Friday, September 26, 2014

Something I Read #4 — de Man, "Lyric and Modernity"

A follow-up on the previous post: the closing lines from the next essay in the de Man's Blindness and Insight, "Lyric and Modernity":

The question of modernity reveals the paradoxical nature of a structure that makes lyric poetry into an enigma which never stops asking for the unreachable answer to its own riddle. To claim [. . .] that modernity is a form of obscurity is to call the oldest, most ingrained characteristics of poetry modern. To claim that the loss of representation is modern is to make us again aware of an allegorical element in the lyric that had never ceased to be present, but that is itself necessarily dependent on the existence of an earlier allegory and so is the negation of modernity. The worst mystification is to believe that one an move from representation to allegory, or vice versa, as one moves from the old to the new, from father to son, from history to modernity. Allegory can only blindly repeat its earlier model, without final understanding, the way Celan repeats quotations from Höldernin that assert their own incomprehensibility. The less we understand a poet, the more he is compulsively misinterpreted and oversimplified and made to say the opposite of what he actually said, the better the chances are that he is truly modern; that is, different from what we – mistakenly – think we are ourselves. This would make Baudelaire into a truly modern French poet, Hölderlin into a truly modern German poet, and Wordsworth and Yeats into truly modern English poets.

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