Thursday, September 25, 2014

Something I Read #3 — de Man, "Literary History and Literary Modernity"

Was doing a bit of random, off-the-shelf reading and came across this moment. These are the closing sentences to Paul de Man's essay "Literary History and Literary Modernity," found in Blindness and Insight. It makes an interesting counterpoint to some historiographic essays by Arnaldo Momigliano being read (and quipped) by an FB friend, essays which (at least to my viewing) approach history from the opposing side, out of the idea of history as constituted of discoverable truths.

The need to revise the foundations of literary history may seem like a desperately vast undertaking; the task appears even more disquieting if we contend that literary history could in fact be paradigmatic for history in general, since man himself, like literature, can be defined as an entity capable of putting his own mode of being into question. The task may well be less sizable, however, than it seems at first. All the directives we have formulated [previously in the essay] as guidelines for a literary history are more or less taken for granted when we are engaged in the much more humble task of reading and understanding a literary text. To become good literary historians, we must remember that what we usually call literary history has little or nothing to do with literature and that what we call literary interpretation – provided only it is good interpretation – is in fact literary history. If we extend this notion beyond literature, it merely confirms that the bases for historical knowledge are not empirical facts but written texts, even if these texts masquerade in the guise of wars or revolutions.

No comments:

Post a Comment