Squaring “The rhetoric of temporality”: Greimassian semiotics and de Manian deconstruction
Keywords:Algirdas Julien Greimas, Paul de Man, allegory, symbol, irony, mimesis, elementary structure of signification
A careful study of the writings of Algirdas Julien Greimas refutes many of Paul de Man’s influential criticisms of semiotics. Greimassian narratology neither reduces rhetoric to grammar nor simply conflates grammar with logic. Instead of forming “a closed totality”, the Greimas square is an open-ended analytical device; it is not the semiotic equivalent of the Schillerian chiasmus. Despite de Man’s claims for the disruptive agency of rhetoric, the elementary structure of signification organizes the possibilities of de Man’s own rhetoric. His essay “The rhetoric of temporality” is a narrative whose four major actants are symbol, allegory, irony, and mimesis. Though the discoursive level of de Man’s essay represses mimesis, it is active in what Greimas would call the argument’s surface grammar, which constrains, without completely determining, the narrative transformations the argument undergoes. While de Man’s analysis regards symbol as epistemologically inferior to allegory and irony, the persistence of symbol helps make “The rhetoric of temporality” a fascinating literary text in its own right.
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