Anachronistic Reading

Derrida Today 3 (1):75-91 (2010)
A poem encrypts, though not predictably, the effects it may have when at some future moment, in another context, it happens to be read and inscribed in a new situation, in ‘an interpretation that transforms the very thing it interprets’, as Jacques Derrida puts it in Specters of Marx. In Wallace Stevens's ‘The Man on the Dump’ (1942), we are told: ‘The dump is full/Of images’. The poem's movement is itself a complex temporal to and fro that aims to repudiate and even annihilate these images. This renunciation leaves the man on the dump ‘The Latest Freed Man’, as the title of another Stevens poem puts it. Like Walter Benjamin's Angel of History, he has his back toward history and has rejected its images in ‘disgust’ in order to face toward a future that will, he hopes, be purified of ideology. Yet Stevens knows that more such images will come and will need in their turn to be rejected and junked, in an endless task of purification. In a now impossibly outdated way, Stevens nevertheless wanted the poet – that is, himself, the man on the dump – to be the begetter of a new ideology, or a new fiction that would, in a powerful speech act, replace all those outworn images on the dump. In the context of potentially catastrophic climate change (as the result of something like a global auto-immune disorder), the second part of the essay complements this commentary on the poem with a free reading; a performative reading, reading as work or as oeuvre that does something with words, for which Jacques Derrida calls. This reading sees Stevens's text as somehow the proleptic foretelling of a present situation. Such future chiming is also, it is argued, a sign to sign relation, an anticipatory allegory or prophecy, or, perhaps, a miniature apocalypse in the etymological sense of an enigmatic unveiling of what has not yet happened
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DOI 10.3366/drt.2010.0006
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