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The Temporality of Rhetoric

by: Dennis James Sweeney

I. ALLEGORY AND SYMBOL

Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute. Since the advent, in the course of the nineteenth century, of a subjectivistic critical vocabulary, the traditional forms of rhetoric have fallen into disrepute.

A temporary eclipse. The intentionality of rhetorical figures. The association of rhetorical terms with value judgments that blur distinctions and hide the real structures. The poetic language of genius. The subjectivity of experience. A configuration of entities that designate a plurality of distinct and isolated meanings. A configuration of symbols ultimately leading to a total, single, and universal meaning. The idea of a transcendental distance between the incarnate world of man and the divine origin of the world. The landscapes and places that are often described at the beginning of poems. Their considerable poetic authority. The fact that they are not synechdoches designating a totality of which they are a part, but are themselves already this totality. The antimony between allegory and symbol. A special case of figural language. No disjunction of the constitutive faculties. The material substantiality. The spiritualization of the symbol. The transcendental source, albeit in an oblique and ambiguous way. The assumed superiority of the symbol in terms of organic substantiality. A description of figural language as translucence. The very prominent place
given in this criticism to the study of metaphor and imagery, often considered as more important than problems of metrics or thematic considerations. Synthesis. The tendency shared by all commentators to define the romantic image as a relationship between mind and nature, between subject and object. The fluent transition in romantic diction. A closer, more faithful observation of the outside object. A greater inwardness. Experiences of memory and of reverie that stem from deeper regions of subjectivity. The manifestation, in language, of a fundamental unity. The sources of the unifying, “symbolic” power. The eighteenth-century loco-descriptive poem. Eighteenth-century theoreticians of the imagination. _Associative_ analogy. Working monism. The critical–and even, at times, the poetic–vocabulary. Words such as “affinity” or “sympathy.” The formal problem of congruence between the two poles. That of the ontological priority of the one over the other. An intersubjective, interpersonal relationship. A relationship of the subject toward itself.

II. IRONY

Around the same time that / the theoretical speculations of the early romantics go hand in hand with a theoretical concern for the trope “irony” as such, / the use of irony is conspicuously absent from / the implicit and rather enigmatic link between / the constitutive mode of all literature and / a dialectic of identity and difference. Nevertheless, / the relationship between sign and meaning is discontinuous; / it clearly lacks discriminatory precision / in the form of a common concern of some writers with both modes. / The link is made in many critical texts: structuralist studies / from the very beginning / described irony as capable of coloring an entire discourse / from the localized trope to the extended novel, / although / even the superficial and empirical observation of literary history / bears a by no means obvious relationship to / the advent of a full-fledged ironic consciousness, which / is not necessarily accompanied by a parallel interest in the theory of irony; one has to wait until / they show a prevalent tendency toward aphoristic, rapid, and brief texts, / as if there were something in the nature of irony that / cannot so easily take refuge in the need for a historical de-mystification of the term, as when / the tension between allegory and symbol justified this procedure: the mystification is a fact of history and therefore must be dealt with in a historical manner before / irony becomes increasingly conscious of itself. / We cannot escape, therefore, / a great deal of assistance. / Curiously enough, / freed from the necessity of respecting historical chronology, / the accent falls on the notion of dédoublement as the characteristic that sets apart a reflective activity, such as / the notion of self-duplication or self-multiplication, / the concept for the sake of which / one would indeed speak of difference in terms of the superiority of one subject over another, / when the concept of “superiority” is still being used when the self is engaged in a relationship not to other subjects, but to / a discontinuity and a plurality of levels within a subject that comes to know itself by / the activity of a consciousness by which a man differentiates himself from / the material of the cobbler or wood. / In everyday, common existence, / the reflective disjunction not only occurs by means of language as a privileged category, but it / divides the subject into an empirical self, immersed in the world, and / the moment that the artistic or philosophical, that is, the language-determined, man laughs at himself falling. / As a being that stands upright, / man / is quite powerless to convert even the smallest particle of nature into something human, / a progression of self-knowledge / that the writer or philosopher constitutes by his language / despite the fact that it involves laughter, / the moment the innocence or authenticity of our sense of being in the world is put into question, / and, most clearly of all, / a consciousness of madness, itself the end of all consciousness. / The ironist invents a form of himself that is “mad” but / this might be construed to mean that irony, as / a cure for a self lost in the alienation of its melancholy, / at once arises for the ironic subject to construe its function as one of assistance to the original self and to act as if / it does so precisely by / reasserting the purely fictional nature of its own universe and by carefully maintaining / the bourgeois idyll of the end / that the hero and the heroine, far from having returned to their natural selves, / represent figures from the commedia dell’arte floating against a background that is precisely not the world, adrift in an empty sky.

III. THE PREFIGURATION OF A FUTURE RECOVERY

The isolated, alienated man nostalgically aspires toward unity and infinity; the world appears to him as divided and finite. He cannot overcome

the subjective region of fiction. Every word is right. Every word is wrong. The dialectic of self-destruction and self-invention is freedom, the unwillingness of the mind to accept any stage in its progression as definitive. Infinite agility. Die Romantische Poesie, Die. But this same endless process— the poetic self engaged in its own development— finally, the irony of irony. The temporality is definitely not organic, no end, no totality. Only: a past that is pure mystification and a future that remains harassed forever by a relapse within the inauthentic.

Fiction and reality could coincide: a leap out of language into faith. Yet could we bypass

the temporality of all language? The definitely non-ironic? The pure poetry from which laughter is absent as from the soul of the Sage?

The text clearly is not ironic. Either in its tonality or its meaning.

IV. SLOW, MEDITATIVE MOVEMENTS FULL OF REVERIE, ANTICIPATION, AND RECOLLECTION

These lines are curiously ambiguous. The difference has been spread out. The structure of irony, however, is the reversed mirror-language of this form. This is the instant

at which the two selves are simultaneously present, juxtaposed within the same moment but as two irreconcilable and disjointed beings. The structure. A synchronic structure. The pattern of factual experience

as a successive mode capable of engendering duration as the illusion of a continuity that it know to be illusory.

Things get somewhat more complex.

All perceptive critics have noticed the emphasis on the moment with the resulting discontinuity. These episodes are allegorical and emblematic, caught

between the truly perverse assignment of using both the narrative duration of the diachronic allegory and the instantaneity of the narrative present. The myth

is that of the unovercomable distance which must always prevail.

Text source: Paul de Man, “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 187-228.