Aesthetic Ideology (Theory and History of Literature, Volume by Paul de Man

By Paul de Man

Editor note: Edited and with an advent via Andrzej Warminski
Publish yr note: First released in 1996

Paul De Man's acceptance used to be irreparably broken by way of the revelation after his dying of his wartime anti-Semitism, obscuring a few legitimate highbrow contributions to the sphere of aesthetics. This choice of philosophical essays, compiled via Andrzej Warminski of the college of California, argues for the shut connections among artwork and politics and paintings and technology. He discusses Kant and Hegel, whose significant contributions to aesthetics are much less identified than their paintings on rationality and morality. And in an essay on Schiller he deplores, relatively naively, the poet/playwright's loss of philosophical trouble for the root of his paintings.

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Out of place, among the serious affairs of men ("if we would speak of things as they are"), it is a disruptive scandal—like the appearance of a real woman in a gentlemen's club where it would only be tolerated as a picture, preferably naked (like the image of Truth), framed and hung on the wall. There is little epistemological risk in a flowery, witty passage about wit like this one, except perhaps that it may be taken too seriously by dull-witted subsequent readers. But when, on the next page, Locke speaks of language as a "conduit" that may "corrupt the fountains of knowledge which are in things themselves" and, even worse, "break or stop the pipes whereby it is distributed to public use," then this language, not of poetic "pipes and timbrels" but of a plumber's handyman, raises, by its all too graphic concreteness, questions of propriety.

Again, the act of suspending the referential function is itself referential and leaves traces within the system so constituted. 27. See Louis Marin's La Critique du discours (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1975) on the relation between Pascal's epistemology and that of the Logique. De Man clearly profited a great deal from his reading of Marin's chapter 8—and went further. INTRODUCTION: ALLEGORIES OF REFERENCE D 27 ing place as a historical, material event. Its "excess of rigor" means rather that the referential/rhetorical status of Pascal's epistemological discourse is other than, different from, what literalists call philosophy or philosophical discourse—more like allegory than like proof.

And the fact that whenever we say all we can say ("then") we cannot tell whether we are saying "then" as a temporal (or causal) indicator or as a mere placeholder that calls attention to the act of saying only accelerates the maddening vertiginousness of our predicament. But however overdetermined and potentially vertiginous the stutter of what we are actually saying may be, it is clear enough what its bottom line amounts to: the narrativization of a stutter, as it were, an allegory of reference that is necessarily also always an "ironic allegory" and "the systematic undoing, in other words, of understanding" (Allegories, p.

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