The more that some statements get quoted, rolled out as flat theses or synoptic specimens, the more the quotation begins to work like a charm. Does not the following sentence tell us all we need to know about Paul de Man's scepticism, his nihilism? Shall we not corral him right here?
The Triumph of Life warns us that nothing, whether deed, word, thought, or text, ever happens in relation, positive or negative, to anything that precedes, follows, or exists elsewhere, but only as a random event whose power, like the power of death, is due to the randomness of its occurrence.(RR 122)
Framing the sentence, whether by quoting it or writing it up to start with, may not actually fix (or erase) all its thoughts, one by one and once and for all. Simon Jarvis has heard in the extremity of this passage, and noticed hearing, something different: a wish or fear. He reads the de Man sentence, I think, precisely in order to accommodate its speculative and ex cathedra cast, rather than to defuse or reject it. For him, the exhaustively legalistic disclaimer may not be a pure giveaway but also the shielding of something. De Man gets an entire ‘cognitive mood’ onto the page – rather than ‘re-framing’ it, as the popular psychologists urge – and without betraying the thought or experience sustained in that mood by pre-adapting it to the restrictive canons of certainty – or even those of evidence, consistency, and modesty. Such adaptation is cognitive excision.