The Irish author John Banville‘s “Shroud” is itself a shroud, a roman clef concerning the life of Paul de Man (1919-1983), teacher at Cornell (1960-66) and Johns Hopkins (1967-1970), and distinguished Yale professor (1970-1983). Paul de Man is the father of American deconstruction or, more precisely, rhetorical reading: a theory of language which focuses on figurality — metaphor, personification, symbol, etc. — and the production of meaning in a text. The amazing thing about Banville’s novelization of this theory that confounds many is the irony behind “Shroud’s” conception: Banville himself never attended university but is, rather, an autodidact. At once brilliant in its pastiche and clever in its construction, “Shroud” ends as uncertainly as it begins, which is appropriate considering that, within the realm of deconstruction, there is no logos and no telos.
Cover of Edgar Allan Poe
Suffice it to say, “Shroud” narratively performs the very theory it allegorizes. The effect for the reader of such a performance is that, when you finish “Shroud,” you return to the book’s beginning for some guidance or clue as to its meaning only to confront, once again, the book’s first line: “Who speaks?”
“Shroud” does not answer that question nor does it mean to. The story engages quite suspensefully at times but …Read more