In his paper “The Return to Philology,” Paul de Man insists that philology and theory should not be in conflict, but should, rather, mutually enhance one another. This claim that the turn to theory is also a return to philology is explored in the context of the structure of language. In the last twenty to twenty-five years, the return to philology has been a dominant part of the Anglo-Saxon discourse of “world literature,” which has turned away from theory. The return to philology is captured in a market-based adaptation of literature in terms of globalization, transnationalism, and translation. In his latest book The Birth and Death of Literary Theory (2019), Galin Tihanov recalls the legacy of classical literary theory and propounds the contemporary discourse of world literature as an unreflected continuation of this legacy as it was articulated in Viktor Shklovsky’s and Mikhail Bakhtin’s approaches to literature beyond language. Turning this legacy on its head, this essay focuses, rather, on language in literature. In a short-circuiting way, Roman Jakobson’s linguistics and poetics and Erich Auerbach’s nonnational-based philology can be seen as surprisingly close to one another.

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