5
POLITICS, PHILOSOPHY
AND THE FIGURAL
Aesthetic Ideology

In the years before his death from cancer Paul de Man was attempting to further the arguments made in Allegories of Reading by a detailed examination of the texts of European philosophy (such as those of Blaise Pascal, Immanuel Kant, G.W.F Hegel, Friedrich Schiller, Walter Benjamin). This work is gathered together in the volume Aesthetic Ideology. This text was not published until 1996 although the essays have been available in periodical form since the 1980s. The essays in this book were given as a series of lectures at Cornell University and seem to have been intended as work in progress rather than a finished thesis. In an interview for Italian radio given in 1983 just after the lecture series (the text is reproduced in The Resistance to Theory) de Man outlined where his work was heading. In the lectures themselves de Man had made frequent reference to the book he was working on (it would have been his first major study since Allegories). It seems that this book would have taken the ‘critical-linguistic analysis’ or ‘rhetorical reading’ strategy of Allegories into an examination of the work of the German political theorist Karl Marx (1818–83) and the Scandinavian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55). De Man explained that, even though he had been consistently misread by critics as an ‘apolitical’ theorist, his work is political through and through:

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