Brief Encounter: de Man on Wordsworth, or The Irony of “The Rhetoric of Temporality”

In “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” Paul de Man invokes allegory and irony as two distinct perspectives on the question on time: the former responding to an epistemological problem by transposing it into temporal sequence and the latter collapsing temporal sequence into simultaneity. This leads him, however, to imagine the possibility of texts that would “overcome irony.” When he examines “A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal” as an example of such an overcoming, de Man’s own text, however, encounters the accident of an irony that opens a window onto the instability of his pedagogical distinction between irony and allegory—an instability that hinges on the necessity of “reading” irony’s brevity in narrative terms.