Thursday, March 13, 2014

Deconstructing Paul de Man?

Paul de Man

I had never heard of Paul de Man until 1987, when a French woman who frequented Stephens Lounge at UC Berkeley -- where I worked part-time as a barista before baristas were even called baristas (but what's in a name?), though the extent of my coffee-brewing was French Roast or more French Roast -- anyway, as I was saying, I only heard of de Man when a French woman introduced me to his deconstructionist teaching and fascist scandal simultaneously.

The thought therefore already had occurred to me that there might be a link between de Man's emphasis on the elusive meaning of words and the need to slip away from the meaning of his youthful fascist-linked writings.

I had, of course, already heard of deconstructionism, along with other literary theories borrowed from watered-down continental philosophy, and I wasn't the only one to wonder about de Man's theory in light of his past:
De Man's photograph appeared in Newsweek, juxtaposed with images of Nazis on the march. And critics of deconstruction, inside and outside the academy, pounced, arguing that a school of thought long dismissed as cultish "critical terrorism" was something even more sinister.
De Man as "critical theorist" does sound like "critical terrorist," doesn't it? Especially with the continental pronunciation of "th"! Anyway, Jennifer Schuessler reminds us:
Those battles may seem like a distant memory. But now, the first full-length biography of de Man threatens to reopen the debate over his legacy, weaving together old and new charges to paint him not just as a collaborator, but also as a swindler, forger, bigamist and deceiver whose philosophical ideas grew out of "lifelong habits of secrecy." (Jennifer Schuessler, "Revisiting a Scholar Unmasked by Scandal," NYT, March 9, 2014)
In The Double Life of Paul de Man, which Schuessler is reviewing, Evelyn Barish makes similar such accusations:
[H]er verdict on his philosophy -- "this idea that meaning cannot be pinned down," and that "clear-cut moral judgments are impossible," as she put it -- is unstinting. "To me," she said, "it's just a waste of time."
Clearly, she thinks that moral judgements can be made, and her book is an indictment of de Man, though the man has his defenders, as Schuessler goes on to show, but you can read the article on that.

Deconstructionism, incidentally, plays a role in my own story . . .

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home