Professing Literature: John Guillory's Misreading of Paul de Man

This essay examines John Guillory's influential reading of de Man in Cultural Capital. Guillory characterizes de Manian rhetorical reading as a symptom of, and a defense against, the increasing marginality of literary culture, and the increasing bureaucratization of the professoriat. Redfield argues that Guillory is right to claim that de Man's performance as a teacher and critic is inseparable from the professionalization of reading in the modern university, but that he is wrong to claim that de Man's text fails to reflect on this aspect of its own production. On the one hand, Guillory's text reads as a summa of anti-de Manian cliches that have circulated ever since de Man's work began to gain wide attention in the 1970s; on the other hand, Guillory's forceful misreading opens up a truth beyond the reach of more timid interpretations. In the wake of Guillory's flawed but productive interpretation, it becomes possible to think of de Man's oeuvre as a reflection on institutionality and pedagogy precisely because this oeuvre focuses so stubbornly on the problem of reading reading.