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J. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading
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J. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading Literature After Deconstruction Éamonn Dunne .
India Printed in the United States of America . Typeset by Newgen Imaging Systems Pvt Ltd. or transmitted. NY 10038 The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd The Tower Building. 11 York Road. ISBN: 978-1-4411-9405-3 (hardcover) Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress. in any form or by any means. mechanical. No part of this book may be reproduced. recording. London SE1 7NX www. stored in a retrieval system. or otherwise. Chennai.continuumbooks. photocopying. New York.com Copyright © 2010 by Éamonn Dunne All rights reserved. without the permission of the publishers.The Continuum International Publishing Group Inc 80 Maiden Lane. electronic.
For Jenny and Peter .
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Cryptonymy 8. Obligations 5. Equivocations 2. Fugal Reading 1. Translating Theory 4. Religion as Doing 4.Contents Preface Acknowledgments Abbreviations of Works by J. Fugues 3. De Man’s Irony ix xiii xv 1 1 2 5 7 8 11 13 15 18 22 24 26 26 27 30 31 32 35 36 37 38 43 43 45 . Acting Up 2. Literature’s Others 5. A-Theory of Reading 2. The Aspern Touch 6. Distant Voices 9. Double Reading 1. Speech Acts 3. Trace 9. Translations 3. Spacecritics 8. Reading as Necrophilia 7. Reading as Conduct 1. Direction 2. Metareading? 7. Literature’s Secret 10. What’s in a Name? 11. Hillis Miller 1. Reading De Quincey 6.
The Return to Philology 5. What is “It?” 6. Death is a Linguistic Predicament? 7. Reading Parable 1. “I” Take Responsibility in Reading 6. The Crisis in Criticism 7 Protocols for Catachreses 5. Justices 2. 4. Is the Black Veil a Parable? 5. What is Education? 2. A Passion for the Secret 6. 6. Reading the “The Minister’s Black Veil” 4. The Dangers of Reading “The Foundling” 3. Spectres of Marks 2. Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen 5. The “Right Way” to Read Yeats 4. 5. What’s Perverse About Good Reading? 3. Protocols of Reading 1. 7.viii Contents 3. Justice as Irresponse to Law 7. Misreading 4. Forms of Victorian Fiction Permanent Parabasis Irony as Others Telepathy Amazing Good Reading is Sensitivity to Irony 47 50 52 54 57 60 63 63 66 68 69 72 75 78 82 82 84 85 86 88 90 93 100 100 101 103 105 108 111 113 117 123 141 151 157 4. The Visor Effect 3. Just Reading 1. Finding • Out Conclusion: Teaching Reading Coda Interview: For the Reader-to-Come Notes Bibliography Index . 8. Miller’s Parable of Paradox 6.
277). is the ungovernable “event” which always and ever exceeds the government of any institution or overarching rationale. My concern.1 The tendency in such works is to provide definitions and describe avenues that the attentive student. in what follows. If reading. then how can we speak of what happens in that inaugural event with any degree of epistemological certainty? How can we write about it. is with the manner in which. How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading between the Lines. 6). given the knowledge received from the textbook. teach it or pass it on to others? In truth. the act of reading is never (or cannot ever be) subsumed under the heading of a singular. for Miller. If you really begin to think about the “how” (explicit or implicit) in those titles you might lay awake at night (Speech Acts in Literature. presuppositions or assumptions we may have brought with us to the text. The presumption: that the one writing the account has achieved some degree of knowledge about what it is to really . Why is that? This book is foremost a response to these questions. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. and so on and so forth. what happens when reading is taken seriously curiously complicates any theoretical insights. A responsible response to what happens when this event is experienced is what Miller calls in a celebrated formulation “the ethics of reading. I am skeptical of all those critical books proclaiming some kind of privileged knowledge of the practice and art of reading.” Personally.Preface What does it mean to read well? How can one ever know for sure if a reading of a literary text is accurate or not? And what precisely does “good reading” mean for J. ABC of Reading. Those works with titles like How to Read and Why. How to Read a Poem. will be better equipped to follow. univocal or objective theory. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Critical Reading. Hillis Miller? If Miller is right. How to Read Faces: The Ultimate Advantage. Hillis Miller affords this term. good reading does not occur all that often (Theory Now and Then. in the enigmatic sense that J.
He calls this strange. When Miller speaks of this in Others. It is not something we can speak of as a method. “A Certain Impossible Possibility of Saying the Event.” he says. likewise. an im-possible invention.” “After” can mean “later in time.” It can also mean “in the . and why the contexts of our readings will always complicate any theory for what happens when we read. if it brings something wholly other into the world. haunting experience the “im-possible”: “An im-possible that is not merely impossible. helps us to shed some light on the way a theoretical understanding can be good for that time and place only. of and from his writings. Seeing reading as a performative event. a procedure we invented and bring with us to a text. of self and of our relationship with the world. and if reading it gives the reader access to something he or she can reach in no other way” (Others. from the beginning—from the beginning of the beginning.” that the experience of the event upsets the distinction between the possible and the impossible. to disturb our sense of time. “Deconstruction is nothing more or less than good reading as such” (The Ethics of Reading.x Preface read. and why I also believe that good reading. The others that Miller finds (or is found by) in literature come out of the blue. in suggesting this. It was always already there. so to speak. A literary work “is worth reading. 2). demanding multiple responses. that is not merely the opposite of possible. comes about as an inaugural event that changes one’s views about what that “how to” in reading actually means. if it is performative in a certain somewhat anomalous speech act sense. but rather something that happens in our transaction with those words on the pages of the books we read. to the idea that something or other may come to upset the present moment. he is characteristically speaking of what has haunted and disturbed him in the literary works he has read and reread for well over 50 years as a professor of literature. A “possibility” refers. “only if it is in some sense inaugural. they live on as the ghostly semblance of an im-possible ideal reading that never appears in the full plenitude of the representable. perhaps the only kind of reading worthy of the name. I follow Nicholas Royle in After Derrida and Afterwords. This is one reason why my title refers to possibilities of reading. As if there could be an “after” to deconstruction! Deconstruction never began in the first place. somewhat passively. Because they cannot be conceptualized or fully accounted for in those texts. that is. and by pointing out what is difficult about the word “after. 10). Another reason for this title comes by way of Jacques Derrida’s suggestion in one of his very last public lectures. Those others are what remain in. that is also the condition or chance of the possible” (454). My subtitle refers to literature after deconstruction. and always befall him in multiple voices.
at times. The strength of Miller’s work is that it is endlessly fascinated and fascinating as a result.Preface xi manner of. away from Miller. Traces of my initial wish to read Miller’s work chronologically remain throughout these pages. which. as I take it. it has brought me closer to what he is saying about those works. respectively. Freud. several weeks ago the University of Sussex academic press released The Medium is the Maker: Browning. Yeats. It should be explicit from what I will say in the following pages that when I am speaking of good reading I am also speaking of a certain gesture of deconstruction. and Heinrich von Kleist.” In yet another sense. My subtitle refers to each one of these possibilities. but also as a commentary on what goes on when I read those literary texts for myself. I have also tried to show that this peculiarity complicates and disturbs what Miller has to say about them. Nathaniel Hawthorne. That Miller is without doubt one of the most prolific literary critics working today has also influenced my decision to focus my attention primarily on specific moments in his major books. All this has meant reading specific works by Henry James. of an openness to the event and of a hospitality to the other and to what comes. . Fordham University Press has this week released For Derrida. This has taken me. it means “going in search of” (Royle 1995. Derrida and the New Telepathic Ecotechnologies. The Conflagration of Community: Fiction Before and After Auschwitz. I also believe another book. At other times. As I write this. I have been drawn to these writings by a shared fascination with what is unaccountable in works of literature I have read. Friedrich Schlegel. Thomas De Quincey. is reaching its final stages. designed not only as a commentary on what goes on in Miller’s reading. 2). I also do not distinguish between deconstruction and good reading. W. as closely and as patiently as possible. Readers interested in an extensive catalog of Miller’s publications will find Julian Wolfreys’ bibliography of works for The J. This means that the following chapters are also situated acts of reading. I feel.B. In each chapter I have worked under the assumption that responding responsibly to what Miller does as a literary critic means going back to the works he speaks of before commenting on what he says in his own writings about those works.” as in “after Rembrandt. as the opening chapter testifies by focusing on Literature as Conduct (2005). My own hypothesis is that there are necessarily moments when one outbalances the other. I have tried to respond honestly and responsibly to what I have found peculiar in those texts. are by no means contradictory. though this procedure was abandoned early on. Hillis Miller Reader (2005) a testament to the dauntingly vast number of these writings.
promised or foreseen” (Ariadne’s Thread: Story Lines. . It is a happening that makes something else happen. I have yielded to the possibility that good reading might just happen along the way. though one can never know for sure what will happen in the event of it being read. a performative use of language. “Reading is an act. though never anything that can be named ahead of time. That being so. This book was written in the hope that this fascination might proliferate and perhaps even instruct.xii Preface studied. 225). and taught over the years.
vol. Jonathan Mitchell.” Though I have not had occasion to call him up at that ungodly hour. insights and teachings I thank only a few: Steve Barfield. “He is one of the most urbane. Haaris Naqvi.4 (2007). Tom O’Malley. 21. Sarah Dillon. Carlos Bruen. injustices or misreadings that may occur in the following pages. Brendan Gaffney. Constanza del Río Álvaro and Julian Wolfreys. Brian Cosgrove. Séamus Harte. Much of the research for this book was funded by a grant from the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences. Martin McQuillan. . For friendships. Finally. Too many people to acknowledge here have also graciously given up their time to help and encourage me during my research. I express my gratitude to Hillis Miller for his unflagging good humor. Mark Currie. encouragement and timely responses to all of my questions. I am indebted to them for their support. laughter and love. to my wife and son. I give thanks for perseverance. I have ever known. Graham Price. and kind persons. Ron Callan. Dermot Philips. Michael O’ Rourke. Gerard Dunne. I also accept full responsibility in my own name for any oversights. An earlier version of chapter 6 was published as “Just Reading: Hillis Miller’s Kleist” in Textual Practice. Noreen Giffney.Acknowledgments Manuel Asensi once said of J. He will help you even if you wake him up at three o’clock in the morning. respectful. Hillis Miller. Arthur Broomfield. Jenny and Peter. Mark Quinn. John Brannigan.
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2001) On Literature (London: Routledge. A PhD thesis presented at Harvard University on March 31. 1966) O OL PR .Abbreviations of Works by J. IN: Notre Dame University Press. 1992) Literature as Conduct: Speech Acts in Henry James (New York: Fordham University Press. 1991) Illustration (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. NJ: Princeton University Press. Hillis Miller AT BH CD DG DSI ER FR FVF HH IL LC LM MM Ariadne’s Thread: Story Lines (New Haven. 1992) Black Holes (Stanford. 1952 The Ethics of Reading (New York: Columbia University Press. 1963) Dickens’ Symbolic Imagery: A Study of Six Novels. 1982) The Form of Victorian Fiction (Notre Dame. 1985) The Medium is the Maker: Browning. 1958) The Disappearance of God: Five Nineteenth-Century Writers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1999) Charles Dickens: The World of His Novels (Bloomington. 1987) Fiction and Repetition: Seven English Novels (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Derrida and the New Telepathic Ecotechnologies (Brighton: Sussex Academic Press. Freud. 1968) Hawthorne and History: Defacing It (Oxford: Basil Blackwell. IN: Indiana University Press. CA: Stanford University Press. 2005) The Linguistic Moment: From Wordsworth to Stevens (Princeton. CT: Yale University Press. NJ: Princeton University Press. 2002) Poets of Reality: Six Twentieth-Century Writers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 2009) Others (Princeton.
Hillis Miller RN Reading Narrative (Norman. 1990) VS Victorian Subjects (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. 1999) SA Speech Acts in Literature (Stanford. 1970) TNT Theory Now and Then (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.xvi Abbreviations of Works by J. 1991) TPP Tropes. 2001) T Topographies (Stanford. Parables. CA: Stanford University Press. 1991) VP Versions of Pygmalion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Performatives (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. 1995) TH Thomas Hardy: Distance and Desire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2003) . OK: University of Oklahoma Press. CA: Stanford University Press. 1990) Z Zero plus One (València: Universitat de València.
the dramatist only wants more liberties than he can really take.” whom James confesses to have known. essentially. he says. There should be enough to stimulate the imagination to fill in the gaps between them. But another factor intrigues him at this point. The story he recounts here concerns an American scholar who got wind of Miss Clairmont having in her possession certain letters from Shelley. in the event of her death. an “ardent Shelleyite.” Jane Clairmont (the half-sister of Mary Godwin. Hillis Miller’s conduct. let’s start with Henry James. The scholar.” . he hoped to have had priority concerning the legacy.Chapter 1 Reading as Conduct My mother’s a piano teacher and my father was a conductor. This narrow pass is bounded on either side by those readers either too interested in an historical excavation or those others too interested in taking flight from the basic facts altogether: “The historian.” The account he provides of this probability gives rise to a heady excitement from which he was to draw the subject and impetus for this work. Direction Before we take issue with J. a lover of Byron and mother to his child. According to the Preface to “The Aspern Papers. Here we have the germ of James’s story.” “which somehow always makes the minimum of valid suggestion serve the man of imagination better than the maximum. Allegra. had lived in Florence to a very great age. Percy Shelley’s second wife). a figure of commanding presence in Miller’s work. Billy Wilder 1.1 James recalls that had he been aware of her presence in Florence earlier he might have even “seen her in the flesh.” The possibility. wants more documents than he can really use. Where did he conduct? On the Baltimore and Ohio. but not too many as would “crush” the artistic inclination completely. which was certainly imminent. indeed the probability. Facts. and. of falling foul of this meandering causeway figures for James an “odd law. are useful so long as they are not too many or too few. ingratiates himself with the lady and becomes a tenant in order to gain some proximity to the letters.
But this act. Whether or not this conduct is an elegant reflection of the theoretical principles set out in the Preface the reader must find out for him or herself in a further act. as he suggests. It is the kind of “doing” that James describes throughout the Prefaces. But the historical significance of the event is in a sense being “turned. which is another act of conduct. Here James. considered as an act. has the inestimable advantage that the traces of it remain” (ER. will not stop there. The narrative. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading The terminology of the Preface henceforth begins to make sense as a meditation on the retelling of occurrences in a visitable past. It is in fact “conduct” in the manifold manners in which Miller has taken it to mean in The Ethics of Reading. This double bind is not only a general theoretical principal which James is making as an artist. It is also the principal motivation of the story he recounts and develops as a piece of creative fiction. “Doing. but goes on doing and causing other things to be done. and certainly the one Miller chooses to amplify to the highest pitch in each of the aforementioned texts (and many more besides). Speech Acts Perhaps the single greatest statement of this notion of conduct in all of James’s writing. and rereading: “Writing. an impulse he ascribes pejoratively to the overimaginative artist. “the direction is right. to forge it into a linear retelling of the facts.2 J. in an endless chain of consequences” (ER. reading. is bent in proper proportions (whatever they are) already. comes in the latter pages of the Preface to The Golden Bowl. one may be sure. Neither are these “bare facts” being simply related through a transparent lens. 2. “does not stop with the initial act.” This “essential charm” provokes the author into “squeezing it hard!. There is a necessary refraction. Act begets act in a general conductive economy emanating from the germ described in James’s Preface to all acts of writing. in an uncannily prescient expression. The story is praxis. so to speak.” stretching it a little while maintaining the “essence” or “clear matter” of the story. sets in motion a way of thinking . that “doing” which does other things in its turn. And this is James’s point. another doing which does other things in turn. Not to let the “turn” become too angular and similarly not to attempt to straighten the line. 102). 108). rewriting. only a further act of reading will tell us. Versions of Pygmalion and Literature as Conduct. Whether or not Miller’s act of reading James is therefore of a conduct befitting a gentleman. but not too much.” Miller says of James’s work.” as James says. He wants to be somewhere in the middle.
and the terms on which we understand that. and if I’m not an actor on a stage. 347–8) The wonderfully rich opening lecture of Austin’s How to Do Things with Words. The more we are capable of acting the less gropingly we plead such differences. these things yield in fact some of its most exquisite material to the religion of doing.” and “I bequeath”—Austin relates that these statements differ fundamentally from so-called constative statements. needn’t necessarily lapse—while of the tie that binds us to them we may make almost anything we like.” a speech act uttered at the right moment in the proper context. One is neither right nor wrong in saying “I bet” or “I bequeath” in quite the same way that one is either right or wrong in saying that “it is raining outside” (a classic constative statement).” says Austin.L. however strained. we recognise betimes that to “put” things is very exactly and responsibly and interminably to do them. 6). no senseless separations. and so. “I name thee” in launching a ship. whereby. among our innumerable acts. that is. the appropriate circumstances) is not to describe my doing of what I should be said in so uttering to be doing or to state that I am doing it: it is to do it” (Austin 1975. though they go forth into the world and stray even in the desert. that. “I bet. Austin’s celebrated discussions of speech act theory by at least three decades: The whole conduct of life consists of things done. “In these examples. are no arbitrary. “it seems clear that to utter the sentence (in. . (James 1947. More than that. our literary deeds enjoy this marked advantage over many of our acts. they don’t to the same extent lose themselves. originally given at Harvard in 1955 as one of the William James Lectures—in memory of our subject’s brother no less—echo these lines almost as if they had been uttered by the same person. of course. one just does what one says. . For Austin the distinction between use and mention is difficult to sustain if we begin to think of words doing things. just so our behaviour and its fruits are essentially one and continuous and persistent and unquenchable. They bring it into existence. belong as nearly to our conduct and our life as every other feature of our freedom. with any capability. if we begin to think of words as having what he calls a “performative” capacity to make things happen without our approval or intention. Our expression of them. statements of affairs or facts. my words perform the action. . This is what Austin would call a “felicitous performative.2 When I say “I do” at my wedding ceremony. In speaking performatively.Reading as Conduct 3 about doing things with words which prophetically envisages J. We give them up even when we wouldn’t—it is not a question of choice. . After providing a few examples of how these “performatives” work—examples in the first person present indicative active like “I do” in the wedding ceremony. so the act has its way of abiding and showing and testifying. their attachment and reference to us. which do other things in their turn.
like not telling lies.4 J. 75). For Austin we must acknowledge that an “inward performance” or “spiritual act” is a prerequisite for any felicitous act of promising. in short. for instance when they say “I promise to meet you at my office at eleven o’clock on Tuesday the 5th of May. lend credence to an intentional act previously performed by the speaker in order to believe that he or she has made a decision on the matter. The context may also not fit the utterance. on the moral character of the speaker. like James. The problem . the assumption that there must be a respect for the law [Achtung für Gesetz] as such. the whole moral fabric of society finds itself based on a unanimous imperative. betting after the race is over. an act of belief in intention and moral integrity previously assigned to that speaker. to recall Austin’s famous examples. I must act “as if” I would want my actions to be a universal legislation. a respect which precludes a person from making lying promises in order for that society to go on working (LC. that I would want others to act in the way I do. that it can be performative without the intention of the speaker in ways which the speaker has not even envisioned. “The keeping of promises. Austin’s attention to the question of intention is telling on this issue since it questions the nature of performative speech acts in terms of notions of moral conduct. 171. It may also affect exactly the reverse of what it is intended to do.” Neither must they be joking nor must they be writing a poem. in other words. Otherwise.” according to Kant. the poet. or bequeathing. For Kant in the Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten. 31). Austin’s complicating example of the promise or bet as a performative must allow for the possibility that the performative utterance may be felicitously infelicitous. ER. who utters performatives as an act in the sense of an “infelicitous” performance? What of the writer. the pure ground of a civilized society. The felicity of the speech act is judged. not a particular desire so much as a “direct determination” of a guiding rational principle of the Enlightenment. who uses words mimetically in that dangerous sense of performance ascribed to them in Plato’s Republic? Both Austin in the early lectures of How to Do Things with Words and James in the Prefaces point to the strange ways in which to say something is in a sense to do it. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading But what about the actor or. ordinarily assume that the person is not lying. pledging. We must. We must. “is the basis of morality” (LC. For Kant this is not a subjective wish so much as a tenet of universal reason. which would be an example of an “unhappy” performative. that is. to use another one of his examples. that is. the categorical imperative is baseless. for example. But there is an important twist here for Austin which has caused Miller to consistently evoke a Kantian principle in his musings on the subject. Being serious is the outward sign of an inward act. an act of proper ethical conduct.
The words do that all by themselves. Austin relates: It is gratifying to observe in this very example how excess of profundity. He allows the person of low character go free and lets him or her relinquish their responsibility for having caused something to happen.” I have already in a sense done these things by uttering them.” “I do. The moralist. “oh! I didn’t mean to say that!” or “when I said I bet you five quid the next bus that passes is red. it must have had a prior spiritual or intentional act guiding its path. Accuracy and morality alike are on the side of the plain saying that our word is our bond. 10) The difference being described here is that between the intentional subtext of any utterance. does not change the fact that we bet.” The strict moralist would say that in order for the sentence to be felicitous. When I say “I promise. One can think here of Mr. Austin’s twist here is to suggest that the solid moralist. with all the distinction of a specialist in the sui generis. whether we do so without meaning to. Religion as Doing Literature is awash with examples of why such distinctions simply don’t work. Pickwick’s trial for breach of promise to . Yet he provides Hippolytus [who’s just been quoted saying “my tongue swore to but my heart did not”] with a let out. at once paves the way for immodality. The words “I bet” do not have to be intended with conscious integrity in order for them to work felicitously. since I can never know what another is thinking. believing in the intentional spiritual act behind the utterance is letting the speaker off the hook. I have still promised. For one who says “promising is not merely a matter of uttering words! It is an inward and spiritual act!” is apt to appear as a solid moralist standing out against a generation of superficial theorizers: we see him as he sees himself. (1975. The speaker can always say.Reading as Conduct 5 with believing that a bet was made under false pretences is a good example of how betting. believing that he is privy to what Austin calls in a fine phrase the “invisible depths of ethical space” is in a weird way being literally unethical. Even if I promise in “bad faith. Speaking of the example of how the promise obligates. There is nothing in the utterance itself that distinguishes it from an infelicitous speech act. The paradox is that to say that our word is our bond in a “plain saying” becomes distinctly problematic.” “I bet. which cannot ever be really known. surveying the invisible depths of ethical space. or rather solemnity.” without the intention to follow through with my oath. Not so. the bigamist with an excuse for his “I do” and the welsher with his defence for his “I bet”. I didn’t really mean it. says Austin. or without intending to pay up. and the felicitousness of the utterance itself within a specific context.3 3.
no knowledge can keep it from the essential precipitation toward the meaning that constitutes and that is. it may be. 125). it casts its nets continuously into the depths in the expectation of surprise. Or of Bloom. Seen from this perspective. impersonally. Chops and Tomata Sauce. “a religion of doing” is a bizarrely oxymoronic phrase. The story. provides a wonderful example of a “false bet. James purports that his writings are conducted in a manner of an ethical obligation to a higher law that cannot be known. This thinking leads Miller to ask of “The Aspern Papers”: Is it possible that our station as readers may parallel that of the narrator? We have been taught to read literary works. As Miller . doing them. It is the product of a machinelike power in the semantic and grammatical aspects of language that cannot be entirely controlled by intention or cognition” (T.” Miller says of such instances. they are events about which one can never be sure: “It is because writing is inaugural. Yours. 564). willing subjectivity. Reading may rather put an unforseen burden of obligation on our shoulders. Dear Mrs B. “that it is dangerous and anguishing. (LC. demands not that we know but that we do. and for which Pickwick is put on trial and ultimately imprisoned (Dickens 1982. Writing promises and it bets. . just as I am obligated to do it here. just as grammar does. His writings are a manner of conduct because they are doings. 18) Such is the obligation facing me in each of the following chapters. twelve o’clock.6 J. It does not know where it is going. Pickwick”—as a marriage proposal. which is interpreted by Lyons as a tip for a horse named “Throwaway” running at Ascot later that day (Joyce 1992. “work on their own. Bardell. If Miller and James are right this “religion of doing” binds me to a law of conduct which is a conduct of life. mechanically. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading Mrs.4 This “religion” is a respect for a law (that “odd law” we’ve seen in his Preface) that precedes understanding in the way that all writing precedes understanding as it is taking place. for example “The Aspern Papers.” “You can keep it . just as Simon does in Luke’s Gospel. but these doings are problematic because they inaugurate. James’s “religion of doing” is also a response to this moment of doing that does other things without our quite knowing how they have occurred.” and we think here of James writing his works. in the fresh sense of the word. . A performative exceeds the firm and clear opposition between willed and accidental. 11). “The words. primarily its future” (Derrida 1978. who upon offering his copy of the Freeman’s Journal to Bantam Lyons in Ulysses.” says Bloom. independently of any conscious.” in order to understand them. I was just going to throw it away. 106). who hilariously misconstrues his note—“Garraway’s.
Il faut choisir. for how can one ever really know?). to take responsibility for engaging with his writings and for putting them to work in a different context. My respect for James’s text is the first step toward this irresponsibility. Obligations Reading after Miller obliges me to countersign his work in my own name. including that form of doing performed with a pen or a typewriter or by oral dictation.” “Miller the Derridean. Reading Miller’s responses to literary or philosophical works teaches you to choose. Every day we respond to this law countless times: my word is my bond may also be rephrased as my doing is my religion. is unconditional and unequivocal: “Irresponsibility vis-à-vis constituted ideological powers is sometimes the only way to begin to fulfill an infinitely more exigent responsibility toward the democracy to come” (T. if that is possible” (Derrida 1992a. or my religion (word) is my religion (bond) without religion (Word). 4. involves an ‘I must’ which is born of respect for the law. (rightly or wrongly. Responding responsibly to texts means responding to something in the text that goes against our better judgments. in effect. .Reading as Conduct 7 notes in The Ethics of Reading. The paradox is then that for Miller the proper conduct of good readers is improper conduct. It means going against what we think should be happening in favor of what is actually happening in the event of reading. It is perhaps also no mere coincidence that Austin’s phrase “my word is my bond” is also a religious expression binding us to a law that we cannot know but must take responsibility for. even with oneself. It could even be said that the religion of doing things with words is a response to the promise of a democracy to come. literature’s secrecy. It also means taking responsibility for the words we use which are not our own. It also obliges me to go against my instincts to write a book encompassing his thought under a series of easily applicable headings. But. These acts or events of reading are always a new contract with authors. this demand. For Miller and Derrida. though what law it is James respects in writing or in re-reading remains to be seen” (104). “Doing is something that binds or ties us . they are irresponsibilizations or ways of getting irresponsible with texts. Doing. 299). as the etymology of the word ‘religion’ implies . to respond to the text itself over whatever other demands are being made on you at that time: “A law or a ‘you must’ without duty. . This ties the act of reading to the idea of democracy. “Miller the Burkean.” and so and so forth. institutions. after what has been said . 156).” “Miller the Pouletian.
J. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading
above, how is that really possible? “Are we perhaps condemned to speak for ourselves by re-speaking the words of the other, or the words of an interminable string of others,” he asks, “going back to vanish somewhere near the ‘things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world,’ that Jesus claimed to expose (Mt. 13.35)? I shall,” he continues, “therefore cheerfully and somewhat defiantly, responsibly and irresponsibly at once, sign this essay with my own name.”5 Responsibility is inhabited by the irresponsible. Both are inextricably enmeshed, tied, bonded each to each in every religious speech act.
5. The Aspern Touch
What is intriguing about “The Aspern Papers” is that it prefigures these questions and impossible possibilities. It is about the acts of reading and writing, acts of responsibility and irresponsibility, the religion of doing and of making our word our bond. It is also about institutions, hospitality, history, biography, topography, spectrality, narrative, and signing one’s name. James has found a way here to bring all of these factors into play and, as Miller notices in his own reading, of “putting the reader on trial” (LC, 14). Our conduct in the act of reading James’s “Papers” shares in the act of reading our narrator performs on the poet Jeffrey Aspern. He is the phantom at the center of what James in referring to The Turn of the Screw calls “an irresponsible little fiction” (1947, 169; 1986, 35). The reader desires to find out as much about Aspern as he or she possibly can. Consequentially the narrator’s obsession quickly becomes the reader’s; and inasmuch as the suspense of the novella revolves around this quest, the reader becomes complicit in the crime he or she will ultimately condemn. This, incidentally, does not change after the story is read for the first time. With each rereading a re-vision occurs, and the hope of finding out begins anew with the phantom presence of Jeffery Aspern mocking all epistemological endeavors toward interpretive closure. To recall one of Miller’s favorite Jamesian expressions, our feet fall unevenly into that “shinning expanse of snow,” the “clear matter” of the story, breaking the surface in ever-new directions (ER, 101–127). Mrs. Prest, the narrator’s confidante and guide, upon helping the narrator find lodgings with the Bordereaus under false pretenses, ironically calls attention to this obsessive endeavor to track Aspern: “‘One would think you expected from it the answer to the riddle of the universe,’ she said.” After which our narrator retorts, “if I had to choose between that precious
Reading as Conduct
solution and a bundle of Jeffrey Aspern’s letters I know which would appear to me the greater boon” (46). Such a blind pursuit inevitably leads to a variety of complications and minor crimes for which the narrator and reader are equally guilty. One of these crimes is a form of apostrophe or prosopopoeia in which the location of the Bordreau house and the house itself are confused in the mind of the narrator with the character he is seeking out. For him the aspect of the house takes on the aspect of Jeffrey Aspern himself. This may even be one of the insinuations of the name Aspern. The word “aspect” means, according to The Collins Dictionary, “appearance to the eye” or “visual effect”; “a facial expression”; “a distinct feature or element in a problem or situation”; “a position facing a particular direction”; “a view in a certain direction.” The name also suggests “asperity,” meaning roughness of sound, temper or surface; or it could suggest an abbreviated form of “aspersion,” as in casting false rumors about someone or defaming them. A most likely result in this case as the narrator is ultimately led to the Bordereau household on a somewhat salacious rumor he has picked up from his colleague and fellow literary paparazzo John Cumnor. Aspern’s presence is felt from the moment the narrator approaches the house. He can almost touch him in the atmosphere of that place. The narrator believes he can hear a voice that is gone or can touch a hand that is vanished. The genius of the poet is synonymous in the mind of the narrator with the genius loci of that place. Mrs. Prest’s prevailing view of the place (her aspect) is that it is “as negative as a Protestant Sunday” (49). While our narrator, considering his plan of campaign, waxes lyrical saying, “Jeffrey Aspern had never been in it that I knew of, but some note of his voice seemed to abide there by a roundabout implication and a ‘dying fall’” (46). The letters he seeks, therefore, evince a powerful magic allowing him to conjure the ghost of his dead god hanging over the house as a spectral presence-in-absence. The voice and the place have become emblematic and chime harmoniously for him in the walls of the grand old palace. He speaks later on of his adoration for “the spirit of the place,” of its having kept him “perpetual company.” If, for Miller, the “topographical sublime” is figured by a place such as the sea where the mind is allowed free reign without borders, then the Border(eau) household also figures the possibility of a borderless sublime topography where the mind of the reader and narrator can be set free: “The sublimation is achieved by taking away the borders, that is, by choosing a vista, like the seascape at Key West, that is sublime in being virtually limitless and thereby exceeding the human power of comprehending and ordering” (T, 266). Because topography always involves notions of
J. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading
limits or borders, the Bordereaus figure the possibility of an imaginative escape from those restrictions. They are the borders shimmering in the light of Aspern’s aspect, semipermeable membranes leading the narrator closer into “a mystic companionship,” or “moral fraternity” with his quarry. They are simultaneously the gatekeepers of his affections and the guardians of his desires. Another crime the reader and narrator commit is the reading I’ve just been exploring. The names here have become inextricably associated with the characteristics of the persons being described. Our unnamed narrator may in fact be unnamed for this very reason; we are not even given his assumed “nom de guerre” (52). The joy of reading this story is due in large part, like the later chapters of The Wings of the Dove, to the wonderfully rich array of exotic Italian terminologies James employs to set the mood of the place. Words like “piano nobile,” “felz,” “padrona,” “scagliona,” “serva,” and “forestieri.” The reader inevitably invests these names with talismanic power; he or she “reads into” them the virtual space of a mythical topos. Thereafter the place has become a complete imaginative cartography, partly discovered, partly found. This is a performative not a constative doing things with words. The place is a virtual invention through the act of reading. Such is also the case with the narrator’s reading of Aspern, whom he has endowed with the characteristics he has chosen to see in his own memory. The play becomes one of subjective interpretation until we reach the apotheosis of this “reading into” at the moment he transfers this idolatrous image of Aspern over to Juliana: “my heart beat as fast as if the miracle of resurrection had taken place for my benefit . . . Her presence seemed somehow to contain and express his own, and I felt nearer to him at that moment of seeing her than I ever had been before or ever have been since” (60). All of this occurs through a veil. She wears a green shade over her face, so that she sees the narrator but he cannot quite see her. When he hears her speak, he hears Jeffrey Aspern. The woman, as it were, becomes the other’s other in a strange cancellation of one other for an other, a reduction of an other to the sameness of one’s own projection of an other other. She is also the embodiment of authorial intention itself, the manifestation of an ideal idea of poetic form without the superimposition of a medium or conductor. There is no conduct here in the mind of the narrator in the myriad senses of that word. Juliana is, for all intents and purposes, Aspern’s poems, his voice, and his corporeality in one. The narrator sees only Aspern through her, seeing beyond the phenomenal into the materiality of poetic expression or aesthetic ontology. In a bizarre reversal the narrator wants to obtain carnal
to be touched by Aspern in an extraordinarily ecstatic onanistic moment of revelation and resurrection. as he repeatedly recounts throughout the story that “there’s no baseness [he] wouldn’t commit for Jeffery Aspern’s sake” (51). He then shakes hands with Tina in an ironic parody of the touch he so longs for with Jeffrey Aspern. Juliana says that she belongs to a time when that was not the custom.” he says in a palpable instance of indiscretion. Tina’s touch is a surrogate touch for Juliana. as Juliana’s touch is a surrogate touch for Aspern. Of course this tactless touching is an unethical act. Our narrator in pursuit of his goal of getting ever closer to his quarry is willing to sacrifice all codes of moral conduct in order to gain his prize. “I felt. it isn’t man’s: we had better leave it alone. It is also another crime for which we are being put on trial. James would surely have been aware of the incident. This is also arguably noticed by Juliana who refuses to shake hands with him as a sign of contractual obligation when he rents a room in her house. We want to read the missing papers as much as the narrator and it is the hope of doing so that creates and fosters our desires. This can be taken in two ways: either she wants to “snub” him as he thinks she does or she means to delay having to place her trust in him. The narrator wants to touch himself touching. perhaps even the most potent and scandalous expression in the story. Reading “The Aspern Papers” is like violating a tomb in the sense that our own curiosities are analogous to the curiosities of our narrator. He is touching here without tact. She says. “The truth is God’s. The bizarre image is reciprocal in the way that to touch Aspern is to also touch oneself touching in a moment of what Derrida would refer to as “auto-hetero-affection” (Z.Reading as Conduct 11 knowledge of Aspern through Juliana. The culmination of this Machiavellian thinking is echoed in the diabolical phrase the narrator attributes to Juliana via Tina. Who can judge of it?—who can . Reading as Necrophilia There is no doubt that the violation of a tomb is a potent image. 32). Juliana believes “when people want to publish they’re capable of violating a tomb” (136). The episode smacks of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s infamous disinterment of his wife in 1869 in order to repossess the poetic manuscripts he had buried with her. “an irresistible desire to hold in my own hand for a moment the hand Jeffrey Aspern had pressed” (65). Juliana later makes an essential point separating the two distinct types of reader the text is liable to produce. The narrator’s reaction is defensive but the underlying import is that if pushed his “editor’s nerves” know no borders. 6.
Conversely.12 J. Once we have access to them everything will fall into place and we will be able to see through the work’s artifice into the dead poet. . The fact is that we have no access to Aspern’s works throughout the story. “only God can save us. All subsequent readings are pale simulacra of this mystical Ding-an-sich. however. The word. Just when we have begun to think that we can know what lies behind James’s own irresponsible little fiction a further encryption becomes insistent. What exactly is it we wish to know? And how far are we willing to go to find out? In this way. On Juliana’s view there is no rationale by which we can measure the worth of the works. her tie that binds. The narrator only refers to them indirectly even when. in short. A further irony. in his view. he announces to Tina early on that he is fond of the poet’s work. The choice the reader confronts is like the choice Juliana’s words engender: either you conform to the notion that there is something behind Aspern’s life that will allow you to gain access to the reason behind our narrator’s pursuit. Reading the letters will raise the dead. Our word is our bond to God and his Law. We can have knowledge of the work. . Like some phenomenological cartography of the imaginative integrity of the poet’s mind. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading say?” And the opposite view: “We’re terribly in the dark. But aren’t these mysteries the real mysteries we are seeking in the story too? Reading the story should make this apparent. In a Platonic sense there are only interpretations of an ideal model known only to God. We are only left with the name. I know . It is a presentation of various acts of reading through the words and by no means unbiased gaze of an unnameable narrator. though in a story . these items are the Rosetta Stone of his entire Cogito. the story is about possibilities of reading. that of the great philosophers and poets? It’s all vain words if there’s nothing to measure it by” (106). but if we give up trying what becomes of the fine things? What becomes of the work I just mentioned. the missing piece that will allow the critic to throb in unison with the poet’s innermost psyche. This is her religion of the word. Her impression is a variation on that infamous Heideggerian remark. if we have access to his most personal letters. These two ways of viewing the situation are irreconcilable. especially. On the narrator’s reading the word has meaning in and of itself. encompasses this reasoning like an enigma wrapped in an enigma. in a rare moment of honest divulgence. we seem to have everything but a name for our narrator. a transcendental signifier at the outermost limit of a logocentric epistemological desire. or you agree with Juliana that this will make no difference. This in itself is not exactly atypical in first-person narratives. is measured against the Word.” His judgment is the final watermark by which we measure our word and our worth.
305). are uncontrollably diffuse and varied. inside or outside in any cartography. . insides/outsides.” The questions pertaining to the concept of a crypt. “She repeated it over twice when I had told her. accompanying it with the exclamation.. ‘Gracious. Indeed. calls a “cryptonimic analysis” or “cryptonymy. prefaces. The grounds [lieux] are so disposed as to disguise and to hide: something. In posing the question “what is a crypt?” in “Fors. the naming and renaming of places.Reading as Conduct 13 about a literary historian’s search for biographical clues it is certainly a little odd. introductions. ground and displacement. The play here is on borders. as it is throughout Derrida’s preface. Why is this? Why is the reader given Aspern’s name and not the narrator’s? 7. if concept is the appropriate word in this instance (nonconcept would perhaps be better). which. always a body in some way. topoi. is a way of doing things with words that has a performative effect in creating and recreating those very borders.” the strange preface to Abraham and Torok’s The Wolf Man’s Magic Word. xiv). each one trying to outdo the previous one in breaking into the hidden crypt in the Wolfman’s unconscious” (T. Naming or providing figures for places. following Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok. much of the linguistic performance of “Fors” is brought about by the slippage in the word lieux as place. as Miller points out. gracious!’ Then she added: I like your own best” (120). “is a commentary on a commentary on a commentary on a commentary . For him the word signifies something unapproachable. . Each place is displaced in a peculiar way by the act of naming it. just as the proper name shimmers under the unrealized inventive scrutiny of the narrator and reader. thresholds. as in the Anglicized French idiom in lieu of [au lieu de]—the phrase carries with(in) itself the ideas of placing and displacing simultaneously. But also to disguise the act of hiding and to hide the disguise: the crypt hides as it holds” (Derrida 1986. In which case each commentary can be seen to invent its own topography. an atopos about which it is impossible to say for sure that it is either there or not there. Cryptonymy One possible way of approaching these questions is through what Derrida. With each of these topographies goes toponymy. For when he confesses to Tina that he has been using an assumed name all along and presents her with his “real” name—and when this is not given—the irony becomes pungent: “Then your real name—what is it?” Tina asks. etc. A crypt is never present as such: “No crypt presents itself. . Derrida repeatedly opens up this word to various readings.
Taking place here has the significance of a topo-bio-graphical cuckolding. wishes to expropriate Aspern’s name in place of his own name. wanting in fact to become Aspern by displacing his name in lieu of his own. The narrator. Moreover the tomb referred to in the story has quite a diverse significance if we have paid attention to the references to haunting that rhythmically punctuates the text from the outset. is to recall the aforementioned cryptic phrase in “The Aspern Papers” and to simultaneously pose the question of whether or not writing on “The Aspern Papers” is an act of improper conduct defacing a tomb. . “Looking over the top of my book” (a superb figurative allusion to what he does as a literary biographer) he notes: “In these windows no sign of life ever appeared . that is. As we see here there are two figures controlling the scene. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading Much of what Miller has to say of Derrida’s topographies turns on the problematic of deciding between the constative and/or performative force of the language of “Fors. Defacing a tomb in this instance is like an act of countersigning in one’s own name the name of the text itself.” as Miller does in this essay. circumspectly . however.” The second figure is the counterpart and disfiguration of the first.14 J. of the unnameable narrator of “The Aspern Papers” to take this into account is the crux of his inability to see the consequences of his own actions. This is in large part the overriding warning the story seeks to portray: “Stray too far away from reading the works. they kept me in view between the lashes” (74). The narrator unconsciously describes the house itself as a tomb. In plumbing its depths for its hidden secrets.” we change the face of the story in a re-vision of the matter of the tale. or indeed in writing on it as Derrida writes on the “Wolfman. The narrator. unconcerned with the text in front of him—which may very well be Aspern’s work—is focusing his attention beyond the text. It may also be the reason why the name is given without being given. To say “‘Fors’ is graffiti defacing a tomb.” Is the preface referential or exemplary. Is Derrida’s essay literature or not? No amount of argumentation will allow for a definitive answer. The shadows (themselves liminal figures) are reading between the blinds. This revision is a violation in the same way that overstepping one’s tracks slightly is a violation of the integrity of the original step. and I took comfort in the probability that.” it seems to say “and you may be unconsciously guilty of the most heinous crimes against your subject. Their motionless shutters became as expressive as eyes consciously closed. he asks? Does it perform the argument it creates by encrypting a reading of the Wolfman in a further figurative displacement or does it seek to open up the problematics of the Wolfman’s crypt itself by mapping its borders? One cannot decide this tout court. The failure. though invisible themselves. linguistically and otherwise. .
haunting him through the imaginary eyes of the windows of the house. and I may as well say now that I came afterwards to distinguish perfectly (as I believed) between the speeches she made on her own responsibility and those the old woman imposed upon her” (67). Distant Voices These allusions do not stop there. In various ways the Havisham-like absent presence of Juliana. In doing so he touches upon the ghostly telepathic structural peculiarities of James’s text: “I guessed that her aunt had instructed her to adopt this tone. The narrator. Though the narrator “believes” Aspern speaks through Juliana. Juliana also speaks through Tina. that the voices one hears are distinguishable. separable. without exercise. All criticism in a manner of speaking is precisely this: the distinction between voice and the “belief. In other words. believes that he can properly distinguish between the linguistic traits of the Bordereaus. Not only is the house a flickering threshold between the living and the dead. they seep through the very language of the narrative itself with a kind of bizarre telepathic insistence. and contextualize. codify. Furthermore the narrator believes he can distinguish between these other voices.” for what more can it be. is a monstrous expression of the ghostly. singular.Reading as Conduct 15 surveying the gaze of the narrator. The anthropomorphizing of the house is a further figure looming large over both parties and controlling the scene itself. . without any sort of human contact?” (81). like any literary critic distinguishing between voices. our narrator believes that he can trace the significance of the words Tina is using back to their source in Juliana and discover their hidden agenda by presupposing the intentions of an original absent interlocutor. Taken literarily or figuratively Tina’s “We’ve no life” insinuates an undecidable margin between the living and the dead and a disturbance of the boundaries between tropological and referential dimensions. The so-called crypt effect or the permeability of borders and the placeless place of the spectral scene of the narrative is carried across as a reminder of the force of the nonsaturable context(s) of linguistic expression. but is also the language the narrator seems to think he can identify. There is an odd reversal at work here all too easily passed over. expressing further his blindness to the various semipermeable thresholds encrypting and decrypting the atopos of the cryptic narrative. echoing of course Aspern’s genius (spirit). 8. The narrator at one point even asks Tina “Should you mind telling me how you exist without air.
Part of the reader’s wrongdoing is in the way in which he or she believes. even though the narrator believes them to be explicit paraphrases or citations from Juliana. Her word is no longer her bond. In such instances the narrator gives away a rather crude and unreflective confidence in his abilities as a telepathic narrator. 136). Are we to hold the narrator responsible for “invoking” the spirit of Aspern through his own words? Are we to hold him responsible for acting on that prompting from another source? Or do we rather say that it was really Aspern. she is therefore morally exempt from what she is doing with her words. though nothing could be more important. . 241–242).” he says. But what kind of “responsibility” is being alluded to here? The narrator is under the impression that the responsibility for saying the words that Tina says lies with Juliana. Like Austin’s philosopher of the sui generis. Tina’s words are impure in a similar way because they are iterable. The reader is consequently forced to make a similar decision.” “you” have no way of knowing what I mean by that statement. a leap requiring an act of faith by the addressee. brilliantly surveying the unfathomable depths of ethical space.16 J. For instance if I say “I love you. he believes that he can choose not to hold Tina responsible for what she is saying. he hovered before me half the time and it was as if his bright ghost had returned to earth to assure me he regarded the affair as his own no less than as mine and that we should see it fraternally and fondly to a conclusion” (73). In other words. only work in the context by being both citations and inaugural speech acts simultaneously. as Derrida and Miller repeatedly point out. Speaking the words of another in citation is problematic as an aporia between use and mention. Her remarks. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading Much the same thing is going on with his reading of Aspern. an ideological illusion in the de Manian sense (O. like the narrator. Likewise. or citing someone else. An attentive reading will therefore find some trace of unreliability in what the narrator says early on in the tale. both makes ‘Je t’aime’ possible and at the same time always undermines it with the possibility that I may be lying. that the past is visitable through language. like Vereker in “The Figure in the Carpet. It is also a form of bearing witness to the other. It will also heighten the awareness of the reader to the demand being placed on him or her to distinguish between what the narrator is saying and seeing and what he is saying and seeing through Jeffrey Aspern. “and he had come. you will have no way of knowing whether such an utterance is a statement of fact or a performative gesture: “the fact that you have no way to find out or to be certain one way or the other about my state of mind. Its possibility depends on its impossibility” (SA.” who was to blame all along? “I had invoked him.
Theory is never fully sponsored or generated or supported or confirmed by the reading. Miller says this and you quote it. “People say” or “This is a position”—and that ought to be clear.” By a further projection then this means that his presuppositions regarding Tina’s responsibility will rely heavily on his “hope” that they are words perversely put in her mouth by Juliana. try to notice whether I might conceivably not be speaking for myself but doing what any literary critic has to do: trying to speak for the author that I’m discussing or even for some imagined position which I’m then going to differ from. he can never know whether or not it was “just for the phrase. Sometimes this is done disingenuously. and it’s that asymmetry between reading and theory that seems to me fundamental to the nature and function of literary theory. The other exhortation would be to stress again the fact that for me. On the one hand. not the detachable theory that you can make into a system. The relationship between theory and reading is the really fundamental one. However. I quote this commentary in extenso because of the importance of the statement for what will be happening throughout this book: Sometimes in reviews people have cited things I have said that were intended as ironic or as the miming of somebody else’s position as though they were my opinions. nevertheless have their meaning only in the context of a reading. So. they’re not quite symmetrical. What then is the task of the critic if it can never be decided? In an interview with Gary Olson in 1994 Miller made an important statement about the attempts critics have often made to discern. “the general intention” of his work. he was saying something like. The theoretical statement should always be put back in the context of the reading which—the relationship is a very complicated and uneasy one—both facilitated the theoretical formulation but at the same time isn’t quite congruent with it. far from it: the reading always does something to the theoretical .Reading as Conduct 17 acts for which the narrator cannot be sure from whom they are issuing or what the intention is behind them. Miller wasn’t really saying this at all. You take a passage out of context. Quite simply. First. in another Jamesian phrase. not me. I thought I was making it clear that I was simply saying what my author said: it was Thomas Hardy who was saying this or George Eliot or somebody else. you point out that this sentence does appear in that essay or in that book. I have two exhortations for my readers. that are straight. those theoretical formulations that can be detached and are not ironical. This can be sensed in his reading of the intentions behind one of Aspern’s poems: “There was a profession in the poem—I hope not just for the phrase—that he had come back for her sake” (74). and I think for my colleagues like Derrida. on the other hand. In bypassing the undecidable nature of these statements the narrator rather reflects his own shortcomings as a critic and highlights his presuppositions. if you look back at the context.
“The Aspern Papers” is a good way of seeing this to be the tragedy and comedy of criticism. Rereading is always necessarily re-vision. and imagining his glittering prize. 9.18 J. But a further paradox meets the reader at this point. in the attempt to reduce my work or somebody else’s work to a handy set of theoretical formulations. since it would require a lengthy rereading of the entire oeuvres of Charles Dickens. our narrator is guilty of putting words in his subject’s mouth. is the evasive center of Derrida’s . That’s certainly true of my own work. So a theory is never something that’s fixed once and for all. The only way to read Miller—by his own account—is to read the works he is reading first. I think it’s often forgotten in what you might call pedagogical accounts of Derrida. 376). and you go back and find he’s really talking about Levi-Strauss in that passage and the formulation is only made possible by the reading of the particular author. indeed must not. In what context? That’s the whole question. revision is always necessarily a call for rereading. What is the crime we are accusing the narrator of in “The Aspern Papers” if it isn’t this very crime of trying to read around his subject in order to catch “the faint wandering notes of a hidden music?” (James 1986. Henry James. Literature’s Secret There is something else worth exploring at this point and it is the subject of secrecy itself. Besides these one would have to pay some attention to de Man. Burke. Anthony Trollope. perhaps inevitably. and Poulet. This secret. that almost all his work is the reading of some text or other. I think that’s often forgotten. if there is one. Reading “The Aspern Papers” I am claiming here is a good way to begin to read Miller responsibly while at the same time sharing the idea with James in the Prefaces that reading is inherently irresponsible. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading formulation and at the same time generates new theoretical formulations which have to be modified then in their turn. Derrida. be lost sight of. as I am arguing throughout this book. then there is a problem with responsibility and irresponsibility that cannot. and the thing that alters it is more reading. Looking over his book at the spectral windows of the haunted palazzo. That’s certainly true with Derrida. and that’s just to begin with. Blanchot. accounts used in teaching him.6 If this is indeed the case. This is a tall order. People will say that Derrida talks about “the free play of language in the void” or something. Thomas Hardy. This tautology announces itself as the double bind of criticism. to say the very least.
like the narrator of “The Aspern Papers” merely to bring the movement of his work to light. I want.7 The nonconception of a democracy to come in Miller’s work founds itself on the groundless ground of irony. One might even say that Miller’s oeuvre is also a passion or taste for the secret. going inside the tomb he is paradoxically being sent back outside. yet another would be the “secret” that impassions him. somewhat elliptical. His examples though tell the real story. We may want to get to the facts of the story but there is no way of returning to that past in order to judge the story of those facts against the real events giving rise to that narration. The culmination is of course the proposal Tina makes him of marriage which would put him too close to the family for him to be the “publishing scoundrel” Juliana says he is immediately prior to her death (125). By getting closer he gets further away. The metaphor of the violation of a tomb in “The Aspern Papers” is a simultaneously appropriate and inappropriate image for the narrator’s insistence that he will be able to contextualize the work of Aspern by learning about the facts of his life.Reading as Conduct 19 reading of the crypt and is also the black hole to which Miller’s readings of James are ultimately drawn. Austin’s theoretical failure is that he cannot allow for this parasitical drift in the distinction between constative and performative speech acts. 177). another word for this is “catachresis” (the perverse trope). that is. There is some secret [Il y a du secret] he seems to be saying with greater persistence as the narrative develops. to show what it is about the acts of reading Miller performs that engages his readers so consistently. fragments complicating each attempt he makes to distinguish rigid demarcations between clarity and murkiness. as Derrida has pointed out in an essay on Miller’s reading of Gerald Manley Hopkins. the “others” on whose behalf his work consistently speaks. we remember. The “odd law” that James has spoken of is once more an expression of this confusing undecidability in reading and writing. There is a secret which is paradoxically open to anyone who reads his . both places and displaces. that any utterance in any language whatsoever is founded on the possibility that it can be taken as literature (RN. They are strange. All storytelling is pervaded by the possibility that the utterance can be taken as ironically charged. One word for this sense is otherness. and where it is seems to be getting further away from him as he gets closer to the Bordereaus. The tomb. The creative response to the facts is the im-possibility of touching on the almost visitable and almost palpable secrecy of the event itself. In a concomitant manner in getting closer to the end of this opening chapter I am also getting further away from something I want desperately to say about this necessary destinerrance in reading Miller’s work. another term would be a “black hole”.
20 J. out in the open. like violating a tomb. Such a desire is like trying to hold something too delicate to be handled. space-times)” (Cohen 2005. and I in my own way in mine is a species of self-reliance for which we must ultimately be separately held to account. Tombs impassion by calling from the other side of reason. First. whichever way you look at it. It is an act or series of acts causing something else. It also hides something that is not there. These black holes in James’s story are legion. Reading. something other. in a further twist. to happen in turn. But we can also be too careful. Like Juliana’s veiled head. Miller thinks it’s good for you. for instance a fluttering butterfly. Each act is a response to some secret that is there in the work. Each one hides something which is simultaneously staring us in the face. Tom Cohen calls this the “McGuffin effect”: “Miller comes like your uncle with a suitcase—yet what’s in it? It is like the famous contraption that Hitchcock calls a McGuffin. light. so to speak. . an open secret which is available to anyone to see. When Miller says that reading James may be “an unforeseen burden of obligation” demanding “not that we know but that we do” he is characteristically not only speaking about James but about acts of reading in general. the tomb is a secret that is open because it is there. Reading in the Emersonian sense that James echoes in his work. But I have chosen two here to conclude with. some tomb . and it is for you. You have been pushed into a black hole. Another kind of irresponsibility. is an imposition. Reading is doing. the hermeneutic need for ultimate meaning. It hides that something out in the open and incites us to violate a tomb in order to find out what it is. All acts of reading are a manner of doing without knowing in the ways in which (or by which) reading can be seen as a mode of conduct. 36). a moment of disrespect. how can we be wise to this other if the other is precisely that which challenges knowing? This is the question I maintain which is at the root of my reading of Miller and James. But. As Geoffrey Bennington astutely points out in a wonderful passage in which he muses on an ethics of reading and of every text’s appeal to a reading yet to come: “An absolutely respectful relation to a text would forbid one from even touching it” (Bennington 2000. 87). and Miller in his. productive and elusive way Miller’s readings have of multiplying the center or centers of the works he examines. we can see it but not through it. A responsible response means responding otherwise. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading texts. . In this sense we are touching on something impalpable but which nonetheless causes us to respond to a deeply innate desire for closure. even if—per definition—you can’t get out (a black hole absorbs constellations. as we’ve seen. . And yet this open secret is renewed each time a different text is approached and read in the peculiarly concentrated. it covers a black hole of logic.
which points back to the other or to something else. a kind of alloreading perhaps. The secret is there on the surface because there is no way of going behind the words to find out the true story behind them. when these are detached from their presumed source and thus remain locked away [au secret]. 24)8 Reading “The Aspern Papers” is perhaps a way toward understanding the appeal this call has on readers of literature. even nonsensical in each work. by a poetic or fictional sentence. a chance of saying everything without touching upon the secret. Its call calls this process into question. it places reading and interpretation against one another (O. In this way the tale is an allegorical or emblematic expression of the unreadability of secrecy. when it is the call [appel] of this secret. about the meaning of a text.Reading as Conduct 21 or other that can be sensed in a singular way each time. Just as the secret for the reader is also in the words on the page not behind them: “There is nothing transcending the text. even if the papers were read by the narrator— not least because the narrator is guilty of not really reading the work on its own merits—then neither can the readers of this story in the same way penetrate through to the secret tomb at the center of the text without violating the matter of the tale. chance or mischance that some others will somehow arrive. This is done by actively following the scent or developing the germ of the impression made on us by the initial stimulating event. when there is no longer even any sense in making decisions about some secret beneath the surface of a textual manifestation (and it is this situation which I would call text or trace). “The Aspern Papers” paradoxically (in the root sense of that word as “against teaching”) presents the limitations of a reasonable hermeneutics. When all hypotheses are permitted. (Derrida 1992b. If the secret of “The Aspern Papers” cannot be revealed as such. or the final intentions of an author whose person is no more represented than nonrepresented by a character or by a narrator. Reading-doing is a way of responding to a demand made by the text to explore this uncharted territory and to create in an inventive way the new topography awaiting our explorations in the hope. of noticing something previously unsensed or possibly unsensible. By opening up to a kind of reading that takes the possibility of the impenetrable secrecy and strangeness of literature. it is also an allegory of the way this call can be misrepresented by hastily rushing to some form of unequivocal meaning. however. There is the secret. then the secret impassions us. groundless and ad infinitum. This scent or sense of some secret is inextricable from what is known as the literary: There is in literature. in the exemplary secret of literature. when it is this itself which keeps our passion aroused. since . 147). The meaning of Aspern’s story is in fact staring the narrator in the face as he reads his work. and holds us to the other.
there is no means either of not going beyond the story. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading with texts all is on the surface. The unsaid is in a peculiar sense the characteristic signature of the text” (TNT. as James’s story (un)cannily exemplifies. the unsayable whose status facilitates the text. what is implicit in the words but must not be made explicit. That [sic] there was a strange kind of magick bias. 10. He has also unwittingly unleashed a critique against Tristram’s father’s ideological presuppositions—presumably the father will have to rethink his position on naming. It is a pointer to some characteristic or abiding trait of personality: “His opinion. By inadvertently mis-christening the child “Tristram” the priest has committed a heinous crime. 139). in this matter. he has given a name that will have detrimental consequences for Tristram and his family. to remain safely either within the confines of a constative rendering or a performative positing. signifying singularity and plurality. irresistibly impress’d upon our characters and conduct” (Sterne 1997. was.22 J. What’s in a Name? The second black hole or secret of the text I choose to highlight here from the many inconsistencies and aporias in the text is the problematic of naming in the story. as we’ve seen. makes it possible to go on producing itself. Matthew or Mark which have strong biblical overtones and reflect that person’s presumably . They are marks that seek to be both proper and improper. Constantly lifting our eyes over the edges of the book we are forever caught between the facts and the matter. These names are promises in the sense that language promises to give a properly descriptive mark to a real referent out there in the world. Their mystery is in the open. which good or bad names. as a kind of magical indicator of personality. For example. for example. the proper name. That “odd law” simultaneously figures our inability to stay in the same place. The unknown is rather that which the particular text cannot say. sameness and otherness at once. as Tristram Shandy’s father believes in Laurence Sterne’s great novel. In calling somebody by their first name in everyday speech I both refer to a unique and singular individual and a tradition. One of the curious calls or appeals [appel] made on the reader is the need of rendering the appellation. as he called them. leaves an indelible mark on its bearer. Moreover. 43). There is no secret behind the tale that can be exposed therefore without going beyond it and therefore ignoring it. No matter how much information we are given by James in the Preface to the story the “clear matter” of the tale is all on the surface of the work we find in front of us.
Reading as Conduct
Christian heritage. Or if I write a letter and begin it with “Dear John,” I ordinarily imply that I am directing a message to a person named “John” and simultaneously refer to a very specific species of letter about which one would presumably already know the content. In the latter example, both the Christian tradition and the tradition of gentle amorous jilting are simultaneously implied before the name is properly applied. In other words, the name is inhabited by the possibility that it can, indeed must, refer to something else, and that it can be translated, twisted and made to signify beyond itself. Our conduct as readers and our conduct as individuals are tied to our relationship with the proper name. In “The Aspern Papers” there is a constant play on this destinerrant possibility, the possibility that the name will be set adrift in an odd way creating a doubling possibility in the logocentric placing of the proper name and the deconstruction of that possibility. When our unnamed narrator first enters the Bordereau household he tells Tina (originally called “Tita” in the early published version of the story!), in a performative speech act which ripples throughout the story, a lie about his name: “You know me as much as I know you; or rather much more, because you know my name” (57); and later the narrator is dismayed by not receiving a receipt for his rent from Juliana because “she would not give me even a morsel of paper with her name on it” (72). Two problems converge with these examples: (1) the implication that to know someone’s name is to know something about them is so ingrained in the Western logocentric tradition surrounding so much novelistic discourse that the reader is co-implicated in the accusation that he or she is being taken in by the narrator’s lies. Tina can see nothing through the name she is given by the narrator apart from her own projections. Likewise the reader can see nothing beyond the character if he or she is taken in too easily by a belief that the name can be properly translated into the intention of the author. The story, that is, both invites us to see or read into the name while it simultaneously critiques the notion that names have any intrinsic meaning whatsoever. By relating the proper name above to the act of casting aspersions, I am casting aspersions; (2) The unnamed narrator’s lust for the signature of Juliana incisively questions the custom of autography in a manner which should give even the most naïve idolatarian pause: “There hovered about her name,” he says, “a perfume of impenitent passion,” from which he surmises, “that she had not been exactly as the respectable young person in general” (77). The tendency here as it becomes clearer later on in the story is for the narrator to confuse his desires for Jeffrey Aspern (the poet not the poetry) with the Bordereaus. This becomes most salient at the moments when
J. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading
Aspern’s name is mentioned in the text. Most particularly perhaps when the narrator first mentions it to Tina: “I watched her well as I pronounced that name, but I saw nothing wonderful. Why should I indeed? Wasn’t Jeffrey Aspern the property of the human race?” (87). His desire is to see his desire reflected back at him Narcissus-like with the mention of the most powerful magic word he possess: “Aspern.” The problem is that neither Tina, Juliana, nor the reader will ever be able to penetrate into the significance of that name for him. His secret passion will remain a secret passion, as all reading is a secret passion, individual and private. One might even go so far as to say that the title of James’s story is the announcement of the im-possibility of ever knowing what the word “Aspern” means; the pronouncement of an impenetrable secret. The story is in one sense a series of conjectures about the possibility of ever deciding what it is that the name signifies. The proper name impassions us to give it meaning through acts of reading. We are to decide what the Aspern papers are by bearing witness to a story told by a narrator who refuses to give his name. This is a matter of a leap of faith in some other, like the narrator’s faith in Aspern; it is a mode of hospitality to some other whom we cannot possibly ever really know. There is no possibility, in the narrator’s own words, of ever knowing anything about him if we do not know his name. In this sense he is irresponsible, perhaps beyond good and evil. If we cannot give him a name then he is as much of an enigma as Aspern. “One often thinks that responsibility consists of acting and signing in one’s name,” says Derrida; “A responsible reflection on responsibility is interested in advance in whatever happens to the name in the event of pseudonymity, metonymy, homonymy, in the matter of what constitutes a real name” (Derrida 1996, 58).
11. Acting Up
I stop at this point before I become guilty of projecting my own limitless interpretations into the void, of naming the secret, but, as ever with James and Miller, without feeling that I have followed the scent far enough. That is, I finish by reiterating a point I made at the beginning concerning acts of reading after Henry James and J. Hillis Miller. When James recounts in his Preface that the conduct of life consists of things done which do other things in their turn he is speaking, like Austin, of that peculiar power performative speech acts have of creating unpredictable events; the responsibilities one has to those effects are therefore in a perverse sense also unforeseeable. The “religion of doing,” “putting” things as a “doing” things
Reading as Conduct
with words, is therefore a dangerous enterprise. To say, after Austin, that my word is my bond is to place oneself squarely before the law, a law which will always remain shrouded in secrecy, hidden from view, entombed, enghosted, but present-in-its-absence nonetheless. James’s odd law of interpretation is another way, I claim, of stating the law Miller calls the ethics of reading. This law is a law based on rhetorical modes of reading as well as a respect for the singularity and secrecy of literature. Acts of reading are events for which we must take responsibility. They are also the chance we have of mapping out new topographies, of finding new voices, of engaging with others. The exemplary secret of literature cannot be told; it can only be shown to work in further acts of reading. In doing so I take responsibility under my name for what happens under the names of others, particularly Miller’s. I claim that I can only do so by reading his work through those others in an attempt to show how the secrets present themselves without presenting themselves. These acts of reading are possible ways of exposing his writings and casting aspersions; they are ways of changing the context of his criticisms by creating further contexts in which we can catch a glimmer of the performative power of the event of criticism. I too have a taste for secrecy. I too hear some appeal in each act of reading I perform. In trying to respond responsibly to this name and its secrets, in trying to trace its contours, and by reducing its other voices to an assimilable, workable sameness, I am guilty of an irresponsibility for which I take full responsibility. But I also claim that in doing so my writings find new grounds, encounter new territories, make new land. I promise to act up with Miller. That’s a bet, a gambit, a mortgage. My word is my bond, my religion of doing, and my deepest mode of misconduct. It is a declaration of independence.
we move from the moral valence of “conduct” to the musical connotations of that term by way of what Manuel Asensi. so that most of us will find the task too hard. . Their “Illustrations are always falsifying abstractions from the ungraspable idea they never adequately bring into the open” (IL. What am I alluding to? What does this tell you about their writings? In speaking of conduct in this latter sense as a musical or stylistic term. The pleasures of interpretation are henceforth linked to loss and disappointment. Frank Kermode. . like the god Hermes who in the classical import of his name is both messenger and interpreter. and then. In short. or simply repugnant. . 150). They pitch their own image onto something that is not wholly theirs. we slip back into the old comfortable fictions of transparency. they are both parasites and hosts. making and relaying. however special his point of vantage. Suppose then I also say that I can distinguish between a sentence written by Miller and a sentence written by. or a messenger. bending and obscuring it in the process. A-Theory of Reading In this chapter. and we remember “There is no parasite without a host. placing and displacing.1 Suppose I take the phrase “Miller’s conduct” and see it as a kind of linguistic form of cheironomy (conducting with hand-signals. are we moving away from ethical questions or are we merely translating (another form of conduct) our questions into another ethical arena with a new set of rules and regulations? Are we moving from an objective focal point to a subjective discussion of impression and preference? What happens when we do that? To speak of the critic as a conductor with a unique idiom is to think of the critic as a translator. the truth. in the only sustained study of Miller’s work calls his “rhapsodic” mode of criticism. Suppose I interpret that phrase as an idiomatic stylistic craft alerting me to a singular mode of expression particular to just that person. Slavoj Žižek or Maurice Blanchot. abandoning meaning. Conductors are both mediums and magicians.” and that “The critic’s attempt to untwist the elements in the texts he interprets only twists them up again in another . a carrier. can get past all those doorkeepers into the shrine of the single sense. they exist in an in-between space of creation and translation. gestures).Chapter 2 Fugal Reading No one. the single sense. The Genesis of Secrecy 1. say. discovering and creating. at the same time.
if he can remain prepared to be surprised. or an added opacity. 145.” I must also realize that the act of reading is always a matter of interminable peripatetic translation and therefore never quite adequate to a hermeneutic interpretation basing itself on some presupposed outside (VP. something left unsaid. the most consistently inquisitive of Miller’s works on the question of translations and border crossings. theory and reading are asymmetrical” (T. (T. better still. is always inaugural even when I am attempting to be as faithful to the text as possible. when I first read it. the capacity of each work to surprise the reader. or. the work of interpretation will never in truth be finished. “translated. displaced. 317) The ways in which the words of previous critics or authors are reworked and changed by the new contexts of their deployment in other cultures or . I nevertheless “translated” Poulet and Derrida into my own idiom. even though I could read them in French.” that is. there is always a remainder. carried across. of Jacques Derrida’s work was no doubt something that would have seemed more than a little strange to them. its aleatory arrival. uneven or irregular. If I hold that “criticism or the teaching of a given text is always the displaced expression of what happens when the work is read. Miller concludes by saying that his own early presuppositions were enactments of theoretical motifs in ways in which the progenitors of those presuppositions could never have foreseen: A work is. “The specificity and strangeness of literature. “Though there is no theory without reading. transported.Fugal Reading 27 place and leaves always a remnant of opacity. in a sense. Though I read them in their original language. Each experience of this is unique even though I may be reading a text I feel I am familiar with and have read many times. In doing so I made them useful for my own work in English literature within my own particular American university context. 2. 24). even when it is read in its original language by someone who belongs to another country and another culture or to another discipline. later on. However much I attempt to impose a theoretical structure on the meaning of the text. In my own case. 5). Translations In Topographies. of Georges Poulet’s work and. as Miller often puts it. as yet unravelled” (TNT. 323). what I made. Theory and reading are. means that literature continually exceeds any formulas or any theory with which the critic is prepared to encompass it” (FR. 166). The event of this surprise. especially when I am trying to be faithful to the experience of reading.
Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading distilled through the words of other writers is a complex theoretical question. said Stephen. as Miller suggests in the closing sections of this book. I quite catch the point: detain. Stephen has failed to offer . Stephen has just explained to a Jesuit priest that the word “tundish” in Lower Drumcondra (a Dublin suburb). smiling. I am transferring what was originally a response to a certain collocation of words at a particular moment in time to another place and another moment. he ostensibly means that the priest’s attention to its meaning is overshadowed by the culture he himself comes from and the academic tradition he ascribes to that word. 319). “To translate theory. the priest.28 J. interjecting. in its disarticulation. The use of the word in the marketplace is quite different. . The best place to talk about the cultural specifics of translation that I know of is Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. . showing it to be less structurally sound as a generalization about literary events than may have been previously assumed. “ is to traduce it. “where they speak the best English. forgetting along the way the singularity of the reading that brought about the theoretical formulation. Let me give an example. no. When Stephen says that the word is used differently in the marketplace. I hope I am not detaining you. to betray it. — Not in the least. When Stephen attempts to trace the connotations of that word in its more usual Dublin context (the marketplace). — No. expresses a rather haughty distain and a desire to move to a different subject as quickly as possible.” as he puts it. said the dean quickly. discloses what was transitory about that formulation in the first place. He then maintains that the word “detain” has its own tradition in Hiberno-English that the priest may not be aware of: One difficulty. said Stephen. 192) The significance of Stephen’s examination of the word “detain” lies in the manner in which both men decipher its meaning. But in another sense this transposition. I remember a sentence of Newman’s in which he says of the Blessed Virgin that she was detained in the full company of the saints. yes: I see. Stephen obliges but the reader is left in a state of distress for two reasons: first. as he himself knows it. said the dean politely.” which is perhaps another way of saying in Paul de Man’s terms that the resistance to theory is theory’s resistance to itself (T. I mean .” is used for the funnel with which he is oiling his lamp. In translating theory from one place to another I am in a sense rejecting the readings or misreadings that brought that theory into being in the first place. in esthetic discussion is to know whether words are being used according to the literary tradition or according to the tradition of the marketplace. It opens that theory up through example. (1994. — Yes.
I have not made or accepted his words. It is left to the reader to “refind” the implications of that word and its place in Stephen’s argument. As a reader of Joyce I feel a certain closeness to his linguistic. lifeless. His language. I want to move from the unique instance of my reading of Stephen’s predicament to a general apodictic equation that will be true of all translations. ale. and as Paul de Man wittily points out in his translation of the title of Walter Benjamin’s oft-quoted essay “Die Aufgabe des Übersetzers” [The Task of the Translator]. will always be for me an acquired speech. We are left feeling that the aesthetic theories Stephen has been expounding up to this point are reductive. and one-sided by association. the giving up. I feel like I can hold his wheel. xx). the priest has exhibited a tendency to bypass the desire for reading the range of meanings in the words he uses. second. that it cannot be exhausted: “The word finis can never be written to the work of interpretation” (LM.’ he doesn’t continue in the race any more. as we have seen with Stephen. The word “detain” likewise is not explained in Portrait. it maintains its secrets. cultural. But the example I’ve given here is also an allegory of the way that the translation. My voice holds them at bay. master. Read into it what you will. and conducts us into the labyrinth of something wholly other: Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’intrate. that one translation begets another. that is Aufgabe—‘er hat aufgegeben. and so on and so forth.Fugal Reading 29 an account of what he sees in that word. even for someone familiar with the idiom. if there they be. . on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. How different are the words home. since I was born in Dublin and have lived there on and off for most of my life. as they say at bike races. I do it all the time. My soul frets in the shadow of his language” (194). leaving the reader in the same oblivious state as the priest. Christ. that he can’t drop me. It is in that sense also the defeat. And this does not either take away from the fact that translation is in a certain sense impossible. for the task of the critic as a translator gazing into a black hole.” he says. I am doing it now and must keep on doing it. Readers beware. The apotheosis of the scene is rendered in Stephen’s inner consciousness in the following manner: “The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. To say that translation is an infinite task does not excuse me from the necessity to translate. a catachrestic and allegorical figure. is an impossibility. “Detain” therefore becomes a figure. But I am aware also that this translation will not stop there. “and you give up. The translator has to give up in relation to the task of refinding what was there in the original” (de Man 1986. “If you enter the Tour de France. so familiar and so foreign. of the translator. 80). My greatest temptation here is to move from the specificity of this example to the generality of translation. and national position.
Like a contagious virus. . an objective narrative which we can understand from the outside. constantly presiding over the choice of words. live on or off of it. At the heart of a writer’s successive works. To say that I can identify a line of criticism by one critic or another is to have already been affected (infected) by that criticism: “The thread is the labyrinth and at the same time it is the repetition of the labyrinth” (AT. denaturing it along the way. The style itself. 197). The act of reading calls some other into being from the margins as that act reenacts the event of some initial discovery. 19). Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading 3. . . This form. Translating Theory I return to my original question: what happens when I translate another’s idiom into my own? My hypothesis is that the stylistic characteristics of the reading I am investigating will inevitably change the style I take to be my own however much I try to resist it. a unity in which a thousand paths radiate from the same center. they are always attended by a statement that the consciousness of the author is “an embodiment in words. reveals a conflict between language and . It is also the expression of the unique personality and vital spirit of its author. is an impalpable organizing form. The translation of the critical model. Let me detain you with another example of what I mean.30 J. if we can discover it. will be a better clue than any biographical data to the writer’s intimate relation to the material world. whether it is presented from the point of view of the narrator or of some imagined character. (CD. and to himself. defines a certain relationship between a mind and its objects.” As Sarah Lawall has pointed out in her remarkable study Critics of Consciousness. It will infect it. revealed in glimpses through each event and image. For a novel is not simply an external structure of meaning. Miller’s work has always combined an American brand of formalism with the existentialist motifs of his Continental counterparts: “Miller does not lean so far as Poulet in the direction of supra-verbal analysis. always already changes not only the criticism but also the critic. It is the embodiment in words of a certain very special way of experiencing the world. but looks to the text for the technical effects of this motivating experience” (1968. in other words. For all the works of a single writer form a unity. life-giving and death-giving at once. ix) The most important thing to remember here is that when statements like this appear in Miller’s early work as a translation of a Pouletian model of so-called consciousness criticism. or pathogenic invader. to other human beings. it will affect my thinking as I go. This time from Miller’s earliest recontextualization of Georges Poulet in his first book Charles Dickens: The World of His Novels: This study presupposes that each sentence or paragraph of a novel.
offering a glimpse of the wholly other” (O. that a command of metaphor is the mark of genius (DSI. It reflects the idiom of the subject of analysis through the stylistic lens of the Pouletian model. Though this first book was dedicated to Poulet and exudes. The question is. Literature’s Others In a 1994 roundtable debate. it simply puts the referent in question. but no break: “The shift back from ‘consciousness’ to ‘language’ as the category to be investigated allows in principle a closer look at what is actually there on the page and at the transaction between reader and word from which meaning emerges . 20). a profound debt to the Pouletian mode. where metaphorical structures in Dickens are traced through the language of the text and Kenneth Burke’s writings. “Literary works in the conventional sense. alongside Jacques Derrida. The emphasis here is. Bill Readings. 193).” it shows a consistently rigorous attention to the language of the text. 3). 4. Miller discussed his essay “Humanistic Discourse and the Others. and has always been. where “a thousand paths radiate from the same center. “have always more interested me than theoretical works as mediations in various ways. It also allows the critic to focus on the singular event of reading without constant reference to a methodology. . its otherness. The argument is that his own version of otherness is of an “alterity that cannot be logically understood by being . the language of the text that fascinates Miller. On closer inspection it is. And “You don’t need Derrida if you have read Burke.Fugal Reading 31 mind that cannot be stilled.” in the strong sense of that term. and Murray Krieger. i). Here’s a point worth remembering: the so-called linguistic turn in Miller’s criticism never happened.” says Miller (TNT. . This is due in no small part to the earlier existence of this work as Miller’s doctoral thesis on symbolic action. how much does the style change or embody the meaning? This conflict has been present from the very beginning in Miller’s work and betrays a fascination with textual analysis that has never been subsumed by theoretical allegiances. The thing all readers share is those words on the page” (FR. Wolfgang Iser. This shift to language does not exclude the referent from investigative analysis. as the preface makes clear. as the epigraph to his doctoral study informs. When Miller espouses “reading. There is certainly a shift.” he will later say.” He explained that notions of otherness are too often oversimplified by an attempt to view the other’s difference in relation to its dissimilarity from the same. different in each case. he is responding to what he has always been referring to in his readings: the strangeness of the text.
Miller did not convert. They are always trying to make you aware that literary works cannot be domesticated.”2 In a telling digression.32 J. the limits of language. logos. Hillis Miller stands for justice. it’s just that God wasn’t here). half-understood event of language. The Disappearance of God and Poets of Reality. half-felt.” the playfully provocative essay where the “J” of J. 244). that “literary study hides the peculiarity of literary language by accounting for it. one fine day. 33). To give Miller his due however. It’s the part of my work that most embarrasses me. . those were the concepts that governed my two books after the Dickens book.” Derrida says. he suggests that his early works took a rather naïve approach to these notions of otherness: If I can be autobiographical for a moment . One has just to read. At their best Miller’s readings are always attempting to do justice to a half-glimpsed. turning it into the familiar. “who dared to say that deconstruction is justice [it was Derrida himself!]. neutralizing it. 5. Reading De Quincey Reading Thomas De Quincey’s work is no easy task. and in the twentieth century there was a diffuse [immanence]. That is to say. Such encounters leave traces of those others behind. including the zeitgeist notion that I had then. thus logocentricism. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading turned to some version of the same. where life bleeds into death and death is . The latter is already at work beginning with his first book. In “Justices. and especially about what exceeds and divides presence” (Derrida 2005. it’s not a same other. responsibility to otherness is haunting those questions. . I now find those notions very problematic. Contrary to the persistent rumor. to deconstruction. His world is a shadowy and spectral universe. those two books on nineteenth and twentieth century literature [sic]. to do justice to what he has always said of the strangeness of literature. Derrida recounts that Miller’s earliest fascinated speculations on doing justice in The Disappearance of God were “deconstruction avant la lettre. One recognizes the taste of it in what he says about the singularity of taste.” is to realize that his response to those “others” or “each hetero-otherness” in the texts he encounters is just that: an encounter with something else (OL. naturalizing it.” “I no longer remember who it was. It is important to remember that whenever questions of justice arise in these works. These were entirely controlled by the notion of either transcendence or [immanence]. In the Victorian period was The Disappearance of God (God wasn’t exactly dis-believed in.
Fugal Reading 33 always returning and bleeding back into life. as they become translations of an untranslatable void. If the universe without the immanence of the divine presence seems beyond the realms of wisdom. they wander about casting vague lights on distant and tenuous themes. equally devoid of a guiding hand or prime mover. and (3) he realizes that the self is other. or a belief in a unified self. so there is a consistent ambiguity in De Quincey’s descriptions of his . This often leaves the reader transfixed in ways which are not unlike the impressionistic dreamscapes conjured by the opium haze of the writer’s imagination. He is henceforth left to wander alone in the world. for “as soon as De Quincey is aware of himself as a separate being his life is already finished. Their style reveals their substance. presupposes an existence without teleological goals. On Miller’s account. Truth. (2) De Quincey becomes conscious of the vast unfathomable debts of time and space. 1792 as the pivotal moment when De Quincey realizes that “conscious life begins at the moment when life is finished” (DG. a finite goal which may be seen from the beginning. or a walker of the streets. or look up. a solitary point of consciousness surrounded by infinite reaches of time and space” (DG. then the internal universe of the subject. At times these writings are wholly illogical and transitory and yet they continue to circle ominously around a tentative point all the same. Elizabeth. all of this amounts to the same problem one experiences when reading De Quincey’s writings themselves. and pursued through a logical train of thought.’ into it. 17). The door back into the paradise of childhood has been locked and he is ‘shut out forever’: He is outside. Just as it is impossible to say of the astronomical space whether we ‘look down. Miller’s point of departure in reading Confessions of an English Opium-Eater is to regard the loss of De Quincey’s beloved sister. Her death has the following implications for him: (1) there is no longer the immanence of the divine presence in the world. The awareness of the latter will have drastic consequences. The problem of course arises from coming to know that the self is as divided and infinite as the objective world.”3 An existence without center. remains divided within itself and infinite. be that center God. The immediacy of the lived-world has retreated to the extent that the subject is forced to look within himself for an adequate understanding of his own existence. De Quincey’s writings characteristically begin with a tangible subject and then leak into some unforeseen and distant arena. The realm of his essays is like London a space of infinite wandering. 23). on June 2. yet they paradoxically seem for all their slippages and digressions part of an aspiring pattern getting further and further away as the writing continues: “For De Quincey there is no subject with just limits. becoming what he calls a “Pariah”: “a peripatetic.
with no strong magnetic field to orient things and hold them in position. as Miller comes to see it. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading mental space” (DG. Miller is noticeably drawing toward the conclusion that these spatial metaphors inhibit the temporal mood of this dissolute stylistic wandering. . the image of the mountain lake or “tarn”: “A perfect image for De Quincey’s writings” (DG. a system of thought. as Earl Wasserman puts it via Heraclitus in his superbly rich readings of Augustan and Romantic poetry. and the thyrsus a fitting image for Baudelaire’s reading of De Quincey in Les paradis artificial. . a man. Miller is in a very real sense mimicking the style and tone of his subject. Until he hits upon the right one. moving at a dizzying speed from one image to the next. These ancient Greek symbols are often depicted as shafts entwined with ivy leaves or two snakes forming a double helix around a central staff. and the sum of things flows like a stream’” (Wasserman 1968. In trying to describe the style of De Quincey’s arguments.34 J. 54). this image is too rooted in a foundational logic because the subjective universe of the poet is devoid of a grounding. 41). Miller sees the tarn as an appropriate way of envisaging the process by which De Quincey’s thoughts simply fill up and spill over into alternative spaces. What actually happens is that Miller’s journey from one register to the next becomes a disastrous catalog of failures to describe the central motifs behind De Quincey’s work. centering God. For De Quincey. These stylistic characteristics are seen as an attempt to make the space of writing fill up the void of time. But. rope-dancer’s . If this is the case. translating it. De Quincey’s wonderful penchant for writing footnotes to footnotes and his equal propensity to bizarre flights of fancy bring to mind the images of the thyrsus and caduceus in Miller’s reading. alas. the universe is fluid and volatile yet suspended by the antagonism of opposites. In this principle of cosmological counterbalance. Likewise for Miller De Quincey’s view of a universe that is devoid of the immanent presence of a prime mover becomes a vast emptiness where things are held together in a similar harmonious collision or “pregnant tension”: The motif of opposites in tense equilibrium is more than merely a psychological or epistemological principle for De Quincey. It is at this point in Miller’s reading that the notion of concordia discors (harmonious discord) becomes evident. or a nation must hold itself up in the void by “a steady. Though the caduceus forms an eloquent self-expression of De Quincey’s style in Suspiria de Profundis. All things come into being by conflict of opposites. 29). what becomes interesting about Miller’s reading is that each symbolic register is not quite right. Space and time stretch interminably in all directions. “the doctrine explained the design of the cosmos: ‘Existing things are brought into harmony by the clash of opposing currents .
(1999. he can never exhaust the infinite which lurks in the finite.Fugal Reading equilibrium of posture”.” then he is also alluding to the quintessential impossibility of the unilinear or univocal act of reading itself (DG. Asensi sees two key problems informing Miller’s work in The Disappearance of God. namely De Quincey’s textuality. First. 6. The antagonism of opposites opens up a space wherein the author attempts to close the gap between the opposing forces. Manuel Asensi rightly points to this problem of reading Miller reading: What exactly does Miller do in this essay or in the rest of The Disappearance of God? We hazard the following hypothesis: by having set forth in the preface the problem of identification and by having explored the problem by way of an example. . there is the problem of the interpretation of a text that is devoid of any center—the loss of God. De Quincey believes that there is a built-in law of compensation in man. Metareading? If Miller’s readings show that De Quincey “always fails. as we have seen. Probably Miller’s interest (his “subject matter. Brontë. Simply put. 44) 35 Here we encounter a universe hewn from the remnants of contrariety. . The dream is an illusion. Miller literally and allegorically (as does De Quincey) develops the metatheoretical problem of reading. . 56). in nature. and in history whereby any one power tends to call up its opposite and keep things in balanced motion. Only in this way can an area in the infinite space be filled up with an harmonious system which will possess internal principles of self-perpetuation. This attempt to find the harmonious middle ground is achieved through the opium dream of pure presence in time and space. but because. however straight he goes. Browning. This is the enigma of reading as enigma or. Second. (DG. . what Asensi is describing right the way through his analysis of Miller’s reading of De Quincey is the failure . not because he has an unfortunate habit of wandering. 90) In following this question throughout his book. and the disappearance of God as in what those authors and that subject matter represent. but as a world formed from the anodyne affects of a narcotic. what is the same. the enigma of literature as an alterity absolutely other. . the capricious space-time of such a world is necessarily transitory. there is the problem of the interpretation of the subjectivity or consciousness of the author as it is expressed through the text. has annulled any teleological progress toward a unified or finite metaphysical truth.” as I have said at the beginning) lies not so much in De Quincey.
J. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading
of the critic to perform a criticism of consciousness (a la Poulet’s mode of phenomenological interpretation), as the consciousness that is being described does not cohere with any models of the formal expression of experience. For the awareness of the loss of God as a harmonizing or unifying presence is not consistent with a mode of criticism that attempts to find that harmony in a consciousness experiencing such a loss. “De Quincey’s best stylistic effects,” says Miller, “are achieved by a series of sentences, each one of which is ornate and complex, full of clauses in apposition which repeat one another with slight variation. The sentence is a kind of fugue, and the endless echoes among the clauses make it a little infinity in itself” (DG, 48). Can we then use this image as yet another figure for what is going on in Miller’s failed reading? Can we use this fugue writing as a way into what happens when Miller reads De Quincey? I hazard a yes here, since, as we can see, the fugue is a figure of disfigurement, a way for us to catch a glimpse of why metatheories of reading are forever caught up in their own impossibility. To put this in Paul de Man’s elegantly concise formulation: “What I mean is upset by the way in which I mean” (de Man 1986, 87).
In an early review of The Disappearance of God de Man has pointed to exactly this danger of reading any phenomenological critic deriving their influences directly from Poulet’s work: “One can copy Curtius, or Spitzer, or even Bachelard, but to copy Poulet is to betray him. Miller never does” (1964, 643). De Man’s point is incisive and should have been remembered by critics of the school, since on his account, correct in my view, following Poulet could only really be done at the expense of actually reading him. Just as we might say following Derrida, de Man or Miller is equally a betrayal. The evidence of Poulet in Miller’s work can be seen in the way Miller condenses the entire works of De Quincey into one essay by using references to the complete edition. It can also be seen in Miller’s encyclopedic concern with the idiosyncratic imaginative scope of De Quincey’s writings. After that, however, the resemblance stops and the act of reading becomes the major concern. Miller reads De Quincey, not through Poulet, but through De Quincey. It is through De Quincey, we can say, that Poulet is undone. The closer Miller gets to De Quincey the further away from Poulet are the results of his reading. As de Man and Frank Lentricchia (in After the New Criticism) are correct in assuming, Miller’s thesis in both the Disappearance of God and
Poets of Reality prioritizes a spatialized or synchronic awareness of temporality over a historicism that “is bound to appear as the very chaos which the esthetic consciousness is obliged to put into shape” (de Man 1964, 647). But the concern with the present over the past in Miller’s De Quincey is a necessary kind of nostalgia for that moment before the consciousness of a being-toward-death, which is paradoxically a consciousness of life. If consciousness begins at the moment when his sister dies, then it follows that the author would wish to return to that originary moment before the chain of time and loss is set in motion—De Quincey continually returns to this point in the Confessions and Suspiria, as the “terrific grief which I passed through [and that] drove a shaft for me into the worlds of death and darkness which never again closed” (1990, 93). Such an illusory longing results from the extraordinarily impossible wish to attain an immediate commerce between man and God, life and death, and self and other—the very theme of the Disappearance. If Miller is indeed privileging the space of criticism over its regard for the historical, in an attempt to close down his analysis of the imaginative lived-world (lebenswelt) of the author (what de Man sees as Miller’s attempt to find the mental space of the author), then it becomes difficult to reconcile his readings of “iteration” (repetition of difference), “palimpsest” (disremembering), and the “Piranesi effect” (psychical trauma) without cause for a redefinition of the approach; or, more radically, it forces us to realize that Miller couldn’t have picked a better example than De Quincey to attack the very phenomenological mode of criticism he is espousing. Like J.L. Austin’s examples in How to Do Things with Words, Miller chooses examples that put the greatest pressure on the theories he is propounding (SA, 43).
I have said reading De Quincey is difficult because his writings are places where life bleeds into death and death is always returning and bleeding back into life. This is nowhere more apparent than in his discussions of palimpsests. A palimpsest is a manuscript that has been washed clean of its original inscriptions and used again. That the traces of previous texts always remain hidden beneath the new ones allows De Quincey to make the following startling analogy in the Confessions:
Of this at least, I feel assured, that there is no such thing as forgetting possible to the mind; a thousand accidents may, and will interpose a veil
J. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading
between our present consciousness and the secret inscriptions on the mind; accidents of the same sort will also rend away this veil; but alike, whether veiled or unveiled, the inscription remains for ever . . . (69)
“We move by forgetting,” says Leo Bersani, “and no human faculty is more alien to psychoanalysis than that of forgetting” (Bersani 1998, 21). De Quincey’s commentary may therefore look like a defense of the classic Freudian psychoanalytic model par excellence, a defense of depth psychology as the possibility of reliving the past in the present moment. Such would be the case if we were to assume that De Quincey’s fantasies in writing where sublimated attempts to relive the memories of his life before the death of his beloved sister. But yet again De Quincey’s style of writing continuously shatters this model. How so? In a recent account of how the palimpsest becomes an apt figure for a constant breakdown, Sarah Dillon has argued that it cannot exist as a unified image because it is actually a figure for relentless displacement.4 It recognizes the provisionality of place as an “involuted” (De Quincey’s word for perplexing combinations of images in the mind) amalgam of interwoven traces and entanglements non-present to itself. The palimpsest is an open secret conjuring up the ghost of an impossible translation. It is a place-no-place where alien texts haunt other alien texts, interring and resurrecting one another in an interminable fort/da movement of textual conduction and reduction, analogy and ana-analogy. To write about palimpsests, she argues, is always another act of palimpsesting: “any new text about the palimpsest erases, superimposes itself upon, and yet is still haunted by, other texts in the palimpsest’s history” (Dillon 2007, 9). By repeating De Quincey in such a way, Miller translates, traduces and betrays him. But Miller is also repeating a certain confusion in De Quincey which is quintessential to his style, that is, the manifest impossibility of identifying with another consciousness through language. Repetition, as both De Quincey and Miller indicate, is always repetition with a difference. Writing on the palimpsest is haunted by the multiple texts such writing resurrects and translates.
But what is it about the fugue that takes such a hold of De Quincey in his writings, especially the “Dream-Fugue” section of The English Mail-Coach? And how does it haunt Miller’s reading as I say it does? “Toccatas and Fugues: Bach’s compositions,” says Julia Kristeva, “evoke to my ears the
essentially operates on a series of dialectical tensions between degrees of thematic expansion and modification. In music theory a fugue is a highly complex form. The overall impetus of the fugue is achieved through repetition and imitation. expressed in a series of “episodes” (where the subject appears metonymically in each voice) and expositions (where the subject is stated and restated).5 But it is also a pervasive digressive movement always already at work in De Quincey’s writings and therefore an uncanny guest in Miller’s rereadings of his work. without goal. exemplified by Bach’s major works. An otherness barely touched upon and that already moves away” (2002. Fugue is a powerful figure for the impossibility Miller has to close down and catch De Quincey at what he’s doing. disseminated.Fugal Reading 39 meaning of an acknowledged and harrowing otherness that I should like to be contemporary. tone. is what happens to Miller’s translation of De Quincey. The second voice reacts to the subject in contrapuntal style through the “answer. without boundary.” This counter-subject is then followed closely and overlapped by a second counter-subject as the third voice enters in—the second counter-subject usually repeats the original subject. that which he can barely touch. The fugue. It haunts it and creates its meaning. I claim. embellishes the formal structure to the extent that it becomes radically fractured. In saying this. taking as he does the entire 14-volume Masson edition of De Quincey’s works in a mind-boggling academic feat. Fugue is yet another name for his interminable palimpsestuous writing-event. diminution. 266). reversal of subject. each voice is at a separate tonic level and initially remains distinguishable from the other voices in the piece. Bach’s works succeed in complicating the more traditional form of the fugue beyond recognition. it is useful to remember that the stretto (from the Italian for “squeezing together”) or the overlapping of the voices in the fugue creates a delirium . The imitative measure of the fugue. the first voice states the “subject” and is given time to express this in its entirety. without end. Through experimentation with pace. and overlapping. inscribed in an original play being developed. and stretto. weaving and unweaving point and counterpoint together and stitching bits from each volume into one single chapter. Generally. As the etymology of the word suggests (from Latin Fuga meaning flight). What most can agree on is that the fugue is a species of counterpoint (contrappunto) in which a number of voices—usually three—react with one another in a composition. one for which critics have yet to come to a common definition. because it has been brought up. At the outset. a chain of devices such as augmentation. In the freer forms of fugal expression. the fugue is a kind of chase or hunt. inversion. relieved. Now that is Aufgabe! It is the otherness that moves away from Miller.
fluttering. The “Dream-Fugue” is the finest testament to the virtuoso flair and iridescent chaos of De Quincey’s writings. It is also of course a musical direction for how the piece should be read—with what speed the reader is advised to pursue the words along the page. until at last. trembling. sinking. upon a sound from afar of malicious laughter and mockery. emphasizing the fugal form of pursuit and flight. After which dream visions of the unknown lady from the coach scene accompanying the narrator on an ocean voyage enter in. praying—there for leagues I saw her as she stood.40 J. is quickly overtaken by shadows of an ominous storm which hurls the narrator’s vessel in the path of another. and a dazzling arrangement of emotive figures. leading the reader to vary the pace at abrupt intervals. In each of its five sections a different rhythm is suggested. where the initial threads of individual and mutually exclusive components are lost in an interminable disseminative play. a disjointed devise that controls the mood of the entire dream sequence. repeating the scene of the two coaches in the earlier essay. and how I know not” (226–227). exhibiting also the remarkable gifts he had for throwing bizarrely incongruous images into cacophonies of pandemonium. discovery. The mood.6 De Quincey’s outrageous term for the rhythm of the writing style here is Tumultuosissimamente [most tumultuously]. The short prelude opens as an introduction to the theme as a repetition and reminder of the earlier subject of The Vision of Sudden Death—the story of De Quincey’s disastrous coach trip to Manchester in which he nearly lost his life because his driver fell asleep at the reins. embellishment. and afterwards. amidst the fiery crests of the pursuing waves and the raving of the storm. In the final moments of his reading of De Quincey Miller turns to the “Dream-Fugue” section of The English Mail-Coach in order to discuss what most critics see as the apotheosis of De Quincey’s stylistic achievements. As the piece progresses the vision becomes more abstract and the images are . indicating on a thematic level how the disjointed and dreamy images of the piece seem to clash against one another and deflect the reader’s attention into an ever increasing spiral of digression and confusion. at first blissful and carefree. At this stage the composition moves through a kind of formal overload. one hand clutched amongst the tackling—rising. What happens here is a series of rhythmical and tonal repetitions wherein De Quincey pursues the subject of his dream visions in a musical fashion. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading that compounds the formal eloquence of the structure with an uneasy confusion. Everything here becomes a rhythmical impression: “There she stood with hair dishevelled. raising at intervals one hand to heaven. chance. all was hidden for ever in driving showers. but when I know not.
but rather a group of ideas: speed. and. formerly placed in front of a regiment or company as an example or model to others in their exercises. In these final fugal instances De Quincey infuses these sentiments into a stunning architectonics of incredible power. “wing. “man. It also reflects the kind of criticism Miller is doing. a critical allegory of the ceaseless wandering of De Quincey’s own Pariah. once again throws us back upon the language of the piece as the supreme performative act. But the performance of the piece. We are at once expanding to an overall pattern and then rather abruptly plummeting into a discussion of a single phrase—the movements being centrifugal and centripetal at varying degrees. is a “soldier especially expert and well drilled. Sense and matter become locked into one another.” or. Yet they are constantly at play. and a girl in danger of sudden death” (Brown 1938. stretto-like.” we have been told in the Confessions. are at once felt to be the same and other. and praying. In using the complete works of De Quincey and splicing quotations together from early and late works—even into fragments in the same sentence—Miller reenacts. “is to suppose that it is by the ear they communicate with music. fluttering. to act as a guide or director. according to the NED [New English Dictionary].” Miller focuses on a strange archaic word in this poem: “fugelman”: A fugleman. “to give an example of (something) to . In a more recent reading of Thomas Hardy’s “The Pedigree.” plus Mann. trembling. (the matter coming by the senses. “The mistake of most people. so that the senses and the matter. therefore.” To fugle is “to do the duty of a fugleman. from Flugel. When Miller actively translates this movement into his essay. urgency. the fugal patterns of De Quincey’s own poetic prose. they are rising. until we realize that “His subject is not a group of words. it becomes yet another translation of the play that already exists in De Quincey’s prose. 345). He carries it over. involuted. that they are purely passive to its effects. enframed by an initial and final reference to the greatest event of De Quincey’s life: the death of his sister.Fugal Reading 41 repeated and seem to infuse into intractable strange allusive impressions. its overall structure aspiring to the fugal squeezing together of disparate elements in the stretto moment. constantly escaping. This moment is remarkable because it makes his own writing share in a perpetually digressive reconfiguration of the impossibility of a final clarity. figuratively. to make signals.” The word comes from the German Flugelmann. The words are doing what they are saying. But this is not so: it is by the re-action of the mind upon the notices of the ear. sinking. the form from the mind) that the pleasure is constructed: and therefore it is that people of equally good ear differ so much in this point from one another” (45). the cognitive and the sensual.
Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading someone. like something has been tricked into being just by being repeated. is already divided within itself. perhaps a deceitful pattern. whatever else happens. The concept of “archetype. It is multiple. But the possibility is both exciting and necessary in every reading. as the fugleman repeats his drill. He is himself a well-drilled copy who stands at the wing and who passes on to others a pattern. just as it is on mine. . Even my punning insistence here on the somewhat false homonymic etymological linkage between “fugal” and “fugle” is a symptom of this possibility. only ever commentators and poor translators of an ever elusive and shifting ideal. What happens when I translate someone else’s idiom into my own? I not only change it. never be an initiator. Never original initiators. But in doing this I change the ideal itself. by the wing-like beating of his arms and legs. When I repeat it. This is the impossible possibility of all translations. It is also something that always feels somehow like a cheat. Whatever I do my fuglemen have already been there first. and it is an iteration. the presupposition of an origin. when you read me through all of the above. To fugle is to mislead. “informing matrix”). to seduce: “Who fugell’d the Parson’s fine Maid?” (1729). . is inherently contradictory.” as “The Pedigree” shows Hardy knew. the momentary last of the line. .” we remember. I also change my own idiom. was something different on the priest’s lips. that it will initiate something other.” The example given by the NED has a sexual implication. The word “detain. dear reader. 253) If Miller and Hardy are right. I therefore answer my hypothesis. trick. making signals. and to you. a first. Any type (from the Greek tupos. the possibility that the translation will take flight as both words signifies. A fugleman is not an originator. This is what happens to Miller when he reads De Quincey through Poulet and to me when I read Miller through De Quincey.” To fugle is also slang for “to cheat. something at least that has not been noticed before. . (TPP. It is already secondary to any arché or origin. The result is always a kind of fugle.42 J. that is. I am conducting something always already translated and bringing it back to life in the process. all readers are fuglemen. I can never be more than a follower.
unless when I am checked by some more powerful feelings. and so drowsy as it is falsely reputed” (De Quincey 1990.Chapter 3 Double Reading Thus we perceive that it can be just as ironic to pretend to know when one knows that one does not know as to pretend not to know when one knows that one knows. and all go home. I shall endeavour to be as grave.” he says.” At such . if not drowsy. which I have neglected to pursue in my last chapter. He is also punning wonderfully on the word “drowsy” as an effect of opium and as a possible side effect of his prose. 39). In saying that opium is at once a drowsy subject and not a drowsy effect. “about an exciting experience. is his uncommon degree of humor and comic subtlety in even the direst circumstances. Søren Kierkegaard. He even apologizes for it at one superbly witty instance: “I have a very reprehensible way of jesting at times in the midst of my own misery: and. The reader must allow a little to my infirm nature in this respect: and with a few indulgences of that sort. I am afraid I shall be guilty of this indecent practice even in these annals of suffering or enjoyment. The Concept of Irony You will never understand—so we can stop right here. “The Concept of Irony” 1. He is effectively apologizing in advance for what will be untimely amusing instances punctuating the gravest circumstances. Just what is De Quincey asking of his readers in these few sentences? A certain latitude in humor or a dispensation for being “drowsy?” The comedy of course is that he is asking for both at the same time. Paul de Man. as fits a theme like opium.” “Forgive me for that. Equivocations One thing that should be noted about De Quincey. instances he fears may offend his readers’ delicate tastes. De Quincey is trying to do two things at once that are completely contradictory. so anti-mercurial as it really is.” “Oh! and also for the times when I make jokes about the experience. “I’m going to tell you a dull story. His equivocations at this point interestingly display a sense of humor that is pervasive throughout the Confessions and that the drowsy reader will all too easily pass over if he or she succumbs to the anodyne effects of his more academic explanations.
Not only do we come to see the narrator as more cunning and inventive but we also realize that the story itself becomes ironically doubled. The contradictions in the tenor of the argument become explicit forcing us to read and reread the narrative ironically. nor frown. though. when the reader of the Confessions considers these sentiments. Something exceedingly odd happens. Specifically. nor have any reason to feel it. my connexion with such women could not have been an impure one. Consider for instance the description De Quincey gives of his acquaintance with Ann.” We are told that no news of any bodies having being found along the road has ever reached our . that I was on familiar and friendly terms with many women in that unfortunate condition. When the narrative voice becomes doubled in such a way events can be reread with an eye to the disparity between a weighty earnestness and a darkly absurd jocularity. not to remind my classical readers of the old Latin proverb— “Sine Cerre. the woefully unfortunate girl and faithful companion to our insolvent narrator: This person was a young woman. (20) The reading falls rather too heavily on the word “could” in the last sentence. a dynamic is formed between the actual moral reprehensibility we may attend to the practice of opium eating and the amusing events that come to pass as the narrator succumbs to its effects. On this occasion our hapless narrator provides his visitor with enough opium “to kill three dragoons and their horses.” etc.44 J.. They change the overall effect of the reading experience fundamentally. and one of that unhappy class who subsist upon the wages of prostitution. One gets the impression that there is more to De Quincey’s supplication than might be taken at first glance. and the reader cannot help but feel that De Quincey’s use of an old Latin proverb is also being used as an unsubtle nudge in the direction of the educated friends he has known and is addressing here.” watches him gobble it down. His hospitality to the Malay arriving unexpectedly at his house is another instance of a dark humor that seems to be pervasive throughout the entire narrative. in avowing. The reader needs neither smile at this avowal. I feel no shame. [et Libero friget Venus—“without bread and wine love freezes”] it may well be supposed that in the existing state of my purse. For. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading instances the reader becomes aware that De Quincey is trying to have his cake and eat it too. “but what could be done? I could not think of violating the laws of hospitality by having him seized and drenched with an emetic. and says afterwards.
I have said that the dark humor seems to be pervasive because it is the problem with the figure I am addressing that one can never be quite sure. only it’s made of iron. or synecdoche. undeclarable” (Kundera 1986. have you no idea what irony is?” is “Yeah. “The more attentively we read a novel. They end up sounding hypernaïve or hopelessly innocent. 134). simile. We can never be sure whether De Quincey is being serious or not. as there are with other figures like metaphor. but one can never be quite sure within which . it’s like goldy and bronzey.” This is why irony carries with it such a stigma of shame in society for those who simply don’t get it.” “right there. whether or not he is harboring a wry smile as he calls for his readers to be sympathetic to his infirmities.” says Friedrich Schlegel. which call attention to the process by being detectable and taxonomical tropes—“like. because we can never be sure of it. “For whoever hasn’t got it. undeclared. since one reading cancels out and displaces another making each one singularly incompatible. 2. or know how to react to Rochester’s burdensome advances on Charlotte Brontë’s eponymous heroine Jane Eyre. dem bleibt sie auch nach dem offensten Geständnis ein Rätsel] (Schlegel 1964.” We can only ever give examples of it in the hope that it will be detected. 536). because the novel is. as Milan Kundera has it. 231).” and so on (O. The result is an uneasiness that remains uneasy. does not afford us the luxury of saying “there it is. the ironic art: its ‘truth’ is concealed. Just as we can never be sure whether or not to admire Michael Henchard for his latter-day rectitude or loathe him for it. by definition. unlike these.1 To say that a narrative is doubled is to understand that it can be read two ways at once that are equally valid and that it can only be seen to be working by taking a leap between these two points. so that we are to conclude that finally he “must have done him the service [he] designed” (57). the more impossible the answer. We are in danger of sounding like Blackadder’s hapless Baldrick. I say “they” here. De Man’s Irony When we feel like defining irony we are in most danger of becoming its victims. Irony. whose response to the question “Baldrick. There are no linguistic markers or traits.Double Reading 45 narrator’s ears. “it will remain a riddle even after it is openly confessed” [Wer sie nicht hat. “The ironist cuts up into little bits beyond hope of reassembling the coherence of the narrative or line of argument he presents” (FR. 105).” “as. Irony irritates.
For de Man. is the most difficult.2 Therefore. That de Man often makes the most controversial statements . something other. of stemming the tide of ironic allusions and closing its multiple meanings down. . of all tropes. And though you might suspect this. 301). irony enforces the repetition of its aberration” (de Man 1979. at least. tries to put a stop to the madness and is drawn to a conclusion. and not just for the author but for the reader as well. the way I think of it now. I’m not at all comfortable with those various distinctions— dramatic irony. narrative irony. Here’s how de Man put it in a late interview with Robert Moynihan: For me. far from closing off the tropological system. The problem with speaking about irony. Irony comes into being precisely when self-consciousness loses its control over itself. of understanding. . the most all-encompassing. For me. irony is not a figure of self-consciousness. to call irony a trope is an error since “irony is a disruption of a continued field of tropological meaning.” It is “the lack of control of meaning. . an interruption. in other words. It’s a break. (1986. so that it is extremely difficult if not impossible to talk about irony without being ironic” (O. a disruption. is that one is inevitably drawn into its movement. according to de Man. Irony. . The most ironic moment is when the critic. a Verständnis. because what’s involved in irony is precisely the impossibility of a system of linear and coherent narrative. . 230). 138–139) Whenever Miller speaks of irony. irony is not something one can historically locate. The ununderstandibility of this trope-no-trope is the impossibility of controlling its movement. . if it is a trope. you never may know it. as he notes.46 J. no solid ground from which to peer down at it. the systematic undoing. There is therefore no outside to irony. de Man’s astonishing concluding comment in Allegories of Reading: “Irony is no longer a trope but the undoing of the deconstructive allegory of all tropological cognitions. and the hardest to pin down. people who try to write about irony consistently fail to acknowledge the fact that in trying to delimit its boundaries they become its victims. that works to bring about a reaction of resistance to that otherness” (O. And much of what de Man has to say about irony in the remainder of this remarkable interview is a repetition of what is laid out here concerning the impossibility of ever being sure that this tropeno-trope is identifiable as such. 220). Such statements are why Miller in reading de Man has referred to him as allergenic: “De Man’s work as allergen is something alien. de Man is always in one way or another present in what he says.” what Schlegel calls Unverständlichkeit [ununderstandability]. Hence. “One feature of irony is the way it is catching. like speaking of the palimpsest. It is a moment of loss of control. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading category to place oneself. As such.
” It is “disruption. 3. A statement like “History is therefore not a temporal notion. Forms of Victorian Fiction In a new preface to The Form of Victorian Fiction. to make things happen. disillusion. published 11 years after the first edition appeared in 1968. event. Miller offered a critique of the theory he earlier held regarding temporality. a power to change things in the world. Another way to describe this is to say after de Man and Miller that language has a material force. 241). it has nothing to do with temporality. intersubjectivity. and to radically transform and even make history. But one has to regard the performative valence in what de Man says. 182). for Miller. allow me to trace a little further how the madness of words infects what Miller has to say of irony in Victorian fiction at a moment when many critics of his work have argued that he has reached the point of transition from phenomenological criticism to deconstruction. incoherent. to have a mechanical force without intentional impetus. In that sense. For irony is always closely linked with the performative power of language in de Man’s readings: the way that language has a mechanical power to radically alter received opinions. How on earth is history not a temporal notion? “There’s an allergenic statement for you!” says Miller (O. Before returning to these ideas in de Man. But what we witness in this preface is not a disquisition on the importance .” the madness of words (1996. and theory of irony is not a theory of comedy. de Man’s thinking on irony often takes on a note totally at odds with the more common conception of irony as a form of play. known as otherness. 133). That performative statements are unknowable. This is presumably why de Man insists that temporality and history are at odds when it comes to the material power of language. in a word. and realism in the Victorian novel—the three main discursive categories of this short volume. as. to go on operating in the absence of any speaker. “Irony is not comedy. strangely allows us to glimpse how ironic utterances can have purchase on the real world by generating those events that make up the materiality of history. but it is the emergence of a language of power out of a language of cognition” should give any reader pause (de Man 1996. that they suspend cognition. When de Man speaks of irony it is intrinsically linked with the unintelligibility of what is.Double Reading 47 imaginable is one way to construe what Miller means when he says de Man often makes his readers break out in a rash. To conceive of history as a coherent linear narrative is somewhat incompatible with the conception of language as excessive.
ix) This “inner form” can be viewed as a juxtaposition of the phenomenological attention to the intrinsic consciousness of novelistic discourse and the close reader’s attention to the manifestation of that consciousness in the formal architecture of the work. or Meredithian note. the idea that the novel can draw a circle around life. the narrator and so on. One aim of the criticism of fiction is identification of the unique flavour of that consciousness in any given case. the peculiar Dickensian. however. just as the most radical of ‘critics of consciousness.” says Miller. My goal in this book has been to suggest ways for reaching the former by interpretation of its incarnation in the latter. “is the fundamental dimension of fictional form” because it complicates the notion of closure in the novel. The concept Miller uses for the double bind of language and consciousness in The Form of Victorian Fiction is inner form. is as much as any other work of literature the expression of the way a single consciousness. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading of post-structuralist readings as a way out of the impasse of all naively phenomenological sympathies. and contain in miniature a world within a world. has appropriated his world. close off experience through a spatialization of structure. This becomes in Miller’s reading. via Paul de Man’s critique of Lukács.” as Miller puts it. must occasionally run head on into the fact that literature is not made of minds but of words” (FVF 1979. In a novel.’ Georges Poulet for example. it is true. that of its author. “Even the most linguistically oriented criticism of fiction.” for Miller. the expression of this special quality. between the Scylla of language and the Charybdis of consciousness. There is a play here too and it is the idea of “inner” as an existential tag. is not a direct contradictory rebuttal of his earlier phenomenological readings or an untimely meditation on the failure of his critical project up until the late 1960s. It is to be approached only by way of the interaction of the imaginary minds of the narrator and his characters as they are related within the horizon opened by time in the novel.3 “Time. Nor do we witness a deferent bow in de Man and Derrida’s direction at the expense of Miller’s old compatriots in the Geneva School. is mediated. which is explained in the original preface as follows: A novel.48 J. “to account for the relation of form to meaning in the Victorian novel will constantly encounter three questions . (FVF. Trollopian. It is in fact an attempt to account for what he finds problematic about earlier readings as well as a productive rereading of what remains important in those pages. the notion of experience as a temporal or “polyrhythmic” phenomenon—a term signifying the way in which each character in a novel has his or her own peculiar temporality. “Any attempt. The course charted here then. “must still talk of the characters. viii). indirect.
however. dissembles. irony writ large” (FVF. Indirect discourse dislocates souls (TPP. upon whom. It would in fact be more truthful to the experience of reading to say that each of these elements is a factor that plays a part in the experience without being a specific. character. 3). other people. It is also important because. as in the insolence of a student who repeats back to the teacher exactly what that teacher has said. determinable entity. intersubjectivity (a consciousness of the consciousness of others). “It takes nothing away from the text and adds nothing to it. disassembles. other languages— we can never be sure where to situate a criticism.” In what is perhaps the single most important statement in The Form of Victorian Fiction Miller says. The problem. to concentrate.Double Reading 49 crucial to the interpretation of fiction” (FVF. caught up in it.” says Miller. narrator. Once we have noticed that indirect discourse—where author. except irony. voices. an ironic miming of it. “The juxtaposition in indirect discourse of two minds. is. nothing would seem more counterintuitive than thinking about a novel wholly in terms of (1) an unmediated expression of an omniscient mind. 171–180). Its spectral presence hangs over everything that is subsequently said about self and other. Writing about it dislocates. becoming others to ourselves. For instance. It is another way to experience the uncanny manner in which we are addressed by literature. that is. “Deconstructive reading is comic miming. it puts everything that will follow under a spell. and realism (which is seen as a mise en abyme). and as in the ironic insolence of my mediumistic citations of Derrida’s ‘Telepathy’ ” (MM. that of the narrator and that of the character. and of course critic too. These are. is that the experience of reading fiction precludes us from separating these questions out into mutually exclusive or selfsustaining modalities. intersubjectivity and consciousness. telepathically leap in and out of identities. One reason why this is so important is that such a view precludes any theoretical investment from ever setting down a solid foundation. Effectively. (2) a linguistically overdetermined accumulation of signs referring only allegorically to the ultimate failure of representation. it is given only in terms relative to the other dimensions adding up to that experience. minds. as I’ve mentioned. the sentence haunts the entire work. Writing about literature is yet another form of indirect discourse. time (polyrhythmic). one might say. divided by it. Quoting this is of course yet another instance of . 29). or (3) as an overarching spatial design containing within its frame a fixed pattern wherein we might find the same characters or images unchanged each time we open the same novel. This is what Miller means by referring to the temporality of the novel as an “open form. coming in the first few pages of the book. times. 71). Though the fundamental experiential dimension of fiction may be temporal.
“I continually encounter the monster. or how would three volumes or twenty suffice!”5 Suppose I say that double reading is a “permanent parabasis. I could read with a secure mastery one novel or another” (RN. irony. I married him. somewhere between the scheme and its dissipation into darkness. Permanent Parabasis A parabasis is a doubling of the narrative line. redoubling it. This is. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading this dislocation and indirection. It means digression. at a point where logical enquiry into the very structure of the narrative pattern divides into two mutually exclusive yet legitimate renderings—a logology and a polylogology. In work after work Miller will return to questions of irony and otherness. or a stepping forward. it is also the parabasis that bursts the bubble we create when we identify with the world beyond the words on the page.” Miller says in Reading Narrative. In ancient Greek [para way in which the chorus comes forward on stage to address the audience. and why the critic is constantly unable to understand them from whatever position. 178). ruination of my search for a solid ground on the basis of which. not only by repeating its sense. “Wherever I turn. “Reader.” says Trollope in a superbly witty instance in The Warden. though of course such examples abound in literature.” a phrase Schlegel uses to describe irony in a famous philosophical fragment. a going ¢ basiV] it refers to the aside.” being one example. and of the irony involved in doing so. something commentators of this difficult volume have failed to perceive or account for. the notion of a “permanent parabasis” is wholly illogical. their relations to one another. What would that mean? In one way that sentence repeats an idea. “It is indeed a matter of thankfulness that neither the historian nor the novelist hears all that is said by their heroes or heroines.50 J. 4. narrators and novelists in The Form of Victorian Fiction precludes his strategic analyses of the form of Victorian fiction from ever amounting to anything more schematic than a paralysis. Here I’ll make another large claim: Miller’s acknowledgment of the pervasive irony inherent in the relationship between characters. . but also in a way ironically undoing that sense by multiplying it by two—a double double—double reading as parabasis. as my title suggests. the double bind that only ever suggests itself indirectly. breaking what actors often refer to as the “fourth wall” (OED). on whatever point on the line of narrative theory I stand. theory becoming application. “What had passed between Eleanor Harding and Mary Bold need not be told.4 This paralysis is reached somewhere between the logical and the rhetorical. In another way.
a doubling which unbalances us. in spite of ourselves. There would be much to say here concerning the economy of the gift and the economy of language. putting it in doubt. but I wish only to make the point here that when Eliot hints at the ironical force governing the narrative something happens. 88–89). is like performative speech acts in being alien to cognition” (Z. as a pervasive disruption of intelligibility in an entire discourse. It would be like talking about an endless epiphany. Another way to see this statement though is as an allegorical commentary on the author’s own function as a purveyor of words. Our attention is drawn to the way in which the language of the text is operating to undermine our interpretation. becoming “adulterated” even before it passes our lips. . enacts what is difficult about the notion of a double reading. We experience this doubling as a parabasis. Macey says something encouraging and it has the opposite effect. making Silas even more depressed.Double Reading 51 sheer nonsense. or is noticed to have already begun. Macey expresses to Silas in the kind words he offers him backfires. We can send black puddings and pettitoes [sic] without giving them a flavour of our own egoism. (Eliot 1984. There simply can’t be a permanent doubling or suspension of the narrative line. 68) This is Eliot’s way of suggesting that the goodwill Mr. there is no going back. In this sense the conversation becomes ironic because we encounter Macey’s words from an opposite point of view. Speech acts are not like puddings or potatoes. Double reading as permanent doubling? My sentence. I aver. We can’t present them as gifts in quite the same way as we can other things because language has a way of changing its form. Once the line is seen to have multiplied. Take this example from Eliot’s Silas Marner. before it can pass our lips. paralyzing us. “a stream that is almost sure to smack of a mingled soil. just as it is when De Quincey’s comments become doubled by references to Ann’s profession. Silas has just been robbed and our ever-intrusive and somewhat sanctimonious narrator takes the opportunity to prognosticate on the change of heart the villagers feel toward him: I suppose one reason why we are seldom able to comfort our neighbours with our words is that our goodwill gets adulterated.” Two forms of doubling are going on. the reader is always already in trouble. but language is a stream that is almost sure to smack of a mingled soil. The logos is therefore doubled all along the line. stopping us from going in the direction we were going by throwing our sense of direction off. Once that doubling begins. One is the ironic suspension of the episode and the other is the ironic suspension of the narrative line itself. “Irony.
6 Though de Man knows that “definitional language seems to be in trouble when irony is involved. and they can only ever be noticed indirectly.” he proceeds by offering several different definitions. But with the trope I’m concerned with. Though de Man stresses the madness of irony (its “unrelieved vertige”) in his reading of Schlegel’s “Über die Unverständlichkeit. as it does in the case of Henry Esmond. is that they are nonsensical. Although he is certainly subject to the same propositional language (perhaps especially . we can never know if de Man is being ironic when he says. something turning at the rate of a whirling dervish. something Miller will also identify in “the non-systematic system of Schlegel’s thought” (O. 216). a temptation that evidently holds de Man enthralled here as elsewhere—for any sentence that holds that “irony is” uses a definitional language—it ought to be resisted as much as possible (resistance on the level of reification at least). Nonetheless.” But we can never know that he is not being ironic either.52 J. though definitions are tempting. What irony and otherness have in common. the logical equation disappears and we are left with something ununderstandable. Nor is it locally identifiable as a turn of language or ‘figure of speech. Irony is the one figure of speech which cannot be figured spatially or as any sort of geometrical line. a reflection on madness from the inside of madness itself” (de Man 1983. but present everywhere as a persistent double meaning blurring the line of sense from one end to the other of the text” (FR. 14). As Miller says in his reading of Thackeray in Fiction and Repetition. And that’s the point. itself the end of all consciousness. exactly identifiable nowhere. unknowable. illogical. Of course.” the effect of his musings on the subject forms an inevitable shift into the definitional mode (de Man 1996. it is a consciousness of a nonconsciousness. This means it suspends the line all along the line. if that is the correct way to put it. There must be something in order for that thing to be doubled. This is one way into the problem then of a double bind de Man sees operating at the conceptual. 165). “Irony is a permanent parabasis. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading But how can a line be permanently suspended? In order for there to be a suspension there must be some ground or line from which that suspension comes.’ Irony may pervade a whole discourse. nonconceptual level. 5. Miller’s account of de Man’s reading of the situation I’ve been referring to in “The Concept of Irony” sees that this definition is a kind of inescapable contradiction. “I will attempt a definition. Irony as Others In de Man “absolute irony is a consciousness of madness. 105). and we remember it is not simply a trope.
the stretching of the word in order to incorporate something other. it does this by giving us access to that which can only be glimpsed indirectly in beautiful confusion. What Schlegel’s new mythology calls into being is a language of the unspeakable. Miller stresses this unknowableness in terms of otherness and the performative language that attempts to confront this darkness. Through Schlegel this becomes the necessity of an indirect or allegorical language for discussing the chaos that irony catachrestically names—what he will refer to in “Rede über die Mythologie (Talk of Mythology)” as the new mythology. of differentiation. The difference though is only in degree. or abusive use of a word to name something that has no literal name” (LM. Yet. This new mythology bespeaks the myth of permanent becoming. without perceiving a black hole at the centerless center of things. “Catachresis.Double Reading 53 so when he says “irony cannot be understood”). and this is the critical point. For Miller we cannot perceive this nonconcept. Because poetic language is alien to knowledge it confronts something other. And on this point he espouses de Man’s reference to “the free play of the signifier” as the undoing of Hegelian dialectical reason. On Schlegel’s view poetical power is magical. “does not seem to have much patience with portentous terms like ‘the .” nonrational performance of language that is not seen as such a free play or madness but as an opening toward some other beyond it. to cancel the progression and laws of rationally thinking reason. forced. and to transplant us once again into the beautiful confusion of imagination. 423–433).” The pun on the word “unrelieved” recalls Hegel’s infamously complex register Aufhebung and Derrida’s playful translation of this untranslatable word in Margins of Philosophy as la relève. “For this is the beginning of all poetry. something beyond language. a performative language reinventing the allusive chaos which is the abyssal or kho ¯ral ground of things—the abgründlich Grund (LM. Another way of seeing this necessary doubleness. is in Miller’s reading of de Man’s wittily allusive reading of the term “unrelieved” as an expression of this permanent madness within “The Concept of Irony. he suggests a mode of thinking which opens up to a “magical.” about which I’ll have more to say in the next chapter. In de Man’s reading of Schlegel it recalls the chaos at the origin and the end. “Paul de Man. in chaos. inimitable chaos of translation. the “relief” which is the original. Examples would be the “face” of a mountain or the “hands” of a clock. 86). This is the infinitesimally small crack separating Miller’s reading of Schlegel from de Man’s. 418). of sublation. it is the power that words have to catapult us into an aboriginal chaos.” says Miller. “is the violent. into the aboriginal chaos of human nature” (Schlegel 1968. this chaos in Schlegel.
Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading other’ or ‘others. “who stresses the madness of ironic language in Schlegel. Miller’s reading envisions the radical nature of something beyond language while de Man’s reading stresses that radical nature at the level of language. I claim. 30). are also examples of this . 6. It is also the movement of this “wholly other” that Miller continually traces in his readings of the poets and novelists. One hypothetical term Miller gives for this form of pervasive doubling in narrative is “radical polylogism. I have also suggested that since Miller is attentive to this in the narratives he reads critical commentary that fails to engage with this question also fails to acknowledge how Miller’s readings are constantly turning.’ His radical concept of irony. doubling their own logos in the event of noticing this doubling in all narratives. 121). Schlegel’s chaos as against Hegel’s Idea. however. by performative speech acts. footnotes. is a ghostly semblance of knowledge within chaos. I want to argue that Schlegel’s difference from Hegel arises from a different intuition about what is beyond language. “As opposed to Paul de Man.54 J. from that difference. include prefaces. constantly at odds with themselves. ‘Radical polylogism’ would mean the presence of an indefinite number of incompatible logoi in a text” (RN. doublings of a central logos. its materiality. epigraphs. Telepathy I have said that the single most important point in The Form of Victorian Fiction was the initial realization that the juxtaposition in indirect discourse of two minds is irony writ large. It is precisely that indirect view—that trace of the other at large within the chaos—that only ever suggests its presence within the absence at the very center of madness.” says Miller. someone other than itself and to speak for that other. Stories within the main story. Examples of doublings in the narrative line. Every feature of Schlegel’s nonsystematic system makes sense (a strange kind of nonsensical sense) when everything he says is seen as swirling around those ‘wholly others’ he calls chaos” (O. The “Shein. and all the marginalia that exist alongside the main narration. Everything follows. or to think of itself as being. This is an opening up to otherness through language that allows something “wholly other” to suggest itself without us ever knowing from whence it came.” which “may happen as an effect of the human imaginative power to be. 161). presupposes the encounter with otherness within language that generates a permanent suspension of meaning” (BH. a glimpse for Miller provided by catachresis. such as the digressions we’ve seen in De Quincey.” as Schlegel refers to it.
Double Reading 55 polylogism. homodeigetic) their competence as objectively scientific structural narratologists begins to inadvertently express the impossibility of accounting for narratives in such terms. Derrida says: [T]here is no sense in wondering what actually happened. In his reading of Baudelaire’s narrative poem. Each one of these goes to make up another complicating parabasis in reading narratives. intra-deigetic. Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan or even the subtler Mikhail Bakhtin. however much they try to remain canny. no depth beyond their literary phenomenon. and it is always a question of other words. that is. “Counterfeit Money. let us say the secret . Canny critics. what was the true intention of the narrator’s friend and the meaning “behind” his utterances. the absolute inviolability of the secret they carry depends first of all on the essential superficiality of their phenomenality. 122). It thus says the (non-)truth of literature. This inviolability depends on nothing other than the altogether bare device of being-two-to-speak [l’etre-deux-àparler] and it is the possibility of non-truth in which every possible truth is held or is made. No more. uncanny nature of indirect discourse.7 In other words. They become guests in the house of uncanny fictions in attempting to provide a scientific rationale for the alogical in the multiplying logoi of stories. as Miller has called them. reasonable. when they confront such issues in their analyses. incidentally. no longer. autodeigetic. on the too-obvious of that which they present to view. become uncanny critics. All narratives share in this problematic relationship between the central logos and the permanent parabasis of that logos. omniscience or narrative levels (Genette’s famous categories are deigetic. And of course the superimposition of mind over mind or voice over voice in indirect discourse figures another form of the multiplication of a central narrative logos.” in which we are never able to decide whether the money given to the beggar by the narrator’s friend is counterfeit or not. That moment when normative thinking about identity in narrative becomes uncanny. As these fictional characters have no consistency. “Even the attempt to master dialogical doubling through theoretical reasoning seems to become dialogical. all discussions of the dialogical in narratives become victims of that too. strictly speaking. is precisely what Derrida has elsewhere referred to as the (non)truth of literature. heterodeigetic. when trying to account for issues such as point of view. such as Gérard Genette. just as rational discourse about irony seems infallibly to become itself ironical” (RN. than behind the utterances of the narrator. What this pervasive parasitical dialogism in the act of reading suggests is that logical narrative taxonomy runs into problems when it tries to account for the strange. And like the impossible task of speaking of irony objectively without becoming its victim. so to speak.
where the bare device of being-two-to-speak is the very condition of literature itself. . the possibility of multivoicedness. Not . . 266) “Being-two-to-speak” [l’etre-deux-à-parler] is another way to express this uncanny being-beside-oneself that is the defining trait of fiction. fragments.56 J. nonrepeatable as such. “that Möbius strip form of language called indirect discourse. or a being-two-to-feel. is also the impossibility of ever defining the secret or (non-)truth which is all “too-obvious” here. What is unaccountable or unforeseeable in all acts of reading. thinks. Indeed. What Royle calls the telepathic structure of Derrida’s reading is merely the shift we experience when reading literature to a being-two-tosee. 49). which figures a tremendous humility before the text. This doubling. the possibility of experiencing the otherness of the other that only ever expresses itself in multiple voices. then. (Quoted in Royle 2003.” would require a doubling ironic commentary (AT. a new narratological device which might allow us to categorize and define what is happening in Baudelaire’s poem. He is. in short. then the repetition of what someone else hears. the initiatory doubling of consciousness in the act of reading. of the (non-)truth of the secret. of ventriloquism. The being-two-to-speak of indirect discourse occurs at the interface between all epistemologically fuelled definitions and “terminologisations” and the strange encounters between self and other that call for or even demand a unique and responsibly singular response each time. pointing to something strange about the condition by which we enter into literature by becoming multiplications of ourselves. of polyphony or heteroglossia. or a being-two-to-think. and there can be no such thing as a science of narrative. This present book [he is speaking of Reading Narrative]. might be called a work of ananarratology” (RN. rather. If there is a secret here. not behind the text but on its surface. divisions.8 Hence Miller’s own neologism “ananarratology”: “Narratology—the word means the knowledge or science of narrative. nonlimitable. In reading Baudelaire’s prose poem Derrida is not prescribing a new taxonomy. it is paradoxically open for all to see. or says in the third person past tense. is what remains . Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading of literature: what literary fiction tells us about the secret. It is the division of the logos. If Miller is right. a radical kind of impassive passivity before the secret of literature. feels. in its demonstration that this knowledge is not possible. remnants of a disinherited consciousness. Nor is he giving us reason to suspect that we may be able to apply his reading technique to another narrative. There is something here. strange. 26). nontaxonomical. as Nicholas Royle points out. but also a secret whose possibility assures the possibility of literature. the multiplying of the self in the identification of (one)self with others.
157). has left her alone for a short while. It would therefore trace as far and as rigorously as possible the hermeneutic impulse of critical analysis in order to show how far that kind of criticism can go before it runs into something that is truly strange or baffling.Double Reading 57 even that. Mrs Wix had put up a Japanese fan and two rather grim texts. . stop short of interpreting. Then before (on the subject of Mrs Beale) he let her “draw” him—that was another of his words. something which can’t be explained or doesn’t quite fit. Maisie’s biological father’s recent wife. as dull as a cold dinner. The way Sir Claude looked about the schoolroom had made her feel with humility as if it were not very different from the shabby attic in which she had visited Susan Ash. She stayed long enough only to miss things. and the object of Sir Claude’s burgeoning amorous affections. Wix. the place would have been. Beale. Mrs. she had wished they were gayer. in other words. it also signals the impossibility of criticism in the sense of a demonstrable hermeneutic decoding of meaning” (RN. Without Sir Claude’s photograph. 7. If irony is the impossibility of narrative. It would. Maisie’s stepfather. pops in to see her in her dingy schoolroom. He had said as well that there were all sorts of things they ought to have. it had to be admitted. then all narrative is suspended at every moment over its own impossibility . I take a passage from What Maisie Knew almost at random: He was smoking a cigarette and he stood before the fire and looked at the meagre appointments of the room in a way that made her rather ashamed of them. . but they were all she happened to have. yet governess and pupil. as he said. Sir Claude will take this moment to speak somewhat confidentially with Maisie about Mrs. as it is. were still divided between discussing the places were any sort of thing would look best if any sort of thing should ever come and acknowledging that mutability in the child’s career which was naturally unfavourable to accumulation. This would be the moment of paralysis I have mentioned already: “If irony is the basic trope of narrative. (James 1985. it was astonishing how many she gathered in— he remarked that really mamma kept them rather low on the question of decorations. however. A properly responsible response would have to be itself a dialogical and ironic response to the multivocal atmosphere of plurisignificance and polylogism that inhabits any novel. 82) In this scene Sir Claude. not half long enough to deserve them. who also shares Maisie’s infatuation with Sir Claude. her governess. . Quite a muddle! as Mrs. Wix will say. Amazing Let me give you an example of what he means. it would necessitate it.
is only one of the 38 root meanings of that word listed in my Collins Dictionary. We are therefore led to ask exactly what it means in this context. I reflect. in her own childish manner. doubling the importance of it as an encompassing figure for what is happening. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading As the title suggests.S. Much of the excitement and intrigue of the narrative is due to the problems Maisie has in articulating her thoughts. The main figure in the passage comes in the opening sentence. “to sketch”. she has the wonderful importance of shedding light far beyond the reach of her comprehension. a young girl of no more than 12 or 13 can gather from her juvenile experiences of the adulterous affairs of her elders. “to make. . it was astonishing how many she gathered in. But if we were to take it seriously as a word demanding our attention our interpretation would stop dead in its tracks. “to bend a bow in archery”. much of the ironic import of the novel lies in the discrepancies between what the narrator says. 147). “to draught”. “to choose at random”.58 J. and mannerisms and interprets them. “to pull out. Maisie’s unique gift as a character in James’s fiction is that she sees things from the innocent perspective of a child. by the way. which. A similar point is made in the example I’ve chosen above: “he let her ‘draw’ him—that was another of his words. “to strain”.” as in “the act of drawing a revolver in order to shoot” U. . The word “draw” in the next sentence mimics and suggests this motion. expressions. draws in Sir Claude’s words. finding something interesting in everything he does and says. “if the theme had had no other beauty it would still have had this rare and distinguished one of expressing the variety of the child’s values. thinks. Some of its various meanings include: vb. . and knows and what Maisie.” says James in the Preface to the New York Edition. Our attention to it is given by James’s quotation marks around the word and the way in which Maisie is astonished by its suggestiveness. She hovers at times at key moments in the narrative unable to consummate her ideas with her underdeveloped vocabulary. (OED).” Maisie. “to disembowel”. formulate or derive”. “to smoke”. Speaking of Sir Claude’s appeals to her confidence. truly. “Maisie stared with a thrill at the dramatic element in this. Sir Claude is smoking beside the fire. Bridge “to keep . in appreciation of my theme on noting what she does by her ‘freshness’ for appearances in themselves vulgar and empty enough” (James 1947. like an open vessel. I lose myself. ‘And she couldn’t come here without mamma’s—?’ She was unable to articulate the word for what mamma would do” (87). the narrator informs us. “to take or derive from a source”. sees. we feel. She is not only the extraordinary ‘ironic centre’ I have already noted. movements. Her own language has a freshness and naivety that sheds light on the events around her in an uncommonly intuitive manner: “Truly. “to stretch or bend”.
as their conversation continues. This is. We don’t know. and so on. We can assume that Claude is not referring to himself in the third person. but we are also aware of the discrepancies between a preadolescent child’s linguistic capacity and the narrator’s. James’s stroke of genius. Billiards “to cause (the cue ball) to spin back after a direct impact with another ball”. Moreover. the reader is left pondering how much he or she is being taken in . Maisie also exhibits a profound suggestibility. as he said. the place would have been. whether Maisie is passively “drawing” in Sir Claude’s words or actively interpreting them as the game of adult sexual intrigue pervades her own youthful sensibilities. The important point to remember is that she does “read” the signs. But in another way it is only by allowing ourselves to pass over the gaps between the two consciousnesses that we can carry on reading the narrative. Beale. Likewise. or that Maisie had likewise absorbed Sir Claude’s metaphorical prowess. On Miller’s reading “Maisie’s name. in other words. but we are never sure how she is reading the signs. This suggestibility. in part. The pun on ‘amazed’ primarily defines her as a wondering spectator. doubling them and suspending them in such a way that the reader is always left in doubt as to how exactly she has drawn them in or for what purpose. the other suggestion we feel in reading this section is not that Maisie is astonished by Sir Claude’s linguistic dexterity but by his masculine presence and virility. as dull as a cold dinner. when it is noticed. Bowls “to deliver the ball in such a way that it approaches the jack”. tells us her nature. Since she is so young and “innocent” (we really never know how innocent) however. In gathering or drawing in Sir Claude’s words. Of course.Double Reading 59 leading a suit in order to force out”. The child. like that of Shakespeare’s Miranda. though there may be a secondary suggestion that she is lost in the maze of all the strange signs from the adult world she has to learn and read” (VP. as “ironic centre” repeats Sir Claude’s words. The critic can’t be sure where exactly to draw the line with this word. however.” Is this Maisie’s indirect repetition of what Sir Claude says or the narrator’s? That question cannot be answered for sure. Cricket “a leg stroke in which the batsman deflects the ball so that it passes between the wicket and his legs” (OED). the excitement Maisie feels seems deflected by a clandestine confidence in Sir Claude’s relationship with Mrs. Even the last line is a suggestive metonymic repetition of the figure in Maisie’s former guardian Susan Ash. This is not easily forgotten. 53). is a good way of understanding how the passage shifts from one consciousness to another in a subtle and easily overlooked manner: “Without Sir Claude’s photograph. the reader feels that such an interpretation is on shaky ground from the outset. “a contest or a game ending in a tie”.
Once the “ironic centre” of the narrative is taken seriously. the narrator. Once the allusions are set in motion the interpreter is never sure where exactly to stop interpreting. the place would have been. were still divided between discussing the places were any sort of thing would look best if any sort of thing should ever come and acknowledging that mutability in the child’s career which was naturally unfavorable to accumulation. who is seeing. it had to be admitted. He had said as well that there were all sorts of things they ought to have. Miller becomes conscious of the problems involved when criticism tries to take account of a reader attuned to the singularity and uniqueness of reading events. who is feeling. Each voice is vibrating throughout the intricately orchestrated and repetitious syntax of the passage to the extent that we are never sure who is really speaking. that is account for the way Derrida actually does literary criticism. The being-twoto-speak of any section of indirect discourse in a novel will also run into similarly interminable. Then there is another shift into an abstract and convoluted syntax— “were still divided between the best places were any sort of thing would look best if any sort of thing should ever come”—which is suggestive of the child’s language in describing what should be done to the room. yet governess and pupil. however. performs acts of . as dull as a cold dinner.60 J. Take again what Sir Claude is indirectly saying: “Without Sir Claude’s photograph. nearly at the end of my time or space or allotted number of words.” Who says “it had to be admitted” here? To whom does it refer? To Sir Claude or Maisie? There is a break at this point between what Sir Claude is suggesting ought to be done to decorate the place and what Maisie and Mrs. Then there is yet another shift into a distant abstraction where Maisie becomes “the child. still before the door. logical interpretations begin to run aground. Wix feel ought to be done with the place. which is indeed characteristic of many of James’s intricate and wandering sentences. Says Miller nearing the end of the piece: Here I am then. Good Reading is Sensitivity to Irony In a recent essay on Derrida and literature. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading by what is ostensibly a simple conversation about the dreary schoolroom. of what I promised to do. Maisie. impossible questions. and Sir Claude. 8.” To follow the changes though is quite dizzying and we realize that there are three voices overlapping and suggesting one another in ironic juxtapositions. The passage is anacoluthonic in the sense that there is a muddling of voices throughout. ante portam. as he said.
unless what you learn is that you are always alone before the work. 122). an end to reading. That irony is by no means a local trope. each work is a unique and irreplaceable opening that allows the others to come or rather to come in their not coming. on your own in reading it. 74) 61 I claim here in bringing my discussion of double reading in Miller prematurely to its conclusion that the same questions can be asked of Miller’s entire work. also something supple. To do so in detail would be an interminable job. in other words. a born adventurer and discoverer” (OL. cunning. It is the thing that is most important in a reader. patterns and gestures. since each such essay is in some degree unique. doesn’t this mean that critical analyses that speak of so-called turns miss the point of this kind of reading altogether? That they don’t “read” it? No accounting for this singularity will ever be able to provide a holistic methodological overview for his works. yet the one thing that is most difficult to teach or to learn (VP. Such a criticism would need to resist the temptation to encompass and pass over what remains obscure.Double Reading literature in that particular sense. That is what happens when real reading begins. or will never put. It cannot be said too often: theory and reading are asymmetrical. I always picture a monster of courage and curiosity. idiomatic. Theory is never going to put. Each employs its own special strategies of reading appropriate to what is idiomatic about the work in question. that it may be present everywhere and nowhere for certain. cautious. its others. It will never in short be justified. Reading undoes theory. “What Gods will rescue us from all these ironies?” [Welcher Götter werden uns von allen diesen Ironien erretten Könen?] (Schlegel 1984. a double or doubling reading. which is perhaps its covert goal. subtle: “When I picture to myself a perfect reader. slow. That is one reason it is difficult. but because those traits are always being tested in acts of reading. . If irony. Schlegel asks. if not impossible. is what makes this happen each time we read then the task of the critic is interminable. Miller’s work therefore calls for a micrological approach. the pervasive trope-no-trope of narrative fiction. 37)9. Miller often argues. forced to invent your own way to allow it to come through in your writing. It changes it. means that one is often faced with the alarming realization that a response to irony in reading is necessarily endless. And not because there are no traces of theoretical traits or leanings. a criticism that must be patient. says Nietzsche. what haunts it. What can we say of it but that it is unique or idiomatic? That it reads each work in terms of a singular event? If so. 229). is what separates the sheep from the goats. to learn from Derrida’s work how to do literary criticism. If the wholly other does not come except in multiple voices. (Miller 2001. lento. A sensitivity to irony.
chance. whatever else may come. the event. is to what happens when those multiple voices impinge upon and destabilize normative modes of thinking. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading That irony has to do with multiple voices. . Irony forces one to think otherwise. with alterity. It also leads me to believe that the most exigent obligation readers have. It forces one to invent and reinvent oneself as the encounter with all those others takes place. with the incoming of the other. 230). I turn now in my next chapter to what an obligation to good reading means in a university setting. leads me to believe that it is bound to the spirit of a democracy to come that Miller in one way or another has always expressed in his readings (RN.62 J.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. in which we find a teacher at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. expounding arrogantly on the role of the pedagogue. The scene is comical and frightening at once because it testifies to the most egregious abuses in teaching. and duco. and that is not what I call education. I trust. Arthur Schopenhauer. She is also leading in the sense that the duco here refers us to her own political affiliations with the Italian leader Mussolini (Il Duce) and to the aggressive manner in which she will indoctrinate her students to believe in the fascist cause.Chapter 4 Protocols of Reading I am a monster of fidelity. the eponymous Brodie. (Spark 1962. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul. The Post Card So it is that education perverts the mind. the most perverse infidel. and that is true education as is proved by the root meaning. from the Latin root prefix in meaning in and the stem trudo. What is Education? There’s a startling scene in Muriel Spark’s seminal novel. It means a leading out. out. has “led” us to an equally worrying understanding of the disastrously immoral regimes “education” can be—and often has been—made to serve. then. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there. The academic freedom she announces as a direct turning or inversion of the tradition of education she sees exemplified by the methods employed by Miss Mackay is an indirect affirmation of her own position as a defender of a very particular alternative political faith. Jacques Derrida. The etymological survey of the word education. 45) The irony here is that she is “leading” in the sense that a prosecuting attorney might influence the answers he is given from a witness by the power of astute rhetorical suggestion. mine is a leading out of knowledge. I lead. But as it does this in such a persuasive manner it becomes doubly terrifying: The word “education” comes from the root e from ex. I call it intrusion. A worrying prospect indeed! . “On Education” 1. Miss Mackay’s method is to thrust a lot of information into the pupil’s head.
What is the difference between a “drawing out” and a “leading out” in the two translations above? What . what the etymologies explain. Like Plato’s Meno. The word contains both meanings simultaneously and is therefore a good way of expressing how the other demands our respect and attention each time we encounter it: There is some other in the classroom. in a post-Heideggerian fashion. that etymologies are read. not the intrusive inculcation of a foreign object but the bringing to light of an instinctive knowledge. the event. and it opens a series of incalculable differences. Education. the exploration of which is the business of pedagogy. Brodie. Nevertheless. the immemorial. which is both a respect and a demand made by something unknown. is not a maieutic revelation of the student to him.” How then to keep open the promise of another path? In The University in Ruins Bill Readings broaches this question in a way that will haunt Miller’s later thinking on the subject (BH. you follow.64 J. although in a dissymmetrical fashion. as e ducere. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading Her position as we can also see is an appeal. lux. On Readings’s account. Brodie’s pedagogical model is an appeal to anamnesis. that they are never stable rationalizeable literal descriptors. tradition. thought. the way toward the great teleological educational Aufklärung. a drawing out. to truth. what he refers to via Kant as Achtung. energy. education seeks to channel and circulate this otherness so that some form of profit can be made from it. Rather. desire. 162–163) In the previous chapter I have already inadvertently engaged with the questions Readings and Spark are staging. is that the word is invested with meaning. a process of clearly remembering what the student in fact already knew. Yet shock arises. opens something up only to close it down by reinscribing it with her own law. interpreted. there must be a level of openness to some event of otherness. 57). reason. to dampen the shock it gives the system.or herself. since it is the minimal condition of pedagogy. a tyrannical reinstitutionalization of a momentarily insightful event of reading. veritas. the sublime. the law that says. the remembrance of an innate intellectual capacity (eidos). And what seems to be the most democratically open gesture to the experience of reading quickly becomes its opposite. And it works over both the students and teachers. education is this drawing out of the otherness of thought that undoes the pretension to self-presence that always demands further study. and it has many names: culture. as all prophets of the correct path inform us. Qua institution. Brodie reads the significance of “education” just as we read its significance in our own incomplete translations of its various meanings. in short. “I lead. (Readings 1996. The educational institution seeks to process it.
Sir Claude’s consciousness. means trying to hear that which cannot be said but that which tries to make itself heard” (1996. This is also Readings’s point when he says that “Doing justice to Thought. “where the principle of reason reigns” (IL. And therefore we become aware that language has something to do with this drawing out. The passage I took from What Maisie Knew. something which we are. If the university historically espouses the rational. not trying to inhibit but let speak or come. Maisie’s consciousness. It is something that happens in a bizarrely unaccountable moment. if we are open to it. And I also think that he has questioned the difference between the two examples by subtly drawing our attention to that “drawing” in the schoolroom scene. . repeatable. as I’ve argued. and as I will show for Miller too. Something is at work that we are trying to overhear in our own readings. For Readings. “The modern Western university has defined itself as the place. or programmatic result. “begins only when we have come to know that reason. interpretable.” Miller tells us. “Thinking. 112). glorified for centuries. We are only aware of an ironic discrepancy between several competing voices. the voices. Something in the machine-like workings of language makes us see connections between the drawing out of cigarette smoke. then. the fire.Protocols of Reading 65 does it mean to say that “drawing out” exposes one to this otherness of thought? Or that one is educated by being “drawn out” by this other thought or thinking? Is it possible to say that James has already noticed what Readings is talking about here in What Maisie Knew? I think so.” he says. this event of overhearing what cannot be said is a way of noticing the limits of the university and the problems of the process of a methodological or even protocological form of reading. listening to our interlocutors. as both Readings and Miller argue in various ways. In what follows. The point for James is that the process of drawing in education is also an unknowable event. logical. 18). is the most stiff-necked adversary of thought” (Heidegger 1977. We don’t know what Maisie knew or what the drawing out of thought meant to either Maisie or Sir Claude or the narrator. then it fails to do justice to an otherness of thinking which is fundamental to the teaching and reading of literary works. 165). I will try to show how Miller’s work responds to the demand made on him by Yeats and how my own responses to that work complicate this procedure. is suggestive in a nascent or synecdochical form of what is going on in the entire novel. What Heidegger interestingly refers to as “the ear of our thinking” is perhaps a useful expression for the way the kind of unknowability repressed by logic is experienced in reading and how it can be respected. and the reader’s consciousness.
rebelliousness. biography. deviancy. One of Derrida’s characters in the “Envois” to The Post Card humorously refers to the errant possibilities of any utterance as a “perverformative” condition (Derrida 1987. ways which the teaching of close reading can productively tease out and examine each time a particular text is read or reread. This is helpful in explaining the bewitching twists and turns in literary language that keep readers in thrall to a linguistic performativity which always already exceeds its ostensible constative force. how to take in evidence from a page.66 J. throws us off track. or bad philosophy. Here’s Johnson attempting to determine what passes for teaching literature in the university—what it ought to be and how it should be performed: Teaching literature is teaching how to read. Johnson sparks off a powerful seduction for the reader to investigate the strangeness of the pairing. This is the only teaching that can properly be called literary. It points to the way that literature often surprises us. harshness.” doing what it says. overcome. austerity. Johnson’s example suggests. which picks up on this theme and will therefore help me introduce my own reading of the situation in Miller’s work before I return to these questions in more depth. The first term denotes firmness. this time from Barbara Johnson. inflexibility. or explain away. The seduction of literary language. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading 2. Destinerrance. anything else is history of ideas. What’s Perverse About Good Reading? Let me provide you with another quotation. (1985. and one that Miller has seen as especially “a feature of performative utterances or of the performative dimension of . Johnson’s usage of the word “perversity” importantly picks up on a benign energy not commonly associated with this word. 136). while the second term indicates a contradictory dynamism. a closely related term in Derrida’s work. not to seek a reality to substitute for it. psychology. In yoking these words together in a violent kind of oxymoronic conceit. not to guess what the author was thinking. How to notice things in a text that a speed-reading culture is trained to disregard. rigidity. toughness. edit out. how to read what the language is doing. stringency. or aberrancy. ethics. is charged by the use of language in oddly contradictory ways. 140) Rigorous perversity is a wonderful oxymoron. Anything else does not measure up to the rigorous perversity and seductiveness of literary language. or carries us away from where we thought we were going. Placing the word “perversity” alongside its own antonym is in a very real sense to perform what the latter word suggests. The contradiction between both terms turns the charge of the final sentence into an Austinian “happy performative.
How can reading be “guided by an expectation of surprise?” Statements like this drive Miller’s critics mad. catachresis. wherever that may be (Miller 2006a. is ethics. that is. 153). my focus is drawn primarily to the most perverse and unsettling register in the Millerian lexicon. expanding nature of reading as a blessing for both the reader and the text. For him Miller’s readings suggest that there is no right reading and we are all therefore doomed to play a merry (or not so merry) dance of interpretation and be condemned to damnation for the effort.” says Miller.” suggests that language is destined to err. sees in it a malignancy or abomination. “is not Miller’s strong point” (Scholes 1989a. a countermovement against a normative imperative. I think this is a perverse notion of what reading is. or abusive use of . be it ethical. And it is especially perverse because he takes the ethical activity of criticism and reduces it to the hermeneutic issue of interpretation. “Reading. instead of seeing the unfinished. also. forced. Another way of viewing perversity of course. It is in this latter sense that Robert Scholes picks up its meaning. “Logic. the presupposition that what you actually find when you read a given work is likely to be fundamentally different from what you expected or what previous readers have led you to expect” (VP. It is perverse because in it Miller takes the inevitable centrifugal activity of reading and treats it as if it were a sin. as I shall show. which he then calls “the ethics of reading. “Catachresis. namely.” as we’ve seen. They are a perverse notion of what reading is. juridical. In what follows. as if reading had nothing to do with choices and actions involving other human beings. But Scholes is wrong in this. This idea engenders a turning away from a correct path.Protocols of Reading 67 any utterance. “should be guided by the expectation of surprise. he continues. political. Neither. because he treats the centripetal activity of interpretation as a superhuman task that humans are nonetheless compelled to perform. something deplorable and irresponsible. 226) [emphasis added] The odd thing about Scholes’s argument is that it’s right. “is the violent. 33). 895). he avoids the ethicalpolitical realm entirely. Miller has often spoken of the right reading and has believed in it from the beginning. Now there’s a perverse expression if ever there was one. or whatever.” says Scholes. I completely agree with him when he speaks of Miller’s “perverse” readings. Scholes repeatedly employs this register as the overriding element in Miller’s ethic: Not to put to fine a point on it. wander and to interrupt or be interrupted along the way to its destination. It is perverse. and the more common usage at that. (1989a. Commenting on The Ethics of Reading in a review article in 1989 and again in his Protocols of Reading in the same year.” In this manner.
J. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading
a word to name something that has no literal name” (LM, 419). Words like the “leg” of a chair or the “eye” of a storm are examples. Catachreses are therefore “placeholders for missing literal words” (T, 28). How this trope works in Miller’s analyses, I contend, like the other tropes and non-tropes I’ve investigated so far, can only be seen through a reading of a primary text which Miller reads, not via a reading in “the rarified atmosphere of pure theory” or in argumentum ad hominem (FR, 21).
3. The “Right Way” to Read Yeats
Miller’s reading of Yeats’ “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” in The Linguistic Moment, and his subsequent discussion of this reading in an interview collected in Theory Now and Then, announces something that any criticism of his work must take into account. Says Miller, in the most unequivocal manner imaginable, a manner which is so striking that it seems uncharacteristically prohibitive: “I would say that my reading of Yeats’ poem is right, that all right-thinking people will come, given enough time, to my reading” (TNT, 196). He also says this as an opening generalization in The Linguistic Moment: “I believe all right-thinking readers will come to agree with what I say if they go on thinking about my poems long enough” (LM, xx). And again, “The right reading of ‘The Last of the Valerii’,” he says, “depends on the right reading of this passage” (VP, 232). “Some readings,” he holds, “are certainly wrong” (TH, ix; FR, 51). In fact, Miller says this kind of thing quite a lot. What can this mean for deconstruction, for good reading? And what can it mean for readers of Yeats? Everything hangs on how we come to answer these questions in our response to Miller’s assertions. It follows therefore that in everything I have to say about Miller’s reading there will be one prominent question: what does it mean to read rightly? Can there be such a thing as the correct reading? If so, what might that be? How would we know it? And most importantly, how could we show or teach it to others? It will also follow, of course, that in my own reading of Yeats I will be equally obliged to say, “Yes, I believe this to be the right reading.” I will have to take responsibility for that personally. After all, pervert or not, “I am, in the end, responsible for what I make of a text” (BH, 137). In a poem which is about perversity in several of it chief senses as profanity, sexual deviancy, irrationalism, and inhumanity, Miller’s reading emphasizes the asymmetrical relationship between the bizarre figures Yeats employs as analogies. These analogous terms, Miller argues, are in fact undermining the notion of analogy itself in the poem. The odd relationship
Protocols of Reading
between these figures therefore becomes what he calls an “ana-analogy”: analogous terms which seem to be referring to a central logos but in fact are referring to some unknown X. This X [das rätselhafte X] is Nietzsche’s figure for an unnameable placeless place or unfigurable figure in his famous philological treatise “On Truth and Lie in an Extra Moral Sense” (LM, 330). What this X is can only be seen as a consequence of the persistent failure of these analogies to settle into a cohesive design or overarching metaphorical significance. This perverse instant when language turns back on itself he calls the “linguistic moment”: “What I am calling the linguistic moment is the moment when a poem, or indeed any text, turns back on itself and puts its own medium in question, so that there is a momentum in the poem toward interrogating signs as such” (LM, 339). To see how this linguistic moment occurs in “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” only a close reading of the poem can show.
4. “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen”
Yeats’s poem might best be explained as a sustained elaboration on the line from the opening sequence “man is in love and loves what vanishes, what more is there to say?”1 Each one of its stanzas turns around this idea in diverse and somewhat disquieting ways, while the speaker tries in vain to salvage something from the “the circle of the moon / That pitches common things about.” Like Phidias’ “famous ivories” plundered from the Acropolis, a bigot (the implication here is surely the still controversial topic of the Elgin marbles) can always be found, like those fumblers in the greasy till, to “traffic in the grasshoppers and bees.” That is, there is always in Yeats’s bleak understanding of history someone willing to destroy great art for financial gain, as was the case with “the proud stones of Greece” mentioned elsewhere in The Tower (415). This pecuniary theme is of course pervasive throughout Yeats’s poems, finding its fullest expression in “September 1913” and “The Circus Animals’ Desertion”: “that raving slut / Who keeps the till” (630). Whatever is mortal born or begotten of the mind or hand lingers a while and hastens on toward death in “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen,” since time will allow no work to stand in isolation. To say then that the poem is an elaboration on the idea that man is in love with what vanishes is to predict in some way the ephemeral nightmarish vision of the final stanza and infer what David Young has referred to as the poem’s “requiem for progress” (Young 1987, 46). The themes of which—reason, war, intellect, politics, naturalism, and supernaturalism—converge to create a seeming
J. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading
counterpart to what was already announced as having been annihilated in the opening sequence: each image is a perversion of those “ingenious lovely things” of the opening lines. I therefore focus on the final stanza here:
Violence upon the roads: violence of horses; Some few have handsome riders, are garlanded On delicate sensitive ear or tossing mane, But wearied running round and round in their courses All break and vanish, and evil gathers head: Herodias’ daughters have returned again, A sudden blast of dusty wind and after Thunder of feet, tumult of images, Their purpose in the labyrinth of the wind; And should some crazy hand dare touch a daughter All turn with amorous cries, or angry cries, According to the wind, for all are blind. But now wind drops, dust settles; thereupon There lurches past, his great eyes without thought Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks, That insolent fiend Robert Artisson To whom the love-lorn Lady Kyteler brought Bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks. (433)
The first 12 lines form one prolonged wandering sentence which meanders and meditates uneasily on the question of the vanishing presence of the apocalyptic riders, of the speaker’s dissipating awareness of a natural world about him and the encroachment of an evil not entirely present in the sensible world at large. The abrupt fragmented interruption of the following and final sentence—“But now wind drops, dust settles; thereupon / There lurches past . . .”—functions initially as a tripartite staccato introduction to what can most easily be described as the poem’s real logos, its center, the eye of the storm. Though it is really a false calm within a chaos at the core of which lurches the incubus Robert Artison, a daemon neither wholly natural nor supernatural. Like the “rough beast” that “slouches toward Bethlehem to be born” in “The Second Coming,” Artison occupies a space between worlds, a logos-non-logos, neither flesh nor spirit, a shifting groundless vertigo (402). The Sidhe (Herodias’ daughters) are earlier spectral models of this unseen force in Yeats’s first volumes, but are never experienced with such foreboding doom as the winds are at this moment. “His great eyes without thought” indicates the movement of this crucible, the eye of the storm moving similarly without purpose or direction. Here the awkwardly stuttering “shadow of stupid straw-pale locks” complements the equally artless lilting prosody of the “love-lorn lady Kyteler” and strikingly contrasts the cacophonic finale: “bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks.”
Either we see the peacock and cock as the profane trappings of the witch—sacrificial symbols of bodily lust—or we puzzle over their esoteric values by evoking a systematic and pedantic classification of intra-referential significance. red combs of her cocks” literally performs a violence at its own linguistic level. the “body” of the dancer or the “divinity” of the dance in that famous de Manian reading of “Among School Children” (de Man 1979. However. The reader is faced with a choice: take the images as natural symbols which speak of mimetic referents or see them as emblematic or “esoteric puzzles accessible only to the initiates as a reward of an act of faith” (de Man 1984. Miller.” a recurring image in Yeats’s later work. The natural is not something that can be overcome by the emblem or the divine voice of poetry. as I’ve mentioned. in the later work de Man rightly says we can speak of a failure of the emblem where the poet experiences “a failure to overcome the inimical power of nature itself” (1984. “No longer does [the emblem] function as the self reflecting. Notice for instance the word “peacock. And also then how this word is violently deformed in a puzzling chiasmatic rendering: “red combs of her cocks. . 11). as in “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen. as well as the penultimate lyric of “A Man Young and Old”: “Were I but there and none to hear / I’d have the peacock cry. 229). but it acts as the brutal strength of the matter.” another emblem of prophetic register. In this instance.” a recurring refrain in the closely associated thematic echoes of “Crazy Jane and the Bishop” and the other poems in that series. liminal figures of prophetic power and supernatural significance conjuring a meaning by a traditional not a natural right. / For that is natural to a man / That lives in memory” (458–459). The distinction is symptomatic of the earlier work where sexual imagery is ostensibly contrasted with divine transcendence.Protocols of Reading 71 This final line is one of those great enigmas Paul de Man mentions in his discussion of the symbol and emblem in Yeats’s poetry. 204).” we experience a “violence upon the roads” and “the beast-torn wreck” of Robert son of Art (237). Here then is an extraordinary example of this bestial violence in both thematic import and stylistic resonance: “Bronzed peacock feathers. as in “Juno’s peacock. narcissistic mirror of the earlier poetry. What happens then is a choice we make between the natural symbol.” An archaic term for a dandy or fop—implied by the word “peacock” and those “red combs of her cox”—is “coxcomb. 41). refers to such a violently dissonant and arhythmical juxtaposition of terms as the “linguistic moment”: “It is the moment when language itself is foregrounded and becomes problematic” (LM. a bestial violence which can only find expression in images of blood and torment” (229).
also poses the enigmatic question: “Miracle. via this peculiar homonymic displacement.” The implication. what is being suggested in the confusion is that the poet cannot speak directly of the violence he is trying to depict: that the violence within the poem is really the only violence that can be directly experienced. Here Miller suggests: “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” is a poem that systematically dismantles itself as system. . that the linguistic perversion of the perverse theme is somehow more justifiable than any attempted literal rendering. It lacks the closed order of “organic unity. most likely a root form of “coax. a real perversion in the negative sense.” It keeps stopping and starting again and cannot be rationally integrated by interpretation.” Any attempt to frame its asymmetrical patterns or shape its meaning will therefore be a gross abuse.” To see this is to share in the reading Miller has earlier given to this poem in The Linguistic Moment by suggesting that there is no original language for the “it” or X or black hole that the poem is constantly circumventing. nor a rendering of an actual event. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading We might also note that the word cock appears in the OED as a Middle English “perversion of the word God. despite the vast critical heritage that says it is. is that the twisted words somehow reflect what cannot be spoken of directly.2 Rather. . as a natural symbol or an emblem? Can we really decide what “it” is? The answer to the enigma is surely in the negative. The poem indirectly performs what it refers to by disfiguring its own figurations and by realizing that each figuring is inadequate.72 J. The punning insistence of the “fowl” storm of the final lines obscurely makes this point. But that this playful or even violent rendering of the word “peacock” alongside the image of Lady Kyteler offering her fowl to a lusty and evil spirit is immersed in the bizarre natural-supernatural nonspace of the poem is without question: “And should some crazy hand dare touch a daughter / All turn with amorous cries. 5. This cock. It is an experiment in what Miller in Black Holes and Others refers to as “catachrestic performatives. or angry cries. What is “It?” The perverse performance of the final stanza can be best explained by saying that what Yeats is attempting is being attempted at the level of catachresis. or golden handiwork . .” whereas to “cox” means to fool. bird. common bird or petal?” How are we to think of the bird. The space or rather nonspace (“the labyrinth of the wind”) that the poem is evoking is neither a literal rendering of an actual space. as in the “cocks of Hades” in the “Byzantium” poem from the later volume The Winding Stair.
while the germ of Topographies is also being formed in this reading. . philosophy—is surely a kind of analogical positing or translation. war. like a Fuselian nightmare. 181). perverts all order and unity in the poem. philosophy.” and is therefore a nascent example of further readings in Black Holes and Others. the law. by poet or critic. or kept secret. making the essay an important locus for even further analysis. politics. Though to say that the poem is about some thing—structure. cancels itself out . law and so on. to inhibit its coming with a proper name. “It wastes itself. is it not? Yes and no in this case (another failure in logic there!) since to “bar the foul storm out” or to bar the system out seems both to become aware of the otherness of some other and to attempt to assert a kind of intrinsic difference. 343). . or philosophy and makes that system self-destruct. like the poem’s own frustrated endeavor. Even at the most linguistic moments reference to an event is never barred out. it is about the ruination of system and order. as I am . It is about the way the “foul storm” cannot be barred out because it always gets incorporated into any system of art. suspected. law. spends itself. This causes Miller to realize that “That the critic’s language may be defined as the continuous translation of what cannot be by any means ever given.” says Miller in another reading of Yeats. riddled with light. system. of love. In the latter work Yeats appears again as an example. In coming closer to a nonconcept of the wholly other we could imply that the poem is about nothing in particular. The attempt is quintessentially not to name that “it. It is about love. (LM. an attempt not to reduce the difference to something assimilable. But it is of course about something. in the original language” (LM. “like some crazy hand touching a daughter. Indeed it must conform to it. in the impossibility of deciding whether natural image or supernatural emblem takes precedence as the literal referent for which the other is the figure. driven out of all sense and reason by an effort of reading” (O.” a work with which “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” shares overriding similarities. of politics. however much it is suspended. It is bound to it by the Achtung! Ein andere of the poem (Readings 1996.” This theme begins to unravel in Miller’s reading of “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen. to some status of the selfsame in a violent act of stilling the unstillable. 162). the howling storm. “‘The Cold Heaven’ violently empties itself out. or mysterious X of the poem. This self-cancelling leaves the reader empty-handed. The “it” that is not named in Miller’s interpretation of “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” is always already the perverse otherness. as “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” continually destroys itself. It is.” wholly other. This is the ethic to which Miller’s reading conforms. 347) [emphasis added] 73 Like Blake’s “The Sick Rose.Protocols of Reading Also.
’ ‘at. without logos and without cessation—it turns “through” something as the etymology of the verb implies and as Miller points out: Words in “para” form one branch of the tangled labyrinth of words using some form of the Indo-European root per. enfolded.’ ‘first. Of course.” says Derrida.’ and a wide range of extended senses such as ‘in front of. Hillis Miller going. then it’s not good” (Derrida 2007. perhaps perversely. This root is the “base of prepositions and preverbs with the basic meaning of ‘forward. that has caused others to see in his work a radically subversive procedure. like seeing responsibility as a freedom greater than the freedom one has when there are necessary protocols. 459). “if the good is not pervertible.’ ‘near. “If there’s no possibility of being perverted. the ever-present chance that it will not be kept. “That all laws are perverse is no doubt something that will always have kept J.” (TNT. rules that can be a calculation in any decision.’ ‘through.’ ‘early. Perversion is neither an inversion at the level of polarity. this can be read. and its refusal to systematize is the hospitable counterpart to a methodology that would refine the differences between various “others” into an assimilable commodity. neither is it a subversion at the level of reduction or ruination. I claim that this version of the perverse can be of both a benign and a rigorous nature.’ ‘chief. since its dynamism is the very seductiveness of literature. Perversion is without center. It is also always already within the boundaries of language as well as without.74 J. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading calling it. 246). and that the purpose of any irreducibly performative language such as poetry is to highlight this activity.” according to Derrida in another late essay (Derrida 2005.” to take only one example.’ ‘toward. folded in. This is the condition of any promise. permeable and subtle in the same ways that the languages upon which they are based are likewise fluxional and changing.’ ‘before. protean. It is therefore not dialectical. It does not simply undermine in a counteractive or countervailing sense. Otherness is what cannot be assimilated.’ ‘against.’ ‘around’. Though seeing this. opens up a more immediate responsibility in criticism. Perversion is therefore not subversion. 144) Its twists and turns are never simply a point of process toward a teleology or eschatology. Do I name this enigma? Or do I let it stand? How can I respond to the text’s singularity and perverse otherness in a responsible manner? . The perverse is always already an uncanny part of the system as we can see here and has been exhaustively argued in “The Critic as Host. invaginated. by saying that it means that such laws are dynamic.
The most persuasive argument for this kind of respectful teaching comes at a moment when Scholes offers his own protocols for teaching and reading.Protocols of Reading 75 6. that is “profess. 54). they avoid what it is professors in English Departments are supposed to do. . They have avoided taking responsibility for their interpretations by steering clear of the “embarrassing T-word.” Tell the truth about things as they are. We have neither found a justified consensus for teaching the humanities to others in a modern university setting nor have we developed a methodology that will allow us to pass on our values to others. For Scholes the present crisis in the humanities is due to the fact that we have not found either protocols of reading or developed a sufficient faith in new humanities. is to lead students to a position of justified confidence in their own competence as textual consumers and their own eloquence as producers . The second is from Derrida’s much cited address to the Columbia Graduate School. “who would dare to say otherwise? And those who feel good about themselves are perhaps hiding something.” he says in relation to a perceived crisis in the humanities. “We need reasons for believing in our beliefs. . Here is Scholes’ imperative based on his reading of Derrida: The one thing a curriculum in English must do. We need protocols of reading and teaching” (Scholes 1998. whatever else it accomplishes on the way. It requires protocols of reading. and in doing so teach students to become better readers by finding out what it is that they are supposed to find when they read literary texts. They are critics who speak falsely because they have lost faith in themselves and what they teach. Two quotations from Derrida’s vast corpus make up what is essentially the argumentative basis of Scholes’ two books and the grist for his contention that Miller and others have misread Derrida. Such critics are “hypocritics” in Scholes’ wonderful neologism (Scholes 1998. from others or from themselves” (Derrida 1992c. . The Conflict of the Faculties”: “But we feel bad about ourselves. 39). 7).” Moreover. Why not say it bluntly: I have not yet found any that satisfy me” (Derrida 1981. critics like Miller who stop short of providing these answers “have become reluctant to make truth claims about the matters [they] teach” (Scholes 1998. The first is from Positions: “Reading is transformational. “Mochlos. The Crisis in Criticism According to the arguments Robert Scholes makes in Protocols of Reading and again in The Rise and Fall of English. 81). But this transformation cannot be executed however one wishes. 63). or.
of an institution without precedent. when we come to view these statements in light of my earlier discussions of the differences between Muriel Spark’s frightening novel and Bill Readings’ appeals to an otherness of thought the cracks begin to appear. This also means. What Scholes is missing in the quotation he responds to in Protocols of Reading is the latter part of the section taken from Positions: “Why not say it bluntly: I have not yet found any that satisfy me. Not a goal. It is also a performative declaration suggesting that the search for protocols of reading is ongoing. It is a calling for something to come. “Leading” students toward the right texts and teaching them the values of their immediate predecessors is not to my mind what Derrida would have envisioned in the wake of his arguments concerning a university without condition (“a place of unconditional resistance”). This is the paradox of the professor. without pre-institution” (Derrida 1992d. of course. Though knowing this does not change the possibilities of teaching the “wrong” books. “My law.” says Derrida in this interview with Derek Attridge. One can never gauge how a particular student is going to react to a text (HH. Teaching rhetoric and creating avenues for students to gain confidence in the basic skills of reading and writing about literature is exactly what should be happening in any English Department worthy of the name. nor is it what Bill Readings argues for in The University in Ruins in terms of a community of dissensus. along the way. “the dream of a new institution to be precise. 66) I don’t think many of us would disagree with the tenor of Scholes’s argument. we must be assigning the right texts and responding to the work of our students with an informed and rigorous sense of the rhetorical skills that they need to develop. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading of texts. is haunted by the possibility that one may have chosen the “wrong” texts. (Scholes 1998. Perhaps some truths are better left unsaid. . but those truths cannot be known directly or before acts of teaching and reading begin. 73). a dream or a promise. Scholes’s rhetoric is in fact worryingly close to Jean Brodie’s.” This statement is not a simple constative statement. whatever they may be. Or at least it should be. that. as Miller has often argued. That reading is a process. it certainly suspends the possibility to say that what is being presented in a classroom environment is the right book or books. Teaching. 164). It may have the most detrimental effects on that student’s life. And it is certainly not what Miller means by a responsible response to demands made on him by the always-excessive event of reading. Scholes has misread Derrida in this sense because Derrida’s suggestion is a kind of vocative.76 J. Nevertheless.
” Miller will say. 50). its singularity. then a criticism which would want to refute this would have to suggest that this is not the case. The most interesting thing about reading Yeat’s poem is that it is the best place in my opinion to see why critical reading cannot be taught by protocol or learnt by rote. I am claiming in what I have been doing throughout this book that my readings are right. One must in fact be irresponsible by responding as far as possible to the demands made by “the text of the other” that always inevitably change at the moment of countersigning. That I have hit upon the correct interpretation each time I’ve read Miller reading a text. Every critical reading. This. whether or not he has responded adequately to what I believe are the demands being made by those texts. its appeal which precedes me. uncovered. Such a criticism would need to prove that those last enigmatic lines of the poem can be revealed. in countersigning Miller. Thus. But I can only respond to it in an irresponsible way” (66). This is not really a simple contradiction. I’ve been arguing. its idiom. however covertly. signs which are neither literal nor figurative displacing one another and pointing indirectly to the impossibility of naming the place-no-place (the ex-centric center of the poem). claim to have hit upon the correct reading of either Miller or Yeats or both? It would seem from what both Derrida and Miller are saying at this point that I can’t do that. brought to light. though it would not be wise to count too confidently on the passivity of the texts we read. 71). even though a given text strongly calls us or demands of us that we read” (O. And that this is a direct contradiction of what has just been said concerning right reading. It passively abides our readings and misreadings. states that it is the correct reading: “All literary criticism tends to be the presentation of what claims to be the definitive rational explanation of the text in question” (FR. if we take the time to think about it. If Miller is right in saying that the poem is a series of catachrestic performatives. I have been claiming each time that other critics have missed this in their interpretations and I have therefore been hypothesizing new ways of seeing Miller’s works along the way. each countersignature is caught in an interchange between being responsible and being irresponsible. No measure exists to distinguish correct from incorrect readings. Their secret would need to be shared. though.Protocols of Reading 77 “is the text of the other. “does not explicitly confirm or disallow any of the ways we may read it. . How then can Miller say that he has hit upon the “right” reading of Yeats? And how can I. There is no way of ever knowing that one has responded adequately to Derrida’s law. “A book itself. since they may have unforeseen power over us. My claims have also come on the backs of the readings I have performed of primary texts. is the only way to see if Miller’s readings are indeed right or wrong.
C. without a safety net or protocol. The ungovernable does not occur that often. 51).78 J. Most of what goes on in the university is all too easily governed. 7. but logically incompatible. Harold Bloom. its presentation of a definite group of possible meanings which are systematically interconnected. The clear and rational expression of such a system of meanings is difficult. We are afforded neither the correct nor the incorrect path with Yeats. Denis Donoghue. like any poem. What happens when it is read? What is it about? What is its subject? What can be accounted for in terms of a closed economy of response? The task of answering these questions takes place as an urgent demand when the poem is read. “is that the best readings will be the ones which best account for the heterogeneity of the text. But the encounter with Yeats’s poem. That leap is always taken. he says. Hillis Miller say about “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen. The fault of premature closure is intrinsic to criticism” (FR.” Miller says in a similar instance of what can be legitimately called unreadability. Norman Jeffares. In fact it is self-governing. No amount of “leading” can bring him or her to a correct calculation.K. This urgency is a key to an understanding of what Miller’s work has elsewhere referred to as the ungovernable within the university. as when we say a machine has a ‘governor’ that keeps it from running too fast. After studying what Frank Kermode. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading At that precise moment the critic stands alone. The best claim that can be made is that each one of these critics sheds light on something that may not have been noticed before. “is the place where what counts is the ungoverned. Stead. Only a leap of faith can provide an answer. A. is an encounter. Protocols for Catachreses A protocol would like to make a decision of closure for you. individually. or that they have been able to bring us closer to an understanding of why a complete understanding is impossible. It will be a decision or series of decisions haunted by the ghost of the undecidable. That would be a calculable process whereby the critic could say with equanimity that the answer to the X of Yeats is Y. It turns around at a moderate speed and keeps repeating the same. and J. determined by the text.” a reader is actually in no better position than they were when they started. if it is a leap and not a calculation. the ungovernable. perhaps impossible. with something that requires an answer but that doesn’t provide a unilateral direction for comment. “My argument. a struggle. The university. Nevertheless. the university ought to have as its primary goal working to establish conditions propitious to the creation of the ungovernable” .
emerges at a given moment as a monster. “The terminology of narrative.” “cyberspace” are all examples of an inexorable human need for providing a logical or rational account of the new or the different (BH. (Derrida 2004. 24). In a work such as Glas. revitalized registers for an otherness at the limits of our knowledge. Transparently or not. “is universally catachresis. is to speak of a place where language is continuously reinvented. a monstrosity that questions at every turn the sovereignty of the . a “proper” sense to which it indirectly or equivocally refers. Terminologies employed to discuss narrative. Indeed. protocols of reading. Catachresis is a dissonant trope. since they are importations of words from another realm to cover over a semantic gap. 153–154) The monstrous power of catachrestic performatives on Miller’s account also calls for a new humanities which will always be a humanities to come. is one way of seeing how this ungovernable can come about. To speak of the university as the place were these catachrestic performatives are encountered. a trope for which protocols become troubled. base of so much theoretical seeing” (AT. a monstrous mutation without tradition or normative precedent. in the singularity and event of reading. eidos. 181). whereas catachresis is a violent production of meaning. Each is a trope breaking down the reassuring distinction between figure and ground. even when that reading believes it is following a protocol. The founding concepts of metaphysics—logos. what happens has the power to change the university fundamentally. another kind of writing.” says Miller. so that the text produces a language of its own.” are also catachrestic. etc. such as “line” or “character. in itself. how those books exceed expectation. 117). These words are what Miller has called catachreses for chaos. The word points to our inability to find a name for what happens in the ungovernable event of reading. perverted. theoria. while continuing to work through tradition. a violent writing which stakes out the faults (failles) and deviations of language. twisted. I am trying to produce new forms of catachresis. an abuse which refers to no anterior or proper norm. as I attempted to demonstrate in “White Mythology” (Marges de la philosophie [Margins of Philosophy]).Protocols of Reading 79 (BH.” “the information superhighway. “All the common names for the Internet and its programs are catachreses”: “the web.—are instances of catachresis rather than metaphors.” “the net.” “the galaxy. A study of the performative power of catachresis in the poems and novels being read in tertiary institutions. or other recent ones like it. Derrida has also pointed to this in his distinction between metaphor as “proper” analogy and catachresis as “abuse”: The term metaphor generally implies a relation to an original “property” of meaning. which.
177). 66). while also always already (and this is the supplementary logic Scholes misses in his analysis) describing the possibilities of seeing those examples undone by further acts of “good reading. an eternal return of difference structured in a différantial alogicality. Puttenham. an other heading which literature (like democracy) envisages always as a possibility. it inhabits the rigorous perversity and seductiveness of literary language. again. But one must be open to it to notice it before it disappears. Jennifer Williams has noticed. There is.3 The one that takes a proper name like line or cock and transfers it abusively to a place not its own. calling out into the empty space of some future anterior. The demands Miller’s works make on his readers are the demands he makes of himself. of saying what happens there (the encounter. The point is that his hesitation bespeaks something of the same rationale as the “messianicity without messianism” in Spectres of Marx.80 J. in love with the impossible coming of others. not a protocol of . actually gets it right. the turning. what arrives). have also inferred. as opposed to inadvertently supporting the status quo” (BH. none of them lead us home—they are all uncanny. is a way to see this happening. no prefigured teleoeschatology in Miller’s readings. a monster of fidelity. a responsibility to the text being read. no protocols stipulating a kind of pre-programed response or horizon of expectation. then.” rhetorical reading. rather. unheimlich. My point. as I’ve suggested. Cicero. each in their way. Thus “Only teaching or writing that is performatively effective will make anything happen institutionally and politically. in calling Miller’s readings perverse. what we find is an infinite responsibility to an other calling. of a passion for the impossible. in a superb essay comparing Miller’s ethics of reading with Augustinian ethics.” which is not surprising (RN.” The OED refers to catachresis as “a perversion of metaphor” as indeed Quintilian. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading university over the power of the reader. is that Scholes. in the blink of an eye. of the à-venir. What Miller simply refers to as “good reading. When Derrida speaks in Positions of “protocols of reading. 230). Catachresis is pervasive in literature and therefore also in criticism. We might come to see then that while Miller’s journeys through literary texts provide many paths.” he is speaking. in a performative or vocative manner. “For Augustine caritas involves a focus on the end of the journey—on home—while eros [which is Miller’s muse] involves a ‘perverse enjoyment’ of the rest of the world” (Williams 2005. Miller is a perverse reader. A governing theoretical insistence for consensus in the university setting will always seek to justify itself through an Arnoldian nostalgia for “Culture. He’s the most perverse critic of them all.
with beginning again. it has gone as far as it can logically go. . trembling perhaps. 82). will be drawn to a similar monstrous conclusion. with the hope of the new. with welcoming the future. For when it stops short of giving proper names for what Wallace Stevens calls the “dominant X.Protocols of Reading 81 absolute responsibility to an ideal sovereignty but a futurity based on a simple. “Each kiss. But they will only see it when they read the strange texts Miller reads for themselves.4 After that a new kind of writing and a new kind of reading is required. given enough time. I suspect. another X. XXX. I believe that Miller is right in this and that all right-thinking people. in its infinite hospitality and openness to the future arrival of the ungovernable. the unforeseeable and the unpredictable. begins with a kiss. It’s as far as any criticism can go. Good reading is in love with these performative new starts.” which it is the motive of metaphor to domesticate. Each one right for that time and moment only. is sui generis” (LC. All new reading and writing. That is as far as he can take you.
1 Friedrich Nietzsche. “who really. Spectres of Marks “There has never been a scholar. A traditional scholar does not believe in ghosts—nor in all that could be called the virtual space of spectrality” (Derrida 2006. I am reminded of a short essay by Derek Attridge which speaks of such a thing called “ghost writing. It spoke of a Protestant heritage and fidelity to an original text without being able to give a straight answer. Miller’s reply. which appear to the living to remind them of their responsibility. before whom am I responsible?” (Attridge 1996. Miller is one of these scholars.Chapter 5 Reading Parable Den Gott verhüllt seine Schönheit: so verbirgst du deine Sterne. “Where does this responsibility [in acts of reading] come from? [Lewis] wanted to know.” he claims (LC. it must be an allegory. It’s the ghostliest body of work I know. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner 1. Du redest nicht: so kündest du mir deine Weisheit. and as a scholar. But this does not mean that he doesn’t deal with them. Also Sprach Zarathustra What can this work be? Sure. “I do not. to demand justice” (224). you will say. for whom. Miller’s work is chock-full of ghosts. It calls us because that “peculiar institution we know as ‘literature’ is haunted by many ghosts. In saying this. 299). or the ghost. James Hogg. was evasive. 223). He is no Elijah. And neither does he believe that he is being called by that “still small voice” that others have claimed they can hear when they are reading and writing about literature. Derrida’s answer. or (as the writer calls it) a religious PARABLE. no prophet. In fact. myself. it’s a kind of ghost writing. the revenant which is also an arrivant” (224). believe in ghosts. 12). is that “responsibility comes from a ghost. deals with ghosts. for Attridge. to test them. Who lays it upon me? Who calls me to be responsible? And to whom.” In this paper Attridge makes reference to a response Miller gave to a question put to him by Philip Lewis at the “Deconstruction Is/In America” conference in New York in October 1993. A demand for .” says Derrida at the beginning of Spectres of Marx. showing the dreadful danger of selfrighteousness? I cannot tell. we are told.
no literature” (T. oui. This is the responsibility we have to ghosts. It is the one thing we can say is indispensable. But never in quite the same way. . responsible. on the assumption that the absent. and in searching for this how he allows it happen again. 18). All readers are necromancers. its ontology is a hauntology. to what we are responsible and that which demands justice. Again. Prosopopoeia is the inaugural trope of literature. 72). Each work cries out to be read. the inanimate. One problem with this is that this responsibility is not a choice. Something happens again. Miller is an arch-virtual-necrophiliac. in a shadowy way. if there is such a thing. “They depend. Without prosopopoeia no poetry. It is what happens when we read. seeking a reader to bring it to life again. Something happens. Viens. veni foras. like the ghosts in Kafka’s Letters to Milena drinking up kisses and dislocating souls (TPP. The demand issues from all those books sitting together on the bookshelves of our homes and libraries. . what comes.” then Miller’s work is exemplary in having been the single most responsive critical account of how this works in literature (224). in the sense that we can choose how or when to respond to this demand. and even read again and again” (VP. “Reading is one major form of responsibility the living have to the dead” (T. oui. what arrives. responsive reading. no narrative. If Attridge is right in what he says next. Reading is the art and practice of a dark magic called necromancy. Reading in other words. Spookily. and. or a name to what is absent. 171–180).” he has consistently said. This is where the ethics of reading starts for Miller. Miller is in love with the fortuitous arrival of the ghosts of literature.Reading Parable 83 justice in literature for Attridge’s Derrida arises from the fact that “the ghost is literature. and “the ghost is prosopopoeia and apostrophe in their most violent form. 75). He lets these others come. a face. And we remember that deconstruction. It is the word we use to describe this virtual spectrality. an ethical response to an act of spectralization. To make it live again. “All prosopopoeias are visits to the underworld. dare I say it. what we do when we ascribe a voice. All of our obligations to literature are haunted by our obligations to the dead that live on/ in literature. “The ethics of reading begins with the reader’s response to a parallel demand that each text be read. and the dead are waiting somewhere to be brought back to life by the words of the poet or orator . Miller is in love with how this happens. . Its very condition is ghostly. A manipulation of this trope is the key to all good.” Not only has literature always been haunted by ghosts. Lazare. His questions have always dealt with something we might call virtu(e) ality. is just what happens.
We cannot see it. The Thing is still invisible. it is nothing visible” (5). to recall Wallace Stevens’ phrase. Neither does one know whether or not it is even dead or alive. that concerns us [qui nous regarde]. psychoanalysis as much as philosophy . a space of the unnameable. The armor of the ghost “lets one see nothing of the spectral body. “this being-there of an absent or departed one no longer belongs to knowledge” (Derrida 2006. some thing ‘this thing. 5).”2 But one cannot force a ghost to speak. will you ever be able to do so?’ ” (Derrida 2006. it permits the so-called father to see and to speak . this thing that looks at us. Though “understanding” is not quite the right word. but “The Thing meanwhile [“meanwhile” in a disjointed time—ED] looks at us and sees us not see it even when it is there. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading 2. between what is brought to light and what is kept secret. speak. When one speaks of ghosts one doesn’t speak knowledgeably of a thing or no-thing but of an absence. . Reading the face will therefore . A spectral asymmetry interrupts here all specularity.84 J. Belonging to a different ontology.” posits Derrida. “the visor effect: we do not see who looks at us” (6).3 Indeed. “Here is—or rather there is. what borders seeing and not seeing. it is also a mark of authority. And “one always inherits from a secret—which says ‘read me. The helmet. Or rather the ghost is what remains invisible. 18). “‘Stay! Speak. The visor is a display of authority by being a boundary line for what we can and cannot see—a kind of spectral allowance. comes to defy semantics as much as ontology. the visor effect is the space of secrecy itself. speak’ is what Horatio says to the ghost of Hamlet’s father in the opening scene of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.’ but this thing and not any other. I charge thee. but at the level of the head and beneath the visor. . This is a crucial point for what will follow here. It can see us but we cannot see it. The “Thing” as Derrida refers to it is both thing and no thing. . over there. . The Visor Effect It is Hamlet’s father’s ghost that Derrida speaks of at the beginning of Spectres of Marx. did not merely offer protection: it topped off the coat of arms and indicated the chief’s authority. The ghost remains. The visor effect is therefore central to an understanding of this hauntology. it recalls us to anachrony. like the blazon of his nobility” (7). anyone or anything. It is the lynchpin of what he will say throughout the book and beyond the book. It de-synchronizes. It is a ghostly demarcation. The visor effect is “presupposed by everything” he says in Spectres and about spectres in general. The ghost of Hamlet’s father is no thing visible. Not only does this armor hide what is visible beneath the visor. an unnameable thing: something. between something and someone. We will call this.
erroneousness. “There was but one thing remarkable in his appearance.”5 On this occasion. Mr.” as is the face which keeps its secrets (Derrida 1996. or prescribes a face and a figure” (VP. Hooper had on a black veil” (186). 3. and hanging down over his face.4 But his realization is impossible. Such is the overriding image we glean from “The Minister’s Black Veil. Swathed about his forehead. Reading the mind’s construction in the face is the reader’s responsibility par excellence and simultaneously an egregious irresponsibility. and disfigures even as it confers. is the error of prosopopoeia.Reading Parable 85 always already have been a question of secrecy and of the impossibility of reading. “The law of personification is that for a sharp reader it uncovers as it covers over. And yet nothing is more fundamental to our existence as humans than those prosopopoeic projections that stretch out from our imaginations into the ethereal non-world of le tout autre. read men’s minds in their faces. so innate that it is difficult to imagine how it occurs. defaces. arrives one sunny Sabbath morning to perform his weekly sermon. in his “starched collar” and with “due clerical neatness. between the other and myself. In a plot that seems rudimentary and uncomplicated. The first error of reading. If “there is no face-to-face exchange of looks between God and myself. Prosopopoeia effaces. as Duncan does. His parishioners play games and admire one another’s shinning Sunday garb and fresh complexions. It is merely a realization of an excessive responsibility in the face of an excessive alterity.” if we can say with any degree of accuracy that there is an image to be had.” my responsibility in positing or projecting that face is groundless and secret. . The minister paces meditatively toward the church. as he has always done. or futility of the operation. ascribes. 227). Mr.11–12). the only way to see how that law works is through another act of prosopopoeia. even though we may know this to be impossible. a local Reverend. so that the reader must read in order to see how the reading works. and here is the irony that runs alongside the law. so low as to be shaken by his breath. We must as an irreducible necessity in life. 90–91). Though. is by no means an overcoming of the necessity. King Duncan forecasts his own demise at the hands of Macbeth by saying that he has misjudged him: “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face” (1. we can say. Hooper. however. Prosopopoeia begets prosopopoeia.4. Reading the “The Minister’s Black Veil” In a moment of supreme clarity in an otherwise dark and shadowy universe. The veil is “of the order of the visible in-visible. Knowing this.
no violence. First. 4. They tend to see this veil as an affront to their pious sensibilities. And. This reading without reading. they see it as something deplorable: “He has changed himself into something awful. except for the black veil” of course. When Hooper finally addresses his audience ex cathedra he is. perhaps even for Puritan New Englanders. Others believe he has gone mad.86 J. at least. Second. Hooper said. become triply removed from the events taking place on the pulpit. Several people subsequently leave the “meeting-house” as a consequence of such a belief. No answers are offered by the story or by the narrator. The veil sets off a rapidly oscillating motion between what the characters are doing and saying around our oddly bedecked Reverend and what the Reverend is doing and saying with his veil. Nobody knows how to respond to it or how to read it. In a strange and somewhat unsettling shift of point of view. “face to face with his congregation. the congregation become enraged by the minister’s action. simply left clueless. unlike the Catholic priests of the time. and yet. finally. since he does not see through the veil to the meaning of the reading. Is the Black Veil a Parable? Why does Hawthorne subtitle his story “A Parable?” One possible answer is the obvious parallel between Hooper’s veil and the one worn by Moses . Somewhat predictably. with every tremor of his melancholy voice. though everything is the same. the congregation are doubly removed from the obscure hermeneutics of the minister. These responses catalog a spectrum of reactions to something that cannot really be given one appropriate response: a spectral-spectrum result. “only by hiding his face” (186).” remarks an old lady. the readers of the story. While still others see it as an untimely joke and laugh vigorously and delightedly sotto voce. as he read[s] the Scriptures” (187). In the blink of an eye the story becomes a reading of the reading of the veil and this Reverend becomes a revenant. or a reading as if through a glass. the real outsideroutsiders. the shift from the minister’s reading to the reading of the minister: “There was nothing terrible in what Mr. There is also. We are. Third. as we’ve seen. a spectre. the minister is also blind to the reading he is performing. the hearers quaked” (188). the subject of the story suddenly becomes the subject of the characters in the story too. In more extreme cases. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading Everything henceforth changes. darkly—the veil separating the face and eyes from the page and the face and the eyes from the faces beyond—suggests a number of things. an adornment which throws “obscurity between him and the holy page. our omniscient narrator is no longer omniscient. like the citizens of Milford. save for the black veil.
Moses hides the very glory of God from his people. 148). 133). the vail is upon their heart” (2 Cor. then . until he came out” (34. Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel” (Exod. He wears a veil because his face is still shinning with the Lord’s radiance: “But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him. when Moses is read. In a remarkable and at times slightly rancorous reading of the story of Moses. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians as an exemplary case of the interrelationship between the literal and the figurative in biblical parables (Dryden 1977. But it is also one we cannot really answer. Why does Moses hide this divine glow from the people? Why does he only speak with God face-to-face and not his followers? In a brilliant reading. so that “even unto this day. But Moses does not encounter his people face-to-face when he comes away from his meetings with God. “can the subtitle be seen as an interpretive clue to the reader that will allow him or her to place the text within a contextual order by establishing a set of generic expectations?” (1977.33). then the story is not really about Mr. If “The Minister’s Black Veil” is taken to be an extended form of a biblical parable. An interpretation exposes a leap of faith in the reader. Paul an unforgivable act of apostasy. after 40 days and 40 nights. to his people the children of Israel.15). he took the vail off. as faithful amanuensis to God. Hooper’s predicament. St. He speaks of a “new covenant” inscribed in the hearts of men.27). where the minister becomes a reimagining of Moses. Paul tells the story Moses tells otherwise by reinterpreting it.6 Moses. If “The Minister’s Black Veil” is not a religious parable. Readers fall on either side of Moses or St. In the second book of the Pentateuch. This is perhaps the most important question we can ask of the story. Paul. for the letter killeth.6). 3. Paul Mosaic Law also becomes a dead letter if it is not internalized in the new covenant of the Lord as a spiritual awakening.Reading Parable 87 in Exodus. 34. inscribes the letter of the divine Law and returns. Paul speaks of the danger of the letter as a death knell to spiritual freedom. “not of the letter. 3. The importance of Paul’s epistles to the Corinthians is that we encounter an oblique interpretation and discussion of this scene on Sinai and a critique of the symbolic importance of the veil in Exodus. Moses returns from Mount Sinai with the Sacred Covenant (the Ten Commandments) dictated to him by God: “And the Lord said unto Moses. Readers of Hawthorne’s tale are called on to do the same in their interpretations of the Minister’s veil. For St. Edgar Dryden has argued that this scene should be taken alongside St. Hiding the celestial light of God behind a veil is for St. “To what extent. but the spirit giveth life” (2 Cor. but of the spirit.” Dryden asks.
” since doing so would result in a generic mise en abyme. reimagined in all stories. raises the question of belonging to its highest pitch. . creative and informed interpretation (Kermode 1989. however. and not understand” (Mk 4. Etymogically “parable” means “thrown beside. Jesus puts it to his disciples (insiders) like this: “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without. as James Hogg knew only too well. and not perceive. . A parable is a short realistic story that is really a story about something else. something that can only be said indirectly. What parables do is conceal as well as reveal a riddle. 152). Let me explain this a little further by explaining what it is about parables that deny generic status. Parables. 5.” says Miller. of the incalculable and unknowable. not stricto sensu a parable at all. which. in short.” “The paradox of parable. if taken to its logical limit. separate outsiders from insiders. seeing they may see. Miller’s Parable of Paradox The truth about “The Minister’s Black Veil” is that there is no mention of Moses in the story and the critic is led to read into it the significance of its biblical correspondence by a process of what Kermode elsewhere calls “divination.11–12). will question any interpretive code we attempt to apply. The parable. and hearing they may hear. is that the one thing that can be said about the story is that it opens onto a question of reading. but in choosing we also deny the parable its status as parable.” inspired. “is that it is a likeness that rests on a manifest unlikeness between what is given and what cannot by any means be given directly” (TPP.” The German word for parable is Gleichnis. rewritten. all these things are done in parables . There are many more markers here than I have pointed out that would lead us to read it in this way.” in the Greek and Hebrew equivalent it means “riddle. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading the story becomes an historical account of a bizarre local scene in New England. 136). The leap is not wholly unjustifiable. . inside and outside of whatever generic models or affiliations we seek to find them. We must choose between the two. They are cryptographic thematizations of the role of storytelling itself—refigured. “likeness. We may even say that the parable is the genre-non-genre that enables and disables criticism.88 J. The significance of the term parable is that it serves to efface its belonging rather than being the “clue to” or “the way in” as Dryden suggests. They tell of the advent of the excessive. The problem. according to Frank Kermode in The Genesis of Secrecy. One could hardly do better than to subtitle one’s own story “A Parable. those who can read them from those who can’t.
The moral put into the mouth of the dying minister will be supposed to convey the true import of the narrative. 92). and that a crime of dark dye (having reference to the “young lady”) has been committed. Surely putting a black cloth over your face is a little odd. But Poe’s criticism can only be speculation since there is nothing concrete in the text to back up the argument. the insider hearing. 92) Who would want to be one of the rabble content with the “obvious meaning?” And who would ever admit to not knowing the “insinuated” meaning? And yet doesn’t the madness of the act. That being so. 85). If you need them you will not understand them” (T. One of the most famous criticisms is Edgar Allan Poe’s confident assertion that the reason for the veil is a secret sexual indiscretion: “The Minister’s Black Veil” is a masterly composition of which the sole defect is that to the rabble its exquisite skill will be caviare. Perhaps. Of course critics have tended to take the wearing of the veil as cause for admonishing Father Hooper and for reading into his character the subject of his initial sermon’s secret sins. There is an odd aspect of release in the exuberant penetration of this interpretation. one of the extraordinary features of Hawthorne’s tale is that it keeps generating such insider readings. (Quoted in Kaul 1966. conclude that the story can only be about “an addiction to masturbation?” (Donoghue 2005. 51).8 . 187). betoken a kind of alogics foreign to this two-tiered stratification subscribed to by Poe? “The paradox of Jesus’ parables. Poe reads this story like one of his detective fictions. two remarkably subtle readers. If you can understand them you do not need them. But for no reason! Now that’s just absurd. muses Miller.” says Miller (HH. seeing and understanding the Omniscient’s Word and defending it against the wilful obscurity and wrathfulness attributed to it by Mark. As a result it must also follow that “any judgement passed upon the moral character of the [minister] must therefore be somewhat gratuitous” (Stein 1955. like the parables of Jesus. is a point which only minds congenial with that of the author will perceive. Poe’s own personal preference is that “Hooper likes them dead” (HH.” Miller will say time and again in various works. Indeed. The obvious meaning of this tale will be found to smother its insinuated one. 111). 386).Reading Parable 89 “The reading of the story culminates in the double proposition that the story is the unveiling of the possibility of the impossibility of unveiling.7 Such is the defining trait of the parable. In this Poe becomes like Matthew in the Bible. saying that “Hawthorne’s insinuations make it abundantly clear where to look for a sin: in the sexual sphere” (Kaul 1966. God only knows why William Empson and Denis Donoghue. “is that they are addressed to ears that will not understand them.
as outsiders. Miller sees this story “as a simultaneous unmasking of the trope of prosopopoeia and recognition of its ineluctable reaffirmation in the very terms used to unmask it. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading If. then we can also see how it defaces in the way that storytelling is always a positional or perspectival exercise. we take “The Veil” as prima facie a question about reading faces. They also tell . Only a reading will tell. a gaze which is reflected back to us in the act of reading. 51). The point for de Man is that. “are blind to the possibility that nothing is being concealed—or that concealment is what is being revealed. in a sense.” like the congregation. Another wonderfully allergenic statement there! What on earth does that mean? What it does not mean is that death is in and of itself a linguistic event. we also run into problems.” Her question emphasizes Miller’s paradox: “is the act of reading always. For Barbara Johnson. We see or do not see that the text questions the faces we project onto the text. but by that time it will be too late.90 J. and in doing so tell us of the impossibility of proffering a face that can never escape further disfigurement.” Therefore the story dramatizes the “inescability of allegorical structures in the conduct of ‘real’ life. De Man certainly does not insanely deny the very real event of dying. like any other tropes. can also be described as a problem with figuration (“literally” face-giving). for example in the word ‘unmask’” (HH. 6. 81). “Death is a displaced name for a linguistic predicament” (de Man 1984. that disfigure or deface their subject matters. narrating a person’s life after death is a task that tells us something about the way language works as “privation. like autobiography. The materiality of the text itself becomes like the veil the minister is wearing to ward off our piercing gaze. In order to unmask we must first project a mask. critics of “The Veil.” If we think of autobiography as a task that attempts to give a “face” to someone. This positionality or perspectivism. How could he? Neither of course does Miller. 148). Autobiography is an exemplary generic expression of the impossible possibility of prosopopoeia. Death is a Linguistic Predicament? Quite infamously for Paul de Man in The Rhetoric of Romanticism. an act of resistance to the letter?” (Johnson 1985. Prosopopoeias are projections. The minister’s veil interrupts the process of interpretation just as the textual veil we are only becoming aware of interrupts that process of reading also by showing itself as an allegory of reading. who in the final pages of Hawthorne and History builds upon this phrase as an insistence to rethink the relationship of the trope of prosopopoeia with death and history. if we think of it linguistically.
that it is the normal state of affairs. 191). When he is redoubled. and makes him ghost-like from head to foot. Such is the case when he is celebrating the wedding mass and catches a fleeting glimpse of his own image in a mirror.Reading Parable 91 us of the necessity of the act of projection. This means that all speech acts that have death as their subject matter are by definition catachreses. a self that once was it-self. the minister is afraid to be alone with himself when he can see his own reflection given back to himself in the mirror. he has become ghostly to himself in an uncannily self-sub-dividing manner. This “vagary” is an indecisiveness that the people of Milford are unable or unwilling to accept. His frame shuddered—his lips grew white—he spilt the untasted wine on the carpet—and rushed forth into the darkness” (Hawthorne 1987. . “and I would not be alone with him for the world. When one of Hooper’s congregation proclaims to her husband that it is strange that such “a simple black veil” should become such a “terrible thing” on their minister’s face. drops his chalice. even on a sober-minded man like myself. The minister has not only become ghostly to his worshippers. the physician of the village. 172). He is ghostly in such a way that he is become “two-to-speak. though it covers only our parson’s face. What this amounts to is a question mark that the reader is left to figure out for him. throws its influence over his whole person. he becomes petrified. a speech act which performatively ascribes a name to something other. Do you not feel it so?” “Truly I do. rather. some of whom travel great distances for the spectacle (the spectre-spectacle). since they attempt to cast insight into that unilluminable darkness of the absolutely unknowable. “‘Death’ is a catachresis for what can never be named properly” (VP. and runs out of the church: “catching a glimpse of his figure in the looking-glass . something which human knowledge has no other way of describing. as Barbara Johnson says. “But the strangest part of the affair is the effect of this vagary. They are therefore all performances of the unknowable.” as Derrida would have it. forgetting. Or. . He is both narrator of and actor in his own tale. I wonder he is not afraid to be alone with himself!”.” observed her husband. passionate pleas (and a plea is a performative speech act) for an answer to a question that can never be answered. given back like the ghost which returns as a hollowed out reflection of the self. (189) The fact of the matter is that the minister is afraid to be alone with himself. The black veil.” replied the lady. her husband gives the following startling reply: “Something must surely be amiss with Mr Hooper’s intellects. .or herself.
just. would think of a subject as a linguistic function? And who could say that the language of the text speaks “me?” “As a reader of [Emmanuel] Levinas. for instance. that takes possession of the ‘I’ to think itself. that there is no theoretical standpoint outside of our readings to say that we don’t read . 108). Perhaps. via de Man. But it is not Miller’s point to say that language speaks and that there is nothing beyond that. It is not an ‘I’ who speaks or writes. Death. He is not anthropomorphizing language in that way. Rather his point is. cannot be killed. The desire to do so is the desire to stem the tide of the irrational. 126). “When he puts on the black veil the Reverend Hooper is as if he were already dead” (HH. 93). The last lines tell us that this “preternatural horror” goes on. there already within language. Who. This would mean that “The Veil” is a ghost story that is simultaneously not a ghost story. This all sounds like a radical linguisticism to me.92 J. A ghost. Or that real people are just fictional or notional constructs. or write itself and thereby enters history. all ghost stories go on in precisely the same way. Reading the story amounts to the same desire. we might say. This desire is an ideology that cancels itself out at the moment of death. when the minister is interred with his veil unremoved. It is an impersonal possibility of thinking. speak itself. When it enters history it makes things happen as they happen” (HH. as the reaction to his own image in the mirror is a residual manifestation of the desire for a detached self-awareness that cancels out the phantom other. speaking. It would also lend credence to the way that “The Veil” is not finished as such. “I would feel squeamish about thinking of other people—even imagined people—as fictive or notional: it’s a habit I wouldn’t like to take up” (Donoghue 1998. When the minister dies we think that we can see through the mask to the being that was but is no longer and no more. as it is an act of reading that seeks to unveil in an apocalyptic moment of theoretical seeing (we remember that the word “theory” means “to see through”). like James’s The Turn of the Screw.” says Denis Donoghue contra Miller and de Man. in any of these effectively working historical actions. writing. is no longer the comfortable terminal they wished for. underground. by definition. Quite so. The nonphenomenal materiality of the text causes the reading “I” to be displaced as a linguistic subject in the act of reading: “The ‘I’ becomes a linguistic function in a process that occurs of its own accord and is authorized by no independent witnessing ‘I’. Miller’s paradox (like de Man’s) is that this seeing in reading is a confusion of a linguistic with a material reality. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading For Miller. However. the assurance the citizens of Milford have sought as consolation for the unease at which they gazed on the ghostly figure of their living minister.
Language rather than being a dead poem concealing the distant din of some primordial “Saying” echoing through eons of human history. It happens as an event. Neither is he capable of claiming that he can read anything he likes into the text. The phrase de Man uses in Allegories of Reading as a parody of a Heideggerian concept. the “squirming facts exceed the squamous mind” (Stevens 1990. It is a problem with what language does in the event of reading and the reactions we have to language’s power to make things happen which we cannot foresee. All of these readings in whatever degree provide history with its material base. “means both ‘Language promises’ and ‘Language makes a slip of the tongue” (Miller 2002. A Passion for the Secret Let me make a promise to tell you a secret. The problem is one of demand and event. It promises a revelation that never comes. a confusion between a prosopopoeic projection and a material base can never release us from the fact that the error will and has always already occurred. Like the parables these narratives forbid and demand interpretation simultaneously. and as Wallace Stevens eloquently puts it. In both of these senses it is apocalyptic (an un-veiling). On the one hand. like a story without an ending. Reading like life goes on. Each of the characters in Hawthorne’s story perform their own act of reading as I do mine and Miller his. Just as . Miller says. 7. It promises without keeping its promise. that we bear alone. 215). This promise it can never keep” (ER. But haven’t I already done so? Hawthorne’s text promises in the same way. acts of reading and writing do two things that cannot ever be fully reconciled. Die Sprache verspricht (sich). 35). just like the reading of the minister’s veil happened as an event for the people of Milford. On the other hand. The latter is a responsibility. seeing this linguistic moment as a confusion between “symbol and type” and an external reality. which Miller takes up in various works of his own. operates by promising and denying its promise: “Language promises. but what it promises is itself.Reading Parable 93 into people’s faces the constructs of our own minds and that we are not controlled in this by the vocabularies we use to describe this experience. they disarticulate the independent witnessing “I” by reducing “it” to a linguistic function in that moment of reading which cannot be entered into freely. Thus. There is no Olympian height outside of the text to say that a theory can show you that language can be used precisely for such and such a purpose. 17). an enigma that can never be fully brought into the light by an overarching theoretical awareness.
It is also Levinas’s favorite play. Second Witch: Demand. that is.” says Lady Macbeth. ghosts and disjointed times.”9 “You’re face. your tongue. Like those “imperfect speakers. Each time the emphasis is placed on the reading of the face there exists a reference to time. . . Even till destruction sicken. To beguile the time.63–77) . it. But of course this is doublespeak. Third Witch: We’ll answer. (4. by cancelling out or overlooking the impossibility of reading the face. . We read. To “beguile the time” is a reference to the way Macbeth is being urged by his wife to act as a gracious host while plotting to murder his guest. . the king. black. To say “the face de-faces” is to contradict oneself and create a vicious paradox in the same breath. and mock the time with fairest show.” the Weird Sisters. because it is perhaps an even more extensive disquisition on this so-called visor effect than the play we began with. Be unlike the time and be like the time. your hand. A little later Macbeth will draw on the same metaphor: “Away. look like the innocent flower. But it is also something that hides. by placing one reading above another. “the face de-faces . For an example I return to Macbeth. False face must hide what the false heart doth know” (1. . as it is throughout the play.94 J. an equivocation. a play full of faces. 216). maybe the most important phrase of the book. How can one be either? The equivocation is crucial. In fact. contretemps. my thane. “is a book where men may read strange matters. What is’t you do? All the Witches: A deed without a name. The face is precisely that which is seen. In doing this we performatively breathe life into the play as does Macbeth into the witches: Macbeth: How now. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading Miller’s key phrase.7. Lady Macbeth says two things simultaneously. you secret. Macbeth: I conjure you by that which you profess. like Moses’ face when confronting the Lord.5.61–65). look like the time.81–82).1. Howe’er you come to know it. First Witch: Speak. and midnight hags. naked and bare. answer me. “the future in an instant. The face is what is apparent to us in the most naked way and yet it is the thing we cannot know. We read the impossibility of reading in the face of things. whereas to “look like the time” is a repetition of that sentiment. but be the serpent under’t” (1. “All may be said to equivocate. answer me To what I ask you. by imposing the interpretation. bear welcome in your eye.” simulates that mode of speaking which gives and takes away simultaneously. and on their equivocal variety we impose our limited interpretations” (Kermode 2000.
beginning with Lady Macbeth’s own conjuring call: Lady Macbeth: Come on. speak” is what to all intents and purposes Macbeth is saying: “answer me to what I ask you. both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth enter into a kind of madness. The “speak. projecting other faces. defacing their faces. But in doing so they also ironically become . “why do you conjure up these ghosts?” The visor is. Present him eminence Both with eye and tongue.” he says in an oddly comical prosthetic metaphor.” “demand. But it never comes. And so I pray be you. But Macbeth hasn’t ears to hear them: “Had I three ears I’d hear thee. that they tell him the truth. this disjointing becomes pervasive: “life. The “frame of things disjoint. Lady Macbeth’s reaction to her husband’s shock will be to ask: “Why do you make such faces?” That phrase can be read in at least two different ways: “why do you look like you’ve seen a ghost?” Or. Like the literary critic.” Then follow the famous prophecies told indirectly. Once recognized. or. as we can see. Macbeth is searching for the assurance that he has got it right. as do the apparitions.” says Macbeth. It is not a real visor but a ghostly one. be bright and jovial Among your guests tonight. Disguising what they are. gentle my lord.28–35) Macbeth has by this time ordered Banquo’s assassination and will see his ghost appear at the banquet table.” “we’ll answer” therefore sounds ironic. I charge thee. They are repeating back to him the imperatives he delivers to them. like the parables. They begin to understand the impossibility of reading the face. Their faces protect their hearts by obscuring their guilt and culpability. they begin to understand a certain fallaciousness in all acts of prosopopoeic projection.Reading Parable 95 Macbeth “conjures” these witches and demands of them that they profess their secrets. love. “Stay! Speak. speak. Macbeth: So shall I. by the three apparitions.” so that he will be able to make sense of the prophecies. And in a further extension of this sentiment. he calls for “But one word more. The “visor effect” causes both to enter into a world of ghosts. The secret hags maintain their secrets. And he is never able to read the apparitions correctly.” By beguiling time and looking like the time. used here figuratively. both worlds suffer” [aus den Fugen]. “is like a walking shadow. Let your remembrance Apply to Banquo. rather. (3. Sleek o’er your rugged looks. unsafe the while that we Must lave our honours in these flattering streams And make our faces visors to our hearts.4. They hide their true intentions and desires beneath the visors of their own faces.
but also something that calls for expression. and can tell you it is not a bad study. 72). Doubtlessly. “Do you ever try to read your own face?” says Bram Stoker’s Lucy in a letter to Mina. In this we can say that these works are specifically about that procedure of telling secrets. “Literature. He refers to this secrecy as something “heterogeneous to the hidden. Each one asks this question in terms of how we manipulate the trope of prosopopoeia. Therefore. A play. dissimulation/revelation. turning around the inaugural trope of reading: prosopopoeia. This call is something that impassions in all senses of that . though answers to the questions they pose may be essential to a reading of the work” (O. of uncovering the intentions and desires beneath the visor. and gives you more trouble than you can well fancy if you have ever tried it” (Stoker 1994. our own and others’. imprinted on a surface that cannot be gone behind. an appropriate warning for anyone interested in following these questions up in literary texts. “Passions: An Oblique Offering.” something that “remains inviolable even when one thinks one has revealed it.” says Miller “keeps its secret. But the gap between what we know is going on in the story and what we can sense is going on there is an uncrossable chasm. They are works which exemplify the critical impulse in their characters to perform on another level what the reader is supposed to be doing while reading the story. we might come to see that Macbeth is a play concerned with what it means to read faces. literally. Thinking of literature in this way leaves us where we began. something other to knowledge.” Derrida poses the question of the secret as a literary phenomenon. 152). night/day. etc. “It simply exceeds the play of veiling/unveiling. In what has become one of the major touchstones for readers of Derrida’s concerns with literature. “I do.” (Derrida 1992b. in other words. forgetting/anamnesis. earth/heaven. It doesn’t bring us any closer to being able to say “ah ha! This is what it’s all about. What are the “secret sins” Hawthorne’s works so consistently pursue? What is beneath the veil (the visor) in “The Minister’s Black Veil” and Macbeth? The need to provide answers for these questions is one of the peculiar demands each of these works places squarely on its readers’ shoulders. all there in the words on the page. This means that there are certain secrets or enigmas in a work of literature that cannot by any means be penetrated. A work of literature is all on the surface. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading aware of the impossibility of reading the faces and desires of others.” What happens is something else entirely. The distinction between the literal and the figurative becomes breached any time we discuss the face in this way. 21).” This secret is not something hidden in literature that we can unearth or dig up. They realize that faces are places where men may read strange thoughts because upon each and every single face is a black veil or visor.96 J.
109). “Derrida’s most concentrated and most eloquent expression of the connection he sees between the secret and acts of literature. about the meaning of a text. no mind of Hamlet outside Hamlet. it is in principle absolutely impossible to uncover this secret” (Miller 2001. per impossibile. “The reader cannot make decisions about some secret hidden beneath the surface of a text because. or his later bio-hagio-graphers who called him by the name Lord—they could not give us the secret. (Derrida 1992b. however. in the exemplary secret of literature. hidden behind anything whatever. There is no way of knowing what the secret is behind “The Minister’s Black Veil” or behind the visions in Macbeth or Hamlet. Where does this responsibility in acts of reading come from? Who lays it upon me? Who calls me to be responsible? And to whom. Even if the secret is no secret. or track down the ‘historical Hamlet. and holds us to the other. when there is no longer even any sense in making decisions about some secret beneath the surface of the textual manifestation (and it is this situation that I call text or trace). for whom. to whom we may have recourse. Not one. “is all we have.Reading Parable 97 word. 72). “Hamlet. even if it has never been a secret. 73). There’s no “access to the secret originary ground” that might verify any one of our hypotheses. a chance of saying everything without touching upon the secret. or the final intentions of an author whose person is no more represented than nonrepresented by a character or a narrator. To conclude. Not because there is no demand being made on the reader by the work. which remains a secret). There is no Hamlet outside the text. I return to the original question put to Miller by Philip Lewis. exhume and resuscitate Shakespeare. groundless and ad infinitum. even if it does not exist. then the secret impassions us.’ if there was one—or the historical Jesus. But because there is no way in principle of ever knowing that one has finally got it right. a single secret. And even if we could. when these are detached from their presumed source and thus remain locked away [au secret]. or the twelve. . if indeed there is one. We simply cannot gain access to what is missing from the text. if that secret is really secret (if there is such a thing as a secret. 24) Commenting on this remarkable passage. I cite the following passage again because so much depends on our ability to understand why this is the case: There is in literature. like Lazarus. Even if there is none. which points back to the other or to something else.” Miller makes the point that for Derrida the “exemplary status of literature” is that one is able to say anything about it and not be held responsible (Miller 2001. When all hypotheses are permitted.” says John Caputo with characteristic wit. not in principle” (Caputo 1997. when it is this itself which keeps our passion aroused. by a poetic or a fictional sentence. when it is the call [appel] of this secret.
Miller’s way of putting this is to say “the basis of ethical decision and act. because the other is what remains mysterious. That demand cannot be named. or rereading. That reading imparts another strong demand for response and taking of responsibility” (O. That response is different not only from the responses others have to these works but also different for him each time he decides to read the same work again. But I claim after reading Miller reading Hawthorne and others I can come closer to an answer. Duncan and so many others? Each time I read these works I come up with a different response. I never read the same story twice. All he can do is tell stories about what happens when he reads. and secret in each text. as only I can do in each act of reading. My hypothesis then is that when Miller responds to the demands that these works make on him. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading before whom am I responsible? Not easy questions. writing. 166). This secret can only be passed on to me as an obscure but commanding force that comes from something absolutely other. or. The secret which impassions keeps its secret. or from positing some theoretical schema underlying the oeuvre. another search for those elusive others. in parables. These wholly others haunt Miller’s work and call out to be brought to life in each act of reading . Hillis Miller. This is reason enough for me to refrain from any notions of an implicit Millerian matrix in what I read. can only be named indirectly. though it remains secret. it is a secret I can share.98 J. ghostly. Each act of reading places on its reader a singular and secret demand. only by way of another saying. I can tell you what happens only by way of another narration. including the act of writing or reading. And it is the secret which impassions me to read them again. is the ultimate secret. That remains secret. The call of the wholly other impassions Miller’s readings each time. If it cannot be named. It is not the object of a possible clear knowledge. There is the secret. That is what happens in the singular event of reading. each response is a unique and singular response. It is my responsibility because it is my reading. What caused the Reverend Hooper to don the black veil? What makes Macbeth kill Banquo. rather. no way of clearly expressing just what it is I am responding to when I read. This secret cannot be revealed. No one else can claim responsibility for a reading I have performed. or from drawing some connection between the biological person called J. my interpretations multiply. The only way to see if Miller is being responsible to the absolutely other in the works he reads is by way of a further act of reading. There is no straight answer to the demand reading places on me when I read. the most secret secret. There are secrets in these works that Miller couldn’t possibly answer for either. it can be made into a story and so transferred to me when I read it. Nevertheless. Hillis Miller and the works I read signed J. or what has happened as a result.
ix). an act that is not reducible to cognition. reason/unreason and so on. They use words to try to make something happen in relation to the ‘other’ that resonates in the work” (TPP. it’s what impassions us also when we engage in acts of good reading. I turn now to show how this kind of reading can be justified. “Parables do not simply name the ‘something’ they point to by indirection or merely give the reader knowledge of it. This is part of the conduct of life. Parables performatively make something happen. And let’s face it. That is the power of the parable. something which exceeds the play of veiling/unveiling. when we let these others come. when we stop short of forced explanations.Reading Parable 99 and writing. since it’s always a question of facing up to a responsibility. A parabolic reading will not name these others in quite the same way that a critical archaeology will attempt to expose the clear matter of the tale to the noonday sun. but just what that something is will require another doing and yet another in an interminable chain of performatives. It is a performative doing. .
Can anyone really ever know these things? If each text. A staccato relay of false starts and recurring questions emphasizes his apprehension at the task of providing an answer: “Should I teach Kleist? To whom or to what am I responsible when I ask this question or decide it in one way or the other?” “Should Kleist have read Kant?”—an act which may have caused his suicide. even if it does not exist (or does not yet exist. The theme that concerns me in “The Foundling” [Der Findling] has to do with the problem. I did it.Chapter 6 Just Reading Deconstruction takes place in the interval that separates the undeconstructibility of justice from the deconstructibility of droit (authority. as I’ve been arguing. even though we must be willing to accept responsibility for them (HH. and so on). “one must always say perhaps for justice” (Derrida 1992f. in an odd way. there is justice.” These anxious questions therefore must remain anxious if they are to remain true to the event and unpredictability of reading. some “dangerous perhaps” in Nietzsche’s famous phrase. “How can a reader do justice to Kleist’s ‘Der Findling’ [The Foundling]?” How can we read it justly or just read it?” (VP. writing. and teaching. or never does exist). Justices What is justice? What does it mean to do justice in our readings? Can one ever be a just reader? These are questions Miller asks of his own reading of Heinrich von Kleist in Versions of Pygmalion. They must also prefigure in an impossible paradox an absolute responsibility to something other. there where. of finding something or . if not fully clear. “Force of Law” 1. Speech acts. 27). 127–128).” They are happenings about which we can never be fully sure. It is possible as an experience of the impossible. legitimacy. I must do this alone. will help me to decide. for what they do. and I accept the results. “‘Perhaps. we recall. makes a singular demand on me for justice then no appeal to a method of reading. I must take responsibility for my words.’ Derrida will say. I must say. as Kleist’s title suggests. are “historical happenings. But. 96–97). “Yes. Jacques Derrida. a law that stands outside the act and event of reading. I cannot take responsibility for unforeseeable or unintended effects my words will have on others. Reading works of literature and writing books about them are ways of making this apparent.
the most dramatic. 2. The instance of discovering that child has. Kleist relates how the young ward sexually molests his stepmother. Much of what I read in Kleist’s short story revolves around this idea of what might also be described as a volitional act and an unforeseeable occurrence. unjust. legally evicts him from his own home. and finally robs him of any peace in the afterlife. as I will argue. There is also the subsequent act of Nicolo refinding Piachi after his son. there are so many instances of finding things by chance or by active inquiry along the way that readers often find themselves in disbelief at the sheer coincidence of the major events of the story. is quite different in each case. scares her to death. in other words. that “These six letters had now been lying in the dining-room . something that raises the subjects of theory and practice. incites him to a most heinous act of murder. as Kleist’s fantastical occurrences are so often introduced. As in Kleist’s other short stories. Elvira finds Nicolo in his room with Xaviera Tartini’s chambermaid immediately after the death of his wife.” which we will discover is her secret love and that he bears an uncanny resemblance to Nicolo. as we will see. as there is a discrepancy between an active searching and a passive happenstance each time—though the real question always balances precariously on the edge of a reasonable assertion as to where this emphasis lies. The obvious example is Piachi happening upon the orphan Nicolo. cause and effect. discovery and invention. We have Nicolo discovering his stepmother. needless to say. learning. One particularly unusual episode in which we find the problem of finding. has died from the plague. which happened to be left on the table in the dining room. The Dangers of Reading “The Foundling” “The Foundling” is a frightening story about a benign and rich Roman merchant adopting a child who will eventually grow up to destroy him. The emphasis. worshipping a hidden portrait of a Genoese knight. These improbable discoveries make the uncanny catalysts of the narrative’s fragmentary and bizarre progressions. Elvira. or discovering dramatized in the action of the story comes when Nicolo finds six ivory letters. the foundling of the title. all of which. are central to the works of both Miller and Kleist. and unforeseeable effects. The eavesdropping Nicolo then overhears his stepmother crying out the name “Colino.Just Reading 101 someone and/or finding something or someone out. The examples abound throughout the story and each is an important episode in its own right. It so happened. and so on and so forth. dispossesses his stepfather of his fortune. outside Ragusa. Paolo.1 In a few terse pages.
Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading for several days. is learning to reread the signs in whichever way he sees fit. And this allusive import has almost certainly not been lost on Kleist. what Geoffrey Galt Harpham has succinctly called a “machinery of interest” (1995. For him.” “Ivories” is an antiquated term for dice. L. I. The adjective “offen” in German means to be honest or obvious in its appearance. Nicolo’s misreading is implicitly alluded to in the rhetorical strategies Kleist employs to structure the scene. He reads into the letters the key to the riddle of the portrait. It can also mean to be open. O. The narrative therefore turns on truth and lie. I. save for those readers for whom the plain sense of things is an implicit secret. the narrator speaks of the letters quite literally “lying in the dining-room” and repeats this by telling us of Elvira’s reaction to the name “lying there plainly visible” [“der offen da lag”]. The irony here is that the protagonist. O” becomes “C. C. In other words. as the entire passage revolves around the piecemeal reading of signs. picked them up and toyed with them. Through a throw of the ivory letters “N. N.102 J. it turns on the possibility of seeing things as they are behind the phenomenal and of the phenomenal as a lie about the truth of things. L. and the chance of finding the meanings you are searching for in those readings. as he sat gloomily brooding at the table with his head propped in his arm. and Nicolo. is relative. the letters are both there in situ for whomsoever to see the plain sense of them and also not there. To put this another way. for he had never in his life been so astonished—the combination of the letters that spelt the name ‘Colino’” (281). and as he did so he discovered—purely by chance. the happenstance of finding the letters vicariously allows Nicolo to reinvent his experience of Elvira’s longing by placing her in the role of the disingenuous seductress. 399). Kleist is suggesting. Nicolo scatters the ivories and finds the reality he is seeking. Whether those readings are numerical or lexical symbols. an act or invention. O. O. the portrait is his likeness and the anagrammatical twist is Elvira’s way of veiling the truth. It is the repetition of the verb “to lie” or “be lying on” (a play between the near homonyms “liegen” and “lügen” in German) that announces the discrepancies between the evident sense of the passages describing the event of these findings and the manner in which they are represented. For example. much like the reader. This odd locution creates a strange paradox that contradicts the conspicuous honesty or “plainly visible” import of an initial reading that seeks to add up the different episodes in order to accumulate a comprehensive view of the overall narrative. There is certainly more than a smack of a . of keeping the secret from him. since the acts that follow such readings are always based on interpretive habit and latent desire. as in open to interpretation.
” says Miller.”3 It is a matter of the future. This is the necessity of seeing the events of the text through the language in which the events are being described and a necessity also to attend to that language in and of itself. as Kleist tells us. that is its justice. Here is a salient example of the influence of one person’s reading on another. Misreading Nicolo’s reading of the ivory letters. The truth of reading. neither of which is really plainly visible at all. . pass over to their eternal detriment. is that it just happens. Reading “Der Findling. and perhaps all books should have warning labels” (VP. The results of which cannot be known in advance. 21). . Perhaps. All ethical responses in reading are responses to what happens. what we find therein. A book is a dangerous object. “Justice is not a matter of is or of presence or of the present. The most unjustifiable things just happen. to what it’s doing. . like readers in any context whatsoever. Those foundlings of our own readings. That the most deplorable and morally dubious things can occur. brings us to an ethical moment of reading dramatized both thematically throughout the story and rhetorically in the means by which that content is unveiled. makes this apparent.” as I shall show. of what might come. of a reading doing something. to foundlings. This is what all of Kleist’s stories tell us in various and manifold ways. Reading is a dangerous thing. as much as the event of finding the reading that causes other things to happen in turn cannot be proleptically determined beforehand. then. even when the most apparently (plainly visible) morally benign works are read. an unsettling suggestion that the reader of Kleist’s stories.” We read Kleist’s “improbable veracities” .Just Reading 103 Kantian critique about this!2 Finding out is as unpredictable. What the reader inevitably does. is shape those words and letters on the page into his or her own “Colino. “what is going to happen when someone in a particular situation reads a particular book. This means that the interpretive imperative facing the reader goes in two directions at once (ER. are not foreseeable and never fully justifiable by appeals to the text. that it happens here and now. means that one can never predict with infallible regularity just what will happen before a given reading takes place. But we cannot ever really say that justice in reading just is. “You can never be sure. then. 4). as we come to see. Not only is Nicolo seeing what he wants to see in (into) the letters but his reading is also having a very noticeable effect on Elvira. like Nicolo. uncontrollable or unjustifiable as finding a sense of the truth itself in appearances or reason. In a strange way. 3. They come along by chance or by accident.
as Kafka’s parable “Before the Law” has it and as both The Ethics of Reading and Versions of Pygmalion consistently remind us. More precisely. if we read Nicolo’s reading as a warning about the dangers of prosopopoeiac misreading in general. the epistemology of tropes Paul de Man propounds in Allegories of Reading. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading and repeat the crimes by helplessly performing the same reading as the characters. the event of reading Kleist. 139). Following the linguistic imperative. it is the necessity of an error. Miller has noted that the allegorical charge of this scene is one such significant moment within which we can read the impossibility of reading Reading. However. is a warning against this inevitably motivated procedure. If. projecting an identity on the absent or the dead. however. for example. This supplementary narrative shows indirectly. we seem to be in error. and yet reading it in the opposite light. In yet another formulation of this predicament we could say that reading “Der Findling” in an Aristotelian/New Critical manner is a futile exercise because the story is really about the impossibility of finding organic unity or causal sequence in narrative. for Miller at least. the ethical moment has therefore already taken place within the epistemological dimension. we read Nicolo’s interpretation of the letters as a misreading brought on by a desire to see what he wants in the text. over events that just happen as they happen. then our reading is also being jeopardized allegorically by the implicit warning not to put too much stock in resemblance or contingency because they might just be what we were looking for in the first place. takes the form of a further. in the form of a story. It makes lying a universal principle. Miller sees this as the inevitability of misreading: “We cannot avoid imposing some set of connections. by sharing in its madness. like a phantasmal spiderweb. Kleist’s story. The events within Kleist’s stories and the event of reading them are exemplary of this necessity” (VP. of seeing the one reading that releases us from our responsibility to keep on reading. secondary or tertiary. The ethical dilemma hovers between these two possibilities: The failure to read. someone committing again the “same” linguistic error that the . Accordingly. It tells us that in reading this way we are lying to ourselves in order to cover a gap in nonknowledge. is always in error. then our own reading inevitably commits the same error—we are implicated in the crime it condemns. Whichever way we read. is equally flawed because as soon as we try to do so we realize the necessity of the error and the impossibility of doing otherwise—to read in this latter manner would be an impossible madness.104 J. narrative superimposed on the first deconstructive narrative. the reader will remember. In order to understand the story the reader must piece together random happenings so that they become a cogent sequence of events.
4.” as de Man refers to it. its own deconstructive reading.Just Reading 105 deconstructive narrative has lucidly identified and denounced. the error is already compounded by the initial error of the secondary reading. prior to any theory. According to de Man. “engender lucid narratives which produce in their turn and as it were within their own texture. is the necessity of seeing judgments as never verifiably true. and then again. however. it turns out. is able to transform critical discourse in a manner that would appear deeply subversive to those who . we should be wary of this impulse: “Deconstructions of figural texts. the law that says this must happen in Miller’s rereading of de Man and in my reading of Kleist’s “Der Findling?” If “ethicity. once that suggestion has been unveiled. The Return to Philology What does all of this doubt and error. a darkness more redoubtable than the error they dispel” (de Man 1979. who can interpret the allegory. Miller is saying here. then how can a system of values. it must be this other one. 47) Once we have identified what the text is trying to say but fails to say. This is the dangerous lure for the “deconstructive” critic who might at first take this seeing as the possibility of a meta-reading. de Man’s formulation and Miller’s reading of it in Kleist. A negative knowledge of reading such as the secondary deconstructive one. but nonetheless creates that law in the moment of reading (ER. its narrative reformation: this is the error of the reading that says because it is not this one way of reading. (ER. will be able to see what is really being narrated is the failure to read. the value. that is. 45). But that act of reading will no doubt commit another version of the same error of the failure to read. its failure to read its own impossibility. Only someone who can read. really tell us of this necessity to lie in our active narrative reformations? Where is the ethic. an ethics. in a perpetual fugacity of final clarity. which seems to say one thing but in fact says something else. as this passage implies. Hence the return to philology advocated by both Miller and de Man: Mere reading. be based on a law which relies on the necessity of judgment in order to ward off freewheeling relativism? The answer to all of these abstractions really boils down to the respect for the text in the act of reading—to the ability to see storytelling as a tropologically aberrant system that cannot ever provide us with the key to an understanding of a moral law as such. 217).” he says. constructs a narrative in order to highlight the impossibility of reading Reading and in doing so repeats the error by inventing another narrative.
or like Elvira to fall in love with Colino’s portrait. “is an error of reading. or intellectual history. . they gained in precision and attention to detail. Richards in his influential Practical Criticism. in the sense in which Miller’s reading appropriates this rationale as an ethic. says de Man. is the only. “To read means to satisfy the philological drive. “To treat something dead as if it were alive.” he announces. 24) This is a particularly unsettling proposition.A. Mere reading is “deeply subversive” because by responding to the law of the text readers cannot help breaking with presupposition. 11). though by no means wholly objective or extrinsic. unaided by philology. and stale perception. “as a return to philology.106 J. Yet the return to philology.” Miller says. Let me say a little more of this return to philology at this point. We are foredoomed always—like Pygmalion to fall in love with Galatea’s effigy. introduced students to “the way meaning is conveyed rather than on the meaning itself” (23). since it occupies such a crucial place in Miller’s ethics of reading. so much so that the essays they produced at the end of the course bore little resemblance to their earlier essays. prejudice. to make a literary impression on oneself. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading think of the teaching of literature as a substitute for the teaching of theology. What he calls “mere reading” is therefore an ironic reference to rigorous textual analysis. de Man relates how at Harvard in the 1950s Reuben Brower’s undergraduate course on “The Interpretation of Literature. To read out of impulse for pure philosophy or poetry. Following precepts advanced by I. and yet we are to be held responsible for the inevitable result of that misreading. The “turn to theory occurred. in all its sceptical grandeur. a practice he sees as theoretical through and through. What students lost in generality. since it means that we are always condemned to a misreading of the law of the text. was extraordinary. Those students were transformed by the experience. ethics. close reading. psychology. It is also an ethical error that can be exposed by another act of reading” (VP.” HUM 6. In Schlegel’s terms. Close reading accomplishes this often in spite of itself because it cannot fail to respond to structures of language which it is the more or less secret aim of literary teaching to keep hidden. They were not to say anything that could not be justified by reference to the texts they were given to read. or like Piachi and Elvira with Nicolo as a reimagining of their dead son Paolo—to repeat the initial misreading of our fantasies. (de Man 1986. What happened. students were asked simply to write about the works they were given without external reference. to an examination of the structure of language prior to the meaning it produces” (24). way to see how this misreading occurs. In his essay on philology in The Resistance to Theory. de Man claims.
315). . while simultaneously forming its basis. and reading in the strong sense. The “aporia of reading” in On Literature is one aspect of this dilemma: “You must become as a child if you are to read literature rightly. in such a way that it becomes radically opposed (foreign. the singular and the universal. however. with accepting an obligation to read—to read carefully. depends on the ability to see the necessity. it all counts” (LC. . The problems are in the details we choose to emphasize our “close readings. . One must read rapidly. It means attending to what the language is doing as well as to what it is saying. patiently. also demands slow reading. scrupulously. What Miller’s reading of “Brower’s Law” suggests is that while we can never be fully responsive to it. could never refer to justice in the present tense. will never be satisfied by a single interpretive leap of whatever guise. 80). . like Schlegel’s. in a dance of the eyes across the page. 120–122). allergic) to institutionalization. . catachresis. .” he says. Each performative act of reading faces the singularity of its moment and its choice without the possibility of some universal Law reassuring us of the propriety of our actions. It could never say with equanimity: “This is a just reading. like a promise. .” The gap between the general and the particular. we could speak unabashedly of the one right [juste] reading. in light of this philological imperative.Just Reading 107 is probably impossible” (Schlegel 1991. But the impossibility of the Law is strangely enough the opportunity we have as readers to rewrite that Law at the limits of our interpretations. under the elementary assumption that the text being read may say something different from what one wants or expects it to say or from what received opinion says it says” (TNT. of a double gesture. casts our responsibilities into an always-deferred and indeterminable future. or under whatever authority making its claim on the event of interpretation. we must nonetheless never cease trying to be. Nevertheless. De Man’s promotion of a rigorous attention to the structures of language is therefore proffered. “it must have something to do with respecting any text discussed. always and ever. anacoluthon. allegro. or responsible for it. 49).” A return to philology. and as I’ve inferred above. The entire ethical-political force of Miller’s writings on prosopopoeia. Good reading means attending rigorously to a given text by going slowly.4 A just reading. If this were not the case. Good reading. not just the dancing allegro” (OL. parasites.” Miller highlights the impossibility of responding responsibly to this injunction: “The difficulty for a written reading that follows what might be called Brower’s Law is that it is impossible in reasonable compass to cite all the relevant evidence. That is what Miller’s expression the “ethics of reading” confronts: “If that phrase means anything. In his most recent discussion of what he calls “Brower’s Law.
“As soon as we learn to read. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading a response and a responsibility to an event of finding that is at once a passive and an active component of the reading process: By “the ethics of reading. seeing the portrait of Colino as a portrait of Nicolo. and free. or historical. but I must acknowledge it as my act of reading.108 J. in the sense that it is a response to an irresistible demand. social. Molecules all change. 139). not a triumphant seeing of what is really there” (VP. the child. What happens when I read must happen. and of speaking about what happens there. How this happens can be explained by referring to what happens when Stephen Daedalus ponders his conscience (“agenbite of inwit”) in Ulysses: “Wait. another ethical question. 43) The truly unsettling aspect of reading Kleist’s story. When that response happens the ethical has always already occurred. Nicolo seeing the coincidence of the letters as a sign of Elvira’s love for him. . We must lie to ourselves to make sense of Kleist’s story. (ER. “I” Take Responsibility in Reading What becomes of the “I” in the act of reading is. Elvira and Antonio Piachi seeing the foundling as their son. but for Kleist all reading is an unjustified imposition. We cannot see past the sheer coincidence: “But of course it is just a coincidence” (VP. Five months. is that it points to the impossibility of reading it without falling into the trap Kleist’s characters fall into themselves.” institutional. I mean that aspect of the act of reading in which there is a response to the text that is both necessitated. I am other I now. political. 5. we cannot not read whatever is presented to us to read. Versions of Pygmalion. all point to the mistake we must make when we read. though just what the “I” is or becomes in this transaction is another question. “interpersonal. Here is a problem we might readily apply to the reader of Kleist’s stories and to Miller’s reading of Kant’s categorical imperative in The Ethics of Reading. for example as that act takes the form of teaching or of published commentary on a given text. Clara. of my act of reading. 242). Miller’s account of Kleist’s story allegorizes the way in which readings are always just or unjust in relation to a necessary epistemological response. It is a question because the reading “I” is changed in the transaction. Other I got pound” (Joyce 1992. For Miller all of the cases of mistaken identity are part of what must happen in our reading: Elvira mistaking Nicolo for Colino. as Miller says. in the sense that I must take responsibility for my response and for the further effects. 138).” the reader will remember. and Literature as Conduct.
to put people in jail for perjury. sequence. This strange formulation relays the reader to the idea of a groundless responsibility to a law that cannot be known. an example Kant uses in the Groundwork (LC.E.” These utterances are thought of in terms of a unified ego speaking in the present tense. or for bigamy.O. The reconstruction of this moment is Stephen’s responsibility.” “I deny.E. . Austin. who writes under the pseudonym “AE.” by being “at once allegorical and tautological. Austin believes that the whole moral fabric of a civil society depends on being able to hold people accountable for what they say. the reader’s role in this process of positing an identity that remains constant through time.U. The period or full stop in the second series indicates difference. suggesting. Joyce is jokingly telling us that he must put II and II together in order to come up with his debt to himself and to A. for breach of promise. And what does responsibility mean if that “I” changes? Does the aleatory aspect of time exonerate me from my debt? The classic example of a felicitous performative utterance for J. with full consciousness of what it is doing with words. and to a moment that must be reconstructed retroactively. Joyce employs a wonderfully ambiguous paragrammatical formulation to complicate how we can think of a promise made in this way. I’m responsible. suggested to him by a conversation in the National Library. I said it and that’s that. I must be held responsible before the law for what I say and do with words. allegorically.” Joyce’s joke of course is “A.” The formulation is a question of prosopopoeia. is whether identity is a perdurable monad or a Heraclitian flux. or progression.” “I assert. ER. Kant in Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals is doing something similar when he speaks of the categorical imperative depending on the way that I ought never to act except in such a way that I would want my actions to become a universal law. 212). 58). we recall.Just Reading 109 In this passage Stephen is contemplating a debt he owes George Russell. or for welshing on a bet. “The narrative ‘I’ [always] frightens the Law. 171. How can we think of an “I” over time? Stephen asks himself. The comma in the first series indicates concatenation.L. even if what I thought I was doing was for the good. uniqueness. separation. Stephen says “I. For both Austin and Kant ethics depends on not making lying promises. “We must have some justified way to hold people to their promises. and so on” (SA.” His question. 30–33). I and I. I.” says Derrida (Derrida 1992e. a recreation of the initial performative speech act—the promise—which carries over to the time of responsible recollection and the moment of affirmative action in order to be legitimized. is an expression in the first person present tense: “I promise.I. 206. expressing itself with deliberate intention.
and I. “As a result. always contains within itself the traces of its miscellaneous origin. a non sequitur. whose “I” are we following through the text? Has Nicolo become Paolo. and as Derrida also knows. As Austin well recognized. different in different contexts. I. It makes the line a lie. in his most important formulation of this condition. nor by a mind that remains continuous with itself over time. 84). Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading An I is never fully present to itself. . intentionality. Colino. as when in Proust’s recherche Albertine shifts pronouns intermittently in mid-sentence (RN. but dispersed and heterogeneous fragments. . the whole juridico-political system depends on believing the opposite. 149. one might say. This is what Miller has referred to. neither by reason. The I that makes the promise is not the same I that recounts. To answer Miller’s question. These traces are. consciousness. It is always already divided: “I. divided. The anacoluthon is an abrupt breach in the line. . This points to a grammatical contradiction breaking through the sequentiality of the narrative line and alerts us to the way the story is probably a lie. the ghost of their dead son. that it will make coherence out of the most incoherent of data” (RN. however. as the alogical: The condition of our sanity is our ability to tell lies to ourselves.110 J. on having the opposite fully institionalized and operative” (SA. changing through time.”5 The narrative “I” is iterable. 129). are effects of iterability. rather than the other way around. The alogical is a precarious unity supported by no base in the logos in either of its chief senses. to create splendid fictions of narrative coherence out of data that are not connected story lines [Notice Miller’s play here on storylines!]. The alogical. and dispersed. 153). Things become distinctly problematic when in “Der Findling” the narrative “he” starts referring to several people at once. “In what sense does the question of causality always involve the question of justice?” we could say that justice always involves a reimagining of the I in a series of other “I”s (VP. Obligation intrinsically involves the reconstruction of a causal chain of events. which as Joyce shows is an implicit narrative. “So inveterate is the penchant of the mind toward making a story. for example in one form or another of anacoluthon. The I frightens the law because it is not the same I. disseminated. for Elvira and Antonio Piachi? The rhetorical figure Miller uses to discuss moments in narrative when there are such logical failures of following is anacoluthon. Whose “I” do we hold accountable for Elvira’s collapse and death in “Der Findling?” Is it Nicolo. and intention unequivocally identifiable by the hearers. OL. or Elvira herself? After Nicolo becomes Colino. . a narrative line that hangs together and makes a single sense. meaning. or promisees. I. 65). nonetheless I must be held responsible for it and for what it has promised.
that the promise can be felicitously performed. a lying promise. who can then absolve him from his sins. Kleist tells us. refers us to an aporia (a dead end or “no-through” road) which emphasizes an unfathomable tension between a moral law and an ethical moment. The Pope is requested to make a decision. . All promises are lying promises because they point to a future anterior about which it is impossible to know anything for certain. a gross inconsistency with Christian dogma. Our memories are subject to the mind’s reluctance. claiming that he wishes to follow Nicolo into hell to continue his vengeance on him there. the law that demands the evil be punished for their crimes against both God and the State necessitates the choice. 6. (RN. Our obligations to what we have said and done in the past are held together through the power of our memories. The Pope will eventually sanction the execution. as Kleist and Joyce tell us. but we are left feeling that that decision is peculiarly unjustified. according to Derrida in “Force of Law” and elsewhere. Thus. it is only through the power of a lie. but a series of juxtaposed points glued together by the power of a lie.” The experience of having to choose between antinomies. This request is a double bind. his eyes or his ears. [Nicolo] naturally inclined to evidence that was more flattering to his desires” (280). only God can condemn him to hell. Nonetheless. This is the moment in which adhering to a general moral law means deviating from our responsibility of seeing that moment as also an excessive encounter with alterity. what Derrida refers to as an “experience of the impossible.Just Reading 111 a train of gunpowder that may cause the sequence to blow up if a single spark is applied. because Papal law states that an execution cannot be carried out on the remorseless. This liability shows that the sequence is no coherent line. 156) Our innate penchant for making storylines out of segments of incoherent data is necessary for us to remain responsible citizens for Austin and Kant. perhaps inability. But he refuses absolution. He has been found guilty of murdering Nicolo. Justice as Irresponse to Law In the particularly Kafkaesque moment of the finale of “Der Findling” Piachi is led out to the gallows and expected to be penitent for the priest. Nevertheless. While the State can condemn a man to death. to regard what is “lying there plainly visible”: “faced with the choice of disbelieving one of two senses.
like the responsibility Abraham has to his God on Mount Moriah when he holds his knife up over his son. that courts mete out justice objectively. It must also be legitimated and enforced by an authority that is agreed upon and socially endorsed. J. modified. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading singularity or otherness. I say “his God” here because his responsibility is singularly responsive to what is wholly other. a jury’s finding makes a felon” (Austin 1975. out in the open for all of us to see. Absolute responsibility. and evenhanded. “is ethics as ‘irresponsibilization. then when the judge makes the judgment he fundamentally rewrites the law. Abraham’s responsibility is therefore not a general responsibility.”6 For Derrida absolute responsibility is not a responsibility as such.” Miller tells us. The law is blind in more ways than one. his me voici (here I am) to God. suggests that courts are places where laws are invented and discharged in such a way that those laws are altered. on the contrary.112 J. representing the way justice and the law are blind.” in Derrida’s words. in the internal. Derrida and de Man. We therefore normally think of the lawyer “applying” the law through rote and protocol. or transformed by performative speech acts. a judge’s ruling makes the law. “This. about Michael’s Rechtgefühl or sense of justice. unknowable. Miller asserts that the story of Michael Kohlhass exemplifies a contradiction in acts of lawmaking. In another essay on Kleist and the question of justice in Topographies. remains with him alone. In order for a verdict to work it must appeal to precedent. SA. It is in fact irresponsible to a moral law in general. We cannot. the Roman goddess of justice.L. 57). Abraham’s responsibility. is often depicted in statues adorning law courts blindfolded. each in their own way. Isaac. The story of Michael Kohlhass is a story about laying down new laws. Absolute responsibility is always irresponsible to general moral law. It is the function of the law to remain general and transparent. 154. If performative speech acts are radically at odds with cognition. For Austin the judge’s decision makes the law: “As official acts. hypothesize. Justice irritates the law. an absolute and unrepresentable bond to some other. That sense of justice is “more than a little ominous. therefore. as Miller. impartial. Justitia. It is not something we can ever really think of. to established and institutionalized laws.’ as an insoluble and paradoxical contradiction between responsibility in general and absolute responsibility. even refer to it as a concept. Austin says something very peculiar that makes what Derrida is saying here about responsibility even more difficult to accept. remains silent. unimaginable recesses of the heart. “It does not name a willingness to obey external law but a scrupulous inner measuring scale by which Kohlhass evaluates on his own the justice or injustice of what someone . What Austin says.
and must take responsibility for our deed. (VP. though they are the result of a series of misreadings for which those who do them are not. I must be honest and admit an unwillingness to follow him. 7. But to be fair to Miller before closing.” says Miller. We did it.” like “Der Findling. And this misreading is unavoidable since we cannot not read whatever is presented to us to read. Finding • Out “The fault of premature closure.” tells us in an allegorical fashion that doing justice in reading means being caught between a general responsibility and an absolute irresponsibility to the law of the text. original. 121).Just Reading 113 does” (T. unheard-of. referred to as a finding. 140) This paradoxical formulation is a responsibility for one’s actions even though those actions are the result of a blindness. to do him justice and respond responsibly. a naivety. “It is the reading. in one sense of the word. responsible. of something apropos of an aleatory event or unlikely happenstance . This is precisely what Miller is alluding to when he says: Those who perform such acts [of reading and doing] must take responsibility for these effects. Why is this? Why am I not willing to make a distinction between finding and reading? Up until now I have been speaking of finding as an active and a passive process. to be the last in a series of repetitions. not the finding. Criticism yearns for the univocal explanation. 51). heterogeneous to what already has been legislated” (T. or a failure to read all the signs before making a choice and acting on it—a failure of course which is necessitated by the event of misreading itself. The paradox is that in order to be effective in changing the law. Nor can we be exculpated by saying “I did not mean to do it. What happens when I read Kleist will not allow me to do that. it is no longer novel.” though Kleist’s stories show us that the results of prosopopoetic misreading can be. that does the damage” in “Der Findling” for Miller (VP. the ur-narrative. nor is the knowledge that we cannot help breaking the law. He makes a distinction there that I am not willing to make. It is not fortuitous that a judge’s decision in a courtroom is often. “Michael Kohlhass. lethal. since they could not do otherwise. But ignorance of the law is no excuse. “authorized from the past and institutionalized for the future. literally. “is intrinsic to criticism” (FR. 97). We cannot help but create a narrative out of the pieces that we have. vicariously or otherwise. 87). it must become apart of the law. the pieces that are necessary for a verdict to be reached—always across a gap of nonknowledge.
is both an activity and an occurrence. as Miller and Kleist are saying. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading and also an active searching. . reading. something that must and does happen in a curiously contradictory way by being free and not free: we are free to read whatever we want into a text. when you find your car keys on the kitchen table. was not already found there but is still not created. It discovers for the first time. . it does not have the theological meaning of a veritable creation of existence ex nihilo. invention does not create an existence or a world as a set of existents.7 How can you find something for the first time? To find something commonly implies that you were looking for that something. in the strong sense of the word. it unveils what was already found there. in the end. or else the act and not the object of “finding” or “discovering” . the text never says: “This is the right way to read me!” We must make that judgment. in a given configuration. Invention in the sense he gives it here is always to some extent a finding of what was already there. Derrida is helpful here in seeing why this is the case. or produces what. . The term I suggested was central to the thematics of Kleist’s story and to Miller’s reading of it. and produced in and through the act of reading. starting with a stock of existing and available elements. The rhetorical heritage of “finding” is astonishingly complex and diffuse.. In short. For instance. . The essay is also a wonderful example of how Derrida’s own inventiveness in reading is also a performance of what he is speaking about.114 J. This is why I cannot make the distinction. as tekhnè. But in both cases. “What is invention? What does it do?” he asks. Derrida complicates the sense in which we also use the word to suggest not only a discovery (a placing) but an event of invention. It finds something for the first time. is only put together. In other words. a realization about what has previously gone unnoticed. Furthermore. alone. but that reading will and always does have consequences for which we must ultimately be held responsible. I suggested that the law of misreading Miller notices in “Der Findling” is a result of finding what is desired. so much so that Derrida’s influential essay “Psyche: Inventions of the Other. occasioned. just as Nicolo does.” To find is to invent when the experience of finding takes place for the first time. from both points of view (object or act).” following Cicero’s distinction of inventio (as finding) and dispositio (as placing). goes to great lengths to tease out its meanings. Finding is what happens in reading and I find I just can’t separate the two. To show this he divests invention of its theological . I would call this an impossible decision. And the ambiguity lies in the word “find. An event without precedent whose novelty may be either that of the (invented) thing found . It’s a discovery (inventio) and a placing (dispositio).
the characters. 272). An invention of the wholly other. is impossible. It is a series of violent impositional positings of proper names where there are no names—a Babel of Yahwehs perhaps. to the familiar or the local—the invention of the other as an assimilable identity or causal construction. the chance and appearance of the truly monstrous or unheard of” (O. an expectation of a coming that is always yet to come. the major crime of “Der Findling” is this reduction of the incomprehensible to the assimilable. calculated. Miller says this in his reading of “Psyche” in Others: “The invention of the wholly other would be a noncalculable. aleatory irruption or interruption. “This double movement harbours the singularity and novelty without which there would be no invention. so it can only be prepared for by way of a responsiveness to an event of finding (both passive and active). they do not produce them—the passivity is essential.” creates a doubling that inaugurates by being indivisible—it is both new and not new. It is the thing found and the . of inventing catachrestically a term or set of terms that will reach out and momentarily afford us a glimpse [Augenblick] of an otherness across a vertiginous or abyssal gap of reading. This is Kleist’s brilliance. what calls us in acts of good reading or deconstruction.Just Reading 115 conations as creation out of nothing: God’s inaugural act of creating the world out of the formless void in Genesis. The wholly other. The foundling then. Inventions open up the way for these others to come. Derrida will also say. of taking a linguistic for a material reality. repeatable) of what was already possible but not noticeable until the creative event displaced the normal “mind-set” or “statute.” This doubling also generates an openness. to a future and a coming (the play on the terms à-venir to come and l’avenir the future which are root meanings of the Latin word inventio). the confusion. cannot be reduced to the status of the same. and the readers. The response to this call is what Miller’s reading of “Der Findling” is performing by emphasizing the trope of prosopopoeia as a process of finding a face for the absent. That reading is a displacement and a substitution as well as a discovery of something that can never be simply reduced to the same. like a black hole. It is also the confusion between this inaugural performative speech act and the materiality of the world of things. the object of this invention. as Paul de Man says of all ideologies. A close reading of “Der Findling” is one way of finding this out for yourself. institutionalized. an openness which is not so much a calling to others but an opening of a possibility toward which others may or may not come. translated. Absolute otherness is therefore something that is directly unknowable. Indeed. as Derrida suggests. is both displaced in Kleist’s story and invented (to whatever degree) by the author. Finding as reinvention and discovery (always iterable.
is not without a sense of irony. and Eros. of Miller’s reading of it and my reading of Miller’s reading. The point is to find this again for the first time every time in each act of reading and of teaching. this reading and Jacobs’. “when one reads a book that insists there is no reading without deviation” (Jacobs 1992. or critic who performs this act of reading. Even though. each being a separate creation and a separate discovery. Though. ix). alone. in the end.” according to Carol Jacobs in her review of Versions of Pygmalion. 150). like ourselves. of course. Discovered and invented. Mnemosyne. have in them a large element of chance” (Montaigne 1985. “We reason rashly and at random. Therefore. to echo Kafka’s famous line. . I just have to do it and accept the consequences of my actions. it goes without saying. Hermes. is always going to be a deviation. because our judgements.116 J. both passively happened upon and actively created. says Timaeus in Plato. only wandering (TPP. there is no way. teacher. “Strange things happen. like Psyche. reading cannot be taught. It is therefore also the truth and the lie of Kleist’s text. 130). Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading thing invented. it seems. but how far and where this deviation takes us is the key question and the responsibility of the reader.
warm up in the microwave. it is not learned from life. Derrida spoke of what it would mean to learn to live.” I take it. In any case from the other at the edge of life.or supra-institutional. What do I mean when I say that reading cannot be taught? This is a very large claim indeed. sociological. theological. as Miller would call it (TNT. it is a heterodidactics between life and death. by oneself? (Derrida 2006. patient. This is why what Miller calls “good reading” remains always an impossible possibility. to teach oneself to live (“I would like to learn to live finally”).Conclusion: Teaching Reading Nescit vox missa reverti1 Horace. and in which I have been arguing in different ways about how acts of reading ought to be performed. slow. taught by life. an Einbahnstraße. is that teaching is never a one-way street. from oneself. It is ethics itself: to learn to live—alone. Ars Poetica Lest I be accused of willful obscurity. responsible responses to literary. political. 305). It cannot be given in that way. And yet nothing is more necessary than this wisdom. Only from the other and by death. by definition. is not something one learns. historical. or apply somewhere else later on. At the internal border or the external border. from oneself. In his last interview with Le Monde in 2004. to learn it from oneself and by oneself. all alone. Life does not know how to live otherwise. something extra. And does one ever do anything else but to learn to live. “Learning” to read means learning to be alone in one’s reading. to be surprised by what one finds there for the first time. even anthropological texts. something you can take home with you. alone. xvii) What Derrida means by this “heterodidactics. It is something that simply cannot be taught or passed on. just 2 months before his death. finally: But to learn to live. What you get is a taste for good reading. What we ordinarily call “the gift of learning” . by oneself. I return to the final statement of my last chapter. responses to what happens in the experience of interpretation to undo preconception and prejudice. philosophical. is that not impossible for a living being? Is it not what logic itself forbids? To live. especially since it appears as the penultimate line of a book concerning possibilities of reading. psychological. What concerns me when I read Miller’s works is a certain experience of what it might be to learn to read. every time. Not from oneself. It is also why you will not find a method of reading in Miller’s works.
118 J. by Guéroult. of the very idea of a community of readers. (Miller 2007a. Something of the same sort. the argument goes. says Miller. and resists being put in a truck or corral” (284). a place where a community of thinkers argue about and sometimes even agree upon ideas and methodologies. and therefore the university itself. But for Miller. this is not exactly the case. To be alone in learning is a strange way to think about what happens in the university. Derrida moved counter to the institutions to which he belonged by fulfilling to the letter the protocols of interpretation he had been taught by those institutions themselves. On the one hand. And yet I can only learn from some(thing) other. In Derrida’s case. even an anadidactics to recall Miller’s terminology (RN. I am alone in learning. in a “Southernism” or “Faulknerism. rolls its eyes. . something happens to question the possibility of a community of readers.” “the violent gesture made by a horse when it rears back. I cannot learn to live from someone else. at least not in literature departments. Hyppolite. plus the exhortation to micrological reading. Derrida’s work follows to the letter the teachings he received as a student at the École Normale. 49). the other of science perhaps. arches its neck. If you conscientiously and rigorously follow the protocols of reading espoused by the university system to the letter. Neither is it something one can fully appropriate from another source outside of oneself. the age-old assumption that a great philosopher’s works form a system. When good reading occurs. Behold! He found that you cannot do that. 283) Miller will go on to call what Derrida does.” Strange things happen when you do that conscientiously and with as open a mind as possible.” A “heterodidactics” would be other to this science. and others of his teachers. Ordinarily we think of the university as a place where people get together to learn together. It is both outside of experience and experience itself. can be said of my own movement from American New Criticism to the rhetorical criticism I now practice. The word “didactics” means “the art or science of teaching. led him to try to fit everything in. Teaching is haunted in that way. as it is in Derrida. if you really try to follow your teaching as far as it will take you and be the best reader your teachers could possibly imagine you to be.” “refraining. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading is not something one is given. provided with from some authoritative source. for example. to compare the lesser with the greater. And it is not something one can give. Ask questions of the text: Just why is this or that feature there? What is its function? What does it do? Do not say anything that cannot be supported by the actual words on the page. It is not something one actively takes up. To live is to learn. something odd will happen: In a strange way. I just did what the New Critics told me to do: “Read closely.
a renunciation of the concept of community in favor of a kind of hyper-solipsism. Otherwise the decision is not a just decision but a calculation. are the results. While taking account of the context in which I find myself. there is no absolute turn away from New Criticism and Phenomenology in his writings. Miller’s work is also a paradoxical style of reading that is at once rigorously faithful and unfaithful to its roots. alone. un messianique. As we’ve seen. all the evidence must be weighed up meticulously in order for a responsible verdict to be reached. Derrida is therefore “enisled. a rigorously microscopic or philological reading for which an extraordinary respect has never diminished. and a fidelity to the “democracy to come”. “l’à-venir”. (Miller 2007a. But the final moment of that verdict. as opposed to right or law.Conclusion 119 that is. This is why it doesn’t prescribe. This call comes from no existing institution or counter institution. It just comes. Your world is you. there is a movement away from the institutions he has been associated with. to change it. This refraining says: “I am the personal. même. or better. I say “comes about” because it is simply unexpected in that way.3 Something else comes about to remake the law at that moment. when the decision is actually made is outside of the law. it takes an inventive skill and a subtle temperament to try to account for as much as it is humanly possible to account for in any given work. even a messianic without messianism”). and that is where the difficulties lie. . sans messianisme” (“a messianism without religion. his ethics of reading (good reading as such). gains its unique force and singularity from a responsibility to an event that is forever unforeseeable. Its response is to a demand from something known as. 292) Absolute surprise is a good way to speak of what happens when good reading comes about. On the other hand. His work. real reading. It requires the most open and inventive mind for a responsibly responsive reading to happen. But in order for it to come there must be some preparation. my response enters the context to change it in response to a call from the future. It doesn’t tell you how to read. the wholly other: My obligation to respond without mediation to the wholly other means I must refrain from responding to any institution’s demands. an island unto himself. I must respond rather to an infinite demand for justice. And Miller’s preparations are by no means the same as Derrida’s or de Man’s. Like the judge in a courtroom. is a quintessentially difficult task. not just the idle passing of words through the mind’s eye. 75). I am my world” (Stevens 1990.2 But something of the same thing I claim can be said for Miller. merely a reading of those traditions. Derrida calls this “un messianisme sans religion. Reading. therefore. the to-come.” stranded like Robinson Crusoe. Though not exactly like Derrida’s. unknowably known as. nor.
if it is reading at all. so to speak.’ one of the Ten Commandments [Exod.120 J. its forever unattainable horizon. and any attempt to encompass a work by its historical or cultural contexts. . I have called that elusive ‘centre on the horizon’ the realm of the wholly others. if the work could be completely accounted for by its context. it happens as an absolute surprise. The conflict is undecidable. but at the same time he or she must respect the singularity of a situation that never fits the rules. When that moment happens. attainable in no other way. I look forward to it when I read and it will always surprise me when I can think.” Justice is always deferred. as I’ve been arguing. always something to look forward to. out of the blue. Reading is a risky business.” One can only ever say. 487).g. This realm is always in excess of reading” (BH. what is splendidly allusive about that word “just. ‘Honour thy father and thy mother. “I am just.’” says Miller. with the ever-present possibility of one’s own deepest assumptions being radically and unalterably changed in the process. If this is not the case then reading just isn’t happening. That excess is what is named in the impossibility of reading or the impossibility of reading “reading” or teaching reading. This is. 20. . . Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading an application of a rule and therefore uninventive and irresponsible to the singularity of the situation: “The judge or the maker of a moral decision must respect the rules. the use of literary works as examples of a conceptual argument. is by seeing the phrase as a descriptor of something else that exceeds the act of reading itself: “It deploys the phrase to designate the ‘elusive something’ that is the motivation of reading. Each work gives knowledge (or nonknowledge—an experience of the limits of knowledge) that is singular and unique. momentarily. though in a given situation one must decide. Another way of reading the “of” in the phrase.” One can never say. that my reading has done some kind of justice to a word or a paragraph I’ve been reading. then there would be no reason beyond aesthetic titillation to go to all the hard work necessary to read it” (BH. What Miller calls the “excess of reading” is another way toward understanding this precarious situation and why I am arguing that reading cannot be taught. If reading is always in excess of itself then a teacher cannot pass it on as a practical skill to a student. If this were not the case. .12]). (e. 487). It is impossible to decide between these two equally compelling obligations. “names the way reading exceeds initial theoretical presuppositions. It is continuously surprising because it scrupulously abstains from the kind of dogmatic slumber so easily and unconsciously entered into in an institutional setting.”4 The response to this event of the wholly other is always a singular occurrence and will be different for everyone. “I will try to be just. Miller’s work is continually surprising in its inventiveness and openness to what I perceive to be a constant search for just reading. Miller continues. “The phrase ‘excess of reading.
go now. responsibly. that others may come to change the situation. create new readings. alone. impossibly. And it is the ghost of a chance. responsibly. We can never do it. to a radical dissensus of readers. for oneself.Conclusion 121 How to learn to live finally? What would it mean if I plugged “read” into this already incomprehensible phrase? “How to learn to read finally?” What Miller teaches us about reading is certainly not how to read finally. also. closely. can only be “Thought. Reading. though perhaps in an almost imperceptible way. I have found that I am no closer to a final reading. open up minds. the self and all its institutional. You’re on your own. To learn to read is an impossible demand. respectfully. he must also be able to hate his friends. What I can say. and political contexts.” to use Bill Readings’s wonderful word. too. interpersonal. How to go on reading. This is our chance. all alone. attentively. change our deepest assumptions and desires. like other encounters. The strange institution called literature is precisely strange because a final reading cannot encompass it. What is Miller’s teaching then? What have I learnt enough of about Miller in order to conclude a book on the subject of reading and of reading Miller reading? How can I justify my learning how to read? Alas.” making it something other to itself in its encounter with otherness: “Reading. It is the most hospitable pursuit because it welcomes what it possibly could not know is coming. is that I have not learned to read finally. One is also changed by the experience and can never therefore say “I” have learned to read. unequivocally. This is Miller’s teaching without teaching. social. 493). Reading displaces the “I. when it happens. is a radical openness to something unpredictable. The man of knowledge must not only love his enemies. really read. opening the future to the other. One learns reading by oneself. One is always alone in reading. real reading. To that chance I give the name: the university of dissensus to come” (BH. to a democracy to come. Teaching. alert to the excessive demand made by the otherness of the texts one reads. like Zarathustra’s great Yea-saying. “How”(?) not to learn to read finally. Miller’s teaching is therefore. Go away from me and resist Zarathustra! And even better: be ashamed of him! Perhaps he deceived you. otherwise it isn’t teaching. And you will find that you will have to start all over again tomorrow. dreaming of a future. what Nietzsche called his greatest gift to mankind: Now I go alone. Good reading opens up a chance that the other might come. It goes on. Reading is without finality. I claim. Thus I want it. remakes. Go and read for yourself. It cannot be taught. This is part of the conduct of life. my disciples! You. It is more like something in the reverse mode perhaps. .
therefore faith amounts to so little. but what if your reverence tumbles one day? Beware lest a statue slay you! [Hütet euch. wenn man immer nur der Schüler bleibt]. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading One repays a teacher badly if one always remains nothing but a pupil [Man vergilt einem Lehrer schlecht. Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves [mich verlieren un euch finden]. You say that you believe in Zarathustra? But what matters Zarathustra? You are my believers—but what matter all believers? You had not yet sought yourselves.122 J. (Nietzsche 1969b. Thus do all believers. and you found me [Ihr hattet euch noch nicht gesucht: da fandet ihr mich]. and only when you have denied me will I return to you. 220)5 . And why do you not want to pluck at my wreath? You revere me. dass euch nicht eine Bildsäule erschlage!].
That was the other side of the irony. to my reading?” (TNT. 196. in your reading of Yeats’s “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” in The Linguistic Moment and in the interview in Theory Now and Then.” the linguistic moment as you call it. I gave it my allegiance. What I said was in hyperbolic response to the widespread false assumption in those days that we so-called deconstructionists say there is no correct reading of a text.” when it stumbles helplessly upon those last few enigmatic lines. hyperbolically. You might even say that it was “just because” I had to express as best I could an encounter with enigma. of course I am not so naive as really to believe that a consensus of right-thinking people as to the right and proper reading of Yeats’s poem is likely to happen. that my reading was right and proper. I did mean that what I said about Yeats’s poem seemed to me right. People will always find something more or different to say about the poem. be polarized into right and wrong? Can we still speak of the proper or improper reading? JHM: There was a certain degree of irony in what I said. was a double irony. Can the act of reading “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen. given enough time. meaning that you can make it mean anything you like.” even though what I said was face-to-face with something wholly other and I had to express that confrontation as best I could. and that meant believing.Coda Interview: For the Reader-to-Come ED: Can I ask you to begin this dialogue from where we left off speaking in Portsmouth?1 What do you mean when. but at that moment I really thought I “had it right. My statement. including me myself. when it comes face-to-face with that “it. given enough time. a proper and responsible response to the demand the poem makes on me to be read. to my reading. and “excessive” allegiance. however. the “it. correct. My reading had my full. unreserved. likely to be misunderstood.” Just because I had to say something about that enigmatic “it” doesn’t mean what I said was not “right” and “proper. I’ve found that ironic statements I make are often. you say “I think my reading of Yeats’s poem is right. that “all right-thinking people will come. that all right-thinking people will come. xx).” the other. understandably. On the one hand. LM. like most ironies. . On the other hand.” and I wanted to tell my interviewer that. otherwise I would not have written it and published it.
Each surprised encounter seems to me to question what has gone before it. with the experience of doors opening or insights occurring. It’s more passion as intellectual excitement than passion as suffering. and your subsequent discussion of the conflicting temporalities of the first word of the poem. And how the joy of reading is also somehow a painful experience. I don’t worry much about whether or not I’ll reach “hermeneutical closure. the entire edifice that has brought it to that point. You say in several places that you are. that this sudden incoming or shock encounter with the other. or explain what happens when it is read. as I find in much of your work. Not much suffering in it for me. I don’t care much. and. rationalize it. at least in the US. JHM: Interesting questions.” I go as far as I can with a given reading. The fact is that I feel elation and intellectual excitement when being “addressed” by a poem like “The Cold Heaven. showing that any attempt to still this movement for the sake of hermeneutical closure will ultimately be in vain. I take it that this is what you mean in your previous answer by “just because?” Could you also perhaps say something more on the subject of this demand from the other. if indeed it is an active reading and an event of discovery and insight.” attempts to explicate this surprise even further still. as I try to write down what I think I understand. What strikes me as an overriding concern in this essay is your attention to the urgency of this obligation. your reading of “The Cold Heaven” in Others (2001) is an obvious return to this question of the demand or obligation the work makes on you to read it closely. either. and have always been. the imperative to respond fully to what comes almost as an accident. haunted by this “sense” of a radical otherness in literary works. It doesn’t really do that anyway. and what kind of “justice” we owe to the event of good reading when it happens? I hope these questions do not seem overly speculative. as I said earlier. That edifice can take care of itself.124 J. “Suddenly. is to see things in a given . Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading ED: Staying with Yeats for the moment. I’m thinking here also of the ambiguity you have pointed out in the word Derrida often uses: “passion” (SA. going further and further. In which case the act of reading. but I am interested in the “sense” of what you have been saying in many of your readings.” not anxiety. undoes each time the authority of the university to teach “good” reading. in a direction only that poem can take me. that each new reading destroys the whole edifice of university teaching. or rather others. 158). It should therefore follow that each act of “good” reading creates a renewed idea of what an active reading should or ought to be. Yet there is a sense here. is a kind of mixed blessing since this event also destroys that cold comfort of presupposition or expectation. since one of my obligations. The word “befalls” in the opening line emphasizes this impromptu event.
I think here of Paul de Man’s famous phrase in Allegories of Reading that the difference between criticism and literature is “delusive. but it feels like a happy accident. to do the best justice to the poem you can by saying the most you can for it in the hope that you might transmit something of the poem to others. An example from your own work that suggests this to me is when you are speaking of Stevens in Poets of Reality you say. Yes. As you can see. and what happens in the languages we invent to describe the process (de Man 1979. It doesn’t make me anxious. so I’m even rewarded for that. and I rejoice in that. of course.” that there is a crossing-over between what happens in the texts we read. is the revelation of something “wholly other” by which the inexpressible loneliness of thinking is broken and enriched. It seems that this “wondrous” and “mysterious” alogic of which Stevens so eloquently speaks inhabits (if that is the correct word) the language of criticism itself. no particular power or worth. As you can see. indeed. perhaps. secret. has such power. as indeed of religion in the last resort. I’m essentially a cheerful person. I know there is more in either poem than I shall ever see or say.” Wow! What more is there to say? ED: I recently came across the following passage from Opus Posthumous. 19). the very soul of art. and it is. the expression seems to be the only appropriate or justifiable one for that which is utterly unfathomable. Like “The Cold Heaven.Interview: For the Reader-to-Come 125 text that no one has seen before. The obligation is a happy one. unnameable. Stevens’ expression “wholly other” is more than a little uncanny. 237) Needless to say.2 You might conceivably find it interesting. but the poet’s ‘sense of . it is accidental. in which Stevens rebukes Plato’s arid asceticism for what he refers to himself. like the hero of Mad Magazine: “What. of what was to come from your own work and from Derrida’s. when we read them. “Suddenly I saw the cold and rook-delighting heaven / That seemed as though ice burned and was but the more ice. rather enigmatically (maybe oxymoronically).” “The steeple at Farmington / Stands glistening and Haddam shines and sways. (Stevens 1966. me worry?” I append a piece I wrote for a China conference this past summer and will use to kick off a seminar in Louvain in a couple of weeks. “Things as they are make up one side of the analogy [between reality and mental fictions]. And yet. a remarkable augury. and you make the best of what befalls you. To know facts as facts in the ordinary way has. as “poetic truth”: And the wonder and mystery of art. I really like the Stevens poem. if others think what I claim to have seen is really there. But a quickening of our awareness of the irrevocability by which a thing is what it is. I believe.” reading it sends shivers up and down my spine and makes my hair stand on end. the poem just happens to fall under your eye.
making clearer. I suppose I try to make my own words as much in tune with the writer’s words as possible. and the life of poetry is the metamorphosis by which one is swallowed up by the other” (PR. I was wondering if you could say a few words concerning free indirect discourse and irony? This is a topic that I have found to be a commanding presence throughout your work. I suppose some resonance between them on this point exists. and both.” and therefore I go on trying. where a singular attention to the language of Oliver Twist brings you to an awareness of surprising linguistic and thematic discrepancies—you have been interested in the relationship between the two. in my case at least. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading the world’ is the other. as you say. that Stevens’s critics are being called upon to reinvent the “sense” of that world. that they should know (sense) and not know (sense) this secret simultaneously? Would you say that the fascination you have with the poetry of Stevens and others is the very openness of this secret. but still I don’t ever feel that I am writing poetry. and that is. in different ways. 245). De Man was of course right (he is always right) to say there is no difference between literature and criticism. impossible. From The Form of Victorian Fiction to your most recent essays—and perhaps even from your own PhD thesis. If I could. on to my next question. a bit like the Reverend Hooper’s (if he has one?). brings us nicely. The danger.” but he may mean that it loses its status as poetry when it fails to resist the intelligence. happily. but. finding out the reasons for a whole repertoire of procedures designed to bring to light and clarify. ED: Your response to this subject of the secret. To “get it right” would be to bring the secret out into the open completely. of course.126 J. In answer to your question: yes. that is. is that the critic loses what you call the “secret” in the process of knowing or sensing. just as he went on writing poetry. I think. I would. this “re-reading and re-writing” also means elucidating. Is there a moment then in what you do in the act of reading and writing (reading/writing) in which you confront this obligation to respond responsibly by creatively rereading and rewriting the texts you read? Do you feel. have phenomenology as background and context. the critic is like Stevens in feeling that he or she has never quite “got it right. Nevertheless.” Come to think of it. the “wholly other. I had forgotten that he uses Jacques Derrida’s phrase. Stevens says “Poetry should resist the intelligence almost successfully. Always more to write about any given work. where you refer to irony as “the pervasive trope of narrative” . You have also spoken of the relationship between FID and irony at some length in Reading Narrative. an impossible possibility? JHM: The citation from Stevens’ Opus Posthumous is really interesting.
but a gift for irony is not evenly distributed in the population. and at the same time gives the reader a critical distance from that ideological feeling or conviction. whose miming ironically undercuts the character’s language just by repeating it in another register. with hardly a curl of the lip. from the beginning of my literary study. fascinated by places where straightforward univocal meaning. or anyone. Since indirect discourse is “undecidable. whereas it would have been first person present tense when it happened for the character) and that of the narrator. race.Interview: For the Reader-to-Come 127 and of citation being a form of incitation. those who think they have mastered irony are the most likely to be caught by it. How can I. points of view at once. for example. since it is so conspicuous a feature of novelistic conventions. paraphrasable thematic meaning. know whether you wholeheartedly approve of what I say or are curling your lip as you write down my exact words? . as a student mocks his or her professor by repeating exactly. Indirect discourse is a good example. figures of speech. An awareness of irony is therefore necessary for good reading. Some otherwise smart people have a deaf ear for irony. and is so powerful in its ability to present two. not necessarily compatible. or social ideology.3 Both interest me. that of the character (mimed by the narrator in the third person past tense. Could you perhaps say something about the importance of developing an awareness of irony in literary study? I’m also conscious of the overlap here between the mode of indirect discourse in my own citations of your work and the nature of the interview.” like irony itself. Is the narrator really making fun of the character. Perhaps there is something to be said about this too? JHM: I don’t have much of anything to say about indirect discourse and irony beyond what I have already said in various places. but. as Friedrich Schlegel observed. I’ve always been. or repeating what he or she said with full approval and allegiance? You can never be sure. though in different ways. indirect discourse shares the suspension characteristic of irony. even in the population of literature students. Indirect discourse both gives the reader wonderful access to what the character was saying or thinking. the incurable itself. It may be incurable. in the sense that you cannot be sure whether it is the character’s language or the narrator’s language (though you can guess). perhaps something that expresses a prevailing gender. class. So watch out! You are right to say that your citations of my work are an example of this possible irony. in order to avoid premature and unjustified certainty in a univocal reading. what the professor has said. I’m not sure how you can cure that. is complicated by formal or linguistic complications in literary texts.
I have an obligation or responsibility to tell it like I think it is. Could you say a little more about this “violence” in reading and teaching—perhaps in your own experience of it? Also.128 J. that is. As you recall de Man saying at a Yale seminar in your Speech Acts in Literature (2001). and who may or may not be influenced in a benign manner. As a teacher. but she was really troubled by it. but something that can never be exactly predicted beforehand. a few times in my own experience. so what they write or say is at least metaphorically sovereign in the sense of being outside the law or received opinion. that novel is a piece of cake. This must be forgotten by the teacher.” and Paul de Man’s reference to it in The Rhetoric of Romanticism. “You aim at a bear and some innocent bird falls out of the sky” (144). unreasonably upset by Mrs Dalloway. how can a teacher be responsible and/or responsive (or) “just” with the foreknowledge of this necessary predicament? JHM: I suppose I meant “violence” in the Benjaminian sense of “Gewalt. not intended to be “violent. neither writer nor teacher can really justify what they say by reference to some achieved truth. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading ED: In your discussion of Heinrich von Kleist in Versions of Pygmalion (1990). a case of the fabrication of thoughts while speaking or writing. . but an exercise of free sovereignty. You aim at a bear and an innocent bird falls out of the sky. for one reason or another. You say thereafter that acts of teaching are “political” in the full. so it seemed to me. It is a feature of performatives that they make something happen. however. you say “The text read by the teacher was itself originally an act of violent linguistic imposition. 114). the teacher has the feeling that perhaps it would have been just as well for this or that student. you say that acts of reading and teaching are elements in a series of acts of violence. radical sense of that word. I remember an adult woman in an evening college class of mine years ago who was. who reads the text as a discourse of achieved semantic and referential meaning” (VP. For most undergraduates. That there is a blindness in the performative act of relaying this reading in a class to a group of students who may or may not be influenced.” I suppose that makes teaching “political” in the sense that it has unforeseen political effects.” not the same thing as knocking a man down. though that seemed to me tame enough. even though the teacher hasn’t said anything overtly about politics. even on the way people vote. and I guess also by what I was saying about it. or whatever. That is. to read whatever text I am teaching as best I can and not hide anything. Following Kleist’s essay “On the Gradual Fabrication of Thoughts While Speaking. Another way to put this is to say that writing or teaching has a performative as well as constative dimension. not to have read a given work nor to have heard me say my say about. Sometimes.
reexamined and reworked time and again in the future—a suggestion I take to mean that the thinking of the material base will be a way of opening questions about lived-experience and the inaugural performance of acts of reading as they occur in time. “We know the material only through names or other signs” (323). 39. The Resistance to Reading. that the commonsense idea of the material is ideological through and through. one Serge Doubrovsky. from New York (I believe). with de Man and Derrida. It is part of Western metaphysics or of logocentrism.3). I cite a few lines from your “Presidential Address” in the hope that you might say a little more about what you mean by the material base and how it has influenced your thinking of history: “The uncriticized notion of the material base is ideological through and through. What that means is suggested in answers Derrida gave in the question and answer session after his lecture at the famous Hopkins conference of 1966. JHM: It’s not easy to answer these questions in a few lines.Interview: For the Reader-to-Come 129 ED: For the past few weeks. 103.A. reading. I have been thinking about and reading Hawthorne’s tales and notebooks alongside your work Hawthorne and History (1991). So. you refer to Paul de Man’s writings in one way or another as a crucial point of origin for your ideas in these areas. and the material base. at the risk of quoting out of context. and the Question of the Material Base” concerning history.” In Literature as Conduct you say something similar of the later de Man: that his thought of the “nonphenomenal materiality of language” is perhaps another name for what Derrida calls “the wholly other” (11). reproached him for not recognizing the authority of intentionality and perception (terms important for Merleau-Ponty and Husserl). Could you say something about how your own thinking of the performative inaugurality of the act of reading has been influenced by both writers? What is different about it? And what do you mean when you say in Hawthorne and History that in reading history “the ‘I’ becomes a linguistic function in a process that occurs of its own accord and is authorized by no independent witnessing ‘I’?” (126). At all points. A certain now forgotten phenomenological critic. I have also been reading up on your debate with D. example. Miller in the pages of ADE Bulletin and your comments in PMLA (vol. It is the specular reflection of idealism. not something outside it” (TNT. where you say that Derrida’s thought has always been focused on what is “beyond language. 322). I have also noticed that you compare and contrast Derrida’s le tout autre with de Man’s “rhetoricity” in your recent article “Derrida’s Remains” (Miller 2006b. “Now I don’t . I hold. Derrida replied. 1988) regarding what you say in your “Presidential Address 1986: The Triumph of Theory. You also suggest that the topic of the material base will need to be rethought.
Derrida and de Man converge without quite converging in that both have notions of something “beyond language.5 You can say that I agree with de Man and Derrida on materiality. as is the nature or performatives. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading know what perception is and I don’t believe that anything like perception exists. If you buy perception you are buying into the whole shebang. No such thing as perception! Wow! How could that be? I think Derrida meant by this two things: (1) that so-called perception of material things is always contaminated by language. If you could predict exactly the effect it would not be a performative. for example.” for Derrida the “wholly other. Yes. Speech acts exceed cognition. it is part of the whole ideological system of assumptions or concepts that makes up what we call logocentrism or Western metaphysics. Perception is precisely a concept. but perhaps I put what they say about singularity and about performatives together in my own way.”4 I still remember thinking that was an amazing claim. . . novel. with exact accuracy. from the system of reference.” for de Man those three curious notions of materiality I discuss in the essay mentioned above. or philosophical text. nevertheless you (I) have the feeling of being on your (my) own when trying to figure out what to say about a given text in an essay or a class. affecting my students or readers in one way or another by what I say or write. They are by no means saying quite the same thing. Every reading is singular in the sense of being carried out by a single person in unique circumstances. My reading (anybody’s reading) is performative in the strict sense that it is a way of doing something with words.6 No one had said just that . the concept of an intuition or of a given originating from the thing itself. often in unexpected and even dismaying ways. . I also have characteristically the experience of finding that a given poem. however. but in the course of trying to do this I necessarily go beyond the text. What I say is simple enough. and from Marx. Who could deny that? Though you (I) should be respectful and cognizant of the whole tradition of readings of a given poem. I have said my say about de Man’s “materialism without matter” in my essay in Material Events. I want of course to say just what the text means. Certainly what I say about the performative singularity of reading is influenced by both writers. Il faut choisir. independently from language. In certain areas one cannot have both de Man and Derrida at once. it’s a “concept. novel. not something pre-linguistic.130 J. Empson’s pastoral book is a good example. I don’t believe that there is any perception.” hence (2) since perception is a concept. philosophical treatise is surprising in the sense of not seeming to mean what the tradition says it means. present itself in its meaning. have learned to think about it as a problem not a predetermined solution from them.
In this essay you make a distinction between a Levinasian face-to-face encounter and what Derrida would refer to as the demand made on him by the “wholly other. I’m waiting. just that I don’t hear it. In a recent interview with Constanza del Rio Álvaro and Francisco Collado Rodríguez in The European English Messenger. but it seems right when you read it. I don’t hear the “still small voice. Austin says the judge’s ruling makes the law.Interview: For the Reader-to-Come 131 about Alice in Wonderland. ED: You have said quite a bit about your decision to study literature in your interview with Julian Wolfreys in The J. ED: I’ve just been reading your latest essay in Critical Inquiry. in the sense of deciding how to read the text of the law and in the sense of deciding. I’m aware that my deafness may be just stubborn obduracy. and . that a particular law (necessarily general) fits this particular case in a certain way.” My receiver must be on the wrong frequency. no voice. not a decision at all.” Indeed. you say that you are somewhat at odds with Derrida’s notion of the demand from the wholly other because it implies that there is some “little voice” making that demand. among others. never with preordained certainty. Could you say a little more about this experience of singularity in decision making which differentiates or “enisles” your own work? JHM: No great mystery about this. Maybe some day the call will get through. Levinas and Derrida. In that interview I confessed that I don’t ever experience that call from the “wholly other. Hillis Miller Reader. the critic’s reading makes the meaning of the given text. I have great sympathy for the Derridean idea that the “wholly other” makes a demand on me. You will note that my language is Protestant. or else it would be automatic. you stress that one way of thinking of the difference between the two thinkers would be to see that the demand goes in an “opposite direction” for each—“I invoke the other” for Levinas and “the other demands that I respond” for Derrida (258–259).” to my shame. That doesn’t mean that the call (from God or some other form of “the wholly other”) is not being made. In a somewhat similar fashion. You say that you have the feeling that you are “on your own” in decision making and therefore distance yourself from Levinas and Derrida on this point—no God. but I agree with Derrida that a true decision is not preprogramed. I also agree with him that a decision is a break in the continuity of time and history. though I make them as “responsibly” as I can. “Derrida Enisled.” in which you tackle the questions of community and alterity in the writings of Heidegger. The result of my deafness is that I feel pretty much on my own in making decisions.
probably without much comprehension.132 J. Miller has implicitly denied his own leitmotif in The Ethics of Reading by always assuming that “ethics” exists in a certain relation to language which may not be the case—as a result he offers a weak and seemingly insubstantial understanding of “ethics. and. It is likely to bring out unethical self-righteousness. then. This has revealed how Miller has chosen the limits of the field of his argument to draw out his own conclusions. so de Man and Derrida on Nietzsche were helpful to me in getting at his work.” His rhetorical theory and practice are of most importance to me. has offered a deconstruction of the “ethics” in The Ethics of Reading on two grounds. and history. That’s not the . turning ethical concerns into simply a way of reading. namely the question of whether any sort of ethical obligation is involved in the act of reading. Second. especially if it is of the sort I have proposed. either Zarathustra or Birth of Tragedy. but I’ve read most of the other writings too. as a kind of New New Criticism that disengages from ontological questions in favor of linguistic ones? JHM: Any theory of ethics is likely to be controversial. and distortion. and by Harpham and Norris as simply unethical. as pedagogic and specifically American.7 What would be your response to those critics who speak of your ethics of reading as on the one hand anti. could you perhaps say a little regarding the influence Nietzsche has had over your thinking? JHM: I started reading Nietzsche more or less by accident when I was an undergraduate at Oberlin College. The Will to Power and On the Genealogy of Morals were a big influence. ED: In his Ethical Criticism Robert Eaglestone makes the following criticisms of your ethics of reading: Miller’s own text. including of course “Truth and Lie in an Extramoral Sense. a specific and limited topic. I guess. his sense of the role of language in ethical judgment (Genealogy). I read him initially. My critics seem to forget that I was in The Ethics of Reading talking about what the title named. People feel threatened. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading you have also spoken quite a bit about how you came to study Burke and Poulet in other places.” This “weak” understanding of ethics is highlighted in Critchley. from “within” Miller’s own text. the repression of history served only to highlight and so to “return” the historically grounded nature of language. First. condescension. his theory of tropes. because he was there to be read.or ahistorical. As my own decision to study your work was a direct result of finding a literary critic willing (and able) to discuss Nietzsche as a literary critic. politics. I’ve been reading him off and on ever since. I can’t remember which. on the other.
class. though I think it is just denegation to try to deny that language is involved in both cases. It enters the surrounding historical context to change it. I should have thought that was a truism by now. but the question of the zero or zero point brings back to me “instances” in The Linguistic Moment and Ariadne’s Thread where you speak of performative catachresis and anastomosis: I think. or what? I believe. but in a different way in each. that is. 419). or his ox. or that I needed to say that Kant’s ethical theory came somewhat before the Battle of Waterloo. which is always a unique response to a unique demand made on me by a unique. since the judge. I certainly do not turn “ethical concerns into simply a way of reading.L. My ethical theory is historical through and through. true ethical decision. if I may dare to say so. meaning that it is never possible to make a mechanical application of the law. 213). J. Does he mean I should have seen moral codes as historically determined. race. as relative. decision that this particular case fits a given law. place. The opposition. therefore I had better avoid doing that in this case”). and on the other hand. Austin says the judge’s decision makes the law. a unique book). at the very least. It is a historical event. that each genuine ethical decision and act is historical. or of Wallace Stevens’ Abgrund in “The Rock” (LM. is between a view of ethical decision as the mechanical application of a rule (“You shouldn’t covet your neighbor’s wife. in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. of Ottilie in Goethe’s Die Walverwandtschaften undoing the ground of Aristotle’s metaphorical ratio (AT. gender. singular person (or. but it is by no means fully determined by that surrounding historical context. An example would be Sethe’s spontaneous decision to try to kill all her children so they won’t be taken back into slavery. that is. in however small a way.” That is an unethical distortion of what I have said. I don’t quite understand what Eaglestone (whoever he may be) means by the repression of history. It leaves things different from what they were. has to make an autonomous. in a sense forever unjustified. Would you say that in some sense both of these terms (catachresis and anastomosis) figure in different ways in your earlier work what you are more recently calling the relationship between zero and one? . in a different way. Language is involved in everything human beings do. or his ass. ED: I find your readings of Nietzsche’s use of aphorism to be particularly helpful for my reading of your recent work. on the contrary. in my view. ungrounded except in the ideological assumptions of a certain time.8 I say “recent work” here in terms of the issues presented in Zero Plus One and “Z” in Julian Wolfreys’ Glossalalia. My response to the ethical demand another makes on me is like that.Interview: For the Reader-to-Come 133 same thing as the question of my ethical responsibility to my neighbor.
” for example—on the other. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading In terms of tempo.134 J. just as “Körper” and “Leib” don’t mean quite the same things as “corps” and “chair. though hard to talk about intelligibly. to see all these motifs as different versions of the “same thing.” Each terminology has its own structure and laws. you speak of Nietzsche’s writings as a musical gesture. I’ve always been obsessed with the various ways you can figure the unfigurable and unnamable. First. an odd combination. is the literary critic’s sense of rhythm? And can this be learned or is it innate or instinctual? JHM: I hadn’t thought of the connection. indicating the residual traces of fissures. intonations. that undoes the oppositions between literal and metaphorical language by calling the reader’s attention to “Bild” (image) and “Gleichnis” (likeness. and “antithythmical” inventions that have led to the completed “period” or grammatical construct. in your discussion of Kleist in Versions of Pygmalion you speak of “an encrypted anacoluthon” (111). things you can say only using those terms. Could you perhaps say a little more about what you mean by this? . to try to push this question in two slightly different directions. but one feels it. and Derrida’s expansive inexhaustibly inventive developments—a wonderful two hour seminar I once heard on the phrase “je t’aime. 110).” as Derrida himself points out in Le toucher. as for example the difference between Nancy’s elliptical terseness and obsessive repetition with slight variation of the same phrases. Also a good example of difficulties in translation. I would hope with increasing wisdom and insight. however. parable). a book I find wonderful but exceedingly difficult. How important.” or as “body” and “corpse. I do think rhythm and tempo are important. though I’m not at all confident that is the case. in light of your reading of Nietzsche’s stylistic virtuosity. which may end up being similar after all. caesuras. on the one hand. but I guess you are right that the zero/one relation is another version of catachresis and anastomosis. since neither English nor French have quite an equivalent word play. you are right that something strange happens to the literal/metaphorical distinction by way of the double meanings of “Geichnis” and “Bild” in German. a strange crossover between a combination of signs and physical states. as you point out. ED: Though you say that it is difficult to speak intelligibly about the topic of rhythm and tempo. The paradox is. so I keep coming back to different versions of that. that the rhythmic interludes. I would like. if I could. if I read you rightly. punctuations have at once everything to do with the semantic content and nothing to do with it (VP. It would be a mistake.9 Yes.
” “Once you have committed yourself. if I have transcribed you rightly. but since you didn’t know what you were going to say when you started speaking and make it up as you go along.” in the sense of the choice of one word rather than another that looks like it says the same thing. in appearance. so they look like synonyms but are not really synonyms.” but Derrida does not use the word catachresis. It is a vacant center. Each has a different root and different semantic associations. unnamable center. so he is constantly playing with these. whereas he does say metonymy. Well.” What interests me here is this tactful term. I had the privilege of hearing your paper on touching at Leeds University last week. I suppose I meant that the invention of thoughts while speaking may look like it’s perfectly coherent. no word for touch is adequate to it. Derrida’s book is therefore marked by “perpetual. What is the connection. I meant by “ceaseless walk from metonymy to metonymy” that each of the terms is only adjacent to that vacant. An anacoluthon is “a failure in following. Since there is no “the” touch. ED: In Literature as Conduct you speak of “a desire for infinite freedom and disponsibility. No two words in those lists say the same thing. what looks like a coherent and grammatical sentence is actually the result of a discontinuous series of “inventions” that only hang together after the fact. and unlike Husserl and Merleau-Ponty (at least to the same degree). to a . It ain’t namable. “quasi-synonymous” and the attention to style as inseparable from meaning. as in the double meaning of partage. “Style. but is actually saying something quite different from them because he has his own inimitable philosophical style. style is meaning in the obvious sense that Derrida means it when he says Nancy may appear to be saying the same thing conceptually as Husserl or Merleau-Ponty. Nancy is acutely aware of the limitations of language and of the roots within words. in which you play provocatively with the notion of “hand” as “style.Interview: For the Reader-to-Come 135 Secondly. that “style is meaning” and the various meanings of Derrida’s work on Nancy are a kind of “ceaseless walk from metonymy to metonymy.” such as a subject that doesn’t agree with its verb. so any name for it is necessarily a catachresis. Like Derrida. since you can never touch touch.” You say here. frustrated. for you. incompleteness.” you say. so I must guess what I meant. between touching and catachresis? JHM: Gosh. Something like that. therefore determines meaning. I might better have said “from catachresis to catachresis. did I really speak of an “encrypted anacoluthon?” I don’t have the essay at hand in this house.” exemplified in his lists of “quasi-synonymous” terms for touching.
especially Sartre. the dramatist only wants more liberties than he can really take” (James 1947. in The Ordeal of Richard Feverel. and. I agree with you that one is born committed. He cannot renege on his commitment to the Party without betrayal. for example. whereas before he was free to join or not. however. The consequences of his not having to make the decision are accordingly inspirational. I find this word “disponsibility” intriguing. Derrida’s notion of irresponsibility (that we cannot be true to all the responsibilities we have.10 I suppose I meant that we all might desire infinite freedom and disponsibility.” so that if I join the communist party (his example) I have to commit myself again to it every time I wake up in the morning. in a sense. but can never ever have it. this interview. pace Sartre.” and is relieved that he did not have to make the decision of whether or not to make contact with Jane Clairmont: “I had luckily not had to deal with the difficult option” (161). I think here of a statement in the Preface to the New York Edition that strikes me as particularly correct: “The historian. essentially. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading certain action. For me. your irresponsibility” (77). 162). your unused freedom and what was. compelling. They put me where I was not before. But the gesture here. to make promises. wants more documents than he can really use. it seems to me at least. so one is never really disponsible. so far as I remember). of course. is not toward the relief of not having to deal with an excess of historical information so much as an acknowledgment that the artist is forced to be irresponsible with these “bare facts. “there is no returning to your disponsibility. ED: “The Aspern Papers” seems to me to be an especially suitable allusion to the kind of reading I am currently engaged in with your work. is the paradigmatic expression of this loss of freedom. that nothing could alienate a radical “disponibilité. These commitments are speech acts (unknown as such to Sartre. What do you mean precisely by disponsibility? Can anyone really ever be said to be or have been disponsible? JHM: “Disponibility” is a somewhat ironic reference to the use of this word by the existentialists. Sartre is no longer disponsible.136 J.. provocative. certain parents etc. I have some measure of freedom. to commit myself to a marriage. He had a radical theory of freedom. James as you know refers here to the “odd law” that the “suggestion” serves the artist better than the “maxim. namely in a position of needing to be true or false to the commitments I have now made. Nevertheless. believing. for example to a certain race and sex.” that whether or not he is in possession of them the reader/writer must be willing to accept . for example. Meredith’s figure of crossing the Rubicon. as I do not. that we cannot feed all the cats) complicates what I have just said about ethical life quite a bit.
11 My essays on Jacques Derrida more or less self-consciously add and take away. in a way. no doubt an unsuccessful attempt. and Wolfreys. Would you say that “The Aspern Papers” can be read as an amplified expression of the necessary irresponsibility or injustice of the active reader’s response to another’s work? Is a just reading in some sense (perhaps this is even too macabre?) a violation of a tomb? I suppose. I would very much like to know a little more about your own research experience. “Derrida’s Remains.” ED: You’ll be aware that my questions thus far have steered clear of the biographical.” etc.” “Derrida Enisled. Like what John says at the very end of the Bible: Cursed be the one who adds one bit or takes away one bit (John says it more dramatically).Interview: For the Reader-to-Come 137 the consequences for having “turned” the “matter. They are my way of trying to “work through” my mourning at his death. by way of some irreverent serious frivolity. word by word. That is the way of reading he advises (and practices) in Le toucher: “micrological reading. Would I be right in saying that in the recent papers on Derrida’s work. like “reste. Something similar is striking in Derrida’s response to your work in Without Alibi. but of course active reading is bound to do both of those things.. all right. and with close attention to words. subsidiary to understanding his . since I think Derrida is right to say mourning and melancholy cannot be wholly distinguished. in my opinion. I’m thinking here of a responsibility to the archive by way of a writing (perhaps re-vision) of another’s work and a bearing testimony to it.12 But seeing as I’m researching a book on your work. Here’s a quotation from your doctoral thesis: “relating an author’s life and his work should be. you are constantly aware of your responsibility to a memory of a person as well as an obligation to the future of that person’s work? How does one deal with this conflict? JHM: Yes. reading is the violation of a tomb. I’ve noticed that I’ve been able to get quite a lot of background from the interviews with Moynihan. where he says that in order to do justice to your work he must propose to you “the most demanding interpretation” (165). but I should like to revisit that point here in the event that other researchers might read this book in future years. Olson.” that recur. he must put the figure of the anacoluthon (like an acolyte who gives the slip) to work. You’ve said quite a bit about it already in the Wolfreys interview. My Derrida essays are oriented toward the future of his work by way of their implicit and explicit claim that the way to read him is page by page. sentence by sentence.” or for having “done things” with it.
though I was also influenced by work by other scholars on recurrent metaphors. etc. the biographical is boring. before he left around 1958 or so for Zürich. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading work as a series of individual works of art. The Dickens book is much influenced by my reading of Poulet in the early 1950s and by my close friendship with him when he was a colleague at Hopkins. and Valéry. Those lunches were my real education. It was an attempt to use Burke’s idea of “symbolic action” in readings of some Dickens novels. though my turn to Derrida in the late 1960s was in a way a return to Burke. I still think Poulet is a terrific critic. according to Bush. some innocence. actually. Bush read my huge two-volume dissertation in one weekend and had one comment: I think you should use “that” sometimes instead of “which. but I certainly never learned that from anything he said..” He must have somehow liked it.” a Freudian. in an essay. A good novel should have life and meaning of its own independent of its author” (DSI. Douglas Bush. from stage to stage toward some neat conclusion.138 J. the dissertation and the book are radically different in theme and procedure).). etc. I taught myself to be able to read French seriously in order to read Poulet. since he recommended me for the job at Hopkins. xix). certainly so in the case of my quite pedestrian life. when I was rewriting the dissertation as a book (really starting all over from the beginning. a deep-dyed New Critic named Earl Wasserman. This took some courage or. My dissertation was written when I was greatly influenced by Burke’s writings. in Shakespeare. Sartre. since the director of my dissertation. a Marxist. at Hopkins. though I am no longer a “critic of consciousness. more or less detested Burke (because he uses the editorial “we” and other stylistic infelicities. That came later. by an accidental encounter with the first of his essays translated into English. those were the days! Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive!14 ED: You have remained throughout your career remarkably prolific. Poulet and I and another colleague. do you have a working routine? . but it was really because he was a “theorist. I especially admired and tried to emulate Poulet’s succinctness and his “dialectical” movement.13 I therefore ask with some trepidation how your early interest in Kenneth Burke and Georges Poulet influenced your work at this stage? JHM: Yes.” as you have probably noticed. My reading of Poulet sort of put Burke in the shade for the moment. At the time I wrote my dissertation I did not know Poulet’s work at all. used to have lunch together at the Hopkins Faculty Club at least once a week and argue endlessly about literature and how to write about it. for example. Ah.
Your fingers on the keyboard or grasping the pen seem almost to think for you. still writing mostly in the morning. My deliberate model was Anthony Trollope. though they all came out of graduate teaching there. a digital notebook with dated entries. with entries written all over the world. After that my day was given to chairing and teaching. director of the Literature Major. even if it is just a line or two. airy nothings. I should stress that most of my books and essays. early in the morning at home in Bethany. keeping a notebook even when I wasn’t actively writing an essay or book. I remember wondering. The next two books were written in Europe with the leisure provided by a Guggenheim. I have no idea how. in Australia on a lecture tour. a way to discover or articulate ideas you did not know you had. I still try out my ideas in an annual “mini-seminar” at Irvine and of course at all those conferences and in those lectures. Other books from that Irvine teaching still remain in draft form. It is my vocation. almost from the beginning. I’ve done all this writing because I really enjoy doing it. though not so compulsively. while a Post Office employee (not all that different from chairing a big fractious department). When I got to Yale. ideas are just that. Inarticulate. and with a new baby in the apartment. wordless. who wrote his 47 novels that way. have come out of teaching. My hapless students have . Connecticut. While still at Yale I shifted straight from handwriting to the computer and still keep. Writing is a form of thinking. in airports. with invaluable stylistic help from my wife of 3 years. with less distraction. as well as a series of summer seminars for college teachers through the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the School of Criticism and Theory. since my writing practice has been different at different times. if it would ever get finished. both undergraduate and graduate teaching. along with teaching. and another Guggenheim and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship later on helped with later books. Now in more or less retirement in Maine I have been able to continue being productive. I still have the 15 or 20 notebooks. At Irvine I had more time and managed to write and publish a lot of books. Sometimes sort of like playing scales for a pianist.Interview: For the Reader-to-Come 139 JHM: Complex and somewhat tedious story. entirely different from the dissertation. Then at Hopkins it took me 5 or 6 years to write my first book. I still recommend that practice of writing something every day to my graduate students as the way to get a dissertation done. etc. Write something every day. I was so busy with various small administrative duties (chair of English. director of Graduate Studies in Comparative Literature) that I set up a regimen of getting up at 5 and working until 8. in some despair. on planes. My dissertation (two big volumes never published) was written. in about 6 months.
to say that they want me to know they read some essay or book of mine when they were undergraduates or graduate students or young teachers and that this has strongly influenced their own thinking about literature ever since. No better way to see whether or not a reading of some work or other. do you have an image of a reader-to-come? JHM: I have no confidence that my work will go on being read. Hillis Miller and the Possibilities of Reading been guinea pigs over the years for work I’ve been doing. . Young persons (or perhaps not so young nowadays) come up to me after a lecture or at a conference. or Poulet. mostly generous and good readers. fortuitously. My advice to critics of my work is to pretend they know nothing about received opinion concerning my work but to read it as if they were that undergraduate who just happened to come upon it. That serendipitous reader is the readerto-come I hope I go on having. ED: Do you have any advice for critics of your work? In other words. They just happened on my work or some teacher assigned some essay or book. or a theoretical trajectory. though of course I hope it will. or send me emails.140 J. My own discoveries of Burke. What could be nicer! Especially nice is the accidental quality of these events. Who knows? I have been lucky in having lots of readers of many different sorts over the years all over the world. will fly or should sink without a trace. or Derrida happened that way. I am immensely touched by an experience I have had fairly often.
We are carried over. 4. 1947). How to Do Things with Words. See. I thank J. 5. “Derrida’s Ethics of ‘Irresponsibilization’. 2nd edition. 2. 1975). Urmson and Marina Sbisà (Cambridge. Julian Wolfreys (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Hillis Miller. See Gary Olson’s “Rhetoric. in Two Easy Lessons. J. MA: Harvard University Press.” p. What has interested Miller in this is the way that Austin’s theories repeat the crime that they condemn. translated. pp. This process is reciprocal since we are in effect invaded by it also. For an insightful essay on this topic see also “How About a Game of Tennis?” by Megan Becker-Leckrone in The J. Hillis Miller for generously sending me a copy of this article. pp. Chapter 1 1. 112. Austin. is also the conjuring trope.” p. In one of its chief senses. 1994. or. delivered at Nanyang Technological University. 4. All quotations from the “Preface to ‘The Aspern Papers’” and from the prefaces to James’s other works are from Henry James. the word recalls the notion of prosopopoeia. 159–179. Hillis Miller” in JAC. In doing this I am repeating a question concerning the relationship between conduct as a character definition (“your conduct”) and as a medium (“literature conducts us to a virtual world”) which is being toyed with throughout Literature as Conduct. . J. 2009). See J. 289–294. ed. vol.L.2. The editors of this volume have reproduced James’s extensively revised version of the story for the New York Edition appearing in 1907–1909. How to Get Irresponsible. Hillis Miller Reader ed. 2006. the inaugural trope of reading. 1986) published together in one volume with The Turn of the Screw. 14. Prosopopoeia.Notes Preface 1. 3. Cultural Studies. but of course he cannot logically have it both ways. Singapore on September 30. The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. for example. 2005). the conjurer’s trope. I am also using the Penguin Classics edition of The Aspern Papers (London: Penguin. He has to have it both ways. All further quotations from Austin are from this edition. I am thinking of “conduct” here and elsewhere as a noun and a verb. and the Future of Critical Theory: A Conversation with J. 6. On Literature: “That Austin a few pages later welshes on his commitment and makes sincerity a condition of a felicitous performative is a major crux or contradiction in his speech act theory. by insinuating that all reading is a form of conduct in the manner in which we raise the dead or in the way we are conducted to their shadowy world beyond our own.O. A revised version appears as chapter 9 of For Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press. teleported or conducted to a new dimension.
The Palimpsest: Literature. 4. 1977. he says: “You will never understand—so we can stop right here and all go home.61 (February 1965). p. 64. Brown. pp. and Richard H. I’m extremely grateful to Sarah Dillon for her book on palimpsests. 2. 8.ca/revues/surfaces/vol6/miller_1. Chapter 3 1. (3) the presupposition of a zeitgeist.” Roundtable Discussion. 3. 16. “Justices” in Provocations to Reading: J. See Miller’s Preface to the 2000 paperback edition of The Disappearance of God where he speaks of having read through the entire Masson edition of the collected works in Florence. 20. He also. 2007). Miller is first referred to as “a critical rhapsodist” in a review article of The Disappearance of God by Kenneth Allott in Review of English Studies. J. Grevel Lindop (Oxford: Oxford University Press. . 5–41. vol. 228–261. Chapter 2 1.1 (March 1962). For two essays concerned specifically with questions of rhythm and tone in De Quincey’s “Dream-Fugue” see Calvin S. 1996). Further citations will be to this edition. 4 (1994). Byrns “De Quincey’s Revisions in the ‘Dream-Fugue’ ” in PMLA. vol.142 Notes 7. 1990). Surfaces. discusses here the three “enabling fictions” which allowed him to write the work: (1) the assumption of a unified selfhood or consciousness. 2009). 164–184. 24. MN: University of Minnesota Press. Hillis Miller.” a transcription from an audiotape of a lecture de Man gave at Ohio State University on April 4. 341–350. pp. pp. See also the preface to the 1975 edition for a wonderful discussion on the uniqueness of the act of reading and a defense of a Pouletian strain of identification. Jacques Derrida.html (June 22. 77. In discussing this line in his essay “The Concept of Irony. and for her insightful conversational remarks that have helped me think through some important issues on the subject.3 (July 1938). “Humanistic Discourse and the Others. 2005). importantly. 5. “The Musical Structure of De Quincey’s ‘Dream-Fugue’.pum.montreal. Andrzej Warminski (Minneapolis. p. The roundtable can be downloaded on: www. pp. The passage is practically inexhaustible in its resonance and deserves a much fuller account than I can give it here. 97–101. Theory (London: Continuum.” The Musical Quarterly. pp. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings ed. vol. Barbara Cohen and Dragan Kujundžic´ (New York: Fordham University Press. I will return to this remarkable passage in Derrida’s work for a fuller discussion of how this thinking of the secret appears in Miller’s writings in a later chapter.” See Aesthetic Ideology ed. (2) the positing of a point of departure and a dialectical sequence. Jr. Criticism. 6. Thomas De Quincey. vol. Hillis Miller and the Democracy to Come ed.
p. pp. and the paper that started their uncanny discourse “The Figure in the Carpet” Poetics Today. All further references are to this edition. Another reason why speaking critically of irony is dangerous. Phenomenology. 6.K.Notes 143 2. See also Miller’s response to Loesberg in the same issue. p. The Warden (Oxford: Oxford University Press. MN: University of Minnesota Press. “Yeats the European” in Yeats the European ed. Kritische Schriften (München: Carl Hanser. Hillis Miller: Humanism. 1964). 1998) for the kind of bizarre terminological coinages proliferating in narrative poetics. Norman Jeffares (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smith. 1964).” and Jonathan Loesberg’s “From Victorian Consciousness to an Ethics of Reading: The Criticism of J. 429. 7. 3. 189–191. “The Fictional Theories of J. In “The Concept of Irony” de Man accuses Wayne Booth in A Rhetoric of Irony of being “eminently sensible” in this regard. p. and Deconstruction in The Form of Victorian Fiction and Fiction and Repetition. 4. 32–44. vol. 107–118. C.” For the German version see Friedrich Schlegel. Alspach (London: Macmillan. For de Man “Irony in itself opens up doubts as soon as its possibility enters our heads. 1966). See Paul de Man’s Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism. 8. Anthony Trollope. 2. 119–130. Peter Allt and Russell K. Kritische Schriften ed. 9. Wolfdietrich Rasch (München: Carl Hanser Verlag. See Miller’s response to Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan “A Guest in the House” in Poetics Today. Stead. Fall 1993. 1. vol.” p.B. The Variorum Edition of the Poems ed. 1989). pp. 2nd edn (Minneapolis. 166. Stead points to a series of anachronisms ignored in most major criticisms of the poem. 2. 1984). 1983). you never quite know when to stop. 538. W. “Terminologisation” is Mark Currie’s playfully sardonic word in Postmodern Narrative Theory (London: Macmillan. For “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” see pp. 530–542. 428–433. and there is no inherent reason for discontinuing the process of doubt at any point short of infinity. pp.1b (1980). pp.” pp. In an astonishing historical survey. 51–59. For what are amongst the most damning criticisms of Miller’s work see Daniel Schwarz’s The Humanistic Heritage: Critical Theories of the English Novel from James to Hillis Miller. Chapter 4 1. 5. and Kenan’s “Deconstructive Reflections on Deconstruction: In Reply to Hillis Miller. Yeats. Kathleen Wheeler (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. especially chapter 10. Hillis Miller” in Victorian Studies. 1980). See Friedrich Schlegel’s “Über die Unverständlichkeit” in German Aesthetic and Literary Criticism: The Romantic Ironists and Goethe ed. pp. in the same issue. Her translation of the title of this essay is “On Incomprehensibility.3 (Spring 1980). A. For German version see Friedrich Schlegel. pp. 83. . 185–188. Once you start.
p. 288. VS (pp. 169–191. 7. Hillis Miller and David Miller on the contexts of such readings should see ADE Bulletin 88 (Winter 1987): www. See Patricia Parker. but apart from HH Miller has addressed the problems with reading parables at some length in TNT (pp. See the final line of “The Idea of Order at Key West” in Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. Kathleen Blake (New York: MLA. CA: Stanford University Press. John Bender and David E. however. 51–63. FR (pp. IN: Indiana University Press. In a fine sentence. “that the whole of philosophy is . Martin’s Press. MI: Zondervan. 65–82). Michael J. 1990). the distinction. 60–73. pp.htm 9. 6. as in the praeteritio Johnson identifies. The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion (Bloomington. Wallace Stevens.” says Levinas. Chapter 5 1. AB: Calgary University Press. For each theorist. the uncanny other of its will to control. 277–291). pp. 1990). “Metaphor and Catachresis” in The Ends of Rhetoric: History. “The god is veiled by his beauty: thus you hide your stars. p. O (pp. 73–115). LM (pp. 1997). 3–58. 84–150). 135–150. 5. and “Teaching Middlemarch: Close Reading and Theory” in Approaches to Teaching Eliot’s Middlemarch ed. pp. Throughout this chapter all biblical references are to The King James Version (Grand Rapids. 1998). 1990). You do not speak: thus you proclaim to me your wisdom. 8. pp. 4.org/ade/bulletin/N088/toc/088toc. See John D. 303–319). Readers interested in following up a lively argument between J. TPP (pp.” 2. VP (pp. Doubtless.144 Notes 3. Theory. Practice ed. enters in as an uncanny other. she calls catachresis “the gothic underside of the mastery of metaphor.ade. 2002). becomes untenable and catachresis. Fontanier and Dumarsais relies heavily on the conception of metaphor as mere ornament and catachresis as necessity.web2. pp. All further references to Hawthorne’s short fiction are to Selected Tales and Sketches ed. All references to Shakespeare are to The Complete Works ed. Colacurcio (London: Penguin. 1998). For an essay dealing specifically with Miller’s reading of parables in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. p. I will leave out some references. 159–181. pp. 127. AT (pp. 423–433). Shaobo Xie and Fengzhen Wang (Calgary. Wellbery (Stanford. where Stevens uses the phrase “ghostlier demarcations. 316–337). “The Motive for Metaphor” in The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (New York: Vintage.” 4. 2002).” The editors of a popular volume of responses to Derrida’s Spectres of Marx punningly entitled their volume Ghostly Demarcations. Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Oxford: Clarendon. 23–81). See Dialogues on Cultural Studies: Interviews with Contemporary Critics ed. These are Miller’s opening words in the interview. “It sometimes seems to me. 1987). 130. “I feel like the ghost of Hamlet’s father charged to speak and account for myself. 144–222). Caputo. Parker argues convincingly that the history of the distinction from Quintillian to Cicero up to and including Puttenham. see Julian Wolfreys’ Deconstruction • Derrida (New York: St. T (pp. LC (pp. 115–137.” 3. 181–194).
3. Sämtliche Werke und Briefe. pp. it is nonetheless at work to undermine the objectivity claimed for causal events in the “second analogy. vol. is perception according to causality a fundamentally linguistic event?” Of course. for an online text see the Kleist archive on www. pp.” p. Readers interested in taking up these points should begin with both The Ethics of Reading and Versions of Pygmalion and the sections in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals dealing with the “second analogy” and the “categorical imperative. 4.” “focalizer” and “point of view” in order to try to . J. Hillis Miller. the Resistance to Reading. 1991). p. I refer here to a manuscript version of an essay appearing in revised form as chapter 2 of For Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press. All references to “The Foundling” are to the Penguin Classics edition of Heinrich von Kleist’s The Marquis of O and Other Stories trans. however much this latter process is obscured or veiled. 1978). 1993). Rickman’s Philosophy in Literature (Madison. pp. 5. vol. “Who or What Decides: For Derrida. 1952). 81–89. also his “Aesthetic Ideology and the Ethics of Reading: Miller and de Man” in Paul de Man: Deconstruction and the Critique of Aesthetic Ideology (London: Routledge. Critics need more than “enervative taxonimizing” such as “omniscient narrator. For criticisms of Miller’s approach to reading.Notes 145 only a meditation of Shakespeare. 256–276.pdf. 103. which I cannot attempt here. For the German text.5 (October 1988). 1996). see PMLA. pp.1 (January 1988).” in Theory Now and Then (Durham: Duke University Press. 2 (München: Carl Hanser Verlag. 182–256. J.4 (October 2004). and for Miller’s reply to his critics. see Nicholas Royle’s “Telepathy effect” in The Uncanny (Manchester: Manchester University Press. 2. exactly. pp. 213–230. 102–124. 315. and H. For the wider implications of what is being said here. 103. pp. and the Question of the Material Base. Chapter 6 1. In Kant. what Miller calls the human tendency to project personal agency and concatenation on a random series of events. Such events are narrativized and personified in an act of reading that cannot avoid these logical or personal projections. What is interesting about Kleist’s critique of Kant’s philosophy—especially the infamous “second analogy”—is the central topic in Kleist’s work. p.” For a critique of Miller’s Kant see Christopher Norris’ The Truth About Postmodernism (Oxford: Blackwell. 57–60 and PMLA. Hillis Miller. 2003). a full exposition of these points in relation to Miller and his critics would require detailed readings of Kant and Miller. vol. pp. “Presidential Address 1986: The Triumph of Theory. 270–286.” The following question sounds alarm bells for Miller’s critics: “But in what sense. WI: Farleigh Dickinson. pp. see Heinrich von Kleist.org/text/derfindling. A Catastrophic Theory of Decision. 54. 1988). 2009).” quoted in Jeremy Tambling’s “Levinas and Macbeth’s ‘Strange Images of Death’ ” in Essays in Criticism. David Luke and Nigel Reeves (London: Penguin. 351.kleist. vol.P. 12. 819–821.
David Wills (Chicago. transmitting simply “I” . See also Heidegger’s discussion of one of Nietzsche’s final “epistles of delusion” [Wahnzettel] in What is Called Thinking? trans. 52–53. comes down to a sort of minimal (but therefore also maximal) egoism—‘the children of midnight . always already other and ‘more than itself’. L.” That Rushdie is so close to Joyce on this aspect is in itself uncanny. Conclusion 1. where the interplay between the acts of finding and losing creates a similar dynamic between invention (inventio) and discovery (dispositio) in the classical senses of these terms. See “Derrida Enisled” in Critical Inquiry. In speaking of what Derrida suggestively calls “auto-co-immunity. . To act morally toward other persons entails. pp. CA: Stanford University Press. vol. it might be added. every community is inhabited by a tendency to shoot itself in the foot. 61 for commentary on the term “irresponsibilization” as a contradiction between the general and the absolute. “remains a cryptic and uncanny term. . . “Point of view does not exist. the last of these unconscious beacons. but the really spooky thing about what Royle says here concerns the experience of a self emptying itself out in reading. This mode of thinking has a vast and as yet really under-explored significance for what a responsibility in reading could mean. it hardly needs saying. sacrosanct. 270.” Miller says “Every community strives to keep itself pure. 3. . . 33 (Winter 2007). safe. Jacques Derrida. The Gift of Death trans. Miller’s phrase. trans. but the inevitable grafting of an ‘and’ that accompanies any and every ‘I’: identity is never absolutely pure or singular. in similar acts of affirmation throughout daily existence can just or ethical social life prevail). MN: University of Minnesota Press. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford. 1995). A word once uttered is irrevocable. an irreducibly interruptive moment in reading. as full an attempt at understanding them and their situation as one is capable of. figuring a crisis in intelligibility and sensibility. “Psyche: Inventions of the Other” in Reading de Man Reading ed. “I.” “And I”.” Speaking of Midnight’s Children. 6. signalling not only ‘I’. 1968). 1996). Glenn Gray (New York: Harper & Row.146 Notes account for what happens in the always already uncanny event of reading.” The telepathy effect. as we say. in the act of trying to shoot the invader. See Jacques Derrida. . any more than does omniscience. 2. becoming other to itself in the experience of a telepathic projection of one mind into another. he argues: “Telepathy. Interviews 1974—1994 ed. 248–273. These ideas are also clearly discussed in his evocative “A ‘Madness’ Must Watch Over Thinking” in Points . J. 1989). Elizabeth Weber. anded about. for Saleem. 7. p. pp. it is always iterable.” “I. yet both the primary claim of . At the same time.’ The ‘And’ is crucial here. uncontaminated by aliens. IL: University of Chicago Press. 43.” p. pp. p. 339–364. Waters and W. Godzich (Minneapolis. See also Derek Attridge’s The Singularity of Literature: “No justice is possible without the singularity of the case—and of the individual standing trial—being so affirmed (and only.
” a paper delivered at the “Rhetoric. I am grateful to J. Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences” in The Structuralist Controversy: The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of . no faith is demanded here: from an infinite abundance of light and depth of happiness falls drop upon drop. 18 of For Derrida. 5–42. I thank J. The quote appears on p. It is no fanatic that speaks here. even in a time of globalisation and the increasing dominance of new teletechnologicoprestidigitizing media. 103. word upon word: the tempo of these speeches is a tender adagio. p. Here Nietzsche also says “Among my writings my Zarathustra stands to my mind by itself. the otherness which resists that understanding.J.” 3. 129. and affirmation of. Michael P. Ethics” conference at the University of Ghent on April 23. Clark (Berkley. 4. R. 1969a). which appears as chapter 2 of For Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press. pp. Coda: Interview: For the Reader-to-Come 1. See especially “Friedrich Schlegel: Catachresis for Chaos” in Others (Princeton. “Friedrich Schlegel and the Anti-Ekphrastic Tradition” in Revenge of the Aesthetic: The Place of Literature in Theory Today ed. “I conclude. 1998). p. 219.Notes 147 another person upon one and the final measure of one’s behaviour lies in the response to.” p. . 4. 2000). pp. 97. I refer to Walter Kaufman’s English translation of this section from Zarathustra which Nietzsche quotes in the Preface to Ecce Homo. see Also sprach Zarathustra: Ein Buch für Alle und Keinen in Nietzsche Werke IV ed. 2005. 2006. Hillis Miller for sending on an essay entitled “A Defense of Literary Study in a Time of Globalization and the New Tele-Technologies. Giorgio Colli and Mazzino Montinari (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co. via a subtle reading of virtuality and secrecy in Wallace Stevens’ poem “The River of Rivers in Connecticut. 1968). 220.” Here Miller argues. NJ: Princeton University Press. this is not ‘preaching’. CA: University of California Press. 2. Hillis Miller for kindly sending on a copy of this paper. I begin here by returning to a question I first put to Miller at the “CounterMovements: Institutions of Difference” conference at the University of Portsmouth on July 24.” he says here. With that I have given mankind the greatest present that has ever been made to it so far . 5. and “Indirect Discourse and Irony” in Reading Narrative (Norman. pp. 158–177. For its appearance in the context of the original work in English translation see Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and No One trans. “that what we call written literature has an almost unique and irreplaceable performative function in human culture.” that literature’s performative force often reveals something “other” which cannot be so effortlessly achieved in other media. 2001). Politics.” p. OK: University of Oklahoma Press. Hollingdale (London: Penguin. A Catastrophic Theory of Decision. 2009). See Jacques Derrida’s response to Serge Doubrovsky’s criticism of his “Structure. 58–75. For the German edition. p. . From “Who or What Decides: For Derrida.
vol. Their memories scarce seem their own! The Philosophical Geography (about to be published) observes that each man has. 7. pp. Hillis Miller. There they have dreamed: here they must act. it is the same: you shall not return. See J. 272.17–21. calm as Acheron. “And the Spirit and the bride say. 10. There lie youth and irresolution: here manhood and purpose. p. MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press. and wears the features of the terrible Universal Fate to him? Fail before her. 8. 232. 82. Tom Cohen. Miller has discussed this example at some length in Speech Acts in Literature (Stanford. For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book. do they see what a leap they have taken. John of Patmos’ account of this dangerous supplement in the closing remarks of the Bible. 2000). They are veritably in another land: a moral Acheron divides their life. one time or other. the ferryman does not need to be told whom he carries: he pulls with a will. Ethical Criticism: Reading After Levinas (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 183–204. The shores they have relinquished shrink to an infinite remoteness. and have tried to swim back to the bank they have blotted out. Barbara Cohen. So long as he gets his fare.’ firmly pronounced. 1999). The remarkable passage from George Meredith’s The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (Westminster: Archibold Constable. Only when they stand on the opposite bank. And let him that is athirst come. J. pp. 1902) is as follows: “Although it blew hard when Caesar crossed the Rubicon. Rev. let him take the water of life freely. 1995). . CA: Stanford University Press. pp. 279–311 (alternately). God shall add unto him 5. J. that by far the greater number of caresses rolled by this heroic flood to its sister stream below. Hillis Miller. 6. 1998). It is asked him: ‘Wilt thou wed this Fate. Richard Macksey and Eugenio Donato (Baltimore. 11. 203–233. If any man shall add unto these things. speeds him over.3 (2004). See William Empson’s Some Versions of Pastoral (London: Penguin. p. See also his meditative responses to the question posed in Trollope’s Ayala’s Angel “How can I know when I am in love?” in Black Holes (Stanford. pp. 2001). and give up all behind thee?’ And ‘I will. The above-named manuscript authority informs us. Come. 10. clear or foul. 134–139. are those of fellows who have repented their pledge. and Andrzej Warminski (Minneapolis. On—or to Acheron!— I subscribe to that saying of The Pilgrim’s Scrip: ‘The danger of a little knowledge of things is disputable: but beware the little knowledge of one’s self!’” p. And whosoever will. and lo. the passage of that river is commonly calm. Robert Eaglestone. See St. 1970). either in heart or in act. CA: Stanford University Press. Hillis Miller “Aphorism as Instrument of Political Action in Nietzsche” in Parallax. very few remain so after a day’s march even: and who wonders that Madam Fate is indignant. and heroes may be over in half-an-hour. “Paul de Man as Allergen” in Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory ed. 9. MN: University of Minnesota Press. For though every man of us may be a hero for one fatal minute. how the alluring loves in her visage wither and sicken to what it is modelled on! Be your Rubicon big or small. pp. 70–82.148 Notes Man ed. a little Rubicon—a clear or a foul water to cross. 22.
obtained from The British Library. For interviews with Miller covering this ground see especially Robert Moynihan’s A Recent Imagining: Interviews with Harold Bloom. Miller’s thesis.” . 317–345. Northrop Frye. Even so. Geoffrey Hartman. Dickens’ Symbolic Imagery: A Study of Six Novels. come. / But to be young was very Heaven. l. Frank Lentricchia. Barbara Johnson. and J. J. Hillis Miller (London: Methuen. pp. Hillis Miller” in JAC. 1986). Hillis Miller Reader (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Geoffrey Hartman. 1952. 12. Book xi. Cultural Studies. Amen. 405–422. Edward Said. Imre Salusinszky Criticism in Society: Interviews with Jacques Derrida. is in three volumes and is 580 pages long. He which testifieth these things saith. 13. Julian Wolfreys. God shall take away his part out of the book of life. Frank Kermode. Lord Jesus. and out of the holy city. and from the things which are written in this book. pp. pp. 2005). The J.” I am here using The King James Version for my quotation.Notes 149 the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy. 14. and the Future of Critical Theory: A Conversation with J. 108 (1850 version): “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.2 (1992). Paul de Man (Hamden. Hillis Miller. was presented to the English Department at Harvard University on March 31. 1987). Harold Bloom. and Gary Olson’s “Rhetoric. Amen. 99–131. CT: Archon Books.. pp. 14. 209–240. The allusion here is to Wordsworth’s The Prelude. ed. Surely I come quickly. My copy.
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Hillis Miller. Urmson and Marina Sbisà (Cambridge. Thomas. pp. Rilke. vol. J.O. The Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis. Leo. vol. Wayne C. “Against Monogamy” in The Oxford Literary Review. Richard H. Alan Bass (Chicago. J. CT: Archon. 1996). CA: Stanford University Press. pp. Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau. Calvin S. Aesthetic Ideology ed. ——. 1990). 31. 183–234. pp. 1974). 1978). Hillis le mal” in Provocations to Reading: J. Writing and Difference trans. or. Andrzej Warminski (Minneapolis. Mark. 341–350 Byrns. Attridge. Positions trans. 16. 1983). A Rhetoric of Irony (Chicago. Geoffrey. and Proust (New Haven. 1999). IN: Indiana University Press. The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion Without Religion (Bloomington. Geoffrey Hartman. Currie. p. . MN: Minnesota University Press. 20. Hillis Miller and the Democracy to Come ed. 2000). Alan Bass (Chicago. Paul de Man ed. The Singularity of Literature (London: Routledge. 77. IL: University of Chicago Press. Caputo. ——.3 (July 1938). pp. Asensi. Barbara Cohen and Dragan Kujundžic¢ (New York: Fordham University Press. Cohen. 2005). pp. De Quincey. or. Hillis Miller. Derrida. IL: University of Chicago Press. Paul. Bennington. Grevel Lindop (Oxford: Oxford University Press. “‘J’. Bersani. Kenneth. 1997). 3–21. Manuel. J. 1996). ——. John D.61 (February 1965). pp. Nietzsche. 1990). Interrupting Derrida (London: Routledge. Jr. ——. 1986). Postmodern Narrative Theory (London: Macmillan. Jacques. ——. 223–227. Booth. pp. “Ghost Writing” in Deconstruction Is/In America ed. vol. 97–101. “De Quincey’s Revisions in the ‘Dream-Fugue’” in PMLA. ——.4 (Fall 1964). vol. Anselm Haverkamp (New York: New York University Press. Hillis Miller” in Review of English Studies. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings ed. Boustrophedonic Reading trans.Bibliography Allott. vol. 1975). Derek. 1998). 2nd edn (Minneapolis. 2004). ——. J. The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia. The English Mail-Coach in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Other Writings (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1986). “The Musical Structure of De Quincey’s ‘Dream Fugue’” in The Musical Quarterly. ——. MN: Minnesota.L. Tom. “Spacecritics” in Partisan Review. MN: Minnesota. 24. How to Do Things With Words. 1981). ——. CT: Yale University Press. 2nd edn. Austin. 64.1/2 (1998).1 (March 1962). 135–159. de Man. 1984). ed. Mabel Richart (Stanford. “Interview” in A Recent Imagining: Interviews with Harold Bloom. 83–94. MA: Harvard University Press. 640–650. Brown. Robert Moynihan (Hamden. IL: University of Chicago Press. “Review of The Disappearance of God by J. Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism. 1979). pp.
. ——. trans. 33 (Winter 2007). Interviews 1974–1994 ed. Criticism. Nicholas Rand (Minneapolis. 2005). Richard Kearney (New York: Fordham University Press. MN: University of Minnesota Press. Spectres of Marx: The State of the Debt. Dickens. Denis. 1982). “Force of Law: ‘The Mytical Foundation of Authority’” trans. 1998). 25–65. Peggy Kamuf (London: Routledge. “A Certain Impossible Possibility of Saying the Event” trans. Waters and W. ——. Richard Rand (Lincoln. 181–220. IL: University of Chicago Press. ——. NE: University of Nebraska Press. ——. 2004). 1987). The Pickwick Papers ed. Mary Quaintance in Deconstruction and the Possiblity of Justice ed. Limited Inc. 2005). or. Donoghue. ——. . The American Classics: A Personal Essay (New Haven. “Psyche: Inventions of the Other” in Reading de Man Reading ed. 441–461. ——. ——. pp. MN: University of Minnesota Press. ——. ——. 1992a). IL: Northwestern University Press. Theory (London: Continuum. Peggy Kamuf (Chicago. ——. “Justices” in Provocations to Reading: J. Elizabeth Weber. Alan Bass (Chicago. ——. Derek Attridge (London: Routledge. Patten (Harmondsworth: Penguin. Derek Attridge (London: Routledge. Gerald Graff. Points . Barbara Johnson in Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok The Wolfman’s Magic Word: A Cryptonymy trans. 1992d). ——. 1997). pp. Godzich (Minneapolis. “Passions: ‘An Oblique Offering’” in Derrida: A Critical Reader ed. pp. Dillon. Robert L. Samuel Weber and Jeffrey Mehlman (Evanston. ——. vol. The Gift of Death trans. David Wood (Oxford: Blackwell. Charles. Drucilla Cornell.152 Bibliography ——. pp. The Palimpsest: Literature. 5–35. 1992e). L. ——. Sarah. “Deconstruction and the Other” in Debates in Continental Philosophy: Conversations with Continental Thinkers ed. Gila Walker in Critical Inquiry. 3–67. 1989). The Practice of Reading (New Haven. 2007).. CA: Stanford University Press. . Given Time: 1. Richard Rand and Amy Wygatt in Logomachia: The Conflict of the Faculties ed. “Before the Law” in Acts of Literature ed. The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond trans. “Fors: The Anglish Words of Nicholas Abraham and Maria Torok” trans. IL: University of Chicago. pp. The Conflict of the Faculties” trans. “‘The Strange Institution Called Literature’: An Interview with Jacques Derrida” in Jacques Derrida: Acts of Literature ed. 1995). pp. 1992b). IL: University of Chicago. Peggy Kamuf (Stanford. Hillis Miller and the Democracy to Come ed. ——. David Wills (Chicago. CT: Yale University Press. 2006). pp. “Mochlos. ——. 228–261. Barbara Cohen and Dragan Kujundžic¢ (New York: Fordham University Press. 1986). the Work of Mourning and the New International trans. 33–75. 1992f). pp. 7–73. David Gray Carlson (New York: Routledge. ed. 1992c). Michael Rosenfeld. CT: Yale University Press. trans. pp. 1–34. 1996). Counterfeit Money trans.
James. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (London: The Crescent Press. Declan Kiberd (London: Penguin. “Review of Versions of Pygmalion by J Hillis Miller” in Modern Philology. annotated student’s edition. Kierkegaard. Straus and Giroux. 1985). 1968). Frank. The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Jeffares. . 1989). ——. Hawthorne. 1947). Hong (Princeton. ed. Ethical Criticism: Reading After Levinas (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. James. A. Robert. 387–405. 1995). 1977). Nathaniel Hawthorne: The Poetics of Enchantment (Ithaca. 140–148. Colacurcio (London: Penguin.N. 2nd edn. Kant. Arnulf Zweig (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Frank Kermode (London: Penguin. Silas Marner (London: Macmillan. Jacobs. George. James. 2000). IL: University of Chicago Press. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (London: Flamingo. Heidegger. Hong and Edna H. vol. “Ethics” in Critical Terms for Literary Study.1 (August 1992). Eliot. Kaul. KS: Kansas University Press. 1985). Howard V. William Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row. Nathaniel. 1986). Shakespeare’s Language (New York: Farrar. B. Hogg. Some Versions of Pastoral (London: Penguin. Norman. The Concept of Irony: With Continual Reference to Socrates trans. 1992). “Teaching Deconstructively” in Writing and Reading Differently: Deconstruction and the Teaching of Composition and Literature ed. ——. Edgar A. ed.Bibliography 153 Dryden. Johnson. pp. pp. pp. Barbara. Joyce. The Figure in the Carpet and Other Stories ed. CA: Stanford University Press. Glenn Gray (New York: Harper & Row. 90. NJ: Princeton University Press. Empson. Johnson (Lawrence. Geoffrey Galt. The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative (Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Yeats (Stanford. 1995). 1947). pp. 1987). Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin (Chicago. Søren. A Commentary on the Collected Poems of W. Martin. 1994). 1989). Selected Tales and Sketches ed. Carol. 1966). The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals trans. 1968). 2002). ed. 1979). Anthony Curtis (London: Penguin. Ulysses. 203–233. What is Called Thinking? trans. 1984). Paul Theroux (London: Penguin. The Aspern Papers and The Turn of the Screw ed. 149–155. The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays trans. Harpham. Michael J. Kermode. Henry. NY: Cornell. 1986). William. ——. Immanuel. Eaglestone. Douglas Atkins and Michael L. Hawthorne: A Collection of Critical Essays (New Jersey: Prentice Hall.. 1998). An Appetite for Poetry: Essays in Literary Interpretation (London: Collins. ——. 1977). What Maisie Knew ed. ——. ——. A. ——.
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Charlotte 45 Brontë. 146–7 n. 144 n. Lord 1 Caputo. 112. L. 3–5. 29. 47–9. 107–8. 129–30.6 “Before the Law” 109–10 “A Certain Impossible Possibility of Saying the Event” 74 “Deconstruction and the Other” 79 “Force of Law” 100 “Fors” 13–14 The Gift of Death 24. Mikhail 55 Baudelaire. 132 De Man. 107–8. 55–6 Benjamin. J. 37 Derrida. Jane 1. William 73 Blanchot. 17. 37–8. Maurice 18. Geoffrey 20 Bersani. 117 Brontë. Johann Sebastian 38–40 Bachelard. Robert 35 Burke. 31. Nicolas 13 anacoluthon 60. 55–6. 141 n. Derek 76–7. 79–80. 80. Reuben 106–7 Brown. 142 n. 35–8. 63. Harold 78 borders 9–15. 78. 21. 119–20. 129–31. George Gordon.3 Clairmont. 132.6 “Mochlos. 27. Simon 132 criticism of consciousness 30–2. 111–12 Asensi. 53. 35–6 Attridge. 140 Bush. Kenneth 7. 31. 60–1. 84–5. 85 Given Time 7 “Justices” 32. Walter 29. 143 n. 41. 52–4 Allegories of Reading 46. 26 Bloom. 51. 62. 16. 112. 72. 43–5 The English Mail-Coach 38–42 Suspiria de Profundis 34. 48.3 Cicero 80. 91. 78–81. 47. 133. 36. 119. 138. 105. 134–8. 19. 136 deconstruction 23. 36. 41. 45–7. 16. 18–19. 134–5. Paul 16. 137 ananarratology 56 anastomosis 133–4 aporia in reading 16. 91. 111–14.6 Aesthetic Ideology 47. 18. 125–6. 77. Charles 34. 133–5. 104–5. Jacques 11. Tom 20 Critchley. 37. 71. 53–4. 111–12. 82–3. 43. Emily 35 Brower. 124. 128 “Spacecritics” 36–7 democracy to come 7. Calvin S. The Conflict of the Faculties” 75 . 27–8. 74 “A ‘Madness’ Must Watch Over Thinking” 146 n. Thomas 32–42. 132. 7.6 Browning. 80–1. 43–5. 131. John D.1. 142 n. 80 Austin. Gaston 36 Bakhtin. 18. 67–8. 119. 115.3 Bach. 100. 142 n. 125–6 Blindness and Insight 52 “Interview with Robert Moynihan” 46 The Resistance to Theory 29. 131–3. 115. 19. 109–10.5 Curtius.Index Abraham 112 Abraham. 90–3. 97 catachresis 19. 114. 68. 114–15. 110–11. 128 Bennington. Ernst Robert 36 decision 4. 144 n. Leo 38 Blackadder (BBC series) 45 Blake. 24–5. 121 De Quincey. 140. 54 Confessions of an English Opium-Eater 33. 107–8. 123. 48. 115. 132. 136 Cohen.3 Augustine. 97–8. Douglas 138 Byron. Manuel 26. 105–7 The Rhetoric of Romanticism 71. 93. 28. 146 n. 83. 49. 138. or. 66. 32. St.
10–12. 129 “The Minister’s Black Veil” 85–99 Hegel. 96–7 Positions 75–6 The Post Card 66 “Psyche: Invention of the Other” 114–16. 126–7 fugue 36. 38–42 Genette. 146 n. 64. 91. 64. Sarah 30–1 Lentricchia.2 “The Foundling” 100–6. 51–2 Empson. 54–60. 111–15. 93. Søren 43 Kleist. 41–2 Harpham.9 Derrida. 8–24. 101–5. Charles 5–6. 136–7 The Aspern Papers 1–2. 109–10 invention 10. Geoffrey Galt 102.6 Isaac 112 Iser.11 Johnson. Robert 132–3 Eliot. 128. 121 Writing and Difference 6 destinerrance 19. 117–18. 145 n. 89. 55–6. 31. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich 53–4 Heidegger. 65. 110–11. 135 Hyppolite. A.6 irresponsibilization 7. 89. Julia 38–9 Kundera. 21. St. 43–62. 131. 16–18. 88. Milan 45 Lawall. 139 Joyce. 113–16. 148–9 n. 100. 133. Denis 78. 88 Hopkins. 48. 18. Serge 129–30. 47. Frank 36–7 Levinas. 138. 92. 112. 92 Doubrovsky. 113–16 “Michael Kohlhas” 112–13 Krieger. 137. 96. 6–8.7 “The Strange Institution Called Literature” 76–7 Spectres of Marx 82–5. 144–5 n. Frank 26. Johann Wolfgang von 133 Guéroult. 134–5 irony 19. Jacques (Contd’) “Passions: ‘An Oblique Offering’” 21. Gerard Manley 19 Horace 117 hospitality 24. Murray 31 Kristeva. 24–5. 131–2. 81 Husserl. 30. Thomas 17. 123.3 joy 80–1. Henry 1–4. 6. 145 n.4 Dryden. 126. 108. 126–7. 22. 44–5. 78.158 Index intention 4–6. 149 n. 18. 147 n. 98. 94. 108. Wolfgang 31 iterability 110 Jacobs. 21. 146 n. 132 Hawthorne. 66–7 Dickens.1. James A Portrait of the Artist 28–9 Ulysses 6. Alfred 20 Hogg. George 17. Jean 118 . 124–5. 13. 15. 136–7 Preface to The Golden Bowl 2–3 The Turn of the Screw 8.4 Donoghue.2 Kermode. 116 Kant. Franz 83. 93. 134. 146 n. 108–11. 144 n. 108–11 Kafka. 142 n. 17–20. Norman 78 John. James 82. Nathaniel 86–7. 57–60. Carol 116 James. 102–3. 100. William 3 Jeffares. 32. 23. 60–2. 90. Edmund 129. 130–1 free indirect discourse 49–50. 65. 142 n. 65 The Wings of the Dove 10 James. Emmanuel 92. Barbara 66.7 Heraclitus 34 Hitchcock. Gérard 55 ghost writing 82–3 Godwin (Shelley). Heinrich von 100–5. 94 Kierkegaard. 92 What Maisie Knew 57–60. Immanuel 4. Edgar 87–8 Eaglestone.13 Dillon. 104. Martial 118 Hardy. 143 n. 97. 23. Sarah 38. Mary 1 Goethe. William 89. Martin 12. 119–21.
107–8. 52–4. 128. 133 Montaigne. 13–14. 125 Poe. 54. 138. 4. 112–13 Tropes. 21. 27–8. 104. 115. 62. Christopher 132. 109. 132. 108. 133 Literature as Conduct 2.8 Miller. 134 Victorian Subjects 144 n. 72–4. 37. A. 100. 132–3 Fiction and Repetition 27. 36. Parables. J. 115. 88. 83. 64. 69. 142 n. 72–3. 104. 59. 108. 96. 135 metonymy 24. 126 Hawthorne and History 76. 116 Versions of Pygmalion 2. 51. Promises: Speech Act Theory. 144 n.4 Proust. 61–2. 68. 133–4. Robert 46. 26–7. 77. 68. Performatives 41–2. 83. 112 The Form of Victorian Fiction 47–50. Marcel 110 Puttenham. 147 n. Guy de 116 Morrison. 18. 79. 83.5 prosopopoeia 9. 148 n. 145 n. 140. 27. 48. 25. 82. 87 perverformative 66 perversion 66–9. 88–94. 137. 61. 85. 83. D. 52. 93. 123. 90. 72–3. 53. 56. 113. 80. 116. 67–9. 97 “Derrida Enisled” 118–19 “Derrida’s Ethics of ‘Irresponsibilization’. 107. 94 Moynihan. 124 Poets of Reality 125–6 “Promises. 77–8. 64.5 Norris. 8. 96. 52–4. 117. 120–1 Charles Dickens 30–1 “Derrida and Literature” 63–4. 110. 30. 89. Gary 17. 59. 121–2. 120 Zero Plus One 11. 109. 107. 129 Thomas Hardy 68 Topographies 6–9. 129 Illustration 26.Index Lewis. 126–7 “Roundtable: ‘Humanistic Discourse and the Others’” 31–2 Speech Acts in Literature 16. John Henry 28 Nietzsche. 85. 82. 109. 116. Maurice 129. Hillis. 65 “Interview with Robert Moynihan” 17–18 The Linguistic Moment 29. 31. 100. 98–9. 123. Philip 82. 128 Theory Now and Then 21–2. 109–10. 141 n. 77. George 136. 50. George 80 . 97 Lukács. 8. 132. Georges 7. 45. 4. 61. Literary Theory and Politico-Economic Theory in Marx and de Man” 93 159 Reading Narrative 19. 103.10 Merleau-Ponty. Toni 133 Moses 86–8.2 Olson. 27. 108. 129. 98. 6. 30–1. 74. 6–7.7 “Who or What Decides: For Jacques Derrida. 71–3. 104–6. 73. 80. Friedrich 61. 12. 110–11. 68. 137–8 The Disappearance of God 32–42 The Ethics of Reading 2. 99. 141 n. 137 Nancy. St. 124. 115.6 others 19. 135 Miller. 135 Newman. How to Get Irresponsible. 129. 107. 124 parasite 26–7. works Ariadne’s Thread 133. Karl 130 McGuffin effect 20 Meredith. 135 On Literature 32. in Two Easy Lessons” 8 “Derrida’s Remains” 129 Dickens’ Symbolic Imagery 31. 80 Plato 4. 31. 47. 54–7. A Catastrophic Theory of Decision” 103. 67. 42. 81. 49. 68. 110 The Medium is the Maker 49 Others 16. 74. 31. 118. or. 107–8 Paul. 31–2. Georg 48 Marx. 39. 100. Edgar Allan 89 Poulet. 45. 120–1. Jean-Luc 134. 91. 133 Black Holes 53–4. 83. 21. 78–80.
77–8. 80 Schopenhauer. Leo 36 Stead. 93–9.160 Index teaching 27. 28. 74–7. 119–20. 76. 106–7. 64. William Makepeace 52 Torok. Julian 131. 130–1. 78. 97 Macbeth 85. 73.5 ungovernable 76–9. K. David 69 Žižek.9 uncanny 49. 138 Wilder. 108. 64–5. 139. Slavoj 26 Readings. Wallace.3 “The Motive for Metaphor” 81 Opus Posthumous 125–6 “The River of Rivers in Connecticut” 125. 94–8 Shelley. Laurence 22 Stevens. 55–6. 107. Maria 13 translation 26–42. 84–5. Shlomith 55.5 Sartre. Earl 34. 61.2 Stein. 145–6 n. Paul 138 Wasserman. 80. 55–6. 127 Scholes. 115. 133. 50. 65. 121 Richards. 138 Schlegel. William 59. 24–5. 38. Bill 31. 73. 143 n. Percy Bysshe 1 singularity 22–5. 60–1.3. 46. works “Bantams in Pine-Woods” 119 “Connoisseur of Chaos” 93 “The Idea of Order at Key West” 84. 105–6. Jennifer 80 Wolfreys. 123–5.2 “The Rock” 133 Stoker. Robert 67. W. 145–6 n. 111–12. 124–5. Jean-Paul 136. 81 unreadability 21. 50. 116–22. Nicholas 56. Dante Gabriel 11 Royle. 143 n. 125–6 Shakespeare. B. 80. Friedrich 45. 124–5 “Crazy Jane and the Bishop” 71 “A Man Young and Old” 71 “Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen” 68–74. 148 n. 78. 134 Trollope. 18–22. 76.2 “Among School Children” 71 “Byzantium” 72 “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” 69 “The Cold Heaven” 73. 106 Rimmon-Kenan. Muriel 63–4. Bram 96 . William 149 n. 75–6. Billy 1 Williams. 128 Hamlet 84. 139–40 Thackeray. 76 Spitzer. 78 Valéry. 32. 63–6. 137 Wordsworth. 68–74. 100. 53. 128–9. William Bysshe 89 Sterne.7 Rossetti.3 Spark. 143 n. 147 n. 101. 144 n. Arthur 63 secrecy in literature 14. 146–7 n. I. A. Anthony 18. 89. 75–6. C. 144 n. 102. 52–4.14 Yeats. 29. 123 “The Second Coming” 70 “September 1913” 69 Young.
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