Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory

Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory

Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory

Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory


Renowned contributors use the late work of this crucial figure to open new speculations on "materiality."

A "material event," in one of Paul de Man's definitions, is a piece of writing that enters history to make something happen. This interpretation hovers over the publication of this volume, a timely reconsideration of de Man's late work in its complex literary, critical, cultural, philosophical, political, and historical dimensions.

A distinguished group of scholars responds to the problematic of "materialism" as posed in Paul de Man's posthumous final book, Aesthetic Ideology. These contributors, at the forefront of critical theory, productive thinking, and writing in the humanities, explore the question of "material events" to illuminate not just de Man's work but their own. Prominent among the authors here is Jacques Derrida, whose extended essay "Typewriter Ribbon: Limited Inc (2)" returns to a celebrated episode in Rousseau's Confessions that was discussed by de Man in Allegories of Reading.

The importance of de Man's late work is related to a broad range of subjects and categories and-in Derrida's provocative reading of de Man's concept of "materiality"-the politico-autobiographical texts of de Man himself. This collection is essential reading for all those interested in the present state of literary and cultural theory.


The entrance of “the poets” onto the scene of Kant’s attempt to ground aesthetic reflexive judgments of the sublime as a transcendental principle—in his phrase “as the poets do it” (wie die Dichter es tun)—could hardly be more peculiar and more enigmatic. Paul de Man’s reading of this moment in the third Critique is no less enigmatic and, if anything, even more peculiar, not least of all because the vision of the ocean “as the poets do it”—“merely by what appears to the eye” (bloß … nach dem, was der Augenschein zeigt—“merely according to what the appearance to the eye shows,” to put it more “literally,” or “according to what meets the eye”)—is termed by him a “material vision” whose “materiality” is linked to what de Man calls Kant’s “materialism” (or “formal materialism”): “The critique of the aesthetic,” he writes, “ends up, in Kant, in a formal materialism that runs counter to all values and characteristics associated with aesthetic experience, including the aesthetic experience of the beautiful and of the sublime as described by Kant and Hegel themselves” (AI 83). That it might be better not to assume anything about our understanding of de Man’s difficult “materiality” and “materialism” is certainly confirmed by the way the term gets introduced in “Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant.” After characterizing the architectonic vision of the heavens and the ocean—“The heavens are a vault that covers the totality of earthly space as a roof covers a house,” writes de Man—as being neither “a trope or a symbol” nor “literal, which would imply its possible figuralization or symbolization by an act of judgment,” de Man writes that “The only word that comes to mind is that of a material vision, but how this materiality is then to be understood in linguistic terms is not . . .

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