Samuel Johnson after Deconstruction: Rhetoric and the Rambler

By Steven Lynn | Go to book overview

4
"The Order in Which They Stand": (Re)Writing Johnson (Re)Writing

I have also studied metaphysicks. I know the arguments for fate and free-will, for the materiality and immateriality of the soul, and even the subtile arguments for and against the existence of matter.... But let us leave these disputes to the idle.... I hold always one great object. I never feel a moment of despondency.

-- Paoli qtd. in Boswell


So Far Arbitrary and Immethodical

Deconstruction both elevates and depreciates criticism. In the version of deconstruction celebrated by Geoffrey Hartman, the critic invents the text, creatively revealing possibilities that are always in excess of any particular formulation, releasing and dispersing its meaning. But the dark side of deconstruction, as Paul de Man has painstakingly shown, also requires that the critic give up any claim to priority because his or her reading is unavoidably a misreading awaiting exposure, a mastery made possible only by a prejudicial subjugation of some subjects at the expense of others. Johnson's awareness of these alternative aspects of criticism, of its blindness and insight, can be seen in his comment on Warburton's discovery of "order and connection" in Pope Essay on Man. "Almost every poem consisting of precepts, is so far arbitrary and immethodical,

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