The subhead for the article is entitled: “Does a critic’s past explain his criticism?”
I’ve been following this story, and related back stories, for some years. The underlying narrative is concerned with the distinction between rhetoric and reality, and the process – which is amenable to systematic analysis – by which situations are defined. With regard to the latter topic, Situations Matter (2011) is a useful reference.
The article’s concluding paragraphs by Louis Menand read:
- What did de Man believe? That’s the mystery. Deconstruction is a via negativa. It’s good for getting down to what de Man called the mechanical level of language. But it can’t bring anything substantive back, because anything substantive is subject to the rigors of deconstruction all over again. Deconstruction started to run into the sands when it got used to interpret texts in conformance with the political views of the interpreter (a type of self-fulfilling prophecy that afflicts many schools of criticism). Deconstruction is not a train you can get off of at the most convenient station.
- “He is a connoisseur of nothingness,” Hartman wrote of de Man the critic. De Man took the train to the end of the line. It may be that he was able to write what he did, both the chillingly deplorable things and the chillingly inspiring ones, because he believed in nothing.
[End of excerpt]
An attempt to discover the laws of literature
Of related interest is a March 20, 2014 New Yorker article entitled “An attempt to discover the laws of literature” by Joshua Rothman.
Bright lights, big data
The above-noted article concludes with the following paragraph and link:
- Perhaps it’s odd to feel gratitude for the work of a critic with whom you regularly disagree, but I feel grateful for Moretti. As readers, we now find ourselves benefitting from a division of critical labor. We can continue to read the old-fashioned way. Moretti, from afar, will tell us what he learns.
[End of excerpt]