Hegel contra Schlegel; Kierkegaard contra De Man

PMLA 124 (1):107-126 (2009)
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Abstract
At the turn of the nineteenth century, Friedrich Schlegel developed an influential theory of irony that anticipated some of the central concerns of postmodernity. His most vocal contemporary critic, the philosopher Hegel, sought to demonstrate that Schlegel’s theory of irony tacitly relied on certain problematic aspects of Fichte’s philosophy. While Schlegel’s theory of irony has generated seemingly endless commentary in recent critical discourse, Hegel’s critique of Schlegelian irony has gone neglected. This essay’s primary aim is to defend Hegel’s critique of Schlegel by isolating irony’s underlying Fichtean epistemology. Drawing on Søren Kierkegaard’s The Concept of Irony in the final section of this essay, I argue that Hegel’s critique of irony can motivate a dialectical hermeneutics that offers a powerful alternative both to Paul de Man’s poststructuralist hermeneutics and to recent cultural-studies-oriented criticism that tends to reduce literary texts to sociohistorical epiphenomena.
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