Redfield, "Professing Literature: John Guillory's Misreading of Paul de Man"

Legacies of Paul de Man

Professing Literature:
John Guillory's Misreading of Paul de Man

Marc Redfield, Claremont Graduate University

This essay examines Guillory's influential reading of de Man in Cultural Capital. Redfield argues that Guillory is right to claim that de Man's performance as a teacher and critic is inseparable from the professionalization of reading in the modern bureaucratic university, but that he is wrong to claim that de Man's text fails to reflect on this aspect of its own production.  In the wake of Guillory's flawed but productive interpretation, it becomes possible to think of de Man's oeuvre as a reflection on institutionality and pedagogy precisely because this oeuvre focuses so stubbornly on the problem of reading reading. This essay appears in _Legacies of Paul de Man_, a volume of _Romantic Circles Praxis Series_, prepared exclusively for Romantic Circles (, University of Maryland.

  1. Both the title and the overall rationale of this essay—a review-essay focused on a book, John Guillory's Cultural Capital, that appeared a good decade ago—merit a word of explanation.  My subtitle, chosen for clarity, will have its pugnacious thrust slightly (if only slightly) muffled over the following pages, which thematize "misreading" not, or not only or primarily, as a mode of contingent error, but rather as a condition of all interpretation, especially forceful interpretation that ends up making a difference.  Whether Guillory's book has genuinely made a difference—whether it may truly be said to constitute an event in an intellectual or institutional history that we find ourselves required to confront as our own—is no easy question; but Cultural Capital has certainly proved an important and influential book in the ordinary sense we give to such adjectives, to the point of becoming a canonical text within ongoing debates about the "canon" and the role of literary study at the university.  As regards the reception of de Man, its contribution is harder to characterize.  Guillory's book has no doubt lent succor to those who have sought, and still seek, to consign de Manian theory to the outer darkness—as an outdated, erroneous, ultimately superficial (if always strangely threatening) "discourse of mastery" (Guillory, 203)—but apart from that negative role, Cultural Capital cannot be said to have left much of a mark on de Man studies, within which, barring a few exceptions, it has received little notice.  Though Guillory's book has at times been critically reviewed, neither the accuracy of his account of de Man nor the filiations linking that account to his book's broader claims about literary canon formation have been carefully examined.1    And that is a pity: not just because serious mischaracterizations (and there are quite a number in Guillory's representation of de Manian theory) ought to be corrected, but because Guillory's broader theses about the literary institution arguably cannot be fully evaluated unless one accounts for his long, passionate chapter on de Man—the longest and by a good degree the most polemical chapter in the book.  Furthermore, at the risk of sounding more paradoxical than one ought in an introductory paragraph, I want to suggest that Guillory's polemic manages to be at one and the same time unoriginal and brilliant.  His de Man chapter speaks with a voice that, without exaggeration or malice, we may characterize as an institutional voice, yet what it says allows us, against its own intention and manifest argument, to read the degree to which de Man was a theorist of institutionalization and institution ("of" here to be taken as governing both a subjective and an objective genitive).  Guillory's genius cannot be teased apart from his conventionality, nor (as the de Manian figure has it) his insight from his blindness.  Put less metaphorically: his chapter on de Man is driven by his book's aesthetic-ideological agenda, and offers us a finely symptomatic example of aesthetic-institutional resistance to theory.  Yet this chapter's violent reduction of de Manian theory to sociological symptom releases a truth that more timid or technically "accurate" accounts of de Man are likely to overlook.


  2. Let me first do my best to recall Guillory's overall project, and draw attention to some of his argument's vectors and fault-lines.  Cultural Capital's fundamental proposition, which has deservedly claimed readers' attention and has known considerable influence, is twofold: first, that the "canon debate" has been "misconceived from the start," and second, that this misconceived debate symptomatically registers a "crisis in literary study" (vii).  The debate is misconceived insofar as it reduces the problem of canon formation to a question of representation, falsely rendering symbolic representation in the canon analogous to political representation in a polity.  Guillory rightly observes that "those members of social minorities who enter the university do not 'represent' the social groups to which they belong in the same way in which minority legislators can be said to represent their constituencies. The sense in which a social group is 'represented' by an author or text is more tenuous still" (7).  Such a representational notion of the canon makes the canon into "a hypothetical image of social diversity," and this politics of the image renders invisible the institution within which canon-formation actually occurs—"the school, and the institutional forms of syllabus and curriculum" (vii).  Furthermore, it hampers a critical inquiry into the category of "literature" itself.  Literature is a form of "cultural capital," and it is the school's function to regulate and distribute cultural capital, and thereby reproduce the inequities of the social order.2 Here we encounter, as the book's main thesis, the "crisis in literary study":

    The overarching project of the present study is an inquiry into just this crisis, one which attempts to explain why the category of literature has come to seem institutionally dysfunctional, a circumstance which I will relate to the emergence of a technically trained 'New Class' or 'professional-managerial class'.  To put this thesis in its briefest form, the category of 'literature' names the cultural capital of the old bourgeoisie, a form of capital increasingly marginal to the social function of the present educational system. (x)

    Over five meaty chapters, Guillory seeks to make good this claim. Chapter one directly engages the canon debate and its shortcomings, emphasizing that the university, though certainly a place of "real power," is "not in itself a representative place" (37).  Mimetic notions of the canon as mirror of social diversity efface the true sociological role of the school by way of a quasi-sociological conception of literature as "expressive of the author's experience....The author returns in the critique of the canon, not as the genius, but as the representative of a social identity" (10).  What the school is really about is access to literacy (literacy in the sense of "the systematic regulation of reading and writing," which is "a question of the distribution of cultural goods rather than the representation of cultural images" [18]); it is in this way that the school reproduces unequal social relations.  And what literature is really about is "linguistic differentiation as a social fact" (64): literature is the production of a (socially) marked language within (written forms of) the vernacular.  The decline of literary study in the schools in the late twentieth century responds to the fact that language marked "literary" no longer functions as "the privileged agent of ideological subjection" (Machery and Balibar, 57, cited in Guillory, 80).

  3. Chapters two through four make up a section Guillory calls "Case Studies," and compose a broadly historical trajectory with three focal points: the historical origins of the modern category of "literature"; the mid-twentieth-century professionalization of literary criticism as close reading; and the late-twentieth-century doubling of the literary by the "theory" canon.  Chapter two reads Gray's Elegy as an exemplary "'translation' of classical literacy into an anthology of quotable vernacular phrases" (x), and thus as a vehicle for examining the emergence of "literature": under this lens, literature is revealed as "the discursive category devised to accomodate vernacular works in the schools" (87).  Chapter three focuses on the New Critical revision of the canon: according to Guillory, the technique of close reading produced for the university a new kind of literary language, and thus a new articulation of social distinction, by way of which "the cultural capital of literature" could be "set against a 'mass culture' which at once reveres and neglects the monuments of High Culture" (xii) .  Chapter four, "Literature after Theory," is the de Man chapter we shall be engaging at length below: here Guillory argues that the "moment of theory is a cetain defunctioning of the literary curriculum, a crisis in the market value of its cultural capital occasioned by the emergence of a professional-managerial class which no longer requires the (primarily literary) cultural capital of the old bourgeoisie" (xii); symptoms of this crisis include the appearance of an alternative "canon" of theoretical texts, and above all—for reasons to be discussed—the exemplary phenomenon of de Manian rhetorical reading.

  4. The final chapter, "The Discourse of Value: From Adam Smith to Barbara Herrnstein Smith," is set off from the rest of the book by also being "Part Three: Aesthetics." In this section Guillory takes issue with pragmatists such as Herrnstein Smith who negate aesthetic specificity by discovering "use value" in art, thereby conflating economic and aesthetic "value." In response, Guillory offers a history of the notion of value: he rehearses the origins of modern aesthetics in eighteenth-century political economy, arguing that Bourdieu's description of "the emergence of aesthetic production as a 'relatively autonomous' field of cultural activity in the eighteenth century" offers a less reductive and more historically attentive approach to aesthetics than the neopragmatist reduction.  He concludes with a ringing endorsement of aesthetic judgment, and with a utopian "thought experiment" that imagines the "transformation of cultural capital into pure 'symbolic distinction'" (339):

    Even were such an [idealized] educational system no longer to regulate access to cultural capital in the grotesquely unequal way it presently does, cultural producers would still compete to have their products read, studied, looked at, heard, lived in, sung, worn, and would still accumulate cultural capital in the form of "prestige" or fame.  But social distinctions reinstated on such an aesthetic basis would have to be expressed in social relations as distinctions in "life-style," in other words as a vast enlargement of the field of aesthetic judgment....The point is not to make judgment disappear but to reform the conditions of its practice.  If there is no way out of the game of culture, then, even when cultural capital is the only kind of capital, there may be another kind of game, with less dire consequences for the losers, an aesthetic game.  Socializing the means of production and consumption would be the condition of an aestheticism unbound, not its overcoming.  But of course, this is only a thought experiment.  (339, 340)

    Cultural Capital thus concludes with a fantasy about an Aesthetic State: a manifesto hedged about with signs of fictionality (as, we may note, such aesthetic-political manifestos traditionally are: "But does such a State of Aesthetic Semblance really exist?....[A]s a realized fact, we are likely to find it, like the pure Church and the pure Republic, only in some few chosen circles..." [Schiller 219]).3  

  5. This brief recapitulation of a rich book allows, I hope, enough of a sense of its overall project to allow us to understand Guillory's need to confront the work of Paul de Man.  Cultural Capital offers food for thought and debate along many lines, and I obviously cannot do justice here to many of the questions that any reader of this text will need to ponder; on the plus side, though, the text's main threads tend to intertwine, and a good pull on one of them can help us gauge the strength of the ensemble.  For the most part we shall have to leave aside questions such as whether Guillory's hypothesis of a new "professional-managerial class" is as useful as he makes it out to be; whether literature has become straightforwardly outdated cultural capital; how one might best characterize the contemporary relations between "high culture" and "mass culture"; and so on.  It would be hard to disagree with the claim that literature, like the rest of the humanities, has lost ground within the "school" (to employ Guillory's favored synecdoche)—and by no means just in the United States; at present writing, many of the traditional Western humanistic disciplines are being barely taught in certain areas of the globe.  But if one is going to analyze this phenomenon adequately in terms of First-World circulations of "cultural capital," one will arguably have to develop a more fluid model than Guillory provides: a model capable of registering, on the one hand, increasing concentrations of cultural capital in elite Western institutions (above all in the schools, where a smattering of literary study remains part of the process by which these institutions mark their product as elite), and, on the other hand, ongoing, highly mediated diffusions of this very same cultural capital in the "mass cultural" mode of allusion, citation, simplification, parody, revision, and so on, a phenomenon sporadically observable throughout the entertainment industry, from Disney products to cult television programs such as The Simpsons.4   I leave these interesting questions aside, but to some extent, as we shall see, they tangle into the questions that obsessed de Man, and which we shall pursue more steadily here—the mode of being of language and literature; the illusions and coercions of aesthetic discourse. These are questions that for the most part Guillory seeks to flatten, with a force that betrays a deep anxiety, into answers.  Language must reduce to a sociological phenomenon; literature, to a socially marked linguistic practice.  This imperative leaves visible scars in Guillory's fine-grained analyses.  If I had world enough and time to track even this (seemingly) circumscribed theme of language and literature throughout the whole of Cultural Capital, I would spend more than a passing sentence wondering whether Guillory is justified in ascribing the popularity of Gray's poetry to an "unexpected transparency of the poem's language at the historical moment of its composition" (124), or, conversely, crediting the prominence of Eliot and Stevens in the New Critical canon to, in the last analysis, the university's need for a marked language.  That literature functions as a socially marked linguistic practice is obvious; the question is whether that is all literature, or language, is or does.  Guillory manages uncertainty on this front in two ways: by chastising and expelling as "de Man" the possibility of language's irreducibility to communication and meaning, and by granting the category of the aesthetic its traditional role of absorbing or muffling (within the totality of the human) this same irreducibility—this technicity, as we shall be calling it, of language.  Let me say a word more about that latter gesture before going on to examine the former.

  6. Eliot and Stevens are difficult poets, perhaps, but on en a lu d'autres: there remains the question of what draws us to these difficult poets, and here, as my citations from Cultural Capital's fifth chapter indicate, Guillory's sociological reduction develops a complicating fold.  Though on the one hand, "there is no realm of pure aesthetic experience," on the other hand there is a "specificity of aesthetic experience that is not contingent upon its 'purity'" (336).  Pressuring this difference between the pure and the specific, Peggy Kamuf, in her 1995 review of Cultural Capital in Diacritics, wonders whether a certain purity is not being smuggled through the sociological customs-house, and whether Guillory's utopic conclusion does not ultimately promise "a relation that is no-relation...a specificity and a property of 'the cultural' without the admixture or contamination of 'the economic'"—or, to recall Guillory's master terms, "a reclaimed, integral humanities curriculum able to pose itself independently of the technical training required by the 'professional-managerial class'" (Kamuf, 62).  Kamuf argues—and we shall be confirming her diagnosis in the pages that follow—that Guillory's project is driven by a desire to "'reimagine' the object of literary study as nontechnical, autonomous, or specifically aesthetic" (69), and that in consequence he needs to expel the specter of deconstruction, which has "from the beginning and without reprieve, insisted on the technicity of the idea, on the iterability of the proper, on the divisibility of any mark of division, and therefore on the necessary contamination of any posed or supposed purity" (64).  This is also to say that Guillory reifies the notion of institution: "there is no institution of any sort," as Kamuf notes, "and first of all no institution of meaningful signs, and of course no 'literature' and no 'cultural', without iterability.  Or rather, iterability is what we mean by institution" (65).  Guillory's reification of institutionality yields as its precipitate both an incorrect characterization of deconstruction as "simply against institutions as such" (67), and, ironically, a return of the very anti-institutional, anti-technical idealism that he had objectified and expelled as "deconstruction" within his own discourse.  What is really being cast out, as Kamuf says, is the technicity of the sign and the necessary pre-contamination of the proper; what is lost, in consequence, is the deconstructive insight that "the possibility of a certain exteriority, or difference" constitutes "institutional space" (Kamuf, 67).  And what is being affirmed, strongly if necessarily ambivalently, is the presence-to-itself of humanity as a social totality.  Guillory's neo-Schillerian dream of the Aesthetic State is, from this perspective, his most overt and daring negation of the possibility that, as Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe put it, the social "has no essence" and is neither "totally possible" nor "totally impossible" (Laclau and Mouffe, 129).  The ancient aesthetic dream of harmony, of a consensus-in-the-last-instance that is the horizon of the human itself, animates and subtends the dream of an "aestheticism unbound." It must be added that, to the student of aesthetic discourse, Guillory's turn in his final chapter does not come as a surprise.  As I have argued at length elsewhere, aesthetics, in its main line of development—from Schiller and Matthew Arnold to the early twentieth-century New Humanists, the mid-twentieth-century New Critics, and the pragmatists and New Historicists of the present day—has never been about an escape from the social world.  Disinterestedness (here rendered as a "specificity of aesthetic discourse" that slides away from a "purity of aesthetic experience") is always a detour on the way to what I have termed here sociological reduction, but which one may more generally term the referential horizon of the human.5 Small wonder, then, that Cultural Capital, as an eloquent and intelligent text well within the broad Arnoldian tradition, has known such uncomplicated success within the professional bureaucracy it chastizes.

  7. We may now turn to Guillory's confrontation with the thought, figure, and legacy of de Man.  Kamuf, whose main concern is to dispute Guillory's strategic conflation of "deconstruction" with "de Man," offers little help here; indeed, one gains the impression that she feels it necessary to rekey the discussion to a Derridean idiom if deconstruction is to stand revealed as a thinking of institutionalization.6 But to ignore Guillory's engagement with de Manian theory is to ignore the heart of his book.  Guillory is a powerful writer at all times—allowing oneself to be borne up and along by his rolling, organ-toned prose is one of the regular pleasures of reading him—and in chapter four his writing, while losing none of its eloquence, achieves a new level of intensity and aggressivity. We approach here what a phenomenologically-minded critic would call Cultural Capital's imaginative center and origin: the spur or irritant or trauma around which the text grew.


  8. Guillory's chapter on de Man begins with a legible if perhaps not entirely conscious effort to account for its own passion, for its first step is to identify de Man as a symptomatic figure, a stand-in for "theory" per se.  He suggests (rightly, I think) that, however erroneous it may seem at first glance, the journalistic equation between "theory" and "deconstruction" merits serious consideration as a symptom—as does the concomitant association of the name "de Man" with "deconstruction" as "theory":

    The immense symptomatic significance of the figure of de Man has been indisputably confirmed by the paroxysm which passed through the entire critical profession in the wake of the revelations concerning de Man's wartime journalism.  It would not have been necessary for so many theorists and antitheorists, de Manians and anti-de Manians, to "respond" to these revelations if theory itself were not perceived to be implicated in the figure of de Man.  The easy condemnation in the media of theory along with de Man only confirmed a symbolic equation already present in the professional imaginary.  A symptomatic reading of the de Manian corpus will elucidate this equation along the axis of imaginary identification: theory-deconstruction-de Man. (178-79)

    Noting that de Man's essay "The Resistance to Theory" offers a (de Manian, theoretical) version of the same "imaginary" sequence of identifications (theory as deconstruction as rhetorical reading), Guillory sets out to characterize de Manian theory as the essence of the symptom, as it were—and as the effect of a sociological cause. The argument pursues a triple movement.  In a first move, Guillory reworks and develops the link between de Man and theory by arguing that theory "objectif[ies] the charisma of the master teacher as a methodology" (179).  Theory, in other words, "is" the transference—the transfer of the transference from the master onto the master's theory, which is in fact what the master desires.  In the second phase of the argument Guillory shifts attention to the theory itself, arguing that "the equation of literature with rhetoric" constitutes an ideology that has as its rationale an institutional defense of literature: "Literary theory as a version of rhetoricism defends literature from its half-perceived and half-acknowledged social marginality" (180).  This second phase also involves an argument that characterizes theory's "rhetoricism" as a covertly theme-driven enterprise: rhetorical reading is a "linguistic determinism" driven by a master-theme of "determined indeterminacy" (230).  Finally, in a third and finely synthetic move, Guillory argues that deconstruction offers an "imaginary reduction of the social to an instance of the linguistic" (237).  Rhetorical reading's "thematic of fate" becomes the "rigor of methodology" (231), which, as the pathos of rigor—the cathexis of boredom itself— functions as an unconscious recapitulation of contemporary "conditions of institutional life" (245).  That is, "the adjustment of critical practice to new socioinstitutional conditions of literary pedagogy is registered symptomatically within theory by its tendency to model the intellectual work of the theorist on the new social form of intellectual work, the technobureaucratic labor of the new professional-managerial class" (181).  Theory is thus revealed to be a symptom of, and a defense against, the increasing marginality of literary culture, and the increasing bureaucratization of the professoriat.  Theory reinvigorates the ideology of professionalism by reasserting charismatic authority in a technobureaucratic context, which is why, Guillory claims, de Man's disciples imagine their master to be "outside" the institution, and teaching a doctrine subversive of the institution.  As Guillory summarizes near the end of his chapter, de Manian theory

    registers at the heart of its terminology the historical moment of the fusion of the university teacher's autonomous "professional activity" with the technobureaucratic organization of intellectual labor.  Within the larger discourse of "theory,"  rhetorical reading has the important symptomatic function of figuring a rapprochement with the institutional conditions of criticism, by acknowledging the loss of intellectual autonomy as a theory of linguistic determinism—at the same time that autonomy is continually reinvested in the figure of the master theorist.  But this is an autonomy which exists only on the imaginary outside of the institution, as an "anti-institutional" charisma.  (259)

    It is a brilliant argument, and, in its wide-ranging acquaintance with de Man's texts, an impressively detailed one.  For once (one is tempted to say, "finally!") a critic hostile to de Man has had the requisite obsessive energy to read through de Man's work, as well as the talent to displace it forcefully.  I know of no comparably impressive attempt to dominate (and thus, in the end, annihilate) de Manian theory.  It will thus be well worth the effort to retrace our steps more slowly now, so as to begin the work of evaluating the claims and interpretations making up this argument.

  9. Guillory's account of de Manian charisma and de Manian discipleship, while not entirely unprecedented and ultimately not without its limitations, is in many respects quite powerful.7    All pedagogy activates transferential relationships, but de Man's ability to inspire love and emulation—an excess of transference—is part of the record (which is also to say the legend or phantasmatics) of his reception. The question is what to make of this phenomenon.  Guillory's answer has its problems, as we shall see, but his description of the skewed love between disciple and master and of the disciple's transference of the transference onto the theory of the master could hardly be bettered.  It is all there: the charisma of the master, whose professed indifference to the disciple's love causes the disciple to work endlessly for the master's ever-withheld recognition; the disciple's transfer of the transference onto the theory that the master embodies, to the point that the disciple imitates the master "at the micro-level of style" (199); the master's investment in this transfer, which allows pedagogy to survive as doctrine; the extra spin put on all these maneuvers by a theory that, even more stringently than psychoanalysis, identifies transference and resistance. (For de Man, we recall, theory, in its very transferrability or teachability, is its own resistance to itself: resistance inheres both in the movement of theoretical thought from the specificity of a reading to the generality of a conceptual claim, and in the personifying dynamic whereby intersubjective relations come to substitute for linguistic ones.  Both master and disciple, according to this account, move within endless loops of resistance.)  I remarked earlier that Cultural Capital has known little impact in deconstructive circles, but it is of interest that in at least one case a putative de Man "disciple," Thomas Pepper, has testified to the force of this section of Guillory's text, confessing that "it is astonishing for me to see many of the insights it took me years to glean from closer readings of de Man's text presented by Guillory in the thick description of an institutional context." Indeed, Pepper then goes on to displace some aggression onto the fantasized figures of other disciples who haven't submitted to Guillory's discipline: "Unfortunately, his work has remained unread by those whose predicament is best described in it" (96n9).  This is the sort of thing de Manians often say about de Man himself ("his work has remained unread," particularly by "those whose predicament is best described in it"); and if for a brief moment Guillory comes to resemble or even replace de Man in Pepper's discourse, one must at the very least credit Guillory's analysis with the power necessary to reimpose a mild version of the very phenomenon it studies and seeks to demystify.

  10. And if power, as that formulation hints, is not necessarily purchasable without loss of knowledge, one has reason to ask whether Guillory's study of the "transference of the transference onto theory" can really claim to have mastered its object of study.  There are, as I have said, limits to his approach.  Though Guillory notes in passing that transferential effects can happen at a distance, he focuses his account entirely on the seminar, and on the kind of transference that most lends itself to being characterized (which is really to say, denounced) as "discipleship." The graduate student who loves the teacher, and by extension the teacher's texts and the texts the teacher loves, is the sole paradigm of "influence" here.  The result is that Guillory on the one hand writes very well (if very aggressively) about a certain kind of student that de Man is famous for producing—the graduate student who imitates the teacher's style, writes again and again about the bits of Rousseau or Wordsworth that de Man himself wrote about, and so on—and on the other hand has little or nothing to say about more mediated forms of theory's transmission, or about the wider ripples caused by the impact of de Manian thought.8 Why Guillory has limited his focus in this way is not hard to apprehend: he would rather not think about those ripples.  This is the first installment of a polemic that sets out to reduce the content of de Manian theory to the charisma of its teacher, thereby restricting the reach of this theory to a certain place and time and a highly defined pedagogical context.  To adapt one of Guillory's favored turns of phrase we may say that he thus commits himself to an imaginary reductionto the seminar of the pedagogico-scientific institutions in and through which theory is replicated and disseminated.  His analysis forecloses the larger context of de Man's reception—and that of "theory" itself; for however much one might agree with Guillory that de Man has phantasmatically embodied theory for the professoriat, theory—even as "deconstruction"—is of course not simply equivalent to de Manian rhetorical reading.  The considerable and diffuse, if erratic influence of Jacques Derrida's work on the academy has obviously not travelled primarily by way of the seminar.  De Man's association with the seminar is powerful, and deserves scrupulous analysis, but it is in the end an imaginary association, and forms part of the phantasmatics of a "de Man effect" that we are, arguably, far from being in a position to dominate and understand.

  11. "No legacy without transference," Derrida proposes (La carte postale, 360); and indeed, Guillory's imaginary reduction of theory's dissemination to the seminar is itself our first and largest clue that his analysis is itself being distorted by the transferential effect it describes.  I have characterized the writing in this chapter as passionate, and shall in a moment begin tracking some telling distortions; for the moment let us simply register the more trivial observation that in this chapter citations from de Man salt Guillory's prose with a readiness of reference that many a "disciple" might envy—to the point that a quotation from "Semiology and Rhetoric" is even given the last word, directing and capping the chapter's closing sentence ("One may predict, without resorting to prophecy, that such reconceptualization will become 'the task of literary criticism in the coming years'" [265]).  One need not be a critic of particularly deconstructive or psychoanalytic stripe to feel that such strenuous wrestling with a "master," in conjunction with an analysis that gets a good deal of rhetorical mileage out of relegating the master's students to the anonymity of "disciplehood" (a fratricidal fantasy all the more satisfying when one recalls that many of these "disciples" were Guillory's graduate school and junior faculty colleagues at Yale), tends to cast the agonist as, in Guillory's own words, a "disciple who struggles heretically with the master" (a kind of discipleship, he adds, "I will not discuss here") (198-99).  But if Guillory "knows," as we say, his own oedipal predicament, that knowledge is complicated by the negative-transferential passion with which he denies knowledge to others—to the other disciples, of course, who in this account are little more than bright-eyed dupes, but above all to the master himself.  That is the whole point of this section of the chapter, and the locus of its most startling distortions.

  12. Guillory's project throughout is to roll de Man up backwards, as it were: systematically to reverse the thrust of his texts and thereby render "theory" a symptom—an effect of processes beyond theory's self-knowledge, which is to say beyond the theory qua theory.  If de Manian theory subordinates the theorist to an impersonal linguistic imperative, Guillory will reverse the poles and discover the theorist in advance of the theory, just as he will eventually discover the institution in advance of the theorist.  The charisma-and-discipleship phase of the argument, therefore, as noted above, sets out to reduce theory to the person of Paul de Man.  On the one hand—I shall come back to this ambiguity—Guillory's project is not to "disprove the argument of deconstruction" but merely to study the "symptomatology of the de Manian oeuvre" (179); on the other hand, he is seeking to destroy the claims of that oeuvre, and it thus becomes all-important to show that the oeuvre, as symptom, is blind.  He thus faces the fantastic task of showing that de Man is blind to the transference.  Working his way around de Man's claim in "The Resistance to Theory" that "teaching is not primarily an intersubjective relationship between people but a cognitive process in which self and other are only tangentially involved" (RT, 4), Guillory suggests that de Man "forecloses" the psychoanalytical, adding with a telling abruptness that "if psychoanalytic terms nevertheless pervade [de Man's] essay," this "results from the threatening public prestige of psychoanalysis" (191).  It is a sign of weakness to come.  The actual argument deserves more attention than I can accord it here (I am willing to inflict a good number of pages on readers, but there are limits)—Guillory is proposing that de Man's notion of the self is phenomenological rather than psychoanalytic, that his transfer of the cognitive function from the self to language shunts aside the properly psychoanalytic notion of the subject, and that his displacement of psychoanalytic terms into rhetorical ones actually works to "preserve the phenomenological self of self-reflection" (194).  That argument is, I believe, manifestly wrong (language, in de Man, is not centered in self-reflection: it is torn apart at its origin by the divergence between its performative and cognitive dimensions), but it is at least an argument, and one worth having. But that flashing, bizarre moment of sociologico-personalistic reduction (public prestige?  of psychoanalysis?) registers the extremity of Guillory's need to evacuate de Man's text of self-knowledge.  The de Manian blindness to the transference needs to be total, utterly uncontaminated by even glimmers of insight:  "What de Man has no patience for at all, not even the patience to name, is the notion of transference" (193).  "The one analytic concept which cannot be named within this displaced terminology is transference itself, which orchestrates the severence of affect from agency" (194).  "The doctrinal insight into the 'linguistic predicament' needs to be read at every moment as symptomatically blind to the necessary relation between theory and discipleship" (207).

  13. The problem Guillory faces is that de Man's texts talk about transference constantly.  This is, after all, a theory that sets out to say something about figurative language—and "transference," whatever else it means, irreducibly means figuration: the "movement" of figurative transfer.  Out of that linguistic black hole (or mythologie blanche) spiral any number of narrative lines in de Man's work that address the kind of phenomena Guillory has in mind.  De Manian theory is certainly well-equipped to explain such phenomena as the master's charisma, the "transfer of the transference onto theory," and the loving obsessiveness of discipleship.  The pseudo-dialectic of Allegories of Reading derives such phenomena from the predicament of reading that theory theorizes: the deconstruction of referential systems of language generates the "deconstructive passion of a subject" as an illusory center of authority (199).  This master-subject is precisely the revered object of fantasy, the sujet supposé savoir, that Guillory has analyzed; he is

    as far beyond pleasure and pain as he is beyond good and evil, or, for that matter, beyond strength and weakness.  His consciousness is neither happy nor unhappy, nor does he possess any power.  He remains, however, a center of authority to the extent that the very destructiveness of his ascetic reading testifies to the validity of his interpretation (AR, 173-74).

    This is, perhaps, merely a dry moment in an allegory of reading; but elsewhere de Man's allegories undergo vivid narrative embodiment.  One thinks, of course, of the ephebe in Kleist's Marionettentheater, whose gracefulness is "not an end in itself, but a device to impress the teacher":

    [W]hat the young man is ashamed of is not his lack of grace but the exposure of his desire for self-recognition.  As for the teacher's motives in accepting to enter into these displacements of identity, they are even more suspect than those of the younger person, to the precise extent that sadism is morally and socially more suspect than masochism.  Socrates (or, for that matter, Winckelmann) certainly had it coming to him.  (RR, 278)

    Or the tricky remarks on institutional and generational succession in the "Introduction" to the special issue of Studies in Romanticism, or in the foreword to Carol Jacobs's The Dissimulating Harmony (CW, 218-23).9   My object here is not to read and do justice to these various texts, but simply to provide a bit of documentary backing for the observation that de Man understood the "linguistic" as something that affects our lives.  (Guillory will later admit this, by way of accusing deconstruction of an "imaginary reduction of the social to an instance of the linguistic" [237].)  If for de Man it is possible "that the entire construction of drives, substitutions, repressions, and representations, is the aberrant, metaphorical correlative of the absolute randomness of language" (AR, 299), this does not mean that we ever leave drives, substitutions, repressions and representations behind.  It is actually hard to think of a critic who is more alive to the finer shades of complicity, desire, guilt, ruthlessness, and so on than de Man; whatever else one thinks of his analysis of Rousseau's purloining of the ribbon, it is certainly not a reading easily accusable of psychological naivieté.

  14. Guillory's account of de Man and the transference culminates in a truly strange attempt to strip de Man's discourse of its self-irony.  He quotes de Man's comments on Bakhtin's seductiveness in "Dialogue and Dialogism," which I reproduce here:

    the circulation of more or less clandestine class or seminar notes by initiated disciples or, even more symptomatic, the rumored (and often confirmed) existence of unpublished manuscripts made available only to an enterprising or privileged researcher and which will decisively seal one mode of interpretation at the expense of all rival modes—at least until one of the rivals will, in his turn, discover the real or imaginary counter-manuscript on which to base his counterclaim.  What in the context of our topic interests us primarily in this situation is that it is bound to engender a community tied together by the common task of decrypting the repressed message hidden in the public utterance.  As the sole retainers of an esoteric knowledge, this community is bound to be small, self-selective, and likely to consider itself a chosen elite.  (RT, 108; cited in Guillory 206-07)

    And here is Guillory's commentary: "De Man's contempt for Bakhtinian discipleship is so completely without irony as to constitute the purest form of negation, a simulacrum of irony." One hardly knows what to do with such a straining claim; as in the following sentence, in which we are told that de Man is "merely venting a contempt for discipleship as imitation" in this passage (207), one's attention is forced away from the peculiarities of the primary text by those of the secondary one.


  15. It is of course not enough to reduce the theory to a person, a charismatic master, since the master's blindness signifies his subordination to forces beyond his control.  The critique will have to move on.  It is not yet done with him, however—it will never be done with him: the momentum of personification demands that he be credited with a certain knowledge and a range of intentions, generally negative ones, of course, in a scenario such as Guillory's.  We have seen Guillory's de Man displacing Freudian terminology because of "the threatening public prestige of psychoanalysis"; later de Man's critique of aesthetic ideology will be said to represent a last-ditch attempt "to preempt the second wave of 'left' reaction to deconstruction" (239).  What makes Guillory's book exceptional is that such comments—sub-sociological in their eagerness to return phenomena to the cunning and fear of an individual—pop up within tenacious, sophisticated arguments far more ambitious in scope than the personifications to which they have recourse.  It is this blend of finesse and brutality that we shall need to interpret if we are to develop Guillory's polemic into something closer to a genuine reading of de Man's relation to the pedagogical institution.

  16. The theorist and his theory, as said, will have to yield authority to historical and sociological narrative.  Yet for these reductions or substitutions really to be able to occur, the theory will have to be decertified as theory.  Such is the ambiguity of symptomatic reading that I noted earlier.  Theory must be shown to be wrong, for otherwise the critique will lose its traction: theory, after all, can be ahistorical, elitist, taught by a charismatic master, propagated by blind disciples, akin to bureaucratic styles of work, etc., and still be truth incarnate.  The reduction of the theory to the theorist or to sociological reality remains willful so long as the theory itself remains untouched.  The encounter can be delayed but not avoided, and Guillory does his best, in this section of his chapter, to prove theory wrong.  His occasional protestations to the contrary ("the indistinction of style and doctrine ...falls short of invalidating the doctrine's truth" [202]; "it is not my intention to prove that such a reduction [of rhetoric to trope] is not possible, only that it has not been demonstrated" [218]; "I shall not be concerned directly with the validity of [de Man's] reading [of Proust]" [221]) form part of an ongoing rhetorical strategy, which intends to empty de Manian discourse of its authority by insisting on that discourse's symptomatic status.  But the epistemological question lurks, and Guillory addresses it as he seeks to reduce rhetorical reading to thematic narrative.

  17. I shall therefore have little to say about the first half of this section of the chapter, in which Guillory offers an interesting and informed account of the history of rhetoric, and of the emergence of the discursive categories of literature in the eighteenth century, and linguistics in the twentieth.  His purpose here is of course to historicize de Man's interest in rhetoric and literature, suggest de Man's unawareness of these discourses' historicity, and thereby once again insist on the theory/theorist's blindness ("his theorizing of rhetoric elides the historical conditions that produced the category of the literary out of the very obsolescence of poetics and rhetorics in the school system" [214]).  Later I shall gloss one error in this section—Guillory's claim that de Man conflates "the referentially disruptive trope with the Saussurian signifier" (211)—and I shall also come back to the question of what the notions of "literature" and "literariness" mean in de Man.  But for the moment let us pass to the claim that "the rhetorical terminology in de Man" is "a covert thematic" (221).

  18. It is a crucial claim: ultimately everything hangs on it, and Guillory offers here his most sustained, patient, and careful engagement with a de Manian text.  He chooses as his object de Man's reading of Proust in Allegories of Reading—a shrewd choice, for it is one of de Man's earliest efforts at "rhetorical reading," and its heavy reliance on a Jakobsonian opposition between metaphor and metonymy offers Guillory opportunities.  I shall take the liberty of assuming broad familiarity with de Man's interpretation (which is distributed between chapters 1 and 3 of Allegories), though of course it will be necessary to do at least some pacing over this well-trodden ground.  Guillory focuses on de Man's reading of Marcel reading—reading in his room; here is the passage from Proust's A la recherche, in de Man's translation:

    I had stretched out on my bed, with a book, in my room which sheltered, tremblingly, its transparent and fragile coolness from the afternoon sun, behind the almost closed blinds through which a glimmer of daylight had nevertheless managed to push its yellow wings, remaining motionless between the wood and the glass, in a corner, poised like a butterfly.  It was hardly light enough to read, and the sensation of the light's splendor was given me only by the noise of Camus...hammering dusty crates; resounding in the sonorous atmosphere that is peculiar to hot weather, they seemed to spark off scarlet stars; and also by the flies executing their little concert, the chamber music of summer: evocative not in the manner of a human tune that, heard perchance during the summer, afterwards reminds you of it but connected to summer by a more necessary link: born from beautiful days, resurrecting only when they return, containing some of their essence, it does not only awaken their image in our memory; it guarantees their return, their actual persistent, unmediated presence.

    The dark coolness of my room related to the full sunlight of the street as the shadow relates to the ray of light, that is to say it was just as luminous and it gave my imagination the total spectacle of the summer, whereas my senses, if I had been on a walk, could only have enjoyed it in fragments; it matched my repose which (thanks to the adventures told by my book and stirring my tranquility) supported like the quiet of a motionless hand in the middle of a running brook the shock and motion of a torrent of activity.  (AR, 13-14)

    De Man famously associates this passage's theme of synaesthetic totalization with metaphor, and then argues that the passage ultimately deconstructs its own aesthetic vision by exposing the vision's reliance on, or exposure to, a contingency that de Man associates with metonymy:

    [Proust's passage] contrasts two ways of evoking the natural experience of summer and unambiguously states its preference for one of these ways over the other: the "necessary link" that unites the buzzing of the flies to the summer makes it a much more effective symbol than the tune heard "perchance" during the summer.  The preference is expressed by means of a distinction that corresponds to the difference between metaphor and metonymy, necessity and chance being a legitimate way to distinguish between analogy and contiguity.  The inference of identity and totality that is constitutive of metaphor is lacking in the purely relational metonymic contact: an element of truth is involved in taking Achilles for a lion but none in taking Mr. Ford for a motor car.  (AR, 14)

    The "purely relational metonymic contact," however, turns out to underlie and undermine the metaphorical totalization because, de Man argues, the metaphor "torrent of activity" is in fact doubly metonymic: first because, since it is a cliché, "the coupling of the two terms is not governed by the 'necessary link' of resemblance...but dictated by a mere habit of proximity," and second, because "the reanimation of the numbed figure takes place by means of a statement, ('running brook') which happens to be close to it, without however this proximity being determined by a necessity that would exist on the level of transcendental meaning" (AR, 66).

  19. Guillory remarks the binary oppositions that seem to line up in de Man's analysis (metaphor vs. metonymy, necessity vs. contiguity) and then asks his leading question: "What if the role assigned to the Jakobsonian tropes were determined from the first by the concepts of necessity and contingency, and tropes were being employed simply as the 'technical' rhetorical names for these thematic notions?" (224).  What if, that is, the deconstruction were really being directed by its desire for the pathos of "contingency," for the reassurance, self-aggrandizement, and pedagogical effectivity of an ever-reiterated lesson of self-loss in language?  Guillory leans heavily on de Man's idiosyncratic use of rhetorical terminology.  The metaphor "does not look at first glance like a metaphor at all since the music of the flies does not substitute for summer in its absence.  The music is not like the summer; it is as much a part of the summer as the quality of the light, or renewed vegetation" (224). The relationship is one of association rather than analogy, and of part (the flies) for whole (the summer).  Guillory notes that de Man has in fact had to call the trope of the flies a synecdoche, and append a footnote admitting that "classical rhetoric generally classifies synecdoche as metonymy." However, "the relationship between part and whole can be understood metaphorically, as is the case, for example, in the organic metaphors dear to Goethe.  Synecdoche is one of the borderline figures that create an ambivalent zone between metaphor and metonymy...." (AR, 63). For Guillory this means that "it is simply at de Man's own discretion whether to assimilate synecdoche to metonymy or metaphor, and the grounds for the choice have little to do with how tropes actually work.  Synecdoche is moved across the border into the domain of metaphor only because the concepts of identity, totality, and necessity have already been imputed to metaphor as its defining attributes" (225).  And if what de Man calls metaphor is a vexing issue, what he calls metonymy is even more so, since "torrent of activity" is on the face of it a metaphor.  It is reanimated by its proximity to the "running brook," but, Guillory objects, "there is no metonymy, unless the actual syntax of the sentence, without which no sentence could exist, is being conflated with the trope of metonymy" (226).  Because the Proust passage "contrasts not a metaphor and a metonymy but a metonymy (or synecdoche) 'understood' as a metaphor and a metaphor 'understood' as a metonymy," Guillory concludes that "what de Man called the 'metafigural' level of the text was never anything other than a preexistent thematic, now superimposed upon the figural language of the text." The names of the tropes are indeed important, but only, or precisely, as red herrings: "they permit the methodology to advertise itself as rigorously rhetorical or nonthematic, and therefore to displace its thematic to the unconscious of its own terminology" (227).

  20. Guillory is certainly right at least to this extent: anyone attempting to normalize de Man's use of tropological terms will be in for many a sleepless night.  De Man reads the text of rhetoric as violently as he does any other text—but that is not quite to say that he simply reads willfully.  Let us, yet once more, go over the Proust passage and its tropes.  The chamber music of the flies is certainly a synecdoche of summer, but its immediate figurative task is more local: the flies' music, like Camus' hammering, conveys to Marcel "the sensation of the light's splendor" in the dark room.  The music is a synaesthetic substitution for the light, or more precisely for the splendor of the light, a substitution enabled by the fact that both the flies' music and the light's splendor are synecdoches of summer.  The music and light, therefore, are part of a chain of synecdoches linked to each other like terms in a metaphor (they share the proper meaning "summer," just as Achilles and the lion share the proper meaning "ferocity" or "strength").  De Man's reading here, while certainly not akin to anything a classical rhetorician would produce, does not seem sheerly an exercise of his "own discretion" either.  As for the "torrent of activity": it is of course a ("dead") metaphor, and the question is whether de Man is in any way justified in sticking onto the deadness of the metaphor and the proximity of the brook the rhetorical label "metonymy." The Jakobsonian heritage weighs heavily here, as Guillory says, but need not propel us all the way down to "the actual syntax of the sentence, without which no sentence could exist." Proximity or contiguity is a rhetorical device among others; any writer of modest ability, let alone Proust, attends to various sorts of associations and crosspollinations (I have just attended to double-s sounds).  That is an elementary point, but the de Manian question of whether linguistic structures mobilize, and perhaps even generate, thematic or metaphysical associations is not.  Relations of contiguity are open to themes of contingency (we may grant the repetition of s-sounds ornamental value, but if we suspect that a desire for this repetition was the sole determinant of the author's choice of words, we might feel cheated).  Even Guillory cannot deny that de Man gets the themes of necessity and chance from Proust's own metacommentary, and, via that commentary, from a broader Western and romantic aesthetic tradition: a commentary and a tradition that de Man is reading.  The flies are "necessary," the tune heard "perchance" is not; the flies guarantee summer's "actual persistent, unmediated presence," and the ensemble of mediations of which they are a part offers Marcel "the total spectacle of the summer," as opposed to the "fragments" available to his unmediated senses.  The possibility that de Man raises for us here, and that Guillory's critique does not obliterate, is whether Proust's text depends on patterns of substitution that are, according to the text, incompatible with the text's own thematic valorization of those patterns. (Text here meaning both the specific text at hand and the "text" of the metaphysical tradition.) Reading, as de Man noted in a 1972 revision of his 1967 Gauss lecture on Wordsworth, "means that the thematic element remains taken into consideration." A sheerly structural analysis of a text is not a reading of it: "we look for the delicate area where the thematic, semantic field, and the rhetorical structures begin to interfere with each other, begin to engage each other" (RCC, 200).

  21. De Man did not build any of his other early-70s essays so squarely over the Jakobsonian metaphor-metonymy divide.  To the caution that "metaphor" and "metonymy" are not words possessed of a secure meaning in his work, we may add the footnote that if what is wanted is a de Manian definition of metaphor, the best place to look is in the essay de Man wrote about the same time as the Proust essay, "Theory of Metaphor in Rousseau's Second Discourse," which became chapter 7 of Allegories of Reading, the first in the sequence of Rousseau chapters making up the second half of the book.10 I can do no more than point toward this dense (and much commented upon) reading of Rousseau's fantasy of a primitive man's encounter with another primitive man, whom he fears and thus perceives and names as a "giant"; for our purposes we need only recall that de Man argues that according to this particular "allegory of reading," at least, metaphor, in coming into being, obliterates its own precondition: radical uncertainty.  The other primitive man may or may not be dangerous; this is undecidable; "the metaphor [i.e.,'giant'] is blind, not because it distorts objective data, but because it presents as certain what is, in fact, a mere possibility" (AR, 151).  In becoming a figure, the figure dis-figures itself, generating a stable difference between literal and figurative meanings by foreclosing the truly figural, if impossible, "state of suspended meaning" out of which it originated.  What de Man means by rhetoric presses in a sense "beyond" language itself, insofar as the rhetorical reading generates as its allegory of the reading predicament a story about the constitutive (and thus also deconstructive) violence of language.  This story is inevitably thematic and universalizing, which is why theory is the resistance to theory, even as it tells the story of the possibility that themes depend upon non-theme-driven linguistic motions.  The imperative-to-theme is in advance of theme; what the rhetorical reading does is never quite in line with what it says.

  22. Guillory does not discuss de Man's quite idiosyncratic displacements of the Austinian notion of the performative, or his equally emphatic revision of a Fichtean idiom of positing or positionality.  When Guillory offers a summation of rhetorical reading's procedures, he casts rhetorical reading as thematizing a straightforward triumph of cognition over persuasion: "In the metanarrative of deconstruction, tropes are said to have seductive powers of persuasion but never fail, by virtue of their cognitive dimension, to deconstruct their own persuasive performances" (219).  Such descriptions help Guillory characterize deconstruction as a tacit effort to preserve a phenomenological self, but they do not help us understand de Manian theory.  For de Man the cognitive dimension of language is endlessly out of synch with its performative dimension.  As a well-known dictum from the late-70s essay "Shelley Disfigured" has it: "Language posits and language means (since it articulates), but language cannot posit meaning; it can only reiterate (or reflect) it in its reconfirmed falsehood.  Nor does the knowledge of this impossibility make it less possible" (RR, 117-18).  Guillory is obviously ready to understand the positing power of language as simply one more theme by means of which rhetorical reading generates and savors the pathos of non-human agency, but his swerve away from de Man's thematization of the performative may be taken as symptomatic of his desire to purge the theory of elements that resist being returned to cognition, and thence to self and the pedagogue's charisma, and thence to a social world.

  23. The project of annihilating theory qua theory becomes legibly violent as Guillory turns from his strenuous examination of de Man's reading of Proust to debunk the notion of "materiality" mobilized in de Man's late work.  Many an essay, at this point in time, has addressed itself to the question of what de Man means by "materiality"; clearly it is a concept or semi-concept that attentive readers have been able to describe in various ways.11   What the word surely does not mean, however, is a materialism that "reconstruct[s] contingency as another kind of necessity, one that is not metaphysical but physical, a determinate indeterminacy in which the process of signification is subject to the random causality of chance" (Guillory, 228, his emphasis).  It is of note that Guillory launches this claim at de Man from a considerable distance; fortified by his close, hard reading of de Man on Proust, he does not even glance at, let alone examine carefully, any of the relevant de Manian texts.  We have reached a certain bedrock of intransigence in Guillory: a site of resistance where interpretative labor cedes to starkly willful misrepresentation.  For whatever materiality means in de Man, it does not mean physical presence.  De Man used the words materiality or materialism rather rarely, and almost always in conjunction with the words form, inscription, and letter.  In "Hypogram and Inscription," he writes of the "materiality of an inscription" (RT, 51), and has a few similar phrases in the two late essays on Hegel (e.g., AI, 102, 108-09); in the two Kant essays, arguing that "radical what is called materialism" (AI, 128), he uncovers a "formal materialism" at the heart of aesthetic judgment (AI, 83), and subsequently refers to the "materiality of the letter" (AI, 90).  Let us gloss that last phrase briefly.  As Saussure showed, there is no such thing as a letter in sheerly phenomenal terms—as an unmediated presence-to-self of a perception.  A letter can only be read (as opposed to ink on paper being seen) because of its constitutive difference from other letters (I may write my "I" quite variously, so long as something distinguishes it from "J," "i," "l," etc.).  When Kant's text, in de Man's reading, crumbles into letters, it is crumbling into minimal units of form—form as the product of difference and iterability—within the context of an act of reading.  The "letter" here is neither the physicality of ink nor the molecules or atoms of physical reality, and has nothing immediate do either with pre-Kantian materialism or with the noumenon or Ding-an-sich.  Derrida offers the formula "a materiality without materialism and even perhaps without matter" over the course of his commentary on de Manian materiality ("Typewriter Ribbon," 281): a frustratingly cautious phrase, perhaps, but it nonetheless serves our understanding far more faithfully than does Guillory's claim that de Man invests "the word as material object" with "the same numinous agency evacuated from the subject" (229).  Guillory understands "material" here as physical or phenomenal—the word in its presence to perception—but that is precisely what materiality in de Man is not, as even a brief look at what he actual wrote can make clear.12   Without getting into the complications of de Man's reading, in "Hypogram and Inscription," of Michael Riffaterre's reading of (among other texts) Victor Hugo's poem "Ecrit sur la vitre d'une fenêtre flamande," we can glance at the end of that essay:

    Every detail as well as every general proposition in [Hugo's] text is fantastic except for the assertion, in the title, that it is écrit, written....The materiality (as distinct from the phenomenality) that is thus revealed, the unseen "cristal" whose existence thus becomes a certain there and a certain then which can become a here and a now in the reading "now" taking place, is not the materiality of the mind or of time or of the carillon [which are all personifications in Hugo's poem: my interpolation, MR]—none of which exist, except in the figure of prosopopeia—but the materiality of an inscription.  (RT, 51)

    Scratches on a pane of glass, like ink marks on paper, can be perceived as phenomena, but to the extent that they are read they are being supported not by a literal pane of glass (that would be, perhaps, the "physical" materiality Guillory has in mind) but by what de Man tropes here as an "unseen 'cristal'," a glass beyond seeing: the inscription as the self-difference and iterability that allows these words to be read "here" and "now," a here and a now that are always, in their actual and potential reiterations, other and elsewhere.


  24. Though Guillory's chapter has a good third of its length yet to go, and though I shall of course have a few remarks to make about the final movement of his argument, readers will perhaps be relieved to hear that it is no longer necessary to linger over the minutiae of his struggle with de Man.  We have reached a point in our analysis where it becomes possible to offer some general observations.

  25. Looking back over the trajectory of Guillory's argument, we may substantiate the claim I made in my introduction about the institutional flavor of Guillory's critique.  If his portrait of a de Man flinching at shadows, glued to the publicity barometer, anxiously manipulating his disciples and venting contempt in his essays has less to do with the biographical narrative one might plausibly construct as "Paul de Man" than with the stereotypes of anti-theoretical discourse, this is congruent with the overall project of the chapter.  All of the tools Guillory employs to retrofit de Manian theory into a symptom of the marginalization of the humanities in the new technobureaucratic world are familiar; they are the cliches of the resistance to theory, animated by the skill and passion of a first-rate polemicist.  We have heard it all before, so very many times: de Man invented his theory to defend elite literature; to gain personal prestige; to corrupt the young.  His theory waters down the true Continental vintage in order to obey "the agenda of a specifically American apparatus" (238).  His theory's unhappy success was, thankfully, soon followed by its "waning" (255).  Deconstruction is over now; it can be brought to book and historicized.  And if de Man's theory had, in its day, at least a shred of originality about it as, precisely, his theory, woe betide the "disciples" who reproduce it: in doing so they become no more than nameless, meaningless pawns.  And so on.  It would accord with the momentum, though not the poised intelligence, of Guillory's critique to add to these commonplaces the most journalistic and bizarre of them all: that de Man invented his theory so as not to feel guilty about having written his youthful wartime journalism.  To refresh one's sense of the strangeness of all this it suffices to note how rarely one hears equivalently aggressive polemics launched against some other critic or theory.  Derrida, it is true, can inspire a similarly fevered resistance, though arguably even Derrida's reception has been less traversed by hurricanes than de Man's.  Other comparanda are rare; one has to go to the fringes of the academy—to, say, remarks of Camille Paglia's about Foucault—to find hostility akin to that which the name "Paul de Man" has routinely inspired over the past thirty years.  Guillory is absolutely right to discern a symptom at work here, but his analysis exactly repeats the symptom's own grammar and terms.  Recycling the personification of theory as "de Man," he alternately ignores or dismisses theory's critique of personification (personification, that is, as an inevitable but endlessly unstable trope), and necessarily repeats in negative form the fetishizing gesture of the transference.  The result is that odd blend of originality and ordinariness that I have wondered about more than once in these pages.  One might risk the somewhat fanciful diagnosis that, in wrestling with de Man, Guillory manages to internalize and incorporate anti-de Manian commonplaces so successfully that they become indistinguishable from his own particular, and in many ways very laudable accomplishment.  I shall say more about what I find laudable about Guillory's reading, but first let me try to bring into sharper focus the outline of his resistance to theory—which, as noted, is not simply "his" resistance.

  26. Peggy Kamuf was right, in the review I cited earlier, to diagnose as Cultural Capital's sticking-point the deconstructive insistence "on the technicity of the idea, on the iterability of the proper, on the divisibility of any mark of division, and therefore on the necessary contamination of any posed or supposed purity."  Throughout his reading of de Man, Guillory works to separate the technical from the ideational and render the former an ornament of or supplement to the latter.  We are told that the de Manian disciples do not really imitate the master's doctrine, which is a contentless content: "What is imitated rather is the form of the doctrine's iteration, in other words, its style" (201).  Style separates from content, and becomes on the one hand a sheer principle of mechanical reproducibility, and on the other hand l'homme même—a mechanical reproduction of this man's style.  The "form of the doctrine's iteration" is thus at once expelled from meaning and subordinated to personality.  When Guillory turns from the institutional propagation of theory via discipleship to the theory itself, he repeats a version of the same gesture: tropes become technical ornaments separate from, and subordinate to, the "themes" of rhetorical reading.  Earlier I noted but did not comment on Guillory's claim that de Man conflates trope with the Saussurian signifier; let me say a word about that error now. Despite the proximity between the notions of trope and signifier (they are translatable: one can describe a trope as a signifier, and one can describe the relation between signifier and signified as a trope) the two concepts are not equivalent (the translation, that is, leaves a residue).  Tropes, for de Man, always raise epistemological questions because they put into play the difference between literal and figurative meaning; thus, given that they perform semantic displacements, tropes involve the "signified" as much as they do the "signifier".  Tropes are disruptive for de Man precisely because they twine together meaning (the "signified") and the principle of meaning's articulation (the "signifier") while disallowing a stable link between the two.  Guillory identifies trope and signifier as part of his overall, tacit effort to segregate themes from their "technical" expression.

  27. The fallacious translation of trope into signifier is symptomatically reiterated later in the chapter in the form of an atypical terminological mistake. Guillory usually gets his terms right, but as noted his discussion of materiality is conducted at some distance from the pertinent texts, and when he speaks of the "materiality of the signifier" (229) he targets a phrase that de Man never used.  The mistake is small but telling: it forms part of Guillory's emphatic refusal to dwell with de Man's notion of materiality, which, as we have seen, more closely resembles the Derridean non-concept of différance than traditional philosophical materialisms.  Guillory goes so far as literally to naturalize de Manian materiality by way of a rapid jab at "Shelley Disfigured": "The linguistic Atropos cutting the thread of Shelley's text produces the pathos of indetermination (accident) out of the simple determinism of a material causality (in this case, bad weather)." (229).  What Guillory himself means by "material" here is somewhat obscure (if one's vocabulary is Aristotelian, "bad weather" could be termed the efficient cause of Shelley's death, but hardly the material cause), and one is forced to conclude that Guillory has assimilated the material to something like "the real" in a precritical sense—the natural world as physical force and phenomenal experience. That reduction is of a piece with all the others.  The guiding thread is an affirmation of presence: of the professor to the seminar participant, of meaning to the mind, of objects to experience.  And as we have seen, this logocentrism must endlessly condemn and expel what we may call the technicity of language: technicity, here, signaling not just "mechanical" iterability, but the irreducibility and irreducible unpredictability of mediation.13

  28. It is with this caution in mind that we may now turn to the most original element of Guillory's argument: its powerful final reduction of de Man and de Manian theory to symptoms of institutional and social crisis and change.  The technical plays an important role in this argument: having characterized de Man's tropological terminology as a sheerly technical excrescence on a pathos-driven theme, Guillory claims to have discovered a "valorization of the technical" in de Man: "just as the rhetorical terminology exists for the sake of the determinist thematic, that thematic in turn offers a means of recharacterizing the rhetorical terminology as technical or rigorous in contemporary terms" (232).  No longer a techne rhetorike, this new, late-twentieth-century art of rhetoric thematizes its technicity as "rigor".  De Manian rigor is of course, for Guillory, a sham, an excuse for the pathos and the lurid figures it generates;14 but the de Manian master-trope of rigor "facilitates an imaginary reduction of the social totality to the structure of trope," allowing "rhetorical reading to function as a political theory just by virtue of being no more than a theory of literature" (236).  This "imaginary reduction of the social to an instance of the linguistic" in turn allows the disciples to 1) respond to the desire that criticism have political effect in a way that imposes "a limit to curricular revision, a limit intended to preserve theory as literary theory" (237); and 2) imagine de Man as external to and subversive of the institution.

  29. As to the first claim, which seeks to bring home the traditional left-wing anti-deconstructive argument that de Manian theory "defends" a high-literary canon, we may note that Guillory, who knows well that this theory offers (via its "technical" focus on rhetoric) "an extension of the category of the literary" that "removes any logical grounds for distinguishing between literature and any use of language whatsoever" (212), depends heavily upon his reduction-to-the-seminar and his restriction of the reception of de Manian theory to "disciples" who like their master read "a very select set of texts within the Romantic tradition" (216), in order to make his argument.  Indeed, he goes on to note (with perhaps a touch of annoyance) "de Man's relative lack of interest in this consequence of his theorizing" (212): de Man, that is, writes on canonical texts but seems uninterested in affirming the virtues of the canon.  Only by granting a canonical sense to various de Manian references to "literature" and ignoring statements that set out in a contrary direction (such as the broad definition of "literariness" in "The Resistance to Theory" [RT, 9-11]) can Guillory link de Man to a conservative canonical agenda.  It is, of course, true that de Man wrote almost exclusively about certain high-literary texts; it is almost certain that de Man, like Derrida or Blanchot, should be read as affirming the interest and power of the post-eighteenth-century discursive category of literature; it is furthermore highly probable that, in the context of his own training and tastes, and his own particular mandate as a pedagogue, de Man thought it his job to teach "literature."  (Guillory—and we—will have more to say about de Man and professionalism in a moment.)  It is also true, however, as Guillory rightly points out, that de Manian rhetorical reading in no way requires of its practitioners that they focus on Wordsworth or Hölderlin.  This set of facts does not add up to an "aporia" or a "conceptual catachresis," as Guillory claims (215, 216); there is no logical impasse here—nor even a pragmatic or institutional one, as becomes obvious as soon as we broaden our horizon and look at the diverse kinds of critical projects that de Manian theory has in fact inspired over the last twenty years.  If critics have drawn on the idiom and procedures of rhetorical reading to address "texts" such as trauma theory or journalism or the rhetoric of war, this is because in de Manian terms neither literariness nor the aesthetic are fundamentally "high-cultural" phenomena.15  They are aspects of language; and "language" is not, for de Man, a positive object among others, but is perhaps better thought of as the catachretic name for the possibility that understanding cannot catch up with—cannot understand—its own mediations.

  30. I shall not comment much on Guillory's distortion of various remarks that de Manians have made about de Man being "outside" the institution; it is of course not the case that any competent deconstructive critic has ever imagined de Man to be simply or fundamentally external to the institutions of criticism and pedagogy.  (The deconstructive position, as we saw Kamuf pointing out earlier, is that "the institution," despite having a fundamental power to exclude and include, is not a homogenous space that texts or textual practices can simply inhabit.)  We may pass on to consider what Guillory considers to be the ideological freight of such imaginings: they serve, in his reading, a dream of autonomy, via an ideology of professionalism.  Within a bureaucracy, professionalism is the ideology by means of which "the charisma of the master theorist appears to constitute a realm of absolute autonomy, and therefore, as we have noted, an 'other scene' of politics" (254, Guillory's emphasis). De Manian theory thus reasserts charismatic authority in the face of "technobureaucratic dominion" (256); but at the same time, in and through the valorization of the technical as "rigor," it transforms the work of reading into "an unconscious mimesis of the form of bureaucratic labor."  "Rigor" supports a dream of autonomy even as it recapitulates, as positive qualities, the "boredom, monotony, predictability, and unpleasantness" of bureaucratic existence.  "Just as the transference transferred in the pedagogic sphere imparts to 'rigor' the eros, the sexiness, of the master teacher, so in the bureaucratic sphere it signifies a charisma of routinization, the cathexis of routine" (257).

  31. Now on the one hand, as we have seen, every brick making up this massive conceptual edifice is a friable mixture of untruth, half-truth, hypothesis or assertion.  The seminar of the charismatic teacher, no doubt important enough in its way, is an imaginary reduction of the real technobureaucratic conditions for the propagation of theory.  As for the theory being propagated: it is not blind to the transference; it does not rediscover the cognitive mastery of the subject as linguistic determinism; it is not securely theme-driven; it does not isolate trope from theme; it does not, except as deployed within very specific institutional contexts, "defend literature."  Its practitioners no doubt imagine what they do to be irritating to the institution, but do not, if they are competent practitioners, labor under the illusion that either their discourse or that of anyone else, including the "master," occupies "a realm of absolute autonomy."  Deconstruction has its suspicions about absolute autonomy.  But on the other hand, Guillory's argument, marked at every turn by a negative transference and a determination to preserve the metaphysical hierarchies and conceptual distinctions that theory puts into question, makes visible the degree to which de Manian theory reflects on its own institutional conditions.  We have noted how this theory builds into its allegory of itself a gloss on the transference and the moral ambiguities of pedagogy; we may now, prodded along by Guillory, credit de Man's discourse with a sustained allegory of its institutional unfolding.  The discourse is not an "unconscious mimesis of the form of bureaucratic labor" (a claim that makes clear the degree to which the sociological critique ultimately relies upon an uncritical metaphysics of reflection); it is a registering and a reading of the technobureaucratic scene of theory's production. The empirical specificity of the historical event of theory ("pragmatically speaking, then, we know that there has been, over the last fifteen to twenty years, a strong interest in something called literary theory" [RT,5]) may indeed be aligned, as an empirical phenomenon, with the technobureaucratic development of the university within the wider regime of late capitalism and modern technics.  Rigor signals among other things the imperative to produce readings, and thus refers itself, as Guillory says, to the reader-producer as employee within a scientific-bureaucratic organization.  Rhetorical reading implicitly incorporates and reflects on its own institutional conditions of production, not in order to condemn its own institutionalization or celebrate its own professionalism, but because the imperative to read is infinite, and these conditions of production form part of the text to be read.  The production of readings may then be characterized as a bureaucratic task that—whether or not the nominal topic is traditionally high-literary— in a very broad sense works performatively to "defend literature" (just as Guillory's book or any other field-relevant academic publication does, sheerly by virtue of its contribution to criticism as an institution); but arguably no critical approach more consciously addresses itself to the complexities besetting its own performance than rhetorical reading.  We return to a classic hermeneutic and deconstructive insight: the reading—here, the Guillorian interpretation, to the extent that it has traction enough to be a reading—is not something we add to the text from the outside, but constituted the text from the beginning (the beginning, that is, of the reading). The de Manian text stands revealed not as blind to its own institutional conditions of production, but rather as remarkably well-equipped to register them.

  32. Rigor is indeed a charged figure in theory's production and propagation, but Guillory's analysis cannot stand in the form he offers it.  There is no unambiguous "valorization of the technical" in de Man, as any careful inspection of "Aesthetic Formalization in Kleist" or the "Confessions" chapter of Allegories of Reading—to name only two particularly obvious texts—shows.  Technical and aesthetic formalization in de Man is not just inhuman; it is potentially damaging to humans (to Rousseau, entranced by the metal rolls [AR, 298]; to the mutilated man in Kleist's story who dances like a marionette [RR, 288-90]).  Formalization obtains inhuman, machine-like powers of iterability in these de Manian readings, and formalization is all the more dangerous when it has been aestheticized and thereby rendered, fallaciously, a property of the "human" or a principle of political order.  Rhetorical reading cannot help fetishizing "rigor," but is also a rigorous critique of rigor.  Avital Ronell has recently argued that "Paul de Man's work is essentially engaged with and inflected by the question concerning technology" (97); what Guillory calls theory's ideology of rigor is a dimension of that engagement.  Even as theory's invocation of rigor triggers the pathos and thrills of technical formalization, it enacts the imperative to read the uncertainties, the violent derivations and deviations of formalization.16

  33. It is telling that, as his chapter approaches its end, Guillory's assaults on de Man grow conflicted, particularly in the orbit of some lines he cites from de Man's interview with Stephano Rossi:

    So, personally, I don't have a bad conscience when I'm being told that, to the extent that it is didactic, my work is academic or even, as it is used as a supreme insult, just more New Criticism.  I can live with that very easily, because I think that only what is, in a sense, classically didactic, can be really and effectively subversive.  And I think the same applies there to Derrida.  Which doesn't mean that there are not essential differences: Derrida feels compelled to say more about the institution of the university, but that is more understandable within the European context, where the university has such a predominating cultural function, whereas in the United States it has no cultural function at all, here it is not inscribed in the genuine cultural tensions of the nation....  (RT, 117)

    Guillory attacks immediately, in the hyperbolic mode we have encountered before: "No proposition could be more blind to its own meaning than the claim that the American university has no 'cultural function'.  A claim of this sort would be hardly credible about any social institution" (241).  But then comes—rather unexpectedly given the overall tone of this chapter— the next sentence: "Yet this is not to say that de Man's assertion has no basis whatsoever." The semi-retraction is perhaps partly spurred by embarrassment over having pounced ravenously on a crumb (for obviously de Man, improvising in an interview, offers a loose phrase here, which he then follows with a tighter one); but as we read along it becomes apparent that part of Guillory's problem is that de Man is saying something uncomfortably close to what Guillory is saying, as Guillory eventually half-admits: "What de Man considered to be the cultural irrelevance of the university describes a real condition, perhaps, not of the university but of the literary curriculum" (264).  In between these two moments in his essay Guillory has exempted de Man from the "outside the institution" fantasy that Guillory attributes to the disciples: "So far from inhabiting a space exterior to the institution, de Man proposes that fully implementing a deconstructive pedagogy would transform 'departments of English from being large organizations in the service of everything except their own subject matter into much smaller units, dedicated to the professional specialization that Professor [Walter Jackson] Bate deplores' [RT, 25-26]" (247).  Guillory presses that citation toward a de Manian requirement that "the methodology of rhetorical reading be identified (how closely, we shall see) with the institution and its strictly institutional agenda"; but a few sentences later he nonetheless finds it necessary to distinguish de Man from the "aggressively 'professionalist' polemic" of a pragmatist such as Stanley Fish (247).  Here, for a small magic moment, de Man seems to float free, an inch or two above the clutches of polemic.  De Man, we are told, "identifies," in italics, his theory with the institution— but he also doesn't quite.  Guillory has come as close as he is able in this text to registering de Man's double or deconstructive reading of institutionality (and of the technically or rigorously or classically "didactic") as both determining and unstable, coercive and liberating. 

  34. Looking back over this long chapter, and then over this powerful and important book, one has the sense of having watched a champion archer, shooting over vast distances, clump arrows around but never quite in the bull's-eye—itself an extraordinary feat, and one perfectly capable of transforming our sense of the target by reframing it and allowing us to see it anew.  We learn a great deal from Guillory, precisely because the lessons he teaches are the sort that conscientious students need to modify.  If Guillory's persuasive critique of the "canon debate" should have led him to be leery of the temptations of personification (the trope that allows minority authors to become "representative" of experiences and constituencies, thereby effacing the institution through which this "representation" occurs), the fact that he repeats so fiercely the personifying gesture in his chapter on de Man suggests that no genuine account of canon formation—and, for that matter, no adequate history of literary theory—can be achieved in the absence of a fundamental rhetorical critique.  As regards de Manian theory per se, most of Guillory's characterizations and propositions, as we have seen, offer at best secondary or derivative truths.  The legendary transferential effects of de Man's seminar did indeed play an important if necessarily limited role in the diffusion of de Manian theory.  One can hardly deny that de Man was a charismatic figure, and it would be nearly as hard to deny that the "rigor" of his method facilitated many of the transferential and ideological effects that Guillory describes.  It is always tempting to imagine one's beloved teacher "outside" the institution, even if one knows better; and when the sociological context is one in which full-scale humanities instruction has largely retreated to elite enclaves and is being carried out—at best, in these enclaves—by a two-tier staff of bureaucratically integrated professionals and an increasingly proletarianized casual workforce (this latter category including, of course, the master teacher's students so long as they are literally students), it becomes all the easier for the participants in this drama to reimagine the master's singularity as "absolute autonomy."  But de Manian theory does not license these phenomena; it predicts and in a sense exploits and after a fashion repeats them, yet only in order to come to grips with and critique them.  In his heart, perhaps, Guillory knows this, and perhaps we know he knows.  That is why we are not, perhaps, completely taken by surprise when, on the final page of this chapter, Guillory offers us a half-smothered confession of impotence, telling us "how nearly impossible it is to imagine what lies beyond the rhetoricism of literary theory, and hence beyond the problematic of literariness" (265).  That near-impossibility spurs a formulaic gesture toward some future moment, when "a much more thorough reflection on the historical category of literature" will allow us to "conceptualize a new disciplinary domain." The signifier "history," here, as so often in contemporary academic criticism, points toward salvation from history and from the "disciplinary domains" within which we find ourselves.  It is not de Man's project but rather Guillory's that, in the last analysis, turns away from the task of understanding the historical conditions of literary criticism, and the various institutions of the aesthetic.

  35. This swerve from history by way of a messianic historicism returns as a hyperbolic investment in the aesthetic at the end of Cultural Capital, as we have seen.  As its final offering, Guillory's book proffers, anxiously and self-consciously, as the prize of its anti-de Manian polemic, the dream of an Aesthetic State in which the violence of social inequity is transformed into "pure 'symbolic distinction'" (339).  On the purity of that pure distinction, that difference between literal and figurative violence, the vision depends utterly.  Guillory is right to argue, against the pseudo-historicists and neo-pragmatists, that aesthetic judgment cannot be evaded; just as little, however, can one evade the rhetorical critique that locates in the radical singularity of aesthetic judgment the impossible but necessary condition of suspense between literal and figural meaning that de Man saw as the predicament of reading. Aesthetic humanism does not give up its dream easily; indeed, it perhaps cannot be given up at all—even by those who pursue their bureaucratic careers as practitioners of "theory."  And thus criticism continues to twist in the turns of aesthetic discourse, while periodically registering its fascination and anxiety with regard to the critic who most severely and strangely followed out those turns.  It is likely that this predicament will remain that of "literary criticism in the coming years."


Works Cited

Bourdieu, Pierre. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. Trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.

Chase, Cynthia. "Trappings of an Education: Toward that which we do not yet have." In Hamacher, Hertz, and Keenan, 44-79.

Cohen, Tom, Barbara Cohen, J. Hillis Miller, and Andrzej Warminski, eds. Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

de Man, Paul. Aesthetic Ideology. Ed. Andrzej Warminski. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. [AI]

-----. Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979. [AR]

-----. The Resistance to Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986. [RT]

-----. The Rhetoric of Romanticism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. [RR]

-----. Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism: The Gauss Seminar and Other Papers. Ed. E. S. Burt, Kevin Newmark, and Andrzej Warminski. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993. [RCC]

Derrida, Jacques. La carte postale: de Socrate à Freud et au-delà. Paris: Flammarion, 1980.

-----. "Typewriter Ribbon: Limited Ink (2) ("within such limits")." In Cohen et al., 277-360.

Guillory, John. Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Hamacher, Werner, Neil Hertz and Thomas Keenan, eds. Responses: On Paul de Man’s Wartime Journalism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.

Hertz, Neil. "Lurid Figures." In Waters and Godzich.

-----. "More Lurid Figures." Diacritics, 20:3 (1990), 2-49.

Kamuf, Peggy. "The Division of Literature." Diacritics, 25:3 (1995), 53-72.

Laclau, Ernesto, and Chantal Mouffe. Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards a Radical Democratic Politics. London: Verso, 1985.

Lloyd, David, and Paul Thomas, Culture and the State. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

Macherey, Pierre, and Etienne Balibar, "Literature as an Ideological Form: Some Marxist Propositions." Trans. James Kavanaugh. Praxis 5 (1981).

Mannheim, Karl. Ideology and Utopia: An Introduction to the Sociology of Knowledge. Trans. Louis Wirth and Edward Shils. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1936 [1929].

Pepper, Thomas. Singularities: Extremes of Theory in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997.

Redfield, Marc. Phantom Formations: Aesthetic Ideology and the Bildungsroman. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996.

-----. The Politics of Aesthetics: Nationalism, Gender, Romanticism. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2003.

-----. "De Man, Schiller, and the Politics of Reception." Diacritics 20:3 (1990), 50-70.

Ronell, Avital. Stupidity. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002.

Schiller, Friedrich. On the Aesthetic Education of Man, in a Series of Letters. Trans. Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.

Terada, Rei. Feeling in Theory: Emotion after the "Death of the Subject". Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Waters, Lindsay, and Wlad Godzich, eds. Reading de Man Reading. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

Weber, Samuel. Mass Mediauras: Form, Technics, Media. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996.


1 As I note a little later in this essay, Peggy Kamuf's fine review of Cultural Capital in Diacritics has almost nothing to say about the book's chapter on de Man.  I have found Guillory's work a helpful irritant over the years, and the present essay represents something of an effort to make payments on an overdue account by decompressing the brief critiques of Cultural Capital (and especially of its de Man chapter) that I offer in Phantom Formations (see 28-29, 35-36, 211-13), and The Politics of Aesthetics (5-8, 187-88).

2 Guillory borrows the notion of cultural capital from Bourdieu: of Bourdieu's many writings in this area, see, e.g., Distinction.  The idea of cultural capital goes back to Mannheim (at least): "the modern bourgeoisie had from the beginning a twofold social root—on the one hand the owners of capital, on the other those indiviudals whose only capital consisted in their education" (Mannheim, 156).

3 I discuss Schiller's notion of the Aesthetic State in Phantom Formations (via a reading of Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Wanderjahre), 95-133; see also 211-13 for a critique of these closing remarks of Guillory's.

4 The writing staff of The Simpsons is famous for being dominated by Harvard Lampoon alumni—a factoid of significance to the extent that it can remind us that the graduates of elite schools continue to play a substantial role in the culture industry. This is not to dispute the "decline of the humanities," or, for that matter, the retreat of print culture itself.  According to a National Endowment for the Arts report released as I finished this essay, only about 50% of Americans read any sort of novel (or play or story, etc.) at all over the past year (see "Fewer Noses Stuck in Books in America, Survey Finds," The New York Times, July 8, 2004).  The point is only that the difference between "high" and "mass" culture is far more fluid than writers such as Guillory tend to imply.  Furthermore, as I shall remark later in this essay, the discourse of aesthetics is not simply a "high cultural" phenomenon; quite the contrary.

5 Once again, I permit myself to refer to Phantom Formations, 1-37, and The Politics of Aesthetics, 1-4, passim.  The persistence of aesthetics beyond differences between "elite" and "mass" culture is what Guillory misses—for the sake of the aesthetic.  On this point I would grant precedence to David Lloyd and Paul Thomas's analysis:  "The differential position of deeply saturates the structure of bourgeois society that even the so-called aestheticization of daily life in the postmodern era has not fundamentally altered its significance.  The structure of ‘recreationary space,' whether defined as Arnoldian culture or the mass media, is, in relation to the specialization of the workplace or the interests of politics, fundamentally little changed and continues to provide the mechanisms by which the formal subject of the state is produced as in this domain undivided.  Without a radical critique, not only of the terms but also of the conditions of possibility of such differentiation of spheres, the function of culture in the reproduction of the state and material social relations cannot adequately be addressed" (15).

6 Kamuf dismisses Guillory's explanation of his focus on de Man with little more than an exclamation of incredulity:  "‘The equation theory-deconstruction-de Man' is, he claims, ‘already present in the professional imaginary' [178].  Oh, really?  Reading that, one may be relieved, alarmed, or merely amused at the idea that there is someone out there who believes he has his finger on the pulse of the ‘professional imaginary.' Or even at the idea that someone would so confidently invoke such a concept, which illustrates too well the violence of conceptual totalization.  To escape this violence many, if not most, of Guillory's readers (I include myself) will probably choose to ignore the claim.  Which is not to say that this framing device is easy to ignore: on the contrary, it intrudes and insists on almost every page of the [fourth] chapter" (Kamuf, 62-63).

7 Continuing what is no doubt on the one hand shameless self-promotion and on the other hand the exhibitionistic airing of an obsession, I take the liberty of noting that reflections on de Man's charisma are to be found in my essay "De Man, Schiller, and the Politics of Reception" (esp. 50-51, 64-65), which predates Guillory's book by a couple of years.  A revised and expanded version of this essay now makes up chapter 3 of The Politics of Aesthetics.  Many critics have commented in passing on de Man's peculiar anti-theatrical charisma; Samuel Weber, for instance, has this interesting remark in an interview: "I have long felt that de Man, in his practice as teacher and as writer, was the most Lacanian, or Freudian, or psychoanalytic of literary critics.  Not explicitly, of course, but in his use of authority, in his tendency to multiply apodictic statements in a way that undermined the absoluteness of the claims they seemed to be making." (185).

8 See the introduction to this volume for some reflections on the breadth and complexity of de Man's influence in the Anglo-American academy.

9 On de Man's introduction to the Studies in Romanticism special issue, see Sara Guyer's contribution to this volume.

10 "Theory of Metaphor" was originally published as an article in Studies in Romanticism in 1973.  The Proust essay first appeared as "Proust et l'allégorie de la lecture," in a Festschrift for Georges Poulet in 1972; versions of Allegories of Reading's Rilke chapter and one of its Nietzsche chapters also appeared in 1972. The order of composition of these texts is, so far as I know, a moot question.

11 One need look no further than this volume to find an interesting debate over de Manian materialism: see Rei Terada's "Seeing is Reading." The Material Events collection provides another convenient resource.

12 There is one apparent counterexample to my claim here: a sentence in "Hegel on the Sublime" in which de Man speaks of a moment in Hegel in which "the idea leaves a material trace, accessible to the senses, upon the world" (AI, 108).  But as even this fragment of a sentence, let alone the rest of the discussion, makes clear, the point is that, although the material trace, like any sign, is accessible to the senses, its status as sign causes the phenomenal "presence" of a sensation to be contaminated by the differential structure of the trace.

13 I have elsewhere tried to sketch out an interplay among aesthetics, technics, and theory: see Politics, 14-29; see also Weber.  In particular, for an extremely helpful meditation on technics and a reading of Heidegger's "The Question Concerning Technology" that clarifies how technics may be understood both as a power to fix and control, and as a "movement of unsecuring," see Weber, 55-75.

14 Guillory engages in a hard-working and generally respectful argument with Neil Hertz's essay "Lurid Figures" (see Guillory, 233-35).  I leave aside here the extremely interesting topic of pathos in de Man; see Hertz's extraordinary essays "Lurid Figures" and "More Lurid Figures"; my Politics of Aesthetics, 95-124; and, most recently, Terada, 48-89 and passim.

15 Once again, see the introduction to this volume for a discussion of the diverse sort of work that de Manian theory has inspired.

16 For a meditation on the political dimension of de Man's thought that is particularly attentive to the violence of formalization, see Chase.  The de Manian project may only be accused of performing an "imaginary reduction of the social to an instance of the linguistic" if one's critique of de Man's notion of "language" has more traction than Guillory's is able to achieve.  When de Man tells us that historical and political systems are the "correlate" of textual models (RR, 289), his claim does not amount to a reduction of epistemological or ontological complexity.  Language provides no ontological ground to which one could reduce.

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