Working notes literary criticism, philosophy, and other things I'm up to and working on in princeton and elsewhere Thursday, April 30, 2009 Prior to a hermeneutics and a history
Literature, instead of being taught only as a historical and humanistic subject, should be taught as a rhetoric and a poetics prior to being taught as a hermeneutics and a history. -Paul de Man, "The Return to Philology"
The power of this formulation comes right from the "prior to," and the fact that both "hermeneutics and history" are thereby conceived as something that "rhetoric and poetics" can actually (perhaps) do without. De Man makes us think not only of undoing the humanist function of the aesthetic object, which makes us "move so easily from literature to its apparent," but superficial, de Man would say, "prolongations in the spheres of self-knowledge, religion, and of politics"--in short that makes us fall prey to ideology in de Man's sense of the term.
He begins to show us that rhetoric, say, is not beholden to its hermeneutical basis except as a possible auxiliary function of its own operation. This is not only powerful but radical--and should serve as some check on my dismissals of de Man in my last post. It also comes with increasing dangers--with a vagueness in its radicality. I'll comment more on all this later. Posted by Mike Johnduff What is written about: de Man