She is held in high regard, but Rousseau suggests that this actually hurts her case.She denies, simply and calmly, that she has anything to do with the incident.She was on my mind, and I simply used as an excuse the first object that presented itself to me.I accused her of doing what I wanted to do, and of having given me the ribbon, because my intention had been to give it to her. 84) Rousseau suggests that this revelation of goodwill, of good intentions, excuses his otherwise hideous-seeming behavior.At least implicitly, Rousseau’s autobiography is already essentially modern, abandoning as it does the epistemological structure of the confession for the performative one of the excuse.This leads de Man to give up on any notion of us as responsible or hermeneutic beings: he argues that signifiers are detached from signifieds, and that we are finally manifestations of language, not users of it.In the barest case, where one confesses something to oneself, it seems that the double structure of self-consciousness is highlighted: we speak of having known “deep down” or in “some part” of ourselves and revealing that finally to our higher faculties.
In a non-theistic context, we talk of disburdening oneself of guilt by telling someone, anyone, the truth.
In his “Excuses (Confessions),” de Man rereads this event and Rousseau’s telling of it (pp. He distinguishes between the structure of a confession and the structure of an excuse.
“To confess,” he writes, “is to overcome guilt and shame in the name of truth: it is an epistemological use of language in which ethical values of good and evil are superseded by values of truth and falsehood” (p. A confession brings forward something previously unknown, at least publicly.
Indeed we might speak of something like a disingenuous confession even when the content—the fact revealed—is the same.
If one confesses simply in hopes of receiving a beneficial judgment, then one violates the epistemological structure of the confession, perverting it to the end of absolution.