Abstract

History against Historicism, Formal Matters, and the Event of the Text: De Man with Benjamin

The essay argues that Paul de Man, far from being simply opposed to history or the historical understanding of literature, comes closer to the contrary position, and indeed argues that close reading must be literary history. This is elaborated primarily in the essay "Literary History and Literary Modernity." De Man, not unlike Walter Benjamin, posits the text as a kind of historical event that has to be read accordingly. Though de Man's appeals tend to be programmatic and abstract (without the texture, say, of Marxist literary historiography), the claims about history need to be taken seriously. It's not a matter of indifference that de Man's appeal to a certain kind of history against historicism coincides in striking ways with Walter Benjamin's outlining of a similar position in his "Theses on the Philosophy of History" and elsewhere.