John Banville practices in ‘Shroud’ what another deconstructionist preached

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 …

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Pensacola store a booklover’s dream

This is no exaggeration — one of the best bookstores between Washington, D.C., and Houston, Texas, occupies an unassuming downtown Pensacola storefront. I owe my friend Franklin Daugherty a debt of gratitude for recently introducing me to this slightly scruffy literary haven, packed with more good, serious, used books than any other place I’ve been to in a long time.

The proprietor, Paul Williams, is a widely-read, friendly young man with a passion for what he’s doing. In a recent interview, he was relaxed and attired in jeans and a T-shirt. A native Pensacolan, he grew up with a single mother in a blue-collar neighborhood. Despite the poverty, reading was part of his childhood. He described memories of his mother lying on a bed “heaped with books.”Subterranean Books is located at 9 East Gregory St., just around the corner from several restaurants and bars on North Palafox Street. It consists of a series of shelf-lined rooms running front to rear. The titles are grouped thematically — art, fictioliterature, gardening, history, poetry, philosophy, science fiction, women’s studies, etc. — and are very reasonably priced. At the front of the store are stacks of avant-garde publications (“zines” in popular parlance), unusual cards and a very sophisticated selection of used compact discs.

Williams …

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