Allegories of Reading: Figurative Language in Rousseau, by Paul de Man

By Paul de Man

'Through tricky and chic shut readings of poems by means of Rilke, Proust's Remembrance, Nietzsche's philosophical writings and the main works of Rousseau, de guy concludes that every one writing matters itself with its personal job as language, and language, he says is often unreliable, slippery, impossible....Literary narrative, since it needs to depend upon language, tells the tale of its personal lack of ability to inform a story....De guy demonstrates, superbly and convincingly, that language turns again on itself, that rhetoric is untrustworthy.' Julia Epstein, Washington put up ebook global

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Additional info for Allegories of Reading: Figurative Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke and Proust

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But a careful reading can reveal the stratagem without having recourse to outside information. The poem, which first appeared to be a con­ frontation between man and nature, is in fact the simulacrum of a description in which the structure of the described object is that of a figural potential of language. Moreover, one should not forget that the metaphor of the metaphor is represented as an acoustical pro­ cess: the metaphorical object is , literally, a musical instrument . The perfect encasing of the figures makes language sing like a violin.

It may be preferable however to try to understand the work in a less antithetical way and to read the poetic texts them­ selves, rather than letters and confessional prose that may well turn out to be of contingent importance. On a somewhat more advanced level of understanding, the at­ tractiveness of RiIke stems from his themes. This is obvious, first of all, in the most superficial of ways: the poetry puts on display a brilliant variety of places, objects, and characters. As in Baudelaire, the categories of the beautiful and the ugly are subsumed, in RiIke, under the common rubric of the interesting.

Und die an Platze kommen, warten lang / auf eine andre, die mit einem Schritt / iiber das abendklare Wasser tritt . . " ) 2 1 prefigures the reversal of the reflection which might other­ wise seem too brusque or artificial . The surreality is not limited to the reflected world. " By the same token, the tem­ poral nature of an event that , up till then , was described in spatial and ocular terms, becomes manifest. The blurring of the outlines, which at first seems to be due entirely to the play of light and shadow, takes on a temporal dimension when one remembers that the poem is about "Brugge," "Bruges la morte" as it is called by the poet Georges Rodenbach, a city that used to be prestigious but has become , by the loss of its natural harbor and medieval glory, an emblem for the transience of human achievement , a figure of muta­ bility.

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