California

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Discontinuous Shifts: History Reading History

The essay argues that de Man's fabled "shift" from "history" to "reading" and "rhetoric"—to the "rhetoric of reading," as the Preface to Allegories of Reading puts it—was in fact always already a shift past rhetoric and to an other "history." This shift occurs and becomes legible in two particularly overdetermined moments in de Man's 1967 Gauss lectures on "Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism": the critical reading of Heidegger's interpretation of Hölderlin; and the reading of Wordsworth's "Boy of Winander" together with one of the Duddon sonnets. In the lecture on Wordsworth—and its two "layers" (1967 and 1971)—the shift actually occurs as a "material inscription." Thus it turns out that the notion of history de Man comes up with here is already what he calls "material history" or the "materiality of actual history" in his last essays.
May 2005

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Seeing Is Reading

De Man's notion of phenomenality is compared with the idea of "material vision" attributed to him in the recent reception of his work and with ideas of mental "seeing" or the impossibility thereof in the work of Elaine Scarry and Timothy Bahti. These various critical constructions of literary phenomenality reinstate transcendental models of mind for divergent ends. The editorial framework of Material Events, a recent collection of essays on de Manian materiality, claims to find in de Man's work inspiration for a utopian project of intervention in structures of cognition. Material Events' desire to be in on the ground floor of cognition has more in common with Scarry's humanist fantasy of seeing mental images under authorial instruction, however, than with de Manian reading. De Man's material vision may be understood, in contrast, on the model of Kant's use of hypotyposis, as a figure for the analogy to which we rightly resort when dealing with speculative propositions about cognition.
May 2005

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Complexity and Order

Roberts argues that Romantic criticism's constantly renewed interest in scientific models of explanation and analysis can be best understood in relationship to Romanticism's own conflicted relationship with the scientific Enlightenment project. He further argues that contemporary sciences of chaos and complexity can seem particularly congenial for the Romantic critic in their questioning of the possibility of a deterministic account of the natural world. After describing some of the contradictions inherent in Romantic understandings of chance and indeterminacy, Roberts argues for Isabelle Stengers's concept of "resistance" as a useful conceptual framework for providing some common ground between scientific and humanistic modes of inquiry.
March 2001

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Hegel on Buddhism

Hegel derived his understanding of Buddhism from a particular sect of Tibetan Buddhism which emphasizes the notion of emptiness. This sect had recently gained political power in Tibet to the exclusion of other legitimate views of the Dharma. This essay demonstrates the signficance of Hegel's misprision of Buddhism for his thought and for Western philosophy in general. In particular, Hegel radically misreads Buddhist meditation as an immersion in "self" ("Insichsein"), and construes Buddhism as a dangerous feminine principle, either too sexual or strangely asexual or autoerotic (as the current Pope has also stated). Using a combination of Buddhist scholarship and philosophy and deconstruction (ways of analyzing that go together quite well), I discover a fatal and phobic fascination with Buddhism in Hegel's thought, a fascination which leads him to develop the idea of "nothingness." "Nothingness" becomes an evocative term which Western philosphy after Hegel will try to include, exclude and police in numerous ways. Most recently, the systematic and shocking (deliberate?) misunderstandings of Buddhism by Slavoj Zizek have been based on this idea of nothingness. "Hegel on Buddhism" shows how this idea is nothing more than a paper tiger, a construct which tells us more about Western philosophy than it does about Buddhism.
February 2007

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