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The Rhetoric of Temporality

‘The Rhetoric of Temporality’ examines Romanticism as a definite mode of representation rather than as a discrete period in literary history. It addresses the inflation in the value of the symbol as a mode or as a structure of representation, and the growing sense of its superiority over allegory in romantic and post-romantic literature. It seeks to undo or deconstruct this valorisation of symbolism. It begins by examining their changing and relative prominence in art criticism since Romanticism: ‘when the rhetorical key-terms undergo significant changes,’ when “symbol” displaces or masks “allegory”, is confused with or supplants other denominations for figural language.16 ‘The Rhetoric of Temporality’ addresses, therefore, the inflation in the value of the symbol as an especially creative mode of representation and the increasingly assured sense of its superiority over other kinds of figural language. De Man briefly details the qualifications to the claims of its superiority but concludes that by the later nineteenth century the ‘supremacy of the symbol, conceived as an expression of unity between the representative and the semantic function of language, becomes a commonplace that underlies literary taste, literary criticism, and literary history.’17

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