2
RHETORIC, READING
AND DECONSTRUCTION
Allegories of Reading

De Man’s second book, Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (1979), is perhaps his most important contribution to literary studies. It is a book that sets itself up for endless rereading and no summary of its complex architecture can do it justice. However, as a point of entry one might consider the title itself as an extension of themes previously outlined in Blindness and Insight. As with the essays discussed in the preceding chapter, Allegories is concerned with questions of reading and with a study of figural language (rhetoric or so-called literary language). While many of the essays in Blindness and Insight remain fixed within a traditional critical vocabulary, Allegories is de Man’s breakthrough into an unfettered use of the term deconstruction. The first half of this chapter will consider the general thesis of Allegories, the second half will examine de Man’s bravura reading of Rousseau’s Confessions, which closes the book, as a case-study in the work de Man attempts here.


PHILOSOPHY AND LITERATURE

Despite the intricacy of de Man’s close readings the book has large ambitions. His aim is to consider the operation of logocentrism in terms of rhetoric. As we saw in ‘Why de Man?’, logocentrism is the desire to find fixed and stable meanings at the centre of texts.

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