Discontinuous Shifts: History Reading History

The essay argues that de Man's fabled "shift" from "history" to "reading" and "rhetoric"—to the "rhetoric of reading," as the Preface to Allegories of Reading puts it—was in fact always already a shift past rhetoric and to an other "history." This shift occurs and becomes legible in two particularly overdetermined moments in de Man's 1967 Gauss lectures on "Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism": the critical reading of Heidegger's interpretation of Hölderlin; and the reading of Wordsworth's "Boy of Winander" together with one of the Duddon sonnets. In the lecture on Wordsworth—and its two "layers" (1967 and 1971)—the shift actually occurs as a "material inscription." Thus it turns out that the notion of history de Man comes up with here is already what he calls "material history" or the "materiality of actual history" in his last essays.