Presented by Monique Rooney as part of the Literary Studies Seminar Series
‘Love, like perfectibility, is structured like a figure of speech’ writes Paul de Man in a statement that resembles that of a famous psychoanalyst on the unconscious and language. If de Man’s figural ‘Love’ here echoes Lacan’s linguistic unconscious then this mimetic resonance is implied, rather than categorically referenced, in the chapter 'Self (Pygmalion)' (Allegories of Reading, 1979) in which de Man engages not with Lacan but with Rousseau’s dramatization of self-love. For de Man, Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1762) amounts to more than an exploration of vanity. Instead the statue’s metamorphosis—which is structured ‘like a figure of speech’—dramatises the idea that Pygmalion’s artwork is radically other.
The first part of this paper closely engages with the highly rhetorical distinction Rousseau makes between amour propre (love based on vanity, pride or desire for esteem) and amour de soi (self-love) in explicitly philosophical (written) works in which amour de soi is speculatively associated with a pre-linguistic and pre-social moment in time. Turning to de Man’s analysis of Pygmalion, the paper then emphasises the significance of suspension as a figural or dramatic halting of time through which Rousseau’s more elusive version of self-love (amour de soi) is impossibly re-animated and from within the ‘monstrous concatenation’ or ‘mixed genre’ that is Rousseau’s lyric scene (de Man, 1979). How then, the paper asks, might Rousseau’s scene of suspension and reanimation, and its enduring legacy of melodrama, contribute to the transhistorical theorisation of intermediality in the digital age?
Monique Rooney teaches in the English Program, ANU. Her current project further pursues, and applies to an Australian aesthetic context, the ideas about intermediality explored in Living Screens: Melodrama and Plasticity in Contemporary Film and Television (2015).