Abstract

In a lecture delivered in 1959, “Hölderlin and the Romantic Tradition,” Paul de Man derives from Hölderlin’s “Der Rhein” an interpretation of Rousseau, at odds with Derrida’s deconstruction, that undergirds de Man’s later writings about romanticism and figurative language. Hölderlin’s “Der Rhein” conceives of the relations between texts in terms of “blindness” and of our “feeling in the name of the gods.” De Man follows Hölderlin in ascribing to Rousseau a turn or “Umkehr” toward self-consciousness, away from an initial drive toward unity with nature. Central to de Man’s argument are Hölderlin’s concept “vaterländischeUmkehr” and the chiasmic structure of the relationship between Greek and modern modes of representation. These concepts come from Hölderlin’s translation of Sophocles’ Antigone, his commentary on his translation (the AnmerkungenzurAntigonä), and his well-known Letter to Böhlendorff (4 December 1801) suggesting that a culture’s most difficult and yet most necessary achievement is the “Umkehr” or turning round from its “main tendency” (or chief striving) back toward the capability native to it. By means of an image of Antigone turning, like Niobe, to stone, de Man interprets these texts in a way that anticipates his critique of the aesthetic in essays written much later (1982–1983). De Man stresses both the indispensability of “the romantic or neo-hellenic moment” and the necessity of surpassing it. Key to his conceptions of poetry and of language are Rousseau’s theory of music and Hölderlin’s word “Maas,” “measure.” Though we are unable to imagine “an art that would not be an expression of unity in nature, whether actual or ideal,” de Man suggests we gain an inkling from texts such as certain passages of Yeats and Rimbaud.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6539
Print ISSN
0300-7162
Pages
pp. 80-113
Launched on MUSE
2013-09-12
Open Access
No
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