Author’s Preface    ­xi

journal occasions in which they originated. For the most part, I have not tried to reframe these because their “occasional” nature – and the institutional, pedagogical, or polemical context of the occasions – is very much part of their work of reading.


A number of the chapters that follow were published previously. The first two-­thirds of Chapter 1 first appeared in Diacritics 17:4 (Winter 1987), pp. 18–31; the first half of Chapter 2 in Arkady Plotnitsky and Tilottama Rajan (eds), Idealism Without Absolutes (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2004), pp. 39–50; Chapter 3 in Qui parle 6:1 (1992), pp. 93–112; Chapter 4 is excised from the “Prefatory Postscript” to my Readings in Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), pp. xxxv–liv; Chapter 5 in Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 15:2 (1991), pp. 93–120; Chapter 6 in Yale French Studies 74 (1988), pp. 261–84; Chapter 7 in Cathy Caruth and Deborah Esch (eds), Critical Encounters: Reference and Responsibility in Deconstructive Writing (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995), pp. 11–41; Chapter 8 in Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 33:3–4 (September–December 2006), pp. 311–36. The Johns Hopkins University Press is the copyright holder of the text originally printed in Diacritics; University of Nebraska Press for the text originally published in Qui parle. Permission to reprint is gratefully acknowledged. Many of the chapters and the Appendix in this book originated in invited lectures or essays written for various occasions. For these invitations and occasions, I am grateful to Cynthia Chase, Arkady Plotnitsky, Cathy Caruth, Georges Van Den Abbeele, Rainer Nägele, Wayne Klein, Kevin Newmark, and Stuart Barnett. I owe much, even at long distance, to the intellectual and personal generosity of Dick Macksey, Neil Hertz, Werner Hamacher, Carol Jacobs, and Sam Weber. Without J. Hillis Miller’s persistently cheerful and unaccountable encouragement – and Tom Cohen’s well-­aimed nudges – neither this book nor its companion volume Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man would have seen the light of day. The same is especially true for Martin McQuillan’s understated kindness, patience, and what I can only call (a manifestly undeserved) faith in my work and me. At Edinburgh University

Acknowledgements    ­xiii

Press, I am grateful for the help of Jackie Jones, Jenny Daly, Rebecca MacKenzie, and James Dale. Thanks to Cathy Falconer for her expert and intelligent copyediting. I have been fortunate to have the long-­term friendships of Ellen Burt and Kevin Newmark. The decades of electronic dialogue with Kevin have been particularly sustaining. Katia and Adrian make it all worthwhile – for now and for the future. This volume is dedicated to Cathrine, exemplary thinker and unexampled reader.

Chapter 1

Facing Language: Wordsworth’s First Poetic Spirits (“Blest Babe,” “Drowned Man,” “Blind Beggar”)

“It would be naive to believe that we could ever face Wordsworth, a poet of sheer language, outright. But it would be more naive still to think we can take shelter from what he knew by means of the very evasions which this ­knowledge renders impossible.” Paul de Man, “Wordsworth and the Victorians,” The Rhetoric of Romanticism

Among the institutionalized ways of not facing Wordsworth perhaps none continues to stand upright quite as solidly and fixedly – “as if sustained by its own spirit” (II, 280–1)1 – as the interpretation of the relationship between man and Nature, Imagination and Nature, in terms of a dialectic of immediacy and mediation, consciousness and self-­consciousness. A most suggestive global statement of this interpretation is offered by Geoffrey Hartman in “Romanticism and ‘Anti-­Self-­ Consciousness’” when he reminds us “that Romantic art has a function analogous to that of religion. The traditional scheme of Eden, fall, and redemption merges with the new triad of nature, self-­consciousness, imagination; while the last term in both involves a kind of return to the first” (54).2 In other words, if self-­consciousness marks a fall from Nature, then the only kind of return that would not be a regression to the immediacy of mere consciousness would be the return by way of still another turn of self-­consciousness. “Anti-­self-­consciousness” is not un-­ self-­consciousness but rather self-­consciousness of self-­consciousness, the (self-­)negation of the negativity of self-­consciousness. As Hegel puts it in his interpretation of the Fall quoted by Hartman: “the hand that inflicts the wound is also the hand that heals it” (49). In short, the mechanism involved in the last term’s being, in the last term’s becoming, a kind of return to the first is Hegelian negation of negation, the determinate negation that, because it is always the negation of something, always has a content and thus is never mere (one-­sided, abstract) negation. Without this mechanism, the return could go astray, as Hartman well knows:

­2    Material Inscriptions “Yet everything depends on whether it is the right and fruitful return. For the journey beyond self-­consciousness is shadowed by cyclicity, by paralysis before the endlessness of introspection, and by the lure of false ultimates” (54). But as long as the negativity of these haltings on the way can be experienced as the negation of self-­consciousness, it can be surmounted (sublated, aufgehoben, in Hegel’s terms) and recovered for the unity of a higher synthesis: the paradise regained of reflected, mediated immediacy, the clarified, self-­conscious Nature of the Imagination. We know what kind of interpretation of Wordsworth this path leads to, and Hartman’s Wordsworth’s Poetry 1787–1814 continues to stand as its most eloquent monument. But the shadows along the way beyond self-­consciousness are not confined to the recoverable, sublatable negativity proper to (self-­)consciousness. Another negative – for lack of a better word, a “linguistic negative,” one proper to language – haunts the journey all along the way and brings with it its own snares, its own cyclicity, paralysis, and false ultimates. To introduce this other negative, all we need do is to ask a direct question: what happens when, what if, the second term of the triad Nature/Self-­consciousness/Imagination is understood, is read, as a linguistic self-­reflection, a linguistic self-­consciousness, as it were, a linguistic turn of language upon language? The question is not idle or perverse since at least in the case of Wordsworth’s Prelude it is explicitly thematized throughout in a poem about poetry, about the relation of books and Nature (for instance, in Book V), about the relation of reading and seeing (for instance, in the drowned man episode in Book V and the Blind Beggar episode in Book VII). And, on an even more “immediate” level, the question is the very first “textual” (in the sense of “philological”) fact of our “experience” of the text of the Prelude: that is, the re-­visionary nature of the text, the fact of the many revisions, the many manuscripts of this autobiography. In other words, from one’s first experience of the text, what one gets is not any neat division between, on the one hand, Wordsworth’s life, his experience and his memory of that experience and, on the other hand, Wordsworth’s text, his manuscripts and his writing. Since the writing and the reading, and the rereading and the rewriting, are very much a part of Wordsworth’s life and experience, they become events in his life, what one rather gets from the first is texts upon texts – not just a story of how experience becomes text but also always already how text becomes experience. But the question remains whether the text – its writing and its reading – can become “part of” a life, whether that which works according to its own laws, the laws proper to language, can be recovered and included in that which (the experience of life) works according to the laws of consciousness and

Facing Language    ­3

self-­consciousness, according to the laws of the dialectic of experience (in the Hegelian sense: Erfahrung). The question is, of course, a problem for all autobiographies – because despite being written from the point of view of death, as it were, all autobiography is nevertheless written during the author’s lifetime – but it becomes particularly visible, particularly readable, whenever there are two autobiographies, for the one that comes second always has, in some sense, to include the first, the writing of the first, in its account of the life.3 Hartman is, of course, well aware of the disruption that something that happens during composition – “and which enters the poem as a new biographical event” (46)4 – can cause, as his interpretation of the uprising of Imagination before the eye and progress of Wordsworth’s song in Prelude VIb demonstrates: “The way is the song. But the song often strives to become the way. And when this happens, when the song seems to capture the initiative, in such supreme moments of poetry as VIb or even VIc, the way is lost” (47).5 But the “interposition [of the Imagination] in the very moment of writing,” as Hartman puts it, and the negativity of its disruptive power is recovered and crossed over precisely by being taken as a negative – as a negation of experience that therefore can in turn be experienced: in the case of VIb, a missed crossing (of the Alps) that can in turn be crossed over as missed, a negation of the crossing that is the crossing’s own, and so on. It is a familiar dialectic whose Hegelian rigor, at least in the case of Hartman’s interpretation of the crossing of the Alps, can be demonstrated point by point. What this means for our question – “What happens when, what if, the turn of self-­consciousness is understood linguistically, as a linguistic turn?” – is, simply, “Nothing happens, nothing what if.” For in such a recovery of the negative of writing, a negative peculiar to language, the understanding of language is, quite simply, not linguistic enough. That is, language and the text are being thought on the basis of phenomenological models. “Phenomenological” is meant here in the sense of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit as the logic of phenomena, as the logic of appearances – which logic brings along with it a whole series of concepts: experience (Erfahrung – the process of going over from one object of knowing to another object of knowing by way of the inversion and negation of the knower – consciousness – by way of a turn of self-­ consciousness), consciousness (Bewußtsein – a knower as knower of an object and of itself, a subject, as knower of the truth of the object and the certainty of the subject, etc.), subject and object, and so on. That is, concepts and terms whose meaning is modeled, at least initially (and ultimately), on sensory perception (the immediacy of presence/absence, inside/outside oppositions). If such is the linguistic model – i.e., ultimately

­4    Material Inscriptions based on perception – then its resiliency in the face of any negativity that “language” can muster is no wonder. In order for our question – “What happens when, what if . . .?” – to make a difference, we need to think “language” and “linguistic” differently, otherwise, no longer in terms of a phenomenology of language (or a “phenomenalization” of language). In my work on the Prelude I have come up with three linguistic models of the text (and of the poetic “I”) that, for lack of better terms, I call: 1) “performative,” 2) “tropological,” and 3) “inscriptional.” Each is a model that in setting itself up gets undone by becoming text, i.e., is not a model at all; and each is mutually intricated with the other two in any single passage of the Prelude. Demonstrating this would take a book-­ length series of readings, but, for short-­hand purposes, I can say that the “performative” model is provided by, for example, the “Blest the infant Babe” passage in Book II, the “tropological” model by, for example, the drowned man passage in Book V, and the “inscriptional” model by, for example, the Blind Beggar passage in Book VII. Here I propose to begin reading these three exemplary passages.

Blest Babe If we want to know what “language” and “linguistic” mean in Wordsworth’s Prelude, we could do worse than to begin with Wordsworth’s incredible baby, for it is a passage about the beginnings of language, a veritable “essay on the origins of language as poetic language,” as Paul de Man puts it.6 That this “essay” indeed takes its place among the eighteenth-­century speculations on the origins of language is already clear from its rhetorical status, for, like the stories of his predecessors, Wordsworth’s myth of origins is a theoretical fiction. Whereas the lines directly preceding the passage tell us that analyzing a soul is a hard task because “Not only general habits and desires, / But each most obvious and particular thought . . . in the words of reason deeply weighed – / Hath no beginning” (II, 233–5), the Blest Babe passage would not only “trace the progress of our being” but purports to tell us what the “first poetic spirit of our human life” is. Like Condillac’s wild children, Rousseau’s primitive man up against his “giant,” or Herder and his sheep, Wordsworth’s story is not a history that parcels out by geometric rules but an allegory. The fact that this allegory traces the origin of language not to some literal language of need but to the figural language of passion is also very much in line with its eighteenth-­ century predecessors. Small wonder, then, that like its predecessors this (circular) allegory of the passions has been misread as, literalized into, a

Facing Language    ­5

history of needs with a beginning, middle, and end. What is language at its origin according to Wordsworth? According to the naturalistic, literalistic interpretation of Richard Onorato, language for Wordsworth is to be understood in terms of a most traditional scheme, indeed, virtually an application of Hartman’s triad of Nature/Self-­consciousness/Imagination. Childhood, infancy (as in in-­fans, unable to speak), is a pre-­ conscious, pre-­ linguistic state: “infantile appetite, the capacity for almost unlimited sensation and fantasy comes in a period that is rich and dumb” (Onorato 622).7 In this state, the child’s communication with Nature is perceptual, immediate even though it takes place “through the mother,” for, as “the essential reality of the world,” the mother here is a veritable “Mother Nature.” Language, on the other hand, introduces self-­consciousness: because it is ultimately utilitarian and reductive, “language gradually limits the wonder of experience, darkens the vision and recollection of pleasure” (623). The reality of the mother and the child’s rich and dumb dialogues with her are absent. But, next, because her absent reality has been “traumatically introjected” and then this “preconscious sense of a lost relationship” has been projected into Nature, Wordsworth the poet, by listening to the “ghostly language of the ancient earth,” can use the Imagination to evoke in his poetry “lost objects of love and wonder,” “the infantile and fantastic sense of alternatives to reality, of a prior and superior existence, perhaps as soul, from which the sense of self and time are a gradual estrangement” (623). In short, poetry, because it is “partially elusive of the limits of ordinary human speech,” can “return through imagination to the past,” may even in fact uncover and present “a knowledge of what has been lost in death” (624). As traditional as this scheme may be, it leads Onorato into some symptomatic quandaries: for one, the curious conclusion that poetry is non-­linguistic – for him, poetry has a “‘light divine’ which suffuses objects and presents them ‘in flashes,’ whereas there is a darkness in language” (625), a most anti-­romantic position, since from at least Vico to at least Heidegger poetry is what is most linguistic, what language is at its origin and in its essence. This is due to Onorato’s confusing “language” with speaking, with its merely phenomenal nature, and thereby taking literally the “infancy” of the infant. In order to make this interpretation, Onorato needs to take all the terms referring to language in the Blest Babe passage as metaphors for perception. Thus in the lines “by intercourse of touch / I held mute dialogues with my Mother’s heart,” for Onorato, “mute dialogues” here is a metaphor for the passage of passion from mother to child (and vice versa) by the communication of touch. That is, he reads the “muteness” of these dialogues as referring

­6    Material Inscriptions to the absence, the negation, of sound, when “mute dialogues” could rather be read as referring precisely to a communication, a language, dia-­logos, deprived of speech: a speech deprived of speech, language deprived of speaking – mute. For this is indeed the kind of communication that takes place by intercourse of touch with the mother’s heart. It has to be some kind of semiotic or tropological transfer of passion here: that is, touch is a figure for a figural process (and not language a figure for perception). How touch someone’s heart? Unless “touch” is going to be understood as a rather gruesome surgical operation on the mother, it had better be a figure for a linguistic, semiotic (for instance, the child’s mute apprehension of the mother’s heartbeat as a sign of the mother’s love), or figural process (as in “Frank Sinatra touched our hearts”). In other words, unlike the Babe’s reading of the Mother, Onorato’s phenomenalizing, phenomenological interpretation cannot read “passion” – because it wants to think it in naturalistic, perceptual, pre-­conscious, pre-­linguistic terms: i.e., as a need – and hence cannot understand the origin of language. As Paul de Man puts it in a footnote on the erotic in “Hypogram and Inscription”: “Rather than being a heightened version of sense experience, the erotic is a figure that makes such experience possible. We do not see what we love but we love in the hope of confirming the illusion that we are indeed seeing anything at all”8 – a statement that applies not only to the sense of touch in the child’s mute dialogues with the mother’s heart but also to its “gathering passion from [the] mother’s eye.” How read passion in the eye? Considerably more subtle than Onorato, Frances Ferguson installs passion (or the affections) rather than perception as the focal point of her reading. In seeking to explain “the specific process through which nature – the visible world – becomes a substitute for the mother” (133),9 Ferguson asks: “but how was that link established before that beloved presence [the mother] became an absence?” (134). It was established on the basis of an “affection between mother and child so strong as to preclude the possibility of the child’s recognizing nature as something alien” (135). This affection is communicated in the passage of passion between the eye of the mother and the eye of the child – “the communion between the eyes of mother and child is so intense that it seems never to occur to him that he is external to her” (135–6) – in “a complicated projection – the projection of love from mother to child, the projection of love and absoluteness from child to mother, and the projection of the world from her eyes to his” (136). But because this communication and its complicated series of projections – the passage of passion from mother to child and back – is understood on the basis of the presence or the absence of the object of the passion, the old

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scheme returns: the communion that is so intense, so strong, is a pre-­ linguistic (perceptual) condition; language is “essentially different in seeming to be an institutional embodiment of the sudden perception of externality and separation” (137) and therefore is always second-­best, “an attempt to communicate across difference where difference was once never felt to exist” (137). And poetry winds up being “an elegy, an attempt to reimagine the certainty which the affections once lent to all perception” (138). But one could argue that in Wordsworth, as in Rousseau, passion has nothing to do with the presence or absence of the object. As the Preface to Julie puts it: “Love is mere illusion. It invents, so to speak, another universe; it surrounds itself with objects that do not exist or to which only love itself has given life. Since it expresses all its feelings by means of images it speaks only in figures (comme il rend tous ses sentiments en images, son langage est toujours figuré).”10 In fact, to understand this passionate scene of mother and child in terms of the presence or absence of the object is to understand the scene that is to found the subject/object relation in terms of that relation. Hence a trouble necessarily comes into Ferguson’s reading, and one symptom of it is the reading’s not being able to say what the pre-­linguistic link or bond or communion – so strong, so intense, etc. – between mother and child is except as an eye-­to-­eye “projection” – a projection which, as in the case of Onorato, can only be some kind of linguistic process (semiotic or figural, i.e., a tropological substitution between inside and outside). How else read or write passion, the passion of love, into the mother’s eye? The linguistic nature of the communion between the eyes of the mother and the child is already hinted at, indeed performed, by Ferguson’s reading, for the real passage between eye and eye in her argument takes place not as some perceptually based projection but on the back of a pun on the word pupil (from Latin pupilla – little orphan girl): “The pupil of the mother’s eye in fact presents itself to her child, her best pupil, as a charmed circle in which his own reflection seems united with all the reflections of the visible world surrounding the mother” (135, my emphasis). This slip of the pun can help us to read the child’s reading of passion as a linguistic act. First of all, the act is linguistic because the child, despite being an infant, in-­fans, reads passion in the mother’s eye (or breast or heartbeat) by performing a metaphorical process of gathering (as in lego, legere, or lesen) the metonymical dispersal of the mother’s parts (eye here, breast there, etc.) into an object: a face. This is not so much a process of projection as a process of conjecture – “For with my best conjectures I would trace / The progress of our being” (II, 238–9) – virtually a translation of the Greek sun-­ballein, throwing together, symbolization. It goes

­8    Material Inscriptions from the “elements and parts . . . else detached / And loth to coalesce” to “one appearance,” “one beloved presence,” and then out, back, to “all objects,” i.e., Nature, which are irradiated by the “virtue” of this “combining” power – a synecdochal or metaphorical process of forming parts into wholes. But even before this reading of metaphor, there is the linguistic act of the child “when his soul, / Claims manifest kindred with an earthly soul, / Doth gather passion from his mother’s eye” (II, 241–3). This is where the child constitutes himself as a subject, as a subject for a subject, and identifies himself as the child of his mother by making a claim to or shouting out (from clamo, clamare) the name of the mother: “Mommy” or, better, since this claim stakes out, appropriates, the mother as his mother – the kindred is manifest not just in the sense of “self-­evident” or “visible” but in the sense of mani-­fest, grasped by hand – “My Mommy!” In other words, the child is able to constitute itself as an I, a subject, thanks to the blind, arbitrary, and violent power of sheer linguistic positing. This act is blind and arbitrary because it is not based on anything that the child can see. Gathering passion from the mother’s eye is rather an act of reading: the blind imposition of love in the mother’s eye – a most arbitrary, unwarranted conclusion that runs something like: “I am seen, therefore I am loved, or therefore I am not a bastard.” Again, he does not love what he sees but rather loves in the hope of confirming the illusion that he is seeing anything at all: not “I love my mommy because I see her” but “I love my mommy in the hope that there will be a mommy to see (and hence an ‘I’ to see her).” In other words, the child constitutes itself as an “I” by appropriating the “eye” of the mother (as his mother): “I see myself being seen by an eye.” He inscribes the eye/I in the face of the mother. In the slippage of a pun or a pen (or a pen-­knife?), the child “slashes” the eye of the mother. The act that constitutes the mother as the mother – that puts her face together out of metonymically dispersed parts and elements (like the eye) – is also the act that, in a sense, mutilates her by using that face as a stage or a surface on which to play or inscribe the “I.” Linguistically speaking, there is as little (and as much) violence in this act as in the punctuation mark that “slashes” the eye/I. This linguistic act could be called a “catachresis” – the imposition of a name and a sense where there is none – but it would have to be a catachresis that is an act, that has a performative power.11 Hence one could call it a performative, but it would be a performative that is illegitimate because the two necessary conditions of a successful p ­ erformative – the conventional procedures and the proper persons (here mother and child) – do not exist before the “utterance” of this performative. In short, it would have to be a performative that would institute its own

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legitimacy, a self-­legitimating performative. But as soon as one talks about the legitimacy of a performative, one is reinscribing it within cognitive constraints, questions of epistemological authority, truth and falsehood, and so on. That is, to determine that a performative came off and did not misfire, it is necessary to verify (as in make true) that the conventional procedures were followed under the appropriate circumstances by the duly empowered legal subjects. But since in the case of the self-­constitution of the “I,” the only procedures, circumstances, and persons provided are those of language – a performative, tropological, or inscriptional “system” that cannot authorize or legitimate anything (and which is not a subject) – it is no wonder that the “I” needs to legitimate itself by recourse, reference, to something “outside” language, whether it be called “perception” or “passion” or “affection.” But such recourse is always the story of a cover-­up, an allegory of the disjunction between act and knowledge, position and reflection, performative and cognitive, a disjunction always already “within” language. In the case of the Blest Babe passage, the cover-­up covers the writing off of the mother – for the act that writes her into the text (in a celebratory tone) is also the act that writes her off, has always already written her off, as a text. That is, in taking his mother as a stage, a stage prop12 in fact, a scene on which to play his “I,” the child kills her by reading her as already dead.13 The narrative that follows the act – and within which this act is inscribed (not unlike the inscription of the eye in the face of the mother) – is an attempted legitimation and verification, an attempt by knowledge and reflection to catch up with the act, with what happened, the event. But this narrative can only be the story of a cover-­up, covering up the illegitimacy of the blind act of self-­positing by a story. And, as it turns out, it is the story of the disposal of the already dead mother’s body: the “props” of the child’s affections are removed, and yet the building stands (that is, the building of the I’s passionate relation to the mother which he can then transfer by analogy, as it were, to Mother Nature). But the props as props (i.e., the mother) were always already removed, their removal was the condition for the construction of the building – meaning that if Wordsworth’s mother dies in this passage, it is not because it “really happened” (Wordsworth’s mother died ere he was eight years old) but because, textually speaking, she had to: it is a linguistic necessity, one of those “necessary accidents” of language (utterly random and utterly determined simultaneously: i.e., overdetermined). Or, to put it even more directly, Wordsworth’s mother died so that the Wordsworth Baby could become an “I” and the Boy Wordsworth could become a poet. And this holds for all the other deaths and mutilations cluttering Wordsworth’s poetry: dead Lucys, dead Boys,

­10    Material Inscriptions drowned schoolteachers, disfigured and maimed men and women. In its effort to catch up with its posited self, the self is rather caught up with by the death that made the self-­positing possible: the death performed by the self on a stage – whether it be the marking or mutilation or murder of the mother or of Mother Nature14 or, ultimately, the mutilation of the self for which all the other deaths are a figure. Such, verily, is the first (murderous) poetic spirit of our not-­so-­human life. However sketchy, this reading of the “origin” of the self, of subjectivity, and of language may help us toward a new beginning, a new itinerary, and a new triad for the rereading of Wordsworth’s Prelude. In brief, the new story would run something like this: 1) a blind act of self-­ positing – like the claim on the mother’s eye or, for that matter, like the claim to blessing in the gentle breeze at the very outset (“O there is blessing in this gentle breeze” is the “opening” of the Prelude – an opening that is not at all the “glad preamble” it seems to be at first but rather a self-­quotation, indeed a stutter of sorts); 2) the story of attempted legitimation of that claim by reflection, and reflection’s inevitably coming up against an opacity, a self-­opacity, a radical lack of knowledge that it cannot surmount (aufheben) – for knowledge can never know an act, it can only reflect on it after the fact; a lack of knowledge, then, that reflection cannot surmount without 3) reperforming the blind act of self-­positing. Some compact examples of this itinerary would be, again, the much-­deferred, stuttering opening of the Prelude; the recovery, by apostrophe, from the “dim and undetermined sense of unknown modes of being” after the row-­boat stealing episode in Book II (“Wisdom and Spirit of the Universe . . .”); or the “recovery” from the missed crossing of the Alps in Book VI by an apostrophe on Imagination which turns out to be a self-­apostrophizing: “And now, recovering, to my soul I say / ‘I recognise thy glory’ . . .” The upshot in each of these passages is that the “first,” blind act of self-­positing is not totalized, recovered, recuperated, by its “repetition” (in step #3) because it is separated from itself by reflection’s attempt to know the act, by an impossible reading of an act of reading. “Claims manifest kindred,” for example, is indeed an act (“claim”) of reading (“kindred” means “reading [from raedan] of kinship”). Hence this story is not some teleologically oriented history that would allow the act finally to coincide with itself but rather is, for lack of another word, an allegory, and an allegory of self-­unreadability at that: the reading of unreadability is what comes between one act and another, one act and “itself” (just as the blind act comes between reading and reading). In other words, it makes little difference whether we conceive of this story, this allegory, as a sequence that goes from 1) blind act to 2) reflection and its opacity to 3) blind act, or that goes

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from 1) reflection and its opacity to 2) blind act to 3) reflection and its opacity. What matters rather is the disjunction between language and “itself” – for instance, as knowledge and as action, cognitive and performative, and so on – and the hinging or articulation (or, better, unhinging and disarticulation) of that disjunction. In order better to mark the (dis)articulation of that disjunction – better than by phrases like “allegory of unreadability” – it would be good to know more precisely, i.e., on the level of language, what happens in step #2 (or #1 or #3), that is, in the story of reflection’s attempt to catch up with and legitimate the blind, unknowing act of self-­positing and its being unable to do so. On the basis of a reading of the Blest Babe passage, we know a little better what happens in the blind act of self-­ positing: i.e., in linguistic terms, a performative that misfires because it would be and cannot be self-­legitimating (since it is not a self but rather the attempted institution of a self). And we also get a certain indication towards what happens in the story of reflection and its opacity: that is, the setting up of a tropological system – a system of figure, a system of metaphor. Here it is the figure or metaphor of the mother’s face which is then transferred, transported, carried over, to the figure or metaphor of the face of Mother Nature. The illegitimate imposition of a face on the mother (as the face of the mother) is transferred in turn by illegitimate analogy to the face of Nature – a transfer that is as much a catachresis as “face of a mountain” or “head of lettuce.” How do these illegitimate acts catch up with reflection and render it opaque to itself – on the level of language? If the story of reflection is the story of the setting up of a tropological system, a system of metaphor, then the story of reflection’s opacity will be the story of that system’s inability to constitute itself as a system, its inability to close itself off: in short, it will be the story of the undoing of the system of metaphor, metaphor’s self-­undoing.

Drowned Man Book V of the Prelude (entitled “Books”) – and in particular the famous episode of the drowned man – provides a good example of the undoing of a system of metaphor because it is explicitly about the figure of the face (the face of man and the face of Nature) and the unsettling opacities of its reading.15 That it is a question of reading the figure of the face of Nature is clear from the beginning of Book V, for its prologue sets up the basis of the book’s tropological system as follows: “Hitherto / In progress through this verse my mind hath looked / Upon the speaking face of earth and heaven / As her prime teacher, intercourse with

­12    Material Inscriptions man / Established by the Sovereign Intellect, / Who through that bodily image hath diffused / A soul divine which we participate, / A deathless spirit” (V, 10–17). As Timothy Bahti has pointed out, looking at a speaking face is quite clearly a reading16 – how else look at a speaking? – and equally clear is that here it is the reading of a book. That is, the Sovereign Intellect or the deathless spirit – call it God – manifests itself to man, gives itself a face, in a book: the Book of Nature. This is a conventional enough topos, here made explicit in the analogy between the Sovereign Intellect’s book and the book-­ making activities of man: “Thou also, man, hast wrought, / For commerce of thy nature with itself, / Things worthy of unconquerable life; / And yet we feel – we cannot chuse but feel – / That these must perish” (V, 17–21). In other words, just like God, man makes himself a face – a face for his mind or his “immortal being” – in the form of books. Of course, there is an asymmetry between their respective books: whereas the Book of Nature’s perishing is only the sign of its future return and revival (“presage sure, / Though slow perhaps, of a returning day”), man’s books, it seems, perish utterly in a way qualitatively different from that of Nature. I have begun the reading of this asymmetry elsewhere;17 its understanding is indeed crucial for a reading of the Dream of the Arab that follows directly upon the prologue in Book V. Here I am more concerned with the setting up of the tropological system of analogy and substitution – between God’s Book and man’s books, God’s face and man’s face – and its implications for a reading of the face of the drowned man. For despite the asymmetry between their different perishings, the analogy is clear and untroubling enough: the speaking face of earth and heaven or the bodily image is to the Sovereign Intellect or the deathless spirit as books are to the ­immortal being or mind of man: speaking face of earth and heaven, bodily image ______________________ Sovereign Intellect or deathless spirit

books ______________ immortal being

The analogy is untroubling and reassuring because it amounts to the statement of a phenomenological, incarnational, model of language and the text: indeed, a veritable phenomenology of spirit – the logic of how spirit appears, the logic of its phenomenal appearance. And the closer man’s books follow the phenomeno-­logic of God’s, the better or bodily their chancesspeaking of beingface recovered and redeemed like the Book of Nature. image body garments books (“garments” Nevertheless,_____________________ there is at least a hint of trouble in God’s Book’s, _____ here ________ _________________ the speakingSovereign face of earth and heaven, being a “bodily image.” Intellect soul called body immortal being of man, mind

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The trouble is not so much in the difference between God’s Book and man’s books as in the difference internal to God’s. That is, on the one hand, the meaning of calling Nature a “bodily image” is quite clear: Nature is the bodily, physical, phenomenal manifestation of something intellectual or spiritual – namely the Sovereign Intellect or the deathless spirit. But, on the other hand, “bodily image” also means that Nature is an image, a figure, taken from the (human) body: for instance, in the sense that giving Nature a “face” (as in “speaking face of earth and heaven”) is very much a tropological transfer from the human body and onto Nature. Trees and fields do not have faces but people (especially mothers) do. (The possibility of this second reading of “bodily image” is certainly supported by the text’s writing “that bodily image” – as though to confirm that the image is “bodily” in the sense that the figure of the speaking face is bodily.) The second, other reading is potentially troubling because it introduces the possibility that the “speaking face” of Nature, God’s Book, rather than being the incarnation of a deathless spirit – God’s phenomenal figure, as it were – is rather a man-­made face, man’s book, man’s image – a figural substitution and transfer not between spirit and body but merely between one (physical) body and another: from the face of man to the “face” of rocks and stones and trees. Rather than the image of God, the “speaking face” would be the “image” of man – in fact, worse than that, an image of language, an image created by man’s language, by man’s speech. For it is only insofar as man has a speaking face, insofar as he speaks, that he has a face at all, since his having a face is also the product of a figural, tropological, metaphorical linguistic process (as in the construction of the mother’s face in the Blest Babe passage). In other words, as a “bodily image,” the transfer or transport or metaphor of the “speaking face” would not be a transport to spiritual transcendence of any sort but rather a tropological substitution very much confined to the horizontal plane of exchanges between body and body – without any spirit’s necessarily manifesting itself through it. Again, rather than being God’s Book, Nature would be man’s book – or rather language’s book, a product of the same tropological operations that man’s book-­making activity entails – and thus perhaps subject to the same perishing. We give Nature a perishable face in order to say that it has an immortal spirit, just as we give other human beings and ourselves faces in order to say that they and we have immortal souls or spirits. On the level of language, or as far as the rhetorical structure is concerned, the operation is the same. And insofar as he makes books, God – whoever or whatever he may be – is also subject to their “human,” that is, linguistic, conditions. The difference between the two books (not God’s Book and man’s books but God’s Book and

­14    Material Inscriptions language’s book) – that is, the difference between an incarnational, inspirited Book (a Book diffused with a spirit, “a soul divine”) and a disincarnate, dispirited book – returns (and with a vengeance) with the dead face of the drowned man and the word that links it to the prologue and the ostensibly living face of Nature: “garment.” At first sight, it may appear more than a little perverse – as in “turning the wrong way” – to see anything beside an incarnational textual model in this passage. The “ghastly face” of the drowned man may be devoid of spirit, but, after all, the point of the story is precisely the reinspiriting of this “spectre shape”: the boy Wordsworth is not possessed by “vulgar fear” because his “inner eye had seen / Such sights before among the shining streams / Of fairyland, the forests of romance” (V, 475–7). That is, he is not frightened by the spectacle of the drowned man because he had read of such sights in books. It is a spirit coming from books that now reinspirits the corpse and renders it an aesthetic object with ideal meaning, a veritable work of art, as the (presumably very stiff) drowned man becomes sculpture: “Thence [i.e., from books] came a spirit hallowing what I saw / With decoration and ideal grace, / A dignity, a smoothness, like the works / Of Grecian art and purest poesy” (V, 478–81).18 Although we may wonder at the haste with which aesthetic education transforms a human, i.e., material, fact into an edifying scene with an ideal meaning – in brief, the drowned man is not just not terrible but positively beautiful (if not downright sublime) – at least on the thematic level the text is unequivocal in its being for an incarnational (sacrificial, resurrectional, aesthetic, dialectical) model of language and the text. But to confine oneself to the thematic level is to see rather than to read, and this passage is precisely about the difference between seeing and reading or rather about the unbroken link, the possibility of passing relatively uncomplicatedly, between the two – from face to book, from book to face. Indeed, we can formulate what happens as follows: what he saw in reading allows him to read what he sees. That is, the sights he saw while reading books allow him now to take what he sees as a book to be read. What he saw in reading allows him to read what he sees – a neat chiasmic reversal between seeing and reading. But is the chiasmus symmetrical? Is there nothing left over or missing in the happy crossing between Nature and Books? Whatever this “nothing” may be, it is certainly not the corpse or the ghastly face of the drowned man. For being reinspiritable as it is, the corpse participates in the Nature – the Book of Nature – through which the Sovereign Intellect has diffused a soul divine. In fact, the corpse’s reinspiriting here by a spirit coming from man’s books can be taken as a figure, presage sure, of its reinspiriting – its resurrection and transfiguration – by God on the

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last day. In short, the corpse remains very much within the tropological system – the speaking face of earth and heaven is to the Sovereign Intellect or the deathless spirit as man’s books are to his immortal being – that the prologue had set up. The corpse is a figure for the literal, as it were, the dead letter in need of being redeemed by the living spirit, and, as such, within a tropological system where literal is to figurative as physical or sensuous is to spiritual or intelligible. (And one can see how the phenomenological, dialectical, aesthetic interpretation of this passage and all of Wordsworth [and all of poetry] – and the patristic model of allegorical reading that is part and parcel of this interpretation – follows; follows, that is, as long as the corpse remains inscribed in this ­tropological system.) But this tropological system and its analogies hold only as long as we keep turning toward the corpse – and turning from the corpse to books modeled on the incarnational body-­is-­to-­soul relation. For what the incarnational, sacrificial interpretation has consistently to turn away from, what it always does not see and cannot read, are the garments of the drowned man: that “heap of garments” Wordsworth sees distinctly on the opposite shore “left as I supposed / By one who there was bathing” (V, 460–2). Wordsworth supposes that the garments have a sup-­poser, a sub-­ject, and awaits their re-­sub-­jection, “but no one owned them.” What’s the story with these garments? Although the passage very quickly abandons the garments for the corpse and for the spirit coming from books – we never do find out what happened to them – this somewhat unsightly heap of “unclaimed garments” has quite a tale to tell. And it is very much a “plain tale” (“Those unclaimed garments telling a plain tale” [V, 467]), not at all a pretty sight. For in telling a tale, the garments are books, and books that provide a textual model different from that of the fairy tales and romances whose spirit hallows the corpse. But the garments are also books, were already books, because the prologue had already called books garments, and abandoned garments at that: “Tremblings of the heart / It gives, to think that the immortal being / No more shall need such garments” (V, 21–3). As such, i.e., as books, the garments are the hinge or articulation of the tropological system set up, in fact the articulation or jointing between man’s books and God’s Book, man’s books and the Book of Nature. How? In brief: once books are called garments, it becomes clear that the analogy between God’s Book and man’s books – the speaking face of earth and heaven is to the Sovereign Intellect as books are to man’s immortal being – is articulated on the analogy body is to soul as garments are to body. This is an old analogy, and it produces some old metaphors: for instance, one can say that the body is “the garment of the soul.” And, indeed, one can also say

­16    Material Inscriptions something a little more weird like the garment is “the body of the body” (or the soul is “the body of the garments”). Despite such possibilities, it is easy enough to see how it is that books could be figured as garments: that is, books are garments because like them (and like the body in relation to the soul) they are the visible, external covering of an invisible, internal covered, they are the visible, carnal manifestation of an invisible, spiritual entity – here the “garments” of man’s “immortal being.” speaking face of earth And it is equally easy to see how God’s Book, the Book of Nature, as and heaven, bodily image books the ______________________ “bodily image” of a Sovereign Intellect or a deathless spirit, could ______________ alsoSovereign be figured as a garment: just as the body is the garment of the soul, Intellect immortal being so the body of spirit Nature, her speaking face, can be said to be the garment or deathless of the deathless spirit. This is all well and good. The analogy body is to soul as garment is to body links, and verifies the link between, God’s Book on the one side and man’s books on the other. This can be schematized thus: speaking face or bodily image _____________________ Sovereign Intellect

body _____ soul

garments ________ body

books (“garments”) _________________ immortal being of man, mind

Nevertheless, a trouble is introduced into this tropological system of analogies by the surfacing of the drowned man’s corpse. For what happens is that the corpse is introduced into the slot in the analogy occupied by the body. And the analogy now reads: the corpse is to the soul of corpse. the thing-in-itself as thesounds garments are to Xthe On the one hand, this is as it should ___________ ________________________ be and is not at all threatening: in relation to the soul or the immortal sand-figures words, language, metaphor being, the mortal body was, in a sense (for instance, as fallen and unredeemed), dead all along, and hence in need of hallowing by a spirit. In rhetorical terms, the corpse, or the body as mortal, in relation to the soul is just figure of forthethe literal,ofthe dead letter inthings-in-themselves need of conversion to X (orthe “truth”) relation metaphor to X of _____________________________________________________________ and redemption by the living spirit. But the real problem comes with the Chladni’s sound-figures introduction of themetaphor corpse inofthe slot of the body in the relation garments are to body. For in occupying the slot of the body in this relation – which now reads “garments are to corpse” – the corpse occupies the slot that the spirit or the soul, analogously, occupies in relation to the body or the corpse. This means that the corpse – in the relation garments to corpse – can now be read, now has to be read, as the figure for a dead spirit or a “deathful spirit,” as it were. And, on the other side, there is now nothing to stop us from reading the soul or the spirit as the figure for a “living corpse,” let us say, a “spiritual corpse” or a “soulful corpse,” a

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“zombie” or the “living dead.” In short, the relation “garments are to corpse” introduces the possibility that the body, too, rather than being the dead (because mortal) visible, physical covering of a living (because immortal) invisible, spiritual covered, may be the dead covering of a dead covered, the garment of a garment that may “cover” or “manifest” or “incarnate” nothing but a dead spirit or no spirit, i.e., be a zombie. None of these is threatening in itself as long as we conceive of it as a garment (or a body) of something living or spiritual. The real terror comes only with the possibility of a garment of a garment, a body of a body, or a corpse of a corpse. And it is instructive that the text itself, no matter how much it is for the incarnational model of books, of language and the text, inscribes such a figure in the phrases “spectre shape” and “ghastly face.” In both of these formulations the tension between, on the one hand, the ghostly, the undefined, the undelimited, and the undetermined and that which comes from the realm of defined and delimited determined surfaces is readable: spectre/shape, ghastly (which is the same thing as “ghostly”)/face. The latter is particularly unsettling in the context of a poem about faces, about giving and making faces – whether they be those of man or of Nature, i.e., God’s face. For, as should be clear enough, just as man’s face may “cover” or “manifest” or “figure” no spirit or a dead spirit, so the “speaking face” of Nature may “cover” or “manifest” or “figure” nothing but a deathful spirit or a dead God. As a garment, Nature too may be only the garment of a garment, the dead visible covering of a dead, invisible covered. As soon as we give Nature a face, we inscribe it in the same tropological system that produces zombies and the living dead. In calling Nature a “speaking face,” we also necessarily turn it into a “ghastly face.” In any case, the figures of dead spirits or living corpses – their spectre shapes or ghastly faces – are not as such what is of theoretical, i.e., rhetorical, interest here. Rather it is the regular production of these figures and its necessity that we must interrogate. What does it mean on the level of language, in rhetorical terms, for the tropological system (of metaphor) that the prologue had set up? Summarily stated, it means this: once the corpse is introduced into this system of analogy – in garments are to corpse as corpse is to soul – the system is “opened up” radically and can no longer be closed off for regular metaphorical substitutions between literal and figurative in which the relation literal to figurative remains analogous to the relation physical to spiritual, sensuous to intelligible. But in order to understand how it is that the tropological system cannot close itself off, it is necessary to notice, to see, better, to read, the heap of garments of the drowned man. Because it is only when we notice these garments that we are also forced to notice that the corpse is

­18    Material Inscriptions not just the “figure for the literal” (the carnal, the mortal, etc.) but also (always already) the figure for the figural, the figure for figure – namely, in relation to the garments. (The moral is: a naked corpse is not so fearful. One can recover from the spectacle by reinspiriting it or aesthetifying it. It is rather the garments of the corpse that are threatening, for they make readable the possibility that the body too, the corpse, is just a dead, material remainder rather than an incarnate spirit. Again: there is nothing to fear from naked corpses; it is only a corpse with clothes that will get you.) In short, once you create figures for the literal or, even more minimally, once you create figures, once you read figuratively – for instance, when you figure books as “garments” – you make it possible to read any term of any analogy – for instance, any term in the analogy garments are to body as body is to soul – either literally or figuratively, as either a figure for the literal or a figure for figure. And since this includes the terms of the relation literal/figurative, it means that the analogy between the relation physical/spiritual and literal/figurative no longer holds. (For the analogy to hold, it does not matter whether “literal” is aligned with “physical” or with “spiritual,” whether “figurative” is aligned with “spiritual” or with “physical.” What does matter, however, is that in a given tropological system each of these terms remains on the other side of its other term – “physical” [i.e., dead] on one side and “spiritual” [i.e., living] on the other, etc. – so that “physical” and “spiritual,” living and dead [and “literal” and “figurative”], do not, as it were, inter-­contaminate one another. Reading the garments as the garments of a corpse makes such contamination inevitable.) As soon as the (mortal, dead) body can be the figure for the (immortal, living) spirit – in garments are to body as body is to spirit – so can the immortal spirit be the figure for an immortal, living corpse, and the mortal body can be the figure for the dead spirit. Perhaps a helpful way to summarize the reading of the garments and the trouble it brings is in terms of the differential relay system that travels on the back of the figure of garments. That is, the relay goes from books (i.e., “garments”) in the prologue of Book V to the abandoned garments of the drowned man (which are also books in that they tell a tale) to the corpse (the abandoned garment of the soul), which latter is to be hallowed by a spirit coming from books (i.e., garments!). This is a relay system that is supposed to produce the fiction of the soul, the living spirit (whether man’s or God’s), by postponing it, deferring it, displacing it. But once one traces, i.e., reads, the relay from the abandoned garments that are books to the abandoned garments that are books, one notices that the text would have books hallow themselves, garments hallow garments, books bless books. The trouble is that the

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only “spirit” that can come from books, from reading books, to hallow books is a dead spirit, for it is precisely books, reading books – in a minimal sense, taking literally or figuratively, taking even literal and figurative literally or ­figuratively – that introduces an other, “linguistic” death into the tropological system and its relay of analogies in the first place. And this “dead” of the spirit is all the more deadly, for it is not dead in the way that a corpse is dead (i.e., in comparison to the living spirit or soul that has presumably abandoned it). No, the dead spirit coming from books is dead in the way that the garments of a corpse are dead, as a garment of a garment. This is, again, a “linguistic death” – a death proper to language. How get this linguistic, tropological machine that produces nothing but garments of garments – dead souls and living corpses, figures for figure – to produce a garment of a body or a body of a soul, to produce a living spirit that will allow garments to hallow garments, books to bless books? (Or, as an ad for a horror movie put it: “How do you kill what isn’t alive?”) One time-­honored way – and it is the Boy Wordsworth’s way in the drowned man episode – is to aesthetify it, turn it into a work of art with an ideal content and a dignified and edifying moral to teach. Such a turn is what Paul de Man in his last work called “aesthetic ideology,” and the drowned man passage is a veritable model of it, aesthetic ideology incarnate as it were. If “ideology is precisely the confusion of linguistic with natural reality, of reference with phenomenalism,”19 as de Man puts it, then the boy Wordsworth’s aesthetification of the corpse is a text-­ book example. For, ironically enough, the boy’s turn from the corpse to books is not, as it would seem to be, a turn from the phenomenal to the linguistic, from seeing (the corpse) to reading (the books), but the reverse. In order to shield himself from the spectacle and the terror of natural death, the boy turns to books all right, but to books not as read but as seen. The text says so: “my inner eye had seen such sights before . . .” If what he saw in reading allows the boy to read what he sees, it is because books, reading, are conceived here on the basis of the phenomenological, incarnational (sacrificial, resurrectional), dialectical model of language and the text and the whole chain of metaphorical polarities that this model brings with it: outer eye/inner eye, physical sight/­spiritual sight, and so on. In other words, turning to the corpse and away from the heap of garments allows the boy to remain within the tropological system of metaphor that has been set up, whereas turning to the garments would have disarticulated that system and its substitutions. Again: seeing books allows the “I” not to read the heap of garments. The turn to books is ironically a turn away from reading – away from truly linguistic models of language and the text back

­20    Material Inscriptions to phenomenological, incarnational models. If the boy Wordsworth follows this logic, this ideo-­logic – that of aesthetic ideology – the text Wordsworth knows, does, better in its rhetoric.20

Blind Beggar If the reading of the drowned man’s garments leads to the undoing of the metaphorical model that the prologue to Book V had set up – by a sort of metonymical sliding on the back of the signifier “garments” from garments of bodies and bodies of souls to garments of garments – then the famous and enigmatic Blind Beggar passage in Book VII (“London”) would seem, at least at first glance, to be an attempt to recover and to reconstitute a metaphorical model of the text out of the sheer metonymical juxtaposition and dispersal of life in the city and its continual erosion of meaning. For Wordsworth’s London is indeed a realm of sheer metonymy – an “endless stream of men and moving things,” “the quick dance / Of colours, lights and forms” with its “Babel din,” just one thing after another: “here, there, and everywhere, a weary throng, / The comers and the goers face to face – / Face after face” (VII, 156–8 and 171–2). The erosion of meaning that takes place in the city street is conveyed well here: what should be an experience of communication and genuine recognition – “face to face” – quickly turns into mere metonymical one-­thing-­after-­another juxtaposition – “face after face.” Toward the end of Book VII, Wordsworth calls this realm of sheer, lawless metonymy “blank confusion,” “a type not false / Of what the mighty city is itself” (VII, 696–7). He even provides a “law” for this lawlessness when he describes how in the city “the same perpetual flow of trivial objects” gets “melted and reduced / To one identity by differences / That have no law, no meaning, and no end” (VII, 702–5). That is, these differences that have no law, no meaning, and no end become indifferent, utter sameness, and hence a blank confusion. But Wordsworth also provides something of a remedy for the blankness of this confusion, a way to get (vertically) metaphorical meaning to stand out from (horizontally) metonymic juxtaposition, by introducing a different sort of “looking” at the scene and an observer able to interpret it on the basis of a deeper understanding and subtler feeling: “But though the picture weary out the eye, / By nature an unmanageable sight, / It is not wholly so to him who looks / In steadiness, who hath among least things / An under-­sense of greatest, sees the parts / As parts, but with a feeling of the whole” (VII, 708–13). He who looks in steadiness is able not only to discern a deeper meaning even among those “trivial objects” in the city

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but also to perform a synecdochal reading of these objects as parts that make up a whole, in other words, to reconstruct a metaphorical structure out of metonymical dispersal. Thanks to his having been brought up in the country – where he had “early converse with the works of God” (VII, 719), i.e., Nature – Wordsworth himself, he professes, is such a looker. Given this hermeneutic – based as it is on oppositions like, say, intermittent/steady, surface sense/under-­sense, least/greatest, and the relation part/whole – it is certainly understandable that the Blind Beggar episode would be taken as precisely such an act of interpretation, the “steadiness” of a look that is able to convert a sight quite common in the streets of London (“a sight not rare”) into a sublime moment and to turn the bleakest sightlessness into an occasion for visionary experience. The simile that serves as a prologue to the more developed 1850 version of the Blind Beggar would seem to offer an example and a further explication of the hermeneutic of looking in “steadiness”: As the black storm upon the mountain top Sets off the sunbeam in the valley, so That huge fermenting mass of human-­kind Serves as a solemn back-­ground, or relief, To single forms and objects, whence they draw, For feeling and contemplative regard, More than inherent liveliness and power. (1850 VII, 619–25)

A clearly phenomenological perceptual model is at work here. The ­foreground/background relation in the city is analogized to the light/ dark relation in nature: “single forms and objects” can indeed be perceived only against a background (just as in the hermeneutic model of understanding any particular meaning is to be understood against an ultimate horizon of meaning). But in this simile it is not just a matter of perceiving these forms and objects with the outer physical eye, for the foreground/background relation leads immediately to a movement of internalization and a seeing with the inner, imaginative or spiritual, eye: those single forms and objects draw from the background (“that huge fermenting mass of human-­kind”) more liveliness and power than inheres in them for internal “feeling” and looking (“contemplative regard”). This movement of internalization to a looking with the inner eye is indeed what takes place often (“oft”) when Wordsworth goes forward with the crowd in the streets of London. “‘The face of every one / That passes by me is a mystery!’,” Wordsworth says to himself as he proceeds to look: “Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look, oppressed / By thoughts of what and whither, when and how, / Until the shapes before my eyes became / A second-­sight procession, such as glides / Over still

­22    Material Inscriptions mountains, or appears in dreams” (1850 VII, 630–4). That is, oppressed by a constant looking at the mystery of “face after face” without rhyme or reason, Wordsworth slides into a reverie-­ish state in which his physical sight becomes an imaginative “second-­sight”: the shapes he actually sees turn into a “procession” like one that might appear in the shapes of clouds gliding over mountains or “appear” in dreams when our eyes are closed. It is already clear, then, that whatever the “view” of the blind Beggar is, it is not any simple move toward an inner, imaginative vision by means of a process of internalization. Since Wordsworth is already lost in such a reverie-­ish state when he sees with an imaginative “second-­sight” – indeed, he is “far-­travelled in such mood” (1850 VII, 635) – the view of the blind Beggar is rather a moment of abrupt awakening from his reverie and a return to “first sight,” i.e., to seeing again with the physical eye of the body. The text is most explicit: “And once [cf. “oft”], far-­travelled in such mood, beyond / The reach of common indication, lost / Amid the moving pageant, I was smitten / Abruptly, with the view (a sight not rare) / Of a blind Beggar” (1850 VII, 635–9). This means, then, that if the Beggar “stands out” from the crowd, it is not against the background of “that huge fermenting mass of human-­ kind” but rather against the “background” of an internalized, imaginative “second-­sight” vision of the crowd. This is why – despite being a common sight in the streets of London – the view of the Beggar can be so striking. It is from there that the sight of him gains more than inherent liveliness and power for feeling and contemplative regard. Rather than seeing the Beggar as any kind of figure, the view by which Wordsworth is smitten is precisely a turn to a stark, stripped-­down, literalness face to face: “a blind Beggar, who, with upright face, / Stood, propped against a wall, upon his chest / Wearing a written paper, to explain / His story, whence he came, and who he was” (1850 VII, 639–42). What to do with the Beggar and the label he “wears” like a garment? What most of the critics do is predictable: since the passage moves from a seeing with the outer, physical eye of the body to a “seeing” with the inner, spiritual eye of the soul or the imagination, then this “third sight” must be a synthesis of the outer and inner sight, a return to physical sight, yes, but one now transformed and transfigured by having passed through the movement of internalization and self-­consciousness. In other words, the episode ultimately gets interpreted according to a modified version of Hartman’s very useful Nature/Self-­consciousness/ Imagination dialectical triad, meaning that the third moment here – the view of the Beggar – is to be understood as in some sense a creative re-­ externalization of internal images thanks to the power of an Imagination able to transport Wordsworth (and us) to a realm beyond the world of

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single forms and objects and the shapes before our eyes: to “another world” that transcends this one and its background/foreground, outer/ inner, sensuous/spiritual models of perception. It would be, as Geoffrey Hartman admirably phrases it, a “sight revealing a power in the mind independent of sight.”21 Of course, it is not the stark, sheer bareness and literalness of the Beggar himself that can reveal this power of Imagination, but rather the Beggar together with his “label,” his steadfast face together with – or in contrast to – the “written paper” he wears. It is this “spectacle” that operates a full-­scale conversion (con-­versio, to turn about completely) with apocalyptic overtones – “my mind turned round / As with the might of waters” – and that serves as a figure for “the utmost we can know, / Both of ourselves and of the universe,” i.e., both a lot of knowledge, indeed absolute knowledge, on the one hand, and very little knowledge, the limits of knowledge, on the other. How read this moment of conversion and its quasi-­apocalyptic revelation? According to Frances Ferguson, the Blind Beggar episode “yields an external image which is converted to one of startling internality” (143) and is to be read in terms of the internal/external oppositions throughout. The Beggar “is absolutely a beggar, in having to hope that the words written for him and his sightless face will arouse an imagination of his inward existence, a pity which can only be communicated through the giving of alms” (143). For Ferguson, Wordsworth’s description of the written paper in fact goes beyond pity for the individual man to issue “in an identification which is less self-­pity than a universalized lament” (143). This would be a lament for “the dependency of all internal being” on “external form,” which external form is in turn “pleading for meaning from the reader” (144). The “external forms” the Beggar needs in order to construct his “internal world” become a “chain of ­communication” – thanks to a “chain of affections” – by means of which “the beggar’s internal story has been made voice” to be then “translated in another external form (the writing), which functions both as a reading of the beggar’s story and an appeal to other readers” (144). Ferguson summarizes her interpretation: “Thus, the ‘Blind Beggar’ episode operates both as an insight into the alienness of external form and as a testimony to the power of external form for creating the very possibility of internality” (145). But however insistent Ferguson’s effort to read the Blind Beggar in terms of the internal/external opposition – and however valiant her attempt to introduce the passions and affections as the operative force that can mediate between internal and external – one cannot help but note straightaway that the Blind Beggar passage is remarkable (and “striking,” as the critics like to put it) first of all on account of its utter

­24    Material Inscriptions and radical externality and the absence of any kind of “internal life,” that is, an “externality” without internality, a sheer surface without depth. Equally remarkable is the absence of the passions or affections, the lack of any affective charge in the diction or the tonality or the sense of the passage. There is certainly no sign of any “pity” for the Beggar’s plight on the part of Wordsworth, nor any hint of a “lament,” universalized or otherwise (nor is there any indication that Wordsworth offers “alms” to the Beggar). This stark externality of the beggar and his label – and the strange affectlessness of the scene – has been remarked by a number of readers, Geoffrey Hartman first of all. Hartman notes that the foreground/background contrast of the passage’s opening simile does not really account for “why the poet is caught by precisely this form,” i.e., the blind Beggar. He suggests that the “real and hidden contrast” is between the Beggar’s face and his label: “These natural foci of any observer are shocking because here they are not in contrast. Face and label are equally fixed or affixed: we expect the beggar’s face and eyes (‘his steadfast face and sightless eyes’) to be centers of life whereas they are as much a surface as the paper he wears.”22 If the Beggar’s face is as much a lifeless surface as the “written paper” he wears, then the foreground/background phenomenological model of perception – and the hermeneutic of “him who looks in steadiness” (with its metaphorical model based on the internal/external opposition and those that follow) – gets undone as foreground collapses into background and vice versa. Perhaps the Beggar is so striking not because he is set off as in relief by his background but rather because, thanks to the label on his chest, he is his own background, as it were, simultaneously background and ­foreground – and hence neither. In fact, this becomes even more apparent if we bring the wall he is “propped against” into the picture (something a number of critics do). For then we have not just a foreground (the label) and a background (the face as stand-­in for the Beggar’s bodily being) – and their destabilizing potential non-­contrast – but a foreground (the label) against a background (the face) which is at the same time also a foreground in relation to another background (the wall). If the face can be both background and foreground, then the possibility of perceiving the Beggar, simply seeing him, is very much in question, as is the possibility of giving him meaning by means of a hermeneutic continuous with the phenomenological model of perception (and a figural system of internal/external). But there is no need to get “philosophical” about it. After all, Wordsworth does see the Beggar (and his blindness) – he is “caught by the spectacle,” his mind turns round “as with the might of waters” – and he does indeed give meaning to this “spectacle.” But the act of seeing and understanding here is neither the “looking”

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(“Thus have I looked, nor ceased to look”) Wordsworth performs as he goes forward with the crowd through the streets of London, nor is it the contemplative regard of the internal eye that “sees” a second-­sight procession – nor is it some kind of synthesis of the two looks by means of a dialectical movement when “the light of sense goes out” to reveal an invisible (and transcendent) world. No, Wordsworth’s “third sight” here is a reading, and a very deliberate allegorical reading at that – one based on a distinctly inscriptional model of language and the text. It is worth spelling out the nature of this act of allegorical reading and some of its implications for Wordsworth’s autobiographical project in the Prelude. But if the third moment of the Blind Beggar episode is an act of reading, it is not because Wordsworth takes the time to read what is written on the Beggar’s label.23 As the text says, the “view” of the blind Beggar is “a sight not rare.” That is, it is common to see a blind beggar with a label on his chest “to explain / His story, whence he came, and who he was.” There is no reason to read the writing on the “written paper”; and, in any event, Wordsworth certainly does not give us any particulars of the Beggar’s story. For it is not his story and its particulars that matter to Wordsworth here; this is not the “spectacle” by which he is “caught.” The spectacle is the stark view of a blind Beggar, propped against a wall, wearing a written paper on his chest: label, face, wall. These three surfaces are all that matters to Wordsworth here, not any kind of “internal life” to be imputed to the beggar. And this spectacle is what triggers the quasi-­apocalyptic turning round of his mind which, in turn, converts the label on the Beggar’s chest into “an apt type” of the utmost we can know “both of ourselves and of the universe.” In other words, what takes place is an act of allegorical reading that turns what Wordsworth sees (and in fact does not read!) into a “type” (“a type or emblem,” as the 1805 Prelude puts it), a figure for the utmost we can know. This figure is a properly allegorical figure – as the word “type” (and “emblem” too) already suggests – and the act that the mind performs is a properly allegorical reading since what it does is to convert something available to the senses into a figure for a meaning that bears no necessary or motivated relation to the phenomenal aspect of that figure. Again, we can take that meaning – “the utmost we can know, / Both of ourselves and of the universe” – as signifying a lot of knowledge, indeed absolute knowledge (“utmost” means “outermost”), or we can take it as signifying very little knowledge, i.e., the limits of knowledge, what we know about ourselves and the universe is as little as is written on a blind beggar’s label. (Or we can take the “utmost” we can know as signifying an entire dialectical progression from the most immediate and

­26    Material Inscriptions limited knowledge to a fully mediated absolute knowledge, as though the Beggar had a compact edition of the Phenomenology of Spirit pinned to his chest.) But it matters little how we construe the content of the knowledge, for, again, the “apt type” for this knowledge is not what is written on the label but rather the label itself – that is, its writtenness is what matters; its writing as writing is the apt type or emblem. Not the writing on the paper but the “written paper.” That writing, the label’s bare writtenness, should be the allegorical sign for knowledge and self-­knowledge – for consciousness and self-­ consciousness, to put it in Hegelian terms – is itself apt because this is what allegorical signification does: namely, it imposes a meaning on a phenomenal form by a sheer act of the mind which mechanically, arbitrarily, yokes that form to the meaning. In doing so, allegory empties the phenomenal form of its representational (“symbolic,” in Coleridge’s idiom) function and turns it into a mere sign for a meaning external and foreign to it. In other words, it turns the phenomenal form available to sense perception – here the sense of sight – into the equivalent of inscribed letters, differential markers whose phenomenal form bears no necessary, motivated relation to what they stand for. When we look at Giotto’s Virtues and Vices at the Arena chapel in Padova – “Charity,” for example – what we see is a girl, lifting her arm and holding out a heart.24 To Proust’s narrator this may look like the kitchen-­maid handing a corkscrew out of a basement kitchen window (or, in another vein, like a cannibal offering a heart – “Have a heart”?). Luckily, Giotto affixed the inscription “Karitas” at the top of the fresco so that we do not merely look at what the picture represents but rather read it as an allegorical sign for the virtue Charity. Even if there is an iconographic tradition and an elaborate narrative – and code-­book of emblems, say – that could explain why a particular allegorical sign looks the way it does, it is nevertheless the case that the link between the phenomenal aspect of the allegorical sign and its meaning remains an external, arbitrary yoking performed by an act of the mind. Allegorical signification extinguishes the representational, phenomenal picture before our eyes and turns it into inscribed letters like those that spell out “KARITAS.” (As always – and as both Benjamin and de Man have written in their different ways – allegory represents one thing but means another, and what it means is the destruction of what it represents.) So Wordsworth’s allegorical reading of the label on the blind Beggar’s chest turns the “shape” before his eyes into writing, writtenness, “a written paper.” Small wonder that Neil Hertz, following Hartman, can say that “the Beggar’s face is made to seem as fixed and inanimate, as much like reading matter, as the text on his chest.”25 Writing, writtenness – inscription, in short – is turned

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into a type, emblem, or allegory of knowledge, and Wordsworth’s saying that is itself an act of writing which turns the sight before his eyes into an allegorical sign, inscribed letters. But lest we be reduced prematurely to stuttering “written writtenness,” “writing writing,” or “allegory of allegory,” we might do better to consider the implications of this allegorical, inscriptional moment for Wordsworth, the reader, and for Wordsworth the reader of the book of himself, his autobiography. When he is “smitten abruptly” with the view of the blind Beggar, Wordsworth comes up against an inscription. This is so not only because the blind Beggar is “wearing a written paper.” It is also not just because the allegorical reading he performs turns the phenomenal form before his eyes into the equivalent of inscribed letters. Rather the Beggar with his label is also an “inscription” in the sense of the word as referring to the minor poetic genre of inscription (or “epi-­gram” – i.e., “writing on”). As Hartman characterizes it in an invaluable essay: “The inscription was anything conscious of the place on which it was written, and this could be tree, rock, statue, gravestone, sand, window, album, sundial, dog’s collar, back of fan, back of painting.”26 Or, as Lessing summarizes, “First, some object of sense which arouses our curiosity; and then the account of this same object, which satisfies that curiosity.”27 Although the sight of the Beggar may not be all that curious, at least at first – it is “a sight not rare,” after all – Wordsworth’s description of it is indeed a description of an inscription – i.e., a written paper very much “conscious,” as Hartman puts it, of the place on which it is written. Leaving aside for the moment the question of how it is that an inscription, a bit of writing, can be “conscious” (i.e., knowing) of anything – especially in the case of a bit of writing that, as writing and as written, very quickly gets turned into an allegorical sign precisely for consciousness (and self-­consciousness), for knowing (and self-­knowing) – we should pause to note that the juxtapositions of London’s sheer metonymy in Book VII often take on the form of inscription. This is quite explicit as Wordsworth passes through the streets, pointing out the sights. It is already there in “the fronts of houses, like a title-­page, / With letters huge inscribed from top to toe” (VII, 160–1), in the “files of ballads” dangling from “dead walls” (VII, 193), and in the “advertisements, of giant-­size,” one “bold in conscious merit” while another “fronted with a most imposing word, / Is peradventure one in masquerade” (VII, 196–8). The form of inscription is still more explicitly there in the prefigurements of the blind Beggar like the man lying “in sailor’s garb” (perhaps a mutilated veteran of the Royal Navy) “beside a range of written characters, with chalk inscribed / Upon the smooth, flat stones” (VII, 221–3).28 The most explicit prefigurement, however,

­28    Material Inscriptions would be Wordsworth’s account of a curious sight at Sadler’s Wells where another character – “Jack the Giant-­killer” – wears an inscription that would extinguish the visible scene: To have, for instance, brought upon the scene The champion, Jack the Giant-­killer: lo, He dons his coat of darkness, on the stage Walks, and atchieves his wonders, from the eye Of living mortal safe as is the moon “Hid in her vacant interlunar cave”. Delusion bold (and faith must needs be coy) How is it wrought? – his garb is black, the word INVISIBLE flames forth upon his chest. (VII, 302–10)

The passage presents a virtually parodic version of Lessing’s inscription: an object of sense which arouses our curiosity with an inscription on it which satisfies that curiosity by explaining away the phenomenal object. It is also a parody of what allegorical signification does to symbolic representation: namely, extinguishes its visibility by turning it into the equivalent of inscribed letters with the meaning “invisible.”29 But while Jack the Giant-­killer clearly prefigures the blind Beggar, the episode is instructive because it also provides a contrast to what happens in the blind Beggar passage. For Jack the Giant-­killer’s inscription to “work” – “To watch crude Nature work in untaught minds” (VII, 298) – it has to be read, whereas the blind Beggar’s label “works” as an allegorical sign for knowledge (and/or its limits) because Wordsworth does not read it. He reads only its writtenness – again, not the writing on the paper but only the “written paper.” Rather than explaining away the curious sight by substituting a (transcendent) meaning for it, this allegorical “reading” instead foregrounds, as it were, only its sheer, stark materiality, the materiality of an inscription that, in Hertz’s words again, makes the Beggar’s face “seem . . . as much like reading matter, as the text on his chest.”30 In doing so – i.e., turning the blind Beggar himself (or at least “his steadfast face and sightless eyes”) into an inscription – the allegorical reading renders the sight not “invisible” but unreadable. The Beggar’s face becomes as much an unreadable hieroglyph as the written paper on his chest, and the Beggar a “shape” to be “looked” at (1805) or “gazed” at (1850) by Wordsworth. And, indeed, there is a certain justice in this “unreadability,” for, after all (and before anything else), what Wordsworth encounters when he comes up against the blind Beggar with his label is a man who cannot read “his story, whence he came, and who he was” (1850 VII, 642), that is, a man who cannot read his own autobiography. But whereas the Beggar cannot read his own story

Facing Language    ­29

only because he is blind, Wordsworth cannot read his autobiography because it is unreadable. In coming upon the blind Beggar, Wordsworth comes up against his double or a figure for himself, as though wearing his autobiography on his chest, a written paper with the inscription “Unreadable.” What can it mean for Wordsworth – who, after all, spent most of his life reading and rereading, writing and rewriting, the Prelude – at this point in his text, i.e., the London of Book VII? That Wordsworth spent so much of his life revising the Prelude – which comes down to us in many versions and layers of manuscripts that span a period from the late 1790s almost to the end in 1850 – is in fact the reason that he has to come upon his own writing in his writing, i.e., inscribed (implicitly or explicitly) in his own text. Although it is the condition of all autobiographical writing that, sooner or later, the moment of writing – the moment of writing of the autobiography – gets inscribed in it, this is especially the case whenever there is more than one autobiography, or more than one autobiographical moment. In looking back upon the autobiographer’s life, the second autobiographical moment would have necessarily to include the first autobiographical moment – the writing of the first autobiography – within it. So, for instance, in the Rêveries Rousseau will have to talk about the Confessions, just as Hawthorne in the Custom-­House preface to The Scarlet Letter feels it necessary to refer to his first “autobiographical impulse” in Mosses from an Old Manse.31 After all, from the point of view of the second autobiography, the writing of the first autobiography has become very much a part of the life to be looked back upon and written about. But since autobiography – auto-­bio-­graphy, writing one’s own life – is always written from a point of view outside the life, it is always written as though from the point of view of death. Hence when the writing of the first autobiographical moment becomes an event in the life to be written about in the second autobiographical moment, it means that a death, a moment of death, has, as it were, become a part of the life, an “event” in the life. The writer of autobiography – whether or not he/she literally writes two autobiographies – finds him/herself somewhat in the predicament of Saint Bonaventure, as Blanchot reminds us (in reminding us that Chateaubriand reminds us): “One thinks of a saint, Saint Bonaventure, who, as Chateaubriand reminds us, received from God the favor of leaving his tomb in order to finish his memoirs – strange favor! The writer must survive to recount his life and then, no doubt, he must survive this survival to recount it in turn – this is without end.”32 Auto-­bio-­graphy is always auto-­thanato-­graphy, and the writing out of more than one autobiography – or the endless revising of “one” autobiography, as in Wordsworth’s case – only makes it explicit. But since

­30    Material Inscriptions there is no way to write one’s own death literally – to write, “And then I died, and God granted me the strange favor of returning from beyond the grave to finish my autobiography . . .” – all auto-­thanato-­graphy is also always allo-­thanato-­graphy (to torture the Greek a bit): writing one’s own death, which is something that lies in and comes from the future, as the death of an other in the past.33 As we know, Wordsworth’s Prelude is full of such “allo-­thanato-­graphical” figures, with the Boy of Winander the most well known among them. The Prelude narrates episodes which are clearly events that took place during the process of composition, at the very moment of writing itself (as Hartman would put it), as Wordsworth rereads and rewrites his autobiographical text – with the inter-­vention of the apostrophe on Imagination at the point of the missed crossing of the Alps in Book VI the most famous (and problematic) among them. Although the episode of the Blind Beggar is like these other self-­confrontations – it is clearly another case of a halted traveler arrested by the Siste Viator of an epitaphic inscription – it stands out from among them. It does so not only because here we have a case when Wordsworth’s writing comes up directly against its own writing – not “literally” but materially one would have to say – in its radical externality and irreducible otherness. The Blind Beggar stands out as a particularly apt material inscription of the autobiographical (i.e., a­ llo-­thanato-­graphical) moment because his very placement in the London of Book VII identifies him as the blind seer that an epic hero confronts in the underworld and from whom he learns his destiny (for instance and exemplarily, Odysseus’s coming upon Tiresias in Hades). For the London of Book VII is indeed the Prelude’s descent into the underworld, as the explicit references to Milton’s Hell right before the “blank confusion” passage confirm. But, of course, we cannot forget the specificity of this epic and this hero. The Prelude is, after all, the text Wordsworth writes (and rewrites) in preparation for, and ultimately in place of, the “philosophic song / Of truth that cherishes our daily life” (I, 230–1), i.e., The Recluse, which itself he settles on precisely because he cannot write an epic for lack of an appropriate theme. The reluctant “epic” he does actually write is a self-­conscious, romantic, internalized “epic” whose theme is the “Growth of a Poet’s [my emphasis] Mind.” The hero of this epic is the poet, and if the descent into the underworld of the traditional epic hero is the moment when he learns his destiny, then the Prelude’s descent into the underworld is a moment when its “epic hero” learns his poetic destiny as writer (and reader) – and rewriter (and rereader) – of his own, an other’s autobiography, the unreadable book of himself, “as if admonished from another world” (1850 VII, 649). At the risk of mixing genres still more, we could say that the Blind

Facing Language    ­31

Beggar episode is the “caesura” – or one of the caesuras – of the Prelude. “Caesura” is what Hölderlin calls the “antirhythmical interruption” in Sophoclean tragedy (Oedipus and Antigone) when the succession and alternation of representations are cut off and when “representation itself appears.”34 It is “the pure word” (das reine Wort) which, rather than allowing the subject to recognize himself in his own other, “rips him out of his own sphere of life, out of the center of his own inner life, and carries him off into an other world and into the eccentric sphere of the dead.” The caesura’s other function is to protect one half of the tragedy from the other, or rather the beginning from the end or vice versa. Since Wordsworth’s Blind Beggar caesura falls almost exactly in the middle of the Prelude, let us not venture to speculate whether its function is to protect beginning from end or vice versa, though the direct references in the opening words of Book VII to the Prelude’s incipit – its “glad preamble” and its “animating breeze,” along with the “dithyrambic fervour” with which he sang – may be some indication. Suffice it to say that according to Hölderlin the caesura in both the Oedipus and the Antigone is marked by the speeches of the blind seer Tiresias.

Notes  1. All references to the Prelude are to William Wordsworth, The Prelude 1799, 1805, 1850, ed. Jonathan Wordsworth, M. H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill (New York: Norton, 1979), and will be given by book number in Roman numerals followed by the line numbers. Unless otherwise specified, I quote the 1805 Prelude.  2. All page references to Hartman’s article are to Geoffrey Hartman, “Romanticism and ‘Anti-­ Self-­ Consciousness’,” in Harold Bloom (ed.), Romanticism and Consciousness (New York: Norton, 1970), pp. 46–56.  3. On the question of autobiographies and “autothanatography,” see E. S. Burt, Regard for the Other (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009). On what happens when there is more than one autobiography and what I call “allo-­thanato-­graphy,” see my attempt to read the Blind Beggar below.   4. Geoffrey Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry 1787–1814 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971). The first edition was published in 1964.  5. In his great interpretation of the Simplon Pass episode in Book VI – “Synopsis: The via naturaliter negative” in Wordsworth’s Poetry 1787– 1814 – Hartman divides it into three parts (of the 1850 Prelude) – 1) “VI-­a” (557–91); 2) “VI-­b” (592–616); and 3) “VI-­c” (617–40) – with “VI-­b” designating the interruption by the apostrophe on Imagination. Hartman’s interpretation is interesting and overdetermined enough to deserve a reading in its own right; I will attempt one in a future essay.  6. Paul de Man, “Wordsworth and the Victorians,” in The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), p. 90.  7. All page references to Onorato are to Richard Onorato, “The Prelude:

­32    Material Inscriptions Metaphors of Beginning and Where They Lead,” in The Prelude 1799, 1805, 1850, pp. 613–25. This is a revised excerpt from Onorato’s The Character of the Poet: Wordsworth in The Prelude (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971).  8. Paul de Man, “Hypogram and Inscription: Michael Riffaterre’s Poetics of Reading,” in The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p. 53.  9. Page references are to Frances Ferguson, Wordsworth: Language as Counter-­Spirit (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977). 10. Quoted in Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, Second Edition, Revised (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), p. 135. 11. On catachresis and its (self-­)mutilations, see the final pages of my “Prefatory Postscript: Interpretation and Reading” in Readings in Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), pp. liii–lxi; and the reading of Aristotle in the second half of “The Future Past of Literary Theory,” Chapter 8 below. 12. For a reading of “props” in the Blest Babe passage, see Cathy Caruth, “Past Recognition: Narrative Origins in Wordsworth and Freud,” MLN 100:5 (December 1985), pp. 935–48. 13. On de Man’s “killing the original by finding it already dead,” see Cynthia Chase, “Primary Narcissism and the Giving of Figure: Kristeva with Hertz and De Man,” in John Fletcher and Andrew Benjamin (eds), Abjection, Melancholia, and Love (London: Routledge, 1990). 14. Cf. the Boy of Winander’s marking of the owls’ hooting. See my “Missed Crossing: Wordsworth’s Apocalypses,” MLN 99:5 (December 1984), pp. 983–1,006. 15. In my reading of the drowned man I am indebted to a running dialogue with Cynthia Chase back in the 1980s and to her Decomposing Figures (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986). 16. Timothy Bahti, “Figures of Interpretation, The Interpretation of Figures: A Reading of Wordsworth’s ‘Dream of the Arab’,” Studies in Romanticism 18:4 (Winter 1979), pp. 601–27. 17. See my “Missed Crossing: Wordsworth’s Apocalypses.” 18. The Norton edition of the 1805 Prelude prints “words” rather than “works,” but it seems that the reading should be “works.” See Susan J. Wolfson, “The Illusion of Mastery: Wordsworth’s Revisions of The Drowned Man of Esthwaite,” PMLA 99:5 (October 1984), pp. 917–35. 19. De Man, The Resistance to Theory, p. 11. 20. Wordsworth’s famous denunciation in the third of the Essays upon Epitaphs of words that would be “what the garb is to the body” rather than “what the body is to the soul” would provide a certain corroboration that the garments are more threatening than the corpse: “If words be not (recurring to a metaphor before used) an incarnation of the thought but only a clothing for it, then surely will they prove an ill gift; such a one as those poisoned vestments, read of in the stories of superstitious times, which had the power to consume and to alienate from his right mind the victim who put them on. Language, if it do not uphold, and feed, and leave in quiet, like the power of gravitation or the air we breathe,

Facing Language    ­33 is a counter-­spirit, unremittingly and noiselessly at work to derange, to subvert, to lay waste, to vitiate, and to dissolve.” W. J. B. Owen (ed.), Wordsworth’s Literary Criticism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974), p. 154. See my comments on this passage in Chapter 3 below, and see Paul de Man’s use of it in “Autobiography as De-­facement,” in The Rhetoric of Romanticism. 21. Hartman, Wordsworth’s Poetry 1787–1814, p. 241. 22. Ibid. pp. 241–2. 23. Cf. Wordsworth at the grave of the Boy of Winander: “A full half-­ hour together I have stood / Mute, looking at the grave in which he lies” (V, 421–2). See my discussion in “Missed Crossing: Wordsworth’s Apocalypses” of how the “mute looking” here is a reading. 24. See de Man’s reading of Proust’s Giotto in “Reading (Proust),” in Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979). 25. Neil Hertz, The End of the Line (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), p. 219. 26. Geoffrey Hartman, “Wordsworth, Inscriptions, and Romantic Nature Poetry,” in Beyond Formalism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), p. 207. 27. Quoted in Hartman, “Wordsworth, Inscriptions, and Romantic Nature Poetry,” p. 209. 28. Aside from Jack the Giant-­killer, perhaps the most interesting prefigurement of the Blind Beggar is the description of a beggar – Samuel Horsey, “King of Beggars,” described by Lamb in an essay – who is “A travelling cripple, by the trunk cut short, / And stumping with his arms” (VII, 219–20). But it would take a long excursus to explicate how this instance of what amounts to a “stump stumping” is also a case of inscription. 29. That Jack the Giant-­killer’s “coat of darkness” is a garment that renders invisible is certainly not without interest for us. See also Wordsworth’s curious formulation earlier in Book V: “Oh, give us once again the wishing-­ cap / Of Fortunatus, and the invisible coat / of Jack the Giant-­killer, Robin Hood, / And Sabra in the forest with St George!” (V, 364–7). 30. It is interesting how Hertz needs nevertheless to insist in his 1978 reading of the Blind Beggar that there remains a fixed “minimal difference” between face and label to keep “the poet-­impresario from tumbling into his text” (p. 60); and in his 1985 “Afterword” to The End of the Line that this is a case of “an engagement with the act and with the medium of . . . writing condensed almost to the point of nonreflective opacity” (p. 219, my emphases). I would substitute the word “materiality” for “medium” here and, perhaps, delete the “almost.” 31. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, ed. Sculley Bradley, Richmond Croom Beatty, and E. Hudson Long (New York: Norton, 1962), p. 6. 32. Maurice Blanchot, “La folie par excellence,” which prefaces the French translation of Karl Jaspers, Strindberg et Van Gogh (Paris: Minuit, 1953), p. 13: “(On songe à tel saint, saint Bonaventure, qui, Chateaubriand nous le rappelle, reçut de Dieu la faveur de sortir de sa tombe pour terminer ses mémoires – étrange faveur! l’écrivain doit survivre pour raconter sa vie et ensuite, sans doute, doit-­il survivre à cette survie pour la raconter encore,

­34    Material Inscriptions cela est sans fin.)” An English translation appears in The Blanchot Reader, ed. Michael Holland (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995). 33. For this metaleptic reversal of past and present, see de Man’s reading of the Boy of Winander in the Gauss lecture “Time and History in Wordsworth” and its “second layer” in Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism: The Gauss Seminar and Other Papers, ed. E. S. Burt, Kevin Newmark, and Andrzej Warminski (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), p. 82 and note #8 on p. 201. 34. See Friedrich Hölderlin, “Anmerkungen zum Ödipus” and “Anmerkungen zur Antigone,” in Sämtliche Werke und Briefe, vol. 2, ed. Günther Mieth (Munich: Carl Hanser, 1970). The English is available in Hölderlin’s Essays and Letters on Theory, ed. Thomas Pfau (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1988). See my remarks on the “caesura” in Readings in Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger, pp. 17 ff.

Chapter 2

Aesthetic Ideology and Material Inscription: On Hegel’s Aesthetics and Keats’s Urn

Allegories of Symbol Hegel’s double, ambiguous and ambivalent if not downright duplicitous, attitude toward art is legible in his Aesthetics from one end to the other, from the beginning and to the ends. All we need to know about both the philosophy and the history of art (according to Hegel) is there to be read already in the Introduction. As Hegel goes through the three main types or forms of art according to the different relations between sensuous form and spiritual content proper to each – from the (“symbolic”) pre-­art of the East and the Egyptians in which there is an inadequation between sensuous form and spiritual content on account of the abstractness of the latter, to the (“classical”) art, art properly speaking, of Greece in which there is a full adequation of form to content, and on to the (“romantic”) post-­art of Christian Europe in which there is again an inadequation between form and content, this time on account of the concreteness of the latter – a first doubleness and ambiguity comes to the fore. Namely, there are two high points, two “highest” stages, classical and romantic: if the classical form of art has arrived at “the highest” (das Höchste) that the “embodiment” or “making sensuous” (die Versinnlichung) of art can achieve, then the romantic form in its fullest development (i.e., romantic poetry) is “the highest stage” (die höchste Stufe) at which art transcends itself “in that it leaves behind the element of reconciled embodiment of the spirit in sensuous form and passes over from the poetry of the imagination [or, better, representation] to the prose of thought (indem sie das Element versöhnter Versinnlichung des Geistes verläßt und aus der Poesie der Vorstellung in die Prosa des Denkens hinübertritt)” (13:123, 89).1 Of course, this first “ambiguity” is easily enough resolved by reference to Hegel’s system and the place of art in that system. Let us recall, quickly and very schematically, that, according to the

­36    Material Inscriptions articulations of Hegel’s “mature” system – i.e., the “Encyclopaedia-­ system” – the Idea is first of all the logical Idea or, in Hegel’s vocabulary, the Idea in itself (an sich), then it is the Idea outside or up against itself, in nature, or the Idea for itself (für sich), and, last, it is the Idea as spirit (Geist), or the Idea in and for itself (an und für sich). Hence the three divisions of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences: a Science of Logic, a Philosophy of Nature, and a Philosophy of Spirit. Now spirit, Geist, in turn realizes itself as, first, subjective spirit – as the objects of the “sciences” of anthropology, phenomenology, and psychology respectively (i.e., what Hegel calls the “soul” [Seele], consciousness [Bewußtsein], and mind or spirit [Geist]) – then objective spirit – the domains of abstract right, morality, and “social ethics” – and, last, absolute spirit, which appears in art, religion, and philosophy. As the manifestation of absolute spirit, art occupies a very high place indeed, in this regard as high as religion and philosophy. It is, writes Hegel in the Introduction, “the first reconciling mediating term (das erste versöhnende Mittelglied) between pure thought and what is merely external, sensuous, and transient (Vergängliches), between nature and its finite reality and the infinite freedom of conceptual thinking” (13:21, 8). But as the first mediating link between senses and intellect, nature and mind, transience and infinitude, necessity and freedom, and so on, art is also a merely preliminary appearance of absolute spirit, absolute spirit only an sich, and thus not the fully developed manifestation of absolute spirit in the “medium” or the element proper to it. The reason is self-­evident. In art, absolute spirit has, by definition as it were, to appear in sensuous form, and the sensuous can never be a medium or a form or an element proper enough for that which is by definition spirit, spiritual and not sensuous, and absolutely spiritual at that. In other words, it is indeed very much a question of “definition” and “determination” here – as in de+finire or de+terminare, to limit, to border off – as is always the case for Hegel. As “the sensuous appearance of the Idea” (the Idea in and for itself), art allows absolute spirit to appear all right, but to appear only as determined in and by the form of art which, in turn, is by definition determined as the form of the sensuous – again, the sensuous appearance of something essentially spiritual, “the sensuous appearance of the Idea” (das sinnliche Scheinen der Idee). And since in Hegel, as in Spinoza, omnis determinatio est negatio, this means that the determination of absolute spirit in art, by the sensuous form of art, is a negation of absolute spirit that would limit it and render it dependent upon that sensuous form. Absolute spirit, being spiritual, obviously cannot rest, cannot be at home, chez soi, in that which is sensuous and must in turn negate the negativity of this determination which limits its freedom – i.e., its

Aesthetic Ideology and Material Inscription    ­37

freedom precisely to be itself, to be what it is in and for itself, namely absolute spirit. Spirit, absolute spirit, is restless, it can get no rest and no satisfaction, and must pass on and over from the medium of representation, sensuous or otherwise, to the element of thought thinking itself absolutely, again, from the poetry of representation (Vorstellung) to the prose of thought (Denken). Given the simultaneously exalted and yet merely preliminary position of art in Hegel’s system, it comes as no surprise, then, that there should be two high points, two “highests,” when it comes to art: classical and romantic. In relation to what Hegel calls the “ideal” of art, classical art is clearly “the highest” insofar as it is the only one of the three types of art that attains that ideal: namely, the perfect fusion, coalescence, and adequation of sensuous form and spiritual content. Since this is what art is and does, only an art that is and does it can be truly art as “beautiful art” or “fine art,” as the translators put it, schöne Kunst (which, for Hegel, is a redundancy). And such is the case of Greek art – in the particular plastic form of sculptures of the gods of Greece who constitute an authentic spiritual content for the sensuous form of an art perfectly adequate to it. It is the only art in which the “art-­spirit” (Kunstgeist) can be at home. But, needless to say, what makes the art-­spirit happy can never satisfy the needs of absolute spirit, of spirit as such, since spirit, again, wants to appear not in sensuous form, not imprisoned in stone or marble (like a sphinx-­like human head on top of an animal body), but as itself, spirit, in spiritual form. The spiritual content that can enter adequately into sensuous form is necessarily a determined, limited content and, as such, a spiritual content that represents only a certain restricted extent and stage of the truth (nur ein gewisser Kreis und Stufe der Wahrheit) (13:23, 9). Hence insofar as romantic art constitutes a further stage in the progressive spiritualization of art – that is, its spiritual content is one more suited to a more “spiritualized” sensuous form like the colors of painting, the tones of music, and the linguistic signs of poetry – it represents a further and “higher” stage of art – an art “higher” than classical art, despite and (dialectically) because of its status as essentially a post-­art. In short, classical art is “the highest” because it is appropriate for the needs of art-­spirit; whereas romantic art is “the highest” because it is more appropriate (more than classical art) for the needs of absolute spirit. But if the ambiguity of high points, of “highest” arts, can be resolved, and resolved apparently without remainder, by reference to the system, then a second, other ambiguity that the first one necessarily brings along with itself is not so easily dispatched and opens up a problematic most troublesome not only for Hegel’s philosophy (and history) of art but

­38    Material Inscriptions also, and inevitably, for the system itself – for Hegel’s philosophy (and history) of philosophy, as it were. If art has two high points, then quite clearly it also has two ends or, as one likes to call it in talking about the so-­called “death of art” in Hegel, two deaths of art.2 The first end of art would be relatively unproblematic. It is the end of art as such, of art properly speaking, in the dissolution of classical art. The end of classical art is of course foreordained, pre-­determined, in its very essence. The human bodily form of Greek sculpture so appropriate and so essentially adequate to mind or spirit is at the same time classical art’s defect, lack, and (as such) self-­negation because in it spirit is “determined as particular and human, not as purely absolute and eternal” (13:110, 79). Or, as Hegel summarizes: “The classical form of art has attained the highest that the embodiment [rendering sensuous, Versinnlichung] of art could achieve, and if there is something lacking (mangelhaft) in it, it is only art itself and the limitedness of the sphere of art” (13:110, 79). And this lack or defect, limitedness or restrictedness (Beschränktheit), of art itself is, of course, the fact that it “takes as its object the spirit (i.e., the universal, infinite and concrete in its nature) in a sensuously concrete form,” which means that in it “spirit is not in fact represented in its true nature” (13:111, 79). Thus the “lack” (Mangel) of classical art brings about its dissolution and “demands a transition to a higher form, the third, namely the romantic” (13:111, 79). So: the dissolution of classical art would be the one end of art, and provide one way to read Hegel’s famous dictum: “art, considered in its highest vocation (ihrer höchsten Bestimmung), is and remains for us a thing of the past (ein Vergangenes)” (13:25, 11). Now romantic art too has to dissolve, it too has its dissolution inscribed, as it were, within its essence. But this second, other end of art is different, other, first of all on account of what it is that dissolves in the case of romantic art: namely, not so much art as a no-­longer art, a post-­ art, an “art” whose spiritual content is no longer capable of being adequately represented in sensuous form. The reason for this inadequation is Christianity’s conception of the unity of human and divine natures: no longer, as in the case of the Greek gods, as “the sensuous immediate existence of the spiritual in the bodily form of man, but instead [as] self-­conscious inwardness” (13:112, 80). In other words, the spiritual content of romantic art is too inward, too self-­conscious, too spiritualized, too concrete – i.e., already too self-­consciously self-­differentiating and self-­ negating – to be adequately represented in sensuous form. Such a content withdraws itself, inward, from the externality of artistic expression. If this is so – if romantic art in its essential determination is an art that is already always passing away and passing over into a form

Aesthetic Ideology and Material Inscription    ­39

of expression that is no longer artistic – then what ends with the end of romantic art is, again, not so much art as the ending of art, what dissolves is the dissolving of art – the progressive inadequation and disjunction between sensuous form and spiritual content. A certain wavering or suspensiveness, a “remaindering” (my translation of Derrida’s restance), of the end seems to characterize the second end, or rather ending, of art in the dissolution of romantic art, and it is no doubt this ending without end that introduces a hesitation into Hegel’s otherwise apparently unambiguous pronouncements about the end of art. For instance, at the very end of the Introduction Hegel seems to put the full completion, the complete ending, of art into the future: “Now, therefore, what the particular arts realize in individual works of art is, according to the Concept of art, only the universal forms of the self-­unfolding Idea of beauty. It is as the external actualization of this Idea that the wide Pantheon of art is rising. Its architect and builder is the self-­comprehending spirit of beauty, but to complete it will need the history of the world in its development through thousands of years (das aber die Weltgeschichte erst in ihrer Entwicklung der Jahrtausende vollenden wird)” (13:124, 90). It is as though in rereading his own pronouncement that art is and remains for us a thing of the past, Hegel were putting the stress on the remaining of art for us as a thing of the past, as a passing thing, not ein Vergangenes but ein Vergehendes – as though art’s ending without end were the repetition of art’s pastness and passing. A repetition perhaps not unlike one that can be heard, or rather read, in Hegel’s words of the end: in ihrer Entwicklung der Jahrtaus-­ende voll-­enden, -ende -enden.3 The full import of the double end of art – or rather the self-­redoubling ends of art – and its necessary remaindering comes starkly into view once we juxtapose romantic art with the case and the end of symbolic art. Such a juxtaposition is authorized by the text, for in his discussion of the specificity of romantic art Hegel cannot help but bring up, and compare it to, symbolic art again and again. Indeed, according to Hegel, romantic art marks a certain reversion to and repetition of symbolic art insofar as in it “the separation of Idea and shape, their indifference and inadequacy to each other, come to the fore again, as in symbolic art” (13:114, 81). Just as the spiritual content of romantic art is no longer suited to being expressed in the sensuous form of art, so the spiritual content of symbolic art is not yet suitable for art. If in romantic art the spiritual content withdraws from the externality of sensuous form into inwardness, then in symbolic art the spiritual content in a sense removes itself into a sublime externality far above all natural, sensuous form which remains insignificant in relation to it or is violently yoked to and charged with the task of signifying the absolute idea. If romantic art is a

­40    Material Inscriptions “post-­art,” then symbolic art is a “pre-­art” (Vorkunst), a mere seeking (bloßes Suchen) or yearning for sensuous configuration (Verbildlichung), not the power of genuine representation. Of course, for Hegel, there is an essential difference between symbolic art and romantic art – the enigmatic, sublimely stony spirit signified in Egyptian architecture (pyramids and sphinxes) and the sounds as mere signs of spirit in romantic poetry – and he summarizes it as follows: “Thereby the separation of Idea and shape, their indifference and inadequacy to each other, come to the fore again, as in symbolic art, but with this essential difference, that, in romantic art, the Idea, the deficiency (Mangelhaftigkeit) of which in the symbol brought with it deficiencies (Mängel) of shape, now has to appear perfected (vollendet) in itself as spirit and heart (Geist und Gemüt). Because of this higher perfection (Vollendung), it withdraws itself from an adequate union with the external, since its true reality and manifestation it can seek and achieve (suchen und vollbringen) only within itself” (13:114, 81). The essential difference, then, is clear and especially legible (in German) in the oppositions between the lack (Mangelhaftigkeit, Mängel) of the Idea in symbolic art, and its fullness (vollendet, Vollendung, vollbringen) in romantic art. The lack in symbolic art’s spiritual content is its abstract, one-­sided nature – its lack of sufficient determination or its vicious and untrue, and thus equally abstract and one-­sided, determinacy. If the spiritual content is too abstract and one-­sided, so will be the sensuous form. The “perfection,” completedness, finishedness, or fullness of romantic art’s spiritual content lies in its concrete, self-­differentiating, self-­conscious, and self-­ negating nature – its fullness, indeed excess, of determinateness, and a true, spiritual determinateness at that. Nevertheless, both symbolic and romantic arts do come down to the same thing: just as the spiritual content of symbolic art is too abstract for the sensuous form of art, so the spiritual content of romantic art is too concrete for it. The former’s excess (of abstraction) issues in a pre-­art; the latter’s excess (of concreteness) in a post-­art. As such, both in fact arbitrarily yoke or bind a sensuous form to a spiritual content, both impose a meaning onto a material substance of nature. To the extent that they do so, both are arts of the sign – it’s just that the one would be the sign of a lack, the other the sign of a fullness, a lack and a fullness of spirit. That romantic art in its fullest, most developed (i.e., self-­dissolving) form – i.e., in the form of romantic poetry – is an art of the sign is explicit in Hegel’s Introduction. As much as the romantic spiritual content may want to withdraw itself from the externality of the sensuous form that is inadequate to it, it nevertheless still needs “an external medium [or vehicle] of expression” (13:113, 81), as the

Aesthetic Ideology and Material Inscription    ­41

translators put it: “Inwardness celebrates its triumph over the external and manifests its victory in and on the external itself, whereby what is apparent to the senses alone sinks into worthlessness. On the other hand, however, this romantic form too, like all art, needs an externality for its expression (bedarf auch diese Form, wie alle Kunst, der Äußerlichkeit zu ihrem Ausdrucke)” (13:113, 81). In romantic poetry, this in itself worthless medium or vehicle or externality of expression is what Hegel calls the sign, mere signification (bloße Bezeichnung), “a sign for itself without meaning” (ein für sich bedeutungsloses Zeichen) (13:122, 88), “a sign for itself worth-­and contentless” (als eines für sich wert-­ und inhaltloses Zeichen) (13:123, 89). The worthlessness, contentlessness, and meaninglessness of the sign of romantic poetry is such that Hegel does not hesitate to call its “external material” (das äußere Material) a “mere letter” (bloßer Buchstabe): in romantic poetry “the sound or tone may as well be a mere letter, for the audible, like the visible, has sunk down into being a mere indication of spirit (zur bloßen Andeutung des Geistes)” (13:123, 89). (This reduction of the sensuous vehicle, medium, or externality of romantic art to the status of a mere sign, a mere inscribed letter, is most appropriate for a context in which the poetry of representation [Poesie der Vorstellung] passes over into the prose of thought [Prosa des Denkens]. For in Hegel’s Philosophy of Spirit, in the section on “subjective spirit,” the transition from the “faculty” of Vorstellung [representation, picture-­ thinking] to the “faculty” of thought [Denken] also takes place by means of an account of the sign, arbitrary linguistic signs – which manifest the mind’s freedom from and mastery over the sensuous [which is still too preponderant in the case of the motivated relation between the symbol and what it symbolizes]. The full ability to manipulate signs and exercise dominance over them is manifested in a “sub-­faculty” of Vorstellung: Gedächtnis, a merely mechanical memory by rote, memorization, which reads and writes [for such a memory always requires some notation, some inscription] signs as though they were mere letters.4) But let us not forget about symbolic art, as much as Hegel’s Aesthetics would indeed seem to want to have us forget it as irretrievably, mysteriously, enigmatically, and sublimely of the past, as an art that, unlike classical and romantic, could never be conceived as “the highest.” And yet. And yet as soon as we comprehend the full extent of romantic art’s essential nature as an art of the sign, as an art of the mere inscribed letter, we cannot help but notice, we cannot help but read, that, as such, romantic art is essentially the same as symbolic art: that is, the structure of the relation between a “sensuous form” reduced to the status of a mere sign or a mere letter and the “spiritual content” that it can only

­42    Material Inscriptions signify or indicate is the same in romantic art as it is in symbolic art. However much Hegel may want to insist upon the “essential difference” between them – one is a sign or letter that means or indicates a lack, the other is a sign or letter that means or indicates a fullness – on the level of the sign, of the letter – or, if you like, as far as their rhetorical structure is concerned – the two are the same. If both are signs, how do you tell the difference; how do you know that one is the sign of an excessive lack of spiritual meaning, whereas the other is the sign of an excessive fullness of spiritual meaning? If both are inscribed letters, how do you know that one is the indicator of a spirit too abstract, whereas the other is an indicator of a spirit too concrete? Again, and very brutally, given an Egyptian symbolic work of (pre-­)art and a Christian romantic work of (post-­)art to see – or, rather, to read – how can you tell that the one is the product of an artistic intention whose conception of the absolute was too abstract and one-­sided to allow successful expression in art, whereas the other was a product of an artistic intention whose conception of the absolute was too concrete and self-­differentiating to allow successful expression in art? How can you tell that the one artist tried and failed to arrive at art, tried and failed to have the absolute spirit appear in sensuous form, whereas the other artist didn’t even try for an artistic representation of the absolute but instead only meant to signify the spirit in a sign or inscribe it in a letter? You are looking at two pyramids, and you can tell that the one pyramid is the container of a mummified corpse that only commemorates the death of spirit, whereas the other pyramid is an empty tomb of no body into which a “foreign soul,” a living spirit, has been introduced, so that it may signify the eternal life of spirit. But, of course, it is easy. We can tell, we must be able to tell, the difference between sign and sign, letter and letter, for otherwise we will not be able to tell whether we are coming or going, dead or living, on the way to art or way past art; we will not be able to tell, we will not be able to remember, to re-­member, who we are. This is why we need the Greeks, the classical art of Greece, the one moment in the history of art when absolute spirit did appear in sensuous form and was not merely deposited in the irrevocable externality of signs and letters. If the Greeks did not exist, we would have to, we have had to, invent them – to remember, rather than just memorize, who we are. Otherwise, again, we could not, cannot, tell whether we are pre-­Greek Egyptians or post-­ Greek Christians. The ultimate trouble is that the collapse of romantic art and symbolic art into indifference – into the same indifference and disjunction of sensuous form and spiritual content – has inevitable consequences for the classical art of the Greeks, for how do we know, how do we recognize,

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art as art – that is, neither as pre-­art nor as post-­art – when we see it? How do we know that the sculptured body of a man is the sensuous appearance of the spirit and not itself some kind of pyramid or sphinx, some kind of sign or letter? Can we be so sure that it is not a mummified corpse or an empty sarcophagus? In fact, we don’t see the Greeks or Greek classical art, we instead perform an ideological imposition of a “classical” meaning upon a sensuous form and thereby press it into service as an arbitrary sign – while pretending that what we will have to read there, to have read there, is the necessary, motivated relation between a symbol and what it symbolizes. If the Greeks are invented and have to be invented in order that the history of art – and history as such – may make sense, then the consequences of our not being able to re-­cognize them, re-­member them, except in the mechanical memory by rote of inscribed signs, markers, and letters are dire. For starters, the history of art – and hence the history of spirit’s progressive drive back to itself through and beyond the element of sensuous appearance and representation – becomes instead a repetitive allegory of how the spirit tries to appear, but cannot ever do so except in signs or letters that are, by definition, not appearances but commemorative markers of the death and dissolution – or, rather, the dying and the dissolving – of spirit. (Rather than ab-­solving itself, absolute spirit winds up dis-­solving itself!) Rather than a history of the progressive spiritualization of art from symbolic, through classical, and on to romantic, the story of the Aesthetics would be a repetitive allegory of spirit’s inability to appear, from symbolic to symbolic to symbolic or from romantic to romantic to romantic, Egyptian, Egyptian, and Egyptian again, or Christian, Christian, and Christian still again – but never classical and never Greek. What gets dissolved in such an allegory is not art or the different types of art – art does not end or dissolve, it is always ceaselessly ending and dissolving – but rather spirit. Spirit undergoes the progressive, ceaseless erosion of time, by time, in time. And it will take much time, thousands of years, for it to reach its completed end – which is, in fact, no end at all but a remaindering of ending. In that sense, all “art” would be symbolic (or romantic) art, an art of the sublime in a sense more Kantian than Hegelian: the striving and the failure to make the absolute appear.5 One final irony of this allegory is that the very word “symbol” – which would want to indicate some kind of motivated, necessary, adequate relation between symbolic expression and its meaning (as in sun+ballein) – should in fact be the name for an art of the sign when used by Hegel to denominate a (putatively) historical period of art (as in “symbolic art”). In other words, what Paul de Man calls the non-­convergence of the apparently historical and properly theoretical

­44    Material Inscriptions components of the Aesthetics takes place already in the word symbol insofar as it names both the ideal of art, the paradigm of art as art – i.e., adequation between sensuous form and spiritual content – and also a “historical” art that is essentially an art of the sign – i.e., one in which there is an arbitrary yoking of sensuous form and spiritual content, an imposition of “substantive idea” upon natural objects as their meaning. In short, the symbol is itself always riven by the division between sign and symbol, and this is legible right at the outset of Hegel’s discussion of the symbolic form of art (Die symbolische Kunstform) when he “defines” the “symbol as such” (Vom Symbol überhaupt): “1. The symbol,” writes Hegel, “is first of all a sign” (Das Symbol ist nun zunächst ein Zeichen). In other words, there is first of all an arbitrary linking between meaning and its expression, and it is only in the second place that the symbol is a symbol (!) – i.e., bears a motivated relation between expression and its meaning insofar as the expression already possesses the properties of the meaning it is to express (“The lion . . . as a symbol of magnanimity, the fox of cunning, the circle of eternity, the triangle of the Trinity”): “2. Therefore it is otherwise with a sign that is to be a symbol” (Anders ist es daher bei einem Zeichen, welches ein Symbol sein soll) (13:395, 304). This doubleness of the symbol – i.e., again, 1) the symbol is first of all, immediately, a sign, and 2) the symbol is second of all a symbol – is most peculiar (and a bit bizarre) because it at least implies that in the symbol’s first, initial, immediate definition as sign, there is in fact a symbolic – i.e., “natural,” immediate, motivated – relation between subject and predicate; whereas in the symbol’s second, derived, definition as symbol, there would in fact be a relation of arbitrary designation between subject and predicate. In short, the implication is that in order for the symbol to be defined – delimited, determined – as symbol, there has to be a difference between symbol and symbolized and a disjunction between the symbol and “itself” as the disjunction between sign and symbol. This primary, originary difference of the symbol from itself is, one could say, what programs Hegel’s Aesthetics – and the divergent imperatives of absolute spirit and “art-­spirit” (Kunstgeist) – from beginning to end and what turns it into an allegory of (the impossibility of reading) the symbol. It also gives “new meaning,” as one says, to Hegel’s more well-­known insistence a bit later on the essential ambiguity of the symbol: “From this it follows that the symbol, according to its own concept, remains essentially ambiguous” (Hieraus folgt nun, daß das Symbol seinem eigenen Begriff nach wesentlich zweideutig bleibt) (13:397, 306). No doubt it is this essential, irreducible and unsublatable (unaufhebbare?), ambiguity that makes Hegel’s Aesthetics, in Paul de Man’s words, “a double and

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possibly duplicitous text.” Although de Man’s itinerary in “Sign and Symbol in Hegel’s Aesthetics” goes through different texts (and mostly not the Aesthetics), his summary can serve our purposes as well: No wonder, then, that Hegel’s Aesthetics turns out to be a double and possibly duplicitous text. Dedicated to the preservation and the monumentalization of classical art, it also contains all the elements which make such a preservation impossible from the start. Theoretical reasons prevent the convergence of the apparently historical and the properly theoretical components of the work. This results in the enigmatic statements that have troubled Hegel’s readers, such as the assertion that art is for us a thing of the past. This has usually been interpreted and criticized or, in some rare instances, praised as a historical diagnosis disproven or borne out by actual history. We can now assert that the two statements “art is for us a thing of the past” and “the beautiful is the sensory manifestation of the idea” are in fact one and the same. To the extent that the paradigm for art is thought rather than perception, the sign rather than the symbol, writing rather than painting or music, it will also be memorization rather than recollection. As such, it belongs indeed to a past which, in Proust’s words, could never be recaptured, retrouvé. Art is “of the past” in a radical sense, in that, like memorization, it leaves the interiorization of experience forever behind. It is of the past to the extent that it materially inscribes, and thus forever forgets, its ideal content. The reconciliation of the two main theses of the Aesthetics occurs at the expense of the aesthetic as a stable philosophical category.6

The ultimate indifference of symbolic art and romantic art – as well as the radical pastness of art as such (in its status as material i­nscription) – is corroborated by the genre, in fact the poetic genre, that Hegel places at the end, at the point of dissolution, of both symbolic art and romantic art: namely, the epigram, the inscription. “The original essence of the epigram is expressed at once by its name: it is an inscription. Of course here too there stands an object on one side and, on the other, something is said about it” (Das ursprüngliche Wesen des Epigramms spricht schon der Name aus: es ist eine Aufschrift. Allerdings steht auch hier noch auf der einen Seite ein Gegenstand, und auf der anderen wird etwas über ihn gesagt) (13:544–5, 424–5). One of the “comparative” art-­forms, the epigram or inscription is, for Hegel, the genre of transition, indeed of transitoriness, the genre of the dissolution of art, because in its most developed (i.e., dissolved) form it leads to the greatest divorce and disjunction between the externality of the sensuous and the internality of the spiritual. In the oldest Greek epigrams, for example, we do not merely get the depiction of an object accompanied by some sentiment or other, but rather we get the thing in a double way: first the external existent and then its meaning or explanation, “these are pressed together as an epigram with the sharpest and most apposite traits” (13:545,

­46    Material Inscriptions 425). In later epigrams, and already in later Greek ones, we do not get the object at all but rather a host of “sketchy, ingenious, witty, agreeable, and touching notions about individual occurrences, works of art, or persons, etc. These set forth not so much the object itself as clever subjective relations to it” (13:545, 426). In other words, whereas in the oldest (Greek!) epigram there is at least something of a necessary relation between the sensuous thing – here it is the object written on – and its spiritual meaning – here that would be the inscription itself, whose own materiality of inscribed letters is taken as utterly transparent precisely on account of the necessary relation between it and the sensuous object it is written on – in later epigrams both the object and the inscription become utterly contingent. Any external object at all is used as the occasion or the pretext for any fleeting, subjective sentiment, feeling, or notion that may come into the writer’s head: the externality of the object (and whatever meaning may be proper to it) on the one hand and the spiritual internality of the subject (and whatever meaning may be proper to it) turn away from one another and fall into a contingent relation both to one another and to themselves. Needless to say, Hegel is especially hard on such a late transitional form and, already in the discussion of the dissolution of symbolic art, has its doubly contingent character serve as also exemplary for the latest of late transitional forms of art, namely the romantic: “Now the less the object itself enters as it were into this sort of representation, the more imperfect does the representation become as a result. In this connection passing mention may be made of more recent art-­forms. In Tieck’s novellas, for example, the matter in hand often consists of special works of art, or artists, or a specific art-­ gallery or piece of music, and then some little story or other is tacked on to it. But these specific pictures which the reader has not seen, the music which he has not heard, the poet cannot make visible and audible, and the whole form when it turns on precisely these objects and the like remains in this respect defective (mangelhaft)” (13:545, 426). Hegel repeats his complaint about the romantic epigram – after he has again differentiated it from the older Greek epigram (as he did in the case of his discussion of the dissolution of symbolic art)7 – at the very end of his treatment of romantic art in a section entitled “The End of the Romantic Art-­form”: “But such poems to or about something, a tree, a mill-­lade, the spring, etc., about things living or dead, may be of quite endless variety and arise in any nation, yet they remain of a subordinate kind and, in general, readily become lame. For especially when reflection and speech have been developed, anyone may be struck in connection with most objects and circumstances by some fancy or other which he now has skill enough to express, just as anyone is good at writing a letter.

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With such a general sing-­song, often repeated even if with new nuances, we soon become surfeited” (14:240–1, 609–10).

Worked OR That the later, and late late, epigram or inscription should serve as the last, exemplary transitional genre for both symbolic and romantic art is certainly appropriate and corroborates our characterization of these two art-­forms “in transition” – whether before or after, on the way to or from, art as such – as arts of the sign and the inscribed letter. And that even the late Greek epigram already suffers such a “symbolic” and/or “romantic” dissolution of art is also, as one says, no accident. Now, to adduce Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” in this context – as an exemplary inscription of what we call “romantic” poetry and thus a transitional work of art that would exemplify the persistent, ceaseless dissolution of art – may seem a bit bizarre. If anything, isn’t the Ode much rather a great example of the apparently “official,” doctrinal theses of Hegel’s Aesthetics and its monumental history of art? Namely, one, that art, beautiful art, is the sensuous appearance of the Idea, and that it is most beautiful and most art in the form of Greek art, the perfect adequation of sensuous form and spiritual content. And, two, that art in this sense, i.e., as Greek art, is for us (romantics and “last romantics”) a thing of the past. For doesn’t Keats’s Ode in fact both say and perform thesis number one: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”? And does it not embody a nostalgic, elegiac, indeed “romantic” (in Hegel’s sense) stance toward the vanished, dead past of Greece and Greek art, a past that can nevertheless be redeemed and recovered by an artistic, symbolic act which remembers the art of ancient Greece by, in a sense, reperforming the sacrifice of sensuous for spiritual (but now with a Christian inflection?) in a poem? Asserting the value of art while at the same time embodying it, the Ode would seem to constitute a veritable document of “aesthetic ideology” – that is, taking the “aesthetic” not as a philosophical category subject to “critique” but rather as a value (religious, ethical, political, educational, etc.) – and it is true (though not so pretty or so beautiful) that most interpretations of the poem, no matter how competent or even spectacularly masterful they may be, treat it as such. Nevertheless, from the beginning, interpreters have also had to account for a certain trouble, a certain difficulty, in the poem – an immediate obstacle to any and every grand aesthetic synthesis. One of the two main cruxes for readings of the poem, this problem is immediately obvious. For a poem that at least seems to be so intent upon affirming

­48    Material Inscriptions and being a beautiful object of art – that would show rather than tell, that would not mean but be, and so on – it is oddly sententious, it tells and protests all too much, as it culminates in a statement, “a statement even of some sententiousness,” as Cleanth Brooks puts it, “in which the urn itself is made to say that beauty is truth, and – more sententious still – that this bit of wisdom sums up the whole of mortal knowledge. This is ‘to mean’ with a vengeance” (Brooks, 151).8 Whether explicitly or otherwise, the critical tradition agrees with T. S. Eliot’s verdict on the poem’s last lines and their all too epigrammatic oracle: it is “a serious blemish on a beautiful poem; and the reason must be either that I fail to understand it, or that it is a statement which is untrue.”9 In short, the flat, parrot-­like, prosaic statement “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” is neither beautiful nor true (unless T. S. Eliot fails to understand it). Hence the burden of reading the poem has been throughout to reconnect the last two lines of the poem with the poem, to demonstrate that they too are very much part of an organic whole – as much a part of the beautiful aesthetic object as the broken piece of a shattered urn. In other words, the activity of the interpreter has always been symbolic – in the root sense of the word, sun+ballein, to put or throw back together pieces of a whole – and to render the poem a symbol in the full, privileged, “romantic” sense: that is, as a substantial symbol that, on the one hand, bears a necessary, organic relation to what it symbolizes but that, on the other hand, sacrifices its substance for a higher, transcendental meaning it allows to shine through it. The symbol is both substantial and translucent – to use Coleridge’s terms10 – and is clearly based on an incarnational, sacrificial, resurrectional model of language and signification – and thus an ideological formation (the “ideology of the symbol,” as Paul de Man would put it11) since it is a model based on faith and not on a knowledge of how language works. The last lines are very much a part of the poem as symbolic whole because they are spoken “in character” by a character who is itself a symbolic object: namely, the urn.12 And having an inanimate object speak – a function of the tropes of anthropomorphism and prosopopoeia – does not disturb the aesthetic wholeness and integrity of the art object that is the urn and that is the poem on the urn. It is rather a paradox – “the paradox of silent speech,” as Brooks calls it – and one that governs the other paradoxes of the poem. Just as the silent urn can also be a historian who tells a tale, so unheard melodies can be sweeter than heard, action goes on though the actors are motionless, and the beauty portrayed on the urn is “deathless because it is lifeless” or, as Kenneth Burke puts it (in discussing the “deathy-­deathless scene” of sacrifice in the fourth stanza), less euphemistically, “immortal or dead”: “The dead world of ancient

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Greece, as immortalized on an Urn surviving [i.e., “living on”] from that period, is the vessel of the deathy-­deathless ambiguity” (Burke, 457).13 Small wonder that Burke calls the poem a “viaticum” – a host for the dying – since it is able to give immortality to the dead who can thus “live on” in a deathy after-­life. For such a dialectic, it is a small matter to have an inanimate urn speak an eternal truth – the truth of beauty – that can then haunt the generations. But what has also not ceased to haunt readings of the poem is the question of its genre. It is an ode, yes, and hence the lyric genre of voice, speech, and song that addresses and praises an object. Nevertheless, the title of Keats’s Ode already shifts the generic ground a bit: despite its addressing the urn and, at the end, giving it a voice, it is not an ode to a Grecian urn but rather an “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” This difference complicates the self-­evidence of the poem’s genre because it points to another genre underneath the ode, the sub-­genre of inscription, epigram. The ode may be spoken to the urn – which in turn speaks to us – but it is written on the urn. As Hegel would say, we have a sensuous object and the inscription on it that gives the object’s (spiritual) meaning; or Lessing on the poetic genre of inscription: “First, some object of sense which arouses our curiosity; and then the account of this same object, which satisfies that curiosity.”14 That the urn’s main curiosity is the inscription on it – the inscription that the poem on the urn attempts to decipher, to read and hence to (re)write – is legible in the first stanza: “What leaf-­fring’d legend haunts about thy shape . . .?” A “legend” may be “an inscription or title on an object, such as a coat of arms or coin,” as the dictionary puts it, “or an explanatory caption accompanying a map, chart, or illustration”15 – from lego, legere, something for reading. Within the poem, that legend is of course the aphorism or oracle at the end – “Beauty is truth, truth beauty” – and therefore the relation between the poem on the urn (that describes the scene painted on it) and its last two lines is like the relation between the object and the inscription on it. In other words, the poem does nothing so much as to “act out” the genre of inscription: the urn and the poem, the visible pictures on the urn and the poem describing, inscribing, them, the beautiful poem and the ugly, prosaic statement of its last two lines – all are versions of the relation between phenomenal object and material inscription. And that relation is so insistent, so powerfully coercive, as to have emboldened generations of critics to go and seek the “real” urn so that they may, as it were, reattach its inscription to it – exactly in the same way that they have also had to reunite the ugly epigram to the beautiful ode. In doing so, they would, in a sense, turn Keats’s late romantic epigram back into the ancient Greek epigram that Hegel is so fond of – i.e., one

­50    Material Inscriptions that gives us the object twice in that its relation to the object is necessary, determined, symbolic (in the Coleridgean sense of “symbolic”). Even the critics who have noticed the form of the inscription lurking, like a hypogram, underneath the ode – Spitzer, Hagstrum, Bate, and Hartman, among others16 – do this: that is, read the poem as an attempt to create the “modern equivalent to that fusion of reality and idea which haunted artists and theoreticians from Winckelmann on and which seemed to them the very secret of Greek art.”17 In short, Keats’s “one mature inscription” returns us to a living Greece in memory – a memory that works by an internalization and imaginative re-­embodiment and re-­ externalization of the images of Greek art. Thus Keats is able, perorates Geoffrey Hartman, to use the genre of inscription “once more to teach what art can teach” (my emphasis).18 But the possibility of phenomenalizing and aesthetifying Keats’s late romantic inscription (as though it were a piece of ancient Greek sculpture) becomes questionable if we read its other crux: namely, the fourth stanza, its scene of sacrifice, and the empty little Greek ghost-­town whose “streets for evermore will silent be” and to which not a soul “can e’er return” to tell the tale of its devastation – presumably because all of the town’s souls are forever frozen stiff and forever on the way to a forever incompleted sacrifice! If the critical tradition is pretty much unanimous about the beautiful poem’s chief blemish – the ugly oracle at the end (that needs to be beautified by being reattached to the poem) – it is still more universally laudatory about its signal beauty: the fourth stanza and its poignant lines about the little town. The “more happy, more happy” repetitions of the third stanza may be a bit much, the line “All breathing human passion far above” may be awkward, and the pathetic pun on “Attic” and “attitude” may indicate Keats’s humble class origins, but all judge the fourth stanza to be of unsurpassed beauty. The little town is especially beautiful, it seems, because it is not on the urn. Unlike the pictures of men or gods (or both), pipers piping, youths and maidens, lovers and beloveds, and happy, happy boughs of the first three stanzas, the little town is off the urn.19 Since it is vividly an empty, dead little Greek ghost-­town to which no one can return and whose history no one can tell, it takes some dialectical work to turn it into the symbol of a living Greece full of living Greeks in a memory that can indeed tell its story. For there is a danger that one “may easily come to feel that the poet is indulging himself in an ingenious fancy, an indulgence, however, which is gratuitous and finally silly; that is, the poet has created in his own imagination the town implied by the procession of worshippers, has given it a special character of desolation and loneliness, and then has gone on to treat it as if it were a real town to which a stranger might

Aesthetic Ideology and Material Inscription    ­51

actually come and be puzzled by its emptiness” (Brooks, 162). But, for critics like Cleanth Brooks, the problem is easily solved, as always by recourse to the symbolic imagination and the imaginative perception of essentials at the base of beauty. It is once again the paradox – not to say the mystery – of the symbolic imagination at work. That is, the movement off the urn and to the little town is analogous to the movement from the carved or painted pipes of the melodist to the unheard melodies played “not to the sensual ear, but, more endeared / Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone.” For Brooks, the analogy is exact: “the imagined town is to the figured procession as the unheard melody is to the carved pipes of the unwearied melodist” (Brooks, 162). In other words, the symbolic imagination performs a sacrificial, dialectical operation that takes us from the sensuous and empirical to the spiritual and ideal by a negation of the former: the sweeter melodies are unheard, they are played “not to the sensual ear,” the ditties are of “no tone.” What Kenneth Burke calls the “transcendent act” of the first three stanzas that splits the soul off from the body and transports from men to gods, from the human to the divine – from the sensuous to the spiritual, from the empirical to the ideal – is the work of this dialectic. But does the analogy hold in the case of the little town? Is the little town off the urn in the same way as the toneless ditties played to the spirit? Clearly enough, if we read it as a symbol of the once living but now dead Greek culture that produced works of art like the Grecian urn, then the little town is indeed off the urn in the same way as the unheard ditties of no tone: i.e., as a spiritual, ideal little town produced by the symbolic imagination that works by a memory (Erinnerung) that internalizes and stores up images in order to re-­member and re-­externalize them in the form of works of art. But lest we be tempted to think that we can return to the little town so easily, we might do better to heed the poem’s admonition – “and not a soul to tell / Why thou art desolate, can e’er return” – and reconsider the means of transport (meta-­pherein?) we would use to get us there. More dialectically acute than Cleanth Brooks’s easy analogies, Kenneth Burke’s reading of the fourth stanza’s scene of sacrifice is of great help here and, despite itself, gets us closer to the “real” little town. If the first three stanzas are a transcendent act that, by a species of metaphorical transport, takes us vertically from the sensuous and to the spiritual, from the human to the divine, then the fourth stanza, according to Burke and his act-­scene ratio, provides us with the scene that is the ground of this act. The transcendent act requires a transcendent scene to ground it. If the movement is from the human to the divine, the scene will be the ground of the divine. In the fourth stanza, it is the scene of religious sacrifice: that is, the sacrifice of the sensuous for the spiritual

­52    Material Inscriptions that grounds Greek religion and that serves as a mediation and a “bond of communication” between human and divine, mortal and immortal, finite and infinite, temporal and eternal. Burke summarizes: “The scene on the Urn is really the scene behind the Urn; the Urn is literally the ground of the scene, but transcendentally the scene is the ground of the Urn. The Urn contains the scene out of which it arose” (Burke, 458). Nevertheless, even if we ignore the fact that the scene “literally” on the urn is a scene of incomplete and forever incompleted sacrifice – and may therefore perform a different, other-­ than-­ Christian, other-­ than-­ dialectical kind of sacrifice that rather than mediating the human and the divine instead serves only to commemorate their incommensurability, as a kind of sublime (and more Egyptian?) marker of the infinite distance between the human and the divine – even if we ignore that, Burke’s reading of stanza four still does not account for the little town and its peculiar position off the urn. That peculiarity is already signaled by the asymmetry in Burke’s own rhetoric in the lines just quoted: the urn is literally the ground of the scene – that is, it is the physical object on which the sacrificial scene is painted or carved – but transcendentally, says Burke, the scene is the ground of the urn. A nice chiasmic reversal, but it is obviously asymmetrical since “transcendentally” is not the opposite number of “literally.” Clearly enough, “figuratively” is being conflated with and replaced by “transcendentally” here, a move that is of course the symbolic imagination’s prerogative, but one that does not in fact work to get us back to the little town.20 For in the case of the little town, the urn “contains” the scene out of which it arose in a less metaphorical way – less as a vertical transport from sensuous to spiritual, ideal, or transcendental – and in a more metonymical way – more as a horizontal transfer from one sensuous thing or place to another, as when one takes the container for the contained, or, say, the contained for the container. That is, the urn takes us back not to a little Greek town of historical memory or sacrificial, dialectical imagination but to the very “real” town of ruins somewhere “by river or sea shore, / Or mountain-­built” on this earth. As an artifact, a product, of a once living but now dead Greek culture, the urn is a ruin that points to other ruins, for example, the desolate little town whose dead Greeks produced the urn. In other words, the urn signifies the little town not as a substantial symbol, not as a metaphor, not as a synecdoche, but rather by something like a blind (or dead?) metonymy – it is next to, contiguous with, something else but this something is just as much a ruin and a fragment as it is – that points, refers, allegorically, to a dead little town of ruins and fragments, to dead Greeks and a dead Greece relegated forever, endlessly, to a past from which and to which there is no return, by the ceaselessly eroding power

Aesthetic Ideology and Material Inscription    ­53

of the time that wastes generations. As a remainder of a remainder, fragment of a fragment, broken piece of a broken piece, the urn can only mean, can only inscribe as a marker or a letter, breaking, fragmenting, remaindering. Thou shalt remain. But it would be a mistake to think that identifying the little town in this way – i.e., as the now ruined little Greek town in which the urn was produced – gets us any closer to the truly materially historical little town and its conditions and relations of production. Substituting horizontal metonymical transfers for vertical metaphorical transports is, after all, still only the substitution of one trope for another and hence still within the tropological system according to which the body is determined as the negation of the soul, the sensuous as the negation of the spiritual, the human as the negation of the divine, the empirical as the negation of the ideal, and so on. As such, it is only the substitution of one consciousness for another – to use Marx’s Hegelian vocabulary in The German Ideology – and therefore still very much within the system of consciousness. The little Greek ghost-­town of ruins somewhere on the Peloponnesus is just as metaphorical, just as fetishized and hypostatized, as the “ideal” town produced by the symbolic imagination of aesthetic ideologists like Cleanth Brooks. If we want to get nearer the truly material, historical, “little town” of Keats’s ode, we need to ask about its means of production in (and by) the poem. A good way to reformulate and recapitulate how reading takes us from the urn as symbol of a living Greece to allegorical sign, marker, or even letter of a dead Greece – and thereby from a notion of memory and history whose temporality redeems and revives the past and turns it into an eternal present to a mechanical memory by rote and a history in which time only relegates to an irretrievable and irreducible endless pastness it ceaselessly erodes – is an itinerary by way of Keats’s “or.” That the Keatsian “or” is an ambiguous and overdetermined conjunction is legible anywhere one looks in the poetry or the prose. And it is ambiguous and overdetermined because, as we know, it need not be the formal logical “or” of a choice between this or that (which can then be dialecticized into a both this and that) but may also be an other “or,” indeed, an other other “or” one would have to say, one that means neither this nor that but a third thing. For instance: “Fled is that music: – do I wake or sleep?” I may be either waking or sleeping, and even if I can’t decide which, I am still reassured that there is an “I” that (thinks it) is doing one or the other. But what if I am neither waking nor sleeping but a third thing, something heterogeneous to the reassuring (at least for Descartes21) system of reversible oppositions like awake and asleep: “Do I wake or sleep?” Such a third thing, such a third other other “or,” would put in question not only my

­54    Material Inscriptions being able to know whether I am waking or sleeping but also my being an “I,” i.e., as a Cartesian ego cogito whose thinking would govern all other predicates that can be attached to its subject and that can know when it asks a question whether or not it is asking a question. Such an “or” turns the “I” that would “speak” it into a dead, mechanical, grammatical “subject,” less a subject than a grammatical syntagm. It is an “or” legible underneath the apparently dialectical logic of the “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Let us retrace the way the poem works it. Kenneth Burke’s reading of the relation between the first three stanzas and stanza four is again most helpful here. If stanzas one through three perform a “transcendent act” that takes us from the body to the soul, carnal to spiritual, human to divine, mortal to immortal, temporal to eternal, then the “or” in the first stanza’s “men or gods,” “deities or mortals,” can already be taken as the expression of the desired vertical movement of transcendence insofar as it conjoins and mediates between men and gods, deities and mortals. And that it is a mediation operated by the work of determinate negation is confirmed by the second stanza’s separating “unheard” melodies from heard ones, and ditties of “no tone” played to the spirit and “not to the sensual ear.” Indeed, the “or” becomes a veritable vehicle of transport in the second and, especially, third stanzas as its echoes saturate the poem: in “nor ever . . . for ever . . . nor ever . . . for ever . . . for ever . . . more happy . . . more happy . . . for ever . . . for ever panting . . . for ever young,” and even in “high-­sorrowful” and “a burning forehead.” The speaker’s uncertainty in stanza one whether he is seeing men or gods (or both) pictured on the urn triggers the “transcendent act” and by the third stanza teases him out of thought “as doth eternity.” But what about the “or” in the fourth stanza and its supposed grounding of the transcendent act in a “transcendent scene” of sacrifice, “a communication,” as Burke puts it, “with the immortal or the dead” (Burke, 456, my emphasis)? The return of the form of the question explicitly echoes the (rhetorical?22) questions of the first stanza: “What little town by river or sea shore, / Or mountain-­built with peaceful citadel, / Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn? / And, little town, thy streets for evermore / Will silent be, and not a soul to tell / Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.” In linking river, sea shore, and mountain, this “or” is clearly a horizontal, metonymical means of transfer that takes from one sensuous, physical place on this earth to another. Rather than metaphorically transporting us to vertical transcendence of any kind, it instead has us circulate among places very much on this earth where the empty desolate little town might be. If there is “communication” here, it is very much a communication with the dead rather than with the “immortal,” or – and a Keatsian “or” at

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that – at least with the “deathiness of immortality.” And in taking us to the little town, the urn – as a product of the Greek civilization figured by the little town – does the same thing: it takes us from one sensuous, physical, mortal thing to another sensuous, physical, mortal thing, from one dead thing to another dead thing. It is no wonder that the aestheticizing interpreters like Cleanth Brooks need to read the movement from the urn to the little town as analogous to the movement from the carved pipes to the imagined music, that is, as a movement from sensuous to spiritual. For it is this substitution of a vertical movement of transcendence for a horizontal movement of immanence that allows Brooks to claim that we can return to the dead little town as though to an eternally living Greece in memory – precisely at the moment when the poem itself says that there is no return, and that not a soul can tell such monumental histories. Again, the aestheticizing interpreter needs to transpose a blindly metonymical relation of contiguity between the urn and the dead culture that produced it into a metaphorical relation of substantial (“symbolic”) analogy between the sensuous urn and a spiritually living culture. And, in doing this, they need to take an allegorical signification that points to mortality and the wasting power of time, to a dead Greece and dead Greeks, as a symbolic representation of the spiritual in and through the sensuous – the veritable “sensuous appearance of the Idea,” here the ideal of Greek culture and Greek art (as grounded in Greek religion). To put it still more starkly: whereas the poem says that there is no soul, not a soul, that can return from or to the little town to tell its story or history, the aestheticizing interpreter says that it is precisely the little town’s imagined, spiritual (soul) existence that tells histories which are beautiful, true, and good.23 As is clear, this is the arch-­ideological move, and we need not dwell on it. Put in terms of the workings of the poem’s “or,” it means to read the (metonymical) “or” of the fourth stanza as though it were the same as the “or” of the first stanza – which, of course, would introduce the possibility that one could read the fourth stanza’s “or” back into the first three stanzas: what if the “or” of “men or gods,” “deities or mortals or of both,” is already riven by a “deathy-­deathless ambiguity” that has the “immortal” communicate all too directly with the dead? This possibility introduces a third, other “or,” indeed, the peculiarly Keatsian other other “or” that threatens to disarticulate the speaking subject, which, after all, is the lyrical subject of voice and song and allegedly poetic “genres” like the ode. Let us read it slowly. If, like the urn, the poem’s “or” can take us to a living Greece and, and/or, to a dead Greece – to immortality or death, as Burke puts it – then OR is not just a word. Like the poem on the urn, OR is divided, riven, against itself – it carries from sensuous to spiritual and from

­56    Material Inscriptions sensuous to sensuous, from mortal to immortal and from dead to dead – and thus is not just a word carrying meaning but also a mark or an inscription, a marker or a place-­holder, that marks, holds the place for, the disjunction not only between empirical and transcendental but also ultimately between an idealist interpretation of the poem as symbolic representation and a material reading of the poem as allegorical signification, between the poem as phenomenal (and “poetic”) aesthetic object and the poem as material (and “prosaic”) inscription. For, indeed, if the first stanza’s OR can be infected and contaminated by the fourth stanza’s OR – and, in the aesthetic ideological interpretation of the ode, the fourth stanza’s OR can be repressed and transformed into the first stanza’s – then there is nothing to stop us from reading this self-­ disarticulation of the poem wherever we come across OR. That is, there is nothing to stop us from stuttering OR over and over again whenever we utter or mutter not just “nOR ever” or “fOR ever,” but also “sylvan histORian,” “high-­sORROwful and cloyed,” “Of marble men and maidens OveRwROught with fORest branches and the tROdden weed,” “Thou, silent fORm,” and “Cold PastORal,” never mind the names of readers inscribed in the poem like Messrs BROoks and B[O] uRke! But the stutter or hiccup of our toneless ditty or ditto of the self-­ disarticulating OR is not just playful or perverse. If OR lurks beneath and, as it were, programs the “spoken,” meaning-­carrying words of the poem, then OR would be an ana-­or hypogram that threatens to fragment and dismember (rather than remember) words and their meanings into word particles, pieces of words, and ultimately inscribed letters. And this dismemberment of meaning worked by the poem’s OR can in turn also remember meaning in weirdly allegorical combinations. For instance, rather than reading “Cold Pastoral” as some kind of symbolic paradox or dialectical synthesis, we can read it on the level of the letter to say, as it were, “Cold Past-­OR-­al”: that is, an OR that is irretrievably and irreducibly PAST because it is always PAST the ORAL, always already inscribed and written rather than spoken or sung. And once we have gone this far, why stop there? Once one notices the dismembering and disarticulating play of the letter in the text, there is no going back and no return. How can we not notice that the chiasmic structure OR/RO in “OveRwROught” (or in “sORROwful” or in “fORest . . . tROdden”) has dire consequences for the chiasmus “Beauty is truth, truth beauty”? Who is to say that the urn’s parroted “beauty-­truth/ truth-­beauty” is not just as empty and mechanical, just as much a matter of purely differential marks and written letters, as OR/RO? The chiasmus that serves as the vehicle of transport between beauty and truth may be just as mundane and just as prosaic24 as the OR that transfers us from

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the urn to the little town by river or sea shore or mountain. If OR is the hypogram that writes or underwrites, or inscribes, the poem’s “truth,” then it is a truth that gives the lie to the aestheticizing interpreters of the poem who would turn Keats’s inscription on the Grecian urn into a phenomenal beautiful object of art that speaks with a living voice. The truth of beauty is not the ghostly legend that haunts about the shape of the poem on the urn. Its reading matter says the only thing that an urn containing the ashes of the dead – Greeks or not – can say. It is the same thing that a sepulchre or a tombstone or a grave marker says, over and over, and whatever is written on it: MORS. For a coda, and to illustrate the “OR-­work” in miniature, we can end with one of Keats’s last texts: “This Living Hand.” This living hand, now warm and capable Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold And in the icy silence of the tomb, So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood So in my veins red life might stream again, And thou be conscience-­calmed – see here it is – I hold it towards you.25

Although the “or” (or OR) is signally absent in this poem – unless, like some Saussure poring over his maddening anagrams, we strain to make it out under “I hold it tOwaRds you”! – it is nevertheless very much at work in the text’s hand-­work or handi-­work. To go directly to the crux: which hand is it that is being held out towards “you,” us, in the “here” (l. 7) and “now” (l. 1) of the poem’s space and time? Is it the living hand? Well, yes and no. Manifestly yes, since the speaker would “conscience-­ calm” us by offering the living hand that is warm and capable of earnest grasping. But also manifestly no, because the reference of “it” – in “see here it is” and “I hold it towards you” – is ambiguous. The most direct antecedent in the poem for this “it” is not the living hand but rather still another “it” that instead refers to the dead hand – in “if it were cold / And in the icy silence of the tomb.” And the dead hand’s being put in the subjunctive mood – “if it were cold” – does not do much to revive “it” since we know very well that whatever hand Keats could offer us here and now would not be a living hand, the poet having breathed his last long ago in the little room overlooking the Spanish Steps in Piazza di Spagna 26. But, then again, it is also manifestly not the dead hand we are offered here, moldering as it is in the nameless grave in the Protestant Cemetery. Rather – on the other other hand, one would have to say – the only hand we actually get in the here and now of the poem’s

­58    Material Inscriptions reading is the poem’s hand-­writing: the text written by a once living and now dead hand. Dead hand writing. In other words, the only hand we get – the hand that re-­members both the living hand and the dead hand and yet neither in the pronoun “it” – is the hand writing. It is the writing hand, which was always already dead (or rather neither living nor dead but a third other other hand) and thus severed from the body and the soul of an “I,” an inorganic, mechanical, prosthetic hand. This hand remains, and it remains to write remainders (re-­main-­ders!) on the non-­phenomenal but nevertheless material piece of paper that constitutes the here and now, the space and time, of reading and of writing.26 Instead of being a pronoun (pro-­, in place of + nomen, name) referring to an antecedent (ante-­, before + cedere, to go), “it” – this . . . here . . . now, historically, materially inscribed – “goes before” all names and all antecedents and every lyrical “I” or “you.”

Notes   1. All references to Hegel’s Aesthetics will be given by volume number and page number for the German (volumes 13, 14, and 15 of the Theorie Werkausgabe of Hegel’s works) and then by the English of T. M. Knox’s translation. See G. W. F. Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Ästhetik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970); and G. W. F. Hegel, Aesthetics, trans. T. M. Knox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975). Occasionally I have had to modify the translation.   2. That the “death of art” interpretation is certainly questionable is argued by Curtis L. Carter, “A Reexamination of the ‘Death of Art’ Interpretation of Hegel’s Aesthetics,” in Lawrence S. Stepelevich (ed.), Selected Essays on G. W. F. Hegel (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1993), pp. 11–26.   3. Cf. T. M. Knox’s suggestive essay “The Puzzle of Hegel’s Aesthetics” in Stepelevich (ed.), Selected Essays on G. W. F. Hegel, pp. 2–10.   4. On the passage from Vorstellung to Denken, symbol and sign, and memory as interiorization versus mechanical memory by rote in the third part of Hegel’s Encyclopedia, see Paul de Man’s “Sign and Symbol in Hegel’s Aesthetics” in Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), pp. 91–104. See my quotation and use of de Man’s essay below.   5. On the mind’s striving and failure to present the ideas of reason – which, according to Kant, is itself a presentation (not of the ideas of reason, which cannot be presented, but) “of the subjective purposiveness of our mind, in the use of our imagination, for the mind’s supersensible vocation” – see Kant’s “General Comment on the Exposition of Aesthetic Reflective Judgments” at the end of the “Analytic of the Sublime” in Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987), p. 128. In German:

Aesthetic Ideology and Material Inscription    ­59 Kritik der Urteilskraft (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1974), pp. 193–4. See also my “‘As the Poets Do It’: On the Material Sublime” and “Returns of the Sublime: Positing and Performative in Kant, Fichte, and Schiller,” now in my Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013).   6. De Man, “Sign and Symbol in Hegel’s Aesthetics,” in Aesthetic Ideology, pp. 102–3.   7. The difficulty Hegel has in distinguishing the dissolution of symbolic art from the dissolution of romantic art is symptomatic – and corroborates our collapsing these two art-­forms as both arts of the sign – especially since in both cases he has to offer inscription, the epigram, as the exemplary transitional form of the dissolution of art. And the insistence on the difference between the older Greek epigram and the later Greek epigram at least begins to indicate that even Greek art was not immune from suffering a “symbolic” or a “romantic” dissolution. But a fuller discussion not only of the three art-­forms but also of the individual arts in Hegel’s Aesthetics would be necessary to read these symptoms and verify these suspicions.  8. All references to Cleanth Brooks’s “Keats’s Sylvan Historian: History Without Footnotes” are to his The Well Wrought Urn (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1947) and will be given as “Brooks” followed by the page number. References to Kenneth Burke’s “Symbolic Action in a Poem by Keats” (1943) are to his A Grammar of Motives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969) and will be given as “Burke” followed by the page number.   9. T. S. Eliot, “Dante,” in Selected Essays of T. S. Eliot (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964), p. 231. Quoted in Brooks, p. 152. 10. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Statesman’s Manual, in The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1860), pp. 437–8. On symbol and allegory see Paul de Man’s “The Rhetoric of Temporality” in the second edition of Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, Second Edition, Revised (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), pp. 187–228. 11. On the “ideology of the symbol,” see de Man’s “Sign and Symbol in Hegel’s Aesthetics” in Aesthetic Ideology, p. 100. 12. The fact that the symbolicizing interpreters of the poem – like Brooks, who would base its “organic” wholeness on its “dramatic propriety” and its “dramatic wholeness” (Brooks, 165–6) – need, in a sense, to transform its genre from lyric to drama is a symptom, ultimately, of a certain repression of its underlying “genre”: inscription. Kenneth Burke’s more dialectically acute “dramatistic” reading of the poem “in terms of symbolic action” (Burke, 447) also performs such a repression – or perhaps only a “denegation” insofar as the rigor of Burke’s reading in various places renders the ode’s underlying genre legible. 13. The fact that Burke needs catachreses to say what he needs to say – as in his “deathy” or “the deathiness of immortality” (Burke, 456) – is a symptom of, among other things, his being a better critical reader than he is an aesthetico-­ideologizing, symbolicizing interpreter or self-­taught ­dialectician!

­60    Material Inscriptions 14. As quoted in Geoffrey Hartman, “Wordsworth, Inscriptions, and Romantic Nature Poetry,” in Beyond Formalism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), p. 209. 15. American Heritage Dictionary (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1969). 16. See Leo Spitzer’s 1955 essay “The ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ or Content vs. Metagrammar,” in his Essays on English and American Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962), pp. 67–97; Jean Hagstrum’s The Sister Arts (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), pp. 22–3; Walter Jackson Bate’s John Keats (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966), pp. 510–20; and Hartman’s “Wordsworth, Inscriptions, and Romantic Nature Poetry.” 17. Hartman, “Wordsworth, Inscriptions, and Romantic Nature Poetry,” p. 230. It is worth noting that according to Hartman the “fusion of reality and idea” haunted “artists and theoreticians from Winckelmann on,” given that the leaf-­fring’d legend haunts about the shape of the urn. Equally worth noting is Hartman’s invocation of Winckelmann and German “Graecomania” – and nolens volens along with them all the double binds of imitation that haunted the likes of Hölderlin. 18. Ibid. p. 230. 19. Harold Bloom’s explanatory footnote to the poem is telling: “The ‘little town’ is not on the urn, but exists only in the implications of art.” See the Oxford Anthology of English Literature volume Romantic Poetry and Prose, ed. Harold Bloom and Lionel Trilling (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 542. It echoes Bloom’s remarks about the little town in his Visionary Company (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971), p. 418: “The green altar and the little town exist not on the urn but in the past and future that are phenomenological implications of the poem’s existence.” Bloom’s claim that the “implications” of the poem’s existence are phenomenological is a compact instance of a “phenomenalization of reference,” to use de Man’s terms, that is the very definition of ideology. As always, and as is clear throughout Bloom’s interpretation, it is an instance of aesthetic ideology. The vagueness of the word “implications” here is a symptom of a resistance to reading what may be “folded into” a poem’s existence. See my attempt to read the little town below. 20. This move is typical of the New Critics – though one should not confuse Kenneth Burke too readily with them (even if he reads like them on occasion). It is legible in, for example, Cleanth Brooks’s programmatic “The Language of Paradox” in The Well Wrought Urn and in Robert Penn Warren’s interpretation of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in “A Poem of Pure Imagination, An Experiment in Reading,” in Twentieth Century Interpretations of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, ed. James D. Boulger (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-­Hall, 1969), pp. 21–47. 21. Kevin Newmark reminds me that Descartes’ dream argument in the First Meditation should not be so reassuring, as is remarked by Paul de Man in his “Murray Krieger: A Commentary” and in the context of a reading of the “Ode to a Nightingale.” See Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism: The Gauss Seminar and Other Papers, ed. E. S. Burt, Kevin Newmark, and Andrzej Warminski (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993),

Aesthetic Ideology and Material Inscription    ­61 pp. 183–5. See also Kevin Newmark’s “Nietzsche, Deconstruction, and the Truth of History,” Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 15:2 (1991), pp. 161–89; revised version now in Newmark’s Irony on Occasion: From Schlegel and Kierkegaard to Derrida and de Man (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012). 22. Kenneth Burke reads the questions in both stanza one and stanza four as rhetorical questions in the context of remarking the “tonal felicity” (Burke, 456) of the poem. The question of whether or not the questions – either in stanza one or in stanza four – are rhetorical may very well be . . . the ­question. 23. This is not an exaggeration. See Brooks’s grand aesthetic synthesis: “The sylvan historian presents us with beautiful histories, but they are true histories, and it is a good historian” (Brooks, 164, my emphasis). All the ruses, evasions, and Cratylist symbolist delusions of the New Criticism – and of aesthetic ideology – are legible in Brooks’s synthesis and the repeated and somewhat ill-­humored command that, like Boy Scouts, we “be prepared” (Brooks, 165) when we read poems like the “Ode.” The New Critics’ ill-­ humor is, as always, a symptom. 24. The certain “materialism” that I read as latent in Burke’s 1943 reading of the Ode comes out in his later treatment of the poem’s “oracle”: “As regards Keats’s line, we have an uneasy hunch that it contains an ‘enigmatic’ meaning. And this meaning, if we are right, could best be got by ‘joycing,’ that is, by experimentally modifying both ‘beauty’ and ‘truth’ punwise until one found some tonal cognates that made sense, preferably obscene sense, insofar as the divine service to beauty may, with a poet who has profoundly transformed the Christian passion into the romantic passion, be held in an ecclesia super cloacam. A combination of pudency and prudence has long prevented us from disclosing how we would translate this Orphic utterance. (However, to give an illustration of the method, we would say that one of the meanings we quickly discern in ‘beauty’ is ‘body,’ while ‘truth’ could be joyced meaningfully by a metathesis of two letters and the substitution of a cognate for one of the consonantal sounds.)” See Kenneth Burke, A Rhetoric of Motives (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), p. 204. See also Burke’s remarks on the urn in The Rhetoric of Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961), p. 137. 25. All quotations of Keats’s poetry are from Selected Poetry, ed. Paul de Man (New York: New American Library, 1966). This edition is based on H. W. Garrod’s second edition of The Poetical Works of John Keats (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958). 26. The problematic of Hegel’s “sense-­ certainty” in the first chapter of the Phenomenology of Spirit – the “This” under the double aspect of the “Here” and the “Now” – is very much in play in Keats’s text. On the sense in which the work of writing, the double inscription of the “Now,” is both the condition of possibility of Hegel’s critique of sense-­certainty and the condition of impossibility of the phenomenological project, see my “Reading for Example: ‘Sense-­certainty’ in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit” and “Dreadful Reading: Blanchot on Hegel” in Readings in Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger (Minneapolis: University of

­62    Material Inscriptions Minnesota Press, 1987). On “this piece of paper” in Hegel, see de Man’s “Hypogram and Inscription: Michael Riffaterre’s Poetics of Reading,” in The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), pp. 41–3, as well as my “Dreadful Reading.”

Chapter 3

Spectre Shapes: “The Body of Descartes?”

This chapter’s subtitle – “The Body of Descartes?” – quite rightly dresses the body of Descartes with a question mark.1 The question mark is most fitting, for, indeed, what we might want to identify under its garments as the body of Descartes could turn out to be a ghost or an automaton – like those hats and cloaks at the end of the Second Meditation that we judge (by the “pure inspection of the mind”) to clothe men but which may turn out to cover only “spectres or feigned men” (des spectres ou des hommes feints).2 But these shapes become all the more questionable if we remember that in context they are the figures for a still more famous body of Descartes: the body of the “piece of wax.” In the same way that ordinary language almost deceives us into saying that we see the same wax after it has undergone all kinds of changes to its corporeal nature – when, in reality, what we do is to judge by the pure inspection of the mind that it is the self-­same wax – so it would deceive us into saying that we see men when we look out the window at hats and cloaks passing in the street – when, in reality, what we do is to judge by the pure inspection of the mind that these hats and cloaks cover the bodies of men and not ghosts or automatons. To speak of the body of the wax, then, is no idle figure, and Descartes unfolds its logic quite consistently in the following paragraph where he compares the analysis of the piece of wax to having removed its garments and considering it all naked: “But when I distinguished the real wax from its superficial appearances, and when, just as though I removed its garments, I consider it all naked, it is certain that although there might still be some error in my judgment, I could not conceive it in this fashion without a human mind.” But if the logic of Descartes’ argument necessarily leads (no doubt according to the order of reasons) to the conclusion that I could not have performed the analysis of the piece of wax and arrived at the wax itself, the “real wax” as the translation puts it, without a human mind, the rhetoric of Descartes’ text just as surely leads to at least the suspicion that I could

­64    Material Inscriptions not have made the argument or performed the analysis of the wax without figuring it as a human body that can be dressed up in, and then stripped of, its not-­so-­human garments. That the garments may always be less-­than-­human – or more-­than-­human, or other-­than-­human? – is certainly suggested by the text’s own figures. For if the body of a man is always the body of a man – and, if we are not certain, we have, according to the Discourse on Method, certain reliable tests to determine that it is indeed the body of a man and not an ingeniously devised automaton or the body of an animal3 – the garments, hats and cloaks, may always cover ghosts or automatons – that is, bodies without souls or spirits without bodies that can nevertheless wear clothing. But let us not hurry to conclude that these figures – i.e., hats and cloaks that may cover not men but ghosts or automatons – are in any immediate sense a threat to the Cogito-­argument. As Descartes says, there might still be some error in my judgment even after I have removed the garments of the wax and consider it all naked. Indeed, I could be wrong both about my seeing the garments of the wax in the first place and about judging it to be wax in the second. Descartes writes: “For it might happen that what I see is not really wax; it might also happen that I do not possess eyes to see anything.” All this I can be wrong about: thinking that I perceive wax and thinking that what I perceive is wax. But what I cannot be wrong about is the existence of an “I” that can think it perceives and think it judges one thing or another. Descartes continues: “but it could not happen that, when I see, or what amounts to the same thing, when I think I see, I who think am not something. For a similar reason, if I judge that the wax exists because I touch it, the same conclusion follows once more, namely, that I am.” In other words, as Descartes never tires of reminding us in his Replies to the various objections to his analysis of the piece of wax, the point of the analysis is not at all to gain a knowledge of the essence of the wax, nor is it even a question of proving the wax’s existence. Rather the example of the wax would demonstrate one more time that the mind knows itself, its own nature as thinking thing (une chose qui pense, res cogitans), more clearly and distinctly than it knows any body like, for example, a piece of wax. In short, the analysis would reduce the wax to the truth and certainty of the Cogito. The naked wax is the wax of the Cogito, as though the thinking “I” were to say: “This is my body.” The “I” could be wrong about “this” and about the “body” – about seeing the body and about its being a body – but what it cannot be wrong about is its being mine, my body, which I could not conceive in this fashion (however wrong or right I may be) without a human mind, as Descartes puts it, without being a thing that, before it does or is ­anything else, is first of all a thing that thinks.

Spectre Shapes    ­65

All this is familiar. As always in the case of Descartes, thinking the example of the wax correctly comes down to remembering its place and function in the order of the argument, that is, according to the order of reasons. Martial Gueroult, in his Descartes selon l’ordre des raisons, summarizes it concisely: “Let us recall that what is at stake in the analysis of the piece of wax is not to seek in what the essence of body consists and even less to establish that body exists – both things that we cannot actually know – but what are the necessary conditions that render possible its representation as such. I then perceive that these conditions reside in an idea of my intellect alone, an intellect that must be posited as known first.”4 Remembering what we know first – in order – is also what should keep us from attempting any kind of overhasty “rhetorical reading” of Descartes’ text. For just as the figure of the garments’ possibly covering ghosts or automatons (and not men) is no immediate threat to the certainty of the Cogito – in fact, it rather corroborates the argument that we can be deceived about all kinds of things we see or think we see but that we cannot be deceived about there being someone there to think he is deceived or not – so the “rhetoric” of Descartes’ text does not easily interfere with the “logic” of his argument, or, to speak a more Cartesian language, with the methodical analysis according to the order of reasons. Indeed, “rhetoric,” understood in this sense – i.e., as symmetrical metaphorical exchanges and transfers between intelligible and sensuous – can only corroborate Descartes’ logic. If tropes and figures deceive us, this is all the more proof that the senses and the imagination (whose language is the language of tropes and figures) cannot give us anything to know certainly and indubitably. And what a truly philosophical text does when it uses figures, tropes, metaphors, is, as it were, to use them up: that is, to render them transparent to the truth and certainty of its argument, in short, to reduce the rhetoric of the text to the logic of the argument. For instance, the figure of the dressed or naked wax is part of an entire tropological system of metaphorical exchange that Descartes’ method of analysis constructs in order to doubt everything all the better so that it may know all the better whatever is left after this doubt is taken into consideration. In the First Meditation, for example, we can doubt the knowledge of the senses thanks to the possibility of crossing from one side to the other in a chain of polarities – one of whose main links is the naked/dressed opposition. I may think that I am sitting here “wearing a winter dressing-­gown,” awake, and knowing; but I may in fact be lying naked in bed, asleep, and dreaming. “How many times has it occurred that the quiet of the night made me dream of my usual habits: that I was here, clothed in a dressing gown, and sitting by the fire, although I was in fact lying undressed in bed!”

­66    Material Inscriptions Again, I can dream that I am dressed or awake and knowing; and I can know that I am naked or asleep and dreaming (like the slave at the end of the First Meditation who dreams that he is free and “fears to wake up and conspires with his pleasant illusions to retain them longer”): the chiasmic crossings are symmetrical.5 Since it is possible to cross from one series – dressed, awake, knowing – to the other – naked, asleep, dreaming – it is impossible to know whether we are awake or asleep, dreaming or knowing, dressed or naked. Our possibility of deciding is suspended, and this is the state in which the “I” finds itself at the beginning of the Second Meditation: “I feel as if I were suddenly thrown into deep water, being so disconcerted that I can neither plant my feet on the bottom nor swim on the surface.” This suspension is, of course, the crossing up of the hyperbolic doubt – a radical, metaphysical doubt made possible by the supposition of the mauvais génie who, no matter how hyperbolic the doubt his ruses make possible, is nevertheless recovered (dialectically) for knowledge and for the tropological system of the Cogito-­argument by being taken as the negation of knowing – and it is what the text arranges only in order to recover from it. The suspension is itself suspended by the Cogito. “I am convinced, I am deceived, I am dizzy, therefore I am” – because all of these are under the governance of the “I think”: “I think I am deceived, therefore I am.” In other words, the vertigo of the language of the senses and imagination – the illusions, delusions, and aberrations of tropological transfers and substitutions – is not only no threat to the certainty and truth of the Cogito but also the very guarantee of that certainty and truth. The greater the doubt, the more absolute the doubt, then the more absolute the one certain thing that is left over after the doubt has been taken into consideration. Again, this is all too familiar, I am certain, and what it amounts to rhetorically speaking is a philosophical text whose logic and grammar would eat up, as it were, its rhetoric – an argument that uses tropes and figures only to use them up all the better, to wear them away and wear them down according to the rule of the oldest metaphor of metaphor in the book of philosophy: usure – a process of regular loss (of the sensuous and corporeal, say) and gain (of the mental and spiritual, say) that is the philosophème of discourses on metaphor.6 In short, like all philosophical texts, the Meditations would be just one more text of “white mythology” in which the bodies, colors, and flowers of rhetoric are submitted to the rigors of a stiffening, fading, and cooling machine of analysis that spirits them away. It is what happens to figures in the text of philosophy, and it is what should happen in the case of the wax – for example. For the example of the piece of wax is not only the example of the corporeal in the text of philosophy, but it is also the example of the

Spectre Shapes    ­67

“corporeal” of the text of philosophy. That is, it is an example of what happens to example – to figures, tropes, rhetoric – in the text of philosophy. And if it is all too clear and too familiar what happens to the vivid sensuous corporeality of the wax – “this bit of wax which has just been taken from the hive” and that “has not yet completely lost the sweetness of the honey it contained” and “still retains something of the odor of the flowers from which it was collected” and whose “color, shape, and size are apparent; it can easily be touched; and, if you knock on it, it will give out some sound” – namely, its reduction to the truth and certainty of the Cogito, it is perhaps less clear what happens to the example of the wax, the example of what happens to example – the example, in short (and as always), of example – in this text of first philosophy. For whereas the analysis of the wax as a figure of the corporeal in the text leaves no remainder, no residue, no left-­overs – except for the one, first, thing that thinks, the Cogito – the analysis of the wax as a figure of the corporeal of the text – again, of what happens to the figures of rhetoric in the philosophical text – leaves a remainder or, better, remainders that are not just one and not just first and not reducible to just the Cogito. Rhetorically speaking – as distinguished from, say, “logically speaking” – left over are the hats and cloaks that may cover ghosts or automatons, spectres or feigned men. But how can we say this – especially after we have already said and insisted that the figures of ghosts and automatons not only are no threat to the Cogito-­argument but also corroborate it? Once again, let us not hurry; in this case, let us not hurry to conclude that the figure of the garments, the hats and cloaks that may cover ghosts or automatons, is a figure or is just a figure. It is more (or less?) than just a figure in the same way that the example of the wax is not just an example of the wax but also – always, already, supplementarily (en supplément) – an example of example. This is true, first of all, on a purely formal or even thematic level in that the figure of the hats and cloaks means quite explicitly to illustrate how it is that I say I see the self-­same wax after it has undergone all kinds of transformations when, in reality, I judge by the pure inspection of the mind that it is the self-­ same wax. As such, a figure that is added on to the analysis of the figure of the wax, the figure of hats and cloaks is explicitly a figure of figure. And Descartes deems this (supplementary) figure necessary because even after the analysis of the wax I am still apt to fall into error: “For even though I consider all this in my mind [apud me] without speaking, still words impede me, and I am nearly deceived by the terms of ordinary language. For we say that we see the same wax if it is present, and not that we judge that it is the same from the fact that it has the same color or shape. Thus I might be tempted to conclude that one knows the wax

­68    Material Inscriptions by means of eyesight, and not uniquely by the inspection of the mind. So I may by chance look out of a window and notice some men passing in the street, at the sight of whom I do not fail to say I see men, just as I say that I see wax; and nevertheless what do I see from this window except hats and cloaks which might cover ghosts or automatons which move only by springs? But I judge that they are men, and thus I comprehend, solely by the faculty of judgment which resides in my mind, that which I believed I saw with my eyes.” In other words, the figure of hats and cloaks is introduced because ordinary language – the language of the senses and of the imagination which, here, is clearly identified as figurative language (that is, saying that one sees is really only a figure for saying that one judges by the pure inspection of the mind) – still leads us astray, into error (and hence may be what is responsible for the mind’s penchant for vagabondage, wandering, erring – the reason Descartes has given it the freest rein by introducing the example of the wax, but only in order to pull it up so that “it may the more easily be regulated and controlled”). But rather than settling the matter once and for all, and ending the mind’s penchant for aberration and error, this figure (of figure) – which also amounts to an erring (of erring) – leaves a residue and an excess, a remainder of figure (and hence of errance). How so? The figure of hats and cloaks remains, and will not be reduced to the logic of the Cogito-­argument, because, first of all (and still quite schematically), it asymmetricalizes the tropological system of symmetrical exchanges and substitutions that the first two Meditations have set up. The figure of hats and cloaks possibly, always possibly, let us add, covering ghosts or automatons is asymmetrical to the (ultimately recoverable) play of chiasmic reversals between naked and dressed because it is the example not of someone, some I, who thinks he is dressed but is deceived – or, vice versa, thinks he is naked but is deceived, and so on. Rather this example introduces the possibility – and, as always a possibility, it is also the necessary condition – of someone, some I, who is deceived not just about being dressed or naked but about being someone or some I. That is, I can think that I can be either naked or dressed – and I can be deceived about being naked or dressed (believing to be dressed when I am naked, believing to be naked when I am dressed, etc.) – but I cannot (just) think that I am not there as an I and still be dressed or naked. Again, better, I can think that I am either dressed or naked, but I cannot think me, an I, as at the same time something radically different from an I – a ghost or a machine – and yet naked or dressed: in short, both an I and something different from, other than, an I, simultaneously, at the same time and in the same place, wearing the same hat and the same coat. The mauvais génie may indeed not be able to make me believe that

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I am nothing as long as I think that I am something – i.e., as long as I think anything at all – but the text, a still trickier deceiver, can inscribe the possibility that I am neither something nor nothing (and yet both) in the figure for the very self-­identity of the Cogito. This ghost-­or automatic writer of the Cogito, the text, would be the real evil genius: one who does not make you think that you are either something or nothing but rather makes you write or read yourself, the text, as something else. That would be one way – still preliminary and too schematic – to formulate the sense in which the figure of hats and cloaks exceeds the tropological system of symmetrical exchange (between naked and ­ dressed, for example) that the text has set up and leaves a remainder. But it is important to articulate the nature of this remainder carefully – and not least of all because it is a question of articulation (rather than of “nature” and “constitution”), of articulating or jointing (and of dis-­ articulating and dis-­ jointing). That is, again, the figure of hats and cloaks possibly covering ghosts or automatons is in itself or by itself – i.e., as figure – not what disarticulates the tropological system of the Cogito-­argument and “opens it up” radically to an endless erring or errance, to the endless, mechanical reproduction of figures of figure. No, if this “figure,” which is simultaneously “other-­than-­figure,” can make a difference to the argument, to thinking, to the Cogito, it is on account of the difference it introduces into the fundamental analogy that programs the tropological system of the text: namely, the analogy garments are to body as body is to soul, which yields such common metaphors as “the body is the garment of the soul” (or, more weird, “the garment is the body of the body”). The “figure” of hats and cloaks possibly covering ghosts or automatons introduces a difference into this programmatic analogy insofar as it introduces the ghosts or the automatons in the “slot” occupied by the body. On the one hand, this is of course no threat to the Cogito-­argument and its tropological system. In comparison to the thinking soul or the mind, the body is a mere machine and, in the order of reasons, is as non-­existent as a ghost (like that of the wax reduced to nothing – nothing but the Cogito). What could be more consistent and more Cartesian! But, on the other hand, the introduction of the ghosts or automatons in the slot of the analogy occupied by the body – as in garments are to body, which would now read garments are to ghost or automaton – disrupts the metaphor and the Cogito and is most un-­or other-­than-­Cartesian. For the ghosts or automatons can now be the figure of, for example, a mechanical or a ghostly soul or spirit, the Cogito as a mechanical ghost. And, as always, there is now nothing to stop us from taking the mind or soul or spirit as the figure for a spiritual machine or a ghost that is still all too bodily or too mechanical because

­70    Material Inscriptions it can still wear a coat and a hat. And there is nothing to be done about it, no way to rid the text of these ghastly-­ghostly, mechanical figures for the Cogito. For as soon as you introduce figures, as soon as you figure the spiritual by the sensuous, i.e., give it a body, you also necessarily introduce the possibility that the spirit or the soul or the mind may also be all too sensuous or bodily or mechanical and, on the other hand, that the body may, as it were, have its own reasons, may be all too spiritual. In short, as soon as you construct a house of tropes, you necessarily introduce not only figures for the literal – like the body in the relation body-­is-­to-­soul – but also figures for figure – like the body in garments-­ are-­to-­body. It is this necessity that the ghosts and automatons wearing hats and cloaks render visible – or, better, readable – in the text of Descartes. His house of tropes contains not only garments of bodies or bodies of souls but also garments of garments, soulful bodies or bodily souls, thinking bodies or bodily thoughts. It is a haunted house full of ghosts, automatons, zombies. That is what the “figure” of hats and cloaks covering ghosts or automatons makes possible (and necessary) – or, again, readable – whereas, say, a naked ghost or a naked automaton would only confirm the tropological system by leaving the spiritual and the mind on the one side and the mechanical and the bodily on the other. (As in the case of Wordsworth’s drowned man, it is only a machine or a corpse with clothes that will hurt you – for it introduces the possibility that the soul too can die, be a dead soul, and yet live on like a ghost wearing clothes.7) In other words and again, it is not so much what is under the hats and cloaks – naked ghosts or naked automatons – that disarticulates the tropological system but rather the very possibility of ghosts and automatons wearing clothes. For it is their garments that render their constitution, i.e., their essence (and even their existence), less important than their function as place-­holders, stand-­ins, mannikins, not just for human bodies but for “human” souls, “human” minds, and “human” thoughts. Their garments render the ghosts or automatons not just carriers of meaning but “syntactical plugs,” place-­holders in or markers of an order that make meaning possible but that are themselves not necessarily meaningful. As Wordsworth well knew, words that are to the thoughts they express not like the body is to the soul but rather like what the garments are to the body – such words kill, they kill thoughts, they make it possible for the mind to die and for the spirit to be dead spirit. I quote from the third of the Essays upon Epitaphs: “If words be not (recurring to a metaphor before used) an incarnation of the thought but only a clothing for it, then surely will they prove an ill gift; such a one as those poisoned vestments, read of in the stories of superstitious times, which had the power to consume and to alienate from his

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right mind the victim who put them on. Language, if it do not uphold, and feed, and leave in quiet, like the power of gravitation or the air we breathe, is a counter-­spirit, unremittingly and noiselessly at work to derange, to subvert, to lay waste, to vitiate, and to dissolve.”8 Even without really beginning to read this rich passage, one can still see quite clearly how it is that words, garment-­words, kill thoughts: if thought is like the body in relation to the garments (and not like the soul is to the body), then thought is being analogized to the body, to something corporeal and mortal. If thoughts are like the body, then thoughts can die. In the analogy garments are to body as words are to thoughts, something spiritual and presumably immortal – thoughts – is being analogized to something corporeal and mortal – the body – and therefore the analogy opens up the possibility of figures of figure that disfigure and disarticulate the tropological system based on the garments-­are-­to-­body-­ as-­body-­is-­to-­soul analogy: figures/other-­than-­figures like spiritual, immortal corpses or bodily thoughts and dead spirits. This happens – and has to happen – as soon as there are physical, carnal, corporeal figures for the spiritual and intelligible. And there always are such figures – for without them there is neither thought nor spirit. As soon as the first incarnate thought appears, there appears along with it (parasitically, supplementarily, etc.) a thought dressed up in hat and coat – like a ghost or an automaton. Indeed, it would be more correct to say that the “first” incarnate thought does not, and cannot, appear “in the first place” without at the same (divided) time appearing as a thought wearing clothes. Rhetorically speaking, there is no difference between words as the bodies of thought and words as the garments of thought.9 But let us not end there – with the dead spirit or the mechanical Cogito. Let us rather go back to the body of Descartes’ naked wax. For if our no doubt overhasty attempt to read the way in which the figures/ other-­than-­figures of hats and cloaks possibly covering ghosts or automatons introduces, or leaves, a remainder – an indigestible left-­over, as Derrida might say in his seminar on “Eating the Other”10 – in (and “outside” of) the tropological system of the Cogito-­argument is, if not “correct,” not just “wrong,” then this reading cannot help but have implications for Descartes’ analysis (by striptease11) of the wax. A good way to rearticulate this remainder or, better, the remaindering – the restance – of the text of the Cogito is by way of Gassendi’s objections to the analysis of the wax in the Fifth Objections. Although on the one hand Gassendi does not really understand the logic of Descartes’ Cogito-­ argument (and its radicality) very well, nevertheless, on the other hand, he reads the rhetoric of Descartes’ text all too well – at least all too well for the good of the Cogito. In so doing, Gassendi’s reading also makes it

­72    Material Inscriptions possible for us to understand a bit better the necessity of such reading – why it does and has to happen – whether it be a reading of Descartes’ text by Gassendi’s or Descartes’ by Descartes. Gassendi’s misunderstanding requires little comment: he would persist in thinking Descartes’ analysis of the piece of wax in the terms of medieval, scholastic ­philosophy – as though what Descartes had done were to “abstract the concept of the wax from the concept of its accidents.” As Descartes writes in his rather curt reply: “Here, as frequently elsewhere, you merely show that you do not have an adequate understanding of what you are trying to criticize. I did not abstract the concept of the wax from the concept of its accidents. Rather, I wanted to show how the substance of the wax is revealed by means of its accidents, and how a reflective and distinct perception of it (the kind of perception which you, O Flesh, seem never to have had) differs from the ordinary confused perception.”12 But getting the argument wrong nevertheless puts Gassendi on the track of Descartes’ figures, in particular that of the dressed and then naked wax. He begins by putting the question in terms of accident and substance or subject: “Besides the color, the shape, the fact that it can melt, etc. we conceive that there is something which is the subject of the accidents and changes we observe; but what this subject is, or what its nature is, we do not know. This always eludes us; and it is only a kind of conjecture that leads us to think that there must be something underneath the accidents.” In calling what we do when we are led to think that there must be “something underneath the accidents” a “conjecture,” Gassendi’s objection is already shading into a reading of Descartes’ rhetoric – for “conjecture,” from con-­ plus iacere, is, after all, virtually a Latin transcription of the Greek symbol, from sun-­ plus ballein, to throw together – suggesting that what we do when we thus conjecture is not to judge by the pure inspection of the mind but to read a symbol. And his reference to the “something underneath the accidents” necessarily leads him to read Descartes’ figure of garments: “So I am amazed,” he continues, “at how you can say that once the forms have been stripped off like clothes, you perceive more perfectly and evidently what the wax is. Admittedly, you perceive that the wax or its substance must be something over and above such forms; but what this something is you do not perceive, unless you are misleading us. For this ‘something’ is not revealed to you in the way in which a man can be revealed when, after first of all seeing just his hat and garments, we then remove the clothes so as to find out who and what he is.” Although Gassendi’s objection as objection again misses Descartes’ point – in this case, that Descartes at this point in the order of reasons did not at all mean to discuss what the “something” of the wax is – his reading of the figure of garments is on the mark, for what it

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amounts to is his noting that Descartes’ analogy between dressed wax and dressed men on the one hand, and naked wax and naked men on the other, breaks down. This is as clear as could be: when we strip the men of their clothing, presumably we see the bodies of men; whereas when we strip the wax of its garments, we see . . . what? Certainly not the “body” of the wax, for the garments we have stripped it of were its body. And certainly not the “soul” of the wax, since that, whatever it may be, is not visible in the way that the bodies of men are visible. How can you, then, O Mind, say that you perceive the wax more perfectly after it has been stripped of its garments? The naked wax – or, as Gassendi puts it later in this objection, “the alleged naked, or rather hidden” wax – is precisely not like the body underneath the garments. It is like the body only insofar as the body is like the soul or mind – i.e., only within the tropological system of the analogy garments are to body as body is to soul. In short, and again, the analogy breaks down. Although, on the level of the argument, Descartes could quite easily reply that the break-­down of the analogy was precisely his point – namely, that the soul or mind is not like the body – he would have a little more trouble replying to Gassendi’s reading of his figures. For this reading leaves Descartes’ naked wax – and the Cogito that the wax is reduced to and a figure for – with only two rather bleak choices. On the one hand, Descartes can tell us how it is that he perceives the wax better after its garments have been stripped away. But there is no way for him to do so – to say anything at all about soul, spirit, mind, thought – without employing the language of the senses and the imagination, the language of figures, and thereby without corporealizing the naked wax, without saying that it is indeed like the body. Gassendi continues: “Moreover, when you think you somehow perceive this underlying ‘something,’ how, may I ask, do you do so? Do you not perceive it as something spread out and extended? For you do not conceive of it as a point, although it is the kind of thing whose extension expands and contracts. And since this kind of extension is not infinite but has limits, do you not conceive of the thing as having some kind of shape (ne la concevez-­vous pas aussi en quelque façon figurée)? And when you seem as it were to see it, do you not attach to it some sort of color, albeit not a distinct one? You certainly take it to be something more solid, and so more visible, than a mere void. Hence even your ‘understanding’ turns out to be some sort of imagination.” That would be the one hand: as soon as you say anything, you turn soul into body and contaminate thought with imagination. On the other hand, Descartes can not tell us how it is that he perceives the wax better after its garments have been stripped away. He can, in other words, keep insisting that the naked

­74    Material Inscriptions wax is not like the body at all, that what is left is only the soul or spirit or mind stripped of the body, and so on. But then he can have nothing at all to say about it, for he thereby renders his wax not more naked but more hidden. Gassendi continues: “If you say you conceive of the wax apart from any extension, shape (sans figure) or color, then you must in all honesty tell us what sort of conception you do have of it.” These are the two possibilities – the only two possibilities once you dress the wax in clothing – and it is most fitting that they are very precisely and very neatly inscribed in Descartes’ own text in the uncanny figures of hats and cloaks that may cover ghosts or automatons. The latter – the “automatons” or “feigned men” (as the French translation puts it) – is a figure for the all-­ too-­ mechanical and all-­ too-­ corporeal Cogito that always gets produced as soon as you dress it in garments and then strip it naked. The former – the “ghosts” or “spectres” (which are not there in the Latin but are something found, as it were, in the French translation “authorized” by Descartes) – is a figure for the all-­too-­ghostly and all-­too-­spectral Cogito that always gets produced when you say that it is not a body and not like a body and yet nevertheless insist that it can wear garments and be stripped naked. In the one case, you have too much to say and the Cogito is too bodily; in the other, you have nothing to say and the Cogito is too ghostly. In both cases, it becomes a figment (a figure, a fiction) of your imagination. And, in any case, it is always too much, in excess, a remainder. In his own reading of the figure of hats and cloaks, Gassendi may be an erratic thinker, but, again, he is a quite consistent rhetorical reader. Once he has picked up the scent of the imagination and its too-­corporeal figures – no doubt by sniffing at the garments of the fugitive Cogito – he hunts it down to its lair: “What you have to say about ‘men whom we see, or perceive with the mind, when we make out only their hats or cloaks’ does not show that it is the mind rather than the imagination that makes judgments. A dog, which you will not allow to possess a mind like yours, certainly makes a similar kind of judgment when it sees not its master but simply his hat or clothes. Indeed, even if the master is standing or sitting or lying down or reclining or crouching down or stretched out, the dog still always recognizes the master who can exist under all these forms, even though like the wax, he does not keep the same proportions or always appear under one form rather than another. And when a dog chases a hare that is running away, and sees it first intact, then dead, and afterwards skinned and chopped up, do you suppose that he does not think it is the same hare? When you go on to say that the perception of color and hardness and so on is ‘not vision or touch but is purely mental scrutiny’, I accept this, provided the mind is not taken

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to be really distinct from the imaginative faculty.” Much – too much – is going on here. The dog whom Descartes will not allow to possess a mind like his, the dog incapable of the Cogito, is nevertheless able to perform a process of analysis like Descartes’ analysis of the wax or make a judgment like we do when we look out the window at hats and cloaks. Gassendi’s passage also captures some of the violence implied but muted in Descartes’ Cogito-­argument and its process of analysis and judgment which always entails the dis-­figuration or dis-­figurement of figure – like the piece of wax looked at, touched, licked, smelled, knocked on, and then brought close to the fire whose heat is then turned up. The dog who dutifully recognizes his master under myriad forms and underneath many costumes is also a dog that may not recognize the difference between that master and the hare he hunts down and kills, seeing it first intact, then dead.13 Such a dog clearly thinks too much and too little for Descartes’ taste. Just give him a hat or a cloak, any piece of clothing, to sniff on, he will always find his prey, and bring it back – if not dead or alive, then as a ghost or an automaton. It is no wonder, then, that in his reply Descartes is especially hard on this hunting – or reading – dog: “I do not see what argument you are relying on when you lay it down as certain that a dog makes discriminating judgments in the same way as we do. Seeing that a dog is made of flesh you perhaps think that everything which is in you also exists in the dog. But I observe no mind at all in the dog, and hence believe there is nothing to be found in a dog that resembles the things I recognize in a mind.” The dog is all flesh – just as Gassendi is all Flesh when his thinking is so dogged – and Descartes will allow neither to possess a mind like his own. But even though Descartes would seem to be able to rid his language of flesh easily enough – both dog-­flesh and Gassendi, whom Descartes addresses in his reply as “O Flesh!” (O caro! O chair!) in retaliation for Gassendi’s having addressed Descartes as “O Mind!” (O anima! O âme!) – he would have a little more trouble stripping it of garments, hats and cloaks, the colors and figures of rhetoric that make such an exchange of compliments – O Flesh!/O Mind! – and the tropological system of metaphorical exchange between body and soul possible in the first place. Here Descartes sees, thinks, reads and writes, clearly. Reading Gassendi, he writes: “Then you begin with a pleasant enough figure of rhetoric, called prosopopoeia, to question me no longer as a whole man but as a mind [or soul] separated from the body.” In other words, when Gassendi objects “O Mind!” and Descartes replies “O Flesh!,” their double address is made possible (and impossible) by a third, still other address – that of a “figure de rhétorique assez agréable,” prosopopoeia – which always, relentlessly, noiselessly, undecidably, reads and writes along with them: “O

­76    Material Inscriptions Garments!” (O vestes! O vêtements!). It is this third, other, address that makes it possible to give a face or a mask, a face and/or (undecidably) a mask, both to the mind and to the body, and makes it impossible ever to know what will be left over once it – face or mask? – is stripped away.14 The “O” of “O Garments!” articulates and dis-­articulates, joints and dis-­joints, the “O” of “O Mind!” and the “O” of “O Flesh!” It rewrites and rereads their double “O!”/“O!” as “Uh, oh!”15

Notes   1. The first version of this chapter was delivered at the 1990 IAPL conference in Irvine at a session organized by Georges Van Den Abbeele and entitled “The Body of Descartes?” My thanks to Georges and to Peggy Kamuf for helpful and enjoyable discussion of Descartes and others on that occasion.  2. All quotations in English from the Second Meditation are from René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. Laurence J. Lafleur (New York: Bobbs-­Merrill, 1960). Where necessary, I have corrected the translation slightly. Quotations of or references to the Latin and French are from volume two of Descartes, Oeuvres philosophiques, ed. Ferdinand Alquié (Paris: Garnier, 1967).  3. See Part V of Discourse on Method in The Philosophical Works of Descartes, vol. 1, trans. Elizabeth S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972).  4. Martial Gueroult, Descartes’ Philosophy Interpreted According to the Order of Reasons, Volume I: The Soul and God, trans. Roger Ariew (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), p. 97.  5. Or, as Kevin Newmark has pointed out to me, they at least seem to be symmetrical. Actually, the dream argument already crosses them up. But in order to demonstrate this, it is necessary to read dream as radically rhetorical “representation” and not as sensuous image (still within the tropological system of exchange between sensuous and intelligible). In other words, my reading of hats and cloaks in this chapter could be read back into the dream argument.  6. The locus classicus of this question is, of course, Jacques Derrida’s “La mythologie blanche” in Marges (Paris: Minuit, 1972), but see also his “La langue et le discours de la méthode,” Recherches sur la philosophie et le langage 3 (1983), pp. 35–51. Also instructive and therapeutic in this regard is Paul de Man’s essay on Nietzsche, “Rhetoric of Tropes,” in Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979). See also my “Prefatory Postscript” in Readings in Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987) and “Towards a Fabulous Reading: Nietzsche’s ‘On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense’,” Chapter 5 below.   7. See Chapter 1, “Facing Language: Wordsworth’s First Poetic Spirits.”   8. W. J. B. Owen (ed.), Wordsworth’s Literary Criticism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974), p. 154.   9. In his fine essay on de Man’s “Autobiography as De-­facement,” Hans-­Jost

Spectre Shapes    ­77 Frey seems to miss this as the point of de Man’s reading. See Hans-­Jost Frey, “Undecidability,” Yale French Studies 69 (1985), pp. 124–33. 10. Presented at the University of California, Irvine, Spring 1990 and 1991. 11. For a different, though related, reading of Descartes’ figures in other texts, see Ralph Flores, “Cartesian Striptease,” in his The Rhetoric of Doubtful Authority: Deconstructive Readings of Self-­ Questioning Narratives, St. Augustine to Faulkner (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984). 12. I quote the exchange between Gassendi and Descartes in the Fifth Objections and Fifth Replies from the handy selections in John Cottingham’s translation of the Meditations on First Philosophy (London: Cambridge University Press, 1986), pp. 76–7. 13. The point is not just the contingent possibility that the dog may confuse the master and the hare but rather the (tropological) necessity of his “turning on” the master. In brief, the “master” to be master needs to figure himself in trope, that is, he needs to perform the same operation of (self-­)­ identification as the dog’s identifying the hare. But in doing so, the master enters a tropological system which opens up, which can’t be closed off – and which creates figures of figure (and not just figures for a self-­same self) and thereby dismembers him, turns him into not just dog but also hare, not just master but also victim, prey. 14. In other words, “O Garments!” would be a “third thing,” asymmetrical to the body/mind opposition and yet that which makes this opposition possible: that is, makes it possible to figure soul, spirit, mind, in the first place. 15. What we have done here is a reading of one linguistic, textual, model of the Cogito (and its undoing): what could be called the tropological “model.” The reading could go on to two other linguistic, textual, “models” of the Cogito: “performative” and “inscriptional.” The “performative” model is presented most rigorously in a famous essay by Jaakko Hintikka, “Cogito, Ergo Sum: Inference or Performance?” in Willis Doney (ed.), Descartes (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968), pp. 108–39. It can be shown that: 1) Hintikka’s “performative” model of the Cogito relapses into cognitive, epistemological questions of true and false as soon as it is set up; 2) insofar as Hintikka’s argument ultimately depends on what I would call a “determinately negative” relation between the speech act’s “I don’t exist” not coming off and its negation’s (“I exist”) coming off, it depends on something that a strict definition of the performative (as speech act) prohibits. Another linguistic “model” of the Cogito that remains to be read – and that I would call “inscriptional” – would be the Cogito as zero: that is, in its radicality – à la limite – the “principle” of the Cogito needs no other determinations except that it be first – and utterly heterogeneous to the order of reasons like the zero is heterogeneous to the order of number. But, at the same time, Descartes needs the principle of the Cogito to be “first” in the way that the number one is first – that is, homogeneous enough to the order of reasons that at least one other certain knowledge can follow from it in order (e.g., “Sum res cogitans”). In short, in order to be as hyperbolically, metaphysically, radical as Descartes needs it to be, the Cogito has to be a zero; but in order for anything at all to follow in order from this first principle, the Cogito has to be a one: simultaneously zero and one, irreducibly and incommensurably. Some helpful pointers toward

­78    Material Inscriptions a reading of the Cogito as zero would be Derrida’s comments at the end of “Cogito and the History of Madness,” in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), and his calling the Cogito a “point zéro” – utterly, hyperbolically mad – that needs to be interned, domesticated, reinscribed, in the narrative of the order of reasons. De Man’s reading of the zero in “Pascal’s Allegory of Persuasion,” originally in Allegory and Representation, ed. Stephen Greenblatt (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981), and his remark that “allegory (as sequential narration) is the trope of irony (as the one is the trope of zero)” would be indispensable for such a reading of the Cogito to come. De Man’s essay is now in Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). See the account of de Man’s reading of the zero in the third part of my Introduction to that volume, which is now Chapter 1 of my Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013).

Chapter 4

Reading for Example: A Metaphor in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy

“Im Grunde war die Kluft nicht überbrückt” Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, section 2

The opening paragraph of section 9 of The Birth of Tragedy in a modified version of Walter Kaufmann’s translation reads: “Everything that comes to the surface in the Apollinian part of Greek tragedy, in the dialogue, looks simple, transparent, and beautiful. In this sense, the dialogue is an image of the Hellene whose nature is revealed in the dance because in the dance the greatest strength is only potential but betrays itself in the suppleness and wealth of movement. Thus the language of Sophocles’ heroes surprises us by its Apollinian precision and lucidity, so that we immediately have the feeling that we are looking into the innermost ground of their being, with some astonishment that the way to this ground should be so short. But if for once we look away from the character of the hero as it comes to the surface, visibly – which, at bottom, is nothing more than a bright image projected on a dark wall, that is, appearance through and through – if we rather penetrate into the myth, which projects itself in these lucid reflections, then we suddenly experience a phenomenon that has an inverse relationship to a known optical one. When in a forceful attempt to fix the eye on the sun, we turn away blinded, we then have dark-­colored spots before our eyes, as a healing agent, as it were: inversely, those bright image projections of the Sophoclean hero, in short the Apollinian [aspect] of the mask, are necessary productions of a look into the innerness and terror of nature, as it were, luminous spots to heal the look wounded by gruesome night. Only in this sense may we believe that we understand correctly the serious and meaningful concept of this cheerfulness, as a state of unendangered comfort, everywhere today” (Alles, was im apollinischen Teile der griechischen Tragödie, im Dialoge, auf die Oberfläche kommt, sieht einfach, durchsichtig, schön aus. In diesem

­80    Material Inscriptions Sinne ist der Dialog ein Abbild des Hellenen, dessen Natur sich im Tanze offenbart, weil im Tanze die größte Kraft nur potenziell ist, aber sich in der Geschmeidigkeit und Üppigkeit der Bewegung verrät. So überrascht uns die Sprache der sophokleischen Helden durch ihre apollinische Bestimmtheit und Helligkeit, so daß wir sofort bis in den innersten Grund ihres Wesens zu blicken wähnen, mit einigem Erstaunen, daß der Weg bis zu diesem Grunde so kurz ist. Sehen wir aber einmal von dem auf die Oberfläche kommenden und sichtbar werdenden Charakter des Helden ab – der im Grunde nichts mehr ist als das auf eine dunkle Wand geworfene Lichtbild, d.h. Erscheinung durch und durch –, dringen wir vielmehr in den Mythus ein, der in diesen hellen Spiegelungen sich projiziert, so erleben wir plötzlich ein Phänomen, das ein umgekehrtes Verhältnis zu einem bekannten optischen hat. Wenn wir bei einem kräftigen Versuch, die Sonne ins Auge zu fassen, uns geblendet abwenden, so haben wir dunkle farbige Flecken gleichsam als Heilmittel vor den Augen: umgekehrt sind jene Lichtbildererscheinungen des sophokleischen Helden, kurz das Apollinische der Maske, notwendige Erzeugungen eines Blickes ins Innere und Schreckliche der Natur, gleichsam leuchtende Flecken zur Heilung des von grausiger Nacht versehrten Blickes. Nur in diesem Sinne dürfen wir glauben, den ernsthaften und bedeutenden Begriff der »griechischen Heiterkeit« richtig zu fassen; während wir allerdings den falsch verstandenen Begriff dieser Heiterkeit im Zustande ungefährdeten Behagens auf allen Wegen und Stegen der Gegenwart antreffen).1 The passage takes its place in the general context of Nietzsche’s well-­ known reinterpretation of the “concept of Greek cheerfulness”: rather than being their essential nature – integrated, unalienated – the Greeks’ cheerfulness is the superficial appearance that covers a deeper reality, the Apollinian mask that covers the reality of Dionysian suffering. Today a cliché of intellectual history, this is the correct sense (as emphasized by the last sentence) in which we should understand the concept of Greek cheerfulness. The more specific context of the passage is a discussion of the relationship between the surface Apollinian appearance and the deep Dionysian reality in terms of the relation between the Apollinian part of the Greek tragedy (i.e., the dialogue) and the Dionysian “part.” The latter – it is clear from section 8 – can be identified, at least to some extent, with the “choral parts” (Chorpartien) of the tragedy, a womb which, as it were, gives birth to the dialogue. In other words, the immediate context of the passage’s discussion of the relationship between Apollo and Dionysus is an interpretation of the language proper to the Apollinian and the Dionysian parts of tragedy, respectively. Like everything else in these two parts of tragedy, the language proper to

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each belongs to two “completely separate spheres of expression” (völlig gesonderte Sphären des Ausdrucks). We know from section 5 how to characterize these spheres: Apollinian art is plastic, visual, objective, theoretical, self-­conscious. It is the dialectical art par excellence, and the epic poet Homer is its representative: no matter how much he may identify with the images he creates, he nevertheless remains at a contemplative distance from them. (“Thus, by this mirror of illusion, he is protected against becoming one and fused with his figures,” section 5.) In short, it is an “aesthetic” art – one that can be accounted for by subject-­object aesthetics. In comparison, Dionysian art is of course inchoate, musical, unselfconscious, and best represented by the lyrist who becomes one with the primal oneness, pain, and contradiction of the ground of all things. Rather than maintaining a distance on his images, the lyrist fuses with them; they are nothing but his self. In short, the art of the lyrist is fundamentally unaesthetic; the subject-­object aesthetics of German idealism cannot account for it. This contrast between the lyrist and the epic poet, music and the visual arts (in particular painting) – or, as the text puts it in section 6, between language that imitates music and language that imitates images – manifests itself in the language of the tragedy in the Dionysian lyrics of the chorus and the dialogue of the “Apollinian dream-­world of the scene” (“given birth” by the Dionysian lyrics). This is why the last lines of section 8 can say that in the Apollinian part of the tragedy “Dionysus no longer speaks through forces but as an epic hero, almost in the language of Homer” (jetzt redet Dionysus nicht mehr durch Kräfte, sondern als epischer Held, fast mit der Sprache Homers). But this “almost” is important. Indeed, one could say that overlooking it is what leads to the misunderstanding of Greek cheerfulness as the unproblematic comfort Nietzsche laments at the end of our passage. Only if we look at the mere surface of the dialogue, where everything looks “simple” (einfach), “transparent” (durchsichtig), and “beautiful” (schön), can we confuse the “precision and lucidity” (Bestimmtheit und Helligkeit) of this (Homeric) language with the “innermost ground” (innersten Grund) of its and the tragic heroes’ essence. In order to penetrate into the true ground of the dialogue’s essence, it is necessary to take a second look, as it were, or, better, it is necessary always to look with a double look: one at the simple, transparent, beautiful surface; and one at the doubleness, what it means to look away (sehen . . . ab) from the surface of the dialogue (the speeches of the hero of the tragedy, say) and penetrate into (dringen . . . ein) the depth of the myth “beneath” it. Since this metaphor is itself both simple and double (einfach and zweifach?), it will also require a double look: one as interpretation, say, and one as reading.

­82    Material Inscriptions On the surface, the metaphor functions like a classical (i.e., Aristotelian) metaphor by analogy. This is already clear from the “if . . . then” clause that introduces the metaphor: “if for once we look away from the character of the hero as it comes to the surface visibly – which, at bottom, is nothing more than a bright image projected on a dark wall, that is, appearance through and through – if we rather penetrate into the myth, which projects itself in these lucid reflections, then we suddenly experience a phenomenon that has an inverse relationship to a known optical one.” That is, a “known optical phenomenon” is going to be used to figure – but only by inversion – what we experience (erleben) when we look away from that which is on the surface, visible, a lucid image, mere appearance, in short, the (Apollinian) dialogue of the tragedy, and penetrate into that which is below the surface, invisible, the dark wall (behind the bright image), the reality, in short, the (Dionysian) myth that projects itself in the bright reflections. The apparent symmetry of the oppositions spells out the metaphor’s task: the metaphor will in a sense (i.e., figuratively speaking) make that which is invisible, spiritual, and unknown visible, sensuous, and known by comparing it to, figuring it by, that which is visible, sensuous, and known: here, a known optical (bekannten optischen) phenomenon (albeit in inverted form). The set-­up of this metaphor by analogy is classically Aristotelian insofar as it is based on the knowledge of entities – how they are constituted, their being – and their exchangeable properties. In order to figure old age as “the evening of life” or, inversely, to figure evening as “the old age of the day,” I must know something about the constitution and properties of all four terms in the analogy – evening is to the day as old age is to life – in order to know which they have in common and can therefore exchange. For instance, I may know that old age comes late in life just as evening comes late in the day or that one’s sight grows dim in old age and in the evening. So in the case of the relationship between the visibility of the Apollinian light, surface, appearance, dialogue, and the invisibility of the Dionysian darkness, depth, reality, myth, I must know something about the constitution of the terms of these oppositions to be able to figure, if only by inversion, that which is darkness, depth, reality, myth by that which is light, surface, appearance, and dialogue, that which is Dionysian by that which is Apollinian. In other words, I know the Apollinian in the way one can know and experience an “optical phenomenon,” whereas I “know” the Dionysian in a different way – not with the vision of the eyes, say, but with a different “vision.” In order for me to be able to figure the latter, different “knowledge” by the former, I must discover the “properties” they have in common, if only by analogy, if only by an analogy guaranteed by opposition, inversion,

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and negation: so that darkness may be figured by light, depth by surface, reality by appearance, myth by dialogue, Dionysian by Apollinian. In short, if the metaphor is to work as a (classical Aristotelian) metaphor by analogy, a great deal of weight is put on the “inverse relationship” (umgekehrtes Verhältnis) between the known optical phenomenon and the optically unknown “phenomenon” it is supposed to figure: the inversion should have all the force of a symmetrical negation in order that it may hold together the metaphor by analogy, indeed make possible the analogy of the metaphor – that is, the exchange of symmetrically opposed properties (light/dark, surface/depth, etc.). And the burden on this inversion by negation is all the greater because this is not just any metaphor but the metaphor that would figure the relationship between the Apollinian and the Dionysian – the very possibility of representing, figuring, the Dionysian by the Apollinian, in short, the very possibility of tragedy: “When in a forceful attempt to fix the eye on the sun, we turn away blinded, we then have dark-­colored spots before our eyes, as a healing agent, as it were: inversely, those bright image projections of the Sophoclean hero, in short the Apollinian [aspect] of the mask, are necessary productions of a look into the innerness and terror of nature, as it were, luminous spots to heal the look wounded by gruesome night.” A certain shift, a certain asymmetry, between the “if . . . then” clause that introduced the metaphor – “if we look away from the visible surface . . . then we experience a phenomenon that has an inverse relationship to a known optical one” – and the metaphor itself has taken place. That is, the metaphor does not so much figure what we experience when we look away from the Apollinian surface of the dialogue and penetrate into the Dionysian myth beneath it, as it does the relation between the terms (light/dark, surface/depth, Apollinian/Dionysian, etc.) of that look, between what we look away from and what we penetrate into. We will have to consider the reasons for this shift later – why the metaphor does not, indeed cannot, tell us directly what we “experience” when we penetrate into the gruesome Dionysian night – but first let us interpret the metaphor itself. The metaphor itself functions, on the surface, as a symmetrical chiasmic reversal in which the parallel and the inverted terms, as well as the pivot of their inversion, are well marked. In the first half of the metaphor, the known optical phenomenon, we have a turn from light to darkness, from the luminous “spot” that is the sun to the dark-­colored spots, a turn, if not exactly from sight to blindness, then at least from seeing the light to seeing the dark, the blinding of the light compensated for by the blinding of the dark, which acts as, as it were, a healing agent (gleichsam als Heilmittel). The turn from one to the other is explicit

­84    Material Inscriptions – “we turn away blinded” (uns geblendet abwenden) – and its cause is natural, physiological, that is, the light of the sun and its blinding effect on the eye that tries to look at it directly. The second half of the metaphor, that which the known optical phenomenon of the first half figures, is carefully constructed as the explicit inversion of the first: just as in the first half we have a turn from light to dark, from a light that blinds to dark-­colored spots that heal, so here we have a turn from dark to light, from the darkness of the gruesome (Dionysian) night that wounds the look to the luminous spots of the Apollinian images that heal it. The turn from one to the other is again explicit – the luminous spots are “necessary productions” (notwendige Erzeugungen) of the look into the gruesome night – and it would seem to be as natural as our blinded turning away in the first part – that is, the luminous spots are “generations” (Erzeugungen) turned by necessity (not-­wendige). The pivot of the inversion between the first half and the second half of the metaphor is also explicit in the word “inversely” (umgekehrt). The parallel terms of the chiasmus are light and dark, and the crossed terms are blinding and healing: that is, in the first half of the metaphor, it is light that blinds and the dark that heals; whereas in the second half, the light heals and the dark blinds. Hence the chiasmic reversal can be schematized: light (blinding) dark (healing)


light (healing) dark (blinding)

In short, light and darkness can be exchanged because they have in common a healing property: the light in the first half of the metaphor can be the figure for the darkness of the second half, and the healing dark-­colored spots (dunkle farbige Flecken) of the first half can be the figure for the healing luminous spots (leuchtende Flecken) of the second half. Everything in this carefully constructed figure seems to stress the symmetry of the terms and their inversion. Interpreted thus, the metaphor brings Apollo and Dionysus into relation with one another as symmetrical interlocutors in a dialogue. The metaphorical exchange would itself be a dialogue – dia-­logos, a speaking between – that allows Apollo and Dionysus to speak to one another. And since what makes this dialogue possible is an inversion by negation, the dialogue would be a truly dialectical mediation, a mediation of logos and mythos (anti-­ logos?) by logos. On the basis of our knowledge of the symmetrically opposed terms of Apollinian and Dionysian – their meaning – we can mediate them metaphorically and represent Dionysus (albeit negatively) in Apollinian terms, in a dialogue in which Dionysus (almost) speaks the language of Homer.

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In a rich interpretation of this passage, Sarah Kofman stresses the (inverse) symmetry of this dialogue and the homeopathic nature of the Apollinian remedy, a (second) blinding by the Apollinian light that cures the blinding by the Dionysian night: “The light of Apollo heals the wounded eye, for it blinds as to the true links which relate (apparentent) Apollo and Dionysus. There is no healing without the blinding by the light. In tragedy, the dialogue, it is this reflection of light, the inverted projection of the myth, that heals the look of him who has plunged into the terrifying night. Just as he who looks directly at the sun turns away from it and has before his eyes dark spots, a natural defensive product against the bedazzlement (l’éblouissement); in the same way he who has dared to cast his look into the horrible abyss of nature, of the terrifying mother, produces a defense as natural and as necessary as the preceding one, the Apollinian light. The theatrical remedy is therefore the exact inversion (l’exacte inversion) of the optical phenomenon: the latter heals in producing dark spots which protect against the bedazzlement and the blinding by the sun; the former heals the blinding by the horrible Night in procuring a blinding light. The veiled Medusa versus a Medusa stripped of all veil; blinding by the light versus blinding by the Night, such are the remedy-­poisons of Apollo: it is a case of homeopathic medication of a cathartic type. There is a double blinding, a double bedazzlement according to whether one passes from shadow to light or from light to shadow: it is what the myth of the cave already taught, that other camera obscura. What is new here in relation to Plato and the Greek myths in which the light and the sun are saving agents is that for Nietzsche light and sun do not draw their pharmaceutical power from the Truth and the Good of which they would be the images, but from appearance and illusion, from blinding. It is a matter of a completely other ‘version of the sun’ (‘version du soleil’).”2 In the final sentences of Kofman’s interpretation we have the logical counterpart of Dionysus’s (in the Apollinian, dialectically mediating metaphor) almost speaking the language of Homer: Nietzsche’s (almost) speaking the language of Plato. That is, even though Nietzsche here would overturn Plato by attributing the healing power of light and the sun to their status as mere appearance and illusion and not, as in Plato, their status as images of the Truth and the Good, because this overturning is a mere inversion, an exact, symmetrical inversion just as the healing theatrical representation is an exact inversion of the optical phenomenon, his ostensibly anti-­Platonic account of the relation between Apollo and Dionysus still (dialectically) remains Platonic. In other words, the inversion of Plato only inverts the terms of the opposition appearance/reality but does nothing to alter the structure of the opposition itself. This is explicit in

­86    Material Inscriptions Kofman’s interpretation of Nietzsche’s denunciation of Euripides (at the end of section 10) in terms of copy and original, simulation and reality: “Because here Nietzsche condemns the simulacrum in a completely Platonic fashion, distanced as it is from the truth, from the presence of Dionysus by an infinity of degrees; because he considers necessary the reference to Dionysus, even though Dionysus can never give himself as such (en propre), his reading remains metaphysical. And nevertheless the metaphysical point of view is displaced by the introduction of myth and of a language whose nature is completely rhetorical, as the Book of the Philosopher shows: if Dionysus speaks, he can speak only improperly (improprement), he can give himself only transposed into metaphors, and that in an indefinite way.”3 Kofman’s interpretation deploys a certain familiar strategy (sometimes – wrongly – called “deconstructive”4) to deal with The Birth of Tragedy: that is, because of the book’s apparent metaphysical valuation of Dionysus as father, ground, ultimate reality, the thing-­in-­itself, and so on, it remains an ultimately metaphysical, indeed Platonic, work that can be inserted in a genetic scheme or dialectical history of Nietzsche’s oeuvre. In this interpretation The Birth of Tragedy would be a mystified, logocentric point of departure that nevertheless points to its own “deconstruction” in Nietzsche’s “detour” through rhetoric in the Philosophenbuch and the course on rhetoric (which follow directly upon the writing of The Birth of Tragedy), and the detour through rhetoric in turn leads to “a break with the metaphysical conception of art, even before Nietzsche posits the hypothesis of the will to power.”5 There is certainly much to support such an interpretation of The Birth of Tragedy and its place in Nietzsche’s development: both in the text itself – for example, the Schopenhauerian underpinnings of the book, the metaphysical valorization of Dionysus, the apparent valorization of music over language – and in Nietzsche’s own later self-­critiques, including the remark in Ecce Homo that the book “smells offensively Hegelian.” Nevertheless, once we begin reading it, there is even more in the text that would put this interpretation into question by showing that this interpretation is the mapping out along a narrative line of what takes place everywhere and always (already) in The Birth of Tragedy: the narrativization of a figure, history put in the place of allegory. In other words, this interpretation depends on a dialectical interpretation of the relationship between Apollo and Dionysus. But the possibility of such a dialectical relation between Apollo and Dionysus already begins to be unsettled in Kofman’s own account (above) of Nietzsche’s still metaphysical reading of Dionysus: that is, if the “reference” to Dionysus can never be as such (en propre), if Dionysus speaks only improperly (improprement),

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only transposed into metaphors (transposé dans des métaphores) in an “indefinite or undefined fashion” (de façon indéfinie), the dialectical interpretation of these transpositions and metaphors can stand only so long as the particles im-­ of improprement and in-­ of indéfinie are taken as negatives, as determinate negations of that which would be “proper” and “definite.” The displacement of the metaphysical point of view “by the introduction of myth and of a language whose nature would be completely rhetorical” would have to be taken as a determinate negation of place. And yet this is belied by Kofman’s own account: if Dionysus can speak only improprement and never en propre, if he can give himself only in metaphors and never literally, then these improper, indefinite, displacing metaphors cannot be taken as mere transpositions from proper to improper, from literal to metaphorical, because there is no proper, literal, original Dionysus in the first place.6 The Apollinian, dialectizing metaphors for Dionysus are put in the place of Dionysus’s “proper,” “literal,” “original” lack. That this “lack” of Dionysus “in the first place” can be taken as an “absence,” as a determinate negation of his presence, is doubtful. Not only is Dionysus’s asymmetry to Apollo stressed throughout the book, but also this asymmetry is always presented as radical: that is, as unbridgeable by dialectics and the work of its negative. If Dionysus is opposed to Apollo, if he is his negation, it is only in the sense that music is “opposed” to and the “negation” of images, that is, only in a figurative sense, only figuratively speaking. And because this opposition is only figurative, because it is not an opposition at all but two radically different spheres, its bridging can take place only in figure, only in impossible metaphors that have nothing to do with the mediation by negation of symmetrically opposed terms whose properties are already known and can therefore be exchanged – in other words, only in figures that are not metaphors (in the Aristotelian sense) at all but are something else. A good example of such an impossible bridging in an impossible figure is Nietzsche’s genealogical account (in section 5) of the origins of lyric poetry. The detour of reading this figure may help us return to our light/dark, Apollo/Dionysus “metaphor.” Since the art of the lyrist lies at the basis of the choral songs that give birth to the Apollinian scene of the tragedy, the articulations of this genealogy are important, for they constitute an account of the birth of tragedy itself, that is, the “reconciliation” of Dionysus and Apollo, lyric and epic poet, music and images, and so on. This genealogy is articulated in terms of a series of “copies,” “images,” “recasts,” “parables” – with words like Abbild, Wiederholung, Abguss, Gleichnis, Traumbild, Widerschein, Spiegelung, Exempel, Bild crowding the passage – which are relatively hard to follow (especially in translation). But since the

­88    Material Inscriptions chain begins with (Dionysian) music – with the Dionysian artist’s producing music as the copy (Abbild) of the primal unity (das Ur-­Eine) with which he has become one – and ends with the images and appearances of the (Apollinian) “dream-­scene” (Traumszene), the “image sparks” (Bilderfunken) of lyric poems, the crucial pivot of this genealogy is the turn from music – “imageless and conceptless” (bild-­ und begrifflos) as it is – to images: in short, how music becomes visible. Needless to say, it can become visible only in a figure: “jetzt aber wird diese Musik ihm [the Dionysian artist] wieder, wie in einem gleichnisartigen Traumbilde, unter der apollinischen Traumeinwirkung sichtbar.” Kaufmann translates these lines as follows: “Now, however, under the Apollinian dream inspiration, this music reveals itself to him again as a symbolic dream image.” An entire ideological misreading of The Birth of Tragedy is contained in this (mis)translation’s swerving away from the text: its rendering “this music becomes . . . visible” (wird diese Musik . . . sichtbar) by the vague “this music reveals itself” is already a symptom, as is its translation of gleichnisartig (“parable-­like,” say) as “symbolic” (and bringing with it the ideology of the “symbol”). But more than symptomatic is the translation of “wie in einem gleichnisartigen Traumbilde” (“like in a parable-­like dream image”) by “as a symbolic dream image.” Since this phrase would tell us how music becomes visible – “this music becomes visible . . . like in a parable-­like dream image” – it would seem important to get it across. But what the translation manages to do is to cover up this transition from music to images, from what can only be heard to what can be seen, by itself not making the transition (from German to English), and to suggest that music can become visible in representation. This suggestion enters in the translation’s importing the little word “as” in “as a symbolic dream image.” Together with the translation of “becomes visible” by “reveals itself” and “parable-­like” by “symbolic,” this shift from “like [or “as though”] in a parable-­like dream image” to “as a symbolic dream image” succeeds in closing the gap between music and image, sound and sight, and therefore in making the crossing from Dionysian to Apollinian possible as a representation, as though it were representable. Of course, the price of this transition is the translator’s missing the intra-­linguistic passage from German to English, language to language. This is by no means due to an accident of inattentive translation. Rather the translation that would make the passage from music to images (and from German to English) at all costs is a necessity built into, inscribed in, the text. That is, the German text does not make the passage, does not close the gap, between music and images, by any mimetic or representational (including dialectically representational) means but rather bridges them by an impossible figure that at the same time insists

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on the impossibility of the bridge. This becomes clear when we retranslate the crucial phrase “like, as though, in a parable-­like dream image” (wie in einem gleichnisartigen Traumbilde): music becomes visible “like in a parable-­like dream image.” The phrase is a simile that is made up of words for simile, image, figure. Its self-­consuming, non-­representational nature becomes visible if we reduce it by substituting the word “image” or “figure” where it belongs: “like [“imaged”] in a parable-­like [“in an imagelike” or even “in an image-­imaged”] dream image”; or “figured by a figurelike dream figure.” In short, music becomes visible figured in a figure of a figure – which means that it does not become visible at all as something to be seen but rather becomes “visible” as something to be read. To think that one can see music in the Apollinian dream images is to behave like a spectator of tragedy who remains what Nietzsche calls the “man of culture” (Kulturmensch), who sees, say, the Apollinian scene (hero, dialogue, etc.) of the tragedy but does not see its essence, what it is at bottom – that is, the god Dionysus and his suffering. But in order to “see” Dionysus in all the Apollinian manifestations of the tragedy, it is necessary to see no longer as the “man of culture” but to see oneself as a satyr and as a satyr see the god (Dionysus). And to see as a satyr is not at all a matter of representation – how represent oneself as a monster, as not a self at all? – but rather like a “transformation” (Verwandlung), an impossible, monstrous translation like that “figured by a figure of figure” – more a stutter than a translation. It is no wonder, then, that the translator had to get the text’s impossible translation of music into images wrong. He could not make the intra-­linguistic transition (from German to English) precisely because he insisted on making the transition from music to images where the text itself did not, could not, make it – except as an impossible combination of words, a stutter (figure . . . figure . . . figure . . .), a monstrous translation. Where in the text there was nothing to read, nothing to translate – except an other, purely linguistic nothing of reading, nothing of translation – the translator could not read, could not translate. Rather than translating the nothing there, he did not translate; rather than reading nothing, he did not read. This non-­reading can help us take a second look and reread the “nothing” of the light/dark, seeing/blinding metaphor. In order to take this second look, we need to heed the text’s instructions and look away (absehen) from the mere “surface” of the metaphor – its “visible” symmetrical “dialogue” of exchangeable properties – and penetrate into (eindringen) its “myth” (Mythus). To make Dionysus dialectically “visible” by figuring him as the symmetrical inversion of a known optical phenomenon is precisely not to “penetrate into” the myth but to reduce the myth to dialogue, mythos to (dia)logos. It means

­90    Material Inscriptions to reduce Dionysus to a simple, superficial Apollo when Apollo is two fold: on the one hand, the Apollinian dream image, the scene and dialogue of the tragedy, represents (images, the empirical world, etc.); on the other hand, it impossibly signifies, impossibly figures (Dionysian music, the pain and contradiction at the bottom of all things, and so on). And the latter Apollo gives the lie to the former; he is his destruction. Paul de Man, in a much unread essay on The Birth of Tragedy, puts it succinctly: “The actual meaning of the Apollinian appearance is not the empirical reality it represents but the Dionysian insight into the illusory quality of this reality” (my emphasis)7 – a statement in which there is a radical disparity, asymmetry, between the Apollinian “appearance” and its “actual meaning,” between “representing” and “meaning,” between representation and a radical, “Dionysian” semiosis. Hence to penetrate into the “myth” below the surface cannot mean to return to some primal, original stratum of experience or to “reveal” the ontological priority and authority of Dionysus and his music – since, again, Dionysus was not there in the first place in the terms of any (dialectical or hermeneutic) ontology – but rather to read Apollo differently, the other, “deadly Apollo.”8 In the case of our carefully constructed metaphor, it means to read the self-­destructive asymmetry built into the chiasmic inversion of light and dark, seeing and blinding, and its other, asymmetrical, nondialectizable negative. An economical way to do so is to take another look at Sarah Kofman’s interpretation of the metaphor’s workings as a “blinding of blinding”: “The theatrical remedy is therefore the exact inversion of the optical phenomenon: the latter heals in producing dark spots which protect against the bedazzlement and the blinding by the sun; the former heals the blinding by the horrible Night in procuring a blinding light.” In short, one blinding heals the other; the second blinding (of the Apollinian images) blinds the first blinding (of the Dionysian night). By blinding the Dionysian blinding, the Apollinian blinding makes us see (“luminous spots” [leuchtende Flecken], for example) – an exact, symmetrical inversion, and, according to Kofman, “as natural and necessary” as the “natural defensive product” of the dark spots that protect against the bedazzlement in the first half of the metaphor (i.e., the known optical phenomenon). But if the second blinding is to be understood in any sense as a “natural defensive product” – that is, on the model of, as analogous to, the known optical phenomenon – that in some sense restores sight, it is clear that one blinding must be understood as the (symmetrical) negation of the other: the only way one blinding can heal the other is if it negates it, if he who does not see is made to see. Otherwise, the “blinding of blinding” would be the operation of some sort of joking Jesus who goes

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around blinding the blind – blinding them to the second power, as it were, as though one blinding were not enough already. In other words, this blinding of blinding cannot be understood in any naturalistic sense – for in this sense it makes mere nonsense or a cruel hoax – but rather one blinding must be taken as the symmetrical negative inversion of the other, one blinding must be the figure for the restoration of sight lost in the other. Obviously enough, then, such a blinding of blinding is not to be understood naturalistically but only as a figure – only by analogy to a known optical, natural phenomenon and the oppositions of light and dark, seeing and not seeing, and so forth. The blinding light that blinds the blinding Night can be only a figure and not a “natural defensive product.” This is a first obvious step of the reading: that, naturalistically speaking, the figure makes nonsense. But the naturalistic model – the optical phenomenon – would be redeemed by analogy, in (and as) a figure: that is, precisely, as a model. Although the figure may make nonsense naturalistically, it makes sense figuratively: that is, in terms of a figural logic of symmetrical inversions and transfers between the terms of very natural oppositions like light and dark, seeing and blinding, and so forth. If the blinding of blinding is not natural, it is at least comparable to and understandable in the figural terms of (empirical) nature. This would seem to be the sense not only of the blinding of blinding but of the entire metaphor – itself only another version of Apollo’s figuring Dionysus. But in order for the blinding of blinding to work as a figure, tropologically speaking, in terms of the figural logic that the metaphor has set up, one blinding has to be understood as the symmetrical negative inversion of the other: that is, in terms of the oppositions seeing/ blinding, seeing/not seeing. The Apollinian (blinding) light heals by restoring the vision lost in the gruesome (blinding) Dionysian night. But here the text introduces a slight asymmetricalizing shift that undoes the entire metaphor and, ultimately, the very possibility of an Apollinian metaphor – that is, as a classical (Aristotelian) metaphor by analogy – for Dionysus. In a word, the text does not say that the gruesome Dionysian night blinds the look but rather that it wounds the look: “the look wounded by gruesome night” (des von grausiger Nacht versehrten Blickes). The implications of the asymmetry are far-­reaching. First of all, it means that the figure cannot work as a symmetrical inversion of seeing and not seeing, light and darkness. If the look is wounded and not blinded, then seeing the Apollinian images, the luminous spots, is not its symmetrical inversion. It is not a case of seeing versus not seeing but rather the relation of a seeing look to a wounded look. In short, the wounding by the gruesome Dionysian night falls outside the easily inverted symmetrical oppositions of light and darkness, seeing and not

­92    Material Inscriptions seeing. Hence the metaphor’s chiasmic reversal is asymmetrical and better schematized thus: light (blinding) dark (healing)


light (healing) dark (wounding rather than blinding)

To use Kofman’s formulation, this is not a “blinding of blinding” but rather a “blinding of wounding.” In other words, not only does the figure make nonsense naturalistically, but also, more important, it makes nonsense tropologically, that is, in terms of the system of oppositions and substitutions it has set up.9 Another way to put it: in order for the figure to work tropologically, the wounding of the look by the gruesome Dionysian night must be taken as a negation of sight, as a blinding, as a not seeing, and thereby as analogous to the blinding and restoration of sight in the known optical phenomenon. But the gruesome Dionysian night’s wounding of the look is radically asymmetrical to this (ultimately perceptual) tropological model because rather than a case of the look’s not seeing, it is a seeing nothing: that is, it is not a privative or a mere negation of the look – such a Dionysus would be the mere (reassuring) negation of Apollo, Apollo’s own dialectical negation. Instead of a not seeing, the look into the Dionysian night sees nothing. And the nothing it sees is the nothing of the Apollinian light and the images it renders visible – not as the absence, deprivation, negation of light but as something else, something as radically unknowable in the terms of oppositions like dark/light, seeing/not seeing as, say, music. The Dionysian night is “opposed” to the Apollinian light only, again, as music can be said to be “opposed” to images. To attempt to figure the Nothing of the Dionysian night by Apollinian images is like attempting to see music, like making music visible. In the Dionysian night, the look knows nothing, sees nothing – this is why it cannot be figured by a “known, optical phenomenon.” The only way to do so is to cover over, forget, this Nothing by taking it as a negation: putting not knowing in the place of knowing Nothing, not seeing in the place of seeing Nothing. (For the traditional misreading of The Birth of Tragedy, it means putting a negative, “tragic” Dionysus – a Dionysus mediatable with Apollo [in Apollinian terms] – in the place of a Dionysus radically other, radically not there, better, radically a Nothing there, like the radically unknowable, wounding Silenic wisdom or death: the best thing is “not to be born, not to be, to be nothing” [nicht geboren zu sein, nicht zu sein, nichts zu sein], the next best – “to die soon.”) In Kofman’s interpretation, the symptom of this covering over or forgetting is the straightforward substitution of a “blinding” that restores the symmetry of the

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metaphor’s exchange for a “wounding” that undoes it – like Walter Kaufmann’s, a substitution, one could say, of not reading for reading Nothing. The text’s own strategy is more devious. It imports a little wounding into the first half of the metaphor and its opposition of blinding/seeing by way of the invisible word gleichsam (“so to speak,” “as it were”): we have dark-­colored spots before our eyes “as a healing agent, as it were” (gleichsam als Heilmittel). If it needs to be healed, the blinding of the sun was already something of a “wounding.” The gleichsam in the second half of the metaphor seems to balance the first by importing a little “blinding” into the wounding/healing opposition: after a look into the innerness and terror of nature, we have, “as it were, luminous spots to heal the look wounded by gruesome night” (gleichsam leuchtende Flecken zur Heilung des von grausiger Nacht versehrten Blickes). In the first half of the metaphor, the word gleichsam marks the figural shift from the light/dark, seeing/not seeing oppositions to the healing/­ wounding (curing/illness) opposition: the dark spots are, as it were, a healing agent. In the second half of the metaphor, the word marks the figural shift from the healing/wounding opposition to the light/dark, seeing/not seeing oppositions: the bright image, the Apollinian aspect of the mask, are, “as it were, luminous spots to heal.” But this restoration of an inverse symmetry is only apparent. It can take place only figuratively speaking, only “as it were” or “so to speak” – only as long as we do not read – for it has nothing to do with the knowledge of entities and the exchange of their properties, nothing to do with an inversion by negation. It is only a word put in the place of this “nothing,” a marker for the impossibility of the passage between Dionysian wounding and Apollinian blinding, Dionysian seeing and Apollinian healing. At the same time as it would restore the symmetry of the metaphor, the truly “invisible” word gleichsam – invisible because it has nothing to do with seeing and not seeing and everything to do with reading and not reading – is a sign of the metaphor’s radical asymmetry. It is, as it were, the wounding of the metaphor. It is a “riddling X” (rätselhaftes X)10 put in the place of the crossing of the chiasmus: it makes the crossing possible by crossing out, as it were, the impossibility of the crossing, standing in its place. Like the phrase from section 5 – wie in einem gleichnisartigen Traumbilde – the word gleichsam is an untranslatable X.11 And the metaphor itself is such an X for the relation of Apollo and Dionysus. Hence it is no wonder that the metaphor does not, cannot, say what we “experience” (erleben) when we look away from the surface dialogue and “penetrate” into (eindringen) the myth beneath – and instead gives us a figure for what happens when we look away from the Dionysian myth and to the luminous spots of the Apollinian appearance. The

­94    Material Inscriptions figure – an impossible figure for the impossibility of figure12 – is what we put in the place of this nothing: something to read, not something to experience. In short, the figure is a bit of non-­sense, an X – a bit of non-­sense, however, that is radically asymmetrical to sense. The nature of this non-­sense and its radical asymmetry to sense – and its implications for interpretation and reading (Nietzsche, for example) – can be summarized and given a name. Like Apollo – blinding and healing, wounding and restoring sight – the metaphor is double: it is a metaphor and something other than a metaphor. That is, on the one hand, the metaphor works like a classical Aristotelian metaphor by analogy. It figures the unknown by the known, the spiritual by the sensuous; it carries over and exchanges properties of light and dark, seeing and not seeing, healing and wounding. It is a “homeopathic” remedy for the wounding of the Dionysian night; it is an Apollinian figure for the way the Apollinian (surface, dialogue, light, image, etc.) figures the Dionysian (depth, myth, darkness, music, etc.) – it makes sense of the senseless. But, on the other hand, since according to this metaphor – and the rest of The Birth of Tragedy – the way that the Apollinian figures the Dionysian is by putting an impossible figure, a marker, an X, in the place of that which is radically unknown and unknowable, that which is outside the dialectically mediatable oppositions of knowledge and nonknowledge, spiritual and sensuous, like the Silenic wisdom (not just not to be but to be nothing) or death, the metaphor itself cannot be an Apollinian metaphor for the Dionysian “reality” but rather is a mask, a cover-­up, a figure put in the place of that which is unfigurable. The metaphor is a “blind metonymy,”13 as Paul de Man might say – “metonymy” because it is a substitution by contiguity, mere juxtaposition, mere “putting next to”; “blind” because it does not know anything about what it substitutes for, does not even know whether there is anything there to put something next to it. (In the figure’s own terms, one could better say that it is a “wounded metonymy” – and a wounding metonymy for it wounds the metaphor.) In short, like the remedies of Apollo, the figure itself is an allopathic remedy; it makes sense of the senseless by covering over the radical Nothing of sense, by figuring the Nothing of sense as the mere (dialectically recoverable) absence, negation, of sense. The Apollinian figure puts itself in the place of the Nothing of figure. All this is relatively familiar, and as long as we understand this Nothing of sense or figure – in a word, the Dionysian – in ontological terms (as ground, thing-­in-­itself, Being, etc.), that is, as something outside language, we can continue to make the so-­called tragic, existentialist interpretation of The Birth of Tragedy and its Artisten-­metaphysik that would formulate its insight into Being

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by means of aesthetic categories.14 All kinds of rigorous conceptions of the negative could be applied to the Dionysian Nothing: for instance, Nietzsche’s impossible, asymmetrical analogies for the Dionysian could be interpreted on the model of Kant’s philosophical, that is, regulative (as distinguished from the mathematical, that is, constitutive), analogies of experience, which yield knowledge only of the relation to a fourth (unknown) term, not the term itself.15 But, on the “third,” other other hand, the trouble is that the Dionysian Nothing of sense, the Nothing of figure, is not something that comes from outside language to limit or negate its power of tropological substitution and aberration – that is, its power to make not only naturalistic but also tropological non-­sense – but rather is essentially linguistic, it comes from, as it were, inside language, it is the Nothing and the non-­sense of figure, of sense. That is, the possibility of putting figures, words, markers, Xs, in the place of a lack of meaning, putting something to see and know in the place where there is nothing to see or know – insofar as it is always possible, insofar as all figural transfers or substitutions are subject to it – is a non-­sense or a Nothing that is the material (i.e., nondialectical, nontranscendental) condition of possibility of all sense and all figure. It is a material fact of language; it makes language what it is: a text, a radically open tropological system that can be “what it is” only by not being a system, by not being anything that could be “what it is” in the terms of any ontology. What this means for the text of our recalcitrant “metaphor” is that the figure itself – to the extent that its substitutions and transfers have nothing to do with perceptual or phenomenological models of seeing and not seeing, knowing and not knowing (no matter how refined or how powerful their conceptions of the negative) – the figure itself, its materiality, is the wounding of the look into the gruesome Dionysian night. The figure wounds the look by making an arbitrary, metonymical leap from that which we do not see or know (radically, like the Silenic wisdom or death) to that which we can see and know (like the “known optical phenomenon”). That is, it empties the look, devalues it, degrades it to the status of a mere place-­holder for that which has nothing to do with the look. Precisely in giving us something to see and know, the figure blinds us and deprives us of knowledge: it puts the negation of seeing and knowing in the place where there was nothing to see, nothing to know (because the nothing there was only to be read and not seen or known). This wounding, then, is not so much by Dionysus – for Dionysus neither is nor is not in the terms of any decidable opposition of Being and Nothing – but by an other Apollo: not he who represents but he who impossibly points to, signifies, figures, the Nothing of representation. In short, the figure undermines the (extra-­linguistic)

­96    Material Inscriptions primacy and authority of Dionysus only to gain a (linguistic, or, better, “­meta-­linguistic”) “Dionysian insight” into Apollo. The text’s own name for this Nothing of Apollo – and hence the Nothing of representation, sense, figure, metaphor, language (language being an intrinsically Apollinian medium according to The Birth of Tragedy) – is, of course, music. Apollo may represent images but what his images mean, what he figures (impossibly), is music. Indeed, as section 6 puts it, “we should distinguish two main currents in the history of the language of the Greek people, according to whether language imitated the world of images and phenomena or the world of music” (dürfen wir in der Sprachgeschichte des griechischen Volkes zwei Hauptströmungen unterscheiden, jenachdem die Sprache die Erscheinungs-­und Bilderwelt oder die Musikwelt nachahmte). But rather than remaining on the surface of this distinction and concluding that Nietzsche is revaluing music at the expense of language – and hence interpreting The Birth of Tragedy as voice-­centered, logocentric, and so on – we would do better to ask – and, as we have seen, the text repeatedly forces us to ask – what it can possibly mean for language to imitate music, what in language is like music. Clearly enough, if language is the intrinsically Apollinian medium that “as the organ and symbol of phenomena, can never by any means disclose the innermost heart of music” (daher kann die Sprache, als Organ und Symbol der Erscheinungen, nie und nirgends das tiefste Innere der Musik nach aussen kehren), then it cannot “imitate” music; it can only figure it in impossible figures (for figure) that would make music visible, that, like Apollo, represent all kinds of things and yet are mere place-­holders for music (and thus represent nothing). But these impossible figures – for figure, for the impossibility of imitating music, making music visible – can bring us closer to the sense in which Nietzsche can talk about language’s imitating music. That is, just as these figures have nothing to do with perception and the phenomenological models of cognition (ultimately) based on it (and yet are constitutive of language as an open tropological system), so music is not reducible to and should not be confused with what we can hear, its merely phenomenal (i.e., Apollinian) nature, what is apprehensible with the senses. What we hear is not music but noise – just as in the case of language what we hear is not speech but noise and what we see is not writing but black spots upon the page. Just as speech is not a matter of sound, what we hear, but the (inaudible) relations between sounds, the joints or articulations – that is, precisely what we do not hear – so music is a matter of the order of sounds, their jointing or articulation, a system of differential markings that cannot be perceived (heard or seen). But they can be – and they have to be if we are to be able to distinguish

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music (or speech) from noise – read: music is what we read, a text, and it is as text – as articulation, as a system of differential markings, as syntax (the ordering of words, words as place-­ holders, distinguished from words as carriers of sense) – that language can “imitate” music. As pure syntax, music would be purely linguistic; music could as easily be said to “imitate” language. This is the sense in which we can say that there is no Dionysus except as a mask, aspect, condition, function of Apollo: as semantics, Apollinian language carries meaning, represents images, and so on; as syntax, Apollinian language serves as a mere place-­holder, means nothing, represents nothing, and yet is the condition of possibility of meaning and representation, their material (nontranscendental) ground. Such a reading of the relation of music and language in The Birth of Tragedy would necessitate a rereading of the entire book: no longer as a genetic narrative or a history of the birth of tragedy, the origins of Apollinian images in primordial Dionysian music, but as a story language tells to itself, as it were, by figuring itself as image (Apollo) and as music (Dionysus), giving ontological (and historical) priority and authority to the latter (as origin, father, thing-­in-­itself, etc.) in order precisely to tell its story, to have a story to tell. In short, the new story would be that of language’s own self-­literalization – in order that there be a story to tell – and the interpreters’ story would merely mimic this literalization (in order to have a story of their own to tell – for instance, of Nietzsche’s logocentric “romanticism” in The Birth of Tragedy and his development out of it). Among other things, such a rereading would entail a new conception of what Nietzsche means by “aesthetic.” If one reads The Birth of Tragedy (e.g., section 5) with any attention at all, it becomes clear that “aesthetic” is not to be understood in terms of idealist subject-­object conceptions of art and aesthetics: both in The Birth of Tragedy and in the fragments of the Philosophenbuch (e.g., “On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense”) Nietzsche quite explicitly rewrites the word “aesthetic” to mean a linguistic, indeed radically rhetorical “phenomenon.”16 Along with the equivalent “metaphor,” the word “aesthetic” is one of his main tools to dislodge the unwarranted claims to truth of idealist theories of (including aesthetic) knowledge that make arbitrary metaphorical jumps (from many to one, from thing to word to concept, etc.) between absolutely different spheres and then forget that all their knowledge is based on an aesthetic (i.e., radically metaphorical) relation. This “radically rhetorical,” nonmetaphysical conception of metaphor is already operative in The Birth of Tragedy. In a statement like the following from section 8, “For the genuine poet, metaphor is not a rhetorical figure but a vicarious image that he actually

­98    Material Inscriptions beholds in place of a concept” (Die Metapher ist für den echten Dichter nicht eine rhetorische Figur, sondern ein stellvertretendes Bild, der ihm wirklich, an Stelle eines Begriffes, vorschwebt), the stress should be put not so much on the “reality” (wirklich) of the image that hovers before the genuine poet’s eyes but on its status as “vicarious image” (stellvertretendes Bild), a substitute, proxy, an image that stands in the place of, holds the place for, a concept. If such a metaphor is not a “rhetorical figure,” it is precisely because it is not a symmetrical transfer from conceptual to sensuous – that is, it is not a figure to be understood in terms of a rhetoric subject to the logic of philosophy, a rhetoric that would be merely decorative, flowery speech. In short, it is not that the genuine poet is “naive” or that he takes his figures “literally” but rather that he knows his images to be not representations of some original (concept or whatever) but rather stand-­ins, place-­holders, which bear no mimetic relation to anything else. One could say that the entire, asymmetrical, unmediatable relation between Apollo and Dionysus (or, better, between Apollo and the “Dionysian insight” into Apollo), image and music – semantics and syntax, say – is figured in the “definition” of metaphor as stellvertretendes Bild: as Apollinian image (Bild), the metaphor represents entities in the empirical world, gives us something to see (whether with the eyes or the mind); as place-­holder (stellvertretend), the metaphor is a syntactical marker for that which is unrepresentable, Dionysian music, pure syntax. But if such a metaphor is not a “rhetorical figure,” what is it? Like his use of the word “aesthetic” to name that which cannot be accounted for by conventional aesthetics, Nietzsche’s still saying “metaphor” (“carrying over,” “transfer”) for that which is not a transposition from sense to sense is indicative of the double game (of inversion and reinscription) in play: rewriting “aesthetic” to use it against aesthetics, rewriting “metaphor” to use it against conventionally conceived rhetoric. Our having to introduce into the arena of tropes and figures – which by definition have to do with sense and its transfers and substitutions – the term “syntax” – which by definition has nothing to do with meaning (and yet is its condition) – is another indication of the peculiarity of these “figures”: metaphors that are also not metaphors but markers, figural substitutions that are also proper names, figures that are not figures (for anything but the impossibility of figure). We are asking about something that would be, as it were, the syntax of tropes. Luckily, the rhetorical handbooks have a name for it: catachresis, or abusive, far-­ fetched metaphor like “leg of a table” or “face of a mountain” – in the conventional sense at once a “figurative” expression because it is transferred from elsewhere and “literal” because there is no other way to say it, it is the “proper name” of the thing. But having this name should

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not be taken as a cure for all that ails metaphor. We should beware of taking the name for the thing, especially in the case where naming – for example, “Dionysus” or “X,” for that matter – is the question and not the answer. The uncanny status of catachresis as the “syntax of tropes” – and thus as that which keeps the tropological system from being closed off as a system – becomes clearer if we consider its fortunes in the rhetorical handbooks and read it with Jacques Derrida’s “White Mythology.” But that is for another place.17

Notes   1. I quote from Karl Schlechta’s edition of Nietzsche’s Werke I (Munich: Carl Hanser, 1969) and modify Walter Kaufmann’s translation of The Birth of Tragedy (New York: Random House, 1967), p. 67.   2. Sarah Kofman, Nietzsche et la scène philosophique (Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions, 1979), pp. 76–7. The final phrase is an allusion to Bernard Pautrat, Versions du soleil (Paris: Seuil, 1971).  3. Kofman, Nietzsche et la scène philosophique, p. 80.   4. It is a strategy that comes out of a certain, I would say premature, reading of Derrida’s “White Mythology” best exemplified in Philippe Lacoue-­ Labarthe’s suggestive essay “Le détour,” first version in Poétique 5 (1971), pp. 53–76, now in Lacoue-­Labarthe’s Le Sujet de la philosophie (Paris: Aubier-­Flammarion, 1979). See Paul de Man’s critique of this strategy in “Genesis and Genealogy,” in Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979).  5. Kofman, Nietzsche et la scène philosophique, p. 80.  6. In other words, Kofman, in order to account for Nietzsche’s “displacement” of the metaphysical point of view by “rhetoric,” would have to think rhetoric “un-­metaphysically” – read rhetoric as text – and this her interpretation cannot do.   7. De Man, “Genesis and Genealogy,” p. 92.   8. Paul de Man, “Shelley Disfigured,” in The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), p. 118.  9. My reading of the metaphor’s nonsense can be taken as a reading of a footnote (that speaks volumes) in Paul de Man, “Reading (Proust),” in Allegories of Reading, pp. 60–1. 10. Friedrich Nietzsche, “Über Wahrheit und Lüge im aussermoralischen Sinne,” in Werke III, ed. Karl Schlechta (Munich: Carl Hanser, 1969), p. 313. 11. If one does try to “translate” the word gleichsam, one arrives at a “stutter” not unlike that of “like in a parable-­like dream image.” Its three roots – ga-­, leiche, sam – all return to the word “like” or “same”: “like-­like-­like,” “same-­same-­same.” And the gl-­ evokes glossa and glyph. In short, the “word” gleichsam would take back to a primal inscription or hypogram. 12. It is a figure that does what it says, performs (like a kind of little tragedy) what it states (its truth), and since what it states (its truth) is the statement

­100    Material Inscriptions that there is a discrepancy, a radical disjunction, between saying (truth) and doing, stating (the truth) and performing, it can never do exactly what it says, perform its statement, symmetrically, adequately; for there is always a discrepancy, disruption, disjunction, gap, break, between its saying and its doing, statement and performance, the truth it knows and the performance of this truth. It can never reflect on itself enough to render itself transparent to itself, know itself completely; nor can it ever do enough to dissolve the question of self-­knowing. There is always too much or (and/or) too little knowledge for the act; and there is always too much or (and/or) too little act for the knowledge. 13. De Man, “Genesis and Genealogy,” p. 102. 14. Eugen Fink, Nietzsches Philosophie (Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1960), p. 17. 15. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965), p. 211. For a reading of Kant’s Second Analogy (through Kleist), see my “A Question of an Other Order: Deflections of the Straight Man,” Diacritics 9:4 (December 1979), pp. 70–8, now an Appendix in my Ideology, Aesthetics, Rhetoric: For De Man (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013). See also the next chapter for Nietzsche’s undoing of the principle of causality in “On Truth and Lie.” 16. The interpreters of Nietzsche who foreground the famous (parenthetical) statement in section 5 – “for it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified” – always manage to forget the rest of Nietzsche’s sentence: “On the contrary, we may assume that we are merely images and artistic projections for the true author, and that we have our highest dignity in our significance as works of art – for it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified – while of course our consciousness of our own significance (Bedeutung) hardly differs from that which the soldiers painted on canvas have of the battle represented on it.” 17. I have carried out this reading of catachresis in the continuation of the present chapter in “Prefatory Postscript: Interpretation and Reading,” in Readings in Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), pp. liv–lxi. See also the discussion of catachresis in Chapter 8 below.

Chapter 5

Towards a Fabulous Reading: Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense”

“But the question remains whether the pattern of this narrative is ‘historical,’ i.e., revelatory of a teleological meaning, or ‘allegorical,’ i.e., repetitive of a potential confusion between figural and referential statement.” Paul de Man, “Rhetoric of Tropes”1

For all the attention it has received and all the times its most famous (or infamous) lines have been quoted, Nietzsche’s brief “On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense” remains something of an enigma – a “riddling X,” as the text itself refers to the inaccessible and undefinable thing-­in-­itself (das rätselhafte X des Dings an sich). In large measure, the enigmatic status of the text is due to the uncanny way it manages to predict and inscribe within its own borders, in its own terms, any attempt that would gain access to it by solving its riddle and identifying its X. Those who would take the text literally on the level of its argument and its (“philosophical”) logic all too often inscribe themselves in the text as the “rational man” at the end. He may be a stoical man who learns from experience and governs himself by concepts – and he may seek nothing but sincerity, truth, freedom from deception, and protection from ensnaring ambushes – but his reason and rationality are for all that no less a “masterpiece of dissimulation” (Meisterstück der Verstellung), for the rule of his concepts is nevertheless the rule of metaphors: his concepts and their “truth” are never the adequate expression of any reality but only faded, cooled, stiffened metaphors – the edifice of concepts a vast columbarium containing the ashes of once-­living, but now dead, metaphors. Small wonder that the stoical rational man who, even in unhappiness, wears a dignified mask of unperturbed features and does not cry out, does not even change his voice, becomes by the end a comical (or comic-­book) figure. “When a veritable storm-­cloud pours itself out over him, he wraps himself up in his coat and with slow steps goes away from there under it” (my emphasis), says the last sentence of

­102    Material Inscriptions the text (we have), and it leaves the unmistakable image of a black cloud following the rational man wherever he may go and regularly discharging itself upon him in his coat with its turned-­up collar.2 But those who would take the text more figuratively, on the level of its fable or parable and its (“literary”) rhetoric, all too easily inscribe themselves in it as the equally hapless “intuitive man” at the end. The intuitive man may indeed be an “‘overjoyed hero’”(‘überfroher Held’) who revels in illusion and beauty like the artistic Greeks whose inventions are expressions not of need but of “a sublime happiness and an Olympian cloudlessness and, as it were, a playing with seriousness” (91). But being able to take abstractions and concepts as what they are – i.e., metaphors – does not make the intuitive man any less mystified or any happier than the rational man with his cloud. Indeed, the artistic intuitive man suffers more often and more intensely than the rational man “because he does not know how to learn from experience and keeps falling again and again into the same ditch (Grube)” (91). It is relatively easy to see why: because for the intuitive man one lie of metaphor is interchangeable with another, he is not able to learn which lies are empirically harmful for him and which are harmless. It may be fine and aesthetically pleasing to call the river a “moving road” (90) – unless you also try to walk on it. In short, with his convulsed expressions and his inconsolable cries, the unreasonable intuitive man is just the comic counterpart of the rational man: the one under a cloud, the other in the hole. The text’s characterization of the respectively (but equally) hapless predicaments of the rational man and the intuitive man can serve as cautionary fables for the reader of “On Truth and Lie.” For just as even on a naively thematic level it is not at all a question of choosing to take sides with either the rational man or the intuitive man – a choice as pointless as valuing one deceptive metaphor over another equally deceptive metaphor, or, in metaphorical terms, cloud over ditch (or vice versa) – so there is not much point in trying to identify and define the “riddling X” of “On Truth and Lie” by taking its epistemological or its rhetorical status as already given, decided beforehand, and available under familiar rubrics like “philosophy” or “literature,” “logic” or “rhetoric,” “argument” or “fable,” “concept” or “metaphor,” etc.3 If the economy (of exchange?) of these “oppositions” is precisely the question of the text (and, no doubt, of the X) – as the juxtaposition of the rational man and the intuitive man already suggests – then our task is to formulate this question correctly. But how? The pairing of rational man and intuitive man is of some help here again, for despite the apparent opposition and its apparent historical investment – with the history of cultures understood as a succession of periods during which the intuitive

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man predominates over the rational man (as in Greece) or vice versa (as, presumably, in modernity) – the juxtaposition of rational man and intuitive man is quite clearly the narrativization (and, in fact, historicization) of a figure. That is, neither the rational man nor the intuitive man has his ground in some extra-­linguistic reality – whether it be physiological or historical, as at least seems to be the case for the Apollinian/Dionysian duality with its “physiological analogues” in dream and intoxication and its historical manifestation in the story of the birth, death, and rebirth of tragedy4 – but rather both are products of the rhetorical structure of a particular trope – metaphor – and its reading. The only real difference between them is how they play the game of metaphor: the one in all seriousness (the “seriousness” of self-­preservation) plays by the rules of metaphor; the other plays with seriousness, upsets the rules, and creates bold, new, self-­destructive metaphors. Neither is ultimately closer to or farther away from the ground or truth of the unknowable X of the thing-­ in-­itself. Both are within metaphor, both have their gestures and actions, existential happiness or unhappiness, dictated to them by the structure of metaphor. But to know this and to say this still does not amount to very much, unless we have some sense of what it means to be “within metaphor,” a product of “the structure of metaphor.” If metaphor is the “truth” of this text – the X of the text, as it were – then what is metaphor? Our having to pose the question in this form (“What is . . .?”) and in these terms (“truth”/“metaphor”) should already make us wary, for, after all, the text itself repeatedly uses precisely this form of the question and precisely these terms to generate and regenerate its polemical argument, or at least to give its progression the appearance of a (Socratic) philosophical argument interested in getting at the essence of X by means of the question “What is . . .?” – for example, and it is not just any example, the infamous passage on truth: “What then is truth? A movable host of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms . . .” (84). To ask “What is metaphor?” would seem a rather unhelpful, symmetrically chiasmic, reversal of the question “What is truth?” that begs for the answer: “Truth, for example.” But if it is easy enough to parrot “Truth is trope” (and its inverse: “Trope is truth”), it is much more difficult to understand and to articulate what it is that happens to truth and to trope in such an apparently easy chiasmic reversal. Nevertheless, since this difficulty in its specificity constitutes the burden of reading “On Truth and Lie,” trying to formulate it, however abstractly, may help us finally to begin reading the X of this text and its enigma. And, as it turns out, reading the text is very different from identifying its X by unveiling it to find underneath it the same old truth or the same old trope. What is the difference? How read the transformation of “Truth is trope” into “Trope is truth”?

­104    Material Inscriptions One way to begin would be to note that with these two, inversely related, statements we have not only simply restated the parasitical predicaments of rational man and intuitive man, but have also hit upon the most obvious and most fundamental question that is bound to occur to any even half-­attentive reader of “On Truth and Lie.” For even on an abstractly thematic level, sooner or later one has to wonder about the status (epistemological? rhetorical?) of a text that: on the one hand makes the explicit argument that truths, all truths, because they are nothing but ungrounded metaphors, are merely lies; and, on the other hand, uses a whole battery of rhetorical devices, including some very elaborate metaphors, to make this argument about metaphor. Or, in other words, what is the “truth-­value” of tropes – “Trope is truth”? – that make or at least “illustrate” the argument that “Truths are tropes” and tropes lie? How “true” can the statement “Truth (as trope) is lie” be? The question is familiar – in fact, it is the obvious question of any “philosophical” text that denounces the wiles of rhetoric while in the same breath exploiting them to the fullest5 – but its apparent familiarity should not allow us to presume that we can answer it blithely without paying attention to its articulation in the text – that is, without asking about its textual, rhetorical, status in turn, without, in short, reading it. Indeed, it would not be going too far to say that “On Truth and Lie” is one of those recalcitrant texts with which nothing can be done: nothing, that is, except to read it. As such, this text is an all-­too-­effective trap for those who would do anything but read it. To avoid the trap – or at least to postpone falling into it – let us proceed slowly by laying out the two “hands” of this text as precisely as we can. The “one hand” can be stated easily enough: for, on the one hand, we have the explicit argument of the text, its implacable logic, all the “rhetorical” (in the sense of “rhetoric of persuasion”) devices it uses to make this argument convincing. The appearance of philosophical argument is certainly guaranteed by the text’s asking very “philosophical” ­questions – in fact, the philosophical questions par excellence in the form “What is . . .?” or its equivalent: “What is a word?”; “What is truth?”; “What is a natural law?”; “What does man really know about himself?” etc. As we have already noted, these are typically Socratic questions – “What is the good? What is the true? What is the beautiful?” – which, in their very form, already pre-­determine and dictate the form (and, in fact, the content) of the answer. For these questions of course ask not for an example or an instance of something good, true, or beautiful but rather for the essence or the truth of the Good, the True, the Beautiful, in itself. As such, they are metaphysical, idealist, questions. Needless to say, a reader somewhat familiar with Nietzsche’s other work would find

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plenty of reason to suspect this apparently Socratic questioning. For isn’t Nietzsche in other contexts rather hard on Socrates, and particularly on his mode of questioning: one should not ask “What?” but “Who?”, “Who says?” – in whose interest is it to ask the question “What is . . .?”, in whose interest is it to determine the truth in terms of essence and accidents, true and apparent, etc.?6 We will have to come back to this apparently Socratic, idealist, metaphysical “rhetoric of persuasion” and some of its other devices, like the text’s fondness for using enumeration to create at least the appearance of logical consequence, order, and necessity. For the moment, suffice it to say that the status of these devices of persuasion turns out to be as problematic (and ultimately as undecidable) as the status of the text itself. But that these devices create at least the semblance of (philosophical) argument and, like punctuation marks, allow it to regenerate itself and pass from step to step cannot be denied. The argument itself amounts to a four-­fold critique, in fact at times a polemical attack, whose targets can be identified.7 It is worthwhile to paraphrase this argument, not least of all because some of its important points – along with its critical force and its rigor – are often overlooked or forgotten. I do so while keeping in mind that we will have to go over this terrain again with the “other hand.” The first critique is directed at “the intellect,” consciousness, the knowing subject that conceives of itself as the support or sup-­poser of the universe. This critique is clear in the opening paragraphs of the text. The human intellect is shadowy, miserable, and transient – and all the more pathetic because it thinks itself the center of the universe, its sun, while in reality it is only an attribute of the creature of a minute that is man, a clever animal who invents knowing “in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems” (79). In other words, rather than being a sun, the center of the universe, homo sapiens is like a fleeting, out-­of-­the-­way star in a vast universe made up of many solar systems and many suns. It is the overweening, unwarranted pride of the intellect that, for the ends of self-­preservation (of the intellect and its “power” of knowing), causes it to hide this truth from itself. Hence its chief powers consist in self-­ deception and dissimulation, which are no doubt most developed in the case of the man most proud of his power of knowing – the philosopher: “But if we could communicate with the gnat, we would learn that he likewise flies through the air with the same solemnity, that he feels the flying center of the universe within himself. There is nothing so reprehensible and unimportant in nature that it would not immediately swell up like a balloon at the slightest puff of this power of knowing. And just as every porter wants to have an admirer, so even the proudest of

­106    Material Inscriptions men, the philosopher, supposes that he sees on all sides the eyes of the universe telescopically focused upon his action and thought” (79). This self-­deception and dissimulation are “the means by which the weaker, less robust individuals preserve themselves – since they have been denied the chance to wage the battle for existence with horns or with the sharp teeth of beasts of prey” (80). Deeply immersed in illusion and dream images, man knows nothing about nature or about himself. He is locked in his proud, deceptive consciousness like in a prison-­cell, unaware that this consciousness “rests on that which is pitiless, greedy, insatiable, murderous – as if hanging in dreams on the back of a tiger” (80). The argument’s second critique specifies the nature of this dream of self-­deception and forgetting. For the second target is language conceived of as “the adequate expression of all realities” (81). With the invention of language – uniformly valid and binding designations for things, and the legislation of the “laws of truth” which brings into existence for the first time the contrast between truth and lie – man is not at all guided by a desire for truth and the rejection of lies. “What men avoid by excluding the liar is not so much being defrauded as it is being harmed by means of fraud. Thus, even at this stage, what they hate is basically not deception itself, but rather the unpleasant, hated consequences of certain sorts of deception. It is in a similarly restricted sense that man now wants nothing but truth: he desires the pleasant, life-­preserving consequences of truth” (81). In other words, language is a social contract that allows man to lie in a conventionally sanctioned, pleasant, useful, self-­preserving way. The fixed, conventional, uniformly valid and binding designations of language – words – are always lies because, rather than being any kind of “expression” of realities and the product of knowledge and the sense of truth, they are tropes, metaphors. (That the dream of self-­deception is a rhetorical, tropological self-­deception was already suggested in the context of the critique of the intellect, whose power to substitute center and periphery, central sun and out-­of-­the-­way star, is clearly the power of linguistic, rhetorical ­substitution – a power not unlike that of the liar in this context: “The liar is a person who uses the valid designations, the words, in order to make something which is unreal appear to be real. He says, for example, ‘I am rich,’ when the proper designation for his condition would be ‘poor.’ He misuses fixed conventions by means of arbitrary substitutions or even reversals of names” [81].) But how is a word a trope, a metaphor? The text explains in detail. A word is a trope because it is “the copy of a nerve stimulus in sounds” (die Abbildung eines Nervenreizes in Lauten). As such, it is the end-­result of a series of metaphorical transferences (Übertragungen) and “over-­ leapings” (Überspringen) which

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begin with a subjective stimulus, a “nerve stimulus,” from which we make the inference of an external cause. According to the text, this is already “the result of a false and unjustifiable application of the principle of sufficient reason” and the wholly anthropomorphic projection of a subjective stimulus onto the outside, “objective” world of things. On the basis of an internal, subjective effect, we deduce an external, objective cause – which, in reality, rather than being a “cause” is only the effect of an effect,8 a purely subjective, anthropomorphic, metaphorical “truth”: “If truth alone had been the deciding factor in the genesis of language, and if the standpoint of certainty had been decisive for designations, then how could we still dare to say ‘the stone is hard,’ as if ‘hard’ were something otherwise known to us, and not merely a wholly subjective stimulus!” (82).9 Assignments of linguistic genders and designations of things by the foregrounding of one of their qualities (at the price of forgetting other equally or more important qualities) are just as arbitrarily subjective because they are based not on the knowledge of things but on the preference of one sensuous stimulus over another and its metaphorical carrying-­over, transference, onto the “thing” outside. “We separate things according to genders, designating the tree as masculine and the plant as feminine. What arbitrary carryings-­over! (Welche willkürlichen Übertragungen!) How far this oversteps the canons of certainty! We speak of a ‘snake’: this designation touches only upon its ability to twist itself and could therefore also fit a worm. What arbitrary differentiations! What one-­sided preferences, first for this, then for that property of a thing! The various languages placed side by side show that with words it is never a question of truth, never a question of adequate expression; otherwise, there would not be so many languages. The ‘thing in itself’ (which is precisely what the pure truth, apart from any of its consequences, would be) is likewise something not in the least worth striving for. This creator only designates the relations of things to men, and for expressing these relations he lays hold of the boldest metaphors” (82). The example of the snake communicates the potentially self-­destructive nature of this process of arbitrary carrying-­over and metaphorization: to discover after having been bitten by a snake (die Schlange) that “the stinging one” or “the poisonous one” might have been a better designation than “the winding one” (die Schlange – from schlingen) is a little late. In any case, the subjective “nerve stimulus” – which is already an unjustified and epistemologically unreliable metaphorical carrying-­over – is itself only the first in a series of such transferences that transform the nerve stimulus into a sounded word: “A nerve stimulus first translated (übertragen) into an image! First metaphor. The image in turn transformed (nachgeformt) in a sound! Second

­108    Material Inscriptions metaphor. And each time a complete overleaping (Überspringen) of one sphere right into the middle of an entirely new and different one” (82). The fact that the text in these passages is quite careful to stress that each of these metaphorical carryings-­over, transferences, translations, etc. – insofar as it consists of an “overleaping” from one sphere into a “completely other” (ganz andere) sphere – is just as arbitrary and unwarranted a designation as that produced by the “first” nerve stimulus should already be sufficient warning against taking this “genealogy” of a word as some kind of “history” based on a genetic scheme and its totalizable categories (like origin and end, cause and effect, original and its mimetic analogues or copies, etc.).10 Whatever a “word” is here, it is not the mimetic “copy” of an “original” nerve stimulus. Both the word and the nerve stimulus are “metaphors,” and, as metaphors, they are not the mimetic or analogical representations of an original, literal meaning or truth or thing-­in-­itself. In fact, each metaphorical transference or “overleaping” from one sphere into a completely other sphere is a violent act that entails a forgetting and a mutilation of the preceding sphere: the “sound” and the sense proper to it – hearing – entailing the extinguishment of the “image” and the mutilation of the sense proper to it – sight – and these in turn entailing the effacement of the “nerve stimulus” and the mutilation of the sense proper to it – touch. In short, our sense perceptions are metaphors, and, as metaphors, they are privative mutilations of both ourselves and the world we create in our own image. Hence the text’s figure for the insufficient and mutilated nature of our knowledge in, through, and as metaphor is wholly “appropriate”: we are like a deaf man who has never had a sensation of sound but who swears he knows something about sound and music when he gazes at the patterns formed by Chladni’s sand-­figures on a surface made to vibrate by the strumming of a string. We will have to come back to this “figure,” this metaphor that would tell us the truth of metaphor, this metaphor for the insufficiency of metaphor, in order to ask how sufficient it can be, how sufficient a metaphor for the insufficiency of metaphor to tell us the truth about anything (including, presumably, metaphor) can be. But this is clearly the question of the “other hand.” For now, let us simply remark the privative, radically self-­mutilating nature of what the text designates by the word “metaphor.”11 The text’s third critique – the critique of concepts and their f­ ormation – extends and elaborates the critique of language, that is, of the word as metaphor. For every word is already a concept insofar as it is not to serve as “a reminder of the unique and entirely individual original experience” but rather wants “to fit countless more or less similar cases – which means, purely and simply, cases which are never equal

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and thus altogether unequal” (83). Just as the genealogy of the word entails an “overleaping” from one sphere to an other utterly different sphere – with a concomitant mutilation and forgetting of the specificity of the preceding sphere – so concepts, whether they be the concepts of the natural sciences (the realm of “natural laws” and their presumed “necessity”) or those of morality (the realm of moral or ethical “imperatives” and the “freedom” presupposed by them), are the products of forgetting. The text’s examples – the “leaf” and “honesty” – are instructive: “Every concept arises from the equation of unequal things. Just as it is certain that one leaf is never totally the same as another, so it is certain that the concept ‘leaf’ is formed by arbitrarily discarding these individual differences and by forgetting the distinguishing aspects. This awakens the idea that, in addition to the leaves, there exists in nature the ‘leaf’: the original model (Urform) according to which all the leaves were perhaps woven, sketched, measured, colored, curled, and painted – but by incompetent hands, so that no specimen has turned out to be a correct, trustworthy, and faithful likeness of the original model. We call a person ‘honest,’ and then we ask ‘why has he behaved so honestly today?’ Our usual answer is, ‘on account of his honesty.’ Honesty! This in turn means that the leaf is the cause of the leaves. We know nothing whatsoever about an essential quality called ‘honesty’; but we do know of countless individualized and consequently unequal actions which we equate by omitting the aspects in which they are unequal and which we now designate as ‘honest’ actions. Finally we formulate from them a qualitas occulta which has the name ‘honesty.’ We obtain the concept, as we do the form, by overlooking what is individual and actual; whereas nature is acquainted with no forms and no concepts, and likewise with no species, but only with an X which remains inaccessible and undefinable for us” (83). As in the genesis of words like “snake,” so in the formation of concepts: presumably because the human mind cannot encompass an infinity of differences among individual things and experiences, it performs the operation of abstracting equal or similar qualities of individual things or experiences and forgetting all their unequal and dissimilar qualities and aspects. Clearly enough, this is once again the operation of metaphor: abstractions like “leaf” or “honesty” are metaphors. And just as the creator of words projects internal subjective sense-­impressions upon things in the outside world – as in “the stone is hard” – so the concept-­builder performs the sleight-­of-­hand reversal of taking his pale, truncated, abstract concepts like “leaf” or “honesty” as the original forms or causes of the countless individual things or experiences. The ability to forget the infinitely different sensuous metaphors in all their random disorder and the capacity to turn the effect of an

­110    Material Inscriptions effect into a cause – a mutilated “copy” into an “original” – emboldens the concept-­maker to build a vast edifice of concepts arranged according to a system of castes, orders, hierarchies, causes, and so on which accomplishes the process of abstraction and reversal on a global scale and brings into “existence” a new, ideal, “true” world that renders the world of “original” vivid sense impressions – i.e., perceptual metaphors – less solid and less real. Such is the impressiveness and the power of this edifice and its logic that it makes one forget the fact that its building blocks, i.e., concepts, are nothing but the residue of volatilized perceptual metaphors. Despite its apparent stability and solidity, the edifice of concepts is built “on moving fundaments and, as it were, on running waters” (85); it is like a Roman columbarium full of urns containing the ashes of dead metaphors. In short and again, concepts, their claims to “truth,” and their consequent “regulative” or “imperative” authority are all products of layers upon layers of forgetting: whether it be the forgetting of perceptual metaphors; or forgetting that concepts are only the residue of these metaphors; or forgetting that man the metaphor-­ maker is an “artistically creating subject” who creates an “objective,” “external” world in his own image and then forgets that the truths of this world are wholly tautological anthropomorphisms. The explicitly Kantian terms of this most anti-­Kantian critique of concepts should be remarked. Doing so can help us to identify the fourth (and less explicit) target of Nietzsche’s critical enterprise: namely, the “aesthetic” or “the aesthetic dimension” understood in a Kantian sense as the bridging or mediating category between the laws of “necessity” and those of “freedom,” epistemology and ethics, First and Second Critiques. That the architectonics of Kant’s critical philosophy and its presuppositions are the main target of the text’s critique at this point was already suggested in Nietzsche’s first two examples of concepts: “the leaf” and “honesty.” Both of these concepts are (metaphorical) abstractions, but one has to do with the possible knowledge of nature and the realm of necessity, whereas the other has to do with knowledge of the moral law and the realm of freedom. Although the text’s extended critique of concepts expends most of its critical energy on Kant’s First Critique, there are enough indications that its linguistically based “skepticism” about the transcendental method’s ability to arrive at any kind of objectivity in its deduction of the conditions of possibility of empirical experience would apply a fortiori to Kant’s Second Critique and the categorical imperative. In any event, Nietzsche’s critique of “natural laws” and, in particular, the “relation of causality” (Kausalitätsverhältnis) – and hence the regulative principle of causality as deduced in Kant’s second analogy of experience – elaborates the rhetorical reading of the

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concept “leaf.” In short, what the scientist and the philosopher take to be natural laws are not at all the expression of necessities proper to objective natural phenomena but rather are anthropomorphic projections through and through. Because we need to experience our empirical existence under the forms of “time and space, and therefore relationships of succession and number” (87), we project them onto “nature” and understand its workings according to them. And it is no wonder that we do so: “When someone hides something behind a bush and looks for it again in the same place and finds it there as well, there is not much to praise in such seeking and finding” (85). In other words, we “experience” in nature only what we have ourselves brought to it – hence all our knowledge of nature and its “laws” is purely tautological – and what we bring to it is metaphor: arbitrary, unjustified, ungrounded substitutions and reversals among which there exists no succession, no causality, no necessity – not even that of a “regulative” principle like that of causality in Kant’s second analogy of experience. It is in this sense that the text understands the relation between subject and object as an aesthetic relation: “For between two absolutely different spheres, as between subject and object, there is no causality, no correctness, and no expression; there is, at most, an aesthetic relation” (86). But that “aesthetic” here should not be taken in any usual sense of our “subject-­ object aesthetics”12 as the appearance of an ideal content in or through a sensuous form is clear in the following sentence: “I mean, a suggestive transference, a stammering translation into a completely foreign tongue – for which there is required, in any case, a freely inventive intermediate sphere and mediating force” (ich meine eine andeutende Übertragung, eine nachstammelnde Übersetzung in eine ganz fremde Sprache: wozu es aber jedenfalls einer frei dichtenden und frei erfindenden Mittelsphäre und Mittelkraft bedarf). In other words, by “aesthetic” here, the text means a linguistic relation, in fact a rhetorical, metaphorical, relation as the carrying-­over, meta-­pherein, words Übertragung and Übersetzung suggest. And that this aesthetic, metaphorizing, translating relation (or “behavior” or “attitude” – ästhetisches Verhalten) is a mutilating, indeed self-­mutilating, process is also clear: the “translation” is a “stammering translation” (nachstammelnde Übersetzung), a translation that can only “stammer after.” It is on account of its being a linguistic, rhetorical, metaphorical, “aesthetic” relation that the “relation” between our empirical experience of the world, our sense perceptions in short, and the “essence” of things themselves is in fact not a relation of phenomenal “appearance” and noumenal “reality.” The passage continues: “‘Appearance’ (‘Erscheinung’) is a word that contains many temptations, which is why I avoid it as much as possible. For it is not true that

­112    Material Inscriptions the essence of things ‘appears’ (‘erscheint’) in the empirical world” (86). In short, “phenomena” are not phenomena, not the “appearance” of some non-­apparent essence or reality, but rather arbitrary rhetorical substitutions: as always, self-­mutilating metaphors that do not represent or express anything non-­or other-­than-­metaphor. Nietzsche’s figure of the painter without hands – like the deaf man, a metaphor for the self-­ mutilating insufficiency of metaphor – is hence wholly “appropriate” here: “A painter without hands who wished to express in song the picture before his mind would, by means of this substitution of spheres, still reveal more than does the empirical world about the essence of things” (86–7). If this is the case – if empirical experience is not an appearance but rather metaphor – then it should be clear why there is no way to arrive at transcendental laws of the conditions of possibility of experience by asking about what it is that has to be true for us to have the experience that we in fact have. For to say that our empirical experience is metaphor – in this text’s sense of “metaphor” – means that it does not bear any necessary relation to principles or laws of experience that would themselves be non-­metaphorical. And this in turn means that we cannot use this empirical experience as even a sign that would bear an analogical relation to a transcendental law or principle – not even as a term of a “philosophical analogy” (like the second analogy of experience, i.e., the principle of causality) that could help us determine not the constitution of a fourth term but only of the relation to it.13 This is an important point in Nietzsche’s critique of Kant, for what it amounts to is something like a radically “rhetorical reading” (what, at other times, we might have called “deconstructive reading”) of Kant’s conception of “philosophical analogy.” To restate it: if our empirical experience is an abusive, mutilating, self-­mutilating metaphor – in fact, a catachresis – the relation between this experience and its conditions of possibility cannot be a necessary, analogical relation. To infer any truth or any principle from empirical experience by any method – whether it be by analogy or otherwise – is just as metaphorical and wildly catachrestic an operation as the “experience” of the “first” nerve stimulus or the “first” perceptual metaphor. As such, this operation and its laws has no more “truth” and no more “authority” than does one metaphor in relation to another. And if it is this “aesthetic” – abusively metaphorical, ­catachrestic – relation that undoes the possibility of arriving at epistemologically reliable knowledge about empirical experience, then it is no wonder that the category of the aesthetic would no longer be able to serve as the “bridge” between the domains of pure reason and practical reason. For it is a “bridge” only in the sense that Nietzsche’s “metaphor” is a bridge: a “stammering translation” that rather than bridging by analogy is the

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mark of a disjunction and a disarticulation between two radically different spheres. In short, in the same way that Nietzsche’s critique of concepts does not, in fact cannot, advocate a “return” to the “immediacy” of more “original” perceptual metaphors – such a move would not be one from lie to truth but only from a paler lie, say, to a more colorful lie, both of them “equi-­distant” from the “truth” of the X of the thing-­in-­ itself – just as little does it advocate “aesthetic” play with the faded metaphors that are concepts or an “artistic Socrates.” The plight of the artist-­figures in this text should be enough of a reminder: in addition to the aesthetic intuitive man’s falling again and again into his ditch (no doubt because he aesthetically, metaphorically, mistakes a pit for a bridge), we should recall the deaf man and his visible “music” and the painter and his audible “picture.” Such would be the “first hand” – “On Truth and Lie” as, on the one hand, an argument that amounts to a four-­fold critique: of the “intellect” as the knowing subject, of language as the “adequate expression of realities,” of concepts, and of the aesthetic. It should be clear how the critique of language serves as the basis for the other three, since the claims to truth of the human intellect, its scientific and philosophical concepts, and its artistic representations and productions, all founder in and as metaphor – that is, it cannot be recalled enough, in the specific sense given to this word by Nietzsche’s text. But what about the “second hand”? For, on the other hand, from its opening paragraph and the fable of the clever animals to its last paragraph and the figure of the rational man in his coat under his cloud, Nietzsche’s text uses metaphor to make his argument about the insufficiency of metaphor – which means that all of his figures have, sooner or later, to be self-­destructive figures, metaphors for the self-­destruction of metaphor and therefore no longer metaphor but . . . something else. But formulating this self-­destruction of metaphor and whatever it is that survives it as a left-­over, excess, or “residue of metaphor” (85) is no easy task. It is difficult because, unlike the explicit argument of the text, the self-­destruction of Nietzsche’s own metaphors and the residue they leave behind – which amounts to nothing more and nothing less (i.e., always a bit more and always a bit less) than the text “itself” – cannot be accounted for by a thematic paraphrase of content. It may be easy enough to see that the figure of, for example, “a painter without hands” is a figure of mutilation and deprivation, but understanding how the metaphor that uses this figure (in order to illustrate the insufficiency of figures) mutilates and deprives itself of its own sense, as it were, is no longer a matter of seeing an image but of reading a text. And it is necessary to read this and try to understand it. If we do not, then we all too easily reduce the text’s rhetoric to a rather

­114    Material Inscriptions cheap formal logic. Either we demean the text as merely “paradoxical,” stuck in the toils of an infinite regress like the paradox of the Cretan liar (“All Cretans are liars,” says the Cretan, who, in doing so, must also be lying and hence must also be telling the truth and hence must also . . .), or we exalt the text as a pure “metalanguage” – the one system of metaphors that is finally, ultimately, sufficiently self-­destructive enough to leave nothing over, the meta-­metaphorical text that masters the entire field of metaphor without itself adding or subtracting one metaphor too many (outside the field) or one metaphor too few (inside the field).14 Both of these strategies – although one has infinitely much to say and the other has nothing at all to say – wind up trivializing the text; neither can account for what could be called its “irreducible metaphoricity” – or, say, its “overdeterminability without term” (surdéterminabilité sans fond)15; neither can begin to read its excessively self-­destructive rhetoric. How begin to read it? One way to begin would be, as always, to begin all over again. That is, to go over the logic of the text’s argument again, but this time taking a closer look at the text’s rhetoric, the rhetorical devices its “logic” needs to construct, support, and illustrate the argument. Even a superficial “second look” at the text’s rhetorical devices and structures opens up an abyss of irreducible “rhetoricity” or “metaphoricity.” This is already legible in the text’s “rhetoric of persuasion” – that is, in the very devices that create at least the semblance of “philosophical” argument and critique. For instance, all the apparently philosophical, metaphysical, Socratic questions – usually in the form “What is . . .?” – that punctuate the text turn out not to be questions at all. For to answer the question “What is truth?” by saying “A moving host of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms . . .” or the (implicit) question “What is man?” by saying “Man is fundamentally, essentially, a metaphor-­maker” is not to “answer” at all but rather to rewrite the question. Since metaphor can never be an epistemologically reliable ground, essence, or truth, the strategy of these “answers” amounts to a refusal to answer the question in its terms and with its presuppositions. It means in effect to “rhetoricize” the question, turn it into a “rhetorical question” that asks a question only “as it were” or “so to speak.” And the answer renders the question “rhetorical” in two senses: it not only shows that the question was not really a question but also undermines the very ground of the question by turning it into a trope. If “truth” is “metaphor,” then it no longer makes any sense to try to inscribe it in “What is X?” questions and “X is . . .” answers – because the “is” of both the question and the answer has itself turned into an ungrounded trope. In other words, rather than being a dialogue between symmetrical interlocutors, the text’s philosophical

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questioning and its non-­or other-­ than-­ philosophical answering are dramatizations of the disjunction between logic and rhetoric. This disjunction is also legible in the text’s use of numbering, enumeration, to give its argument the appearance of consequence and necessity. For instance, in the text’s account of the genealogy of the word – a nerve stimulus translated into an image, an image translated into a sound – its use of number – “First metaphor . . . Second metaphor” – would certainly suggest that with each “overleaping” from one sphere into an entirely different sphere we move further away from the originality and vividness of the “original” nerve stimulus. Nevertheless, since we have no access at all to the X of the thing-­in-­itself – for all our access is “mediated” by metaphor – every metaphor “for” it is equally “distant” from and equally “near” to it. This means that even the “first” nerve stimulus is no more original and has no more priority or necessity than the image or the sound or the concept or the negative concept that would translate the nerve stimulus. They are all metaphors, and there is no way to establish an authoritative order or a hierarchy among them on the basis of some imagined “relation” to the X of the thing-­in-­itself. Whether vivid or faded, colorful or pale, the metaphors “relate” only to one another – and these “relations” are themselves metaphorical carryings-­ over, stammering translations. In short, the text’s use of number and numbering is itself a rhetorical device it uses to allow the “logic” of its argument to unfold. This in turn means that the steps of the argument are conditioned not by logical necessity but rather by the exigencies of story-­telling, narrative, a rhetoric of narrative rather than a grammar of narrative (that, as a system of formal structures, could be mediated with a logic of universalizable meanings). Tracing the function of the invisible word einmal (“once” or “once upon a time”) through the text would be one way to demonstrate how the text repeatedly contaminates the “once” and “once only” of a genetic history with the “once upon a time” of fairy tale, fable, allegory.16 Indeed, once one is alerted to the “other hand” of this text, it is difficult not to have the text dissolve before one’s very eyes into metaphors of metaphor: even the “critique” of “carrying-­over” cannot help but be constituted of “carryings-­over,” whether it be on the level of the actual rhetorical structures of the text or on the microscopic level of the individual word.17 In order better to formulate this self-­dissolution of the text – and its self-­generating remainder or remaindering – let us take a second look at one of these self-­destructive metaphors of metaphor and try to determine the precise mechanism of its necessarily incomplete self-­destruction: for example, the deaf man who thinks he knows something about sound and music from gazing at Chladni’s sound-­or sand-­figures.

­116    Material Inscriptions

In context, the figure of the deaf man follows directly upon Nietzsche’s genealogy of a word as an “overleaping” from one metaphor to another, from one sphere to an utterly different one. The deaf man enters here: “One can imagine a man who is totally deaf and has never had a sensation of sound and music. Perhaps such a person will gaze with astonishment at Chladni’s sound figures: perhaps he will discover their causes in the vibration of the string and will now swear that he must know what men mean by ‘sound.’ It is this way with all of us concerning language: we believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things – metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities. In the same way that the sound appears as a sand speaking face of earth figure, so the mysterious of theimage thing in itself first appears as a nerve and heaven,Xbodily books ______________ stimulus, then ______________________ as an image, and finally as a sound. Thus the genesis of language doesSovereign not proceed logically in any case, and being all the material Intellect immortal within and with thespirit man of truth, the scientist, and the philosoor which deathless pher later work and build, if not derived from cloud-­cuckoo-­land, is at least not derived from the essence of things” (82–3).18 As always in the case of “On Truth and Lie,” a reading of this figure requires (at least) two hands. On the one hand, we have the logic of the passage, in this case quite clearly an analogic, that is, a carefully constructed metaphor by analogy. The terms of the analogy could not be more clearly marked speaking face or bodily out: that is, theimage relation between the deaf man’s the sand-­fibooks gures (“garment body seeing garments _____________________ ________ _______________ and sound – i.e., his not hearing the sound_____ – is a figure by analogy for the relation between language (i.e., metaphors) and the unknowable X Sovereign Intellect soul body immortal being o of the thing-­in-­itself. Just as the deaf man thinks he knows something man, mind about sound and music from the sand-­figures, so we think we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers, and yet we possess nothing but insufficient and inappropriate metaphors for things “that in no way correspond to the original entities.” The analogy can be schematized:19 sounds ___________ sand-figures

X of the thing-in-itself ________________________ words, language, metaphor

However pitiable or mockable the deaf man’s predicament may appear to us – we can imagine him, say, tapping his foot to the “rhythm” of the sand-­patterns’Xtransformations (just as in the case of the without (or “truth”) of the relation of metaphor topainter X of things-in-themselves _____________________________________________________________ hands we can imagine him, say, trying to “sing” a particular color) – we metaphor of Chladni’s should not forget that he is a figure, a metaphor, forsound-figures our lack of knowledge and self-­deception in figure, in metaphor. As it turns out, he is not nearly so pathetic a figure as we are at the very moment we pity him or

Towards a Fabulous Reading    ­117 face orvery bodily mockspeaking him. For the “logic” of this metaphor by analogy requires image body garments books (“garments”) that, _____________________ sooner or later, we have to conclude that if metaphors lie, if meta_____ ________ _________________ phorsSovereign are all insufficient us the truth of any thing-­ in-­of Intellect and unable soulto tellbody immortal being itself, then even the metaphor for the inadequacy and insufficiency man, mind of metaphor must itself be inadequate and insufficient. In other words, how is this metaphor, the figure of Chladni’s sand-­figures, itself an insufficient metaphor for the insufficiency of metaphor? And, to continue the analogy, how is it that we are mutilated, deaf like the deaf man? In other words, at this level we are no longer asking about the “truth” of the relation between language (i.e., metaphor) and the X of the thing-­in-­ sounds X “truth,” of the thing-in-itself itself___________ but rather about________________________ the the X, of the relation of metaphors to the X of things-­in-­themselves in relation to the metaphor of Chladni’s sand-figures words, language, metaphor sound-­figures. To schematize, we line up the following “proportion” with the other two in our analogy: X (or “truth”) of the relation of metaphor to X of things-in-themselves _____________________________________________________________ metaphor of Chladni’s sound-figures

Lining up this new (“meta-­metaphorical”) relation with the terms of the analogy begins to render visible, better, readable, the full dimensions of our predicament that whatever truth we “know” (including the “truth” of metaphor) we know only in metaphor. That is, once we consider our relation to the “truth” of the metaphor of Chladni’s sound-­figures (as, again, a metaphor for the insufficiency of metaphor), we have to note that there is also an asymmetry between the deaf man and us, an obvious sense in which we are not like the deaf man. For whereas the deaf man has no access at all to sound except through the inadequate visible figures – and to this extent is a “good” metaphor for the insufficiency of metaphor – we are not deaf (and we are not blind) and therefore think we can understand the relation between visible patterns on a vibrating surface and the audible vibrating string that is the “cause” of the patterns. In other words, because we can hear and because we can see, for us both terms of the relation between sounds and images are known quantities. And insofar as we do have access to sounds – whereas we do not have access to the X of the thing-­in-­itself – the relation between Chladni’s sound-­figures and sounds is, for us, not a good analogy, not a sufficient metaphor, for the relation between our knowledge (only) in metaphors to our lack of knowledge of the X of the things-­in-­themselves. In short, precisely that which allows us to understand the metaphor of Chladni’s sound-­figures and the predicament of the deaf man – i.e., our hearing – is also that which makes it impossible for us ever sufficiently

­118    Material Inscriptions to understand our lack of understanding in metaphor. The metaphor misleads us into thinking that we can know (through metaphor!) our lack of knowledge of the X of the things-­in-­themselves, and yet it is precisely our ability to (think we) understand the metaphor that makes it impossible for us to read it: because we understand the metaphor, we do not understand our lack of understanding – in metaphor. And since it is our hearing that makes it possible for us to (think we) understand this metaphor (for our lack of understanding in metaphor), it is precisely our hearing that, on this level, is the scar of our mutilation: our hearing here is the figure for our deafening by, in, metaphor. Or, again, we are in turn like the deaf man precisely because we can hear. But, vertiginously (and yet consistently) enough, whereas the deaf man would presumably not be able to understand the metaphor of Chladni’s sound-­figures in which he is inscribed – and hence, perversely enough, would be a good reader of this figure – we, on the other hand, precisely because we can hear and therefore can understand the figure, will never be able to read it. We will never be able to read it because we have no access to our lack of knowledge, our lack of understanding, except by having recourse to the knowledge of perceptual metaphors – which “knowledge,” however, is mutilated, truncated, handicapped, from the “first” because our sense-­ perceptions were nothing but (self-­mutilating) metaphors to begin with. We should not allow this point to get lost in the apparent vertigo – or the (only) apparent “paradox” – of our predicament as (non-­)readers of the metaphor of Chladni’s sound-­figures who are “deaf” insofar as we can hear, and who can’t “read” the metaphor insofar as we can understand it. For ultimately the predicament is not at all vertiginous or paradoxical but rather clear as day (or is that “clear as a bell”?): if the sense of hearing and the sense of sight are both already mutilated (and ­mutilating) metaphors, how could the relation of one metaphor to the other metaphor ever be a sufficient analogy for the relation between metaphor, the realm of metaphor (sight, hearing, touch, smell, concept, etc.), and that which would by definition be the realm of the non-­or other-­than-­metaphorical, the X of the things-­in-­themselves? And extinguishing or negating one of the terms of the relation – in order to improve the chances of the analogy’s getting across what can’t come across – does not help at all, for all it amounts to is a mutilation of mutilation, a handicapping to the second power as it were: if the sense of hearing is already a mutilated metaphor, then mutilating that metaphor in turn by (metaphorically) deafening it – as in the case of Nietzsche’s metaphor of Chladni’s sound-­figures – brings us no closer to (or farther away from) that which we cannot hear (or see, or feel, or smell) because it is not an operation that symmetrically, determinately negates the

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metaphor (to allow us to arrive at an authoritative non-­metaphor) but rather simply abuses it, mutilates it, truncates it, deprives it of sense – that is, turns it into a catachresis that we cannot read except at the price of our understanding and the perceptual (i.e., metaphorical) model on which it is based. In short, if our hearing was – in a sense – always already a deafening, then “deafening” it in turn will not be the restoration of hearing but rather only the heaping of one mutilation on top of another. And, needless to say, if metaphors are always inadequate to the truth they would convey, then the metaphor that tries to convey that truth (of metaphor) will itself be insufficient, in fact insufficiently ­insufficient – a necessarily self-­destructive metaphor that cannot ever even destroy itself without leaving the residue of one “last” (or “first”) unreadable metaphor, which, in its unreadability, can no longer be called a “metaphor.” The term “catachresis” would suffice, if it were not for the fact that, defined as, say, “the abuse of metaphor,” catachresis is itself catachrestic – a word we put in the place of our lack of knowledge as a mere marker or place-­holder which, as a mere marker or place-­holder, divests us of any determinate, positive or negative, relation to our knowledge or lack of knowledge (or lack of knowledge of our lack of knowledge) – not unlike the soundless music read by the deaf man as he gazes at the mute letters of Chladni’s sound-­figures. We of course have no choice but to take these markers, place-­holders, letters as metaphors, as figures, as phenomenal appearances, that is, no choice but to reinscribe them into tropological systems of metaphor that want to close themselves off and tell stories of meaning, logic, truth, etc. It is a process that happens and has to happen whenever we give a name to the truth of the thing-­in-­itself, no matter how minimal, and then turn that mere name into a trope, a metaphor: for instance, when we mark the thing-­in-­itself with an “X” and then inscribe it in a text, i.e., a system of metaphors with its relations, causes, effects, hierarchies, positions, negations, valuations, and so on.20 Once this happens, and it happens all the time, the mystery is no longer the “thing-­in-­itself” – for that was gone, lost, forgotten, with the very first mark – but rather the enigmatic, incompletely self-­destructive figures of the text that remains – to be read. “On Truth and Lie” is the text that results, the text that gets written, when you call the thing-­in-­itself an “X” – just as The Birth of Tragedy is the text that gets written when you call it “Dionysus” or “the Dionysian.” The burden and the difficulty of reading this text does not consist in identifying the “X” and filling it with content and meaning but rather in accounting for the recalcitrantly self-­destructive “metaphors” for it – just as the real problem of The Birth of Tragedy is not the Dionysian but rather the ambiguous status of the self-­ divided,

­120    Material Inscriptions self-­destructive, impossible Apollinian figures for it.21 But, of course, such “accounting” is not without peril for the reader, since, in the end (as at the beginning), the reader cannot ever “account” for the text fully but rather must mechanically (re)produce an unaccountable remainder and residue of text that can only be counted on the one hand and re-­ counted on the other hand in allegories, parables, fables, of the necessity and impossibility of reading. The fable recounted at the beginning of “On Truth and Lie” provides a good example of how a text that can only be read and written (and only reread and rewritten) begins and ends without beginning, without ending, and both, and neither. The opening paragraph of “On Truth and Lie” reads: “Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever animals invented (erfanden) knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of ‘world history’ (‘Weltgeschichte’); but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever animals had to die. – One might invent (erfinden) such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened” (79). To begin a reading of this beginning, one could say: despite all the overdeterminations of this beginning – and they are many22 – its structure is, on the one hand, quite clear. That is, the text begins with a fable, an illustration, draws the moral from this fable, and then proceeds to state the argument illustrated by the fable. In other words, on the one hand the relation between the fable and the argument, the figurative illustration and the literal statement, seems to be relatively straightforward. The argument begins with a fable, an illustration, a figure, whose usefulness is then at an end. What could be more appropriate for a fable? As the beginning of one dictionary definition of “fable” runs: “A concise narrative making an edifying or cautionary point . . .”23 Although perhaps not very edifying – calling human beings “clever animals” – the fable is certainly cautionary. In any case, the fable seems clearly marked off from the rest of the text and its argument – by a dash – as though it were suspended within quotation marks (while the rest of the essay is without them). But, of course, it only seems that way, for, after all, there are no quotation marks, and one does not have to have read very much Nietzsche to know that his dash, his Gedankenstrich, is a very devious piece of punctuation, one that hides at least as much as it reveals, indeed, something of a polemical tool in its own right. For if we

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look at the text a little more closely, we read a certain parallel, a certain symmetry, between the actions of the “clever animals” within the fable and the “someone” outside the fable: “the clever animals invented knowing” (das Erkennen erfanden) and “someone might invent such a fable” (So könnte jemand eine Fabel erfinden). And if we can say that he who invents a fable of “world history,” turns world history into a fable, speaks from the standpoint of knowledge, then very quickly – inevitably and mechanically – a reversal occurs. To spell it out: on the one hand, knowledge is that which can invent the fable of the history of the world; but, on the other hand, this knowledge is itself an invention – it is invented just like the fable but within the fable – and therefore it does not have any more authority, any more claim to truth, ground, literal meaning, than the fable. In short, if knowledge invents the fable of the invention of knowledge, then it is difficult to say which invents which, and which is inside the fable and which is outside the fable. Is the fable part of, inscribed in, the text of the essay, or is the text of the essay part of, inscribed in, the fable? What if the text – “On Truth and Lie” – is the fable, and the “fable” is the text? However we may want to formulate it, as soon as we remark the play of the (always already self-­re-­marked) verb “to invent,” we begin a fall into a vertigo of mutual inscription, of chiasmatic “invagination,”24 the impossibility of deciding between text and fable, argument and illustration, and hence between the beginning and the end of the text: in a sense, it has always already ended before having even begun, or, in another sense, it does nothing but begin again and again with something like a stutter – in particular, each time that the verb “to invent” (erfinden) reappears.25 And lest we think that such attention to a mere word – after all, what is a word? – is “over-­reading,” just gliding on the backs of words (as the intellect “plays a groping game on the backs of things”), we should remember the rest of our first definition of fable: “A concise narrative making an edifying or cautionary point and often employing as characters animals that speak and act like human beings.” In other words, the fable of the clever animals’ inventing knowledge is not just any fable but rather the fable of fable itself: the clever animals not only “speak and act like human beings,” they also invent the difference between human being and animal, themselves and animals. They invent, in short, the difference between fable and non-­fable, fable and argument, literature and philosophy, and so on. But rather than rendering the text any less “fabulous” or any more “literal” – in a fable of fable, how decide between fable and non-­fable, figurative and literal senses? – this invention, the invention of the fable (in all senses of the “of”), turns it into something of a monster-­text: part animal and part human being, part fable and part argument, part

­122    Material Inscriptions literature and part philosophy, part synchronic argument (part one) and part history (part two), part rational and part intuitive, and so on – without our ever being able to sort out the parts and cut them apart without performing a certain self-­mutilation of ourselves the readers. But as in the case of the text’s various self-­destructive “metaphors of metaphor,” the necessary monstrosity of this self-­consuming and self-­regenerating “fable of fable” needs to be remarked. For it is in fact its “monstrosity” that allows the text to have a beginning in the first place, that creates the breathing-­space (and time) of a “minute” of “history,” world history as it were, at least long enough for it to be able to postpone the coming of the inevitable end by separating it from the beginning – if by nothing else than a mark or a re-­marking that doubles both the beginning and the end into beginning-­ends or end-­beginnings. And this is of course just another version of the same quandary that has plagued us from the beginning – the same old ditch or the same old pit into which we the readers have fallen already at least once (einmal?) before – for if the text could separate fable from argument enough to be able to identify fable as fable and nothing else, and argument as argument and nothing else, there would be no text: that is, there would be neither fable nor argument because all fables would be superfluous in the face of the overwhelming argument, and all arguments would be unnecessary, at least unnecessary to be said (fabulized, written, read?) once one argument meta-­linguistic enough to master and dispense with all language, including its own, had been arrived at. In other words, this text’s beginning with the stutter of an undecidable “fable of fable” is, as one says, no accident but rather a necessity of the text “itself.” For whether the text wants to be fable or wants to be argument, “literature” or “philosophy,” in order to be anything, it has first (and last) of all to “be” a text. And this means that it has to redouble itself – its fable into fable and argument, its argument into argument and fable (and its metaphor into metaphor and truth, its truth into truth and metaphor, etc.) – by introducing into itself a difference of itself from itself, no matter how minimal, by the operation of re-­marking. The text has to do this, this has to happen, otherwise there will be no text, neither fable nor argument, nothing will have happened, the beginning will have collapsed into the end (and vice versa). If “On Truth and Lie” happens – that is, if it is a text – it is only because the redoubling of its “fable of fable” – fable of the beginning, beginning of the fable – is not a formal logical or infinitely regressive “paradox.” If this text happens – if it already happened and if it will keep happening over and over – it is because its “first,” “original” event was already a repetition, a “repetition with a difference,” as one repeats these days all too easily. The mark of this difference is

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there everywhere in the text if we are willing and know how to read it. Thematically (or “figuratively,” in the preliminary sense of tropes as “figures for X”) speaking, the mark is there in the “minute” of world history that the clever animals grant themselves by inventing knowing; typographically, it is there in the undecidable dash between fable and argument. But most of all – “ironically,” “allegorically”? – it is there right in front of our eyes in the phrase “and still would not have adequately illustrated” (und würde doch nicht genügend illustriert haben). That is, one could invent such a fable – any fable – and it would still not “adequately illustrate” X. There will have always been a discrepancy, an insufficiency, an inadequacy, of fable to argument (and hence of argument to argument and fable to fable) – and this inadequacy will have always left a mark to be read in the text and of the text – otherwise there will have been nothing at all to be read and written, and nothing will have happened.

Postscript Here I cannot help but add one more remark, one more example of the way the text of “On Truth and Lie” perpetuates itself (like some sort of vampire?) in the texts of those who have written on it by a species of “remaindering” (my translation of Derrida’s restance). The example is that of Paul de Man’s essay “Rhetoric of Tropes” – one of the very few readings of Nietzsche’s text. It is satisfying – if somewhat disconcerting and downright uncanny – to read how de Man’s own text is inscribed in (or, one has to say, reinscribes within itself) the double beginning of “On Truth and Lie” and then proceeds to generate and regenerate its own argument by having recourse to the same devices, and in the thrall of the same figure (chiasmus, above all), as Nietzsche’s text. For how does de Man begin? He begins by remarking how far-­fetched it may seem to “center a consideration of Nietzsche’s relationship to literature on his theory of rhetoric” (103).26 “Far-­fetched” (as in “far-­fetched metaphor”?) because, after all, Nietzsche’s work on rhetoric appears to be “an eccentric and minor part” of his enterprise; and there should be “less oblique approaches” to the question. “Nevertheless,” continues de Man, “the apparently crooked byways of the neglected and inconspicuous corner of the Nietzsche canon dealing with rhetoric will take us quicker to our destination than the usual itinerary” (103). In fact, this by-­way, however “marginal” it may appear, will turn out to be “a possible mainroad to central problems in the interpretation of Nietzsche” (104). Clearly enough, de Man’s essay begins by reversing the terms

­124    Material Inscriptions of several polarities – center/corner, main road/by-­way, straight path/ crooked path, and so on – in order to be able to begin its argument and claim that the “neglected and inconspicuous corner” of Nietzsche’s work on rhetoric is in actuality the main road to the central questions of Nietzsche interpretation. A second (chiasmic) reversal follows from this one: namely, a reversal between early and late Nietzsche. That is, it turns out that Nietzsche’s early texts on rhetoric provide something like a “key” to the enigmas of the late work, that, in fact, “the key to Nietzsche’s critique of metaphysics . . . lies in the rhetorical model of the trope” (109). De Man demonstrates this convincingly on the example of Nietzsche’s critique of the “phenomenalism of consciousness.” He concludes: “Practically the same text that, in 1872, explicitly defines metonymy as the prototype of all figural language, describes, in 1888, a metaphysical construct (the phenomenalism of consciousness) as susceptible of being deconstructed as soon as one is made aware of its linguistic, rhetorical structure” (109). The point here is not the merit of de Man’s reading – and it is, to say the least, substantial – but rather simply to note that de Man’s essay begins by in a sense repeating Nietzsche’s beginning. For the reversal between “center” and “corner” is, after all, a repetition of the reversal performed by the “clever animals” when they invent knowing, or by the “human intellect” in the person of the philosopher when he allows the power of knowing to let him think that he is the center of the universe when, in fact, they are all creatures of a day in some “out of the way corner” of a universe made up of many solar systems and many suns. Nevertheless, de Man’s “repetition” contains a crucial difference. Because de Man’s argument begins by taking Nietzsche’s writings on rhetoric as central, it amounts to the inverse of what the philosopher does: that is, it amounts to making the fable central, the early fables the key to Nietzsche’s later “philosophical” arguments. And yet although de Man’s reversal is thus thematically a “reversal of reversal,” in terms of rhetorical structure his argument proceeds and regenerates itself by reperforming a series of chiasmic reversals which run like this: “Is this text valuing ‘philosophy over ­literature’ – that is, the demystification of literary rhetoric over rhetorically mystified discourse? But no, for such demystifying discourse cannot rid itself of rhetorical delusion and therefore remains entirely literary. Then should we value ‘literature over philosophy’ – that is, the self-­reflexive discourse aware of its rhetorical aberrations over the discourse that still believes in truth? Well no, for a lie to the second power does not get any closer to the truth.” And the fact that the transition from one stage of the argument to the other is effected by a series of “self-­rhetoricizing” questions is also an indication of how far the self-­inscription of de Man’s

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text in Nietzsche’s (and, no doubt, vice versa) runs. One could ask – one has to ask – the same question about de Man’s text that one asks about Nietzsche’s: “But the question remains whether the pattern of this narrative is ‘historical,’ i.e., revelatory of a teleological meaning, or ‘allegorical,’ i.e., repetitive of a potential confusion between figural and referential statement” (116). Or, in this context, the question remains: whether de Man’s own text is actually talking about something outside itself or whether it is telling a story determined by figure; whether it is telling the story of Nietzsche’s text as referent or (re)telling the story of Nietzsche’s text as figure (chiasmus, for example). No doubt de Man knew what he was talking about when, in teaching “On Truth and Lie,” he once said: “This text destroys you in the terms that you choose to approach it with.”

Notes  1. Paul de Man, “Rhetoric of Tropes,” in Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), p. 116.  2. Most of the time I quote Daniel Breazeale’s translation of “On Truth and Lie” published in his edition of Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche’s Notebooks of the Early 1870’s (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1979). All page references within the body of the text are to this edition. Several times, however, it was necessary to modify the translation, as, for instance, in this case. Breazeale renders the last words of the sentence (und geht langsamen Schrittes unter ihr davon) as “and with slow steps he walks from beneath it” – which is not quite correct and which implies that the rational man can get out from under his cloud. My quotations of the German are from the handy bilingual edition of Das Philosophenbuch/Le Livre du philosophe, ed. Angèle K. Marietti (Paris: Aubier-­Flammarion, 1969). I have not noticed any substantial differences between this version and the one printed in the Colli-­Montinari edition’s first volume.  3. One can say without exaggerating that Nietzsche scholarship in general exhibits a dismaying and, for a reader, discouraging inability to face what Paul de Man has called “the fundamentally ironic and allegorical nature of Nietzsche’s discourse” (“Rhetoric of Tropes,” p. 116). At best, most of it amounts to a vast symptom: of a refusal to read, of the “resistance to theory.” This is no doubt no accident, as one says. And the fact that Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lie” is a particularly badly unread or misread text is also no accident – de Man identifies the “genre” of this text as an “ironic allegory” – and accounting for its necessity is a large part of the task we set ourselves here. In any case, there are a good number of texts that would be helpful or useful for a reader of “On Truth and Lie.” First of all, there are Paul de Man’s three essays on Nietzsche in Allegories of Reading (“Genesis and Genealogy,” “Rhetoric of Tropes,” and “Rhetoric

­126    Material Inscriptions of Persuasion”); but one should also remember the reading of Nietzsche in “Lyric and Modernity,” in Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism, Second Edition, Revised (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), and the rereading of the “What then is truth?” paragraph in the opening pages of “Anthropomorphism and Trope in the Lyric,” in The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984); Carol Jacobs, “The Stammering Text,” in The Dissimulating Harmony (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978); J. Hillis Miller, “The Disarticulation of the Self in Nietzsche,” Monist 64:2 (April 1981), pp. 247–61. Even though it reads “On Truth and Lie” only “indirectly,” Derrida’s “La mythologie blanche,” in Marges (Paris: Minuit, 1972), is nevertheless one of the most far-­reaching readings of the text – and not least of all because it has itself “programmed” so many readings of Nietzsche that come after it, including de Man’s “Rhetoric of Tropes.” Philippe Lacoue-­Labarthe’s “Le détour,” in Le Sujet de la philosophie (Paris: Aubier-­Flammarion, 1979), is a particularly rich essay on Nietzsche and rhetoric. See also his other essays on Nietzsche in Le Sujet and in L’Imitation des modernes (Paris: Galileé, 1986). On the subject of Nietzsche and rhetoric, Sarah Kofman’s Nietzsche et la métaphore (Paris: Payot, 1972) is somewhat helpful (if wrong – I would say that the critique of Kofman’s interpretation of The Birth of Tragedy in Chapter 4 above would apply even more to her remarks on Nietzsche’s “metaphors of metaphor”). Bernard Pautrat’s Versions du soleil (Paris: Seuil, 1971) is of use. Of course, there is much to be learned from the great texts on Nietzsche by Henri Birault, Michel Foucault, Pierre Klossowski, Gilles Deleuze, Maurice Blanchot, and others (never mind Heidegger’s Nietzsche). Nietzsche scholarship’s refusal or inability to “incorporate” these texts – texts actually worth reading – is also a symptom, no doubt, and a melancholy prospect for the reader of Nietzsche.   4. But it only seems so. See my reading of The Birth of Tragedy in Chapter 4 above and in “Prefatory Postscript: Interpretation and Reading,” in Readings in Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), pp. xxxv–lxi. Always therapeutic in this regard is Paul de Man’s much unread “Genesis and Genealogy” in Allegories of Reading.   5. One could say that such texts “use” metaphors only in order to “use them up” – to reduce them, and make them transparent, to logic – according to the oldest philosophical concept/metaphor of metaphor: usure. The locus classicus of this question is, of course, Jacques Derrida, “La mythologie blanche,” but see also his “La langue et le discours de la méthode,” Recherches sur la philosophie et le langage 3 (1983), pp. 35–51. Paul de Man’s “Rhetoric of Tropes” and “The Epistemology of Metaphor” (Critical Inquiry 5:1 [Autumn 1978], pp. 13–30, now in Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996]) should also be a constant reference here. See also my “Spectre Shapes: ‘The Body of Descartes?’” above.  6. Gilles Deleuze is particularly good on “La formule de la question chez Nietzsche” in his Nietzsche et la philosophie (Paris: PUF, 1962), pp. 86–8.  7. In teaching “On Truth and Lie” over the years, Paul de Man would

Towards a Fabulous Reading    ­127 sometimes teach its argument as a “four-­fold deconstruction.” I have for the most part adopted his characterization of Nietzsche’s targets, but the summary of Nietzsche’s argument, such as it is, is my own. The fact that my attempt at a “rhetorical reading” of “On Truth and Lie” is in a sense predicted and pre-­ programmed by the strategies of de Man’s reading in “Rhetoric of Tropes” – just as his own reading is predicted and pre-­ programmed by the strategies of Nietzsche’s text (see my “Postscript”) – is another question. One is oneself, in any case, the last one to know anything about it. In fact, the trouble is that even the last one to know is, finally, never the last. As far as these questions (of reading) are concerned, knowing is not what makes the difference.   8. Cf. Paul de Man in “Rhetoric of Tropes” on Nietzsche’s later critique of “the phenomenalism of consciousness.”  9. Nietzsche takes the example of the stone and several others – examples he also uses in his course on rhetoric – from Gustav Gerber’s Die Sprache als Kunst. See Anthonie Meijers and Martin Stingelin, “Konkordanz zu den wörtlichen Abschriften und Übernahmen von Beispielen und Zitaten aus Gustav Gerber: Die Sprache als Kunst (Bromberg 1871) in Nietzsches Rhetorik-­Vorlesung und in ‘Über Wahrheit und Lüge im aussermoralischen Sinne’,” Nietzsche-­Studien 17 (1988), pp. 350–68. Nietzsche’s notes from the course on rhetoric are now handily available in a bilingual edition: Sander Gilman, Carole Blair, and David J. Parent (eds), Friedrich Nietzsche on Rhetoric and Language (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). The sense in which Nietzsche’s “argument” and “logic” in “On Truth and Lie” is, as it were, dictated to him by the “rhetoric” of examples that he copied out – dutifully, mechanically, by rote – is a text that remains to be read. My remarks about the “programming” function of the “X” of things-­ in-­themselves perhaps indicate the directions of such a reading. See the last paragraphs of this chapter, and note #20. 10. On the “genetic pattern,” see the opening of Paul de Man’s essay on The Birth of Tragedy, “Genesis and Genealogy,” in Allegories of Reading. 11. These metaphors are, in fact, catachreses. On catachresis and its self-­ mutilations, see the last pages of my “Prefatory Postscript” in Readings in Interpretation and the second half of Chapter 8 below. 12. See Nietzsche’s critique of “subject-­ object” aesthetics – which really amounts to a critique of aesthetics as such, Kant to Schopenhauer – and its inability to account for the “Dionysian” artist, the “lyrist” and his lyric poetry, in section 5 of The Birth of Tragedy. 13. See Kant’s famous distinction between a mathematical analogy and a philosophical analogy in Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965), p. 211: “In philosophy analogies signify something very different from what they represent in mathematics. In the latter they are formulas which express the equality of two quantitative relations, and are always constitutive; so that if three members of the proportion are given, the fourth is likewise given, that is, can be constructed. But in philosophy the analogy is not the equality of two quantitative but of two qualitative relations; and from three given members we can obtain a priori knowledge only of the relation to a fourth, not of the fourth member itself. The relation yields, however, a rule for

­128    Material Inscriptions seeking the fourth member in experience, and a mark (Merkmal) whereby it can be detected.” See also my attempt at a reading of Kant’s Second Analogy (through Kleist) in “A Question of an Other Order: Deflections of the Straight Man,” Diacritics 9:4 (December 1979), pp. 70–8, now an Appendix in my Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013). 14. On the self-­supplementing “logic” of all “theoretical” discourses on metaphor, see the section “Plus de métaphore” in Derrida’s “La mythologie blanche.” 15. Derrida, “La mythologie blanche,” p. 291. 16. Good examples would be the use of einmal in the context of the text’s drawing the “moral” of the figure of the deaf man – “Wie der Ton als Sandfigur, so nimmt sich das rätselhafte X des Dings an sich einmal als Nervenreiz, dann als Bild, endlich als Laut aus” – or in the context of the intuitive man’s falling over and over into his ditch – “weil er aus der Erfahrung nicht zu lernen versteht und immer wieder in dieselbe Grube fällt, in die er einmal gefallen.” It doesn’t require all that much pressure on the text to discover the self-­fabulizing, self-­allegorizing function of einmal here. 17. Everywhere one looks in this text, word after word turns into still another word for “carrying-­ over,” for meta-­pherein. For instance, in the first paragraph, the proud philosopher is called a “Lastträger,” a “porter” or “cargo-­ carrier”; the word for “deception” in the following paragraph is “Taüschung,” which comes from the same roots as “tauschen” – to exchange, substitute, put one thing in the place of another; the word for “dissimulation” in the same paragraph is “Verstellung,” which means “literally” dis-­placement. 18. Walter Benjamin’s use of Chladni’s sound-­figures would also be, to say the least, pertinent here. See Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1963), p. 241. 19. The unknowable X and the sounds unhearable for the deaf man are on top in our proportions as an indication of their being valued over the lower term. 20. Or, better, when you call the thing-­in-­itself an “X” and then have the very phenomenal form of that mere marker – its cross-­wise shape – dictate to you a text constituted of nothing but chiasmic, i.e., cross-­wise, reversals. Here, in a nutshell, is a compact example of the irreducible referential function and its inevitable phenomenalization (which, of course, amounts to an aesthetification), of how name turns into trope, and how that trope can only tell stories of its own – an other – unreadability. On all this, see p. 205 of Paul de Man’s Allegories of Reading and “Ending Up/Taking Back (with Two Postscripts on Paul de Man’s Historical Materialism,” Chapter 7 below. On the phenomenalization of the referential function, see de Man’s “Hypogram and Inscription: Michael Riffaterre’s Poetics of Reading,” in The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986). 21. See Chapter 4 above. 22. For instance, there is the fact that Nietzsche also uses this fable in “On the Pathos of Truth,” where he puts it into the mouth of an “unfeeling demon” (ein gefühlloser Dämon).

Towards a Fabulous Reading    ­129 23. American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969). 24. On “double chiasmatic invagination,” see, for example, Jacques Derrida’s “The Law of Genre,” trans. Avital Ronell, in Glyph 7 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980), pp. 176–232, and “Living On/Border Lines,” trans. James Hulbert, in Deconstruction and Criticism (New York: Seabury, 1979). Both texts are now available in French in his Parages (Paris: Galilée, 1986). 25. And it reappears several times: for instance, in the context of the discussion of the origin of language (81) and in the passage on the “aesthetic relation” between subject and object, which, to be understood in terms of “appearance,” “would require a freely poetizing and freely inventing mediating sphere and mediating power” (wozu es aber jedenfalls einer frei dichtenden und frei erfindenden Mittelsphäre und Mittelkraft bedarf). 26. All page numbers in the postscript refer to Allegories of Reading. De Man’s essay was first published under the title “Nietzsche’s Theory of Rhetoric” in Symposium 28:1 (Spring 1974), pp. 33–51, along with a most instructive question and answer session in which several distinguished Nietzsche scholars took part.

Chapter 6

Reading Over Endless Histories: Henry James’s “The Altar of the Dead”

“I came back to town yesterday – and I see my little subject comparatively clear – I think. My hero’s altar has long been a ‘spiritual’ one – lighted in the gloom of his own soul. Then it becomes a material one, and the event is determined in a manner that the story relates.” Henry James, The Notebooks, 2 October 1894 “I broke off there – but I wrote the greater part of a very short tale on those lines: with the effect, unusual for me, of quite losing conceit of my subject, within sight of the close, and asking myself if it is worth going on with: or rather feeling that it isn’t. I shall put it by – perhaps it will, the humour of it, come back to me. But the thing is a ‘conceit,’ after all, a little fancy which doesn’t hold a great deal. Such things betray one – that I more and more (if possible) feel. Plus je vais, the more intensely it comes home to me that solidity of subject, importance, emotional capacity of subject, is the only thing on which, henceforth, it is of the slightest use for me to expend myself. Everything else breaks down, collapses, turns thin, turns poor, turns wretched – betrays one miserably.” Henry James, The Notebooks, 24 October 1894

A reading of a Henry James story in an issue on French symbolism may seem an odd juxtaposition.1 Certain thematic links are, of course, possible: although James wrote very little on authors whom one could count among the French symbolists, he did write a great deal on what has been called “symbolism” in the American literary tradition (a tradition in which his own work takes a place).2 But the possibility of such loose linking already points up a certain symptomatic instability in the very term symbolism itself. That is, the term symbolism would want to serve as a convenient label for a literary historical period at the same time as it would characterize the linguistic practice or the rhetorical structures of the authors and works included under that label. In short, “symbolism” would link history and linguistic structures – whence its constitutive instability, for that link is neither self-­evident nor easily proved.3 But the

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very instability of the term symbolism can help us to make a more substantial link to this story by Henry James. For “The Altar of the Dead” is precisely a text about the possibility of making a passage from text to history, about the possibility of accounting for the potentially disruptive power of linguistic and rhetorical structures by recounting them in a historical narrative. Whether the text can be thematically “about” such an accounting without itself being subject to whatever it discovers about its possibility or impossibility is a question that cannot be answered on the basis of the story’s thematics. It can only be posed and answered on the basis of a reading of the text: that is, a reading of its own rhetorical structures. But already on the thematic level, the text is instructive enough. Indeed, it is a virtually “theoretical” text about the setting up of a symbolic system – Stransom’s altar – for the purpose of linking past and future and thereby constituting a present (as a present made up of remembrance and anticipation). Nevertheless, at the turning-­point of the story – a scene of revelation and recognition which introduces an opacity into the relationship of Stransom and the unnamed woman – something happens that makes it impossible, at least for the woman, to “return to the old symbols”: “She told nothing, she judged nothing; she accepted everything but the possibility of her return to the old symbols” (282).4 A “return to the old symbols” means here a return to a certain history as symbolized by the candles on Stransom’s altar and the worshipful vigil of Stransom and the woman. And the history symbolized is history in a very particular, personal sense for both the woman and Stransom. Just as for him the candles stand for particular dead friends and the beginnings and endings of Stransom’s relations with them, so, for the woman, “Stransom divined that for her, too, they had been vividly individual, had stood for particular hours and particular attributes – particular links in her chain” (282). But on account of what happens at the turning-­point of the story, this chain is broken so irreparably as to prohibit any return to the old symbols of their particular histories. Why should this be so? Why could not the altar and its candles continue to mean one thing for the gentleman and another for the lady? Because, in the story’s own terms, whatever happens makes a “change” and a “difference” in the lives of both Stransom and the woman. The change is complete and the difference irreconcilable: it “breaks up” (280) and “horribly mutilates” (282) their lives, it makes both the past and the future “give way” (280), and it renders their attempts to recover their old relationship and its old symbols a “lame imitation” (281). In short, “something happens” to break up their lives so radically and irrevocably as to prohibit any return to the old symbols of their old history – least of all by any attempt to historicize that “something,” to include whatever happened in a new history

­132    Material Inscriptions represented by new symbols. But how so? How can anything that takes place, that happens, not be in turn recounted in a narrative, included in a history of past events? Clearly, in the case of the “history” of “The Altar of the Dead,” it is because whatever happens is “historical” in a different sense from any that can be accounted for on Stransom’s altar. In other words, this event, this happening, is “historical” in a way that disrupts history as symbolized on the altar, that does not allow itself to be relegated to the past as a past of a self’s history. Unlike the negativity of experience which can be recovered as retold in a history, the negativity of this event is such that it cannot be recovered for a self or a consciousness or a subject because it cannot be the object of historical knowledge. Why so? Because the happening of “The Altar of the Dead,” its one event, is reading. How reading happens and why it makes such a radical difference in and to history are the questions of the text. As such, these questions can be posed and answered only on the basis of a reading of the text in turn – on a reading of reading, as it were, and not on the basis of any taken-­for-­granted historicization or narrativization. For if, according to the story, “reading” – whatever it is – disrupts history irrevocably, then any historicizing attempt to recover from the negativity of that disruption would amount to a mere “return to the old symbols” – precisely what the reading of the story renders impossible. If we are right about the event that makes all the difference in “The Altar of the Dead” – and, again, this can be decided only on the basis of a reading of that event (of reading) – then the story would have much to teach about the contemporary literary critical scene. Indeed, “The Altar of the Dead” is a veritable allegory of what has happened (and what has not happened) on that scene. That is, the “critical linguistic” insights of the 1970s and 1980s – which, for short-­hand purposes, may as well be identified with what is called “deconstruction” or “deconstructive criticism” – can, with some justice, be gathered under the term reading. In which case later trends would seem to mark a turn away from that “moment” of reading, call it, and a return to questions of history, politics, value, and so on. This return would not only be a return to – or, as is more often the case, an invocation of – “history” but also brings along with it the necessity of historicizing the preceding moment of, again, “reading”: as though now that we know what language, text, rhetoric, and so on are, we can go back to the serious business (as usual) of teaching texts as sources and repositories of knowledge and value – useful historical knowledge and instructive ethical, religious, and aesthetic value. But what if the historical “moment” that we are here labeling “reading” was one whose insights put into question any possibility of a “return to the old symbols”?5 Such a moment could not easily be recovered in

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terms of the old history and its old symbols, and any attempt to historicize it, to tell its story of before and after, of beginning and end, would not be a history at all but an allegory, and, at that, an allegory of cover­up – conveniently enough, an allegory of the cover-­up of reading (and, especially, of reading reading), what Paul de Man in a much unread essay calls “The Resistance to Theory.” As such an allegory of a cover­up, of the refusal to read, the attempt to historicize reading would wind up not being “historical” at all in any genuine, that is, not nihilistic, sense of history, but a purely formal gesture, the return to a new and empty formalism. For the mere thematization of history is empty of content and, as such, ahistorical, indeed anti-­historical – it is, in short, something that does not happen, does not take place, a non-­happening, a non-­event. The reading of a text, no matter how humble or “local” or “narrow,” as an act of understanding that takes place according to its own linguistic laws and that thus confronts the (linguistic) materiality of the text is something that happens, that takes place, an event, and is therefore authentically historical. What happens is a text (and only what is a text happens) – and it happens (only) as an act of reading: for example, “The Altar of the Dead.” Using “The Altar of the Dead” to teach anything, to teach any one thing, about story-­ telling, narrative, and history turns out to be a risky (if not downright nasty) business. It is risky because, even upon superficial reading, the one story all too easily turns into two. That is, it is difficult to identify the one story and what it teaches, for as soon as one does so it becomes more than one, always one more, just one more. And it is a business because the task of reading the one, double story amounts to figuring out the economy, the system of exchange, of credit and debit, profit and loss, that could, as it were, account for “The Altar of the Dead.” For the critics, the story has always been something of a nasty business. From the beginning, they have remarked on its “significant badness”; F. R. Leavis called it a “morbidly sentimental and extremely unpleasant tale.”6 The story’s “unpleasantness” is not so hard to discover. It is very much a tale of erosion, fading, wearing down and wearing away: for instance, in the fadedness and dinginess of the great, gray suburb, or the fadedness of the woman (for Stransom, “she looked faded and handsome” [261], he remarks on her “faded beauty,” etc.). And there is a corresponding erosion and degradation in the moral sphere as rites for the dead in a church get turned into something of a seduction scene, a trysting place. One does not easily miss the sexually charged language in the description of Stransom’s “plunges”; never mind his “rapture” and “bliss” at the end, when “the descent of Mary Antrim opened his spirit with a great compunctious throb for the

­134    Material Inscriptions descent of Acton Hague” (288). Something very shady, if not downright kinky, is going on in this church. Small wonder, then, that the critics have felt it necessary to redeem the story somehow, to show how it compensates for its unpleasantness and remains high art with a dignified and edifying moral to teach. A typical and symptomatic example is that of S. Gorley Putt in his A Reader’s Guide to Henry James.7 Putt’s first efforts to redeem the story’s unpleasantness are a little less than convincing. He begins by stressing the strength of the story’s realistic description – “The necrolatrous gloom is so pervasive that it may be well . . . to be reminded that the freshness of direct observation which never failed to redeem some corner of his work is present even here. The very dinginess of wintry London suburbs is conveyed in phrases showing all the old economy of effort” – and offers as evidence the line “by day there was nothing, but by night there were lamps.” This is hardly conclusive evidence of “freshness” of observation, never mind “of the toughness and resilience of James’s conscious mind”! Putt’s second suggestion does not fare any better. The main reason for the story’s unpleasantness, he says, is James’s having injected “a silly tit-­for-­tat sub-­plot” (the story of Hague and the woman) into a “perfectly acceptable, if highly melodramatic and wildly incredible parable, complete with vague eerie flirtations with the spirit-­world, of a perfectly normal (indeed, universal) experience of the elderly: the sad consciousness that more of their dear friends are dead than remain alive.” That “The Altar of the Dead” should thus be taken as a story for senior citizens, an old folks’ tale, or suggested reading to console grandfathers and grandmothers, does not easily convince anybody who has even heard the plot of the story. (One would also think that Putt would be a little more careful in criticizing the tit-­for-­tat plot of the story since it is what the story is about; it is a plotting inscribed in the story itself on Stransom’s altar: one candle for one dead, one missing candle for one Hague, etc.). But Putt’s chief strategy for “saving” the story stands out clearly enough: despite the silliness of its “tit-­for-­tat sub-­plot” and the “winding-­up and working out” of its “dispirited clockwork coincidence,” “The Altar of the Dead” redeems itself as “an otherwise acceptable fable of human grief” whose moral tells how human memory redeems and saves. The difficulties and self-­ contradictions of such an interpretation of the story are already readable in Putt’s final summary. Since it is typical of the way critics, no matter how sophisticated (or naive) their method, dispose of the story by not reading it, we quote at length: There can hardly be a better example than The Altar of the Dead of the point I find myself repeating so often in these commentaries – the immense

Reading Over Endless Histories    ­135 superiority of James’s natural gifts as a writer over his self-­lauded tricks of parallel plotting. If the story is “unpleasant,” it is because James, lacking conviction in his marvellous capacity to convey a mood, felt it necessary to inject a silly tit-­for-­tat sub-­plot into the story. Stransom had never been able to forgive a particular dead friend who had wronged him, and he had therefore shrunk from dedicating to his memory a candle on his private altar. And so, of course, it must be he to whom the unknown lady, whom the dead man had also wronged, is devoutly and forgivingly making her spooky tribute. The winding-­up and working out of this dispirited clockwork coincidence, which alone injects “creepiness” and “unpleasantness” into an otherwise acceptable fable of human grief, distracts a reader’s attention from James’s real achievements in the story. Chief among these is no less than a heart-­arresting statement, years before Proust grappled with the subject, of the inescapable sorrow of human time and the fortitude supplied by the operation of human memory. For Stransom, as for Marcel some quarter of a century later, there is a horror in facing “the period of life . . . when, after separations, the dreadful clockface of the friend we meet announces the hour we have tried to forget.” It is in this mood that he gives vent to the ­thoroughly “morbid” sentiment: There were hours at which he almost caught himself wishing that certain of his friends would now die, that he might establish with them in this manner a connection more charming than, as it happened, it was possible to enjoy with them in life. In regard to those from whom one was separated by the long curves of the globe such a connection could only be an improvement: it brought them instantly within reach. It was from this mood that he was rescued, not by the foolish sub-­plot of ghostly comradeship with the unknown female, but by a wholly Proustian and wholly secular treasuring of the resources of earthly memory: It was in the quiet sense of having saved his souls that his deep, strange instinct rejoiced. This was no dim theological rescue, no boon of a contingent world; they were saved better than faith or works could save them, saved for the warm world they had shrunk from dying to, for actuality, for continuity, for the certainty of human remembrance. Once one can forget the silliness of the plot, in short, there remains in the essential mood of The Altar of the Dead a portrait of a man who, like his creator, had resolved to make, in the face of mortality, the best of a bad job: “His own life, round its central hollow, had been packed close enough.”8

Aside from the fatuousness and banality of this (non-­)understanding of the story – like the remarks about the “heart-­arresting statement, years before Proust grappled with the subject,” as though “human time” and “human memory” were themes invented by Proust or James – the fact that its strategy for saving the story rests on a refusal to read it can be demonstrated easily enough. For instance, the quotation Putt uses to support his claim that Stransom has been “rescued” by the resources of “earthly memory” comes from the very last section of the story, in

­136    Material Inscriptions other words, after the change and the difference made by the “revelation,” after for Stransom “all the lights had gone out – all his Dead had died again” (284), after Stransom knows quite well that “the candles might mechanically burn, but each of them had lost its luster” (285). In other words, the quotation’s statement about the saving power of “human remembrance” (286) comes from Stransom’s point of view at the point in the story when his vision of the altar (and of himself) is at its most feverishly (self-­)deluded, a last pathetic (and pathological, for his illness colors his vision during this last trip to the altar) refusal to see the “change” that the “difference” has made. As the text puts it in a line directly preceding the lines Putt quotes: “He lost himself in the large luster” (286) – as though to underline the fact that Stransom, in order to remember himself and the saving power of his memory-­altar, has to forget what has happened both to himself (“He lost himself in the large luster”) and to his altar (“The candles might mechanically burn, but each of them had lost its luster”). It is most appropriate, then, that Mr Putt should counsel us the readers to forget, to “forget the silliness of the plot,” forget the tit-­for-­tat plot and its dispirited clockwork, in order that we may remember to remember, remember memory, the heart-­arresting essential statement of this parable or fable. As he does so, Putt inscribes himself in the story not just as Stransom but as Stransom at his most self-­deluded. Just as Stransom, in order to make his “heart-­arresting statement” about human remembrance, had to forget the plot of his story, forget his own history, so Putt, in order to extract the theme of “human memory” out of the text, has to forget the plot, forget the story, forget to read the text. That this strategy of, in short, “forgetting to remember” entails “forgetting to read” is most clearly legible in the “deep, but unintended irony” (275) of Putt’s refusal to read the text’s own heart-­arresting statement of the nature of “human time” and “human memory.” For right after expressing his displeasure with the “winding-­up and working out” of the “dispirited clockwork coincidence” of the story’s plot, Putt, in clockwork fashion, has to quote the story on the “horror in facing ‘the period of life . . . when, after separations, the dreadful clockface of the friend we meet announces the hour we have tried to forget.’” According to the story’s own words, the story’s own figures, “human grief,” “human time,” and “human memory” are not so “human” after all but rather as mechanical and tit-­for-­tat as the winding-­up and working out of dispirited clockwork: the human face becomes a “dreadful clockface” that punctually and inexorably announces the hour of our death. Human memory is, if anything, most inhuman, most mechanical, and most dead, and the most human thing to do about it is, in the story’s own words, to try to

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forget it – forget the inhumanity, indeed monstrosity (the figure of the “dreadful clockface” lends an ironic and somewhat macabre meaning to Putt’s “human time”),9 of “human,” that is, mechanical and inhuman, time, the bad job of being unto death. That the “human time” of the woman’s and Stransom’s counting the hours on his altar had indeed been mechanical clockwork – rather than the deluded sentimentality of Putt’s human time and human memory – is readable in the text’s figure for the way in which the change had “broken up” their lives: “he never knew what his devotion had been for him till, in that shock, it stopped like a dropped watch” (280). For Mr Putt and the critics, then, the “dreadful clockface” of “The Altar of the Dead” – that which makes the story morbidly unpleasant and less than entirely successful aesthetically, and hence that which had best be forgotten if the story is to be saved – would be its plot. If we ask what is so dreadful about it, we get a certain answer from the text: it is death, the hour of our death announced by the dreadful clockface of the friend we meet. But the hour of death announced by the clockface of the mechanical plot would have to be a very particular death for the critic-­reader: it would have to announce, in short, the death of the reader, the death of reading, or at least of a certain kind of (non-­)reader and (non-­)reading. It would have to be an other death – other than the death from which we, the readers, can recover by the redemptive power of the human memory over the eroding power of human time. In short, the critics’ strategies of refusal to read this other death of reading by substituting a recoverable same old death – by, again, forgetting to ­remember – can help us set up the reading of the text in terms of two chains: two economies, two temporalities, two memories, two deaths – that is, in terms of a doubleness or duplicity that necessarily determines any discourse whose subject is “The Altar of the Dead.” One is the organic, incarnational, sacrificial, dialectical (that is, working by way of a logic of negation, of a negation of negation), aesthetic, monumentalizing, redemptive chain. It is the chain whose links make up a story in which time, history, memory, narrative, redeem – a story according to which one can recover from the negativity of experience (including the “experience” of death) by precisely telling its story, re-­counting one’s dead, as it were. The other is the mechanical, disincarnate, dispirited, undialectical, unaesthetic, unredemptive chain. This is the other story in which time, history, memory, narrative, do not redeem but rather tell a story of after-­life, survival, posthumous existence, as it were. And these two chains, two economies, two stories, can be linked quite conventionally to the rhetorical terms metaphor – that is, substitution by resemblance, similitude, analogy, based on the knowledge of entities,

­138    Material Inscriptions i.e., on logic and logos – and metonymy – that is, substitution by contiguity, arbitrary juxtaposition, mechanical “next-­to-­ness.” One could ask, somewhat naively, if the figure at the bottom, at the origin, of “The Altar of the Dead” is metaphor or metonymy. (For like many of the stories one reads, the structure of “The Altar of the Dead” is that of an object and the tale that swirls around it.10 Rhetorically speaking, the structure of such tales is that of a figure, a trope, and its narration in a story: a figure and its undoing – since these tales seem to take the form of wearing away and wearing down – its unravelling, disentangling, etc.) But, of course, it is not the decision between metaphor and metonymy, first and second stories, that counts but rather their tangle, their mutual intrication, or, better, their mutual undoing, which is what constitutes the text and the texture of “The Altar of the Dead.” (As we saw, rather than reading the tangle woven by the story, Mr Putt would reduce the double story to the one, organic, redemptive story: to memory and metaphor. This was already clear in the point he finds himself repeating so often: “the immense superiority of James’s natural gifts as a writer over his self-­lauded tricks of parallel plotting.”) The tangle “gets itself woven,” as the text puts it, right in the title. Since the entire itinerary of the story is mapped out in the title, it is worth ­spending some time reading it. “The Altar of the Dead” means, first of all, an altar for the dead, an altar dedicated to the dead. That is, the dead belong to the altar; the “of” is an objective genitive. And, of course, altar of the dead means also an altar belonging to the dead, the dead’s own altar, something that the poor dead may finally have of their own. The “of” would be a subjective genitive. But, third, the altar of the dead may mean, by way of an inter-­lingual pun, the “other of the dead,” that is, the alter of the dead. The pun may appear a bit strained (and its use not immediately clear) but it becomes less so if we remember that Stransom calls his dead the Others and that the story calls them his “alternative associates”: “It was doubtless the voice of Mary Antrim that spoke for them best; at any rate, as the years went on, he found himself in regular communion with these alternative associates, with those whom indeed he always called in his thoughts the Others. He spared them the moments, he organized the charity. How it grew up he probably never could have told you, but what came to pass was that an altar, such as was, after all, within everybody’s compass, lighted with perpetual candles and dedicated to these secret rites, reared itself in his spiritual spaces” (254). In other words, whether we like the pun or not, the link between alter (as in “alternative associates”) and Other and altar is made by the text, and it is made not just anywhere but precisely in the context of telling us (or

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not being able to tell us: “How it grew up he probably never could have told you”) how the spiritual altar “grew up,” as it were, in Stransom’s spiritual spaces. One begins justly to wonder whether the production of the spiritual altar and then the reproduction of the “external,” physical altar has anything at all to do with, say, metaphorical passages between intelligible or spiritual and material or sensuous. We could as easily say that the altar is a product of a pure accident of the letter, the slippage from alter(native) and Other to altar, a metonymical passage on the back of the mere sound of the word – as though Stransom’s having called his Dead the Others doomed him to setting up an altar, as though the alters, the Others, demanded an altar. One alter demands an other (altar). Or, to put it still another way, as though because for Stransom there had been “no altar” – his fiancée “had died of a malignant fever after the wedding day had been fixed” (252), but “he had needed no priest and no altar to make him forever widowed” (252) – he was bound to compensate for it with another altar, an altar for the Others, an altar of the dead. Such a compensation or restoration – turning a missing altar, an absent altar, into an altar of the missing, an altar of the absent – would in any case be a dialectical move typical of Stransom’s economy. Whether it is a move that works on the basis of a dialectical negation of negation – in which the negation of the altar is recovered by an altar of the negation, “no altar” by a “no-­altar,” as it were, an altar of the dead – or by way of a pun whose negativity (whose other, whose death) is not so easily determined because it is not dialectical (i.e., under the domination of the dia-­logos) but purely linguistic – that would be the question. And it is worth noting here that for the New York Edition of the story James changed the phrase “alternative associates” to “postponed pensioners”: “as the years at any rate went by he found himself in regular communion with these postponed pensioners, those whom indeed he always called in his thoughts the Others.”11 If the reading of the alter/Other/altar chain is at all correct – and whatever else it may be, it is not just wrong – then this little change could be the mark of a certain cover-­up of the material (i.e., linguistic), contingent, accidental, arbitrary, “origin” of the story. Small wonder, then, that both Stransom and James12 “probably never could have told you” how the altar of the dead “grew up,” for at the origin of the figure of the altar (in the story and of the story) lies no figure (no metaphor, no metonymy) but rather the sheer positing power of the name, for example, calling the Dead the Others. Like all narratives, “The Altar of the Dead” – Stransom’s and James’s – “endlessly tells the story of its own denominational aberration and it can only repeat this aberration on various levels of rhetorical complexity.”13 “The Altar of the Dead” is what grows up, what gets told,

­140    Material Inscriptions what comes to pass, when you give the dead a name (e.g., the Others) and a face (e.g., in the figure of a candle).14 Such a reading of the title introduces some strange possibilities for rewriting it: for instance, as “the Other of the Dead,” and since the Dead are the Others, also as “the Other of the Others” or “the Dead of the Dead” or “the Altar of the Altar,” and so on. Very quickly one begins to stutter – not unlike Stransom at the end staring at vacancy and giving voice to the inanity “One more, one more – only just one” (284). What takes place, in any case, is a certain mechanical, inexorable wearing away and wearing down of the imposing, monumental figure of the altar – a certain ineffacable “disfigurement” (287), as it were, of its making “a pretense of a figure” (252) – once we notice the “possible gap” (287) introduced by the play of the letter in the text. This unceasing erosion – of figure, of meaning, of knowledge, of narrative, and so on – is not just the payoff for our having capitalized on a poor pun. It is what takes place everywhere and always in the text from beginning to end. For instance, the opening sentences of the story bring off a similar wearing away and wearing down on the back of the verb “to keep”: “Again and again he had kept in his own fashion the day of the year on which Mary Antrim died. It would be more to the point perhaps to say that the day kept him: it kept him at least, effectually, from doing anything else. It took hold of him year after year with a hand of which time had softened but had never loosened the touch” (252). The passage goes from Stransom’s “keeping” the day – that is, a “figurative” expression meaning that he celebrated it in some fashion – to the day’s “keeping” him – that is, a “literal” expression meaning “holding onto,” say (as in “It took hold of him . . .”) – to its “keeping him from” doing anything else. Once the verb “to keep” slides into “kept him from doing anything else” – never mind “keeping them up” (254) at the end of the first section – it slides away from anything like a controllable economy of exchange between literal and figurative meanings. It begins to err, to wander – here somewhat in the manner of a “zeugma”: a rhetorical figure (from Greek “yoking”) in which “one verb governs several congruent words or clauses, but each in a different way.”15 If there is a figure at the “bottom” of “The Altar of the Dead,” it is neither metaphor nor metonymy but rather something like this non-­figure of zeugma – a precisely non-­ figural (or “a-­ figural”), non-­ tropological, non-­ semantic alignment or juxtaposition of or passage between words. Todorov and Ducrot’s definition of “zeugma” is even more useful for reading “The Altar of the Dead”: “the grammatical coordination of two words that possess opposed semantic features – for example, abstract and concrete.”16 Important here is the possible disjunction or asymmetry between grammatical coordination and semantic opposition – a disjunction or

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asymmetry which, because it is between grammar and semantics (and not within grammar or semantics), is irreducible to either mere (grammatical) “coordination” or mere (semantic) “opposition.” It is a radical disjunction because it is a disjunction of another order, or, better, between different, asymmetrical orders (for instance, grammar and semantics, grammar and rhetoric, linguistic form and linguistic meaning, etc.). The implications for “The Altar of the Dead” should already be clear, for Stransom and the woman are disjunct in such a “zeugmatic” way. That is, they worship “side by side” (264), metonymically as it were, all the while thinking that they are united, “at one on their great point” (271), or at least that their respective meanings are mediated by the one metaphor of the altar that serves as a kind of transfer and exchange system between them. But it turns out that rather than worshipping side by side in front of an altar in a church, the two of them are in a zeugma, as it were, radically disjunct while indissolubly bound together. Their side-­by-­side worship is truly, blindly metonymical and escapes the rule of metaphor. How this can be and why it ruins the economy of death on Stransom’s altar are the questions of the text. Before “answering” them, we should first figure out what this economy amounts to. The economy of death on Stransom’s altar is a peculiarly resilient system of exchange because it works with a rigorous, dialectical conception of the negative. Unlike Mr Putt and other non-­readers of the story, Stransom is a dialectician of considerable refinement who would economize death and the dead, set up an economy of exchange with them (i.e., between the living and the dead) in order to “save” them, recover his losses, compensate for the negativity of experience. That is, he too would reduce the one, mechanical, non-­redemptive, non-­aesthetic economy of death to the organic, sacrificial, redemptive, aesthetic economy of death and restoration – and, in rhetorical terms, the accidental contiguity of mere metonymical juxtaposition to the substantial analogy of metaphorical exchange (of meaning). But Stransom would accomplish this not by simply ignoring or repressing the other economy but rather by (dialectically) turning it over into precisely an economy of the other, of the Others, of the Dead. That his relation to his Dead is an economic one is clear enough: he counts his losses, he numbers his Dead, he wants to give them, “poor things” (253), something of their own, and so on. But the question remains whether this economy of the dead – bringing the dead into an economy of exchange, of give and take, profit and loss, rich and poor, and so on – can be a balanced economy. Do the books balance, do the columns of profit and loss, credit and debit, “prove out” (as bank tellers do, or should do, at the end of the day, and as banks do, or should do, at least at the end of the year)? Or, again, how does one

­142    Material Inscriptions program a counting or re-­counting machine, a computer, with death and the dead – the excess or lack that is the dead, the plus or minus or the zero that is the dead? And what kind of computer could calculate, figure in and figure out, the dead – those postponed pensioners? Again, the question is whether the dead can be included in a system of binary opposition, whether they can be calculated by a dialectical calculus that recovers their peculiar negativity. And who has to pay to arrange such a computer, to pay for such an “arrangement” (260)? This is where we, finally, go back to our altar – or rather Stransom’s altar, or rather the altar of the dead. For it is ­precisely such a computer, such an ordinateur, such a counting or re-­counting machine (such a teller?) that Stransom would arrange when he “externalizes” his (mental) altar, buys it for his own use, the “free enjoyment of his intention” (261). What is this altar and how does it work? For the setting up of the altar, we need hardly comment, for the text is as self-­conscious as can be. Stransom’s altar is first of all a system of signification “in which endless meanings could glow” (260). These are intentional meanings grounded in the intention of a subject: “all that Stransom reserved to himself was the number of his lights and the free enjoyment of his intention. When the intention had taken complete effect, the enjoyment became even greater than he had ventured to hope” (261); or later: “Whoever bent a knee on the carpet he had laid down appeared to him to act in the spirit of his intention” (262). This system of signification is based on inclusion – that is, according to a one-­to-­one system of signification, one candle for one dead (“He numbered them, he named them, he grouped them – it was the silent roll call of his Dead” [260]) – and exclusion: that is, according to a one-­to-­nothing, dialectical system of signification. The ones are, in a sense, all ones of nothing, of zero, of the (no)one whose candle has to be left out: Acton Hague. “There was a strange sanctification in death, but some characters were more sanctified by being forgotten than by being remembered. The greatest blank in the shining page was the memory of Acton Hague, of which he inveterately tried to rid himself. For Acton Hague no flame could ever rise on any altar of his” (263). By leaving out the candle for Acton Hague, Stransom would appropriate him by a negation of Hague. Thus one could say that the altar both signifies every one but Hague and signifies (by negation) no one but Hague. By this means of exclusion and negation Stransom can, in a sense, recover from the negativity of experience (of experience as such and of the experience, i.e., his having been wronged by Hague). That is, he can, in a sense, recover from a “death” that he had suffered at the hands of Hague by making this death a ­negation, his own negation. By negating Hague on the altar, Stransom negates the negation and thus

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accounts for his own death (retrospectively and proleptically) by making it his own. Hence the missing candle for Hague is not only the figure for the wrong, the negativity, of what Hague did to Stransom, but also the figure for Stransom’s own death. The only way that Hague can get a candle on any altar of his (Stransom’s?) is over Stransom’s dead body, as it were, only when Stransom dies. In this sense, Hague is quite clearly Stransom’s alter ego, altar ego and alter ego. This system of signification by inclusion and exclusion is a tropological system – a system of tropes and figures – or, more narrowly, a system of metaphor: one candle stands for one dead, one missing candle for one Hague. That it wants to be a closed tropological system, one in which no substitution cannot be recovered by another one, is suggested by a passage in the third section of the story when Stransom wanders into a church of the old persuasion where he gets the idea to transform, by metaphor, his mental altar into a physical altar. “If occasions like this had been more frequent in his life, he would have been more frequently conscious of the great original type, set up in a myriad temples, of the unapproachable shrine he had erected in his mind. That shrine had begun as a reflection of ecclesiastical pomps, but the echo had ended by growing more distinct than the sound. The sound now rang out, the type blazed at him with all its fires and with a mystery of radiance in which endless meanings could glow” (260). The exchanges and transfers here are between “original type” or “sound” – the physical altar in churches – and “shrine in his mind” – Stransom’s mental altar. That is, making metaphorical transfers between intelligible and sensuous, internal and external, absent and present (and all the phenomenological oppositions ultimately based on perceptual models: i.e., what is versus what is not available to the senses), allows one to reverse beginning and end (“That shrine had begun . . . but the echo had ended . . .”), original and copy, sound and echo, but these inversions do not disturb the essential symmetry of the terms inverted and the relations (of original and copy, etc.) between them. The (chiasmic) reversals may be dizzying, but they are recovered, redeemed, by memory, by telling their story of beginnings and ends, re-­counting them, in a narrative history. And the fact that this passage maintains the symmetry between metaphors of sight (original type/reflection) and metaphors of hearing (sound/echo) – two of the main metaphorical chains in the text – would be an indication that no confusion on the level of mere representation (i.e., one based on mimetic models) can seriously disrupt Stransom’s system of metaphor. Indeed, the reversals only confirm that system’s power of transport and transcendence: beyond the merely sensuous and the merely intelligible into the region of “endless meanings.” And, needless to say, such a

­144    Material Inscriptions closed tropological system, supported by the intentional meaning of a self-­conscious (i.e., self-­negating) subject who can survive his own death by (metaphorically) negating its negation (in a narrative history), is an autobiographical text: Stransom “found the years of his life there, and the ties, the affections, the struggles, the submissions, the conquests, if there had been such, a record of that adventurous journey in which the beginnings and the endings of human relations are the lettered milestones. He had in general little taste for the past as a past of his own history; at other times and in other places, it mostly seemed to him pitiful to consider and impossible to repair; but on these occasions he accepted it with something of that positive gladness with which one adjusts one’s self to an ache that is beginning to succumb to treatment. To the treatment of time the malady of life begins at a given moment to succumb; and these were doubtless the hours at which that truth most came home to him. The day was written for him there on which he had first become acquainted with death, and the successive phases of the acquaintance were each marked with a flame” (262). It is an autobiographical (and auto-­thanato-­graphical) narrative wherein the metonymic (side-­by-­side) arrangement of individual histories (each candle as a metaphor for a history) is bound together by (the history of) one subject, supported by the one metaphor of Stransom’s “I.” (And that one metaphor is one too few [missing on the altar] and one too many [outside the altar]17 – the only way Stransom can get his candle is to die. The figure for this missing candle is of course the absence of a candle for Acton Hague. This is Stransom’s way of including and excluding himself, his own death, on the altar.) And Stransom’s “I” would be the total reader – the total author and the total reader – of this textual system, whose reading would saturate the textual field: “He went over it, head by head, till he felt like the shepherd of a huddled flock, with all a shepherd’s vision of differences imperceptible. He knew his candles apart, up to the color of the flame, and would still have known them had their positions all been changed. To other imaginations they might stand for other things – that they should stand for something to be hushed before was all he desired; but he was intensely conscious of the personal note of each and of the distinguishable way it contributed to the concert” (263). If Stransom is thus the total reader of his text who can tell imperceptible differences and for whom no change – in the position of his candles, for instance – can make a difference, then how can any “change” or any “difference” be “complete” (280) enough to break up his life and that of the woman who is the second, the other, reader of his text? Especially since Stransom had prudently inscribed the possibility of another reader’s intention into his altar: “Whoever bent a knee on the carpet he had

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laid down appeared to him to act in the spirit of his intention” (262); and “To other imaginations they [the candles] might stand for other things – that they should stand for something to be hushed before was all he desired” (263). Whatever it is that makes the difference in their lives – the horrible mutilation that makes “everything false” (281) – it is not the difference in their respective intentions. The woman’s reply to Stransom’s lame “We had simply different intentions . . . That, as you say, I perfectly knew, and I don’t see why your intention shouldn’t still sustain you” is instructive: “That’s because you’re generous – you can imagine and think. But the spell is broken” (277). That is, the “little change” that the addition of a second, an other, reader makes has nothing to do with that reader’s subjective intention, in other words, with that reader’s status as “I,” self, or subject; rather it has to do with that reader’s status as reader, in other words, only insofar as his or her (or, better, its) intention bears upon the language of the text, its saying or its “spell.” The reader as reader intends a linguistic intention that is utterly outside the grasp of a self or a subject, just as the writer as writer intends a linguistic intention when he (or she or it) inscribes the world, marks it (like Stransom’s marking his acquaintance with death with a flame) by a “material act” (260), that then falls utterly outside his grasp. Marks, letters, signs relate only to other marks, other letters, other signs and not to the subjective experience of an “I” – they bear no determinate relation (negative or otherwise) to any subject whatsoever, they relate to him (or her or it) only insofar as that “I” is also a mark, letter, or sign, only to the extent that it is also a purely “grammatical subject”18 (as in gramma) like a reader or a writer. (Recall that the woman reader of Stransom’s altar is also a writer: “she earned money by her pen, writing under a designation that she never told him in magazines that he never saw. She knew too well what he couldn’t read and what she couldn’t write” [270].) What breaks up their lives, then, is something that happens, takes place, is an event or an act, that has a performative dimension (like a spell) irreducible to and outside the control of cognition, knowledge, and its polarities of truth and falsehood. Stransom’s and the woman’s knowledge – that he had not dedicated one candle to Acton Hague and that she had dedicated all the candles to Acton Hague – is what makes the difference all right, but it turns out to be a knowledge that can make, as it were, no difference to this difference: that is, their knowledge that their intentions had been at odds all along, that their meanings had been different, can do nothing to put their lives back together or to mend the broken spell. They have simultaneously too much and too little knowledge to make a difference after what has happened; and simultaneously too much and too little has happened to

­146    Material Inscriptions make a difference after what they know. It is worthwhile to disentangle this strange (undialectical, other-­than-­dialectical) economy of less and more. What happened? What do they know? On the basis of what we already know, it is relatively easy to say what happened. In linguistic, rhetorical terms – and, as we know, these are what we need once we are dealing with the reading and writing of texts – what happened is that the metaphor of the altar, the metaphorical system that Stransom has set up, gets undone by the radically metonymical relation between his and the woman’s readings. Rather than his and her altars, his and her metaphors (for the self, for example) that would be united, mediated – if by nothing else, then at least by negation – what we have is his and her metaphors (un)yoked by a radical (i.e., blind) metonymy in something like a zeugma. But it is less easy to determine the nature of the asymmetry between their respective readings, especially since the “negative” that makes these readings asymmetrical, disjunct, is precisely not a determinate negation. The asymmetry between “intention” and “spell” – between “We had simply different intentions” and “But the spell is broken” (277) – would provide an indication of how we are to formulate the difference: that is, for example, in terms of the distinction between language as cognition or knowledge and language as performative or action. Or, in terms of the unyoking of zeugma, the difference between grammar and semantics, grammar and meaning (and hence trope, figure). But what could it mean, how would it work, for the woman to be, as it were, a “performative” or a “grammatical” reader? What act, what action, would she have to have performed to render their knowledge, their knowledge of meaning, useless? If we begin to read “grammatically,” to read grammar grammatically, as it were, that is, on the level of the gramma, the letter, we already get some help from the mere names. It is no wonder that Stransom should be a metaphorician – he who carries over and across, makes crossings between literal and figurative, sensuous and intelligible, and so on – since his name (minus one letter) means just that: (S)transom, a horizontal crosspiece, from trans-­, across, plus -trum, a suffix denoting an instrument.19 And it is not surprising that he who should get in the way between Stransom and the woman – “Acton Hague was between them, that was the essence of the matter; and he was never so much between them as when they were face to face” (282) – is named Acton Hague as in “act on” or “action.” As a man of action or Acton, Hague was bound to get in the way of the man of knowledge, trope, metaphorical crossings. Indeed, Hague had always gotten in the way, for Stransom’s fiancée had died of a “malignant fever”: that is, due to a French (H)ague, as it were, an “ague.” And the French George(S) Transom (“trans-­homme,” cross-­man?) also dies on

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account of the action of the French (H)ague. After the revelation: “He felt also stricken and more and more cold, and his chill was like an ague in which he had to make an effort not to shake” (277). The pointed, piercing, sharp action – action aiguë? – of Acton Hague is everywhere in the way and everywhere lends a poignant accent (accent aigu?) to Stransom’s plight. (And never mind the name games possible with Mary Antrim, Paul Creston, old and new Mrs Creston.) Talk about “denominational aberration” and its repetition “on various levels of rhetorical complexity”! This is delirious (French?) symbolism indeed. It is as though the story and the meanings generated by its plot were dictated by the “grammar” of the name – a dictation that takes place, as it were, behind the backs of Stransom and the woman: “For long ages he never knew her name, any more than she had ever pronounced his own; but it was not their names that mattered, it was only their perfect practice and their common need” (267–8). But this “no names” practice of theirs points up what is really at stake in the difference between Stransom and the nameless woman – she who has (at least) two names, her own name and the pen name she never tells Stransom, but who never has a name for us beside “the woman” or, most often, the pronominal “she” (as though she, for us, were one of the dead: “but when something had happened to warm, as it were, the air for it, they came as near as they could come to calling their Dead by name. They felt it was coming very near to utter their thought at all. The word ‘they’ expressed enough; it limited the mention, it had a dignity of its own” [268]). That is, at stake in the “grammatical” reading of the text is not so much the name or the meaning of the name (and the denominational delirium that turning a name into a trope leads to) but rather the lack of the name, what it means for Stransom not to name a candle for Acton Hague,20 not to fill in the “blank” that is the memory of Acton Hague (and, for us, not to know her name, the name of the woman). In short, the question is how not giving a name means giving a name nevertheless, a “not-­name,” as it were – “no name” turns into a “no-­name” just as “no altar” turned into a “no-­altar” – which as still a name, exceeds the easy dialectical reversals (of name/no name) based on determinate negation. And, again, this question of the negation of the name – figuring out the asymmetrical excess in its economy – is not so easily answered, especially when we recall that Stransom’s most typical gesture in accounting for the disparity between himself and the woman is precisely a dialectical recovery of all lacks, nothings, zeros, as (determinate) negatives (just as it was in his economizing of the negativity of the dead). A good example of Stransom’s redoubtable dialectical recovery of the “nothing” between him and the woman is the following passage: “It was odd that, when

­148    Material Inscriptions nothing had really ever brought them together, he should have been able successfully to assume that they were in a manner old friends – that this negative quantity was somehow more than they could express” (265, my emphasis). Stransom’s economy could not be clearer: to take “nothing” as a “negative quantity” – i.e., as a negative, a negation, the absence of a quantity, in short, as a determinate negation – and thereby turn it into “more.” This is a dialectical calculus that constitutes the economy of the text and that throughout is expressed in mathematical, indeed arithmetical, terms: in particular, one and nothing, nought and one, one and zero. These terms can help us recalculate the (asymmetrical) difference between his and her readings, for the old “symbols” of arithmetic also have their “grammatical” dimension – a “performative” function, as it were, a status as mere names. What goes wrong with Stransom’s counting machine, the altar that would turn zero into one by re-­counting it in a history? Stransom and the woman sit side by side: he dedicates the candles to his Dead and to himself (by leaving out one candle for Hague); she dedicates all the candles to Hague. The text calculates the (non-­)equation with precision: Once she said she pitied him for the length of his list (she had counted his candles almost as often as himself) and this made him wonder what could have been the length of hers. He had wondered before at the coincidence of their losses, especially as from time to time a new candle was set up. On some occasion some accident led him to express this curiosity, and she answered as if she was surprised that he hadn’t already understood. “Oh, for me, you know, the more there are the better – there could never be too many. I should like hundreds and hundreds – I should like thousands; I should like a perfect mountain of light.” Then, of course, in a flash, he understood. “Your Dead are only One?”   She hesitated as she had never hesitated. “Only One,” she answered, coloring as if now he knew her innermost secret. It really made him feel that he knew less than before, so difficult was it for him to reconstitute a life in which a single experience had reduced all others to nought. His own life, round its central hollow, had been packed close enough. (268–9)

The difference between Stransom’s and the woman’s economies (of life and death) is already suggested by the difficulty he has in reconstituting “a life in which a single experience had reduced all others to nought.” This is certainly not an economy in which “nothing” turns into “more” but rather one in which more is less: Stransom’s additional knowledge makes him “feel that he knew less than before.” The nature of this other, her other, “less” (or “nothing”) and its difference from Stransom’s “less” (or “nothing”) is figured out, or, better, spelled out, by the text: his is a life packed round its central hollow (the absence


words, language, metaphor

Reading Over Endless Histories    ­149 X which (or “truth”) of the relation of metaphor to Xcandle of things-in-themselves of Mary Antrim is represented on the altar by one dedi_____________________________________________________________ cated to her but also by one absent candle for Acton Hague); hers is a metaphor of Chladni’s sound-figures life in which a single experience reduces all others to nought, to zero. The asymmetry between them becomes legible: he dedicates the altar to everyone (1) but not Hague (0); she dedicates the altar to no one (0) but Hague (1). It is an economy of one and zero but inverted chiasmically:

But the chiasmus, the crossing, is asymmetrical: no calculus can mediate his one and her zero, her zero and his one – not even a dialectical calculus that works by negation. For the real asymmetry lies between their different, incommensurable, conceptions of the zero: his is a hollow, an absence, a negative quantity; hers is a nought, a cipher, a marker, a place-­holder, a mere artifice of writing. In short, his zero is something not there (an absence of a presence, say); hers is a nothing that is there (a “present absence,” one could say, as long as one understands “present” to mean written, inscribed, marked, a purely linguistic, gramma-­tical “absence” like “no-­altar” or “no-­name” or “no-­thing”). Her altar has been dedicated to zero by the other and his altar has been dedicated to zero by the other. What’s left out is her one and his one; what’s put in or left over is her zero and his zero. This is an unbalanced economy – radically unbalanced on account of their different conceptions of the zero.21 What seemed to be a metaphor – his and hers – turns out to be truly, blindly metonymic – neither his nor hers and both at once, side by side like in a zeugma. In very Jamesian fashion, they both wince. If we ask what the woman’s other zero – zero as marker, place-­holder, “syntactical plug”22 – means on a thematic level, we get a hint from the contrast between Stransom’s “shrine” in the church and the woman’s private “museum in his [i.e., Hague’s] honor” (273) at home. Whereas his altar is a product of a symbolic, metaphorical imagination, her shrine is very much a product of a fetishistic, metonymical, indeed allegorical (in a sense to be determined) imagination: “The place had the flush of life – it was expressive; its dark red walls were articulate with memories and relics. These were simple things – photographs and watercolors, scraps of writing framed and ghosts of flowers embalmed; but only a moment was needed to show him they had a common meaning” (272). Whereas Stransom’s candles signify on the basis of one-­to-­one correspondence, on the basis of metaphorical transferences between intelligible and

­150    Material Inscriptions sensuous, in fact, on the basis of a very traditional (Platonico-­Hegelian) aesthetic conception of artistic representation as “the sensuous appearance of the Idea” (das sinnliche Scheinen der Idee), her “scraps of writing framed and ghosts of flowers embalmed” signify their “common meaning” by contiguity, they are the dead, material remainders of an accidentally contiguous, material association with Hague, indeed with certain places and times: Stransom “saw that the objects about her mainly had reference to certain places and times” (273). This is not matter informed, informed, by spirit, but matter arbitrarily converted to a signifying function by a pure act of the mind: in a Hegelian sense, these are signs – the products of memory not as internalization (Erinnerung) but as memorization, mechanical memory by rote, a mere list of names23 – not symbols. Whereas Stransom is a man of “remembrance” (“human remembrance” [286]), she is a woman of “reminders” (“He would have hated to plunge again into that well of reminders, but he enjoyed quite as little the vacant alternative” [281]). In “passionately converting” (273) Stransom’s shrine for her own use – appropriating all the candles for Hague – she turns his altar of memories into a museum of reminders, into “scraps of writing framed and ghosts of flowers embalmed” – that is, into writing not as meaningful but as material inscription, into figures (as in “flowers of rhetoric”) not as sensuous manifestations of ideal meaning but as dis-­figured, mummified corpses of flowers preserved in a ghostly (material) after-­life, living on like dead figures in a handbook of rhetoric. “The place had the flush of life,” thinks Stransom, but it is the (after-­)life of preserved relics and embalmed corpses. This is the sense in which Stransom’s candles are extinguished and all his Dead die again (and again – in an unceasing mechanical death-­after-­death). And the real horror for Stransom – the “horrible mutilation” (282), indeed “disfigurement” (287), of his life – in the woman’s conversion of his altar is what it means not so much for his life as for his death. That is, insofar as, structurally speaking, Stransom’s leaving out a candle for Hague is homologous to, is the same thing as, leaving out the tallest candle for himself, for his own death, the woman’s dedicating all the candles to Hague is nothing but to dedicate the entire altar to Stransom’s death – i.e., as though he were already dead – to his death as the death of the other (who is nevertheless not his own other). And since Stransom wanted the woman to become the priestess of his altar and to light a candle for him after his death – this would be, again, a way of including his own death (as his own) on the altar, to re-­count (proleptically) his own death to himself and guarantee the “rich future” (284) – what he discovers in her conversion of the altar is that she had, as it were, already done so, that for her he was, in effect, already dead, and that for him to

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die (again) would be at best a mechanical redundancy, an inanity (like his parroted “Just one more, just one more”). He discovers that his life is henceforth – worse, was always already – an after-­life, and that his death will be an “after-­death” which will not make any difference. All his Dead die again indeed – a death that is “just one more” (290), “just one” (290). What the other, asymmetrical reading and its other, asymmetrical death mean for Stransom’s autobiographical history becomes clear. In linguistic, rhetorical terms – and all the terms we have been using have by now been converted, were always already converted, into “linguistic, rhetorical terms”: altar, candles, one, zero, death, and so on – this is what happens: Stransom has on his hands a history that had been going on for years, that had been going on as told (i.e., as narrative, as recounted on his altar by himself to himself), which was nevertheless an allegory all along. After he discovers this, knows it, he cannot recover from this knowledge by in turn attempting to inscribe it in a history, for it is history that has been undone, its very possibility put into question. Stransom’s altar is a text that tells the story of the undoing of the metaphor of the self, the story of its self-­undoing; and, once it is undone, the self cannot in turn reinscribe that story of undoing in a history that would be the self’s own history. Any attempt to do so only manages to retell a vicious, repetitive allegory that mistakes itself for a history – an allegory of the impossibility of reading, an allegory of unreadability. (As Paul de Man puts it, the allegory is “a supplementary figural superposition which narrates the unreadability of the prior narration.” And the “prior narration” is precisely the story of “a figure (or a system of figures) and its deconstruction” that, because it cannot be closed off by a final reading [for every reading needs to use figures or a system of figures itself], “engenders, in its turn” the allegory of unreadability.)24 Hence the knowledge one can have after the text of “The Altar of the Dead,” after any text, is, at best, a suspensive “knowledge”: on the one hand it prohibits a return to the old symbols (because they were allegories all along); on the other hand, it prohibits a turn to, say, “new symbols” (because such a mystified institution of “new” symbols is what began the whole nasty story in the first place, and one more such institution [as denominationally aberrant] will be precisely just one more, one that can make no difference because it cannot tell a different story, a story other than the story of a trope and its undoing recorded in an allegory of the unreadability of that story . . .). Such is the double bind of Stransom’s “knowledge”: “Deeply disconcerted by what he knew, he was still worse tormented by really not knowing” (282). Stransom’s attempt at a way out of this double bind is time-­honored and predictable: rather

­152    Material Inscriptions than reading the text as text – i.e., as an allegory – he lamely tries to re-­aesthetify and rehistoricize it – i.e., as a symbol. In doing so, he mechanically reproduces just one more allegory of the impossibility of reading, just one more allegory of the symbol. Like everything else he does after the revelation, it is but “a lame imitation” (281). This is most evident in Stransom’s explicit aesthetification of the woman and her story: she is a “picture” produced by a “master” (Hague) with whom she is “ineffaceably stamped” (279). Stransom carries out this aesthetification to its logical – as in Logos – end: that is, all the way to an incarnational, sacrificial interpretation of the woman and her resurrection from and redemption of the wrong that Hague had done her. As a work of art, she is not just beautiful but sublime: “Molded indeed she had been by powerful hands, to have converted her injury into an exaltation so sublime” (279). “Tragically sacrificed” (267) as she has been, she becomes a veritable Christ-­figure: “She absolved him [Hague] at every point, she adored her very wounds. The passion by which he had profited had rushed back after its ebb, and now the tide of tenderness, arrested forever at flood, was too deep even to fathom” (280). The point is not just the deluded nature of this aesthetification or the somewhat unfeeling haste with which a human (i.e., material) history is deliriously converted into an edifying sacrificial narrative of death and resurrection with a pat ideal moral for its end. (An unfeeling haste, one should add, that is not unlike Stransom’s hurry to have his friends make an end of it, to get on with the business of dying so that he can enshrine them on his altar: “There were hours at which he almost caught himself wishing that certain of his friends would now die, that he might establish with them in this manner a connection more charming than, as it happened, it was possible to enjoy with them in life. In regard to those from whom one was separated by the long curves of the globe such a connection could only be an improvement; it brought them instantly within reach” [263]. No wonder that one critic finds the story’s chief blemish to be the unconvincingness of its central character: the unlikelihood that Stransom would have all that many friends. Most credible – since Stransom wishes his friends dead so that he may get closer to them! Like all aesthetico-­ morticians, he is much more comfortable communicating with the dead than with the living.) No, the point is that Stransom, in performing this aesthetic (incarnational, sacrificial, resurrectional, redemptive) interpretation of the woman and her fate at the hands of Hague only manages to repeat her (imputed) abandonment and sacrifice. In taking her as a work of art, Stransom ruthlessly and coldly sacrifices her all over again – on his altar, as it were. That is, he refuses to take the woman as other – with all that such “otherness” implies in “The Altar of the Dead”, i.e., dead

Reading Over Endless Histories    ­153

in an other, more authentic material (linguistic) sense, a death in which you cannot recognize yourself; he can only take her as his other or, at least, as a man’s other (i.e., as Hague’s handi-­work): “more and more he could see that he had never introduced an alien” (286). In other words, the one who gets left out on the altar is ultimately the woman, as she well knows: “He argued with her again, told her she could now have the altar to herself; but she only shook her head with pleading sadness, begging him not to waste his breath on the impossible, the extinct. Couldn’t he see that, in relation to her private need, the rites he had established were practically an elaborate exclusion?” (281). It is precisely in the aesthetic interpretation of the woman as “tragically sacrificed” (267) that she gets “coldly sacrificed” (283) over and over again. In repeating this cold sacrifice – of endless death without resurrection – Stransom only mechanically repeats the other story that recounts his inability to read his own text: “I cannot read my own text,” “I cannot read my own text” – a sentence in which the “I” has to be read as a grammatical subject (in the third person, as it were). And any interpretation of “The Altar of the Dead” that would turn this (“her”) allegory of reminders into a (“his”) symbol of remembrance only confesses its own inability to read the text. In taking the story as a story of an “I” (whether it be Stransom’s, James’s, or the reader’s), of a self that can recognize itself in its own text, the interpretation only inscribes itself as the deluded Stransom in a story that tells the impossibility of recognizing one’s self in a text.25 What is left over in this story of leaving out? What is left after first Hague, then Stransom, then the woman, have all been left out? What is left is a story of mechanical, dead repetition: the candles continue mechanically to burn; Stransom is reduced to repeating his “inanity.” Whether he dies or not at the “end” makes no difference. He has become a counting, re-­counting memory-­machine (whose memory is not “human remembrance” but mechanical memory by rote, mere memorization), a computer “reading over endless histories” (286). In other words, what we are left with is a strange fable whose moral is not some “endless meaning” (260) behind or beyond its language but rather is the language of the text “itself”: as fable of fable. This is not much of a moral, for all it says is that the move to fable, to a figural reading – whether as reader or as writer, whether as Stransom, as James, as Mr Putt (or the other readers not satisfied with a literalistic, realistic interpretation of the story) – is always also necessarily a move to fable of fable. That is, whatever the fable may tell about or re-­count, it also always necessarily tells about and re-­counts itself. But this is not a matter of self-­reflection or self-­reference, for the fable’s telling or re-­counting can never account for itself fully, completely, symmetrically. On the contrary, because it

­154    Material Inscriptions can never close itself off – because, in rhetorical terms, it is not a closed tropological system – it ultimately (i.e., endlessly) tells only the story of the impossibility of self-­reflection and self-­reference. The fable of fable “itself” is precisely not a self. In the phrase “the fable of fable” – as in the title “The Altar of the Dead” – the most important word turns out to be the “of,” for it is the mark of an irreducible asymmetry like that between, for example, one and zero, or, better, between zero and zero: that is, between 0 as an expression of a negative quantity and 0 as a mere marker or place-­holder in an order. The text’s “self-­reflection” – once it is read, i.e., understood “linguistically” (with language understood as a radically “open” tropological system) – gets undone by its own, an other, echo, thematized in “The Altar of the Dead” as that of (the) woman. It is an echo that disarticulates the original sound by showing that it was always already disarticulated; a translation that kills the original by showing that it was always already dead26 – just as the woman’s gramma-­tical, allegorical reading of Stransom’s history reveals that history to have been allegory all along. There are many examples of (the) woman’s playing the disarticulating Echo to Stransom’s Narcissus – for instance, her reply to Stransom’s “one more, one more” at the end: “Ah, no more – no more” (290). Perhaps the most indicative for this text’s “genre” would be the exchange in the woman’s room at the point of the revelation: He was further conscious that he showed his companion a white face when he turned round on her with the exclamation: “Acton Hague!”   She gave him back his astonishment. “Did you know him?”   “He was the friend of all my youth – my early manhood. And you knew him?”   She colored at this, and for a moment her answer failed; her eyes took in everything in the place, and a strange irony reached her lips as she echoed: “Knew him?” (273)

The irony is “strange” because it has nothing to do with human, subjective intention or with human knowledge or with human memory, but rather is “the deep but unintended irony” (275) proper to language “itself” – an irony that makes both Stransom and the woman wince. This fable of fable is an ironic allegory whose best moral may be another of (the) woman’s echoing replies to Stransom’s “just one more”: “Don’t talk of it – don’t think of it; forget it!” (289).27

Notes   1. This chapter originally appeared in Yale French Studies 74 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), an issue on French symbolism entitled

Reading Over Endless Histories    ­155 Phantom Proxies: Symbolism and the Rhetoric of History and edited by Kevin Newmark. I have kept the somewhat unwieldy opening because it is directly pertinent to the reading of James’s tale and perhaps has a ­pedagogical value.  2. See Charles Feidelson, Symbolism and American Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), and the chapter on “Allegory and Symbolism” in F. O. Matthiessen, American Renaissance (New York: Oxford University Press, 1941).   3. See Kevin Newmark’s Introduction to Yale French Studies 74.   4. All page references within the body of the text are to Henry James, The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Novels (New York: Signet, 1962). This volume prints the version of “The Altar of the Dead” originally published in Terminations (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1895), which differs slightly from the version in the New York Edition.   5. Cf. Paul de Man’s strategy in regard to “Romanticism” in “Genesis and Genealogy,” in Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), p. 82: “It could be that the so-­called Romantics came closer than we do to undermining the absolute authority of this system. If this were the case, one may well wonder what kind of historiography could do justice to the phenomenon of Romanticism, since Romanticism (itself a period concept) would then be the movement that challenges the genetic principle which necessarily underlies all historical narrative.” Cf. also Kevin Newmark’s reading of Kierkegaard’s Abraham in “Between Hegel and Kierkegaard: The Space of Translation,” Genre 16:4 (Winter 1983), pp. 373–88. How recover Abraham in a speculative dialectical history when Abraham is precisely the figure for the sacrifice of the very possibility of such a history (i.e., the promise of the future that Isaac represents)? See Newmark’s extensive reading of Kierkegaard in his recent Irony on Occasion: From Schlegel and Kierkegaard to Derrida and de Man (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012).  6. Quoted in S. Gorley Putt, A Reader’s Guide to Henry James (London: Thames and Hudson, 1966), p. 392.   7. Ibid. pp. 392–4.   8. Ibid. pp. 393–4.   9. For a reading of catachresis and its (self-­)mutilations, see my “Prefatory Postscript: Interpretation and Reading,” in Readings in Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), and the second half of Chapter 8 below. 10. See Nathaniel Hawthorne’s account of the “origins” of The Scarlet Letter in the Custom-­House preface; Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter, ed. Sculley Bradley, Richmond Croom Beatty, and E. Hudson Long (New York: Norton, 1962). Here the object swirls around the tale (the physical letter A is wrapped around the foolscap sheets on which its story is written). 11. Henry James, Eight Tales from the Major Phase (New York: Norton, 1969), p. 99. 12. This is not belied by the fact that James was able to write about the writing of “The Altar of the Dead” in both The Notebooks and the Preface for the New York Edition. A reading of both accounts would turn up the same

­156    Material Inscriptions mutual intrication of the organic and the mechanical chains, the edifyingly dialectical and the somewhat mundanely economic. For instance, here is the opening of the Preface: “‘The Altar of the Dead’ forms part of a volume bearing the title of ‘Terminations,’ which appeared in 1895. Figuring last in that collection of short pieces, it here stands at the head of my list, not as prevailing over its companions by length, but as being ample enough and of an earlier date than several. I have to add that with this fact of its temporal order, and the fact that, as I remember, it had vainly been ‘hawked about,’ knocking, in the world of magazines, at half a dozen editorial doors impenetrably closed to it, I shall have exhausted my fund of allusion to the influences attending its birth. I consult memory further to no effect; so that if I should seem to have lost every trace of ‘how I came to think’ of such a motive, didn’t I, by a longer reach of reflexion, help myself back to the state of not having had to think of it? The idea embodied in this composition must in other words never have been so absent from my view as to call for an organised search. It was ‘there’ – it had always, or from ever so far back, been there, not interfering with other conceits, yet at the same time not interfered with; and it naturally found expression at the first hour something more urgently undertaken happened not to stop the way.” Henry James, The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1934), p. 241. The contrast between the longer reach of reflexion which leads to the conclusion that the story was never not there, not not there, and its having been “‘hawked about’” (a phrase whose ­genealogy is worth tracing) would take a reading far. 13. De Man, Allegories of Reading, p. 262. 14. The text uses the figure of “face” quite often. For instance, Stransom is said at the end to be “face to face with his little legion” (p. 286) when he faces his candles for the last time. 15. Richard A. Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969), p. 105. 16. Oswald Ducrot and Tzvetan Todorov, Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Sciences of Language, trans. Catherine Porter (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979), p. 279. The last sentence of the second section provides a more “literal” example of zeugma. After Stransom reads of Hague’s death, “He went cold, suddenly, and horribly cold, to bed” (p. 258). The yoking is of “He went cold” – where “cold” is an adjective – and “He went . . . to bed” – where “cold” would have to be an adverb modifying the verb. The awkwardness of “cold” used as an adverb signals the zeugma of “going cold” and “going to bed.” 17. See the section “Plus de métaphore” in Jacques Derrida’s “La mythologie blanche,” in Marges (Paris: Minuit, 1972). 18. See Paul de Man on Hegel and the “grammatical subject” of allegory in “Sign and Symbol in Hegel’s Aesthetics,” in Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). 19. See “transom” in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969). 20. Cf. Stransom’s naming activity: “He numbered them, he named them, he grouped them – it was the silent roll call of his Dead” (p. 260) or “Each of his lights had a name for him” (p. 262).

Reading Over Endless Histories    ­157 21. On the zero, see for example Paul de Man’s “Pascal’s Allegory of Persuasion,” in Aesthetic Ideology, and my reading of it in “Allegories of Reference,” in Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013). See also Lancelot Hogben, “The Dawn of Nothing,” in Mathematics for the Million (New York: Norton, 1983), p. 243: “Once mankind had the zero symbol at its disposal, another advantage was manifest. Its invention liberated the human intellect from the prison bars of the counting frame. The new script was a complete model of the mechanical process one performs with it. With a sign for the empty column, ‘carrying over’ on slate, paper or parchment is just as easy as carrying over on the abacus.” See also Alphonse Michelot, La Notion du zéro chez l’enfant (Paris: Vrin, 1966), p. 14: “Mais, nous remarquerons que ‘sunya’ et ‘sifr’ signifient ‘vide,’ et que ces symboles ont une fonction précise: ils occupent une place vide dans l’écriture d’un nombre. Ils n’ont pas le sens de ‘rien’ que nous attribuons communément aujourd’hui à zéro.” 22. See Jacques Derrida on “undecidability” in “The Double Session,” in Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 221. French (“une cheville syntaxique”) in La Dissémination (Paris: Seuil, 1972), p. 250. Insofar as “plug” implies a filling in or a plugging up rather than a place-­holding, it is not as good a translation as, say, “dowel.” 23. See, again, de Man, “Sign and Symbol,” and paragraphs 462 and 463 of Hegel’s Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences: G. W. F. Hegel, Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften III (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970). 24. See de Man, Allegories of Reading, p. 205. Also see J. Hillis Miller, “Reading Part of a Paragraph by Paul de Man,” in Wlad Godzich and Lindsay Waters (eds), Reading De Man Reading (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989). 25. Examples of such interpretations range from Leon Edel’s of “The Altar of the Dead” to Eve Sedgwick’s of the very similar set-­up in “The Beast in the Jungle.” Although Edel’s biographical interpretation is stronger than some – for instance, he recognizes “a power-­struggle between a man and a woman” in the story – he nevertheless sees the story as James’s way of recovering from the negativity of Constance Fenimore Woolson’s suicide. In committing suicide, Fenimore had wronged James – “His altar was spattered with her blood” – and so in order to repossess her, James (“who sought total vision and total insight”) writes “The Altar of the Dead” – an autobiographical text in which he may recognize himself and recover his (self-­)negation. In short, Edel takes Stransom literally, inscribes James (and himself) in the text as the deluded Stransom, wants to have James recognize himself (and wants Edel to recognize himself) in precisely the story that narrates the impossibility of recognizing yourself in a text. See Leon Edel, Henry James, The Middle Years (New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1962), pp. 382–5. Sedgwick’s identification of the “nothing” of Marcher’s fate as not a mere determinate negation – i.e., as referring “to the perfectly specific absence of a prescribed heterosexual desire” – but as having an “oblique relation to a very different history of meanings” goes a long

­158    Material Inscriptions way in the direction of reading the asymmetry between the man and the woman. Nevertheless, her reading does not go far enough, is not asymmetrical enough, because she needs to identify this “nothing”: “I would argue that to the extent that Marcher’s secret has a content, that content is homosexual.” Her insight may be right about men in the late nineteenth century, about Henry James’s biography, and, perhaps, even about “The Beast in the Jungle” (although I would dispute that). But insofar as the text of “The Altar of the Dead” (and, I would say, of “The Beast in the Jungle”) is able to include in its economy, indeed even thematize, homosexual desire, its identification does not amount to a sufficiently “oblique,” sufficiently asymmetrical, negative. It is still very much within Stransom’s economy of metaphorical exchange – for instance, note the easy substitution between the “descent” of Mary Antrim and the descent of Acton Hague at the end. Hence to take it as the oblique, asymmetrical “nothing” is ultimately to remain at the level of thematic reading, still inscribed on Stransom’s altar (as still within a closed tropological system). See Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “The Beast in the Closet: James and the Writing of Homosexual Panic,” in Ruth Bernard Yeazell (ed.), Sex, Politics, and Science in the Nineteenth-­ Century Novel (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 168–71. 26. See Paul de Man’s lecture “‘Conclusions’: Walter Benjamin’s ‘The Task of the Translator’,” in The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), and Neil Hertz’s essay on de Man, “Lurid Figures,” in Godzich and Waters (eds), Reading De Man Reading. 27. Echoes are thematized throughout the story. Another way in which the disarticulating asymmetry between Stransom and the woman is thematized is in the mutual interference of the metaphorical chains of sight and hearing. For instance: “His forgiveness was silence, but hers was mere unuttered sound. The light she had demanded for his altar would have broken his silence with a blare; whereas all the lights in the church were for her too great a hush” (280). The upshot is that her light is a blare in his silence; his lights are too great a hush in her concert. This is another asymmetrical chiasmus whose negative cannot be recovered because of their different conceptions of it: his is a silence (i.e., absence of sound); hers is a hush (i.e., unuttered sound). In short, there is no one church, no one altar, in which his silence and her lights, her blare and his lights, could be reconciled. The passage could be read profitably against the earlier passage on sound/echo, original type/reflection (260).

Chapter 7

Ending Up/Taking Back (with Two Postscripts on Paul de Man’s Historical Materialism)

J. DERRIDA: I have the feeling – again speaking hastily in straightforward terms of immediate feelings – I have the feeling that what I am doing is more referential than most discourses that I call into question. The impossibility of reducing reference, that is what I am trying to say – and of reducing the other. What I’m doing is thinking about difference along with thinking about the other. And the other is the hard core of reference. It’s exactly what we can’t reinsert into interiority, into the homogeneity of some protected place. So thinking about difference is thinking about “ference.” And the irreducibility of “ference” is the other. It’s what is other, which is different. J. CREECH: The irreducibility of what, did you call it? J. DERRIDA: “Ference.” Reference. Of “that which carries.” J. CREECH: Ah, I see. J. DERRIDA: Yes, a referent is what “carries back to.” Referent, means “referring to the other.” And I think that the ultimate referent is the other. And the other is precisely what can never allow itself to be closed again within any closure whatsoever. So that’s what I’m trying to say. It is just as paradoxical for me to see this thought translated as a thought without reference, as it is to see textual thought translated as thought about language. Language games. It’s just as topsy-­turvy in the one case as in the other. from “Deconstruction in America: An Interview with Jacques Derrida,” James Creech, Peggy Kamuf, and Jane Todd1

Paul de Man’s work – his writing, his teaching – had and continues to have a way of getting under people’s skin.2 (Indeed, as de Man himself said at one lecture occasion, this is the moment when things become interesting: “when one gets under people’s skin, when some resistance develops . . .”) Among the many statements and pronouncements that have succeeded in provoking this kind of response, perhaps one of the most notorious, one that seems to have rankled more intensely and for longer, is the well-­known sentence toward the end of “Semiology and Rhetoric”: “This will in fact be the task of literary criticism in the coming years” (138).3 In the immediate context of the essay, “this” refers to the “kind of analysis” that de Man has just performed on a

­160    Material Inscriptions passage in Proust. The analysis demonstrates that this passage – whose seductive power seems to rest on an entire tropological system of metaphorical exchanges and substitutions and which itself, on the thematic level, values the “necessary link” of a figuration based on the constitution of entities and their intrinsic properties over a figuration that works by the contingent juxtaposition of merely contiguous elements – that this passage in attempting to complete and close off its system of metaphor nevertheless has recourse to an idiomatic expression, a cliché, an automatic juxtaposition of words whose epistemological authority is at the very least questionable since it is as mechanical as the workings of grammar. “This,” then, is a demonstration of what de Man here calls “the grammatization of rhetoric,” a certain demystification of the authority of metaphor – whose claim to authority is by no means negligible, for if inquired into rigorously enough, it would coincide with the authority of what can be called “metaphysics.” (“It turns out,” writes de Man, “that in these innocent-­looking didactic exercises we are in fact playing for sizable stakes” [136].) Hence it is not surprising that de Man does not hesitate to call “this” kind of analysis “deconstructive reading.” “This” kind of reading, then – reading as such – is declared to be the task of literary criticism in the coming years. But what rankled the critics – what got under their skins – was not so much the meaning deposited in the term “reading” or “deconstructive reading” – or the apparently quick move from the microscopic analysis of a passage in Proust to “metaphysics” – but rather the claim that this kind of reading will be, “will in fact be,” as the essay puts it, the task of literary criticism, our task, in the coming years. What overweening self-­confidence about the future! What authoritarian bullying about the facts! This may be – this may have been – the task of de Man when he was alive and it may remain the task of his disciples, but who is he to talk about the task of “literary criticism” itself? That “reading,” even “deconstructive reading,” has had its (brief) moment in the (metaphysical?) sun no one will deny. But that “it will in fact be the task of literary criticism in the coming years” is belied by the facts themselves, for those coming years have come and gone, and today it is only the unreconstructed fanatics, the faithful disciples or hopeless clones, who continue to chatter about “reading” (and about “rigor” and “stakes” and “epistemological authority” etc.). In short, so runs the line, de Man may have been a smart fellow who may have been right about many things – including reading – but a prophet he was not. History, history itself, has caught up to him and overtaken him – and not least of all as the return of a certain repressed past in the form of the Wartime Journalism. Hence the irony – at de Man’s expense – that has

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attended each republication and reprinting of “Semiology and Rhetoric” (originally published in Diacritics in 1973) and its apparently hapless prophesying, first in Allegories of Reading in 1979 and since then in countless anthologies over the coming (and going) years. (One would indeed be tempted to apply the opening sentences of de Man’s essay to the essay itself: “To judge from various recent publications, the spirit of the times is not blowing in the direction of formalist and intrinsic criticism. We may no longer be hearing very much about relevance, but we do continue to hear a great deal about reference, about the nonverbal ‘outside’ to which language refers, by which it is conditioned, and upon which it acts” [121].) If “history” (like “God”) does not seem to have been on de Man’s side – those “coming years” have been more cruel than kind – then perhaps we would be able to discover a more authentic, a more historically (never mind politically) “correct” account of the task of literary criticism in our time by moving to a critic who would seem to have had the spirit of the times blowing in his direction: for instance, Fredric Jameson, whose motto (“Always historicize”) and whose critical practice would seem to render him immune to misguided prophesies about the coming years and the hypostatization or reification or fetishization of a historically determined technique like that of de Man’s “reading” or “deconstructive reading.” Jameson’s essay “Symbolic Inference; or, Kenneth Burke and Ideological Analysis” (originally published in Critical Inquiry in 1978 and now reprinted in his The Ideologies of Theory [1988]) states in no uncertain terms what he takes to be the task of literary criticism in our time. I quote from the last page of the essay where Jameson recapitulates its beginnings and summarizes its conclusions: “At the beginning of the present essay, I proposed a checklist of the great contemporary critics, the great readers of an age that has discovered the symbolic; what I then neglected to add was that the art and practice of virtuoso reading does not seem to me to be the noblest function, the most urgent mission, of the literary and cultural critic in our time. In a society like ours, not stricken with aphasia so much as with amnesia, there is a higher priority than reading and that is history itself” (152).4 The contrast to de Man’s ending in “Semiology and Rhetoric” – even though Jameson symptomatically (in 1978) does not list de Man among the virtuoso readers of our time5 – could not be clearer: our time, our society, does not need readers, especially not those readers who have made fashionable what Jameson elsewhere in the essay calls “the primacy of language,” “the more mindless forms of the fetishism of language,” and “the ideologies of the intrinsic and of the antireferential text.” Indeed, Jameson is so set on the priority of what he calls “history” over what he calls “reading”

­162    Material Inscriptions that he goes so far as to prefer critics who are positively bad readers – as though their lack of reading talent were a badge of honor or evidence that they had been man enough to withstand the seductive wiles and snares of the literary text. The paragraph continues: “there is a higher priority than reading and that is history itself: so the very greatest critics of our time – Lukács, for example, and to a lesser degree, Leavis – are those who have construed their role as the teaching of history, as the telling of the tale of the tribe, the most important story any of us will ever have to listen to, the narrative of that implacable yet also emancipatory logic whereby the human community has evolved into its present form and developed the sign systems by which we live and explain our lives to ourselves. So urgently do we need these history lessons, indeed, that they outweigh the palpable fact that neither critic just mentioned is a good, let alone a virtuoso, reader, that each could justly be reproached for his tin ear and his puritanical impatience with the various jouissances of the literary text” (152). In short, hearing a joyless story – or rather a joyful story joylessly told6 – is what is most important, most urgent, for us, and those who tell it to us are the most noble (if a bit dour) story-­ tellers. Again, the contrast to de Man’s ending could not be more stark – reading versus precisely not reading – and a remark toward the beginning of “Semiology and Rhetoric” that one could take as a response to the tendency represented by Jameson’s statements – “It is a fact that this sort of thing happens again and again in literary studies” (122) – seems to ring hollow indeed when confronted with the authority of “history” itself. On the one hand, this difference and this contrast between de Man (and reading) and Jameson (and history) is not at all surprising. Indeed, what could be more self-­ evident than this opposition between the “deconstructionist” who fetishizes language, the antireferential text, and its reading and the “Marxist” who is against all that but for the mediation of text and context and the work of what he calls “transcoding” between superstructures and base. But things are a bit more complicated once we get past the labels and the name-­calling and begin to inquire into what de Man means by language, text, and reading, and what Jameson means by history. For, on the other hand, despite the apparent divergence in their apparent evaluations of “reading,” de Man’s and Jameson’s essays agree on one fundamental point: both have the same main target insofar as both are written against, both are a critique of, any simple division between sign and meaning, text and the referential reality putatively “outside” it, language and reality, and so on, and hence both are a critique of the false division between “intrinsic” (or formalist) and “extrinsic” criticism. Jameson is particularly eloquent

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in negotiating the treacherous straits between the Scylla and Charybdis of literary criticism: “Now to insist on either of these two dimensions of symbolic action without the other – to overemphasize the way in which the text organizes its subtext (in order, presumably, to reach the conclusion that the ‘referent’ does not exist) or on the other hand to stress the instrumental nature of the symbolic act to the point where reality, understood no longer as a subtext but rather as some mere inert given, is once again delivered over into the hands of that untrustworthy auxiliary, Common Sense – to stress either of these functions of symbolic action at the expense of the other is surely to produce sheer ideology, whether it be, in the first alternative, the ideology of structuralism or, in the second, that of vulgar materialism” (142). If for Jameson the possibility of avoiding (or at least not producing) these two ideologies depends on the work of reconstructing the subtext and mediating it with the text – or, as he puts it, “an imperative to reinvent a relationship between the linguistic or aesthetic or conceptual fact in question and its social ground” (140) – a work that, in the end, cannot take place without the labor of the negative conceived of as a determinate negation, then for de Man the critique of the false division between intrinsic and extrinsic criticism takes place as a more difficult, more retorse, movement of thought which is anything but a mediation of the terms. Instead, de Man’s text operates a wholesale rethinking and rewriting of both the terms – sign/meaning, text/referent, language/reality, “linguistic fact”/“social ground,” and so on – and their economy. (In fact, one could more easily speak of a “disjunction” rather than a mediation – as long, of course, as one reads the word disjunction the way de Man does.) It is in this movement of thought, of text, I would say, that we can begin to determine the real divergence between de Man and Jameson, reading and history. Neither Jameson’s good intentions (to mediate text and context) nor his good conscience is in question here. But since the same cannot be said as easily for de Man – and since this was originally written for a colloquium on the work of Paul de Man (and not of Fredric Jameson) – I am going to focus on de Man’s critique of the intrinsic/ extrinsic, inside/outside, opposition in “Semiology and Rhetoric.” “Semiology and Rhetoric” would not seem to be the most obvious place to look for a de Man not in the thrall of what Jameson calls the ideology “of the intrinsic and of the antireferential text” or “the fetishism of language.” If one is looking for de Man’s “materialism” or for his vision of “the materiality of actual history,”7 the late work on the critique of aesthetic ideology would seem a more logical place to go – especially if one subscribes to the historicizing (i.e., in de Manian terms: pseudo-­historical) account of de Man’s progress as a story that goes from

­164    Material Inscriptions phenomenologico-­Heideggerian beginnings through a “linguistic” or a “rhetorical” turn to the critique of ideology. (“If only he had lived . . .,” we would have gotten those fabled projected essays on Kierkegaard, on Marx, on Kenneth Burke. I don’t subscribe to this history – that is, neither this “history” of the development of de Man’s work nor the conception of history behind it.8) For, indeed, is not “Semiology and Rhetoric” the very place where one can locate that linguistic turn, the turn to a rhetorical model of language and the text? Well, yes and no – it all depends on how one understands language in this text. Let me remind you of the argument. The essay begins by identifying its main target: that is, the naive opposition of form and meaning based on a metaphorical inside/outside model – as though the text were a box to be opened. The extrinsic critic takes the form – the external cover or ­container – as the decorative, superfluous external outside, and the meaning – the content or the text’s reference to a psychological or a social or a historical reality, say – as the essential inside; whereas the intrinsic or the formalist critic takes the meaning – the non-­verbal outside to which the text presumably refers – as the external, and the form – that which is to be understood or made visible by the interpreter – as the internal, the inside, of the text. The symmetrical chiasmic reversal is clear: what is called inside in one type of criticism is called outside in the other; what is called outside in the one is inside in the other. As de Man writes: “When form is considered to be the external trappings of literary meaning or content, it seems superficial and expendable. The development of intrinsic, formalist criticism in the twentieth century has changed this model: form is now a solipsistic category of self-­reflection, and the referential meaning is said to be extrinsic. The polarities of inside and outside have been reversed, but they are still the same polarities that are at play: internal meaning has become outside reference, and the outer form has become the intrinsic structure” (122–3). Behind this metaphorical inside/outside model of the text (and of literature and of language) is the dream of a reconciliation between content and form, meaning and form – the dream of getting around the danger of having meaning blot out form or of allowing the opacity of the form to make meaning inaccessible. De Man summarizes: “Thus, with the structure of the code so opaque, but with the meaning so anxious to blot out the obstacle of form, it is no wonder that the reconciliation of form and meaning seems so attractive. The attraction of reconciliation is the elective breeding-­ground of false models and metaphors; it accounts for the metaphorical model of literature as a kind of box that separates an inside from an outside, with the reader or critic as the person who opens the lid in order to release into the open what was secreted but inaccessible inside. It matters little whether we call the

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inside of the box the content or the form and the outside the meaning or the appearance. The recurrent debate opposing intrinsic to extrinsic criticism stands under the aegis of an inside/outside metaphor that has never been seriously questioned” (123). There are many implications to be drawn from this compact rhetorical reading of the history of literary criticism – not the least of which is the implication that in the passage from extrinsic to intrinsic criticism and vice versa, nothing happens: that, in short, such passages are not historical in any meaningful sense of history but rather are the simple working out of a pattern built into an inside/outside metaphor and the ideology that supports it, namely the ideology of the aesthetic.9 (As de Man writes, again: “It is a fact that this sort of thing happens again and again in literary studies” [122].) These implications aside, what I would mark here is that the essay itself stands under the aegis of this opening critique of the inside/outside metaphorical model of the text (and of language) and the “easy play of [symmetrical] chiasmic reversals” (123) that it leads to. If we remember this beginning, then we will be less likely to mistake the analyses that follow in the essay as ending up in any notion of the text or of language as simply “intrinsic” or “antireferential.” The analyses themselves are well known – indeed notorious in the case of the Archie Bunker example – and there is no need to paraphrase them in detail for my purposes here. Instead, I will simply re-­mark the pattern of their itinerary. In brief: what de Man proposes to do is to speculate on a different set of terms – “perhaps less simple in their differential relationship than the strictly polar, binary opposition between inside and outside” (123) – which, in this case, are “grammar” and “rhetoric.” He derives these terms – which, he reminds us, are as old as the hills (presumably because they come from the general linguistic model of the trivium: grammar, logic, rhetoric) – pragmatically from developments in current critical methodology. By these developments he means semiology, “the science or study of words as signifiers” which bases itself on the linguistic model of structural linguistics. One of the striking characteristics of literary semiology, says de Man, is its use of grammatical structures conjointly with rhetorical structures, in fact, its attempt to reduce rhetorical structures to grammatical structures, to reduce figure to grammar – as though they were continuous or homogeneous. The examples of rhetorical questions – Archie Bunker and the last line of Yeats’s “Among School Children” – would put the possibility of this reduction into question. The examples would show that the clear syntactical pattern of the question becomes undecidable because we cannot decide the question’s rhetorical mode by purely grammatical means, that is, by taking language as a grammatical code to be decoded.

­166    Material Inscriptions De Man summarizes: “The grammatical model of the question becomes rhetorical not when we have, on the one hand, a literal meaning and, on the other hand, a figural meaning, but when it is impossible to decide by grammatical or other linguistic devices which of the two meanings (that can be entirely contradictory) prevails” (129). The point is clear: it is not just that there are two meanings (one literal and one figurative) that may contradict one another, but rather that the level of meaning, rhetoric, always comes to interfere with the grammar of the sentence. It is an example of what de Man in this essay calls “the rhetorization of grammar.” The reading of the Proust passage that follows is, of course, an example of the reverse – there it is in fact a rhetorical, i.e., metaphorical, model of the text that gets interfered with by the merely metonymical juxtaposition or contiguity of a grammatical structure. This is in turn an example of what de Man calls “the grammatization of rhetoric.” So: the chiasmic reversal could not be clearer – we go from the rhetorization of grammar to the grammatization of rhetoric. Although there at first seems to be a difference where we end up in the case of the one and of the other – with the rhetorization of grammar we wind up suspended in our ignorance or undecidability, with the grammatization of rhetoric we get a negative assurance, a knowledge productive of more deconstructive activity – because of the apparent reversibility of each, both ultimately lead to “the same state of suspended ignorance” (140). What is this, then, if not an example of our being stuck within language, circulating idly (or busily) from grammar to rhetoric and back? Is not this indeed the fetishism of language and the antireferential text? Not quite. Not quite not only because de Man explicitly stated at the beginning of the essay that the speculation on the terms grammar and rhetoric should not be confused with the inside/outside polarity and the easy play of chiasmic reversals. (In other words, grammar and rhetoric may be just other words for “form” and “meaning,” but their relationship is not that of inside and outside [or outside and inside].) To take de Man’s conclusion as one that deposits us, leaves us, within language would be a mistake, since whatever language is by this point it is not an inside (or an outside). Perhaps we could get at what else it may be by remembering the third articulating term crucial to understanding both the rhetorization of grammar and the grammatization of rhetoric: namely, logic, the third component of the trivium along with grammar and rhetoric. Logic enters upon the scene of both the grammatical and the rhetorical (or metaphorical) models of language and the text. The project and the dream of the grammatical model is to reduce all utterances, all language, to a code which, as a code (i.e., whose meanings need only to be decoded), is universalizable into a logic, “the possibility of the universal

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truth of meanings” (as de Man helpfully defines it for us in his discussion of Peirce [128]). But because the rhetorical function of language always interferes with this project, de Man can say that “Rhetoric radically suspends logic and opens up vertiginous possibilities of referential aberration.” For indeed if the meaning of no utterance can ever be decided by purely grammatical means because its meaning always depends on some decision of its rhetorical mode, then the possibility of universalizing the truth of meanings and thereby making an unbroken passage to logic and from there to the arithmetical sciences of the quadrivium (and hence to the knowledge of the “outside,” non-­verbal, phenomenal world) is radically suspended.10 What the rhetorization of grammar does, then, is to defeat the attempt to close off language, systematize it, and then to make an unbroken passage to a “referential” reality that would also be closed upon itself and closed off from language, i.e., extra-­linguistic, non-­verbal. In the case of the reverse, the grammatization of rhetoric, logic enters in a different way, but with similar results. That is, the project and the dream of a “rhetorical” model of language is to conceive of language as a tropological system, a system of metaphor, of substitutions and exchanges based on a knowledge of entities and their (exchangeable) properties: in short, based on an ontology, an onto-­logic, a logic of beings, of metaphysical meanings, one could say. What comes to defeat this project and this dream is the grammatical function of language, all its purely formal, mechanical structures that are necessary to constitute meaning but that are themselves not meaningful. In other words, the project of this “rhetorical” model of language is also to close it off, as a closed tropological system this time, and thereby to make an unbroken passage – “unbroken” because the passage can now take place as a controllable, reliable, metaphorical transfer11 – to a world of beings that is outside but that is as closed off, analogously, as the world of meanings in metaphor. Now, since both of these models fail in their respective projects, in the demonstration of this failure (the rhetorization of grammar, the grammatization of rhetoric) to be brought back from one to the other – from grammar to rhetoric and from rhetoric to grammar – does not mean to be brought back to the same thing. Indeed, if anything, it means to be brought back to the other – that is, the other of language, that which always makes language different from itself, makes it defer itself, makes it carry it and us back . . . to the other.12 This carrying back could “properly” be called the referential – re-­fer, to carry back – function of language, and to the extent that de Man’s readings take us back to an other, or an otherness, of language, his “model” of language (and the text) is a truly referential model. And it is referential not because it

­168    Material Inscriptions takes us back to some “referential” reality “outside” ­language – for that would in fact only be the attempt to restitute the inside/outside model of language in relation to reality – but rather because it refuses any totalization of either what is called language or what is called reality. Paradoxically – but consistently and predictably – enough, it is he (or she) who does not assume or start out with a presumed referential reality on one side (outside) and language on the other (the inside) that ends up with a referential model, a movement that takes us “out” (or “in”?), back, to the other.13 I use these idiomatic expressions – “end up in,” “taking back” – advisedly, for they are the very expressions that riddle de Man’s essay, whether in the form of these words or similar ones. For instance, at the “end”: “We end up, therefore . . .” or elsewhere, “We seem to end up in a mood of negative assurance . . .” or “The former ends up in indetermination . . .” and others. This “ending up” chain is doubled, shadowed, by another one, the chain of taking back: “We are back at our unanswered question . . .” or “We return to the inside/ outside model . . .” or “The deconstruction of metaphor . . . takes us back to the impersonal precision of grammar . . .” or “Our recurrent question . . .” or “The recurrent debate . . .” and others. If the former – the “ending up” chain – would want to end up in a “theory” or a “model” of language – whether “grammatical” or “rhetorical” – the latter – the chain of “taking back” – pulls back, away, from any such ending and takes back to the impossibility of any “theory” or “model” of language and text. So where do we end up with “Semiology and Rhetoric”? It turns out that we end up precisely with semiology and rhetoric. That is, we don’t end up anywhere – only in reference, in taking back, in being taken back, to the other. It is the sort of thing that happens again and again, but this time as a real, material happening, that is as a text – semiology and rhetoric as text – and hence as historical, history. And as history, it will in fact be the task of literary criticism in the coming years. No wonder it keeps getting under the skin.14

Postscript #1: History, Materiality, Reading “In a genuine semiology as well as in other linguistically oriented theories, the referential function of language is not being denied – far from it; what is in question is its authority as a model for natural or phenomenal cognition. Literature is fiction not because it somehow refuses to acknowledge ‘reality,’ but because it is not a priori certain that language functions according to principles which are those, or which are like those, of the phenomenal world. It is therefore not a priori certain that literature is a reliable source of ­information about anything but its own language.

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  “It would be unfortunate, for example, to confuse the materiality of the signifier with the materiality of what it signifies. This may seem obvious on the level of light and sound, but it is less so with regard to the more general phenomenality of space, time or especially of the self; no one in his right mind will try to grow grapes by the luminosity of the word ‘day,’ but it is very difficult not to conceive the pattern of one’s past and future existence as in accordance with temporal and spatial schemes that belong to fictional narratives and not to the world. This does not mean that fictional narratives are not part of the world and of reality; their impact upon the world may well be all too strong for comfort. What we call ideology is precisely the confusion of linguistic with natural reality, of reference with phenomenalism. It follows that, more than any other mode of inquiry, including economics, the linguistics of literariness is a powerful and indispensable tool in the unmasking of ideological aberrations, as well as a determining factor in accounting for their occurrence. Those who reproach literary theory for being oblivious to social and historical (that is to say ideological) reality are merely stating their fear at having their own ideological mystifications exposed by the tool they are trying to discredit. They are, in short, very poor readers of Marx’s German Ideology.” Paul de Man, “The Resistance to Theory”

But in using terms like “material” and “history,” we have all too abruptly made a passage to the terminology of de Man’s last work on the critique of “aesthetic ideology.” To make it less abrupt, it may be good to double back and explain how we got there – how de Man gets there – from what we have called the “referential” function of language. A good place to look for what de Man himself means by “referential” is “Roland Barthes and the Limits of Structuralism,” an essay written around the same time as “Semiology and Rhetoric” (around 1972) and whose reading of Barthes no doubt formed the occasion for the writing of “Semiology and Rhetoric.”15 The essay is especially valuable not only because it is utterly straightforward in its assertion of what can be called the “irreducibility” of reference and of the referential function of language but also because it explicitly links this irreducibility to the question of ideology-­critique. De Man’s reading of Barthes consists of an exposition and a critique. Since both exposition and critique are particularly clear, we can go a long way by simply paraphrasing it. The exposition begins by tracing the “euphoric, slightly manic tone” of Barthes’s writing: “It is the tone of a man liberated from a constraining past, who has ‘the earth . . . all before [him],’ and who looks about ‘with a heart / Joyous, not scared of its own liberty.’ The exact nature of this liberation can best be stated in linguistic terms, in a formula partly borrowed from Barthes himself: it is the liberation of the signifier from the constraints of referential meaning” (166–7).16 Barthes, in short, is a leading representative and

­170    Material Inscriptions advocate of the science of semiology – “the study of signs independently of their meaning” (168). How is it, de Man asks, that the ideas about language leading to the science of semiology acquired such a polemical vigor in the hands of Barthes? After all, these ideas had been around for quite a while in various philosophies of language and in the formalist schools of literary criticism. (Indeed, as “Semiology and Rhetoric” puts it, semiology turned out to be the way that the nimble French literary mind finally made a contact with the question of form – something that American and other literary critics had faced without the help of linguistics [although this does not mean, adds de Man, that we can do without “a preventative semiological hygiene altogether” (124)].) What Barthes has done, however, is to use his gifted semiological eye “to scrutinize not only literature, but social and cultural facts as well, treating them in the same manner as a formalistically oriented literary critic would treat a literary text” (168), his early Mythologies being the best example of “this kind of semio-­critical sociology” (169). And even though Barthes had probably not read the undisputed masters of the genre when he wrote Mythologies – Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno – the common ancestry is nevertheless apparent from his references, in the concluding essay on history and myth, to Marx’s (and Engels’s) The German Ideology, “the model text for all ideological demystifications” (169). How and why the science of semiology grants its practitioners considerable power to demystify ideologies is easy enough to understand. Fictions – what Barthes calls “myths” – are more persuasive than facts. “Their order, their symmetry is possible because they are accountable only to themselves, yet these are precisely the qualities wishfully associated with the world of nature and necessity. As a result, the most superfluous of gestures are most likely to become the hardest to do without. Their very artificiality endows them with a maximum of natural appeal. Fictions or myths are addictive because they substitute for natural needs by seeming to be more natural than the nature they displace. The particular shade of bad conscience associated with fiction stems from the complicity involved in the partial awareness of this ambivalence coupled with an even stronger desire to avoid the revelation, public or private, of this knowledge. It follows that fictions are the most marketable commodity manufactured by man, an adman’s dream of perfect coincidence between description and promotion. Disinterested in themselves, they are the defenseless prey of any interest that wishes to use them. When they are thus being enlisted in the service of collective patterns of interest, including interests of the highest moral or metaphysical order – fictions become ideologies. One can see why any ideology would always have a vested interest in theories of language advocating the natural

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correspondence between sign and meaning, since they depend on the illusion of this correspondence for their effectiveness. On the other hand, theories of language that put into question the subservience, resemblance, or potential identity between sign and meaning are always subversive, even if they remain strictly confined to linguistic phenomena” (169–70). The passage states concisely the reasons for semiology’s demystifying power and its political implications – ­especially in the gifted hands of Barthes as he moves from the relatively innocent mystifications of catch-­as-­catch-­can wrestling to consumer goods to reach finally the domain of the printed word and image in movies or in Paris Match. But this very demystifying power of semiology is both a source of strength and a danger. The danger comes from the seemingly perfect convergence between Barthes’s social criticism and the means used to accomplish its highly desirable aims, for this convergence and its power engenders its own mystification, says de Man, this time on the level of method rather than of substance. In brief, the very power of the method creates an overconfidence in the possibility of grounding literary study on foundations strong enough to be called scientific. By asserting, as Roman Jakobson does, that in literature, the language is autotelic, i.e., focused on the message for its own sake rather than on its content, one gets rid of all the mess and muddle of signification and thereby opens up a heretofore undiscovered world of scientific discourse. “With the inevitable result,” continues de Man, “that the privileged adequation of sign to meaning that governs the world of fiction is taken as the ideal model towards which all semantic systems are assumed to tend. This model then begins to function as a regulatory norm by means of which all deviations and transformations of a given system are being evaluated. Literature becomes . . . a degree zero of semantic aberration. We know that it owes this privileged position to the bracketing of its referential function, dismissed as contingency or ideology, and not taken seriously as a semantic interference within the semiological structure” (172). The question remains, however, “whether the semantic, reference-­oriented function of literature can be considered as contingent or whether it is a constitutive element of all literary language” (173). The autotelic, non-­ referential aspect of literature stressed by Jakobson cannot be seriously contested, but then why is it “always and systematically overlooked” (173)? “All theoretical findings about literature confirm that it can never be reduced to a specific meaning or set of meanings, yet it is always reductively interpreted as if it were a statement or message” (173). Although Barthes grants the existence of this pattern of error, he denies that it is the object of literary science to account for it. It would

­172    Material Inscriptions rather be the task of historians – “thus implying that the reasons for the recurrent aberration are not linguistic but ideological” (173). In other words, the bracketing of the referential function that grants the semiologist so much power of formal analysis and demystification also exercises a seduction (a properly literary seduction) on the interpreter that leads him to make claims for the scientificity of literary study. A methodological move that is perfectly legitimate as such – for a certain formalism is a necessary preliminary for any discourse about literature that would want to be more than gossip about texts – issues in unwarranted claims for the method and a mistaking of its object. This is where we approach finally the main point of de Man’s critique: “That literature can be ideologically manipulated is obvious but does not suffice to prove that this distortion is not a particular aspect of a larger pattern of error. Sooner or later any literary study must face the problem of the truth of its own interpretations, no longer with the naive conviction of a priority of content over form, but as a consequence of the much more unsettling experience of being unable to cleanse its own discourse of aberrantly referential implications. The traditional concept of reading used by Barthes and based on the model of an encoding/ decoding process is inoperative if the master code remains out of reach of the operator, who then becomes unable to understand his own discourse. A science unable to read itself can no longer be called a science. The possibility of a scientific semiology is challenged by a problem that can no longer be accounted for in purely semiological terms” (174). The passage is particularly instructive for us in several respects. First of all, although its critique of semiology is very much the same as that contained in “Semiology and Rhetoric,” it is inflected differently: namely, on the problem of reference, of language’s, any language’s or any discourse’s, irreducible referential function. Here it does not seem to be a question of semiology’s attempt to grammatize rhetoric – and its inability to do so – but rather the impossibility of any language, any discourse, being able to gain a scientific vantage point on another language. Why can’t it? Because no matter how much it would want to bracket the referential function of its “object”-discourse, it can never “cleanse” its own discourse of “aberrantly referential implications.” Although it may be easy enough to understand this in general terms – for instance, that de Man means that one language can never gain “scientific” distance or objectivity upon another one because, as language, it is included in its object and therefore can never de-­fine, de-­limit, the borders and boundaries of its object and hence cannot perform the first step necessary for any science to constitute itself as such, as a science – there is a more precise way to read this passage in de Man’s own terms once we note the verbal

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echo between the phrase “aberrantly referential implications” here and the sentence in “Semiology and Rhetoric” towards the end of the first demonstration of the way rhetoric interferes with grammatical models of language and the text: “Rhetoric radically suspends logic and opens up vertiginous possibilities of referential aberration” (129). “Aberrantly referential”/“referential aberration” – familiar, recurrent formulations in de Man’s work: it is what his writing always again ends up taking us back to. And what it takes us back to is not some vague sense of aberration, but rather what the word says quite clearly and distinctly – ­ab-­errant, ab-­erration, it takes back to the error, the necessary error and errance, of reference, of taking back. Accounting for this necessary error is what de Man takes to be the task of literary study – and “accounting” for it does not at all mean making it the object of science, of epistemologically reliable knowledge – a task that Roland Barthes forgets when he would want to forget the referential function of language, all language, including the most “literary” or “fictional” or “mythic.” But the verbal echo also helps us because it identifies what it is that makes it impossible for the literary critical discourse to cleanse itself of aberrantly referential implications: namely, rhetoric. It is rhetoric that does this – that “suspends logic and opens up vertiginous possibilities of referential aberration” – and if these aberrantly referential, or referentially aberrant, possibilities can be identified with ideology, with the ideology that is always already “built into” language (including literary language), then it is rhetoric that prevents the literary critic, semiologist, or other formalist from cleansing his own discourse enough to be able to read it. How so? Presumably because the literary critic’s own discourse is always subject to the same question of its rhetorical mode – a question that, like all questions, is undecidable as to whether it really asks or not because its rhetorical function may always interfere with its grammatical status – and hence can never know what it is talking about. In other words, because it is impossible to cleanse critical discourse of the question of rhetoric (or of the rhetorical question), it is impossible to demystify or unmask its ideologies once and for all. It is here that we are brought back to “Semiology and Rhetoric” and the critical ideology that forms its main target: that is, the division between an intrinsic (or formalist) and an extrinsic criticism “that stands under the aegis of an inside/outside metaphor that has never been seriously questioned.” A criticism that stands under the aegis of the inside/outside metaphorical model of the text (and of language) is in the thrall of ideology, and all that it can do – whether it calls itself intrinsic and formalist or extrinsic and referential – is to reproduce more ideology. And ideology can be read here in de Man’s own sense as formulated in “The Resistance to

­174    Material Inscriptions Theory”: “What we call ideology is precisely the confusion of linguistic with natural reality, of reference with phenomenalism.” In the case of the inside/outside metaphor as a textual model, the confusion consists in thinking of the text, a linguistic artifact, in terms consistent with a phenomenology of the self and its experience of the “natural,” phenomenal world: here, as though the text were a box with an inside and an outside. To think language and text in this way is to take it as a mere content and an object of consciousness: in short, to take as language what is only its represented, alienated, ideological, ghostly self and not that which is its material reality. This is why the transition from an intrinsic to an extrinsic criticism (or vice versa) does not happen and hence is not historical, is not history. Since all that an extrinsic criticism does is to substitute a new content of consciousness for an old one, it is just as non-­referential as the intrinsic, formalist criticism: it is just as stuck in the predictable working out of an inside/outside metaphor and its ideologies. Only a criticism that is material, that butts up against the materiality of the text and of language, can be historical. Taken as an object or content of consciousness, language is not being thought in its materiality but only, as it were, according to its super-­structures – and those, as ideology, have no history. But, according to de Man, language as language – i.e., in its materiality – can never be the object of consciousness (or of knowledge or of science). This is quite explicit in the short but packed reading of Hegel in “Hypogram and Inscription”: “Consciousness . . . is not ‘false and misleading’ because of language; consciousness is language, and nothing else, because it is false and misleading.”17 One could summarize de Man here by rewriting the famous line of The German Ideology “Life is not determined by consciousness but consciousness by life”: “Language is not determined by consciousness, but rather consciousness is overdetermined by language.” For just as “life” in Marx’s sentence is not to be understood as mere natural, appetitive existence but rather as produced by labor and hence as historical, so language is not to be read as an object or content of consciousness but as the material, historical life of consciousness. Language is the material life of consciousness. Using such Marxian terms to begin to explain history and materiality in de Man may sound all too much like “historical materialism” to some, but unless we are very poor readers of The German Ideology we should also remember that Marx can sound a great deal like de Man. In going through the premises of human existence and history – which is a history of the material production of life – Marx, after four steps, finally gets to consciousness: “Only now, after having considered four moments, four aspects of primary historical relations, do we find that man also possesses ‘consciousness.’ But even from the outset this is not ‘pure’

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consciousness. The ‘mind’ is from the outset afflicted with the curse of being ‘burdened’ with matter, which here makes its appearance in the form of agitated layers of air, sounds, in short, of language. Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical, real consciousness that exists also for other men as well, and only therefore does it also exist for me.”18 So: if de Man is Marxian, then Marx is certainly de Manian, but it is not just any Marx but the Marx of The German Ideology, de Man’s consistent reference whenever the question of ideology and reference comes up (a book he seems to have read better than some so-­called Marxists). The upshot is that language, for de Man, is not an object of consciousness and therefore can never be the object of a science. This is because consciousness is language – meaning that it is “false and misleading,” i.e., ideology, aberrantly referential or referentially aberrant. The task of a truly historical, materialist criticism is not just to demystify the ideological aberrations – for that would mean to end up in a negative knowledge that, in the end, knows very little because it cannot know itself, i.e., cannot cleanse its own discourse of ideology – but to account for the recurrence of the mystification, aberration, or ideology. Such accounting would be historical, material, because it comes up against the materiality of language and the text, of language as text: its irreducibly referential function. What to call such accounting? De Man calls it reading. Language is a text in need of being read. But reading it does not mean emptying it out and filling it up with content. Those who do this – whether they fill up the content with form or with content, intrinsic or extrinsic, sign or meaning, and so on – and think that they are making a theoretical, never mind practical or political, difference are only reproducing (and teaching) not history but ideology. And a specific ideology at that, one that has a name: German Ideology. They are indeed very poor readers of Marx’s The German Ideology.

Postscript #2: Language, Consciousness, Allegory Rosso: Perhaps, now, you could tell us something about the book you are writing and about the “mysterious” chapters on Kierkegaard and Marx you mentioned in the lectures, and the frequent recurrence of the terms “ideology” and “politics” we have noticed recently . . . De Man: I don’t think I ever was away from these problems, they were always uppermost in my mind. I have always maintained that one could approach the problems of ideology and by extension the problems of politics only on the basis of critical-­linguistic analysis, which had to be done in its own terms, in the medium of language, and I felt I could approach those problems only after having achieved a certain control over those questions. It seems

­176    Material Inscriptions pretentious to say so, but it is not the case. I have the feeling I have achieved some control over technical problems of language, specifically problems of rhetoric, of the relation between tropes and performatives, of saturation of tropology as a field that in certain forms of language goes beyond that field . . . I feel now some control of a vocabulary and of a conceptual apparatus that can handle that. It was in working on Rousseau that I felt I was able to progress from purely linguistic analysis to questions which are really already of a political and ideological nature. So that now I feel to do it a little more openly, though in a very different way than what generally passes as “critique of ideology.” It is taking me back to Adorno and to attempts that have been made in that direction in Germany, to certain aspects of Heidegger, and I just feel that one has to face therefore the difficulty of certain explicitly political texts. It is also taking me back constantly to problems having to do with theology and with religious discourse, and that’s why the juxtaposition of Marx and Kierkegaard as the two main readers of Hegel appears to me as the crux, as the problem one has, in a way, to solve. I have not solved it and the fact that I keep announcing that I am going to do something about it is only to force myself to do so, because if I keep saying I’m going to do this and I don’t do it, I end up looking very foolish. So I have to force myself a little to do this, both in the case of Kierkegaard and in the case of Marx. It’s taking me first of all in a preparatory move, by forcing me to go back to Hegel and Kant, and I just hope that I won’t remain stuck in that. So I felt ready to say something about the problem of ideology, not out of a polemical urge. What has been said about it, what now is around in the books of Jameson or of other people, is not what spurred me to do this. As I said, it has always been a major concern and I now feel this problem of language somewhat more under control. What will come out of it, I just do not know because I do not work that way. What will come out, will come from the texts of Marx and Kierkegaard as I think they will have to read. And they have to be read from the perspective of critical-­linguistic analysis to which those texts have not been submitted. There has been very little on Kierkegaard along those lines and there has been even less on Marx, except, of course, for elements in Althusser that, I think, go in that direction. But I look forward to seeing what I will produce and know as little about it as anybody else. from Stefano Rosso, “An Interview with Paul de Man,” in Paul de Man, The Resistance to Theory

If the move to “history” and “materiality” at the end of the main part of the chapter was a bit fast and required some explanation, the remarks on language and consciousness in the first postscript – and my assimilation of de Man to Marx (and vice versa) – may seem a still faster move requiring still more explanation. Explaining this move comes down to reading the apparently quick juxtaposition of two statements: 1) language is not (and cannot be) the object or content of consciousness (or of knowledge or of science); and 2) this is because consciousness is language (which, my remarks claim, is consciousness in its materiality). This move requires some explanation not least of all because what

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it takes to be the reason for the impossibility of making language the object of consciousness (knowing, science) could more easily be taken as the very reason why language would be the best, because most reliably knowable, object of consciousness. That is, if consciousness is language, then the truth and essence of language should be just as determinable as that of consciousness. For in attempting to make language an object of knowing, consciousness (which is language) is trying to make itself its own object. What it wants to know is knowing, and what better way to do so than to know an object that is also a subject: in short, to know an object that is its own object, an object that is in fact itself? As we know from the first two sections of the Phenomenology of Spirit, the essence and truth of consciousness, what consciousness has to be in order to be truly consciousness – i.e., what knowing (as knowing something) has to be in order to be truly itself – is self-­consciousness, self-­knowing. In other words and in short, rather than presenting any problem for the dialectic of consciousness, language’s being made the object of consciousness would in fact seem to provide consciousness with the object of knowing par excellence, the privileged object that it needs in order to become what it is in truth: itself, consciousness. Understood in this way, saying that consciousness is language – as Marx and de Man do – can make no difference because it is something that could as well be said by Hegel – indeed, is said by Hegel. In order to have it make a difference, the statement “Consciousness is language” needs to be said with a certain shift in emphasis from the word consciousness to the word language. In other words, to say that consciousness is language – with the stress on language – means at least to suggest that language should not be thought according to the determinations (and self-­ negations) of consciousness but rather that consciousness should be thought according to the determinations peculiar to language. And if these determinations of language were not subsumable under those of consciousness – that is, if they did not negate consciousness determinately – then consciousness’s trying to make language its object would not at all be a dialectical movement in which consciousness could recognize and verify itself in its own negation. It would mean that language was constituted in such a way as to make it resist ever becoming just an object of consciousness, and its refusal to become an object of consciousness would mean that consciousness – which, again, according to de Man and Marx is language – could never know or be itself in truth, i.e., self-­consciousness. In other words, consciousness would turn out to be just a secondary, unreal, ghostly, ideological, alienated projection of something materially different from a mere object or content of consciousness: namely, language. But here is the crux of the problem and

­178    Material Inscriptions precisely what needs to be explained some more: summarily put, how to think language differently – differently enough so that it cannot be taken as a mere object and content of consciousness that would end up being consciousness’s own negation, i.e., self-­consciousness? Abstractly, the answer is easy enough. Language has to be shown to be constituted by overdetermined contradictions, say, which cannot ever be totalized (through any process of self-­mediation by negation) into one, simple negation – a negation that would be determined enough to allow one to define its limits and borders, that is, to determine it enough so as to be able to say that it is the negation of something and therefore has a positive content: precisely the content of that of which it is the negation.19 And, still speaking abstractly, one of those who thinks language materially enough – that is, in its overdetermined contradictions – is certainly de Man when he demonstrates that any attempt to construct a model of language – whether grammatical or metaphorical, say – to make language an object of knowing, consciousness, science (to be read in German: Wissen, Bewußtsein, Wissenschaft) by defining and d ­ elimiting its borders fails and has to fail because, for example, the grammatical model always gets interfered with by the rhetorical function, and the metaphorical model always gets interfered with by the grammatical function. Insofar as language is constituted by the unstable and asymmetrical “relation” of grammar and rhetoric, it is unable to come into being as an object of knowing, consciousness, science. The mutual interference of grammar and rhetoric would be one way – and not the only way – to say the sense in which language is overdetermined, how it is made up of contradictions that make language overdetermine itself, that is, prevent it from ever being a self – an object whose borders could be drawn and that could be identified as an (self-­same, self-­identical) object. If one wants, one can take what is happening here schematically as the inversion and reinscription of the (hierarchical) relation of consciousness and language. That is, it is not enough to say that language should be first, that the primacy of consciousness (in the definition of man, say) has to be shown to be secondary and derived. For as long as the inversion is a mere inversion, then nothing has been done to change the ordering, hierarchical structure itself. To say that consciousness is determined by language is still to treat it as the determinate negation of consciousness, still to think language on the model of consciousness. In other words, in addition to the reversal or inversion of the hierarchy, language has to be redefined, better, reinscribed, in such a way as to transform the structure of the relation between language and consciousness. For unless consciousness itself is tampered with – and in its materiality – all we do

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is to perform a mental critique, we only substitute one content or object of consciousness for another and therefore do nothing to challenge the (Hegelian or Young Hegelian) primacy of consciousness. And, as we know, to do this is precisely what German Ideology is; it is precisely the main target of Marx’s critique: thinking that one can change the world in thought, by thinking it differently, substituting a new content of thought for an old one – man for God, for instance, or, say, an empiricist determination of man for an idealist one. No, what is necessary is – I might as well say it – a deconstruction of consciousness20: an inversion and reinscription that changes not only the terms but also the ordering structure of relations like consciousness and language or consciousness and life. In order for Marx’s statement “Life is not determined by consciousness but rather consciousness is determined by life” to make a difference (again, a difference from Hegel), “life” has to be thought differently: no longer as the determinate negation of consciousness but rather as made up of overdetermined contradictions that cannot ever be reduced to (sublated, aufgehoben) a simple, determinate negation – of consciousness by life, for instance. Indeed, as we know from Hegel’s introduction to the chapter on Self-­consciousness in the Phenomenology, the way that self-­consciousness verifies itself and becomes what it is, itself, self-­ consciousness, is by making life essential for self-­consciousness, not just negating it immediately (as in desire, Begierde) but making it essential (true) for self-­consciousness. Again, and in short, until we can say the difference between what Hegel means by life and what Marx means by life, we might as well let Hegel say Marx’s statement “Life is not determined by consciousness but rather consciousness is determined by life.” (In short, Marx is already saying [and has to be saying in order to be Marx]: “Life is not determined by consciousness but rather ­consciousness is overdetermined by life.”)21 I find several of the Theses on Feuerbach to be helpful on this aspect of Marxian deconstructive technique: for instance, Thesis #4: “Feuerbach starts out from the fact of religious self-­estrangement, of the duplication of the world into a religious world and a secular one. His work consists in resolving the religious world into its secular basis. But that the secular basis lifts off from itself and establishes itself as an independent realm in the clouds can only be explained by the inner strife and intrinsic contradictoriness of this secular basis. The latter must, therefore, itself be both understood in its contradiction and revolutionised in practice. Thus, for instance, once the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then itself be destroyed in theory and in practice.”22 The inversion of the religious world and the secular

­180    Material Inscriptions world – and the substitution of one for the other in the hierarchy – is correct enough but it remains a purely mental critique – one that leaves the structure of consciousness untouched – because it cannot explain why it is that the secular basis would alienate itself and invent a religious realm in the clouds in the first place. It does it, of course, on account of the material contradictions that already make up the secular basis – for instance, the division of labor between manual and priestly (mental) work which makes it advantageous for the priests to invent a religious realm in the clouds, grant it autonomy and primacy, and assert that it is all that counts in the end – and these material contradictions are overdetermined in that they make of the secular basis an “entity” that is not just, and cannot be just, the determined negation of the religious realm in the clouds. As with life or the secular basis, so with language. As is at least suggested by Marx’s passage on consciousness and language that I quoted at the end of Postscript #1 – consciousness first comes on the scene “burdened” with matter, a materiality that turns out to be language – language is on the side of matter, on the side of real life; it is the very materiality of consciousness and thought. But in order to change anything, it is not enough to assert the primacy of language over consciousness – that would be a Feuerbachian, German ideological move – but rather one has to try to explain how it is that the overdetermined contradictions that constitute (and de-­constitute) language were gathered together (totalized by mediation) to form one, simple negation that could then alienate itself in the form of that ghost: consciousness. In whose interest was it to alienate language from itself, set it up as that which is to be understood on the model of consciousness, knowing, as an object and content and simple negation of consciousness itself – as though language were an independent entity (like the religious realm in Thesis #4)? In whose interest was it? Marx provides at least the beginnings of an answer in another passage of The German Ideology: “One of the most difficult tasks confronting philosophers is to descend from the world of thought to the actual world. Language is the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make language into an independent realm. This is the secret of philosophical language, in which thoughts in the form of words have their own content. The problem of descending from the world of thoughts to the actual world is turned into the problem of descending from language to life.”23 Without going into the difficulties of this passage, it is easy to see that what “the philosophers” – i.e., the ideology of philosophy as such – do is to perform a certain

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sleight-­of-­hand. Crudely put, they move language, which is on the side of real life – and which is the actuality (Wirklichkeit) of thought, or, as I have been putting it, the very material basis of consciousness and thought – over to the side of thought. And they do this by alienating language from itself, making language into an independent realm (so that thoughts in the form of words may have their own content). To short-­circuit a whole reading, one could say that philosophy alienates language from itself by occulting, covering up, its material, overdetermined contradictions and turning it into one, simple determined negation of consciousness, of thought – that, as the determined negation of consciousness and thought, has them for a content and belongs to them as their own negation. Thus the problem of descending from the world of thoughts is turned into the problem of descending from language to life – when language was already life, already living!24 So much for language and consciousness. But I think one more step and one more precaution is necessary. From what I have just said – and indeed from certain formulations of Marx – one could get the wrong impression that what one is doing here is indeed coming up with something like a science. As though once we know that consciousness is language and language is made up of overdetermined contradictions (and therefore consciousness cannot ever be itself in truth), we can step out of or beyond ideology, if not into the truth, then at least further away from error. This is where de Man’s help is indispensable, for the conception of ideology that we end up with here is – what can one say? – more negative, still more negatively (other-­than-­)dialectical.25 For, in de Man, the materiality of language, materiality as such, is not ever something that we can know – and hence is never something that could be the object of consciousness or of science. This is the point of my attempt to read “Semiology and Rhetoric” and the Roland Barthes essay together. A “deconstructive,” demystifying discourse – which is always the demystification of metaphor, rhetorical delusion, i.e., referential aberration, i.e., ideology, the ideology inevitably produced by language itself, no matter how demystificatory that language would want to be – is certainly possible and necessary, but it always remains impossible for that discourse to become scientific (“science” to be read in German: Wissenschaft), to know what it knows with any epistemological reliability and consistency, because it itself is language, linguistic, and therefore can itself never rid itself of referential aberration, ideology, rhetorical delusion. (Perhaps I should note that it is the lining up of these three – referential aberration, ideology, and rhetoric – in de Man’s work that I see as the “contribution” of my remarks here.) The demystifying, deconstructive discourse in fact always produces

­182    Material Inscriptions a “secondary figural superposition” (as de Man puts it on the crucial p. 205 of Allegories of Reading) that is a second story, a second narrative that narrates the impossibility of reading the “first” narrative, the story of the deconstruction of a figure or a system of figures, usually metaphor. This “second” narrative is what de Man calls allegory – the allegory of the impossibility of reading. Whatever this narrative knows, its knowledge is not that of a heightened, progressive self-­consciousness. And whatever this allegory of unreadability does, it is not to get us further from error and closer to the truth. (This is, symptomatically, where the very rich and generous essay by Jameson on de Man goes wrong: he takes allegory as an increase in self-­consciousness. This in turn allows him not only to see metaphysical residues in de Man but also to take de Man to be privileging a certain aesthetic function of literary language – when the aesthetic is precisely the target of de Man’s critique!26) But then where does it get us or leave us – where do we end up with de Man? Not with truth, not with just error, but not just with negative knowledge of error either. A last quotation (from the Roland Barthes essay) helps: “The mind cannot remain at rest in a mere repertorization of its own recurrent aberrations; it is bound to systematize its own negative self-­insight into categories that have at least the appearance of passion and difference” (175, my emphasis). This systematization is of course the turning of negative self-­insight into ideology, the phenomenalization (or phenomenology), re-­metaphorizaton, re-­ideologization of the deconstructive narrative and the allegory of unreadability. The mind is bound to do this – not on account of any subjective choice; it is bound to do it. It is a linguistic necessity, the ideology built “into” language, which is what makes it impossible to talk about an inside and an outside of language, which makes language always produce an “outside” or “other” that is not its own (an other speaking, a speaking of the other, allos+agorein, allegory) – it is what is bound to happen. And that’s history.27

Notes   1. The interview took place in the spring of 1984 and is published in Critical Exchange 17 (Winter 1985).   2. This chapter was originally written for a conference on Paul de Man held at the University of Zürich in 1989. Its ending was deemed to require more explanation by some of the participants at this conference – in particular Cynthia Chase – and so the first explanatory postscript (on history, materiality, reading) was written for delivery at Purdue University

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(and subsequently at UCLA, the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, and Berkeley). Cynthia Chase quite justly deemed this postscript to require still more explanation, and so the second explanatory postscript (on language, consciousness, allegory) was hastily “written” in short-­hand for delivery at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University in February of 1991. My thanks to those who prodded me to do more explaining – and thanks too especially to those who let the essay and its explanations get under their skin.   3. All page references to “Semiology and Rhetoric” are to the original version of the essay reprinted in Josué Harari (ed.), Textual Strategies: Perspectives in Post-­Structural Criticism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979).   4. All page references to this essay are from Fredric Jameson, The Ideologies of Theory, vol. 1 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988).  5. According to Jameson, “besides Burke himself the list would probably include Empson and Frye, Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Viktor Shklovsky” (p. 138).  6. Proleptic remark: that this narrative would be that of an emancipatory logic is not without interest for the reading of grammar and rhetoric (and along with them logic) that follows. One could say that all the difference between Jameson and de Man can already be read in Jameson’s writing “logic” here. See below.  7. This phrase is from de Man’s “Anthropomorphism and Trope in the Lyric,” in The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), p. 262.   8. Why not? Because, directly put, such historicizations of de Man’s itinerary are pseudo-­historical. To apply one of de Man’s remarks about literary historical periodization: the interpretation of de Man’s work as a succession of periods manages to come up with, at best, “rather crude metaphors for figural patterns rather than historical events or acts” (“Anthropomorphism and Trope in the Lyric,” in The Rhetoric of Romanticism, p. 254). In fact, rather crude metaphors for a reading of the texts that has (or, as is more often the case, has not) taken place. One could use de Man’s own early essay on Yeats (“Image and Emblem in Yeats,” written in the late 1950s for the dissertation, and now reprinted in The Rhetoric of Romanticism) to explain how and why such periodization, rather than being historical in any meaningful sense of history, is rather allegorical, the working out and narration of a figural pattern of linguistic relations and functions rather than historical events or acts. In brief: Yeats, according to de Man’s apparently still quite straightforward literary historical interpretation, starts out writing a poetry of the “image” (i.e., symbolic imagery still consistent with the natural, phenomenal world and our experience of it), then moves to a poetry of the “emblem” (allegorical signs that have an arbitrary, i.e., conventional, link to what they signify, and whose meaning can be decoded by reference to a code-­book of emblems), and ends up in a poetry of the “image-­emblem” (in which the figuration has a double function: on the one hand, it seduces with its natural imagery and all it can represent; on the other hand, what it actually means, emblematically, allegorically speaking, is the ontological non-­existence of the natural, phenomenal world). In short, the poetry (as image) represents one thing but (as emblem) means

­184    Material Inscriptions another, and what it means is the destruction of what it represents – as neat a “definition” of allegory as one could ask for (whether in de Man’s or Benjamin’s texts [cf. de Man’s favorite phrase from Benjamin’s Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiels (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1963), p. 265, about allegorical signification: “Und zwar bedeutet es genau das Nichtsein dessen, was es vorstellt” (my emphases) – “It means precisely the non-­being of what it represents”]). But one does not have to be a particularly astute “rhetorical reader” to ask the obvious question that arises: namely, if an emblematic, allegorical, function is always a possibility in any figurative language whatsoever, then what allowed us to periodize Yeats’s work into “poetry of the image,” “poetry of the emblem,” “poetry of the image-­ emblem,” in the first place? Perhaps the so-­called “poetry of the image” is also full of emblematic, allegorical, meanings that we misread or cannot read only because we do not have access to the “code-­book” that would allow us to interpret these emblems, and instead misread the poetic language by taking it literally, as it were, only on the level of its mimetic, representational function. And the same thing could be asked in reverse about the so-­called “poetry of the emblem”: does its emblematic signifying function completely exhaust its capacity for meaning, or may it not also always carry along with it a symbolic, mimetic, representational function that, whatever the code-­book may tell us, always brings us back to the natural, phenomenal world and our experience of it? But, then, if these questions are at all pertinent – and they most certainly are once something like a poetry of the “image-­emblem” is said to be possible – in other words, if it is possible that Yeats’s poetry from beginning to end was always already a poetry of the “image-­emblem,” then the apparently literary historical periodization of his work into the succession of “poetry of the image”/“poetry of the emblem”/“poetry of the image-­emblem” turns out not to be a history (of historical events or acts, of what actually happened) but rather an allegory of properties and functions proper to language “itself”: in this case, the irreducible and mutually undoing “relation” of, call it, symbolic representation and allegorical signification. Meaning, then, that Yeats’s poetry was always a poetry of the “image-­ emblem”/“image-­ emblem”/“image-­ emblem,” and it is only the (inevitable) exigency of telling the story of our reading as a coherent narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end that makes us invent the devices of first a “poetry of the image” and then a “poetry of the emblem,” and so on. In short, rather than a history of Yeats’s work, such a story is in fact an allegory of a reading of Yeats’s text – a reading that, in order not to start stuttering repetitively right at the outset (emblem/emblem/emblem, allegory/allegory/allegory), must unfold by mistaking itself for a history with its periods, beginnings and ends. The same thing holds true for de Man: we can tell the story of his itinerary as a history of successive “periods” and development only at the cost of not reading his texts – for instance, the early Yeats essay which, in de Man’s own words, was “a rhetorical analysis of figural language avant la lettre” (Preface to The Rhetoric of Romanticism, p. viii) – whereas a reading of his texts not only gives the lie to the “recuperative and nihilistic allegories of historicism” (“Shelley Disfigured,” in The Rhetoric of Romanticism, p. 122) but also stands a chance of getting closer to that which would be

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actually, materially, historical in de Man, what happened and continues to happen under the proper name “Paul de Man.” This is not to deny the necessity, inevitability, and even usefulness of such (pseudo-­historical) historicizations – indeed, as is clear from the above, de Man’s readings always and again start out from the quite traditional questions of literary history – but only to underline the fact that the discipline of “history” can do its work only by suspending what in short-­hand can be called “the rhetorical dimension of language” and hence by not reading the texts. Needless to say, it is the studies of de Man with the most global synthesizing ambitions to account for his “career” – no matter how friendly to de Man and well intentioned (and, indeed, useful and even “correct” on a certain level) they may be – that are most subject to such non-­reading and have quite willfully to suppress what the texts actually say in order to make them fit into their “history.” See, for example, Christopher Norris’s Paul de Man (New York and London: Routledge, 1988). Therapeutic in this regard are not only Jacques Derrida’s Mémoires, for Paul de Man (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986) but also Werner Hamacher’s “LECTIO: de Man’s Imperative,” in Wlad Godzich and Lindsay Waters (eds), Reading de Man Reading (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), and Kevin Newmark’s “Paul de Man’s History,” in the same volume and, in revised form, in his Beyond Symbolism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991).   9. This is already readable in “Semiology and Rhetoric.” For instance: “Behind the assurance that valid interpretation is possible, behind the recent interest in writing and reading as potentially effective public speech acts, stands a highly respectable moral imperative that strives to reconcile the internal, formal, private structures of literary language with their external, referential, and public effects” (pp. 121–2). That this “moral imperative” to reconcile sensory form with spiritual meaning is in the thrall of “aesthetic ideology” becomes even clearer when on the following page de Man speaks of it as “so attractive” and “the attraction of reconciliation” of form and meaning. It is beauty, “the sensory appearance of the Idea” – ­literary language (mis)taken as art – that will respond to this “moral imperative” and give us a good “moral conscience.” It would be instructive to compare de Man’s remarks on this “moral imperative” here to Jameson’s on the “imperative to reinvent a relationship between the linguistic or aesthetic or conceptual fact in question and its social ground” (p. 140) quoted above. 10. Cf. de Man’s remarks on the trivium/quadrivium relation in “The Resistance  to Theory,” in The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), p. 13: “The most familiar and general of all linguistic models, the classical trivium, which considers the sciences of language as consisting of grammar, rhetoric, and logic (or dialectics), is in fact a set of unresolved tensions powerful enough to have generated an infinitely prolonged discourse of endless frustration of which contemporary literary theory, even at its most self-­assured, is one more chapter. The difficulties extend to the internal articulations between the constituent parts as well as the articulation of the field of language with the knowledge of the world in general, the link between the trivium and the quadrivium, which covers the non-­verbal sciences of number (arithmetic), of space (geometry), of motion (astronomy), and of time (music). In the history of philosophy,

­186    Material Inscriptions this link is traditionally, as well as substantially, accomplished by way of logic, the area where the rigor of the linguistic discourse about itself matches up with the rigor of the mathematical discourse about the world. Seventeenth-­century epistemology, for instance, at the moment when the relationship between philosophy and mathematics is particularly close, holds up the language of what it calls geometry (mos geometricus), and which in fact includes the homogeneous concatenation between space, time and number, as the sole model of coherence and economy.” That de Man conceives his reflection on the critique of aesthetic ideology very much in terms of these seventeenth-­century questions (in particular the articulation of number and space or extension) is clear from his “Pascal’s Allegory of Persuasion” and “Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant,” in Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). See my “Allegories of Reference” and “‘As the Poets Do It’: On the Material Sublime,” in Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013). 11. It would be instructive here to read closely de Man’s critical reading (in Allegories of Reading and elsewhere) of Genette’s interpretation of Proust. On the one hand, Genette does something like a “deconstructive reading” in demonstrating that the metaphorical structures of Proust’s text are grounded in metonymical structures; on the other hand, it is not difficult to see that these metonymical structures are, for Genette, themselves grounded in still more powerful, all-­embracing metaphors like that of the self and its experience of the phenomenal world. Hence Genette winds up restoring the “necessary link” between the phenomenal world and linguistic s­tructures – the link that, in de Man’s terms, is the very definition of ideology: “What we call ideology is precisely the confusion of linguistic with natural reality, of reference with phenomenalism” (“The Resistance to Theory,” in The Resistance to Theory, p. 11). It should perhaps be noted that de Man’s remarks on ideology nearly always take place in close proximity to a discussion of semiology, the demystifying power of its “non-­ phenomenal linguistics,” and its self-­ideologization when it confuses the materiality of the  signifier with phenomenal (perceptible, sensory) forms that can become the object of consciousness. My thanks to Cathy Caruth for discussion of the “unbroken passage” here. 12. My references here to “the other” should not be taken in any “idle or mystical sense,” but only as “the other,” truly, really, actually, other, and not the same. The fact that we – the text – have been led to this formulation on the back of a metonymical juxtaposition of words in a mechanical idiomatic expression (“to be brought back from one to the other” above) – the grammar of the language, as it were – is no doubt no accident. 13. It would be instructive to compare this to de Man’s reading of Kant and Schiller, in which the “formalist,” “theoretician,” “philosopher” Kant, because he thinks through “form,” “the theoretical,” “the philosophical,” winds up butting up against something material; whereas the one who would empiricize Kant on the sublime, Schiller, winds up in a frightening, utter idealism. All too predictable and all too evident on the current scene of what passes for “theory.” “We are all Schillerians, no one is Kantian any more,” as de Man quipped on a lecture occasion. See “Kant and

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Schiller” in Aesthetic Ideology. Cf. also my “Terrible Reading (preceded by ‘Epigraphs’)” in Werner Hamacher, Neil Hertz, and Thomas Keenan (eds), Responses: On Paul de Man’s Wartime Journalism (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988). 14. A reading of de Man’s Archie Bunker example (128) would very quickly uncover a good example of our ending up/taking back “structure.” Since the exchange between Archie and Edith Bunker is an example, its rhetorical mode needs to be decided, but it turns out that (as always) the example is more than just an illustration of the argument’s logic. In this case, it is, on the one hand, quite clearly a “good” example of the “rhetorization of grammar” – de Man’s argument’s illustration of how it is that rhetoric interferes with grammar – and hence an example consistent with the logic of the essay at this point. Nevertheless, we also have to read the rhetoric of this example, and, once we do so, we find that it is also a “good” illustration of the reverse: i.e., “the grammatization of rhetoric.” For in this example, Edith Bunker is clearly a figure – and a figure for grammar at that (something always forgotten by those who would “critique” de Man’s example from a [pseudo-­]feminist point of view) – the grammatical reader who reads Archie’s “What’s the difference?” strictly according to its grammar, and thereby punctures the balloon of Archie’s rhetorical pathos (or rather “provokes only ire,” as de Man puts it, i.e., has Archie substitute one self-­inflated metaphorical transport for another). And that Edith Bunker is a “reader of sublime simplicity” (my emphasis) who “patiently” explains the difference (between tying bowling shoes over and under) to Archie is not without interest for the reader of later de Man, since it is in the theories of the sublime (in Kant and Hegel, for example) that something like a radically “linguistic moment” takes place to puncture the rhetorical (“poetic”) pathos of the sublime by a resolutely prosaic instance that disarticulates the projects of aesthetics. In short, it is Edith Bunker here in her sublime simplicity who is already a figure for the “deconstructive,” indeed allegorical, reader. 15. Unpublished until 1990, the essay appeared in Yale French Studies 77 and is now included in Paul de Man, Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism: The Gauss Seminar and Other Papers, ed. E. S. Burt, Kevin Newmark, and Andrzej Warminski (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993). It was originally commissioned by The New York Review of Books and then rejected by it. Correspondence indicates that the editors found the essay’s terminology too technical for a general audience. 16. All page references to “Roland Barthes and the Limits of Structuralism” are to de Man’s Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism. 17. See Paul de Man, “Hypogram and Inscription: Michael Riffaterre’s Poetics of Reading,” in The Resistance to Theory, p. 41. 18. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works, vol. 5 (New York: International Publishers, 1976), pp. 43–4. 19. For a short-­ hand definition of “determined negation” (bestimmte Negation), see the Introduction to Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes, ed. Johannes Hoffmeister (Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1952), pp. 68–9. English: Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 51.

­188    Material Inscriptions 20. For consciousness is “the most theoretically sensitive point in the entire system of bourgeois ideology,” as Louis Althusser puts it in “On Marx and Freud,” Rethinking Marxism 4:1 (Spring 1991), p. 25. Althusser is particularly rigorous and eloquent on this question: “In the category of the self-­conscious subject, bourgeois ideology represents to individuals what they must be in order for them to accept their own submission to bourgeois ideology; it represents them as endowed with the unity and consciousness (which is this unity itself) that they must have in order to unify their different practices and actions under the unity of the dominant ideology . . . ­consciousness is necessary for the individual who is endowed with it to realize within ‘himself’ the unity required by bourgeois ideology, so that every subject will conform to its own ideological and political requirement, that of unity, in brief, so that the conflictual violence of the class struggle will be lived by its agents as a superior and ‘spiritual’ form of unity. I emphasize this unity, otherwise known as the identity of consciousness, and the function of unity because it was this unity that Marx’s critique called most forcefully into question when Marx dismantled the illusory unity of bourgeois ideology and the fantasy of unity that it produced in ­consciousness as the effect it needed in order to function” (pp. 24–5). 21. Cf. my “Hegel/Marx: Consciousness and Life,” in Stuart Barnett (ed.), Hegel After Derrida (London: Routledge, 1998), for a detailed discussion of the Hegel/Marx “relation.” Now in Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man. Needless to say, a reading of Althusser is indispensable for any such discussion. 22. Marx and Engels, Collected Works, vol. 5, p. 4. 23. Ibid. p. 446. 24. Cf. Marx on “the language of real life” at the beginning of The German Ideology, Collected Works, vol. 5. 25. As de Man says toward the beginning of “Anthropomorphism and Trope in the Lyric” (in The Rhetoric of Romanticism, p. 242): “Whatever truth may be fighting, it is not error but stupidity, the belief that one is right when one is in fact in the wrong.” In any truly critical philosophy, says de Man, “truth is always at the very least dialectical, the negative knowledge of error.” 26. See Fredric Jameson, “Deconstruction as Nominalism,” in Postmodernism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991), p. 245: “In the case of de Man’s work, however, I feel that it is fatally menaced at every point by a resurgence of some notion of self-­consciousness that its language vigilantly attempts to ward off. Surely the deconstructive narrative always risks ­slipping back into that simpler story in which the initial figure, having brought illusion into being, then somehow achieves some more heightened awareness of its own activity; while the allegory of reading, or of unreadability, comes before us in his work with a heightened charge of renewed consciousness of its own processes, consciousness ever more intensely becoming conscious of itself, ‘to the second (or third) degree,’ in a never-­ending progression.” Jameson misreads the crucial passage on allegory (p. 205 of Allegories of Reading) here in part because he does not read the meaning and function of number and enumeration in de Man: that is, allegories “to the second (or third) degree” are by no means to be

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understood as a heightening or progression of consciousness. It would take some time to demonstrate this, but a passage from de Man’s “Aesthetic Formalization: Kleist’s Über das Marionettentheater” (in The Rhetoric of Romanticism, p. 266) that summarizes the reading of Baudelaire’s “Correspondances” can provide a hint here: “The tension, in this poem, occurs indeed between number as trope (the infinitesimal as the underlying principle of totalization) and number as tautology (the stutter of an endless, but not infinitesimal, enumeration that never goes anywhere).” In other words, allegories (of reading or unreadability) “to the second (or third) degree” are anything but “a never-­ending progression.” If anything, they always again “start out from scratch” – from the irreducible, incommensurable, and unmediatable (dis)articulation of number as trope and number as mere enumeration (or, as p. 205 puts it, the deconstructive narrative “of a figure [or a system of figures]” and the allegory of [the impossibility of] reading). On de Man’s always again starting out from scratch, see Samuel Weber’s “The Monument Disfigured,” in Hamacher, Hertz, and Keenan (eds), Responses. On de Man’s crucial p. 205, see J. Hillis Miller’s helpful “‘Reading’ Part of a Paragraph in Allegories of Reading,” in Godzich and Waters (eds), Reading De Man Reading. Cf. the section on Jameson in my “Next Steps: Lukács, Jameson, Post-­ Dialectics,” in Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man. 27. For texts on allegory and history in de Man “worth reading,” see, in addition to Derrida’s Mémoires, the essays by Werner Hamacher and Kevin Newmark mentioned in note #8 above.

Chapter 8

The Future Past of Literary Theory

In order to fulfill the didactic assignment and talk about the future of literary theory,1 one might as well begin with the question of the present of literary theory: what is, what would or could be, “literary theory” today? If one can judge by the signs of the times, then the most direct answer to the question would be: “Not much.” Not much these days could qualify as “literary theory,” not much today is literary theory – at least in comparison to the fabled heyday of literary theory during the (late) 1960s and 1970s. In comparison to the various projects of poetics and the attempts at least to pose the question of “the literary” – whether as “literature” or “literary language,” “literariness” or “littérarité” or “literaturno´sc,” ´ whether coming out of revivals of Russian Formalism or the ambitions of literary semiology, for example, or the more hermeneutically oriented theories basing themselves on phenomenology and its prolongations or radicalizations – very little would seem to count as literary theory, literary theory proper, today. Indeed, literary theory in this sense would seem to be very much a thing of the past, and so much so that one is tempted to say: “If you want to talk about literary theory, you had better talk about ‘The Past of Literary Theory’ and forget about its future!” It is not that there is no “theory,” for “theory” is everywhere one looks today – as, say, “cultural theory” or “queer theory” or “critical theory” – but nowhere is it literary theory. And even when it is called “literary theory” – which is seldom enough any more – one finds very quickly that it is anything but “literary.” The recent book by Jonathan Culler, for example – even though it is entitled Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (when it comes to literary theory, it seems, one cannot be short enough: an “Introduction” or even a “Short Introduction” would still be too long; these days it has to be a very short introduction!) – very quickly drops the “literary” and speaks instead of mere “theory.” The book’s first chapter is called “What is Theory?,” and its opening sentence reads: “In literary and cultural studies these days

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there is a lot of talk about theory – not theory of literature, mind you; just plain ‘theory.’” And it turns out that “just plain ‘theory,’” “even though it has radically changed the nature of literary studies, emphatically does not mean literary theory, the systematic account of the nature of literature and of the methods for analysing it.” In fact, when people complain that there is too much “theory” in literary studies these days, continues Culler, they mean precisely that there is “too much discussion of non-­literary matters, too much debate about general questions whose relation to literature is scarcely evident, too much reading of difficult psychoanalytical, political, and philosophical texts.”2 So: “theory” has made a big difference to literary studies, but theory in literary studies is precisely and emphatically not literary theory! However taken for granted or even legitimate it may be, this dropping out of the “literary” as soon as one even begins talking about something called “theory” in literary studies – even if in its more current politically correct formulation as “literary and cultural studies” – is not just a local or historical accident. It is not that the theoretical models of extra-­ literary disciplines have somehow simply overwhelmed and overrun literary studies thanks to their intrinsic strength (and the concomitant weakness of literary scholars). Rather there is a certain necessity in the resistance to and the dropping out of the “literary” when it comes to theory in literary studies (or when it comes to its apparent inverse – that “theory,” just plain theory, seems to proliferate and to thrive precisely within literary studies and the university departments ostensibly devoted to the literary). This necessity is worth reflecting upon. And that it is indeed a question of reflection becomes evident as soon as one does so: that is, as soon as one reflects on what it is that would or could be the object of study in the case of a theory claiming to be literary. For, clearly enough, there is a certain reflexivity built into any and every project of so-­called literary theory at its very outset, as soon as it takes its first step and attempts to define (as in de-­finire, to draw the borders of) the “literary,” since, in doing so, it attempts to constitute itself as an epistemologically reliable metalanguage, a language about (presumably) an other language. In theory, this necessary self-­ reflexivity – a language talking about another language – could represent a certain theoretical, indeed scientific, advantage for literary theory. For what better to define, to draw the borders of, an object of study, an object of knowing and consciousness, than a subject of knowing whose relation to the (to be) known object is precisely that of knowing, consciousness, that is, a subject whose constitution is identical to that of the object? On a Hegelian phenomenological model, if the object of knowing (or consciousness) is the same as the subject of knowing (or

­192    Material Inscriptions consciousness), then we can very quickly arrive at the truth and essence of that object – knowing, consciousness – as precisely self-­knowing, self-­ consciousness (and hence, next step, a self-­knowing for a self-­knowing, a self-­consciousness for a self-­consciousness, etc.).3 It would seem that nothing could be a better object for a language, for a language’s self-­ knowing, than another language. But one cannot help but note that this happy dialectical self-­negation and self-­mediation of language with itself can work only as long as we presuppose that language is in fact to be understood on the model of consciousness and self-­consciousness, that language does in fact work in the same way, i.e., on the basis of the same principles and determinations, as consciousness. Such a presupposition assumes that a “subject-­language” does indeed possess a logical tool that enables it to negate itself determinately enough – in other words, to leave itself out of the process of knowing the way any and every “scientific” knowledge needs to do in order to “control” the results of its experiment – to be able to gain a certain objective relation to its “object-­ language.” But, in the case of language, how to control the experiment, how to know with certainty that the theoretical “subject-­language” is not subject to linguistic structures – principles, factors and functions – that overdetermine its relation to any so-­called “object-­language” and that thereby prohibit it from ever determining its object (and hence also its subject!) of study, that is, from defining it, drawing its borders sufficiently and securely enough to be able to say that now, finally, at last, it knows what it is talking about when it talks about a language that it calls literary or literature? It is, of course, this inability of literary theory to construct a reliable metalanguage – its inability to define and delimit the borders of its object of study enough, that is, determinately enough, to be able to leave itself out of and control the scientific experiment and thereby identify itself as the knower of that object – that inevitably drives it outside and beyond language (and therefore also “literature,” whatever that may “be”) to the extra-­linguistic (and extra-­literary) theoretical models of disciplines that presumably have been able to identify and define their objects of study, disciplines that do seem to know what it is they are talking about and can therefore claim a certain “scientific” status. This inevitable drive or impulse of literary theory (proper?) to go to extra-­linguistic models in its attempt to construct an at least somewhat reliable metalanguage – to seek its models for literature or the literary outside language, outside literature – is what destines it for failure. For, paradoxically but consistently enough, in order to know what it is talking about (when it talks about talking [literary or otherwise]), literary theory has to use extra-­linguistic models and thus has to pretend that it is talking about something other than language, that its

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“object” is at least like the objects of history, or philosophy (aesthetics, say), or anthropology, or psychology, or psychoanalysis, or even the natural sciences or statistics, and so on. But because literary theory’s use of the models of these other “sciences” to identify its own object means that it uses extra-­linguistic models to understand something that is, by definition as it were, made of language, it also means that it has to fail since the only model appropriate to a linguistic object would, of course, have to be a linguistic model. (If you try to understand something made of language by treating it as though it were a rock or a plant or a psyche or a Jesus, then you are bound to fail. And, indeed, one can go so far as to say that even those theories that attempt to construct a linguistic model – for example, the projects of semiology – to grasp literature or the literary fail because, for reasons having to do precisely with the “literariness” of “language as such,” even their models can never be linguistic enough.) And an ingenious dialectical maneuver – to say, for instance, that literature or the literary would be whatever it is that exceeds the extra-­linguistic and extra-­literary models of theory, whatever it is that would not fit the theoretical models applied to it – does not really help. For how is one going to determine that excess, how is one going to decide that the excess of theory bears a determined relation to theory, that the negativity proper to this excess is in fact a determined negation when it would, by definition as it were, be precisely that which exceeds and escapes the determinations of theory and its models? In the case of the linguistic and the literarily linguistic, the misfit of theory and its object cannot ever arrive at even a determinate non-­knowledge of its object because that “object’s” excessiveness to theory overdetermines it (and thereby also overdetermines the theoretical discourse that would want to determine it, however negatively and dialectically). What this means is that the project of literary theory – ultimately, any and every literary theory – is under a double imperative and a double bind. On the one hand, in its attempt to be “scientific,” to know what it is talking about, to identify its object of study by drawing its borders, literary theory is inevitably driven to the extra-­linguistic models of theoretical discourses that seem to have been able to gain a certain scientific distance and objectivity in relation to their objects. But, of course, this very drive to seek epistemologically reliable theoretical models for the linguistic (and the literary) outside language (and literature) means that the theory always remains inappropriate to its object (which, after all, is constitutively “linguistic,” indeed primordially linguistic, according to some4). Hence one could say that a certain flight from the literary is intrinsic to literary theory on account of its very drive to know the literary by making it an object of theoretical knowledge (theoria). Hence

­194    Material Inscriptions also a double bind peculiar to literary theory whose imperative says both: 1) face language, face it, or otherwise everything you say about it is just going to be chatter or gossip that has no claim to validity or truth; and 2) however much you may try to face language, face it, you will never be linguistic enough, whatever you say will be a flight from language and a resistance to theory. But that the proper object of literary theory is its failure – to constitute itself as either “theory” or “literary” – does not leave us with a simply negative result. For at the very least it may indicate how it is we should go about studying and teaching so-­called literary theory. We will not get anywhere by studying literary theory as a chronological (and pseudo-­historical) series of statements, positions, ideas, concepts, terms, names, dates, and facts. If the proper object of study for literary theory (“proper”) is its failure, then what we need to do instead is to inquire into the reasons for which and the ways in which literary theory fails and has to fail. And in order to do that we will have to ask each theory about the linguistic model it bases itself on – whether explicitly, as is sometimes the case, or, as is more often the case, as a presupposition (that is more or less well hidden, namely, in whatever it thinks language is and how it works whenever it says what it does about so-­called “literature,” texts, the linguistic artifacts that are putatively its object). This would be one way to study and teach literary theory – that is, as a series of linguistic models (more and less appropriate to linguistic “objects”) – but it is certainly not an arbitrary way. For whether we know it or not and whether we like it or not, whatever a theoretician or a critic says about literature or texts, he or she always assumes or presupposes some “theory” of language, some model of what language is and how it works. As obvious as this may be, it is most often ignored, suppressed, repressed, or just plain run away from – and especially in and by theoretical discourses that would style themselves as literary theory (and, needless to say, academic departments that would consider themselves departments of literary study). I have already begun to spell out the reasons for this flight from language and the literary, this resistance to language and, above all, to language about language. This inevitable flight from language entails that the study and teaching of literary theory as the failure of literary theory will always amount to a certain measuring of each theory’s resistance to theory, a gauging of the stratagems and ruses by means of which a given theory resists the question of language (while, as I said, nevertheless presupposing a linguistic model). And when I identify the resistance to theory as the resistance to language about language and therefore to language as such I do so advisedly and with explicit reference to one of the very few truly “literary theoretical” texts produced

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during the last few decades: Paul de Man’s short but inexhaustible essay “The Resistance to Theory.”5 This essay can help us to specify more precisely what it is that is being resisted when we say that the resistance to theory, as literary theory, is the resistance to language and, a fortiori, the resistance to language about language. In doing so, it can also help us to give some concrete examples of what it means to study and teach literary theory as the failure of and the resistance to theory. Before we ask the question of what it means to say that the resistance to theory is the resistance to language, let us first ask what, according to de Man, is literary theory, what is literary theory today? The answer to this question is, on the one hand, very direct. According to de Man, writing in 1982, the advent of literary theory proper “occurs with the introduction of linguistic terminology in the metalanguage about literature” (8). Appropriately enough, then, continues de Man, “Contemporary literary theory comes into its own in such events as the application of Saussurian linguistics to literary texts” (8). De Man has in mind literary semiology, of course, and its identification of “literariness” as the object of literary theory. Such an apparently bland assertion may seem odd to some. Why should literary semiology and the projects of what goes by the name of “structuralism” in literary study be singled out in this way? Wasn’t there plenty of “literary theory” both before and after those Parisian goings-­on? Well, yes and no, but in order to gauge the considerable import of de Man’s assertion it is necessary first to understand what he means by, and what is at stake in, “the introduction of linguistic terminology in the metalanguage about literature” as in, for example, the application of Saussurian linguistics to literary texts. De Man tells us in very direct terms. What he means by “linguistic terminology” is “a terminology that designates reference prior to designating the referent and takes into account, in the consideration of the world, the referential function of language or, to be somewhat more specific, that considers reference as a function of language and not necessarily as an intuition” (8). What does this mean? Exactly what it says: that is, that a no longer non-­linguistic (e.g., historical or aesthetic) terminology, and thus a properly linguistic terminology, is one which considers reference as precisely a referential function of language – that is, produced by the workings of structures proper to language as such, in the case of Saussurian linguistics, to language as langue or a system of signs made up of signifiers and signifieds whose relation is arbitrary and whose constitution is relational – and not as an “intuition” – that is, not produced by the structures proper to consciousness, its determinations, and its logic, which is always a phenomeno-­logic, a logic of appearances that does indeed always designate the referent prior to

­196    Material Inscriptions designating reference (again, reference as the referential function of language and determined by its structures and not those of consciousness). To the extent, then, that Saussurian linguistics is a “non-­phenomenal linguistics” which introduces the possibility of “a science of language which is not necessarily a logic,” its application to literary texts in the form of literary semiology can count as the “advent” or the “occurrence” of contemporary literary theory. And it is this assumption of the possibility of a non-­phenomenal linguistics, a science of language which is not necessarily a logic, that constitutes its threatening nature to “pre-­ literary-­theoretical” ways of doing things in literary study based as they are on “historical or aesthetic considerations” (7). The development of a linguistic terminology in the metalanguage about literature – based on “the assumption that there can be a science of language which is not necessarily a logic” – is a threat because it reveals an “autonomous potential of language” – that is, a certain “freedom from referential constraint” which makes it “epistemologically highly suspect and volatile, since its use can no longer be said to be determined by considerations of truth and falsehood, good and evil, beauty and ugliness, or pleasure and pain” (10). De Man’s reference to the system of Kant’s critical philosophy spells out the nature of the threat contained in literary theory. A theory or a science of language that reveals such an “autonomous potential of language” unleashes a potential, a power, of language that will not be contained by the bounds and strictures of any logic, transcendental or otherwise, and will not obey the laws of pure or practical reason, or even the faculty of judgment and the principles of reflective aesthetic judgment. But, as de Man makes abundantly clear a bit later in the essay, literary theory, literary theory proper, occurs, happens, whenever (and, I would add, however) this “autonomous potential” of language is revealed (and unleashed) by analysis. This means that we should not ask what is so threatening about literary theory at a particular time and in a particular place – a threat that elicits myriad forms of non-­understanding and misrepresentation – but rather we should take these as “displaced symptoms of a resistance inherent in the theoretical enterprise itself” (12). For if the difficulties of and the resistance to literary theory are indeed inherent in the theoretical enterprise itself, “then they will have to be, to some extent, a-­historical in the temporal sense of the term” (12). Indeed, de Man concludes, “The way in which they are encountered on the present local literary scene as a resistance to the introduction of linguistic terminology in aesthetic and historical discourse about literature is only one particular version of a question that cannot be reduced to a specific historical situation and called modern, post-­modern, post-­classical or romantic (not even in Hegel’s sense of the

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term), although its compulsive way of forcing itself upon us in the guise of a system of historical periodization is certainly part of its problematic nature. Such difficulties can be read in the text of literary theory at all times, at whatever historical moment one wishes to select” (12). In other words, if the threat of and the concomitant resistance to literary theory can be read in the text of literary theory at all times, then the “future of literary theory” is very much also its past – that is, whatever it was, is, and will be that, when read textually, unleashes the threat and elicits the resistance. It is not so much its past as it is a certain residue or left-­over of the past of literary theory, a “remaindering” as I would call it (in translating Derrida’s restance), released whenever literary theory is read as text rather than as a collection of ideas, concepts, theses, statements, terms, and so on from the past. It is this remaindering that always – always already and always again – turns “the future of literary theory” into its future past, the future past of literary theory. And if reading as text reveals or releases that autonomous potential of language which is literary theory proper, then we can surmise that any discourse at any time, any “verbal event,” once read textually, is, was, will be, or may be an instance of “literary theory” (for instance, Kant’s analytic of the sublime in the Third Critique – again, when it is read as text – or Pascal’s epistemological discourse when it introduces the zero to suture its own disjunctions).6 Now if we ask what it is about “reading textually,” reading “as text,” that reveals or releases an autonomous potential of language freed of referential constraint and irreducible to intuition (because it renders evident that reference is a function of language and not an intuition), we get a very clear and very direct answer. What is “revealed in any verbal event when it is read textually,” as de Man puts it, is “the rhetorical or tropological dimension of language” (17). The resistance to theory as a resistance to language about language and to language as such is “a resistance to the rhetorical or tropological dimension of language, a dimension which is perhaps more explicitly in the foreground in literature (broadly conceived) than in other verbal manifestations or – to be somewhat less vague – which can be revealed in any verbal event when it is read textually” (17). The resistance to theory as a resistance to language is a flight from and a resistance to the tropological or rhetorical dimension of language – and, ultimately, of course, a resistance to “reading textually,” since such reading reveals that dimension. Why and how does the tropological or rhetorical dimension reveal or release the autonomous potential of language and, by implication, introduce the possibility of a “non-­phenomenal linguistics” (which, again and again, takes reference as a function of language and not an intuition)? Well, it is

­198    Material Inscriptions because the tropological or rhetorical dimension of language is precisely one of those factors and functions of language that will not be reduced to intuition. “Tropes, unlike grammar,” writes de Man, “pertain primordially to language. They are text-­producing functions that are not necessarily patterned on a non-­verbal entity, whereas grammar is by definition capable of extra-­linguistic generalization” (15). (The fact that tropes are “not necessarily patterned on a non-­verbal entity” is what makes them a function or factor of language that introduces the possibility of “a science of language which is not necessarily a logic” [8].) How is it, then, that tropes – the tropological or rhetorical dimension of language – are not reducible to “intuition”? Take, for example, Aristotle’s age-­old example of metaphor in his Rhetoric: Achilles’ being called a lion – as in “a lion, he [Achilles] rushed on.” Aristotle has, of course, no trouble reading this metaphor: “for because both are courageous, the poet transfers the sense and calls Achilles a lion.”7 In other words, this would be a metaphor by analogy: Achilles and the lion share the property of bravery (as a “proper sense”) and can therefore exchange it – Achilles can be called a lion (and a lion, presumably, could be called an Achilles . . . though that would already raise some questions). The metaphor can be brought back to a proper meaning and thus also to a knowledge of entities and their (proper) properties, what belongs to them. This means, in short, that the rhetoric, the rhetorical figure or trope here, can be brought back (re-­ferred) and reduced to logic and “intuition,” i.e., to the perception and knowledge of what a lion (and a man) is. Or, in other words, the rhetoric of the trope metaphor is in fact reducible to a grammar of transfers and transformations in an order which would be continuous with a logic (and an ontology) of (potentially) universalizable meanings. Nevertheless, it does not take all that much imagination or perversity to ask: why and how are we so sure that this is indeed how the metaphor works and what it means – that Achilles is courageous, brave, like a lion? Why could it not mean that Achilles has, say, a mane of long hair and needs a haircut? Or that his hands are like paws – as in “Achilles paws Patroclus . . .”? Or that doe-­eyed Hera has eyes on the sides of her head? In short, the “reference” (or the “signification”) of these and all tropes is not determined and determining but rather overdetermined and overdetermining. Tropes always, potentially, necessarily produce what de Man likes to call aberrant reference – a “carrying back” that wanders, errs, and will never be bring-­back-­able to a proper sense or proper name. And if this is necessarily the condition of tropes – and “tropes . . . pertain primordially to language” – then it is clear why reference considered “as a function of language and not necessarily as an intuition” (8) always,

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necessarily, introduces the possibility “that there can be a science of language which is not necessarily a logic” – as soon as we are willing to acknowledge the rhetorical or tropological dimension of language. Now if rhetoric or the tropological dimension of language always, potentially, interferes in and disrupts any easy continuous passage between the grammar and the logic of texts – and thereby introduces a “moment” of “literary theory proper” into any and every verbal event when it is read textually (i.e., as text, taking the rhetorical dimension into account) – then the very terms of this formulation point to that most familiar and general of linguistic models, the classical trivium, “which considers the sciences of language as consisting of grammar, rhetoric, and logic (or dialectics)” (13). The link between, or the articulation of, these liberal arts and sciences of language with the (apparently) non-­ verbal sciences of number, space, motion, and time (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music), de Man reminds us, is accomplished by way of logic: “the area where the rigor of the linguistic discourse about itself matches up with the rigor of the mathematical discourse about the world” (13). But – to foreshorten an entire reading – because rhetoric, the rhetorical dimension of language (in the broadest sense now), always comes to interfere with the possibility of any unbroken passage between grammar and logic, this most general of linguistic models has turned out to be not a model at all but rather “a set of unresolved tensions powerful enough to have generated an infinitely prolonged discourse of endless frustration of which contemporary literary theory . . . is one more chapter” (13). This infinitely prolonged discourse of endless frustration is, of course, the story and the history of literary theory, and its unresolved tensions are also powerful enough to suggest a way of studying and teaching literary theory and the history proper to it precisely as chapters of such a text which, as text, needs to be read . . . textually. In teaching a course called “Literary Theory and Its History” over the years at Irvine, I have found it useful to organize it and to teach it as a series of linguistic models – grammatical, logical, rhetorical – that, whether explicitly or not, whether wittingly or not, are always presupposed by any and every literary theory – indeed, by any and every “theory,” whether it calls itself “literary” or whatever, whenever it says anything at all about a text. That is, any such statement – about the “form” or the “meaning” of a text – always bases itself on some (presupposed) model of text and language and how they work. Hence the burden of reading literary theory consists not just in paraphrasing the meanings, arguments, and theses of these theories correctly but also (and rather) in first reconstructing the linguistic model “underneath” those meanings, arguments, and theses, and, second, in demonstrating how

­200    Material Inscriptions and why that model fails and has to fail – at precisely those moments of “literary theory proper,” when the rhetorical dimension of the theoretical discourse’s own language comes to interfere in and to render impossible any easy passage between its grammar and its logic, linguistic form and linguistic meaning. This “failure” is most pedagogically instructive and most spectacular in the case of those “theories” that are most insistent and most rigorous in their attempts to subordinate, domesticate, and reduce the rhetorical dimension of the text – the text they are reading or the text that they are – to their own presupposed linguistic model. For instance, it has been productive for me to align the projects of poetics with grammatical models of language and text, the projects of hermeneutics with what can be called logical models of language and text, and the projects of rhetorically aware “approaches” with rhetorical “models” of language and text.8 In the case of the projects of poetics – from Aristotle to Jakobson, Barthes, and Todorov – and their attempt to ground themselves on grammatical models of language and text, the interesting moment always arrives – and, since it is a moment of reading, it arrives according to the temporality of “literary theory,” i.e., always as a future past and never as a present – when the theoretical discourse has to move from the mere account of purely formal (or pseudo-­formal) intra-­textual and intra-­linguistic structures to meaning, to an account of extra-­textual and presumably extra-­linguistic (and thus ultimately universalizable) meanings as still grounded in and reducible to those formal, grammatical, structures. Inevitably and predictably enough, at these moments the theoretical discourse (whose project is a poetics) has to have recourse to those rhetorical structures, factors and functions, of language that overdetermine any attempt to determine the meaning and the reference of grammatical structures. An example may help here again. And what better example of the project of a poetics could there be than Aristotle’s own Poetics – the very first text of literary theory “proper”? The Poetics is such a good example because its attempt to ground itself on a grammatical model is particularly rigorous. This is most immediately legible in Aristotle’s theory of tragedy and its thoroughgoing emphasis on, and privileging of, one of the six elements of tragedy: namely, plot (mythos). “The plot,” writes Aristotle, “is the first principle and, as it were, the soul of tragedy” (1450a), and it takes precedence over the five other elements of tragedy: character (ethos), thought (dianoia), diction (lexis), song (melopoeia), and spectacle (opsis).9 Why plot should be the most important, indeed essential, element of tragedy is clear enough. Since tragedy is an imitation, not of men, but of an action, the other five elements of tragedy can serve the purposes of tragedy only insofar as they

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contribute to the action. Tragedy imitates character, for example, only as the agent of action and “mainly with a view to the action” (1450b). Thought (dianoia) – “that is, the faculty of saying what is possible and pertinent in given circumstances” – serves the purpose of tragedy only in speeches which make manifest “what kind of things a man chooses or avoids” (1450b), that is, which reveal moral purpose and therefore character – but, again, only insofar as it is the character of men in action, for it is by their actions that men are happy or the reverse. The remaining three elements of tragedy are still less important, with diction (lexis), “the expression of the meaning in words,” clearly assimilable to thought (dianoia), while song (melopoeia) and spectacle (opsis) are taken as mere embellishments (for “the power of tragedy . . . is felt even apart from representation and actors” [1450b]). In short, the other five elements are either reducible to plot or they are embellishments inessential to the power of tragedy. By “plot” (mythos), however, Aristotle does not mean the events or the “incidents” represented as taking place either on or off the stage. No, as Aristotle never tires of repeating, “plot” means the “structure” or the “order” or the “arrangement” (systasis) of the incidents. Killing one’s father and marrying one’s mother are not by themselves “tragic,” but they can certainly be included as “incidents,” unveiled in the right order and at the proper time, of a well-­constructed tragic plot. Since what matters above all is the structure of the plot, the order or arrangement of the incidents, most of Aristotle’s effort (from Chapter 6 through Chapter 19) is spent on the kinds, nature, and elements of well-­constructed tragic plots. This stress on plot as structure – on the grammar of plot, in short – is what makes this theory of tragedy into a proper poetics of tragedy and turns Aristotle into something of a “structuralist” avant la lettre. Now if we ask where and how this poetics of tragedy, based as it is on a grammatical model of the text (and of language) – i.e., the grammar of tragic plot – moves from purely intra-­textual and intra-­linguistic structures to meaning, to an account of extra-­textual and presumably extra-­linguistic (and thus ultimately universalizable) meanings, then we find that we need to go back to the beginning of the Poetics and start over with first things first. In the first paragraph of the Poetics, Aristotle proposes “to treat of poetry [or “poetizing”] in itself and of its various kinds, noting the essential quality of each, to inquire into the structure of the plot as requisite to a good poem; into the number and nature of the parts of which a poem is composed; and similarly into whatever else falls within the same inquiry. Following, then, the order of nature, let us begin with the principles which come first.” Aristotle certainly carries out this project in the terms and in the order announced in the first

­202    Material Inscriptions paragraph. He tells us what all poetry or poetizing is – i.e., modes of imitation (mimesis) – what mimesis is, what tragedy is, what plot is, what the elements of plot are, and so on, each time providing a definition or a description in answer to the question “What is . . .?” But a definition or a description of the “whatness” of any thing whatsoever is incomplete unless it also gives an account of what Butcher translates as “the essential quality” of the thing: that is, the dynamis, its power, faculty, capacity, ability, to do something. We can describe the parts of an axe, for example, all day long, but our account will be “insufficient for any one, ignorant of axes, who proposed to make one, without the addition of the further specification that the piece of steel must be of such a character and the handle so designed and attached to it to enable the user to cut wood.”10 So in the case of Aristotle’s definition of tragedy our account of the medium, object, and manner of tragedy and the six elements or parts of tragedy that correspond to them is correct enough, but it is incomplete so long as we do not also take into account the dynamis proper to tragedy. We all know what that is; it is the last phrase of Aristotle’s definition: “arousing pity and fear for the purposes of purgation (catharsis).” This is the dynamis, power, proper to tragedy, the specifically “tragic” effect if it is produced by a mimesis of an action, whose medium (poetic language rather than prose), object (men in action who are better than those of ordinary life), and manner (dramatic rather than narrative) are those of tragedy. That the dynamis of tragedy is indeed all-­important is clear. Each time Aristotle needs to make a decisive judgment about what matters – what matters most and what matters not at all – for the purposes of a good (i.e., well-­made) tragedy, he explicitly goes back to his definition and reiterates some version of the phrase “arousing pity and fear.” This is especially evident in Aristotle’s enumeration of the six elements of tragedy in the order of their importance. Plot is first – again, “the first principle, and, as it were, the soul of a tragedy” – and “character holds the second place” (and thought is third, diction is fourth, song is fifth, and spectacle is last). And if plot is first, it is because plot, by itself, has the ability to arouse pity and fear for the purposes of purgation. Hence plot is essential to tragedy in a way none of the other five elements can be. “If you string together a set of speeches expressive of character,” writes Aristotle, “and well finished in point of diction and thought, you will not produce the essential tragic effect (ergon) nearly so well as with a play which, however deficient in these respects, yet has a plot and artistically constructed incidents” (1450a). And in this privileging of plot, it is always plot conceived of as the structure or the order (systasis) of the incidents, as is clear from Aristotle’s reference to “artistically constructed incidents” in this passage or in another passage

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where he contrasts plot with spectacle, the least important element of tragedy: “Fear and pity may be aroused by spectacular means; but they may also result from the inner structure of the piece [Fyfe is better here: “the actual arrangement (systasis) of the incidents”11], which is the better way, and indicates a superior poet. For the plot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale will thrill with horror and melt to pity” (1453b). Since it is plot – plot as structure, the grammar of plot – that alone has the power to produce the properly tragic effect – not just pity and fear, mind you, but pity and fear produced by the imitation of an action – plot is also where and how the passage from formal, intra-­textual, grammatical structures to extra-­textual, logical meanings takes place. What Aristotle’s theory of tragedy wants, its properly theoretical impulse or imperative – based as it is on an insistently grammatical model of language and text – is an unbroken, continuous passage from the grammar of plot to the logic of universal or universalizable meanings. Indeed, it would be a passage from the grammar of plot to the patho-­logic of universal or universalizable meanings, since what we are talking about here is the logic of emotions (pathos, pathemata) like pity and fear. Just hearing a well-­constructed tragic plot – as though one could hear the order or the arrangement of the incidents, the very grammar (or the syntax, which is part of grammar) of the plot, somehow – should be enough to produce the properly tragic effect. But if Aristotle’s “grammatization” of his theoretical model is in fact so thoroughgoing and so rigorous as to require an ability to “hear” pure grammar (or pure syntax) – in order that the plot may produce the proper tragic effect – then a predictable problem arises for this poetics of tragedy – on account of not a lack but rather an excess of rigor. This excess of rigor is especially legible in Chapter 19 at the end of Aristotle’s discussion of tragedy when he comes to dispose of the third and fourth most important elements of tragedy: namely, “thought” (dianoia) and “diction” (lexis). (The two least important elements – song and spectacle – have been long [and easily] disposed of by this point in the systematic argument of the Poetics.) “Concerning thought,” writes Aristotle, “we may assume what is said in the rhetoric, to which inquiry the subject more strictly belongs.” Why the discussion of “thought” belongs more strictly to rhetoric – in contradistinction to poetics – is clear: “Under thought is included every effect which has to be produced by speech, the subdivisions being – proof and refutation; the excitation of the feelings, such as pity, fear, anger, and the like; the suggestion of importance or its opposite.” Aristotle’s including pity and fear among the emotions (pathos is the word) that may be excited by persuasive speeches is an

­204    Material Inscriptions indication of how distinct the project of a poetics is from the project of a rhetoric (a rhetoric of persuasion, at this point). That is, a well-­ constructed speech may arouse the same emotions as a well-­constructed tragic plot, but this effect will not be the properly tragic effect because the tragic plot arouses these emotions not by persuasive speech but by the imitation of an action. The proper order or arrangement of the incidents will produce the proper tragic effect. This is how I understand Aristotle’s account of the apparent similarity and the essential difference between the effect of persuasive speeches (i.e., dianoia) and the effect of tragic plot (i.e., mythos as systasis) in the sentences immediately following: “Now, it is evident that the dramatic incidents must be treated from the same point of view as the dramatic speeches, when the object is to evoke the sense of pity, fear, importance, or probability. The only difference is, that the incidents should speak for themselves without verbal exposition; while the effects aimed at in speech should be produced by the speaker, and as a result of the speech.” If these sentences once again assert the primacy of plot as the most essential element of tragedy on account of its ability to produce the properly tragic effect, then they also begin to render legible the full extent of Aristotle’s grammatical model.12 When Aristotle writes that “the incidents” – of a well-­ constructed tragic plot, presumably – “should speak for themselves without verbal exposition,” what he says is a figure, a trope, for how else understand a “speaking without speaking”? And it is not just any figure here but rather very precisely a figure for grammar, for what the order or the arrangement of the incidents of a well-­constructed tragic plot, the grammar of plot, can do – i.e., arouse the feelings of pity and fear for the purposes of purgation – without “character,” without “spectacle,” without “thought,” without any of the other elements of tragedy ­entering in. At least in theory. But the fact that the theoretical discourse cannot say the primacy of grammar over rhetoric (the rhetoric of persuasion in this case) without at the same time also having recourse to rhetoric in another sense (i.e., the rhetoric of tropes) is certainly an indication of a problem for such a theory and its grammatical model. And that the problem is indeed the rhetoric of tropes, the tropological dimension of language, becomes more evident still when Aristotle goes over to dispose of the last remaining element of tragedy: that is, lexis, diction or elocution, the act of speech. As in the case of “thought” (dianoia), Aristotle’s first move is once again to relegate at least “one branch” of lexis to “another art” – i.e., rhetoric again – insofar as it has to do with the “modes of utterance”: “But this province of knowledge belongs to the art of delivery and to the masters of that science. It includes, for instance – what is a

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command, a prayer, a statement, a threat, a question, an answer, and so forth” (1456b). But even though this part of lexis can be passed over easily enough as an inquiry “that belongs to another art, not to poetry,” Aristotle’s text, at least the best text we have, continues (in Chapter 20) by talking about what must be still another “branch” of lexis: namely, letter, syllable, conjunction, noun, verb, case, phrase. In going through what he calls non-­signifying and signifying sounds and the grammatical parts of speech, Aristotle’s account inevitably comes up against still one more element of this branch of lexis that cannot be relegated to the rhetoric of persuasion: words. Words may be simple or double, current or strange, ornamental, or newly coined, or lengthened, or contracted, or altered. But they may also be metaphorical. That is, in addition to their order or arrangement – i.e., their grammar – words can also be substituted for one another. In short, they can be tropes, for example, metaphor. Thanks in part to Derrida’s “White Mythology” (and also Ricoeur’s La Métaphore vive13), the very compact theory of metaphor in the Poetics is now well known, and justly so, since it presents the veritable program (if not hypogram) for any and every discourse on metaphor after Aristotle. Here I am less interested in the theory of metaphor itself than in its systematic place within the order of Aristotle’s argument – about the primacy of plot and the subordination and/or assimilation of all the other elements of tragedy to it – and in the implications for that argument of one particular example of metaphor. “Metaphor,” begins Aristotle, “is the application of an alien name by transference either from genus to species, or from species to genus, or from species to species, or by analogy, that is proportion” (1457b). Of these four kinds, metaphors by analogy are the best – and not just because the three other kinds can be reconstructed as metaphors by analogy also, but because they give knowledge, and they give knowledge because they are based on knowledge: specifically, the knowledge of things and their properties. And in giving knowledge, the metaphor also gives pleasure, very specifically the pleasure in learning which is natural for human beings and which is the dynamis of mimesis as such. “The old age of the day” as a metaphor for “evening” and “the evening of life” as a metaphor for “old age” are examples of metaphor by analogy. We know, say, that evening comes late in the day and that old age comes late in life – or that our sight grows dim both in old age and in the evening – and therefore, on the basis of this proper meaning, we can transfer the names and substitute evening for old age and vice versa. Such a metaphorical transference would be a clear example of how the rhetoric of tropes can be brought back to a logic of meanings, indeed an onto-­logic of entities and their proper properties. Even though Aristotle’s “discourse on metaphor

­206    Material Inscriptions belongs to a treatise peri lexo- s,” as Derrida puts it, this “theory of metaphor remains a theory of meaning.”14 But according to the order, the structure, the systasis, of Aristotle’s own argument, this “logicization,” indeed this “onto-­logicization,” of the rhetoric of tropes is also, and maybe first of all, an attempt at a “grammatization” of metaphor. That is, no matter how much transference, how much movement or substitution or exchange, among words, names, or nouns may take place, the proper meaning of the proper noun or name can always be recovered and decoded by reconstituting the order of substitutions, the syntax or the grammar of tropological transfers. In other words, Aristotle’s little theory of metaphor would want to inscribe itself into the theory of plot as structure and the thoroughgoing grammatization of its textual and linguistic model. (This treatise peri lexo- s is, always already, a treatise peri mythou.) But the plot is more complex than that. Its very rigor pushes Aristotle’s argument to give still one more example of metaphor by analogy, one in which a term is missing: “For some of the terms of the proportion there is at times no word in existence; still the metaphor may be used. For instance, to scatter seed is called sowing; but the action of the sun in scattering his rays is nameless (anonymos). Still the process bears to the sun the same relation as sowing to the seed. Hence the expression of the poet ‘sowing the god-­created light’” (1457b). According to Aristotle, the sun sowing its rays of light, the sun as sower, is still a metaphor by analogy. Here is where Derrida asks his question: “Where have we ever seen that there is the same relation between the sun and its rays as between sowing and seed?”15 Of course, we do not see the analogy between what the sun does to its rays and what the sower does to his seed. Since whatever the sun does to its rays is what makes it possible for us to see anything at all in the first place, anything “under the sun” or “in the sun,” saying that we “see” the analogy is like saying that we “see the light,” i.e., that we see the condition of possibility of seeing. No, what we do in calling the sun a sower is to impose a name and a sense on that which is nameless and senseless. This is a blind, indeed self-­blinding, imposition of a name. Since it is not based on a knowledge of entities and their proper properties, it is in fact not a metaphor at all but rather a catachresis, the overdetermined abuse of metaphor (an abuse that does not bear a determinately negative relation to proper “use”). As a self-­blinding, this catachresis mutilates; it is self-­mutilating, like all catachreses. When I call the cabbage “a head of cabbage” or the lettuce “a head of lettuce,” I generously give it a head, but I do not give it a face – who has ever heard of a “face of cabbage or lettuce”? – never mind a neck by which it could be attached to a torso. In giving it

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a head, I behead it. But of course it is not the cabbage that is mutilated. Rather than a mutilation of nature, this is a self-­mutilation on the part of him who goes around “­humanizing” – i.e., “monsterizing” – nature by giving heads to cabbages and lettuces, faces and feet to mountains, legs to tables, and so on. These are all figures for what happens to us as we dis-­figure the world by means of such figures, for, after all, it is only we who can be beheaded, whose legs can be lame, who can be stone cold. What is the point? The point is not just the catachresis and its undoing of Aristotle’s theory of metaphor. For our purposes here, more important are the consequences for Aristotle’s project of poetics and its rigorously grammatical model of language and text (i.e., tragedy as based on the grammar of plot). First of all, in order, how catachresis undoes metaphor is clear. Since metaphor is based on knowledge and gives knowledge, its use is still very much in line with Aristotle’s assumption that poetic language, indeed language as such, is mimetic. The dynamis of metaphor would be the same as that of mimesis as such: pleasure in learning, which is natural to man, recognizing Achilles under “lion” or the “old age” in the “evening.” Catachresis, however, would be an emphatically non-­mimetic use of language, the imposition of a name or a marker on that which we do not know and have no name for. For what would be the dynamis of catachresis? It cannot easily be knowledge and a pleasure in learning, for we do not learn very much about the sun or the cabbage or the table or the mountain. If we learn anything, it would have to be something about language, about its power to do this. But what would this be? Well, it would have to be the “knowledge” that language, whatever it is, is that which slips away from us, wanders away from and erodes all proper meaning, indeed, erodes us, as selves, as subjects of knowledge, self-­present and self-­identical. We “learn” that language is that which we will not be able to make an object of knowledge and consciousness. The consequences for Aristotle’s poetics of tragedy, based as it is on the grammar of plot, are equally instructive. If the transferences and substitutions of metaphor are still returnable to a grammar, to an order of substitutions, then metaphor certainly remains reducible to the grammar of plot and its putative ability to produce, by itself, the properly tragic effect. With metaphor, rhetoric, the rhetoric of tropes, would not disrupt the continuous passage from the formal structures of grammar to the universal or universalizable meanings of logic. But as an always possible, and therefore conditioning, abuse of metaphor, catachresis clearly comes to interfere with any unbroken passage between sign and meaning, grammar and logic. There may be a certain grandeur and a certain spectacularity to the catachresis of the sun as sower, based as it is on a quasi-­Oedipal self-­blinding and a pathos

­208    Material Inscriptions that we might want to identify as pity and fear. But there is nothing tragic about being beheaded by a cabbage or a lettuce! Rather than pathos, most catachreses produce bathos. Any attempt to determine the meaning and the reference of catachresis instead overdetermines it and hurls meaning into a “bottomless overdeterminability.”16 But perhaps the most instructive lesson of catachresis would be its consequences for the project of Aristotle’s Poetics as such, as the first text of literary theory “proper.” If the short theory of metaphor in the Poetics is an attempt to close off the theory of tragedy by subordinating or assimilating one last “branch” of lexis to the grammar of plot and a grammatical model of language, then, with catachresis, what happens instead is that this theoretical discourse, in the very act of trying to close itself off, to draw its own borders – to know what it is talking about – can’t do it. And it can’t do it in a specific, determined, indeed overdetermined and overdetermining, way: namely, when it moves from logic, the logic of its argument, to rhetoric, the rhetoric of tropes, in giving examples of metaphor by analogy. As in the case of catachresis, this would be a mutilation, in fact a self-­mutilation, on the part of a theory that wants to be complete, self-­identical, indeed a self, a subject. This happens and had to have happened because the “literary theory” of the Poetics is, after all – or is it first of all? – itself a catachresis. It is itself a catachresis, the giving of a name to the nameless, on account of the fact that the very project of the Poetics as a theory of the poetizing mimesis that “imitates by language alone” is an attempt at a theory of that which “has hitherto been without a name (anonymos),” as the first chapter puts it. The treatise “On poetics” (peri poietikes) is in fact a treatise “On the anonymous” (peri anonymou). In other words, the Poetics can be read as a catachresis for this art, anonymous in Greek, namely literature. In its trajectory from anonymos to anonymos – from the namelessness of literature in the first chapter of the text to the namelessness of what the sun does to its rays in Chapter 21 – from one catachresis to an other, the Poetics, in its very attempt to fill in, to supplement, the lack of a name for literature, instead only reproduces the lack. All this was predicted, it was all already programmed, not just in the opening paragraphs of the Poetics but also always already in Aristotle’s famous passage in the Physics on what it is that art (techne-) does. Art, says Aristotle, in part imitates nature (physis) and in part brings to completion what nature herself could not.17 If we work out the logic, what Lacoue-­Labarthe calls the “hyperbologic,” of this statement, we arrive very soon at some vertiginous double binds.18 It is not just that the possible incompleteness of nature suggests that nature is not wholly natural, not wholly herself, and that therefore art, in being able to complete nature, bring nature to

The Future Past of Literary Theory    ­209

completion, may be more natural than nature. It is also and rather that art, in part imitating and in part completing nature, may imitate nature in its incompleteness, that in the very act of completing nature art may also reproduce only nature’s incompleteness. This is indeed the logic of the supplement, and it programs the project of the Poetics.19 All this (and more, much more, supplementarily more) can be read, not only in the very first anonymos of the text, but also already in the very first word of the text: peri (on, about, of). Peri poietikes are the words with which the Poetics begins, and they have become its title. Aristotle mentions peri in Chapter 20 among the connecting words, the non-­signifying sounds that signify when they connect other sounds in a composite sound. But peri would be a “connecting” word in still another sense. Although in itself a non-­signifying sound (phone asemos), peri is the very word of signification itself, the very expression of the referential function itself. “On,” “about,” “of,” all refer, all carry back, to an undetermined and to-­be-­determined X. But the only way for this X to be determined is for this “carrying back” to get converted into a “carrying over or across,” a trans-­port or trans-­ference, meta-­pherein, metaphor. And such phenomenalization of reference in a metaphor also always brings along with itself the abuse of metaphor, namely catachresis, which overdetermines the meaning of X and renders its reference aberrant. As a treatise on, about, of poetics, which turns out to be a treatise on, about, of the anonymous, Aristotle’s peri poietikes is also always a treatise peri peri, on on, about about, of of. Needless to say, something similar happens to the projects of hermeneutics that would ultimately base themselves on “logical” models of language and text – only in reverse. That is, the hermeneut too always has to reach the point where the attempt to bring back and reduce all non-­signifying, purely formal, grammatical and syntactical, structures of language and text to a meaning ultimately grounded in an ultimate horizon of meaning – whether it be Salvation History or, say, the history of capitalism or, at certain moments, even the horizon of the question of the meaning of Being and the history or destiny (Geschick) of Being’s self-­forgetting – inevitably cannot do so without recourse to rhetorical structures and operations that overdetermine any meaning the hermeneut comes up with, that “stave in”20 his hermeneutic horizon, and turn his so-­called “histories” into allegories (of reading and unreadability, yes). (Insofar as Heidegger – for example, in his interpretations of Hölderlin and of Nietzsche – is a hermeneut, he too is subject to such a reading; to the extent – the divided border of a divided “extent” – that he is also [always already] something else, he also . . . reads.)21 In any event, let me not take de Man’s remark about literary theory

­210    Material Inscriptions as “an infinitely prolonged discourse of endless frustration” too literally. Let me end instead by simply stating what I see as the main advantage of this way of studying and teaching “theory,” literary theory – that is, as a series of “self-­destructing” linguistic models. The advantage is that it allows one, forces one, to read the texts of literary theory, that is, to teach the past and the future of literary theory, its future past, and not to reduce it to the empty thematic theses of bygone presents. In regard to “literary theory proper,” as it were, the present landscape is most appropriate and most promising, for, as always, it promises that literary theory – which is not, was not, and never will be – will have been, whenever we read whatever, texts as texts. The time of literary theory as “future past” is not just a verb tense, but should instead be read as something of a grammatical syntagm, the metonymical juxtaposition of future and past in a disjunctive relation to one another on account of the always self-­destructing “present” that would lie “between” them.

Notes   1. The first half of this chapter was originally written for (but not delivered at) a conference in Valencia, Spain, on “The Future of Literary Theory” (1998). My thanks to Manuel Asensi.   2. Jonathan Culler, Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 1–2.   3. The “essence” or “truth” or “in-­itself” of consciousness – i.e., a knowing that thinks it knows an object that is differentiated from it and related to it – is self-­consciousness. That is, consciousness can be what it is – knowing as a knowing of an object – only because it is in essence, in truth, self-­ consciousness – knowing as a self-­knowing. That would be the movement of the dialectic of consciousness (and its first three figures) in the opening 140 pages of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, which issues in the second major division: self-­consciousness, whose own essence and truth can be verified only in an other self-­consciousness.   4. For instance, in the tradition of what one could call “romantic” theories of language going back to Herder and Rousseau, or even further back to Vico. Heidegger’s “Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry” and his other writings on language provide more recent examples in this “romantic” line. See Martin Heidegger, Erläuterungen zu Hölderlins Dichtung (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1971).  5. First published in Yale French Studies 63 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982) and then reprinted in de Man’s The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), pp. 3–20. All page references to de Man’s essay are to The Resistance to Theory.  6. See de Man’s readings of Pascal and of Kant in his Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996). See also my “Allegories of Reference: An Introduction to Aesthetic

The Future Past of Literary Theory    ­211 Ideology,” on de Man’s reading of Pascal, and my “‘As the Poets Do It’: On the Material Sublime,” on de Man’s reading of Kant. Both are now in my Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013).  7. Aristotle, The “Art” of Rhetoric, trans. John Henry Freese (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1926), p. 367.  8. As will become clear below, these can hardly be models if “rhetoric” is that which always comes to interfere in any unbroken passage between grammar and logic.  9. Unless otherwise identified, all quotations of Aristotle’s Poetics are in S.  H.  Butcher’s translation, reprinted in Hazard Adams (ed.), Critical Theory Since Plato (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971). 10. I quote Ronald Crane’s explanation of dynamis in The Languages of Criticism and the Structure of Poetry (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953), p. 53. His remarking of Aristotle’s use of the word in the first paragraph of the Poetics was crucial for my reading. 11. Aristotle, The Poetics, trans. W. Hamilton Fyfe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1932), p. 49. 12. This may be one place where my interpretation actually “disagrees” with Derrida’s in “White Mythology.” His stress on the difference between dianoia and lexis is certainly correct enough and useful for the set-­up of his reading of Aristotle, but he may be leaving out the stress on plot still here in Chapter 19: that is, it seems that Aristotle lines up dramatic speeches with dianoia, whereas he lines up the incidents of the plot with a lexis that would be a “speaking without speaking.” It is worth noting that there is some debate about what Aristotle’s text actually says here and what the most correct text would be. See Jacques Derrida, “La mythologie blanche,” in Marges (Paris: Minuit, 1972), p. 276. English translation by Alan Bass in Margins (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 232. See also Bass’s helpful footnote #38 here. 13. Paul Ricoeur, La Métaphore vive (Paris: Seuil, 1975). 14. Derrida, “La mythologie blanche,” p. 277, and “White Mythology,” p. 233. 15. Derrida, “La mythologie blanche,” p. 290, and “White Mythology,” p. 243 (translation modified). 16. The French is “surdéterminabilité sans fond.” Derrida, “La mythologie blanche,” p. 291, and “White Mythology,” p. 243. 17. See Aristotle’s Physics, Book II, Chapter 8 (199a). 18. See Philippe Lacoue-­Labarthe’s “Le paradoxe et la mimésis” and his essays on Hölderlin in L’Imitation des modernes (Paris: Galilée, 1986). English in Typography (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989). 19. And it programs any and every discourse on metaphor afterwards, all the way up to and including Derrida’s “White Mythology,” whose project is to take the “law of supplementarity” as a hypothesis to be “verified” in several examples. “La mythologie blanche,” p. 273, and “White Mythology,” p.  229. It is symptomatic that the constitutively self-­incompleting, self-­ fragmenting, nature of Aristotle’s Poetics is reproduced in the commentaries that, inevitably, take it literally. See the reasons for Gerald Else’s refusal to comment on Chapters 20–2 in his 650-­page Aristotle’s Poetics: The

­212    Material Inscriptions Argument (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), p. 567: “The three and one-­half chapters (including the second half of chapter 19) which deal with lexis are omitted from this study for three reasons: (1) they are technical to a very high degree (especially chapters 20 and 21) and bristle with special problems, so that any cogent discussion of them would have to be inordinately long and complex; (2) to a degree unequalled by any other part of the work they have to be considered (again chapters 20 and 21 particularly) in a special context, that of the development of ‘grammatical’ study in Greece; and (3) they have very little – astonishingly little – connection with any other part of Aristotle’s theory of poetry.” Else would seem to protest too much – as though the merely “technical” and “grammatical” aspects of lexis were of no interest or importance for “Aristotle’s theory of poetry”! – and, for good measure, wonders “whether chapters 20 and 21 in particular are early or late, and how much of them is genuine.” When all else fails, one can always doubt the authenticity of the text. In his translation of the Poetics, W. Hamilton Fyfe does not do much better. He grudgingly translates Chapter 20 but then urges the reader to skip it: “A translator is bound to render this chapter, since the balance of evidence is in favor of its inclusion. But the reader is advised to skip it, since it is written from the point of view of grammar and philology, and does not, like the succeeding chapter, deal with the literary use of words. It is also very obscure” (pp. 74–5). When the text becomes “obscure,” it is best just not to read it – as though “grammar” and “philology” could not possibly matter to Aristotle. Like Else, Fyfe seems to be very much in the thrall of the belated (and rather un-­Greek) aesthetic conception of the “literary.” 20. Such “staving in” (crever), as Barbara Harlow translates it, of Heidegger’s hermeneutic horizon is at least part of the operation performed by Derrida’s Spurs (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 82: “C’est l’horizon de cette question heideggerienne, au moment où il oriente la lecture la plus exigeante, qu’il faudra un peu plus tard, peut-­être, après le détour dans lequel nous sommes, crever.” 21. Needless to say, an extensive labor of reading is necessary to demonstrate this. For some indications, see my two essays on Heidegger’s interpretations of Hölderlin: “Heidegger Reading Hölderlin,” in Readings in Interpretation:  Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), and “Monstrous History: Heidegger Reading Hölderlin,” now in Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man. On Heidegger’s interpretation of Nietzsche, see Derrida’s Spurs and “Interpreting Signatures (Nietzsche/Heidegger): Two Questions,” Philosophy and Literature 10:2 (October 1986), pp. 246–62.

Appendix Interview: “Deconstruction at Yale”

Stuart Barnett:  1. Could you tell us about how you got into literature and theory?1 Andrzej Warminski:  How I “got into literature and theory”? There’s something of a late ’60s ring in that “into,” but I suppose that in my case it’s appropriate enough, for the choices I made did indeed have a lot to do with the “lingo” of the ’60s. And, indeed, with “lingo” as such, especially when it comes to my interest in something called “literature.” From an early age, and no doubt unbeknownst to me, I had a fascination with language – and “language” in the most direct, immediate, everyday sense, as in “Polish language” or “German language.” I was born in Gdansk, ´ Poland, some years after the war to parents who were “Poles” ethnically but who had themselves been born and brought up in a political entity called the “Free City of Danzig” – the old Hansastadt with a distinctive culture of its own and whose language was predominantly German (though a “Danziger” kind of German at that). Meaning that my parents grew up speaking both German and Polish and attending, alternately, German and Polish schools. This bilingualism had both certain advantages – it helped them and their families to survive the war and the German occupation – and disadvantages. In brief, it allowed my parents to be considered as second-­class citizens by whoever happened to be in power: as German-­speaking but Polish Danziger, they could be counted as second-­class Germans; and as German-­speaking Danziger whose spoken Polish was different from that of Poles coming from central Poland to occupy Danzig (now Gdansk) ´ after the war, they could count as somewhat suspect, second-­class, Poles. But, in either case, one was always good enough to be drafted into somebody’s army to serve as cannon-­fodder – for instance, on the Russian front! In any case, even the mention of the name “Danzig” opens up a whole can of worms – or is it eel? or flounder? – and I had better not take up space with them. (One can always read Günter Grass or the memoirs my father published

­214    Material Inscriptions in Germany: Sigmund Warminski, Danzig – Heimatland, Lustige und wehmütige Erinnerungen eines Wanderers zwischen dem alten Europa und der Neuen Welt.2) All I want to get across is that what I’m calling my early “fascination with language” began, and had to begin, already in Poland on account of my growing up in a bilingual family – which, though it had two languages, had no country. Although I myself grew up speaking Polish until the age of eight when we came to the US, I have a distinct memory of somehow always having “understood” the German that my parents and grandparents would regularly speak – in particular, when they “didn’t want the children to understand” while talking, for example, about the ordeals of the war or Christmas presents! Coming to America and learning English, for me, no doubt only deepened that fascination with, and self-­consciousness about, language. I had become an avid reader at a rather early age and remember reading books by Sienkiewicz and, in Polish translation, Jules Verne and Mark Twain, years before I started first grade. I learned English quickly, as children do, and resumed my reading habits in America. Although as a child I read mostly history – pirates, wars, naval battles, American statesmen, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (at age eleven, as I recall) – an inevitable accompanying self-­consciousness about the language of the reading no doubt pushed me toward “the literary” if not yet toward “literature” as such. By the time I was in high school at Chaminade – a Catholic high school on Long Island run by the Marianist order – that self-­consciousness about language had me switch my allegiance to literature. By junior year I tried my hand at writing stories and poems and, with a friend, founded a new literary journal at the school. Anyway, that’s how I got “into” literature. Since this entry was not so much into “literature” as into, call it, “the literary” – as an interest in, say, “language about language” or the question of “metalanguage” – you can see how, already, it was also an entry into “theory.” I think I can trace how I “got into theory” very directly through three stages, places, of my schooling: Chaminade, Columbia, Yale. Since Yale is the last station in this itinerary, it will help me to set up the answers to your second and third questions, both of which are about “Yale.” My first explicit step toward “theory” took place already at Chaminade High School. Perhaps predictably enough, it did not take place in classes on English literature but in Religion class. The Marianists had always been a curious order. More “secular,” more “worldly,” than the Brothers who taught at other Catholic high schools – I recall that my freshman teacher of “Religion” was a Brother who was a member of SNCC (Students’ Non-­Violent Coordinating Committee, for those whose memory of the ’60s is dim or non-­existent) and participated with

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Stokely Carmichael in civil rights protests in the South – the Marianists were always somewhat disapproved of by the Church and the Vatican. When it came to teaching “Religion,” they did not spend much time on Christian doctrine or on catechism and instead preferred to teach us versions of ethics – social relations, human relations – philosophy, and psychology. (In practice, this meant that we spent more time in “Religion” class watching movies like The Seventh Seal or films of natural child-­birth and discussing the lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel or Bob Dylan songs than reading the Bible or memorizing catechism questions and answers. I have a distinct memory of the school body’s singing “Feelin’ Groovy” at the end of a Mass as the priest and altar boys proceeded up the aisle in the school auditorium!) The explicit push toward “theory” came in senior year Religion class where we read a book called The Estranged God by Anthony Padovano, S.J., which was something of a “trot” on the varieties of “existentialism” – in the book’s terms, atheistic, agnostic, and Christian existentialism – in both literary and philosophical texts (as well as films like those of Ingmar Bergman). I recall that there were thumbnail sketches of Heidegger, Jaspers, Sartre, Camus, Buber, Marcel, and their works. There’s nothing that will make a Catholic high school lad want to go and read a book like the Brother’s warning that this book was or had been proscribed and on the Church’s “Index.” Or to hear about a character in a book who kills somebody for no reason, just for the hell of it! Anyway, thus began an interest in French literature and thought. In high school, I devoured all the Camus and all the Sartre I could get my hands on in translation – novels, plays, essays, notebooks, and “philosophical” treatises I was not ready for – and then moved on to French fiction like Gide and from there to Stendhal and Balzac. But the introduction to philosophy – or at least to soft “philosophizing” of an existentialist type – left its mark. As an undergraduate at Columbia – I entered in the fall of 1968, i.e., in the first post-­spring-­of-­’68 freshman class, a good part of which came to Columbia for “the revolution” – I majored in “English and Comparative Literature” and wasn’t exposed to much “theory” per se. Although something called “structuralism” was stirring some interest in French departments, it was a bit early for “theory,” especially in the Columbia English department, with the Dupee/Trilling presence and legacy still very strong. I took a couple of courses with Edward Said – at that time a young and recently tenured professor whose only book was the dissertation on Conrad and who had not yet become active in Palestinian issues (though he taught T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom quite wonderfully in a class on “Modern British Literature”) – but, in his undergraduate English courses, he never once even mentioned the names

­216    Material Inscriptions of theorists like Barthes or Foucault that (I now know) he was reading and writing about at the time. Nevertheless, the atmosphere at Columbia was, inadvertently perhaps, “theory-­friendly” in specific ways. One was the strength of the modified St. John’s great books core curriculum that at Columbia took the form of the “Humanities” and “Contemporary Civilization” courses that every undergraduate had to take. This was “theory-­friendly” in the sense that it made the literary instruction at Columbia much more open and receptive to Continental texts and influences than it might otherwise have been. In addition to the “classics” of Western literature – from The Iliad to “The Wasteland” – we read a great deal of p ­ hilosophy – from Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics on – in the Humanities course. And Contemporary Civilization was nothing so much as a course on political theory, indeed, in 1968–9, a course on revolution: after some of the classics of political theory (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau), we read clusters of texts on the French Revolution, the revolutions of 1848, and the Russian Revolution. I followed up the freshman and sophomore Humanities and “CC” sequences by taking four semesters of Columbia’s elite and grandiose-­sounding “Colloquium on Language, Literature, History, and Philosophy.” Founded by Dupee and Trilling – both of whom were very open to Continental literature – this course concentrated on one broad period per semester, with “The Ancient World,” “The Renaissance,” “The Nineteenth Century,” and “The Twentieth Century” making up the four semesters. (To be admitted into the course, one had to apply in writing and undergo an interview with two of the instructors. I recall that Said was one of the co-­teachers of my last two semesters, and it was here that I heard him for the first time say anything on “theoretical” texts like Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and Lévi-­Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques.) There was one two-­hour session meeting per week, at which the two instructors and twelve or so students were supposed to get to the bottom of the one assigned book for the week. In any case, in talking about these courses, my point is that one could satisfy the requirements of the “English” major at Columbia while taking very few “English” courses indeed – that is, courses in which the canon of English literary history and, along with it, what I would call “the ideology of English studies” was taught. Looking back on my “literary” education at Columbia, I see quite clearly that the texts, authors, issues, and questions that excited me most were those which would make one predisposed and ready for “theory.” What felt like the “clarity” of French thought and the sheer “weirdness” of German literature decided me in the direction of Comparative Literature. At Columbia, I took four years of courses in German literature, started

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French and got up to the “Introduction to Literature” level, and also took a year of Russian in senior year. That I was destined for, or rather doomed to, an unhealthy interest in literary theory, literary criticism, and the academic life is legible to me in one specific memory from those days: I remember reading Flaubert’s Sentimental Education for the Colloquium and positively hurrying to finish it so that I could go on to read the criticism on it, as though to say “This is so great, I want to know what people think of it so that I can figure out what I think of it!” Both Columbia and Yale admitted me to their Comp. Lit. Ph.D. programs, and I decided where to go by checking the national rankings of the various national literature departments at the two schools – in 1972, Yale was higher in all fields but Slavic Studies, as I recall – and by asking my teachers. Stephen Donadio – an “Instructor” with whom I had taken a freshman seminar on T. S. Eliot and other courses – said: “Comp. Lit. at Yale? Geoffrey Hartman is there.” Said said: “You should go to Yale and take courses with Paul de Man.” It was certainly the first time I had heard these names.3 Graduate study in literature or in other humanities disciplines no doubt had a particular place, a particular function, in the mind-­set – in the “class consciousness,” as it were – of young people who came of age in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Whether we were conscious of it or not, it definitely represented a commitment to protest and “resistance” of some kind. In my own case, I certainly did not know very clearly why I was going to graduate school, and, indeed, I remember thinking of it as a kind of “experiment”: “If I like it, I’ll continue. If not, I’ll go back to New York and go to acting school.” All I did know was that I could write pretty good papers, that I didn’t want to go into “business” like my father, and that I didn’t want to go to law school in order to become a technician of the machine called “the law.” Strange (and perhaps self-­ deluded) as it may seem to those who came later – i.e., the graduate student generations of the ’80s – in its own way and at that time, going to graduate school in literature represented a certain “counter-­cultural” choice, at least for those of us who had undergone a “formation” (and an inevitable “radicalization”) at places like Columbia. (Of my four springs at Columbia, only one ended “normally” – that is, with final exams taken and final papers written – with the three others all disrupted by protests, building-­occupations, strikes, and attendant merry-­ making. One result of this was very poor study habits for years to come: whenever spring arrives, the hope springs up that “I won’t have to write my papers.”) In any case, I say this about the background of my decision to go to graduate school, for I think it is typical of a certain “generation” – and

­218    Material Inscriptions different from the generations that preceded and followed us into graduate literary study. As far as academics goes, Yale Comp. Lit. was not a disappointment. Most of the graduate instruction in courses was thoroughly competent, and I remember reading as much in one semester as I had read in a year at Columbia (where we in fact read a lot!). In my first semester, I got a certain introduction to poetry in a course taught by Geoffrey Hartman: “Pre-­ romanticism in Germany, France, and England.” (Columbia English was very [modernist] fiction-­heavy.) We spent a good amount of time on Hölderlin, and Hartman suggested that we read both Heidegger and de Man on Hölderlin. (I did so dutifully – in German and in French – but I doubt I understood much.) Still, although I was very impressed – for instance, by Hartman’s hyper-­sensitive ear for pre-­romantic lyric, his acute sense for genre, and so on – learning a lot in courses, and writing decent papers, I do remember thinking in first semester: “Well, I can do this, but . . . so what?” In other words, there was not much . . . what? . . . “inspiration” to continue, not much of a vocation to stay in graduate school or in academics. Until the second semester, that is, when I took a course with Paul de Man on “Autobiography.” That year (1972–3) was, I believe, de Man’s second at Yale, but something like a mystique had certainly already grown up around him, at least among the most competitive students, those who were eager to demonstrate their seriousness and “rigor.” (My own first, somewhat comical, contact with de Man came in the fall of first year. He was serving as Director of Graduate Studies in the Comp. Lit. department and therefore had the job of greeting new students and approving their course schedules. In response to his question about my interests, I remember very well telling him that I wanted to write a dissertation on “the novel” and that I wanted to finish the Ph.D. in three [!!] years. Without blinking, he retorted: “Nobody has ever done it, but . . . try!” – no doubt thinking to himself, “A prize fool we’ve got in this one!”) In “Autobiography” we read Rousseau and Wordsworth, but what was most striking, indeed amazing, about the course was the level of reflection on which de Man’s thinking and reading moved. Although I understood very little at the beginning, it was clear that the question of autobiographical discourse and of the “genre” of autobiography was being posed “on the level of language” as reflectively and rigorously as possible. “This man is thinking! In the university! And getting away with it!” I marveled. “How does he get away with it?” I determined to find out and began to do so by trying to understand what he was saying. I think that it took me a good twenty years or so. Indeed, I’m still trying to figure out at least one of the last essays – namely, “Hegel on the Sublime,” which is extremely compact but which contains, in germ,

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most of what de Man might have said about “the political” explicitly had he lived a bit longer.4 In any case, like a number of my colleagues in graduate school during the 1970s, there’s no doubt in my mind that I stayed in grad school and then in the so-­called “profession” because of de Man – on account of his teaching and the intellectual project he put before us. With that, I’m moving into the area of your second question. SB:  2. You were really at ground zero of the importation of deconstruction into the States. Could you talk about those days at Yale with de Man and Derrida? AW:  At “ground zero of the importation of deconstruction into the States”? I like the “ground zero” in that formulation! But the word “deconstruction” opens up a whole other can of worms, as always, especially as it concerns “those days at Yale with de Man and Derrida.” I’ll try to answer as directly as I can. For starters, I would say that, in fact, there was no “deconstruction” at Yale – ever! – and in several senses. During my graduate school days in the ’70s, for instance, the word “deconstruction” hardly ever came up – except as a relatively technical term that appeared (and not very prominently) in Derrida’s 1967 La Voix et le phénomène and De la grammatologie, or, a bit later, when de Man started using the term (also rather unobtrusively) to designate the (self-­)undoing of metaphorical models of language and text. (Whenever he did so, de Man made it very clear that he could as well have said something like “undoing.”) This is quite consistently de Man’s (again, relatively infrequent) use of the word in the 1970s – as is legible in the essays that make up Allegories of Reading (all written in the 1970s).5 That de Man did indeed understand very well what the word meant in Derrida – and that his own usage was, perhaps, a strategic operation of grafting – is also legible in these essays: for instance, in the second half of “Semiology and Rhetoric,” where he says that the microscopic reading of a passage in Proust that he has just performed was essentially not different from the “deconstruction” that Nietzsche extends to the main categories of Western metaphysics. When Derrida started giving his regular annual lectures at Yale (in 1975), he also hardly ever used the word. This is quite understandable, since, for him, the word did indeed belong to an already earlier phase of his work in the 1960s. By 1975, his work had invented and multiplied so many non-­technical terms – all those “which is neither a word nor a concept” terms that were rapidly gaining notoriety. So, the upshot is that we graduate students at Yale – those of us who considered ourselves students of de Man, first, and, indirectly, also students of Derrida – never conceived of what we were doing as

­220    Material Inscriptions “deconstruction.” Instead, if anything, the commitment was to the intellectual project that de Man put in front of us, and we conceived of that project as a mode of reading that paid close attention to the rhetorical dimension of texts (and of language) and its disruptive, subversive, and critical power in relation to all totalizing interpretations (i.e., ideologies, as at least some of us learned by the early ’80s). We were particularly lucky in this regard, for the ’70s were indeed the years during which de Man was working out his version of rhetorical reading and the “theory of reading” (i.e., allegory of the theory of reading) he talks about in the Preface to Allegories of Reading. I say “lucky” because the fact that de Man was in the process of working out these problematics in his teaching meant that we went through a more “natural,” as it were, process of formation than would have been the case if he had been presenting already finished, worked out, “readings” (as he did in the early ’80s when he was hurriedly trying to get a lot on paper with death approaching). What I mean is a difference analogous to Descartes’ account of the difference between “analytic” and “synthetic” methods of presentation. The analytic method does not merely present already discovered truths but rather shows how those truths were discovered – a method of teaching that entails the student’s retracing of the path and making the “discovery” (as though) for himself. In any case, de Man’s teaching and our experience of it in the 1970s was more “analytic” in this sense. The sequence would go somewhat like this: the class would read, say, some text of Rousseau’s, de Man would spend a number of class sessions framing and reframing the question, sometimes trying out ways to think it “on the level of language” (a favorite phrase of his from those days), and, perhaps, on some unforeseen day, hitting us with the payoff of an actual “reading.” But then the following year – or a few months later – his published essay on that text would come out, with everything very tight and embedded in a different frame (one sometimes dictated by the lecture occasion for which he wound up “writing up” the reading). So then we would photocopy the essay, read it, reread it, argue about it, brood over that which we still did not understand and the obstacle to our understanding, and so on. For those of us who wound up teaching at Yale – and TAing in the undergraduate course co-­taught by Hartman and de Man (“Reading and Rhetorical Structures,” first called “Lit. z” and then “Lit. 130”), as I did – the “formation” continued when we would have to teach that same Rousseau or Nietzsche text to undergraduates and to explain de Man’s reading to them. I think this is probably where the real teaching took place, for there was no way to explain de Man’s lectures to sophomores without understanding them oneself. (I consider myself particularly fortunate in this regard, for by staying at

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Yale as faculty I got to teach Lit. 130 from 1979 to 1987 – first as a TA and occasional lecturer, then as one of the two main co-­instructors, once with de Man and once with Hartman, then, after de Man’s death, twice with my friend Kevin Newmark.) In any event, that was “deconstruction at Yale” in the 1970s and even in the early 1980s – i.e., even during the period when the word was gaining a lot of currency, and even more notoriety, in the public press of literary study (and in the public press properly speaking, e.g., Newsweek), and referring precisely to what de Man was doing as some version of “American deconstruction” or “deconstructive reading.” It may seem a little funny in retrospect, but I have to say that, from our point of view at Yale, “deconstruction” was rather what was taking place at Johns Hopkins and not at Yale – ­especially with the founding of Glyph and the manifesto-­like impact of the work produced by the Glyph circle at Hopkins.6 So: there was no deconstruction at Yale in those years. But just because we did not use the word – and looked down on the various popularizations of “deconstruction” in handbooks that started coming out in the late 1970s and early ’80s – it certainly did not keep others, outside Yale, from codifying (and reifying) whatever was going on at Yale as “deconstruction,” “deconstructive reading” – and then later as, gods help us, “deconstructivism,” “deconstructionism,” and other monstrosities. I think it is clear today that these codifications, institutionalizations, and popularizations amounted to nothing so much as attempts to neutralize the authentically critical power of Derrida’s and de Man’s work – for instance, by presenting it as a method of analysis with an occult power to turn all positivity into negative knowledge (arrayed in the trappings of a pathos-­ridden rhetoric of mutilation, dismemberment, death, and destruction!). It is a singular (but consistent and predictable) irony, but I think it safe to say that “deconstruction” suffered more at the hands of its many “friends” – those who by institutionalizing it wound up neutralizing and domesticating its critical power – than it ever did at the hands of its “enemies” – all those right and left ideologues who charged it with anti-­humanism, nihilism, or worse. The good intentions of these “friends” of deconstruction are not in question – some of them are still my (ex-­)friends! – but only the recuperative power of ideology, or rather ideologies – the ideologies of (English) literary studies in the US, of the humanistic disciplines in general, of the university, and so on, no doubt all the way up (or down) to the ideology of Western metaphysics. I would say that we are all still suffering from the neutralization and domestication – by institutionalization – of “deconstruction” today – in the chaotic disarray and simple lack of . . . yes, rigor . . . in the “humanities” – but also, perhaps, benefitting from the explosion

­222    Material Inscriptions of truly critical discourses that deconstruction’s actual event (which is not to be confused with its institutional standing) made possible. In any case, so much for the “importation of deconstruction.” There is a lot to be said about it. In talking about its institutionalization, I have already moved to the area of your third question about the “Yale Critics” and the “Yale School.” SB:  3. You had a front row seat during the heyday of the Yale critics. Yet how strange is that term? It’s actually hard to consider it a school, especially during the time when Bloom was confusedly seen to be a part of it. Plus they were a tiny minority in a large department (those who were in English). And since then, Yale itself has seemed to only want to distance itself from such a notion. Does the term even have a heuristic function? At the same time, however, one has to admit the clear, identifiable legacy, especially in terms of students, of that (dare one call it) brief, shining moment. How should it go down in the histories of literary criticism? AW:  The “heyday of the Yale critics”! The term is indeed strange, for the group of people yoked under it certainly did not make up any kind of “school” even in the way that, say, the “Geneva School” critics or the “Chicago” critics could be thought of as a “school.” And, as in the case of the term “deconstruction,” these terms – “Yale Critics,” “Yale School” – have also had an overdetermined (though shorter) history, much of it unhappy, as is always the case when intellectual labor with a truly critical power gets coupled to institutional considerations, structures, and exigencies. And there’s always something “heuristic” – better, pedagogical – in such unhappy histories – especially when they involve an institution (or even just its proper name which, in a sense, is the institution!) with as long and overdetermined a history as Yale’s. Before getting to these institutional questions, let me step back a bit and talk about the way in which “Yale Critics” and “Yale School” did in fact make intellectual sense. As always when one is talking about “Yale” during those years, it goes back to de Man – not so much to the person de Man as, again, to his intellectual project in the 1970s. The most economical way to state what it is that the “Yale Critics” – i.e., de Man, Miller, Hartman, Bloom, plus (in a problematic sense that I’m discussing in these answers) Derrida – had in common, at least during the ’70s (and perhaps only during the ’70s), would be to say that all of them were at this time participating in their own different ways (and on account of their own varying histories) in what was in fact de Man’s intellectual project by paying attention to, foregrounding, the rhetorical dimension of language and text. Given the superficial and ideologically

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tainted (pseudo-­)histories that have come down to us, this may not be so obvious today – even or especially to those who participated (as I think Hartman’s and Miller’s answers to your questions about “Yale” ­demonstrate) – but it was very clear to us graduate students at Yale during the 1970s. Let me explain this for those who do not have the argument of de Man’s “Resistance to Theory” at their fingertips – or who have never read it! In their pre-­1970s careers – already solidly established and institutionally successful careers, one might add – Hartman, Bloom, and Miller were, in one sense or another, “hermeneuts,” that is, talented interpreters for whom the meaning of individual texts was to be determined against the background, the horizon, of a logic of (universal or universalizable) meanings. However differently this may manifest itself, it is nevertheless quite legible in, for example, Hartman’s admirable Wordsworth book of 1964 (a study of Wordsworth’s “consciousness of consciousness”), Bloom’s paraphrases of the meaning of romantic poems in the terms of a recognizably (Blakean?) dialectical logic in Visionary Company, and Miller’s Geneva-­School interpretations of fiction and poetry. None of the three was all that much of a “formalist” or all that interested in the form, the grammar, of texts. Nevertheless, it could not be helped, I suppose, that there was a fairly keen sense of, or instinct for, form in the work of critics who, after all, had come of age during the heyday of the New Criticism and its practice of close reading. (And different senses of “form” at that: the instinct for “form” in Hartman’s acute sense of genre and period and in Bloom’s prodigious mechanical memory of the turnings of English verse.) What happened to these “hermeneuts” in the 1970s was a certain coming “under the influence” of, primarily, Continental influences that made it possible and necessary for them to begin to question any unproblematic link or passage between linguistic form – the “grammar” of texts – and linguistic meaning – the “logic” of texts. This putting into question of any and every unproblematic possibility of passage between the form and the meaning, the grammar and the logic, of texts is what I’m calling “the rhetorical dimension” of language and text. The push toward an acknowledgement of this dimension came from “Continental influences,” as I call them, of various sorts. Hartman and Miller were, of course, already well schooled in European criticism – with Hartman already a reader of German philosophy and philology and Miller a thorough reader of the Geneva School, Blanchot, and others – but what appeared for them on the scene around 1970 was new and different: in short, the concurrent arrival on American shores of both “structuralism” and its critique in the form of Derrida’s “deconstruction” and de Man’s version of it as a certain kind

­224    Material Inscriptions of rhetorical reading. However much his historicizing instincts might protest, Hartman’s acute (“Beyond Formalism”) sense of poetic form could not help but be transformed by the explicitly linguistic terms of French structuralism and its relation to meaning problematized. For Miller, the structuralist moment was less important, I would say, for he seemed to go relatively directly from the Geneva “criticism of consciousness” to a de Manian type of rhetorical reading. (One could perhaps mark out the moment of transition in his essay on Wordsworth’s “Dream of the Arab” – “The Stone and the Shell,” first published in a Festschrift for Georges Poulet – where, a lot of the time, one almost feels as though the word “language” is written where the word “consciousness” was or was meant to be!) Bloom’s case was always a bit different, as your question remarks, but in the 1970s it was in fact not all that different. Indeed, there is a sense in which the sources of his turn to rhetoric were perhaps more directly “deconstructive” than those of Hartman and Miller: namely, the “hermeneutics of suspicion” of Nietzsche and Freud (with the third member of the triumvirate, Marx, being pointedly left out by Bloom . . . shades of what was to come in later Bloom!). It might be forgotten now, but that the inspiration for Bloom’s so-­called “theory of poetry” – as always, in fact an allegory of theory – in Anxiety of Influence (and its follow-­ups in A Map of Misreading, Poetry and Repression, and Kaballah and Criticism) was primarily and first of all a kind of Nietzscheanized Freud (or Freudianized Nietzsche) is legible throughout. Equally legible in the “map” of Bloom’s A Map of Misreading is that his old and new terms for the various kinds of “tropings” that one poet performs upon the lines of a predecessor (or successor) poet are all rhetorical terms for the way that linguistic form and linguistic meaning, grammar and logic, swerve away from one another or get deflected – even though Bloom simply aligns rhetorical terms like metaphor, metonymy, and synecdoche with Freudian psychoanalytic terms and imaginatively invented “Gnostic” terms and seems, on the whole, to want ultimately to privilege the psychoanalytic terms. (A Map of Misreading is, quite appropriately, dedicated to de Man, whose work Bloom was reading during this time.) I should perhaps add that for Hartman too Freud and the hope for a certain “psycholinguistics” operated no doubt in tandem with the “structuralist moment” to push him toward what I’m calling the rhetorical dimension of language and text and its destabilization of any easy passage between form and meaning. Indeed, Hartman’s having at one point proposed substituting the term “uncanny critics” for “Yale Critics” is indicative of what was going on, for the “return of rhetoric” – in my extended sense – was in fact a certain “return of the repressed” – of a certain repressed counter-­ tradition

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(from the Sophists to Nietzsche to . . . de Man) that has never ceased to shadow and put in question the totalizing efforts of an official “tradition” that would grammatize and logico-­historicize language and text. De Man’s turn to rhetoric and to explicitly rhetorical terminology was more theoretically (self-­)conscious than that of Bloom, Hartman, and Miller. It’s in fact a very subtle and very difficult development in his work – a development that renders his career an allegory rather than a history (in any usual sense of history) – that can be read in his 1967 Christian Gauss lectures at Princeton and their fallout (in the influential “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” for instance, which is a rewritten version of the last two lectures). To state it as directly as possible: de Man’s work was pushed to rhetoric and rhetorical terminology, surprisingly enough, by his reading of Heidegger’s Being and Time (which he taught at Cornell in 1967, I believe). In short, Heidegger was supremely equipped and ready to think “the temporality of poetic form,” as de Man puts it, but, in his actual interpretations of Hölderlin’s poetry, Heidegger instead reads the poems against the hermeneutic horizon of an apocalyptic pattern that betrays the rigor of his own thinking of temporality in Being and Time. At the end of his Gauss lecture “Patterns of Temporality in Hölderlin’s ‘Wie wenn am Feiertage . . .’,” de Man writes that Heidegger’s is “a misinterpretation of Hölderlin as an apocalyptic poet, when Hölderlin’s main theme is precisely the non-­ apocalyptic structure of poetic temporality. The flaw is the substitution of ontological for what could well be called formal dimensions of language.” Already at the end of this lecture – with the hesitant introduction of Adorno’s “parataxis” and Auerbach’s “figural style” as perhaps more appropriate terms to capture the peculiar temporality of (Hölderlin’s) poetic form – “what could well be called formal dimensions of language” are legible as rhetorical dimensions and rhetorical terms. (This is most vividly legible in the Gauss lecture on Wordsworth that follows – “Time and History in Wordsworth” – and its two “layers,” the first layer written in 1967 and the second layer of interpolations written around 1971–2.) In any event, Heidegger’s failure to think the temporality of poetic form would be the “internal” intellectual impetus that pushes de Man’s work toward rhetoric. The external impetus is more obvious: it’s the certain “revival of rhetoric” in Paris by those “structuralists” who would want to subsume rhetorical structures, tropes, under extended grammatical models – while assuming a continuity between them – and then by a counter-­movement in Derrida (“White Mythology”) and his disciples Lacoue-­Labarthe and Kofman in the wake of the publication of a bilingual (German/French) edition of Nietzsche’s early writings on and around rhetoric (Das Philosophenbuch/Le Livre du philosophe)

­226    Material Inscriptions and parts of his lecture course on rhetoric in Poétique 5 (1971) which, if I remember correctly, also contains the first publication of “White Mythology.” Both of these impetuses are legible in the essays of the early 1970s that mark de Man’s “official” turn to rhetoric: the critique (in “Semiology and Rhetoric”) of semiology’s attempt to subsume rhetorical structures under grammatical structures; and his equally legible critique (in “Genesis and Genealogy in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy” and “Rhetoric of Tropes”) of a too simply “deconstructive” reading of Nietzsche’s early “detour” through rhetoric on his way to becoming a fully fledged “deconstructor” of logocentrism – i.e., Derrida – as in the accounts of Lacoue-­Labarthe and Kofman. Anyway, there’s a lot, too much, to say on this score (and I have done so in what is now quite a few essays on de Man). Let me summarize it by saying that the all-­ irradiating force of Derrida’s “White Mythology” – that veritable, and veritably inexhaustible, “sun-­text” – is much evident in de Man’s turn to rhetoric – and, perhaps, in his rethinking and revising of his initially suspicious reading of De la grammatologie and what de Man took to be its “deconstruction” of Rousseau. De Man’s own account – in the Preface to Allegories of Reading – of how he turned from questions of historical definition (of Romanticism) to a theory of reading locates the “turn” in “local difficulties” of interpretation of Rousseau. That’s no doubt autobiographically correct. But what I would add is that, when it comes to rhetoric and rhetorical terminology, those “local difficulties of interpretation” include his own “Rousseauist” moment in the attempt to think the temporality of poetic form in Hölderlin, with Heidegger – and then with Derrida’s reading of Rousseau on metaphor in the Essai sur l’origine des langues. That story is more well known, in any case, so let me not continue on de Man’s turn to rhetoric.7 But we were talking – or rather I was asked – about “Yale Critics” and “Yale School.” If these labels did in fact mean something on the intellectual level, what about their institutional meaning and function? The Yale Critics and the Yale School were indeed “a tiny minority in a large department (those who were in English)” at Yale! And even more so than your formulation suggests, for their impact was especially “minor” in the Yale Department of English. Here it’s good to recall that, relatively early (mid-­1970s), Bloom got the President of Yale – his friend A. Bartlett Giamatti – to appoint him as an extra-­(and supra-­)departmental Professor of Humanities: that is, Bloom no longer had to perform any of the official duties required in the English department – attending meetings, serving on graduate student exams, directing dissertations, and so on – unless he volunteered to do so. This meant that Bloom’s actual presence within the department of English and, as a result, at Yale

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was not felt very strongly at all – except through his many publications that, like the tetralogy I mentioned above, were coming out in quick succession. The fact that Bloom had very few students that could be called his students – whether as dissertation advisees or otherwise – confirms this. As you know, Bloom is rather proud of not spawning “disciples” – intentionally distinguishing himself from de Man on that score (and mocking all whom he would take as mere disciples of de Man). Hartman’s presence and influence was exercised much more in Comparative Literature than in English. There were no doubt many reasons for this, but, in brief, that “Continental” and truly comparatist dimension of his work certainly had a lot to do with it – a very “polylingual” kind of reading and writing. Indeed, the one who probably had the most influence and impact on graduate students in Yale English was Miller. Very soon after his arrival at Yale in 1973, Hillis had a very large number of dissertation advisees working on the Victorian novel with him. In addition, Hillis later served as Chair of English for, I think, three years, and even though there was no way for anyone to budge the encrusted ideology that constitutes Yale English – for instance and as always, in hiring – he did put his stamp on the place during those years (especially since de Man was Chair of Comp. Lit. during some of the same years). But aside from Hillis’s circumscribed impact, Yale English was the last place to find the “Yale School.” It was much easier to find it in Yale Comp. Lit. and in Yale French. (De Man was Chair of Yale French for some years in the ’70s and, I think it’s safe to say, was the main reason Shoshana Felman and Fred Jameson could be hired by that department. Though neither could be considered as part of the “Yale School” – Shoshana Felman identified herself as a Lacanian very insistently in those days – both certainly helped to liven things up intellectually in a French department all too set in its ways. Barbara Johnson was jointly appointed in the French department and in the Literature Major in 1977.) In the mid-­1970s de Man had the Comp. Lit. department accept Hillis as a joint appointment with English, meaning that this department – with de Man, Hillis, Hartman, and Derrida too de facto – became pretty much the center of the “Yale School.” And I suspect that more Comp. Lit. students had Bloom on their exams – and read Bloom – than those in English. Nevertheless, one should not exaggerate the institutional power or the impact of this group, even in the Yale Comp. Lit. department. From the beginning – that is, from the moment of de Man’s arrival at Yale in 1971 – there was a tremendous amount of resistance – coupled with all kinds of attendant resentment and petty jealousy – toward the kind of work I’ve described above and to de Man’s very quick consolidation of intellectual power at Yale. And it’s easy to

­228    Material Inscriptions understand why. If you have for years been used to the idea that graduate students will flock to your courses no matter how much your “humanistic” scholarship terrorizes them or how superficial and wrong-­ headed its theoretical presuppositions may be, then you will find it very difficult to accept the sudden feeling that you are out of it, naive, lacking rigor, dépassé, and so on. The resistance and resentment at Yale – and, yes, it’s always a “resistance to theory” in the precise sense to be read in de Man’s essay – bred all kinds of aberrations. Distinguished traditionalist professors started trying to spice up their teaching and their articles with references to “theoretical” figures and terms, sometimes “attacking” writers, texts, and theoretical positions about which they clearly didn’t have a clue. Others took a different tack, at least for a while, and tried to discover the source of the “secret power” of this newfangled thing that had turned the heads of the graduate students by, for example, sitting in on de Man’s seminars. I remember very vividly attending a class of de Man’s (in the fall of 1974) and having sitting next to me a very distinguished and very accomplished literary critic from the French department – one whom I had read (and plagiarized!) with admiration and pleasure as an undergraduate – who, as far as I could tell from the notes he was taking, understood very little indeed of what de Man was saying, less than us wise-­guy graduate students in any case. (I was not surprised when he left Yale shortly thereafter for a more congenial Ivy League school, saying “I felt that the graduate students had contempt for me.” As we know, there is nothing quite so withering as the contempt of graduate students – however justified or unjustified it may be – especially at a place as competitive in this regard as Yale.) In any case, it was all a little sad. One could almost feel sorry for these characters, and I would, if it were not for the fact that their intellectual disorientation was coupled to the most ruthless, thuggish, gangsterish machinations behind the scenes at Yale! For that is the true “Yale way” of resistance to anything that shakes up its ideology of smug self-­ congratulation and its circular economy – Yale is the best and, since we are at Yale, we must be the best, and since we are the best, we are at Yale, which, of course, is the best – namely, to pass over it in polite public silence while privately marshaling every available institutional and administrative weapon against it. You don’t know what “academic politics” is until you have experienced Yale politics! Political operatives at other institutions have always seemed to me like petty thieves and small-­time crooks in comparison to the big-­time gangsters at Yale! So, yes, the institutional functionaries in the Yale literature departments did indeed want very much to “distance” themselves, as you put it, from anything like a “Yale School” of which they were clearly not members.

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The ultimate result was a very pronounced backlash at Yale against everything and anything that de Man, the short-­lived appellation “Yale School” and “Yale Critics,” and “deconstruction” represented. It bears reminding that the full institutional impact of these labels was felt on the national scene only in the 1980s – after the publication of Allegories of Reading and Deconstruction and Criticism in 1979 and after the dissemination of Yale-­ style “deconstructive reading” in the essays and books of younger people (Barbara Johnson being one of the earliest) and in the popularizing explications of “deconstruction” by its alleged friends. That is, the actual “heyday” of the “Yale Critics” came just around (and after) the time of de Man’s death in 1983 – i.e., right at the moment when the biggest reaction to, and backlash against, this kind of work came on the scene at Yale itself! Hartman and Bloom were in any case already going their own ways – the former more toward questions of religious discourse and radicalized versions of Judaism (with rather messianic and prophetic strains to be heard in his work), the latter toward a heroization of “American,” native traditions (and a concomitant, almost Nativist, deprecation of everything French and Continental) in Emerson and others (very à propos during the Reagan era, one should note!) – that is, ways not incompatible with the various old and new orthodoxies at Yale. With de Man dead – he being the only one that old and new “resisters to theory” at Yale actually feared – and Hartman and Bloom going their own ways, that left only Miller and Derrida – who was bodily at Yale only three or four weeks a year (and the renewal of whose contract required an annual campaign and battle by Hillis) – along with a small number of junior faculty (Ellen Burt and Kevin Newmark in French, me in Comparative Literature and the Literature Major) and our still large number of graduate students to “man the fort.” (Barbara Johnson had gone to Harvard already in the early 1980s.) It did not take very long for the new Yale orthodoxy to isolate and erode the institutional standing and whatever tiny amount of institutional power this small and increasingly beleaguered band may have ever had. I say new Yale orthodoxy, for it was indeed the new generation of Yale faculty in English, Comp. Lit., and French – those who had at least some understanding of “theory” and a receptiveness at least to the “structuralist” versions of its project – who turned out to be the main executors of the backlash against everything that had happened at Yale during the 1970s and early 1980s. (They were themselves “backlashed” against when the truly reactionary “forces of darkness” came back into power at Yale a bit later and blamed them for being or having been “deconstructionists”!) The older generation of Yale New Critics who had at least been able to hire the likes of de Man and Miller were

­230    Material Inscriptions mostly gone by this point. Anyway, as always in the case of academic politics, the backlash manifested itself in the kinds of hirings Yale was able – and unable – to make during these years. What happened was that the literature departments at Yale very quickly hired (back) a whole slew of critics who had done their Ph.D. work at Yale before the late lamented events and who had been nurturing (at places like Princeton) their own bitternesses and resentments about what was going on at “their” Yale during the heyday of the “Yale School” and deconstruction. These people are the ones left in charge on the rather dreary landscape of Yale literary studies today. Most of them came (back) to Yale after Hillis and Derrida left in 1986 and 1987. An untenured Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, I left for a tenured position in Comparative Literature and German at Northwestern in 1987 (having also received offers with tenure from Irvine and UMass, Amherst, the market’s being still [barely] right for “deconstructionists”!). You ask: “Does the term [“Yale Critics,” “Yale School”] even have a heuristic function?” In direct answer, I would say that yes, it does. In particular, it teaches one and helps one “discover” some truths about the relation between intellectual and institutional exigencies – the necessity not to confuse them and the inevitability that they will be confused. It is inevitable that the attempt to institutionalize a truly critical mode of thought (as a “method” or whatever) will wind up betraying it and neutralizing its critical power – especially in something called a “university.” On the other hand, without some kind of institutionalizing, some kind of entrance into the institution – however double or duplicitous, in a calculatedly double relation both inside and outside the institution – a truly critical thought cannot survive either. As Derrida has said on more than one occasion, “There is no deconstruction in nature!” – i.e., outside culture and institutions, the academy and the university. And the “legacy” of “that (dare one call it) brief, shining moment” bears it out. The students who “came of age” intellectually and theoretically at Yale in the 1970s and early 1980s are scattered around the country, continuing to teach, in many and varied ways, a mode of reading (and the negativity peculiar to it) that those who mistake trends and fashions for “history” would think of as in the past, ancient history, something we have gone “beyond.” And these students have in turn produced a couple of more generations of teachers. In this respect, the “legacy” of those years at “Yale” is quite alive and well and at some of the most unlikely places – but certainly not at Yale! “How should it go down in the histories of literary criticism?” I think I’ve answered that: as a certain “return of the repressed,” i.e., as an awareness of the rhetorical dimension of language and text and its disruptive power in relation to all

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orthodoxies and all vested ideologies. It can go down in the histories as “what went down,” in a certain street vernacular, that is, as something that actually occurred, actually happened, in spite of “the institution” (e.g., “Yale,” in this case) and on account of it – i.e., thanks to a certain configuration, a certain “ruptural unity” no doubt made possible by a whole host of overdetermined contradictions, as Althusser would put it, by which every institution, including and especially “Yale,” is riven. If it were not, nothing would have happened, nothing would ever happen!

Notes 1. This written interview dates from the late 1990s. It was to appear, along with interviews with J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey Hartman, Richard Rorty, Werner Hamacher, and others, in Stuart Barnett (ed.), Head to Head with Deconstruction: Interviews, but the volume has not been published. 2. Sigmund Warminski, Danzig – Heimatland, Lustige und wehmütige Erinnerungen eines Wanderers zwischen dem alten Europa und der Neuen Welt (Frankfurt am Main: R. G. Fischer Verlag, 2000). 3. I should correct that. Ironically enough, the first time I heard the name “Paul de Man” was from David Lehman at the Columbia-­owned Reid Hall in Paris, where I was taking some French courses in the summer of 1971. Lehman had already graduated from Columbia College and was at this point a graduate student of English at Columbia and, I believe, a student of Trilling’s. He did a very nice poetry reading, we talked about literature, and, when he noticed that I was reading Kleist (in German), he said: “So, you’re interested in Romanticism. You should read Paul de Man. He has a good article on Hölderlin.” He meant de Man’s “The Riddle of Hölderlin,” recently (1970) published in The New York Review of Books. Lehman’s later opinion of de Man – and of the likes of me – can be read in his awful (and awfully titled) Signs of the Times: The Rise and Fall of Paul de Man (New York: Poseidon Press, 1992). 4. See my attempt in “Lightstruck: ‘Hegel on the Sublime’,” in Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013). I clearly need to work more on de Man’s essay. 5. See, for example, de Man’s use of the word “deconstruction” in the (in) famous paragraph (on p. 205 of Allegories of Reading) that tells us what “the paradigm for all texts” consists in. 6. Of course, members of the “Yale School” – de Man, Miller (and even youngsters like me in 1978) – published articles in Glyph. But because the Glyph group was so active and so visible, it looked to us at Yale as though they actually had some kind of hegemony at Hopkins – whereas we knew quite well that the “Yale School,” “deconstruction,” de Manian “rhetorical reading,” or whatever one wants to call it, was definitely in a tiny minority at Yale. 7. For those who can read, a lot of this is foreshadowed and legible in de Man’s early “L’image de Rousseau dans la poésie de Hölderlin” (1965; now in The Rhetoric of Romanticism [New York: Columbia University Press, 1984])

­232    Material Inscriptions – an essay I know intimately well because I translated it into English – as de Man’s mulling over the question of “the temporality of poetic form” brings together Rousseau, Hölderlin, and a Heidegger already being taken to task. Vieles wäre zu sagen davon. See my “Discontinuous Shifts: History Reading History,” Chapter 9 in Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For De Man.


Adorno, T. W., 170 aesthetic (and aesthetic ideology), 19–20, 97, 150, 152, 185n9 allegory, 9, 10, 11, 25–31, 43, 44, 53, 86, 101, 120, 123, 125, 132, 133, 149, 151–4, 183n8, 209 Althusser, Louis, 188n20, 188n21 anthropomorphism, 48 Aristotle, 82, 198 Poetics, 200–9 autobiography, 2–3, 25, 27–31, 144, 151, 157n25 and “allo-thanato-graphy”, 30 and “autothanatography”, 29–30, 31n3 Barnett, Stuart, 213, 219, 222 Barthes, Roland, 169–73 Bate, Walter Jackson, 50 Benjamin, Walter, 26, 128n18, 170, 184n8 Blanchot, Maurice, 29 Bloom, Harold, 60n19 as member of “Yale School”, 222–5, 226 Brooks, Cleanth (on “Ode on a Grecian Urn”), 48, 51, 53, 55, 59n12, 61n23 Bunker, Archie, 187n14 Burke, Kenneth, 161, 164 on “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, 48–9, 51–2, 54–5, 59n12, 59n13, 61n22, 61n24 Butcher, S. H., 202 caesura, 31 Carter, Curtis L., 58n2 Caruth, Cathy, 32, 186n11 catachresis, 8, 32, 112, 119 and metaphor in Aristotle’s Poetics, 206–9 as the “syntax of tropes” in The Birth of Tragedy, 98–9 catharsis, 202 Chase, Cynthia, 32n13, 32n15, 182n2 chiasmus, 66, 83–5, 123–5, 143, 158n27, 164, 166 asymmetrical, 90–4, 149 Chladni’s sound figures, 116–19, 128n18 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 26, 48, 50, 59n10 Condillac, Étienne Bonnot de, 4 consciousness and language, 176–81 Crane, Ronald, 211n10 Creech, James, 159 Culler, Jonathan, 190–1 Danzig, 213 de Man, Paul, 19, 26, 60n19 at Yale, 217–29

“Allegory (Julie)”, 151 “Genesis and Genealogy (Nietzsche)”, 90, 94, 99n4, 127n10, 155n5 “Hypogram and Inscription”, 6 “Pascal’s Allegory of Persuasion”, 78n15 “Patterns of Temporality in Hölderlin’s ‘Wie wenn am Feiertage’”, 225 “Reading (Proust)”, 99n9 “Rhetoric of Tropes”, 101, 123–5, 125n3, 126n7 “Roland Barthes and the Limits of Structuralism”, 169–73, 182 “Semiology and Rhetoric”, 159–68 “Sign and Symbol in Hegel’s Aesthetics”, 43–5, 48, 58n4, 156n18 “Time and History in Wordsworth”, 34n33, 225 “The Resistance to Theory”, 168–9, 173–4, 194–9, 209–10 “Wordsworth and the Victorians”, 1, 4 deconstruction at Yale, 219–31 Deleuze, Gilles, 126n6 Derrida, Jacques, 39, 66, 71, 76n6, 78n15, 99, 99n4, 123, 126n3, 126n5, 129n24, 157n22, 159, 197, 205, 206, 211n19, 212n21, 225, 226 on dianoia and lexis, 211n12 Descartes, 53–4, 60n21 analytic and synthetic method in teaching, 220 Meditations I and II, 63–76 dialectic, 84, 86, 87, 89, 90, 92, 141–8 Donadio, Stephen, 217 dynamis in Aristotle, 202–3, 205, 207 Edel, Leon, 157n25 Eliot, T. S. (on “Ode on a Grecian Urn”), 48 Else, Gerald, 211n19 epigram, 45–7, 49, 59n7 Euripides, 86 example, 208 fable, 153–4 Ferguson, Frances on Blest Babe, 6–7 on Blind Beggar, 23–4 Flores, Ralph, 77n11 forgetting, 110–11 Frey, Hans-Jost, 76n9 Fyfe, W. Hamilton, 211n19 Gassendi, Pierre on the example of wax, 71–6 Genette, Gérard, 186n11 Gerber, Gustav, 127n9

­234    Material Inscriptions German Ideology, The, 53, 170, 174–5, 179, 180 Giotto, 26 Glyph, 221, 231n6 Grass, Günter, 213 Gueroult, Martial, 65 Hagstrum Jean, 50 Hamacher, Werner, 185n8 Hartman, Geoffrey, 1–3, 22, 23, 24, 27, 30, 50, 60n17 as member of “Yale School”, 222–9 Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 29, 155n10 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich, 1, 3, 26, 61n26, 177–9, 187n14, 191–3, 196, 210n3 on epigram and inscription, 45–7 Introduction to Aesthetics, 35–45 Heidegger, Martin, 5, 209, 210n4, 225 Herder, Johann Gottfried, 4, 210n4 Hertz, Neil, 26, 28, 33n30, 158n26 Hintikka, Jaakko on “performative” model of the Cogito, 77n15 historicization, 183n8 Hogben, Lancelot, 157n21 Hölderlin, Friedrich, 31, 225 Homer, 81, 84 hypogram, 56 ideology, 19–20, 43, 48, 163, 165, 170–82, 221 inscription as “model” for the Cogito, 77n15 in Hegel’s Aesthetics, 41, 45–7, 59n7 in “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, 49 in Wordsworth’s Blind Beggar, 21–39 irony, 154 Jack the Giant-killer, 28 Jacobs, Carol, 126n3 Jakobson, Roman, 171 James, Henry, 130–58 Jameson, Fredric, 161–3, 182, 183n5, 185n8, 185n9, 188n26 Kamuf, Peggy, 159 Kant, Immanuel, 58n5, 110, 127n13, 186n13, 187n14, 196, 197 Kaufmann, Walter as translator of The Birth of Tragedy, 79, 88, 93 Keats, John, 47–58 Knox, T. M., 58n3 Kofman, Sarah, 85–7, 90, 92, 99n6, 126n3, 225, 226 Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe, 99n4, 126n3, 208, 225, 226 Leavis, F. R., 133 life (and consciousness in Marx), 179–80 Lit. z at Yale, 220 literary history, 183n8 lyrist in The Birth of Tragedy, 87–9 Marx, Karl, 53, 164, 174–81 Theses on Feuerbach, 179–80 materiality, 95, 176–81, 186n11 of inscription, 28, 30, 150 metalanguage, 191–3 metaphor, 11–21, 82–7, 89–98, 101–23, 128n17, 137–49, 160–8, 198, 205–9 and metonymy, 51, 52–3, 55 metonymy, 20–1, 27, 94, 95 Michelot, Alphonse, 157n21

Miller, J. Hillis, 126n3, 189n26 as member of “Yale School”, 222–4, 227, 229 negation and negativity, 1, 36–7, 38, 54, 90–1, 92, 94, 95, 118–19, 132, 137, 139, 141–8, 157n25, 158n27, 163, 177–82, 187n19, 191–3 New Critics, 60n20, 61n23 Newmark, Kevin, 60n21, 76n5, 155n1, 155n3, 155n5, 185n8, 221 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 79–99, 119, 101–25, 224, 225, 226–7 Onorato, Richard, 5–6 paradox, 48, 51 Pascal, Blaise, 197 passions, 6–8, 23, 24 Pautrat, Bernard, 99n2, 126n3 Peirce, C. S., 167 performative, 7–11, 77n15, 145–6 Plato, 85 Poulet, Georges, 224 prosopopoeia, 48, 75 Proust, Marcel, 26, 160, 166 Putt, S. Gorley, 134–8, 141 reference, 159–75, 181, 195–7, 198–9, 209 Ricoeur, Paul, 205 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 4, 29, 210n4 Said, Edward, 217 Saussure, Ferdinand de, 57, 195–6 Schiller, Friedrich von, 186n13 Schopenhauer, Arthur, 86 Sedgwick, Eve, 157n25 self-consciousness, 1–3 semiology 165–8, 170–2, 195 sign (and symbol in Hegel), 40–4 Sophocles, 31 Spinoza, Baruch, 36 Spitzer, Leo, 50 sublime, 21 supplement, 209 synecdoche, 21 syntax, 97, 98 Tiresias, 30–1 Todd, Janet, 159 Todorov and Ducrot, 140 translation, 88–9, 93 trivium, 165, 166, 185n10, 199, 200 tropological system, 11–20, 65, 69–71, 75, 77n13, 95, 143–4, 154, 160, 167 tropology, 197–9 Vico, Giambattista, 5, 210n4 Warminski, Sigmund, 214 Weber, Samuel, 189n26 Wolfson, Susan, 32n18 Wordsworth, William “Essays upon Epitaphs”, 32n20, 70–1 The Prelude, 1–31 Yeats, W. B., 165, 183n8 zero, 77n15, 148–9, 157n21 zeugma, 140–1, 146, 149