The Political Archive of Paul de Man: Property, Sovereignty, and the Theotropic

The Political Archive of Paul de Man: Property, Sovereignty, and the Theotropic

The Political Archive of Paul de Man: Property, Sovereignty, and the Theotropic

The Political Archive of Paul de Man: Property, Sovereignty, and the Theotropic

Excerpt

It was on working with Rousseau that I felt I was able to progress from purely
linguistic analysis to questions which are really already of a political and ideo
logical nature. (RT 121)

On sabbatical from Yale University, Paul de Man spent the academic year 1973–74 in Zurich, where he had until 1970 held the Chair of Comparative Literature. The product of this sabbatical was the manuscript entitled Textual Allegories, an extended reading of the question of figurality in Rousseau, which was to provide the material for several published articles and later the second half of the last monograph published in de Man’s lifetime, Allegories of Reading. Textual Allegories is then a draft of the thinking that will become synonymous with de Man and what is both correctly and so-problematically called ‘American deconstruction’. The shape of Textual Allegories follows exactly the chapter plan that appears in Allegories of Reading, starting from page 1 with a chapter on ‘The Metaphor of the Self’, corresponding to Chapter 8 of Allegories, ‘Self (Pygmalion)’, running though chapters on Julie, the Profession de foi, The Social Contract and Confessions. An additional un-numbered chapter entitled ‘Theory of Metaphor in Rousseau’s Second Discourse’ completes the draft of Allegories, corresponding to Chapter 7 of that book, ‘Metaphor’. While clearly the source material for de Man’s later published version there are several points of interest concerning this manuscript. Firstly, if we take seriously the claim that Allegories of Reading, like Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake or Derrida’s Of Grammatology, is one of the most important books published in the twentieth century, then it is no little thing to be able to consider a folio draft of this text. Textual Allegories differs from Allegories of Reading, page by page and line by line, and reading one against the other presents an enormous challenge of following the path of de Man’s thought in the development of his rhetorical reading strategy. In this sense, Textual Allegories can be thought of as the architectural plans for de Man’s masterpiece, the blue print for a thinking in progress and as such it can helpfully point us toward an understanding of this most concentrated of de Man’s texts. The Zurich manuscript does not stand in the place . . .

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