Frye and Poststructuralism

anatomy grammatology

Tomorrow is Frye’s birthday, and the day after that is Derrida’s.  It’s a good time to reflect on their fateful collision as two leading figures in literary criticism a generation ago.

From the time of the Anatomy Frye maintained that criticism should be a system of interpenetrating rather than conflicting modes.  But as poststructural critics came to take center stage in the 1970s and 1980s, Frye grew less sanguine about realizing his critical ideal.  In his last major works, Words with Power and Myth and Metaphor, he began to take an oppositional stance toward poststructuralism, especially to cultural criticism and deconstruction.  But as one might expect from a critic who very seldom argued in a public way against critical views different from his own, his critique of these two postmodern approaches is relatively muted.  This is not the case, however, in Frye’s unpublished notebooks, where his critique of, say, Derrida, is explicit and direct.  The degree of Frye’s opposition to cultural criticism (or what he calls ideology) and deconstruction is almost always sublimated or displaced in what he chose to publish; in the notebooks, it is not.  The scores of entries that Frye makes in his late notebooks about poststructural critical positions reveal the anxiety he has about his own position in the critical world, as well as his concession that the model of interpenetrating critical visions is more or less doomed.  And they reveal directly what is at times almost concealed in his late published work.

Material that follows is from Frye’s notebooks.  The first section is from an unedited version of a notebook Frye wrote in the late 1980s.  After paragraph [732] the entries come from several of Frye’s other notebooks.

On Derrida, de Man, Foucault, Deconstruction, Marxist and Feminist Criticism, Ideologies, and Other Varieties of Post-______ Talk from the Late Notebooks.

[4]  The story element in myth (mythos) links it to folktales.  The function of literature is to recreate the myth behind the ideology.  All poets are affected by the ideologies of their time, but criticism discovers layers of meaning (Hopkins’ underthought and overthought, Derrida’s deconstruction) distinguishing the two. decon discovers layers of meaning

[7]  The language of ideology, being thesis-language, contains its own opposite.  Ideology functions properly in a tolerance that tries to contain the opposite.  Dogmas that exclude the opposite are pernicious.  The worst are those that back up political dogma with a religious or quasi-religious one.  ideologies of exclusion

[28]  It’s ironic that Marxism, which tried to define ideology as the rationalizing of non-Marxists, should have turned into the one movement of our day that absolutizes ideology.  absolutizing of ideology in Communist movements.

[44]  Criticism approaches a literary work which is a metaphor-cluster made explicit.  Why do we need the critic?  Because there’s so much implicit in the metaphor-cluster that he didn’t make explicit.  Mainly, of course, the relation of contexts, to other cultures, of words.  “Deconstruction” is such a dreary negative word for all this.  “Deconstruction” is “a dreary negative word” for the process of making explicit what in the poem remains only implicit, the relation of the contexts of words.

[63]  I’ve often noticed how stories with a strong mythical (plot) emphasis are placed in a framework, or are assumed to be told to the writer, or discovered by him in a drawer, etc.  Look up that storm story, where there are four or five wrappings.  It’s as though we were supposed to dig for the story underneath the ideological surface: a model of what “deconstruction” ought to be.

[79]  So many dreary disputes in 20th c. French literature where we have non-Marxist writers saying they just want to be apolitical and neutral, with the Marxists telling them that “neutral” statements are just as political ones.  Of course they are.  They’re the other half of the Marxist ideology, and just as essential to it.

[93]  I am told that the structure of the Anatomy is impressive but futile, because it would make every other critic a Gauleiter of Frye.  People don’t realize that I’m building temples to––well, “the gods” will do.  There’s an outer court for casual tourists, an inner court for those who want to stay for communion (incidentally, the rewards of doing so are very considerable).  But I’ve left a space where neither they nor I belong.  It’s not a tower of Babel: that tries to reach something above itself: I want to contain what, with a shift of perspective, contains it.  Why am I so respected and yet so isolated?  Is it only because I take criticism more seriously than any other living critic?

[97]  It seems more natural to begin with myth & concern rather than with metaphor & identity.  But it’s involved with this whole “writing” nonsense.  As soon as you “see” a joke it’s written, in some sense or other: what you hear up to that point is unintelligible except as sound, hence the musical metaphors.  And every narrative is a displacement of a metaphorical diagram, much as the 5th Symphony is a displacement of the tonality of C minor.  When one applies such a conception to Sartor Resartus, say, one can make the link with my deconstruction as an attempt to get past ideology to myth.  [Frye is actually deconstructing ideology in an effort to get past it to myth, and he says as much in one notebook entry.]

[101]  I used to say that the Reformation ideology leaned to the past and Marxism to the future: but maybe all ideologies lean to the past in the end.  Marxists are a lot hazier about the future socialist society than about the horrors of “revisionism,” or escaping the weight of the sacred texts.  Jews, too, with their future Messiah.

[105]  I shouldn’t have to say that I’m not postulating a golden age of pure myth with no admixture of ideology; but because of the extraordinary adherence of some readers to such inferences, I do have to say it.  Such an age is like the Garden of Eden, not a description of anything that happened in the past, but a postulate that makes what follows more intelligible: that raises the question of the function of postulated myths, which will bear thinking.

[108]  If there’s no real difference between creation & criticism, I have as much right to build palaces of criticism as Milton had to write epic poems.  My whole and part interchange works here too: inside the Anatomy, everyone is a disciple & to some degree a captive of Frye––every writer has a captive audience––but surely one can finish the book & then do as one likes, with something of me inside him.  If he doesn’t have something of me inside him, he won’t, at this time of history, have anything of much use to say as a critic.

[128]  Secondary myths are spawned from anxious ideology that wants to eliminate the other half of itself.  When Frank Kermode gives anti-Semitism as an example of a myth, he is (a) expressing a very common prejudice against all myth (b) defining the kind of myth that’s spawned by a hysterically one-sided ideology.  Such one-sided ideological myths are really mob creations, and a mob must project the suppressed other side of its cliché on a scapegoat figure.

[130]  Later Ibsen should be added to the imaginative deconstruction of ladders, towers, mountains.  The Master Builder, an influence on FW [Finnegans Wake], is almost a wheel-of-fortune allegory; the other egotistical monsters, Borkman and Rubek, climb a mountain to commit suicide.  Incidentally in WDA [When the Dead Awaken] the sculptor’s former model & mistress, Irene, makes a comment suggesting that for her transfiguration is a far higher achievement than resurrection.  I’ve got Romersholm’s millrace & white horse elsewhere: here as in WDA there’s the communion of death image we meet at the end of the Mill on the Floss.  I need more theory to connect these examples: otherwise it’s just archetype-spotting.

[132]  Chapter Four then deals with the apocalyptic metaphorical cluster, concentrating on the key images, garden, ladder-tower-mountain, way, etc.  The four forms of primary concern are doubtless the organizing principle.  After that it gets hazier.  The most natural next step, I should think, would be the descent from the P creation myth to the ideology of four levels, and the deconstruction of this after the Romantic movement.  That would naturally take one to the structure of patriarchal authority into which the J narrative descended.  After that there’s nothing left but the end of ideological dialectic in the life-death antithesis.  This has its two forms, the Adonis form of resurrection & the Hermes form of transfiguration.  The unsealing of Hermes is also the unsealing of the Alpha-Omega book, the alphabet of forms.

[142]  I suppose the vogue for deconstruction has to do with its Romanticism: it takes off from the Romantic conception of creation as something opposed to the creation.

[143]  The more doctrinaire forms of Marxism (Stalin & the gang-of-four Maoists) attempt to replace mythology wholly with ideology, and, consistently with that, deny that anything transcends the human individual except the human social.  I’ve often felt that an over-emphasis on the social perspective, whether Marxist or not, ignores the whole “laboratory” aspect of fiction: the isolating of an individual from his social context to study those things that only the individual can experience.  (Which is practically every experience in itself, as distinct from its similarities in others.)  The question is that the mythological perspective of tradition may lead to some kind of religious transcendental, and it so often does in practice.  [For Frye the individual vs. social dialectic does not require that one make an an either/or choice.  The self never excludes the other, even when the other is more than a community of other selves.  The religious impetus behind Frye’s work means that for him something transcendent may emerge from social mythology.

[151]  The Promethean vision descends from the P creation account and the vision of natura naturata as a ladder.  It gets deconstructed in Rousseau, & of course Marx: wonder if Marx is a mythologist after all, the ideological anxiety being supplied by Lenin.  The Eros vision descends from the J account (and Plato) and gets similarly deconstructed by Rousseau and, more effectively, Darwin.  (Note that, as the metonymic symbol for the dianoia {or rather, I guess, it’s synecdoche)} is the ladder for Prometheus, with all its extensions, so it’s the tree of life for Eros.  Many popular books on evolution display the process in a tree-diagram.

[161]  Don’t go all out for metaphor: sunset & sunrise, a fixed flat earth, rail tracks meeting at the horizon, are primary facts of experience but still illusions.  I have, whatever Ricoeur says, a place for the referent (the “sign” section of AC, e.g.), and it’s only in the final apocalyptic vision that the referents become equal with each other.  I mean identical.  “Reality,” like the subconscious in Lacan, is linguistically structured, being mainly a set of fossilized human thoughts.  Even the landscape is what it is because the early settlers cut down the trees.  And behind that is what ultimately goes back to Berkeley: to be X is to be “perceived” as intelligible.

[182]  Shirley: full of characters spouting ideologies, including naturally the author’s own.  Toryism, radicalism, rationalized laissez faire, the sexist ideology Charlotte Bronte knew so much about; economic miseries of Orders in Council; the understandable but mistaken tactics of the Luddites, all dated back to 1812 from the 1840’s to provide the hindsight of the Chartist parallels.  Other books studying these topics directly might have more & better organized information, but if written in ideological language, however detached or partisan, would have to treat all individuals as case histories.  What makes Shirley and other works of fiction irreplaceable is the assimilation of all this to the primary concerns of food (i.e. jobs), sexual love, work & play.

[183]  Hence the “vertical” or mythological tradition becomes relevant too.  But just as most social criticism ignores everything really germane to the structure of the book, so most Wissenschaft criticism confines itself to clichés about Byron & Scott & the Gothic novel or whatever.  That’s traditional crap, corresponding to Terry Eagleton’s Marxist crap: the oversimplified Toryism of Helstone & radicalism of Yorke are the prototypes of this in the novel itself.  But novels are “tracts for the times” without hindsight of history.

[220]  If consciousness of the “analog I” didn’t exist before (effectively) 800-700 B.C., then the paradoxical role of a nothingness at the heart of Being goes with a separation of subject & object.  Perhaps the Locke era marks the end of this transitional phase: I’ll have to get clearer the Foucault thesis that “mankind” is a 17th c. conception.

[221]  Anyway, the metaphor chapter should, after establishing the hypothetical nature of literary metaphor, go on to examine, first, the lover metaphor with all its paradoxes, and then the identity-with metaphor, starting with Theseus’ “lunatic” and Jaynes “hallucination.”  If I could line up my GC metaphor-metonymy-simile sequence with Jaynes & Foucault it would help.  Not that I’d want to claim their authority for my own quite different thesis.

[224]  I don’t see how deconstruction techniques fit the Bible at all: you have to start with a lisible text by an author you can “supplement,” and such a text doesn’t exist.  “The Word made flesh” certainly sounds like the supreme logocentric claim, but there isn’t any “transcendental signified” except the Father, who disappears into the Word.  So I think there must be what Derrida doesn’t allow: a polysemous structure that directs all the “deconstruction.”  On the other hand, the excursus on Gen. 6:1-4 in Charlotte Bronte’s Shirley is a deconstruction of it in a way that none of her other purely literary references, such as the one to Coriolanus even approach.  Incidentally, this is a quite different question from that of popularity as the direct expression of an archetype.  supplement

[229]  Surely, if “deconstruction” starts with a construal text, that text prescribes a direction for deconstruction, otherwise you wander forever in a wilderness of words.  Such a direction involves one at once in polysemy, whatever the particular steps in the verbal ladder may be.  Surely too the conception of “supplement” indicates this.  I suppose the traditional fears about how “dangerous” a speculation may be if it doesn’t stay on the track provoked this reaction.  supplement

[241]  I wish my mind were clearer about Derrida: it’s silly to make him into a sort of critical Antichrist trying to abolish incarnational texts.  To me all texts are incarnational, and the climax of the entire Christian Bible, “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us,” is the most logocentric sentence ever written.  My only hunch is the one I’ve recorded: that if you start with one text rather than another, that text prescribes a certain direction of comment & deconstruction & what not, and the direction reduces to a polysemous pilgrimage.  You can’t just wander in the wilderness of words forever.  A lot of post-structural stuff seem to me just irresponsible and undirected polysemy.

[247]  I think it’s Norbert Wiener, the cybernetics man, who says that communication overcomes entropy.  Not always: as with water & fire in the Bible, there’s a dead word and a living word.  Some books are “dead things,” in Milton’s phrase, forgotten or surviving arbitrarily in the memory: others take us in the opposite direction from death.  What Derrida is attacking is the fallacy that to have a living word you have to have a living person speaking it.  The living speaker is only a symbol of a creative word that keeps throwing up supplement after supplement, yet always in a specified direction. supplement

[249]  Antitypos in Greek has the primary meaning of striking back, resisting, adverse.  This corresponds exactly to the way that Jesus’ “I am the way” deconstructs the image of journey by turning it into a solid person.  It occurs in Hebrews 9:24 as well as in I Peter (typos is in Heb. 8:5, and hypodeigma, the post-Platonic form of paradeigma, in 9:23.  The AV usually translates that and typos as “patterns” or “copies”).

[253]  The two dragons I want to kill are Bultmann’s “demythologize” and Derrida’s “logocentric.”  The Bible is myth from Genesis to Revelation, & to demythologize it is to obliterate it.  The climax of the (Christian) Bible is “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us,” which is the most logocentric sentence ever written.  But I must be careful to make sure I understand them & am not just saying that my views of mythos & logos are different.  Derrida

[259]  I suppose the principle of deconstruction is that all “literal” meaning, in the ordinary sense, is a projection of a metaphorical verbal body.  Examples are the “always” and “anyway” of pilgrimage or journey metaphors.  What we take “literally,” in this sense, is the direction of the metaphors suggested by the author, without examining further.  Poetry is language where this procedure is obviously inadequate.  Every narrative is thus a selected or chosen arrangement of metaphors.

[281]  The old idea that all kinds of mysteries of knowledge can be extracted from myth is, in modern terms, the fact that discursive prose is verbal work, while myths, like literature, are verbal play, & consequently can be “deconstructed” endlessly.  Except that in practice you have to set up a straight polysemous path from your construal starting point.  This conception of play integrates the kookiest notion of criticism into the centre of contemporary theory.

[282]  Poets meet the supremacy of ideology in two ways: by allegory and by realistic “displacement.”  Or both, of course: Marxism demands of literature realism with an allegorical basis.  “Not ideas about the thing but the thing itself” is a plea for anti-realistic metaphor disguised as a call to realism.

[304]  Marx owes his colossal status as a modern thinker to the incisiveness with which he exposes the gap between the ideology of capitalism and the primary concerns of food and shelter that it overrides.  Thus he begins with “commodity” in its secondary & primary references (reminding one of Faulconbridge’s speech in King John, even though “commodity” means something rather different there).

[307]  Further on one: ideology is different from other things expressed in discursive prose because it’s apologetic and metonymic.  The world can’t be perfect, so the ideological structure is put for the ideal as the best available.  Also, it’s explicitly partial: whenever a religion or political or national loyalty is differentiated from another, ideology is present.  That would allow for social types of primary concern, such as the desire to know.

[311]  Jesus’ use of the Son-Father identity leading to the grotesque myth that God is male.  Isaiah 49:15; 66:13; Matt. 23:37.  Note how the mythical nature of the Gospels is, so to speak, postponing Jesus until the post-Easter hindsight.  Especially in John, but then Luke’s climax comes in Acts 1-2.  The presence of Christ is in the meeting of the gospel & the reader: they don’t point to a specific person outside them, or what Derrida calls a transcendental signifier.  John identifies Jesus with the Logos: I think the Greek history of the word Logos is at a minimum here, but he can’t have been unaware of that history.  (Re the above: Christ was God and a male, but the latter only before Easter.)

[318]  When logos established its supremacy over mythos, mythos was deprived of its ideological function.  It then had to split into two parts: literary or hypothetical myth, and myth declared to be true, which meant myth with a “transcendental signified,” as Derrida calls it.  As that, it could be recreated as literature, but anxiety insisted on a “literal” or external basis.  Hence what I call the Goethe (or rather Faust) fallacy: in the beginning God did something, and the words tell us what he did.  The same tendency is followed today by the jigglers and jugglers of the gospel narratives.

[331]  Morris Eaves wants me to write an updated Polemical Introduction to this book: I don’t know that I have that much command of the whole critical scene.  He seems to feel that the post-structurals have control of the Comp. Lit. scene but that what’s in central vogue now in English is a neo-historical movement, with strong Marxist affinities, trying to identify the mythical as a special case of the ideological.  He spoke of being an examiner of a “whiz kid” who’s written something about death, mostly Kleist in substance, Heidegger in method––and felt she was really following the funeral cortege of Paul de Man.

[333]  The main point of Chapter Two is, I suppose, that the Hebrew Bible is written (Derrida is, I understand, a Sephardic Jew) but that the Christian Bible is also enclosed in a presence.

[338]  (I may have this.)  When I first began to think about a book on the literary context of the Bible, the literary critics specifically interested in the Bible were few and apologetic; today they are many and confident.  The number coming the other way, from Biblical scholarship to an interest in literary criticism, has increased proportionately.  I am now therefore not a speaker of a prologue but a member of an aging chorus.  Of course every scholar of senior years living in the nineteen eighties has lived through forty or fifty such revolutions even in the fields that directly concern him.  This particular revolution may confirm the accuracy of my instincts thirty years ago, but does little for me now. However:

Set the word and its origin and put the maker in his place.

So counsels the Sepher Yetzirah (Book of Creation), a pioneering work of Kabbalism that uses the letters of the Hebrew alphabet as symbols for the creative principles of the world.  I have taken its advice to refer to the ordering of one’s own mind, and in that context have tried to follow it.

[340]  Perhaps the metaphor chapter should establish the metonymic nature of all ideology: what’s in charge is put for the ideal, because we obviously can’t have the ideal.  We move through erotic metaphors (Eliade, I see, has an essay on androgyne symbolism) to existential metaphor, or expression of identity with light or spirit, which are forms of panoramic apocalypse.  Participating apocalypse comes when we enter the Word, which up to that time is an apocryphon, remove all the seals and identify with it––Ezekiel ate it.  This is, I suppose, one of the things meant by “deconstructing” the text through the writing to identity with the presence.  For again, just as mythos is logos in Christ, so presence is absence, or rather, the presences of Christ & reader (with the Spirit) unite in the Kingdom of absence.  (That phrase is Dennis Lee’s.)

[341]  That’s where my prerevolutionary point goes, also the Burke-Paine token-metonymy one.  We enter a world where Jesus is still alive, a world opposite to anything “the quest for the historical Jesus” could ever reach.  This direct or inner deconstructing search is the “mystic” Boehme-Blake approach––at least that’s a very direct kind.

[356]  I’m thinking now of three chapters on myth, metaphor & symbol.  Then an intercalary chapter on the whole Bible, applying the first three to it & incorporating the GC [The Great Code] theses.  Then the four deconstructed Bibles and their literary infiltrations.  That’s 7/8 altogether.  It’s doubtless in the intercalary chapter that the way and ladder imagery goes (myth & metaphor, respectively: perhaps the spirit is a circle enclosing the cross.  Or the still point at the centre which is also the circumference). The last four chapters might be called something like “Rivers of Eden,” & should have the epigraph from the Sepher Yetzirah.

[363]  Or, I might stop this book at Chapter Four, the recapitulation of the Bible, on the principle that a big book is a big evil, and leave the four deconstructions for later.

[389]  I think “deconstruction” is something literature does to itself, whether with anxiety or without it.  As a critical technique it seems to me popular because facile, a “new criticism” analysis with no holds barred.  Of course I may be wrong: this nearly always includes an unspoken “but I damn well don’t think so.”  Not in this case, though: I’m really very uncertain.  But my theory of modes seems to me better because it follows a pattern that literature itself creates; in criticism, the medieval four levels theory (the “levels” metaphor is expendable) supplies a rationale for the procedure.

[428]  I gather that Bhaktin’s [sic] “dialogism” is gradually replacing “deconstruction” as a buzzword.  Of course there’s dialogue between writer & reader, but much more goes on than that: it’s more like an interpenetrating of identities.  Montaigne’s “consubstantial” remark shows that the writer’s ego and the reader’s ego can’t interpenetrate: they’re like the old-style atoms, or, more accurately, like the Leibnitzian monads.  In this century we have to forget that “atom” means the unsplittable (or did mean it) or that the individual is the “individable.”  Two egos identifying would be like two billiard balls copulating.

[473]  Why are Marxist & Freudian approaches to criticism so sterile and so quickly exhausted when Marx & Freud themselves are so endlessly suggestive and illuminating?  I suppose because the centre of gravity remains in Marx or Freud and turns all literature into an allegory of Marxism or Freudianism.  (I think something similar is true of feminist criticism, even if it has as yet no comparable third figure.)  So I ought to know how silly it would be to turn my book into any sort of Biblical or Christian allegory.

[478]  All irony, whether of content or of form, is relative to a norm, and is unintelligible without that norm.  It seems essential to keep on saying this in an age of “deconstruction,” where the illusion grows up that the norms are no longer there.  Tristram Shandy was “odd” to Johnson and “typical” to some Russian formalist [Viktor Shklovsky], but it’s not typical of anything but a fashion.  (When parody becomes very fashionable, the illusion grows up that the norms have disappeared.)

[494]  Irony depends on its deviation from an opposing norm: the sense of losing this norm has been constant throughout literature, though it seems very acute now, and there are even theories (post-structural ones) trying to show that it doesn’t exist, or no longer exists.  Television has helped to do that, too.

[497]  The morals of Five, mainly, are the autonomy of the verbal universe, the expansion of time, and the business about reversing the “merely symbolic” business in that Dante commentary.  But there’s also that higher kerygma business, which is a reversal of Otto’s holiness, the mysterium tremendum, which is basically an alienation image.  The m. t. is connected with some form of Lacan’s nom du Pére, and with my “trickster” passage indicating that you can’t get to God through uniformity alone.

[545]  I’d like to get rid of the blocking metaphors about the burden of the past, maintaining standards, keeping up traditions, & other euphemisms for staggering under guilt feelings.  This again connects with my use of the Bible.  In its historical & ideological context the Bible is male-centered, white-centered, Christian-centered, theist-centered.  In its mythical & metaphorical contexts these limitations become metaphors for something that includes what they exclude.  Perhaps the centres carry the predominant emphasis in the culture of the past: as Newman said of English literature, the bulk of it will always have been Protestant.  One has to recreate.  That’s why, of course, there’s so much yapping about deconstruction and, more especially, “supplements.”  The real supplements are implied in the text, not in the psychology of the writer.

[547]  The interchange of whole and part I’ve mentioned is an extension of what is called in criticism the hermeneutic circle.  How do we understand the wholeness of a work of art?  By studying the parts.  But how do we understand the significance of the parts?  By studying the whole.  There is a vogue now for deprecating holism, but it is an indispensable metaphor: if we want education we also want a “university,” despite the miscellany of activities; if we look at the stars, we want to feel that we live in a “universe,” despite the discouraging number of galaxies.  Apart from that, “we are all members of one body” is the extension of holism from literature into life.  There can be no sense of exhilaration, no expansion of the spirit, without wholeness.

[549]  When I started criticism I knew that there was a difference between “creation” and criticism because I myself was neither a poet nor a novelist.  I knew that I was just as “creative” as though I were, but I worried then, as was appropriate for the time, that criticism was regarded as parasitic.  Now the perspective has reversed, like one of those trick drawings, and now, in the phrasing above, the poet must die that the critic may live.  Criticism’s paradoxical task is to indicate the boundaries of literature by obliterating them, just as one may indicate the existence of Russian literature to English readers by translating Tolstoy into English.

[552]  Marxist & feminist criticism belong in Seven, with the return of the excluded.  As one can’t alter a ruling-class or patriarchal past, one has to talk about a future, talk up the few bits of proletarian or feminist imagination in the past, or put the heroic stature on the consciousness-raising critic.  All these are crap, more or less.  But I mustn’t get too psychological or Tibetan-monkish, at the end of Four or anywhere else.  Kerygma is also––perhaps primarily––a social vision, an attempt to see a society freed from ideology.  Gibbon was, from a naive point of view, chasing a ghost, at best a metaphor inscribed within his sources, there being nothing “out there” that actually declined and fell.  (My classing history with description of external events is impossibly naive, history being a discourse; but the descriptive is an element in history.)  The present vogue for “historicity” extends the conception of horizontal narrative into everything: the great importance of the axial perspective is that it shows the relativity of the historical.

[556]  Marxism shows an odd resemblance to Aristotleianism in earlier centuries.  In the sixteenth century & later Aristotle became an influence on literary criticism precisely when he began to lose his dictatorship in logic, metaphysics, and psychology (De Anima).  Marxism is a literary influence in non-Marxist countries just when it’s on the skids as an economic theory in Marxist countries.

[559]  Derrida says structuralism is wrong because you can’t get outside a structure to examine it.  That’s a misleading metaphor: you enter a structure from the “inside” & it becomes a part of you.  Only it doesn’t stop at the individual, but creates a spiritual substance: it’s one’s infinite extension.

[566]  Intro: much criticism today is in the tradition of the worst ages of Biblical commentary, except that its allegorical basis is feminist psychology or Marxist sociology rather than theology.

[576]  Seven: revolutionary criticism, whether Marxist, Freudian or feminist, seems to have to go through a stage of second-rate pedantry where it is intelligible only to fellow-believers, before it outgrows a quixotic phase of trying to remake history (that’s wrong: Quixote wanted to continue what was there).  As Newman said of English literature, “it will always have been Protestant”, and the real critical enterprise can hardly be concerned only, or primarily, with what we do from now on.  Incidentally, doubles can be expanded: I don’t know if I mentioned the second sharer in Conrad, but I ought to expand the TN [Twelfth Night]-Séraphita point to include a reference to feminist criticism and my difficulties with Jung’s anima.

[580]  I can’t say what I really think here: I’d kill the book if I did.  I think social feminism, genuine social & intellectual equality between men & women, a centrally important issue.  Feminist literary criticism is mostly heifer-shit.  Women frustrated by the lack of outlet for their abilities turn to pedantic nagging, and the nagging pedantry of most feminist writing is a reflection of frustration unaccompanied by any vision of transcending it.  As Newman resignedly said of English literature, it will always have been Protestant.  Perhaps female (not feminist) writing has a great future, but that doesn’t make its effort to rewrite the past any less futile.

[622]  When feminists are told that their criticism is infantile they always reply that of course new ideas are deeply disturbing.  Their ideas are not new: they’re new.

[654]  I suppose a central question, in One, which I ducked, is: what mode does criticism itself belong to?  It’s the activity, I think, that inter-relates the modes and demonstrates their mutual interdependence.  Literary criticism, in my approach to it anyway, has the specific task of inter-relating the imaginative to the other three.  Distinguishing without dividing, the critic separates mythology from ideology, concrete metaphor from abstract argument, self-contained language from servomechanistic description.

[719]  I’ve already said, in prefaces & the like, that I’d greatly prefer to see the occasion preserved: the lyric conference introduction is a good example.  As a paper contributed to the conference, it looks rather silly, to me anyway.  Naturally, I’ve had some resounding flops.  I’m also particularly good, or used to be, at answering questions: my ability to translate a dumb question into a searching one has often been commented on.  This should be leading to something useful, but it hasn’t yet.  The central thing is that my “creative” faculty is the power of personalizing occasions.  My written texts are, whatever Derrida says, incarnational or prophetic, and reading them ought to lead to reincarnating them.

[732]  I may have this too: re the Paul de Man scandal: why should we expect public figures to be role models, exuding all the approved sentiments?  His record could hardly be worse than Heidegger’s, but who denies Heidegger’s importance?  Heidegger, Frege, Spengler, George, even Wagner: all people of great importance: every one a kraut chunkhead as dumb as the beer barrels in Munich.  Jung too, for all his dodging.  Sartre: the incarnation of the trahison des clercs, the juvenile delinquent of the intellect.  Camus used to complain of being taken as a moral oracle, but that was just the public saying: “Sartre and Camus––well, at least Camus is a grown man.”


From Notebooks 91398.a

[8]  Derrida’s logocentric text is a straw man, or rather a cloth-bound man: the real logocentric text is the dogma, the logos that’s opaque, intolerant, and malignant.  The Logos of John is a use of the word in a greatly extended and more flexible context (coinciding ultimately with mythos): the traditional translation “verbum,” which logos never means in Greek, expresses something of this.  From Heraclitus to Philo logos means a rational principle within nature: the logoi spermatikoi of the Stoics are something else again, but they aren’t anything corresponding to the diffusion of spiritual energy, at once divine and human, that is meant by logos as verbum.

[161]  History redeems: there’s a process within history that isn’t at all what Marxism calls the historical process, but relates to the cultural tradition.  People denounced or martyred as horrible heretics in the hysteria of their times later become objects of great cultural interest.  The twenty-first century will find The Satanic Verses a document of great interest to scholars and critics, but the Ayatollah will be of no interest to anybody except as one more nightmare of bigotry that history has produced in such profusion.  One would hope that eventually the stupid human race would get the point.  God doesn’t create post-mortem hells even for people devoting their lives to cruelty and tyranny, but if he did the Ayatollah would certainly be howling in one of them forever.  Anyway, this historical redemption of culture is something Schelling meant by theogony, except that he couldn’t get beyond the purely mythological stage into literature.  Geoffrey Hartman says Derrida has proved that there are no incarnational texts, Hartman and Derrida both being Jews: actually, there can be no text that isn’t incarnational, that doesn’t represent the descent of kerygma into flesh.  Except that, while all writers and artists are prophets of a sort, most of them are opaque prophets, not vehicles of kerygma except by accident.

[167]  The Old Testament begins with pure myth, creation and flood stories and the like; then it gradually begins to absorb history, the historical element becoming progressively more visible as it goes on.  In the N.T. we start with the Gospels which are presented mythically, then we have Acts, which shows myth organizing history again.  Derrida’s remark that myth or narrative is insane is quite consistent with what I’m saying.  Rhetoric lies about history; kerygma overrides it.

[175]  Derrida on the book between two covers as a solid object enclosing an authority is, as Derrida must know, complete bullshit: nobody believes that a book is an object: it’s a focus of verbal energy.  What he should be attacking is the dogmatic formulation that eliminates its own opposite: that’s the symbol or metaphor that can kill a man, and has killed thousands.  It’s always self-enclosed and opaque; no kerygma ever gets through it.

[186]  Everything is everywhere at once, but it also has to be where it is.  The biographical sequence I just noted is recapitulated in the sequence of every word and syllable within the individual text.  This is a most frightful tyranny to the bateau ivre deconstructions of Derrida-ism, but is the necessary complement to them.

From Notebook 1993.2-6

[23]  The text is the presence.  I know this sounds a little like “the medium is the message,” but at least it gets over the Derrida hurdle of a written word deferring to an oral word deferring to a pre-verbal situation of events.

[113]  Maybe my phrase about traces of processes in GC [The Great Code] was profounder than I realized.  The word “God” in the Bible in a sense is a trace of a process, partly in Derrida’s sense of the word “trace.”  So the work of God is Heilsgeschichte, or Providence, where no design ever reveals itself beyond an occasional possible insight.

[220]  I’m still playing around with the idea that my eight stages of the Bible break into four epiphanies of the Word and four responses of the Spirit.  The first epiphany of the Word is creation, the manifesting of physical nature, the postulating of Heidegger’s problem of why there are things rather than nothing.  The second epiphany is that of law, which is peculiarly the epiphany of man as not merely a perceiving but a reflecting being: it completes the activity of consciousness which creation begins.  The third epiphany is that of prophecy, which is where Judaism (Moses) and Islam (Elijah) still are.  For Christianity, Jesus is the manifesting of the pure individual in the midst of society, though still a historical presence pointed to by the words of the New Testament, hence still part of Derrida’s “metaphysics of presence.”  I think the primary or panoramic apocalypse is involved in this too, except for the prominence of the sealed scroll and its opening, which points in the direction of the total identity of Word of God as book with Word of God as presence.

[278]  I got the self-alienated moi from Lacan––the escape from Narcissus is, I think, a major theme of the second part.  I wish I knew what the opposite of logocentric was––apart, that is, from whatever Derrida writes and scratches out again.  Well, I can leave that.  To know as we are now known: that’s Paul on the spiritual awakening from the logocentric knower.

[283]  4.  Concern, mythology, language as metaphor, interpenetration, and whatever the hell Derrida means by differential language, if anything: so far everything seems to be logocentric except what Derrida writes and scratches out again.

[450]  The development of linguistics into semiotics, from Saussure to Derrida and others, is based on the concept of difference.  A word is a signifier arbitrarily related to a signified; it has meaning because it is different from other words.  Nobody can challenge such postulates; but I think metaphor provides an identity beyond difference, a construction beyond deconstruction.  In metaphor the statement “A is B,” being usually absurd on the face of it, carries with it the implication “A is not B, and nobody but a fool would imagine that it was.” This latter implication is the basis of the present linguistic development.  The assertion itself is made in order to open up a current of energy between subject and object: from the point of view of the denial, metaphor can never achieve anything except hypothesis.  I got this far in the Anatomy, and am now trying to see how further I call get with the Bible, which is metaphorical and yet is clearly concerned with something other than hypothesis.

[495]  In any case what does belong is a recapitulation of the seven/eight stages of Biblical revelation, and a division of them into four epiphanies of the Word and the four responses of the Spirit.  The principle stated in GC [The Great Code] that “Word of God” suggests an identification of the Bible with the presence of Christ, there being no series of antecedent events that have priority over the verbal ones.  Hence Derrida’s “metaphysic of presence,” the written word deferring to the spoken one and that again to the pre-verbal situation, doesn’t apply.

[569]  In poetry, whatever Derrida may say, the oral takes precedence over the written, because poetry is being referred back to an original performance.  The personal poet has to be represented by somebody, however remote from tee poet or however silent.  But, of course, the poem is not a direct address, but broadcast like a radio program.

[577]  This chapter looks as though it were going to be on the logocentric universe, and the hell with Derrida.  On the other hand “deconstructive” perspectives may enter the next three chapters.

[614]  Criticism (Stanley Fish) is the act of community response to a text.  I still think Derrida is making far too much of what’s really just a convention, that the written words are being spoken by somebody.  Of course it would be true that in oral discourse the words are unborn, attached to an enclosing presence; but the text is the presence.  I think the analogy of the convention that a poem is sung rather than spoken goes a long way.

[not yet numbered para.]  This simultaneous apprehension of the whole work is both the origin of the conception of “structure” (a spatial metaphor) and of all (I think) literary criticism can use of Derrida’s ecriture.  This ecriture precedes the narrative (which always carries with it some metaphor of speech), in the sense that it’s the enfolded seed from which the narrative unfolds.  The “structure” metaphor of course doesn’t imply that, if it’s a major classic, we ever grasp the whole structure: that’s a lifetime effort.

[not yet numbered para.]  (2) Art of words: emphasis on words connects literature with criticism, then both with everything else in words––semiotics and linguistic developments.  Such words are primarily written (Derrida): in oral discourse the words are still attached to an enclosing presence, and are hence, so to speak, unborn.

[not yet numbered para.]  Music and wind instrument conventions too.  Note that Derrida’s principle may apply to metaphysics, where the radical is supposed to be written, but not to literature.

[not yet numbered para.]  (3) Narrative movement vs, Gestalt: McLuhan left out the Gestalt ant the Derrida people leave out the movement.  Convention of speaker in poetry, alternatively music: Epilogue to Lycidas.  “Structure” a misleading metaphor whenever it assumes that total understanding of anything of any size in literature is ever possible.  The reader is not all the other readers, most of whom are in a different time of history anyway, including the future.

[not yet numbered para.]  Chaotic tendency in criticism to move their neighbor’s landmarks: use of criticism to undermine criticism more insidious than Derrida’s writing-speaking business.

Notebook 91284.j

I have been interested in FW ever since it appeared––I still have the copy I bought for ninety- eight cents on a remainder table in 1938––and, like many other people, I still find it irresistibly fascinating.  But for a long time I was puzzled about the conception of literature it suggests to a critic.  I never really bought the “dream language” theory, even if Joyce himself did: agreed that the dream condenses and displaces and often puns, it doesn’t produce that kind of language.

But Derrida and the deconstruction school began to clear it up.  Practically every word in FW contains, along with an often vestigial surface meaning, a large number of “supplements.”  Also, Finnegan himself is the “effaced” human archetype of whom HCE is the “trace.”  FW is really a gigantic effort to move into the “differential” sphere of language and out of the “logocentric” one.  Deconstructionists approach every text as though it were a potential FW, or, perhaps more accurately, they approach texts as Joyce himself approached the first drafts of his “Work in Progress.”

Who dream?  I don’t think that woman’s book on the decentered universe, which implies that it doesn’t matter who dreams, holds up: it’s trendy, and certainly FW seems like a deconstructionist’s paradise, with all things and events reduced to cryptic verbal allusions to them.  But Joyce was “old-fashioned.”  There are three dreams at least: one, the universal dream of human history,where the dreamer is F as HCE (they’re both married to ALP, incidentally).  Two, the dream of art which struggles against the dream of history by trying to interpret it: the Joseph-interpreter is Shem the Penman or Punman, Joyce himself.  Three, the individual dream of a tavern-keeper of English origin in Chapelizod, whose name may be Porter, who has two sons, Jerry and Kevin, a daughter Isabel, two (at least) servants and twelve customer).  All these are assimilated to their Jungian universal archetypes.


Notebook 1993.2-6

[158]  The Eros chapter is gradually clearing a bit: Patai collaborated with Robert Graves on one book, and I’m also rereading The White Goddess.  A lot of it, as I knew before, is demonic: the female-will cycle that keeps the imagination embryonic and unborn.  But the parody principle works here as elsewhere, and one can get to the black bride through her.  Maybe I should explicitly use Blake’s Lucy––I don’t know why I’ve dropped it in the course.  Pope’s commentary on the Song of Songs keeps disgorging fascinating stuff about the number seven as the number of virginity (Philo), hence of the Sabbath as the virgin bride of Israel.  The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday, which is Venus’ day: white goddess modulating into black bride.  I’m sure the Tempest masque and the exclusion of Venus from it are connected, what with the insistence on preserving Miranda’s virginity. Lacan is wrong: it isn’t just the phallus that’s lost, but since the Fall every sexual union has had or been a screw loose.  Yeats’ poem on Solomon and the Queen of Sheba is the one to consult.

[278]  I got the self-alienated moi from Lacan––the escape from Narcissus is, I think, a major theme of the second part.  I wish I knew what the opposite of logocentric was––apart, that is, from whatever Derrida writes and scratches out again.  Well, I can leave that.  To know as we are now known: that’s Paul on the spiritual awakening from the logocentric knower.

[420]  3.  That’s clear: what isn’t clear is the sequence of the next two chapters.  I should think the psychological one, where parental obligation-figures dominate at first and finally the birth of the spirit-child forces them to combine into Lacan’s moi or self-alienated ego, would be next.

[428]  3.  Conflict of Authority and Autonomy.  The soul-body hierarchy and its gradual displacement by a Spirit that begins as a child and grows until it forces the parental soul-body figures to consolidate into a self-alienated ego, Lacan’s moi.

[485]  Also the discussion of the “gospel” section should be in part a discussion of canon: the notion of closed and open texts––I glanced at this in the last chapter of GC [The Great Code]––and the whole process-incorporation of the imperfect.  I suppose this begins with prophecy, where oral oracles are written down but not necessarily arranged––the Q stage of the gospels.  I suppose Lacan would say that there’s a continuous verbal context for the oracular potentially present, which is certainly what I used to think myself and probably still do.

[552]  If the first chapter is on the word, in the sense of the logocentric universe, it’s among other things on the birth of the Word.  Hence the second chapter might well be on the birth of the Spirit.  All I have on this is a hunch that we start with a sense of hierarchy and authority derived from the contemplation of nature and reinforced by parental figures.  After a while the Spirit is born, which like the Word starts as a puer aeternus but forces the obligation or superego figures to combine into Lacan’s moi or self-alienated ego.

[593]  The spirit grows and grows and grows, and proportionately as it does so everything that isn’t spirit shrinks into a self-alienated ego, Lacan’s moi.  This moi is the “lost soul” that everybody has and ought to get rid of.


[263]  Vico’s ricorso, Spengler’s organic culture, Yeats’s double gyre, Wells’s onward and upward from primeval slime to cocksure cockney, the Marxist historical process, Tolstoy’s chaos view: all these are metahistorical constructs.  Find that sentence in Foucault about the past lost paradise versus whatever the future one is.  Nietzsche’s identical recurrence, derived partly from Virgil and echoed by Shelley.  God, what a lot of horseshit.  The panhistorical fantasies of Hegel, Marx, and Newman.  The horizontal vision alone is never enough, and the statement “I believe only in history” is as asinine a pronouncement as any conscious mind can get past its teeth.  Only the vertical vision, even if it’s some impossible apocalyptic dream of the end of history as we know it, gives any dignity or integrity to human life.

[265]  “The great dream of an end to History is the utopia of causal systems of thought, just as the dream of the world’s beginnings was the utopia of classifying systems of thought.”  Foucault, The Order of Things, 263.


From Notebook 91283.n

[39]  If we look at some of the stories in Tristram Shandy––the man who dropped a hot chestnut into his open fly, the abbess and novice using obscene words to move a pair of balky mules, etc., we say that the stories are nothing: Sterne seems to be making a point of this.  In the common phrase, there is style but no substance.  The trouble is that this is a false antithesis: style-itself is substantial.  I noticed this absorption of everything into rhetorical patterns in Alan of Lille in medieval times, and it recurs in Sterne.  The link with the age of sensibility may be that there’s nothing there but the quivering of words: using words for doing other things doesn’t get in.  So he’s a deconstruction pioneer, or at least a formalist one.

From Notebook 1993.2-6

[415]  And, of course, you’ll eventually have to pull the whole god-damned verbal universe in, in the trail of literature as verbal.  “Structure,” being a metaphor from architecture, eventually has to be discarded, along with the “deconstruction” which is part of its fallacy.

[563]  So a fourth chapter might have to deal with something like the intervention of the Father.  This seems involved in the emphasis that Jesus gives to the Father in his teaching, and it seems to have something to do especially with the inspiration of the prophet and with the great breakthrough in the Book of Job.

[564]  I have a notion that “deconstruction” is involved in this intervention of the Father, but I don’t yet know how.  Moses on Pisgah, being buried apparently by God himself, seeing but not entering the Promised Land, and thus being the only person who really saw it, all Joshua saw being the historical Canaan.  Elijah on Carmel proving that Baal was the true god, because no real god goes jumping around on cue doing stunts.  This episode is a type of the intervention at the end of Job, where God really does descend to the altar and kindle a flame there.  Isaiah and Ezekiel, of course––their visions, I mean.

[567]  Perhaps it isn’t the Father but the Spirit that deconstructs the Word.  That is, the Word by itself creates the ontological hierarchy reflected in traditional conceptions of creation (the primacy of the identified thing), law (the primacy of the order), and prophecy (the primacy of the uttering presence).

[613]  “Deconstruction” is actually the analyzing of the ideological content in order to get down to the underlying myth.  Notice how stories with a strong narrative (mythical) interest are placed like buried treasure, told by someone else or discovered among old papers.

[not yet numbered para.]  Chain of being lingered to the eighteenth century, though Voltaire was suspicious of the echelle de l’infini.  Series of “deconstructions” of the ladder image in Eliot, Pound, Joyce and Yeats.  Beddoes on the devil as the self.

[not yet numbered para.]  Underside of what’s presented in Henry V: the only “deconstruction” I’m much interested in is the reading of the whole play so as to bring out the underthought of disaster to both France and England as well as the overthought of simple-minded patriotic play.

Notebook 91284.x

[4]  I’d like to figure out what the hell deconstruction is, and if it’s what I think it is, explain why the opposite procedure of reconstructing the mythical universe is the critic’s primary job.  This universe wouldn’t be the “real” or external world, naturally: like Stevens, I understand that reality and realism are at opposite poles.  From the metaphorical point of view all “realism” is a neurotic projection, a fantastic identification of something “within” with something “without,” except that these words dont’ apply.  The externalized world is the reflection of Narcissus, where he’s still not sure whether he’s subject or object: the world of poetry is the world of the real Narcissus who’s outgrown projection.  The last enemy to be destroyed is the metaphor of “within.”  Reality is not subjective, of course; but neither is it a subject grown obejective to itself.

Notebook 91284.aa

[5]  My function as a critic right now is to reverse the whole “deconstruction” procedure, which leads eventually to the total extinction of both literature and criticism: people are naturally attracted first, and most, by the suicidal and destructive.  One should turn around to a reconstruction, which is a matter of seeing a narrative in its undisplaced form as a single complex metaphor.

Notebook 91284.dd

Paul de Man

[1]  The Kleist essay is saying one of the things the Yeats essay should have said: Sailing to Byzantium is a distance-view of the holy city, so it looks aesthetic, so damn aesthetic that nothing “natural” is left of it.  But when you get to its interior and participate in the process maintaining it, as you do in Byzantium, there’s a fair amount of fury and mire about: in other words, the aesthetic is seen to be operated by violence at closer quarters.

[2]  Even Eliot: “where you must move in measure like a dancer” is said in the context of a ghost in the bombed-out streets of London intended to recall Dante’s hell.

[3]  Sade’s nature and Wordsworth’s nature; Eros and Thanatos, or rather, sublimating Eros according to Freud and going toward Thanatos.

[4]  I’m pretty sure that 18th c. Classicism was a structure of allegory based on authoritarian violence and that de Man knows it, but I haven’t got the words for it yet.

[5]  Allegory is imagination in words dominated by ideology, whether doctrinal or realistic.  Romanticism brought in, I think, the essential feature of a conflict of ideologies, hence its deconstructions of Jacob’s ladder.  The common ground for the conflict had to be the existential personality first (in this period) isolated by Rousseau––I can buy that much about him.

[6]  Blindness and Insight seems to be, and certainly has the reputation of being, a book about all the thing words can’t and shouldn’t be expected to do, a ceaseless driving around an oriental city one-way streets and unmarked dead ends.  Some traditional things are kept, such as rhetoric as a combination of persuasion and figuration, but not only to show that it doesn’t persuade or much figure.

[7]  As we shall not have any more books by Paul de Man, it is all the more essential to say that “The Rhetoric of Romanticism” is far better book than its author says it is.  (I think the historical diachronicity actually does work out.)

[8]  Of all the many verses in the Bible that seem designed to drive the attentive reader out of his mind, one is Genesis 3:19, which says that God brought every beast and bird to the adam “to see what he would call them”.  The naming process is obviously a part of creation; but why is curiosity of the reality of metaphor.

[9]  He begins with Holderlin as expressing a nostalgia for a state of things in which words “wie Blumen entstehen”: in other words a mythological world where the gods have recovered for human experience the reality of metaphor.

[10]  I haven’t yet quite figured out what he’s saying about Mallarme: seems to me Mallarme felt that only consciousness stood between human and natural identity and spontaneity, hence the central figure of the epic he wanted to write was the decapitated St. John.

[11]  The people who are making careers out of saying that other critical theorists are this and that say that de Man is magisterial and know-it-all, on account he does know something.  I think (subject to rechecking) the blindness and insight thesis itself is dubious: it’s really saying that Derrida gives us a skewed reading of Rousseau (blindness) to clarify his own views (insight).

[12]  But in this book the magisterial quality comes quite legitimately from craftsmanship.  He reads the very difficult and elusive passage on Rousseau in Holderlin’s “Der Rhen” with just a little more care and patience than the last (or probably the next) critic, and so which, by implication we all ought to be seeing.

[13]  Similarly, in the lyric and modernity essay in BI [Blindness and Insight], he picks up some facile twaddle about the obscurity of modern poets and how Mallarme retreated from representation altogether, and shows by a beautiful exposition of the “Tombeau de Verlaine” poem that Mallarme did nothing of the kind, even though his representational imagery was many-layered, “pli” being one of his favorite terms.

See also Frye’s paper, “Lacan and the Full Word” and his review of de Man’s The Rhetoric of Romanticism.

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