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160Philosophy and Literature which he could usefully examine in future studies. (Why is rhetorical invention more common in some eras than in others? What social issues and problems particularly lend themselves to inventions of reading? How may we distinguish between the kinds of inventions we meet in Rabelais and Kafka, Goethe and Kleist?) This is an admirable book, a model ofcomparative analysis, delightfully clear, imaginative, and broad-ranging. Koelb has disclosed a field ofinvestigation that all literary critics could fruitfully explore. University of GeorgiaRonald Bogue Paul de Man: Deconstruction and the Critique ofAesthetic Ideology, by Christopher Norris; xxii & 218 pp. New York: Roudedge, 1988, $12.95 paper. In the dialogue between the academic disciplines, Paul de Man was something of a double agent. He pressured his literary colleagues by posing questions about the "truth" value of poetic language, while also creating problems for anyone who would write with grand generalizing ambitions—especially practitioners of the "human sciences"—with questions about the ways rhetorical tropes might have of unbalancing the constructions of logic and grammar. In the first book-length study ofde Man's work, Christopher Norris fully endorses de Man's critique of the Romantic "mystifications" that have supposedly informed many of the Western tradition's most influential texts from the eighteenth century to the present. It was de Man's ambition, from early on in his career in America, to renounce the ideal of a language that would fuse nature and mind in moments ofluminous presence. Such an ideal—Norris agrees with de Man—is conducive to illusions about human knowledge and human power. It is only through facing up to the contingent and temporal nature of all language, its ceaseless urge to expand away from symbolic cohesions, that we can keep a true sense of human limit. Norris argues, in what is perhaps the book's main interpretive move, that as de Man's work developed, his "aesthetic critique" acquired progressively broader cultural applications, so that in his later reflections, de Man was an effective critic oftotalizing political, as well as literary, dogmas. This view, which Norris apparendy developed before the exposure of de Man's wartime journalism, indicates that de Man may have been working his way toward a subde repudiation of past errors. Norris's sympathies are generally neo-Kantian. He feels that rational critique has the power to change existing institutions for the better, which makes him sympathetic to de Man's quest to expose claims to transcendent audiority in Reviews161 any given text. But what about the authority of the demystifying analysis itself? What about the play of the interpreter's tropes? De Man, as I read him, is willing to let the matter stand as a paradox: he conceived of his own work as both "rigorous" and "unreliable." Norris seems to require more stability. He points to a passage—uncharacteristic of de Man as I see it—in which de Man claims that Nietzsche "earns the right" to his definitive pronouncements by virtue of the "considerable labor of deconstruction diat makes up the bulk of his more analytical writings." Does this, though, add up to anything more than an attempt to confer cultural authority of a rather absolute sort on a writer with whom one agrees? So Norris, throughout his book, wants to extend a similar sort of authority to de Man. But this is far from the spirit of deconstruction , which demands that one continually read and question, rather than naturalizing or mythologizing, one's own tropes. Thus a book that begins as a defense of deconstructive rigor, and the interminable activity of subversive interpretation, settles into an exercise in cultural politics. The spirit ofde Man's work is one of ever more scrupulous ascetic denial. Attempts to enlist de Man in any positive program, even attempts as honorable and intelligent as Norris's, are probably fated to be undermined by no one more insistendy than by Paul de Man himself. University of VirginiaMark Edmundson Locke and the Scrihlerians: Identity and Consciousness in Eighteenth-Century Britain, by Christopher Fox; ? & 174 pp. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988, $25.00. In 1714, the Scriblerians, a gang of Tory intellectuals and políticos got together for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 160-161
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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