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Material Inscriptions

Rhetorical Reading in Practice and Theory

Andrzej Warminski

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A new work of scholarship in the 'practice' of rhetorical reading

This monograph provides readings of literary and philosophical texts that work through the rhetoric of tropes to the material inscription at the origin of these texts. The book focuses on the practice and pedagogical value of rhetorical reading. Its readings follow an itinerary from poetic texts (such as those by Wordsworth and Keats) through theoretical or philosophical texts (by Descartes and Nietzsche) to narrative fiction (by Henry James). The book also contains two essays on Paul de Man and literary theory and an interview on the topic of "Deconstruction at Yale." All three of these latter texts are explicitly about the inescapable function and importance of the rhetoric of tropes for any critical reading or literary study worthy of the name.

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1. Facing Language: Wordsworth’s First Poetic Spirits (‘Blest Babe,’ ‘Drowned Man,’ ‘Blind Beggar’)
2. Aesthetic Ideology and Material Inscription: On Hegel’s Aesthetics and Keats’s Urn
3. Spectre Shapes: ‘The Body of Descartes?’
4. Reading for Example: A Metaphor in Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy
5. Towards a Fabulous Reading: Nietzsche’s ‘On Truth and Lie in the Extra-moral Sense’
6. Reading Over Endless Histories: Henry James’s ‘The Altar of the Dead’
7. Ending Up / Taking Back (with two postscripts on Paul de Man’s historical materialism)
8. The Future Past of Literary Theory
Appendix Interview: Deconstruction at Yale.

About the Author

Andrzej Warminski is Professor of English at the University of California, Irvine. He has published Material Inscriptions: Rhetorical Reading in Practice and Theory with Edinburgh University Press (2013). He is also the author of Readings in Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger and the editor of Paul de Man’s Aesthetic Ideology.


An extraordinary book of rigor and troubling originality. Part of what is so disturbing about Material Inscriptions is that it reads both literary texts (Wordsworth and others) and philosophical or theoretical texts (Hegel, Descartes, Nietzsche, de Man) in more or less the same way, that is, with special attention to the rhetorical dimension of language.

- J. Hillis Miller, University of California, Irvine

A remarkable demonstration by one of Paul de Man’s most brilliant students of how rhetorically alert readings reveal a "material" dimension of texts that is otherwise imperceptible. Warminski’s work powerfully demonstrates the continuing fecundity of theoretically informed criticism when it respects the singularity of texts.

- Samuel Weber, Northwestern University

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