Sunteți pe pagina 1din 10

Paul de Man Shelly Disfigured Outline:

y y Who is Paul de Man? Brief account on the Triumph of Life by Percy Shelly, which is the subject of de Mans essay.

Paul de Mans deconstructive reading of the Triumph of Life in his essay Shelly Disfigured, in terms of Language positing power in the poem: ( a sign of absolute power & a sign of self positing) and its imposition. The effects of binary oppositions as mechanisms that add value to the point of origin.

Questions of perception, value and imagination in the poem.

Disfigured Rausseau.

Who is Paul de Man?

He is a deconstructionist literary critic and theorist. He completed his Ph.D. at Harvard University in the late 1950s. He then taught at Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Zurich, before ending up on the faculty in French and Comparative Literature at Yale University, where he was considered part of the Yale School of deconstruction. At the time of his death from cancer, he was a Sterling Professor of the Humanities at Yale.

Brief account on the Triumph of life.

Triumph of Life is an unfinished poem by Shelley, owing to his sudden death (drowned). The poem is strongly influenced by Dante's Divine Comedy . In the poem the triumph belongs to the cruel Chariot of Life, which is shown as one of Shelley's Tyrant-figures, as Life appears to vanquish the hopes and ideals of all men. Throughout the poem, Shelley is conducted by the spirit of Rousseau (as Dante is led through Hell by Virgil); he observes that most men do not know themselves truly, and are destroyed by the mutiny within (rebellion). In other words, the poem speaks about the nature of being and reality. However, these philosophical anxieties are evident in Shelley's ambivalent or uncertain treatment of his central figure Rousseau, who was rejected as an author of the Enlightenment era. In the poem, Shelley's uncertain attitude to the Enlightenment era is reflected by Rousseau's last look which, indicates his separation from the sad pageantry (176), which consists of those spoilers spoiled, Voltaire and Kant as mentioned in the poem. Accordingly, Shelleys exploration of what it is to be enlightened or ignorant is played out in the numerous questions asked by the younger Rousseau and the dreaming narrator: Half to myself I said, 'And what is this? / Whose shape is that within the car? & why? Throughout the poem, the narrator's questions are cut short by Rousseau's interjection of the word Life in response to them. Rousseau's strange distortion diagnoses in the narrator a thirst for knowledge, but Rousseau has already feared, loved, hated, suffered [...] and died and become weary of seeking out knowledge. In fact, Rousseau's affliction extends beyond weariness to an incapacity to know, as he is

unable to answer the narrator's question, who art thou? , replying only that his present form is a disguise which is being and that there was once Rousseau which is his reality, which shows how the link between the present I and its antecedents (past history) is dramatized in the poem , most explicitly in the encouner between the narrator and the figure of Rousseau who has much to say about his predecessors, as its almost one of the most important themes that dominate the poem, especially from a deconstructive reading. On the other hand, the narrator's constant questioning represents a human desire, which achieved its fullest expression in the Enlightenment, as such a desire, as Shelley expresses it, leads to the belief that beyond the chaos of existence there is a metaphysical realm that lends life a purpose.

Paul de Mans deconstructive reading of the Triumph of Life in his essay Shelly Disfigured:
The Triumph of Life marks an adavance in Shelleys skills as a poet who has long been noted by the critical tradition, but the radical epis..te..mological (The philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge and foundation) and rhetorical (language) ramifications of the poem have been explored most powerfully by Pual de Mans deconstructive reading of Shelley. In Shelley Disfigured, de Man reveals the poems resistence to any interpretation that there might be a progressive movement of Enlightment. Instead, what de Man identifies in Shelleys last poem is the trajectory (course) from the erased self-knowledge to disfiguration, as what we encounter in the Triumph of Life are tangles of meaning and figuration, from which the poem and its persons are trying to redeem themselves. Accordingly, in de Mans sense, we are in this poem never free from figure that shapes our understanding of the shapes that appear in the poem .. I am goin to explain this in the following paragraph, as de Man states that it is the alignment of a signification with any principle of linguistic articulation whatsoever, sensory or not, which constitutes the figure. So how does this happen? As, according to de Man, all wordly knowledge or self-understanding is blocked in as in the Triumph of Life, by the self-receding scenes that take over the narrative movement of the poem, and the poems trajectory from erased self-knowledge to disfiguration, the poem leaves the reader with a haunting residue. As a result, Whenever this self-receding scene occurs de Man says the syntax and the imagery of the poem tie themselves into a kont which arrests the process of understanding. Consequently, the reader, while reading the poem, forgets the dramatic situation (vanishing content) and is left only with these unresolved riddles of meaning and figuration in the poem to haunt him. In other words, according to de Man, Shelleys poem itself becomes an experience, as its text becomes the successive and culminative experience of these tangles of meaning and figuration. On a larger scale, de Man states that the tangles of meaning and figuration that plague the figures of Shelley and Rausseau and give the poem its narrative, which is the shape, implicate the readers of the Triumph of Life, who find themselves caught in the very tangles they are in fact trying to interpret.

So to put it very briefly, we have some tangles of meaning and figuration within the poem and the syntax and the imagery in the poem work together to make us interpret the shape, which is both the form of the poem and the shape of Rausseau and what he stands for to understand. However, Paul de Man starts Shelly Disfigured by quoting a passage, which talks about digging up a statue, from Thomas Hardys short story, Barbara of the House of Grebe. While digging in the grounds for the new foundation, the broken fragments of a marble statue were unearthed. They were submitted to various antiquaries, who said that, so far as the damaged pieces would allow them to form an opinion, the statue seemed to be a mutilated Roman satyr, or if not an allegorical figure of Death. Only one or two inhabitants guessed whose statue those fragments had composed.

Shelleys poem considers in the form of a dream the practices and institutions of making and reading monuments, which is history. And much of this history is invested in the metaphors of architecture and of statuary. However, the poem tells the story of the insistent revisions of the triumphal processions of European culture history. These visions unfold throughout the poem through the poets visionary encounter and dialogue with the shape of Rousseau. In fact, the presence of Rousseau links the poems vision to the status of Romanticism itself, by joining the fallen image of Rousseau, which represents the disfigured origin of Romantic thought and shows how romanticism is simultaneously implicated as one more broken monument of the Western culture. Accordingly, de Mans essay on Shelley emphasizes these processes of disfiguration. At the far side of de Mans attention to figure, we encounter a confrontation with fragmentation and history that he calls historical modes of language power. To elaborate more on that, I will start with the third point in my outline which is :

Language positing power in the poem: ( a sign of absolute power & a sign of absolute positing power of language)
In Shelleys poem, de Man asserts that there is another aspect of language that has to come into play in order to perform the texts undoing and erasure of the figure, which de Man identifies as language positing power and which means that the disfigurations which are already performed in and by the poem, and the repetitive erasures by which language helps to perform, leave a residue, which is the disfigured, that we are forced to read. Hence, the performative dimension of language is inherently forceful, even violent, and according to de Man the poem records, enacts and repeats the performance of violence. The initial violence of position, de Man states, can only be half erased, because the act of erasure is accomplished already by a device of language that never ceases to partake of the very violence against which it is directed. So its about the violent role of language that prevails. Therefore, these acts are not merely linguistic; rather they speak to a capacity of language or figure that when literalized, exist not only on the order of meaning but also and more importantly on the order of actual events just as what Shelleys poem names Life as something abstract, a creator of a system, which is not governed by its rules. Thus, when we encounter disfiguration, such as that which characterizes The Triumph of Life, we are confronting the effects of languages historical power.

A perfect example of languages power to posit an origin (an abstract from any antecedents) is seen at the beginning when the poem opens by marking the sudden springing forth of the sun, which could be said to announce the origin or the mythic awakening of history itself:

Swift as a spirit hastening Of glory & of good, the Rejoicing in his splendor, Of darkness fell from the awakened Earth

to Sun &

his sprang the

task, forth mask

Awakened by the sun and rejoicing in his splendor, earth becomes a natural temple, celebrating the birth of light with smokeless altars in the following line. Accordingly for de Man, the power of the sun in the opening lines is derived from the suns detachment from all antecedents and here I dont mean by the word antecedents (past history) but that the sun, as de Man writes, does not appear in conjunction with or in reaction to the night and the starts, but of its own unrelated power, which makes the passage an allegory of languages power to posit and which takes us back to the idea that the sun with its unrelated power is the center of the system that is the universe as it times itself to awaken the earth to its historicity and thus to call the world into being. Another aspect is: Language positing power as an imposition in the poem: On the other hand, de Mans reading of the poem is challenged by the very process of displacement that he identifies as the poems governing structural principle. This is clear, when the poem displaces the sense that the sun appears of its own unrelated power when in subsequent lines we are referred to a pre-existing world! So, the birth of light that awakens the earth, as I mentioned earlier, in fact reveals that such positing entails the story of a prior imposition: This is clear in: And in succession due, Isle, Ocean, & all things that The form & character of Rise as the Sun their father Their portion of the toil which Took as his own & then imposed on them. did Continent, in them wear mortal mould rose, to bear he of old

Here, we find that what de Man stated as an allegory of absolute positing power of language, in fact, belongs to a sequence of events that reinscribes into a story of absolute domination. Therefore, we can revise de Mans formulation that languages positing power is itself already implicated by the poem as an imposition in the sense that we no longer can regard the figure of the sun as the source and beginning of glory & of good for the sun is now the name of the

father whose fathering is an act of imposition. And inscribed in story of imposition is a global map of territorial expansion, as we can find in the lines for example, the burden of toil is borne in succession due by continent, isle, ocean which indicates that the sheer movement of time is successive as nothing could escape the process of imposition, for it extends to all things in them wear the form and character of mortal mould. So the act of imposition shows how the sun no longer appears of its own unrelated power. However, as scenes such as these accumulate in the poem, they set in motion a set of images that simultaneously displace and revalue any originary gesture, such as that of the sun and which takes us to what Dr. Azza mentioned of the collapsing boundaries between oppositions, as they are part of the same thing and hence cant be divided. So there is nothing absolute. This in fact marks how the rules of a pre-existing system after deconstruction can be contradictive by logic as in the case of the sign of absolute positing power and imposition.

How binary oppositions function within a system and give value when the rules of their combination vanish?
For instance, in the early stanzas of the vision:
The crowd gave Or seemed to rise, And saw like clouds upon the thunder blast way, so & mighty I was arose the aghast, trance,

The million with fierce song Raging around; such seemed the As when to greet some Imperial Rome poured forth From senatehouse & prison When Freedom left those who Had bound a yoke which soon they stooped to bear.


maniac dance jubilee (celebration) conqueror's advance her living sea & theatre upon the free

Shelley likens the fierce song and maniac dance of the crowd he encounters to the jubilee that greets a conquerors advance. However, immediately after, this image leads to domination at the end of the stanza where as soon the conqueror has upon the free/ bound a yoke which soon they stoop to bear, which is very close to the opening scene of the poem where all that wear the form and character of

mortal mould, where they rejoice in the suns arrival and must similarly bear the imposition of its burden, which again reflects that the origin of an original act is already a sign of power and tells the story of a prior imposition, which gives and adds value to this sign of power, as you can see how the crowd is celebrating a conquerors advance. Accordingly, the constant revaluation of all values in the poem, includes the revelation of the deep complicities between the positing of origins, the institutions of value, and the inscriptions of power, as Shelleys poem not only performs the perpetual displacement of values as they are posited but also takes up critically the very mechanisms, which are the oppositions, by which ideological values are instituted and which adds value to the origin.

On a wider scale, although the image of the sun as a sign of absolute positing power is impositioned by being aligned in the opening stanza with the values of glory and good and the force that removes the mask of darkness which is regarded as an antecedent, the image of the sun remains a positive image, a wholly beneficent figure unquestionably endorsed by the poem. However, the questions asked by Rousseau serve as the mechanisms that give value to the point of origin sun or life as these questions are those raised by the poem itself. Indeed, these questions address the perception of the image of the sun as well as the ways of seeing endorsed by that image. Accordingly, this takes us to another important aspect, which is:

Questions of perception, value and imagination in the poem: The questions for perception and value are throughout Shelleys work questions of and for the imagination. Yet in The Triumph of Life, the imagination never appears. Instead, the poems dramatic revaluation of poetic, philosophical, and dominant values along with its historical revaluation is undertaken through the screening of a vision, which shows that all forms of perception and representation are structured by the unstable play of light and dark, veils and shades, through the mirrored and prismatic refractions of a strange trance (dream) all without the use of imagination. For instance, the lines Once a vision on my brain was rolled signifies that once we recognize that the sun itself is no longer a pure beneficent and originary source of light but also a powerful cultural figure, given more economy of value and perception, we learn to read the historical vision of the sun that follows as the shadowy and unrelenting pageant of an ideology that doesnt use imagination. Therefore, we can say that the poem doesnt represent history as much as it represents the deep mechanisms that legislate it, as any act of interpretation is caught within the same system of shadow light and dark and no fixed place outside that system, which in other words means without the guidance of the beneficent light of the sun, or more decisively, of the imagination. So its about what the system entails and not imagination.

Disfigured Rousseau If the imagination disappears from The Triumph of Life, as de Man sates, a new figure does appear in its place, which is the strange distortion or grim feature of Rousseau or what was once Rousseau reflected in the course of the poets vision. Indeed, the Dantesque introduction of Rousseau (with reference to Dante) introduces significant ideological implications of its own, owing to the political consequences attributed to Rousseau and his importance as a source of Romantic discourse, as the vision itself, clarified, by the glare

of the chariot of life, as I mentioned earlier, is the grim vision through which Shelley replays Western History. For instance: the lines: All but the sacred Their spirits to the As they had touched Fled back like eagles to their native noon. who Conqueror, the world few could but with not as living tame soon flame

The lines state that All but the sacred few are already enslaved to the chariot of life, struggling to reach the car of light Yet all their efforts are in vain as they are left still farther and deeper in the shade Accordingly, the poet, struck to the heart by this sad vision, poses the questions of origin that constitute the main structure of the poem, which are: And what is this?/ Whose shape is that within the car& why? In fact, the questions seem to have the power to conjure the defaced figure of Rousseau, whose self-narrated history provides no answer to his true identity, although he himself is shown in quest of such an answer. However, these questions are interrupted by Rousseaus enigmatic (mysterious) answer life which gives another turn to these questions, such as, how did thy course begin? and why? Complying with this request, Rousseau narrates the history of his existence, culminating in an encounter with a mysterious identity that is A shape all light to which he puts the question whence I came, where I am and why?, as if to possess the key to his identity. As a result, de Man states that the structure of the text is not one of question and answer, but of a question, whose meaning as a question, is affected from the moment it is asked, in the sense that the answer to the question is another question, asking what and why?, and thus receding further from the original query. Yet the scene as de Man states, dramatizes the failure to satisfy a desire for self-knowledge, for the resulting vision is a vision of continued delusion that includes Rousseau. For instance the lines starting with as one between desire and shame Suspended, I said to Burst a new Vision never seen before show how Rousseau undergoes a transformation in which his brain, which is the center of his consciousness, is transformed, in a manner that is said to be the erasure of an imprinted track. However, as de Man stats that both the production and the erasure of the imprinted track are not an act performed by the brain, but the brain being acted upon by something else, the resulting sand in the line hence my brain has become as sand suggests the modification of a knowledge into
the surface, on which this knowledge ought to be recorded, which means that the tracks are not all gone, but more than half erased, marking a stage in the transformation of Rauaesseau into his present state or shape in a way that it appears to be like that of a deer or like that of a wolf, from what we actually first met him as:

what I thought was To strange distortion out of the hill side







Hence, de Man states that Rousseau no longer has a face, and like the protagonist in Hardys story, Barbra of the House of Grebe, he is defaced and this trajectory from erased self- knowledge to disfiguration is the trajectory of the Triumph of Life.