In his survey of the debate provoked by DeMan's deconstructionist reasoning, David Lehmann
observes that know" can mean "understand" as well as "distinguish. In their reply to DeMan, Cavell and
Hollander each argued that "the literalist of the imagination might ask not how we can distinguish
dancer from the dance, but how, appealing to the dance as our source of knowledge, we can come to know
the dancer (Lehmann 1991 139: italics mine). The DeMan/Schoenbaum reading proceeds from the
assumption that literary criticism, as if defending its honor in a world of science, must rival the analytical
and predictive successes of the hard sciences by deconstructing the synthetic unity of dancer and dance.
Of course such a project is doomed to failure and leads to the false nihilistic gesture that, therefore, sign
and meaning can never coincide and all human communication is mere "sound and fury, signifying
nothing. It is a reading of modern despair which, in imitation of the imperial power of the United States
in Viet-Nam, destroys the city in order to save it.
Yeats, more likely, was writing about the power of eros: the way gestures of the body can inspire a
subject to seek indwelling passion with the dancer. This would place him within the classical tradition of
rhetoric which still prevailed in Shakespeare's day, the purpose of which, according to Agricola, was to
"make one person the sharer of another's mind (Trousdale 33). As Marion Trousdale demonstrates in her
work, Shakespeare and the Rhetoricians, the alienation from this simple and powerful definition of the
communicative arts, which DeMan and Schoenbaum paradoxically share, originates in the 17th
Cartesian alienation of the intellect from the body and reason from intuition. However imperfectly, the
Renaissance rhetorician still believed that words denote things and that gestures denote feelings or ideas,
organic to the communicant, which symbolic action seeks to impart to another. There would be no more
reason for such a reader to convict Shakespeare of not speaking his own mind in the Sonnets than Falstaff
of not doing so in Merry Wives of Windsor.
It almost goes without saying that the elaborate lengths to which orthodox bardographers have gone
to enshroud the Sonnets in a "hermeneutics of suspicion," in which authorial voice is reduced to authorial
persona, result from the intense discomfort generated by the apparent contents of these poems. In two
previous centuries, the bugaboo was homosexuality. In this century -- it is authorship.
And authorship, or rather the alienation of authorship, is certainly a subject on which the Sonnets
dwell in iterated detail. Already chapter eight has touched upon this matter; in chapters 29 and 30 I shall
examine some further dimensions of it. In the present chapter, however, I propose to approach the
question of authorship from a more subtle perspective, by considering not the writer's explicit statements
about authorship, but his perspective on social relations. From what social perspective does
Shakespeare view the universe of mankind? Walt Whitman supposed that only one of the
earls so plentiful in the history plays would seem to be their true author. Can the same be said for the
Sonnets and Shakespearean writings from other genres?