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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 problems can be clearly discussed. But in this book, unlike in his admirable earlier Blindness and Insight, de Man's insights are almost lost in a labyrinthine text. Carnegie-Mellon UniversityDavid Carrier Karl Marx, Romantic Irony, and the Proletariat: The Mythopoetic Origins of Marxism, by Leonard P. Wessell, Jr.; ix & 297 pp. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1980, $20.00. The argument that Marx's proletariat was just a figure of speech is titillating, perhaps, but not really so very shocking as the author of this book appears to think. While literary critics have long been notorious for poaching upon the domains of other disciplines in the attempt to define their own, the more sublime quest to discover a literary nature hiding within the boundaries of these other disciplines has also become quite commonplace in recent years. Philosophy, psychoanalysis, history, and science have been analyzed in terms of their "literary" forms or practices. It does not seem so odd, then, to assert that "Marx's conception of the philosophical task is quite poetic, mythic, and dramatic" (p. 147). A study of Marx's writing from this standpoint might prove a valuable exploration of those complex problems that arise in the struggles of different disciplines to define and maintain their systematic boundaries. Unfortunately, WesselPs approach to the matter does not recognize such complexity. While he expects that his work will prove disconcerting to orthodox 126Philosophy and Literature Marxists, it is more likely to raise eyebrows among those who are seriously interested in critical methodology in general. This is not to say that Wessell is completely oblivious to such a concern. Indeed, one aspect of Marx's thought that he does not appear to criticize is the care Marx took in formulating questions, because "in a sense the question has priority over the answer" (p. 14), establishing the assumptions and the scope of one's discourse. Wessell, however, does not appear to have taken this idea to heart. He begins his questioning of Marx by assuming, with Ernest Becker, that man is before all else a Homo poeta and the world he creates for himself a symbolic system that serves the sacred end of transcending his fear of death. Moreover, he sees this assumption as the basis of German Romanticism. As he defines it, conventionally enough, the situation of the time was that the old gods were dead, new ones needed but as yet reluctant to manifest themselves, and poets thus called upon to speed their birth. By wielding the magic wand of Romantic irony, the poet would encourage the emergence of the ideal from the womb of material reality. Wessell, then, as a latter-day Romantic, intends to unmask the poet-Marx within the scientific materialist-Marx. In other words, as the governing ideology of German Romanticism is also that of his own...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 125-126
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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