‘But one thing knows the flower’: Whistler, Swinburne, Derrida



As Jacques Derrida has shown us, this is not a simple question, but one into which ambiguity and multiplicity are already written. ‘About’, as a preposition, offers us at least two modes of qualification — of time and space — which are also merely approximations.2 ‘About’ also suggests, in this idiomatic phrase, ‘what is this essay about?’ that the question is really: ‘What is the subject of this essay?’, though the first formulation disrupts the possibility of a knowable ‘subject’ in the vagueness of ‘about’. I point to these possible ambiguities, not as a mode of parody, but because it is essential to the investigation I want to undertake here. This essay is about ‘aboutness’; it talks about the subject of what is ‘about’ a text, in perhaps a roundabout, periphrastic way. It discusses the questions of circumlocution (talking about) and circumscription (writing about) in order to think about the ways in which a subject may be circumlocated — placed in terms of what is (spoken or written) around or about it.


Royal Academy General Text Aesthetic Judgment White Girl Idiomatic Phrase 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1996

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