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Conclusion So there is Adam Usk’s secret: a trick of style by which he could make his chronicle act like an unwilling informant, imperfectly concealing knowledge too dangerous to declare. He had discovered the resources for it in the rhetorical discipline of his professional community, a discipline that enforced a habit of predictable decorum, performing conclusion at moments of conclusion and signaling authorial control thereby. By disrupting those concluding gestures, Usk found, he could perform surprise and failure instead ; he could create the illusion that authorial control has been ambushed by panic, that his choices are really accidents, and the ostensible reasons for them really suppressed or repressed causes. Doing so was his deliberate accomplishment, as the traces of design show. It achieved several things for him. It let him make his narration seem to emerge from thoughts incompletely reported, hinting that an unconscious not reliably accessible even to himself was leaking through in symptoms. It let him portray himself as a mechanism of precipitant impulse, flattering himself that he thinks his thoughts when in reality they think him. It let him portray other selves as such mechanisms also. It let him mobilize these mechanized selves into a preassembled repertory of dramatic ironies, deflating failures, and purposes which no precaution could shield from self-subversion. It presented to him, as an idea already formed, the sense that precautions against disaster are especially prone to disaster: they succeed only in cheating the mind with the hope that disaster is avoidable, and leave the very attempt to shed naivety naive. And it gave him a lexicon of complacent violence and suggested the gory uses to which he might put it. Conclusion 133 He did not plant this secret for any actual audience to find; nothing suggests that he even conceived the possibility that any might. But he also did not plant pointers that would point even a notional, ideal audience— perhaps the only one he ever conceived—toward it. It is therefore not a banal joke on credulous readers (“the secret is that there is no secret”);1 it is simply the operation that makes readers want to look. It is an empty secret: a device and a MacGuffin. What look like symptoms bestrewing his discourse are not in fact symptoms, but effects made to look like them. Nothing further is needed to explain the secret. Our investigation is therefore concluded with this answer. • That is my claim, anyhow, but it sounds fishy. It suggests suspicious haste (move on folks, this question’s done, no more to see here) and a vain or defensive desire for the last word—that at best, and probably something worse. It runs afoul of critical good manners and of the conventional assumptions that have underwritten them: assumptions about the multivalence of all utterances; their mutual dependence in a chain of linguistic difference that never stops; the correspondingly disseminal character of all linguistic performance and the centrifugal proliferation of possible interpretative acts; the framing of all percepts and concepts by social interests and perspectives, and the irreducible multiplicity of those interests and perspectives; the resulting impossibility of honestly resolving any of them into a single focus; the democratic equality of all lines of inquiry. All these, some plainly true and all widely treated as axiomatic, have informed the mood in which interpretation seems in principle unbounded and so does the mastery it promises: it can move freely among artifacts and systems alike, now reading poems, now posters, now culture itself: tug anywhere, keep pulling, you might unravel anything. The literary text can be read as a microscopic abridgment of its world, the world as a macroscopic text; whatever; it all hangs together.2 Thus the 134 Conclusion injunction against injunctions, the determination to disallow determinations : you just cannot insist that reading stop. You will never find an end of connection, resonance, homology; you can therefore give no reason for making it stop; and if you are trying to, what are you afraid of? The very attempt to do it sounds like anxiety or bad faith. But this store of practical assumptions has always stood on shaky legs; indeed, its most potent postulate causes the problems. As Sartre cleverly remarked, reading a work as literature (“as a text” is our phrase) stipulates its boundlessly coherent interpretability: no matter how recondite, involved , and apparently fantastical the designs the reader imagines he has found, “he has a guarantee, namely, that they have been expressly willed.”3 A memorable anecdote...

Subject Headings

  • Adam, of Usk, active 1400. Chronicon Adae de Usk, A.D. 1377-1421.
  • Adam, of Usk, active 1400 -- Literary art.
  • Written communication -- England -- History -- To 1500.
  • Great Britain -- History -- Richard II, 1377-1399 -- Historiography.
  • Great Britain -- History -- House of Lancaster, 1399-1461 -- Historiography.
  • Wales -- History -- 1063-1536 -- Historiography.
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