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Paul De Man--The Rhetoric of Temporality

        De Man structures his essay around a discussion of allegory and symbol. Along with allegory and symbol, he builds his argument on an opposition of transcendence and finitude, eternity and temporality. In a departure from the then- and still-usual analysis of the Romantics, De Man insists that theirs was an art of allegory, not an art of symbol. Why is this distinction important to him?
        Symbol is a feature of an art which attempts to transcend , avoid, or deny the inescapable fact of temporality in embodied human existence; allegory--according to De Man--not only does not attempt to avoid temporality, it highlights human finitude. In symbol, subject and object are a unity: "the symbol is founded on an intimate unity between the image that rises up before the senses and the suprasensory totality that the image suggests." In allegory, subject and object are irreconcilably different and separate: "in the world of allegory, time is the originary constitutive category . . . . The meaning constituted by the allegorical sign can . . . consist only in the repetition . . . of a previous sign with which it can never coincide, since it is of the essence of this previous sign to be pure anteriority."  "Whereas the symbol postulates the possibility of an identity or identification, allegory designates primarily a distance in relation to its own origin, and renouncing the nostalgia and the desire to coincide, it establishes its language in the void of this temporal difference."
        The moments when "early romantic literature finds its true voice," it is expressing--according to De Man (who I believe is doing tremendous violence to Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Co. with this reading)--the inability of the self to form an "illusory identification with the non-self, which is now fully, though painfully, recognized as a non-self." In this reading, the Romantic project was most authentic, was most itself, when it expressed the stark separation and uncrossable bridge between subject and object, man and the universe, man and God: "The dialectical relationship between subject and object is no longer the central statement of romantic thought, but this dialectic is now located entirely in the temporal relationships that exist within a system of allegorical signs. It becomes a conflict between a conception of the self seen in its authentically temporal predicament and a defensive strategy that tries to hide from this negative self-knowledge. On the level of language, the asserted superiority of the symbol over allegory . . . is one of the forms taken by this tenacious self-mystification." It would seem that De Man asks that literature take a stand reminiscent of Heidegger's authentic being-towards-death. Allegory is an acknowledgement and linguistic embodiement of temporality, anteriority and posteriority, difference, deferral, and finitude; thus, allegory is, for De Man, authentic. Symbol is a mystification: it denies temporality, emphasizing the connection of subject and object, self and non-self. It is "a defensive strategy that tries to hide from this negative self-knowledge." Symbol is inauthentic in its being-towards-death.
        De Man goes on to a discussion of irony, which he defines as "a relationship, within consciousness, between two selves." He emphasises, however, that this relationship "is not an intersubjective relationship"; it is not a relationship between two subjects, but a self-conscious relationship of the subject to itself. De Man refers to irony as a "doublement," a capacity observing the self, looking on the self as if it were an other: "The dedoublement thus designates the activity of a consciousness by which a man differntiates himself from the non-human world. The capacity for such duplication is rare . . . but belongs specifically to those who, like artists or philosophers, deal in language." Language functions to divide the self into two selves: that which differentiates and signifies through language, and that which is differentiated and signified. This is reminiscent of Husserl's distinction between the noetic--that which experiences, the experiencing--and the noematic--that which is experienced, being experienced. The noetic is that part of the self which is most real and fundamental in its ironic existence, while the noematic is dependent and, strictly speaking, unreal, and quite unironic--that which is perceived and constituted, insofar as it is perceived, by the perceiving and ironic self .
        De Man links the ironic division of the subject into multiplicity with a fall: "The element of falling introduces the specifically comical and ultimately ironical ingredient. At the moment that the artistic or the philosophical, that is, the language-determined, man laughs at himself falling, he is laughing at a mistaken, mystified assumption he was making about himself . . . . The ironic, twofold self that the writer or philosopher constitutes by his language seems able to come into being only at the expense of his empirical self, falling (or rising) from a stage of mystified adjustment into the knowledge of his mystification. The ironic language splits the subject into an empirical self that exists in a state of inauthenticity and a self that exists only in the form of a language that asserts the knowledge of this inauthenticity." Irony is a consciousness of absolute separateness, fragmentation, and difference. In this way, irony is connected to allegory: "Allegory and irony are thus linked in their common discovery of a truly temporal predicament . . . . Both are determined by an authentic experience of temporality, which, seen from the point of view of the self engaged in the world, is a negative one."