ALLEGORIES OF READING started out as a historical study and ended up as a theory of reading. De Man began to read Rousseau seriously in preparation for a historical reflection on Romanticism and found himself unable to progress beyond local difficulties of interpretation. In trying to cope with this, he had to shift from historical definition to the problema tics of reading. This shift, which is typical of his generation, is of more interest in its results than in its causes. It could, in principle, lead to a rhetoric of reading reaching beyond the canonical principles of literary history which still serve, in this book, as the starting point of their own displacement. The principles underlying the thematic diversity of Rousseau, the chronology of Rilke and Nietzsche, the rhetoric of Proust, are not left intact by the reading, but this critical result remains dependent on the initial position of these very principles.