[D]e Man’s reading of the Essai [sur l’origine des langues] conjoins two antagonistic intentions: on the one hand he wants to show, in the manner of deconstructive criticism, the fundamental ambiguity of Rousseau’s text; on the other he aims at the reconstruction of an authentic historical meaning against a series of misunderstandings. But misunderstandings can be measured only against an unequivocal historical intentionality, the existence of which de Man himself denies. My purpose is to show that Rousseau’s ideas on music were not fundamentally indeterminate if viewed in terms of his intellectual development and the historical context. The interpretive weakness of de Man’s essay is to attempt to decide a historical issue with an antihistorical attitude and an ahistorical method.

John Neubauer, The Emancipation of Music from Language: Departure from Mimesis in Eighteenth-Century Aesthetics