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Fictions of AutonomyModernism from Wilde to de Man$
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Andrew Goldstone

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780199861125

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199861125.001.0001

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Literature without External Reference

Literature without External Reference

Tautology in Wallace Stevens and Paul de Man

(p.149) 4. Literature without External Reference
Fictions of Autonomy

Andrew Goldstone

Oxford University Press

Chapter Four treats what may be the most radical autonomy fiction of all, the claim to a semiotic freedom by which the artwork refuses to refer to the real. This version of autonomy is crucial to the poetics of Wallace Stevens and the late modernist essays of Paul de Man. In Stevens’s work, the figure of tautology enacts this hermetic refusal to relate poetry to anything other than itself: “My intention in poetry,” Stevens once wrote, “is to write poetry.” And yet Stevens’s poetry never deploys tautology without invoking the shared social and linguistic context in which those tautologies acquire their difficult sense. The figure of tautology likewise takes on an unexpected significance in de Man’s signal theory of literary non-referentiality: for de Man, too, tautology leads to a version of autonomy which connects literature to its historical setting through the refusal of reference. The chapter analyzes de Man’s tautology-theory in terms of both his modernist literary-historical roots and his academic-institutional context; his resemblance to Stevens becomes intelligible as a shared modernist pursuit of an autonomous literary language that nonetheless generates correspondences between itself and its contemporary social circumstances.

Keywords:   Wallace Stevens, Paul de Man, tautology, relevance theory and literature, literary theory, pragmatics, deconstruction, poetry and philosophy, late modernism

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