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124Philosophy and Literature in question is no weakness, however, but an exemplary editorial act, and a demonstration of how effectively the book raises the reader's general awareness of assumptions about narrative. In sum, students of both philosophy and literature will find things of interest here. Within the limits to which they are always bound, this anthology manages to discuss with some rigor a wide range of writers, texts, and topics. Among the best contributions are Riffaterre writing on a Balzac short story, Jauss on reader replacing text as authority figure, Eugene Vance on medieval poetics, and J. H. Miller on labyrinthine "lines" of narrative. The differences among these pieces are attractive, and it would be wrong-headed to try forcing them into one interlockingjigsaw puzzle. But if the essays share a common feature, it is that in their varying ways they all put in question the still pervasive doctrine of "the one inherent meaning of the text which the reader has to uncover" (p. 184). And that remains an argument worth mounting. Pomona CollegeArden Reed Allegories of Reading: Figurai Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust, by Paul de Man; xi & 305 pp. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1979, $19.50. We may have thought that rhetoric is essentially an ornamental part of writing. Asserting a claim, a writer tries to be persuasive. Or a statement is made, but only metaphorically or ironically. Fiction merely seeks to sound convincing. Philosophy aims at showing us the truth, while rhetoric seeks only to persuade us to believe one thing or another. Such distinctions depend on believing we know how to interpret a text. We interpret, thinking we know the meaning of an author's words. But how do we know how the rhetoric of a text should be taken? As de Man puts it, the manuscript "may point back . . . to an endless chain of quotations reaching as far back as the ultimate transcendental signified God . . ." (p. 204). Thus reflecting, we may find the intuitive distinction between factual claims and how those claims are presented unclear. Texts may never quite mean what they seem to mean. And this "arbitrary power play of the signifier . . . can only be experienced as . . . a castration" (p. 296), or worse. The Birth of Tragedy, for example, offers a theory of language and "a rhetorical praxis that puts these statements into a question" (p. 98). So, "the 'definition' of the text also states the impossibility of its existence" (p. 270), and many texts are "about" the impossibility of asserting what they assert. Vertigo is easily produced here. Is this review deconstructing itself, unravelling as quickly as I write it out? De Man is a supersubtle reader, and what he has to say—if I may use those words literally—is fascinating and important. But at the risk of seeming Shorter Reviews125 hopelessly obtuse, I confess to finding this book almost unreadable. Consider four problems. First, though de Man seeks a general theory of reading, it is hard to tell how his intricate accounts of these particular texts are to be generalized. "In Nietzsche, the critique of metaphysics can be described as the deconstruction of the illusion that the language of truth . . . could be replaced by a language of persuasion . . ." (pp. 129-30). Is this just Nietzsche exegesis, or a claim about any metaphysics? Second, finding an overall structure here is difficult. One could bypass many occasional obscurities—and there are many—if the destination were clearer. Third, many of his issues are not unfamiliar. For example, the conventions required for social contracts, or to make possible language, have been widely discussed. But, perhaps because de Man undermines the distinction between what is said and how it is said, relating his account to others is hard. When he does so, as by calling understanding "the representation of an extra-textual meaning; in Austin's terms, the illocutionary speech act becomes a perlocutionary actual act—in Frege's terms, Bedeutung becomes Sinn" (p. 13), I am baffled. Fourth, viewing other texts this way, what becomes of de Man's text? Is Allegories of Reading also to be deconstructed? Hayden White's recent Tropics ofDiscourse shows how some of these...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 124-125
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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