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De Man Semiology and Rhetoric

De Man Semiology and Rhetoric

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Semiology and RhetoricAuthor(s): Paul de ManSource:
Diacritics,
Vol. 3, No. 3 (Autumn, 1973), pp. 27-33Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable URL:
Accessed: 04/08/2009 10:19
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OnApriltwentiethandtwenty-first,the first DiacriticsSymposiumwas heldatCornellonthethemeTexts,Pretexts,Contexts.Itwashopedthat theproceedingswould bepub-lishedinbookform,but unforeseen technicalitiesfrustratedthisproject.Thefollowingthreepaperswereconsidered to berepresentativebytheeditorsof Diacritics and arehere-withpublishedinlieu,and as asummary,of the fullactsoftheevent.Paul de Man
SemiologyandRhetoric
Tojudgefrom variousrecentpublications,thespiritofthe times is notblowinginthe directionoffor-malistand intrinsiccriticism. Wemaynolongerbehear-ingtoo much aboutrelevance butwekeephearingagreatdeal aboutreference,aboutthe non-verbal"out-side"towhichlanguagerefers,bywhichit is conditionedanduponwhich it acts. The stress falls not so muchonthefictionalstatus of literatureapropertynowper-hapssomewhat tooeasilytaken forgrantedbuton theinterplaybetweenthese fictionsandcategoriesthat aresaidtopartakeofreality,such as theself,man,society,"theartist,hiscultureandthehumancommunity,"asone criticputsit.Hence theemphasisonhybridtextsconsidered tobepartly literaryandpartlyreferential,onpopularfictionsdeliberatelyaimedtowards social andpsychologicalgratification,onliteraryautobiographyasakeyto theunderstandingof theself,and so on. Wespeakasif,withtheproblemsofliteraryform resolvedonceandforever,andwiththetechniquesof structuralanalysisrefinedtonear-perfection,wecouldnowmove"beyondformalism"towardsthequestionsthatreallyinterestusandreap,atlast,thefruits of the asceticconcentration ontechniquesthatpreparedus forthisdecisivestep.Withtheinternallaw and orderoflitera-ture wellpoliced,we cannowconfidentlydevote our-selves to theforeignaffairs,the externalpoliticsof lit-erature.Notonlydo wefeel able to doso,but weoweitto ourselvesto take thisstep:ourmoralconsciencewould notallow ustodo otherwise. Behindtheas-surancethatvalidinterpretationispossible,behindtherecent interest inwritingandreadingaspotentiallyef-fectivepublicspeechacts,stands ahighlyrespectablemoralimperativethatstrives to reconcile theinternal,formal,privatestructuresofliterarylanguagewiththeirexternal,referentialandpubliceffects.PauldeMan,who hasanalyzed,andbeenanalyzed,inDiacritics,isProfessor ofcomparativeliteratureatYale.Iwant,forthemoment,toconsiderbrieflythistendencyinitself,as anundeniable andrecurrent his-toricalfact,withoutregardfor itstruthorfalsenessorfor its valueasdesirableorpernicious.Itisafact thatthis sortofthinghappens, againandagain,inliterarystudies.On theonehand,literaturecannotmerelybereceivedas adefinite unitofreferentialmeaningthatcanbedecoded withoutleavingaresidue. The codeisunusuallyconspicuous,complexandenigmatic;itat-tractsaninordinateamountofattentionto itself andthis attentionhas toacquiretherigorof amethod.Thestructuralmomentofconcentrationon thecode foritsownsake cannotbeavoided andliteraturenecessarilybreeds itsownformalism.Technicalinnovationsinthemethodicalstudyofliteratureonlyoccurwhen thiskindof attentionpredominates.Itcanlegitimatelybesaid,forexample,that,from atechnicalpointofview,verylittle hashappenedinAmericancriticismsince the in-novative works ofNewCriticism.Therecertainlyhavebeennumerousexcellentbooks ofcriticismsince,butin noneof themhave thetechniquesofdescriptionandinterpretationevolvedbeyondthetechniquesof closereadingestablished inthethirtiesandtheforties.For-malism,itseems,isanall-absorbingandtyrannicalmuse;thehopethat one canbeat thesametimetech-nically originalanddiscursively eloquentis notborneoutbythehistoryofliterarycriticism.On the other hand-and thisisthe realmystery-noliteraryformalism,nomatter howaccurate andenrichingin itsanalyticpowers,iseverallowed tocomeintobeingwithoutseemingreductive.When formis con-sideredto be theexternaltrappingsofliterary meaningorcontent,itseemssuperficialandexpendable.The de-velopmentofintrinsic,formalistcriticism inthe twentiethcenturyhaschangedthismodel:formis nowasol-ipsisticcategoryofself-reflection andthe referentialmeaningis saidtobeextrinsic.Thepolaritiesof insideandoutsidehavebeenreversed,buttheyare stillthesamepolaritiesthatare atplay:internalmeaninghas
cdicritics
Fall
1973
 
become outside referenceand the outer form hasbe-come theintrinsic structure.Anew versionofreduc-tivenessatonce follows this reversal:formalism nowa-daysismostlydescribed in animageryofimprisonmentandclaustrophobia:the"prisonhouseoflanguage,""theimpasseof formalistcriticism,"etc. Like thegrand-motherinProust's novelceaselesslydrivingtheyoungMarcel outintothegarden,awayfrom theunhealthyinwardnessofhis closetedreading,criticscryout forthe freshairof referentialmeaning.Thus,with thestructure ofthecodesoopaque,butthemeaningsoanxious toblotout the obstacleofform,nowonderthat thereconciliation of formandmeaningwould besoattractive. Theattractionofreconciliation is theelectivebreeding-groundof falsemodelsandmetaphors;itac-counts for themetaphoricalmodel of literatureas akind of box thatseparatesan inside from anoutside,and thereaderor critic as thepersonwhoopensthe lidinorder to releasein theopenwhat was secretedbutinaccessibleinside. It matters little whether wecalltheinside ofthebox the content or theform,the outsidethemeaningor theappearance.Therecurrent debateopposingintrinsicto extrinsic criticismstandsundertheaegisof an inside/outsidemetaphorthat is neverbeingseriously questioned.Metaphorsare muchmoretenaciousthanfactsandIcertainlydon'texpecttodislodgethisage-oldmodelinone shortexpositorytalk.Imerelywish tospeculateonadifferent set ofterms,perhapslesssim-plein their differentialrelationshipthan thestrictlypolar,binaryoppositionbetween insideandoutsideandtherefore lesslikelyto enterinto theeasy playofchiasmicreversals.Iderive these terms(whichareasold as thehills)pragmaticallyfrom the observationofdevelopmentsanddebatesin recentcriticalmethodology.Oneofthe mostcontroversialamongthesede-velopmentscoincideswithanewapproachtopoeticsor,asitiscalledinGermany,poetology,asabranch ofgeneralsemiotics.InFrance,asemiologyof literaturecomesaboutasthe outcomeofthelong-deferredbut allthe moreexplosiveencounter ofthe nimbleFrenchlit-erarymindwith thecategoryofform.Semiology,asopposedtosemantics,isthe science orstudyofsignsassignifiers;itdoes notask what wordsmeanbut howtheymean. UnlikeAmericanNewCriticism,which de-rived theinternalizationofform fromthepracticeofhighlyself-conscious modernwriters,FrenchsemiologyturnedtolinguisticsforitsmodelandadoptedSaussureandJakobson ratherthanValeryor Proust forits mas-ters.Byanawarenessof thearbitrarinessof thesign(Saussure)andof literatureasan autotelicstatement"focusedonthewayitisexpressed"(Jakobson)theentirequestionofmeaningcan bebracketed,thus free-ingthecritical discoursefromthedebilitatingburdenofparaphrase.Thedemystifying powerofsemiology,withinthecontext of Frenchhistoricalandthematiccriticism,hasbeenconsiderable. Itdemonstratedthat thepercep-tionoftheliterarydimensionsoflanguageislargelyobscuredifone submitsuncriticallytotheauthorityofreference.It alsorevealedhowtenaciouslythisauthoritycontinuesto assert itselfinavarietyofdisguises,rang-ingfrom thecrudestideologyto themost refinedformsofaestheticand ethicaljudgment.Itespecially explodesthemythofsemanticcorrespondencebetweensignandreferent,thewishfulhopeofhavingit bothways,ofbeing,toparaphraseMarxin the GermanIdeology,aformalist criticinthemorningandacommunalmoralistin theafternoon,ofservingboththetechniqueofformand the substanceofmeaning.Theresults,in theprac-tice of Frenchcriticism,havebeenas fruitfulastheyare irreversible.Perhapsforthefirsttime sincethelateeighteenth century,Frenchcriticscancomeatleastsomewhat closerto thekind oflinguisticawarenessthatnever ceasedto beoperativeinitspoetsandnovelistsandthatforced all of themincludingSainteBeuve towritetheir main works"contre Sainte Beuve."Thedis-tancewas neverso considerableinEnglandandtheUnitedStates,whichdoesnotmean,however,that wemaybeable,in thiscountry,todispensewith apre-ventativesemiologicalhygienealtogether.One of the moststrikingcharacteristicsofliterarysemiologyas itispracticedtoday,in Franceand else-where,is the use ofgrammatical(especiallysyntactical)structuresconjointlywith rhetoricalstructures,withoutapparentawarenessof apossiblediscrepancybetweenthem.Intheirliterary analyses,Barthes,Genette,To-dorov,Greimasand theirdisciplesallsimplifyandregressfromJakobson inlettinggrammarandrhetoricfunctioninperfectcontinuity,andinpassingfromgram-maticaltorhetoricalstructureswithoutdifficultyorin-terruption.Indeed,as thestudyofgrammaticalstruc-turesisrefinedincontemporarytheoriesofgenerative,transformationaland distributivegrammar,thestudyoftropesandoffigures(whichishow thetermrhetoricisusedthroughoutthispaper,andnot in the derivedsenseof commentor ofeloquenceorpersuasion)becomesamereextension ofgrammaticalmodels,aparticularsubsetofsyntacticalrelations.In the recentDictionnaire
encyclopediquedessciencesdulangage,Ducrotand
Todorovwritethatrhetorichas alwaysbeensatisfiedwithaparadigmaticviewoverwords(wordssubstitut-ingfor eachother),withoutquestioningtheirsyntag-maticrelationship(thecontiguityofwordsto eachother).Thereoughttobeanotherperspective,com-plementaryto thefirst,inwhichmetaphor,forexample,wouldnot be definedas a substitutionbutas aparticulartypeof combination. Researchinspired bylinguisticsor,morenarrowly,by syntacticalstudies,havebeguntorevealthispossibility-butit remainsto beexplored.Todorov,whocallsone ofhisbooksaGrammaroftheDecameron,rightlythinksof hisownworkand thatofhisassociatesas firstexplorationsinthe elaborationofasystematicgrammarofliterarymodes,genresandalsoofliteraryfigures.Perhapsthemostperceptiveworktocomeout ofthisschool,Genette'sstudiesoffiguralmodes,can be showntobe assimilationsofrhetoricaltransformationsorcombinationstosyntactical,gram-maticalpatterns.Thusarecentstudy,nowprintedin
FiguresIIIand entitledMetaphorandMetonomyin
Proust,shows thecombinedpresence,ina wideandastuteselectionofpassages,ofparadigmatic,metaphor-icalfigureswithsyntagmatic,metonymicstructures.Thecombinationofbothistreateddescriptivelyand non-dialecticallywithoutsufferingthepossibilityoflogicaltensions.Onecan askwhetherthisreductionoffiguretogrammarislegitimate.Theexistenceofgrammaticalstructures,withinandbeyondtheunitof thesentence,inliterarytextsisundeniable,andtheirdescriptionandclassificationareindispensable.Thequestionremainsifandhowfiguresofrhetoriccan beincludedin suchataxonomy.Thisquestionisatthecoreofthe debategoingon,in awidevarietyofapparentlyunrelatedforms,incontemporarypoetics,butI do notplantomakeclear theconnectionbetweenthis"real"problemandthecountlesspseudo-problemsthatagitateliterarystudies.The historicalpictureofcontemporarycriticismistooconfused to make themappingoutof suchatopographya useful exercise.Notonlyare theseques-tionsmixedinand mixedupwithinparticulargroupsorlocaltrends,buttheyare oftenco-present,withoutapparentcontradiction,withinthework ofasingleauthor.Neitheris thetheoryof thequestionsuitableforquickexpositorytreatment.Todistinguishtheepistemol-ogyofgrammarfromtheepistemologyof rhetoricisa

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