Literary and Critical Theory Paul de Man
by
Martin McQuillan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0023

Introduction

Paul de Man (b. 1919–d. 1983) was one of the most influential literary theorists of the second half of the 20th century. He is most commonly associated with the so-called Yale School of criticism, which included his colleagues J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey Hartman, Harold Bloom, and Jacques Derrida. De Man spent his formative years in Belgium before immigrating to the United States after World War II in 1948. After some time working as a teacher of French, freelance writer, and in clerical jobs, he gained his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1960 with an audacious dissertation titled “Mallarmé, Yeats and the Post-Romantic Predicament.” He taught at Cornell University between 1960 and 1969. In the late 1960s he also held a post at the University of Zurich and from 1968 to 1970 he was a professor of humanities at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. He then moved to Yale, where in 1979 he was made Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature and French. During his life de Man published two groundbreaking books, Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism (1971, revised edition 1983) and Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust (1979). The collaboration and friendship of the Yale School is captured in the co-edited collection Deconstruction and Criticism (1979). Other volumes of de Man’s essays were published after his untimely death from cancer in 1983. The Rhetoric of Romanticism (1984) and Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism: The Gauss Seminar and Other Papers (1993) chart his substantial contribution to the theoretical study of European romanticism. The Resistance to Theory (1986) and Aesthetic Ideology (1996) contain some of de Man’s major essays on literary theory and some of his most powerful readings of Romantic and Modernist literature. The volume Critical Writings, 1953–1978, published in 1989, collects together most of de Man’s pre-Yale criticism, charting his intellectual formation in the United States. In 1987 while under taking doctoral research at the University of Leuven, the scholar Ortwin de Graef rediscovered de Man’s writing as a young journalist during his time in occupied Belgium. De Man had written hundreds of articles in French and Flemish for several newspapers between 1941 and 1942. The discovery caused an immediate sensation, known as the de Man affair, when a number of the articles were deemed to be sympathetic to the occupying power. One in particular, “The Jews in Contemporary Literature,” from March 1941, was seen to be explicitly anti-Semitic in tone. It has taken over two decades for de Man’s theoretical reputation to begin to recover from this episode. More recently, his Harvard PhD has been published as The Post-romantic Predicament (2012) and the volume The Paul de Man Notebooks appeared in 2014. Other publications based on de Man’s unpublished writing held in the Critical Theory Archive at the University of California, Irvine, have been made available online. Today de Man’s understanding of figurative language and materiality is being rediscovered as an indispensable tool in the deconstruction of ideology and onto-theology.

Primary Texts

De Man’s writing constitutes a sustained contribution to the understanding of the European romantic and modernist traditions. It also considers theoretical questions of language, the rhetoric of criticism, aesthetics, materiality, and ideology. Blindness and Insight and Allegories of Reading were the only full monograph studies published by de Man during his lifetime. However, he left notes and plans for the assembly of other volumes from his many published essays. Blindness and Insight pioneered an approach to reading the language used in critical writing itself, suggesting that critical texts are paradoxically most blind concerning the topics about which they aim to be most insightful. De Man developed this approach in Allegories of Reading into a wider understanding of how language works in general and of how texts continually create and undo the meanings they posit, especially in the second half of the book, which is a reading of several exemplary works by Jean Jacques Rousseau.

Published during de Man’s Lifetime

De Man published two full-length studies during his academic career as well as many more individual essays. Blindness and Insight first appeared in 1971 before a revised edition with additional chapters was reissued in 1983 (de Man 1983) when de Man’s theoretical reputation was at its height. His major work on figural language, Allegories of Reading (de Man 1979), is a reworking of previous essays and an extended study of Rousseau. It is rightly considered one of the most important works of literary criticism in the 20th century.

  • Bloom, Harold, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey Hartman, and J. Hillis Miller, eds. Deconstruction and Criticism. New York: Seabury, 1979.

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    The five Yale colleagues agreed each to write an essay on Shelley’s “The Triumph of Life” as a way of marking the innovative theoretical work emerging from the Comparative Literature program at the university. It includes de Man’s essay “Shelley Disfigured,” which treats the question of figuration and its self-undoing in the poem.

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  • de Man, Paul. Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979.

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    The book then draws together a series of essays on Rilke, Proust and Nietzsche to demonstrate some of the issues involved in rhetorical reading. The second half incrementally builds a deep understanding of the rhetorical models of texts and their own deconstruction through an iterative reading of major works by Rousseau. It has been profoundly influential on a generation of North American literary critics.

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  • de Man, Paul. Blindness and Insight: Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism. 2d ed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.

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    Contains de Man’s famous reading of Jacques Derrida’s seminal work Of Grammatology in the essay “The Rhetoric of Blindness” in which de Man accuses Derrida of reproducing insights first stated in the text of Rousseau that he aims to deconstruct. It also includes the important essay “The Rhetoric of Temporality,” which lays out many of de Man’s enduring concerns such as figuration, irony, symbol, and philosophical approaches to literature.

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Posthumous Publications

De Man was working on the manuscript of The Rhetoric of Romanticism (de Man 1984) when he died and left instructions as to how it should be assembled. He was also working with the editor Lindsay Waters on the contents of a volume of his early critical writings (de Man 1989). The layouts of The Resistance to Theory (de Man 1986), Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism (de Man 1993), and Aesthetic Ideology (de Man 1996) are based upon notes left in de Man’s papers now housed at the Critical Theory Archive at the University of California, Irvine (de Man 2010). The notes suggest possible different iterations for the collection of de Man’s published essays, but they clearly demonstrate his intention to publish further volumes of his work as a sustained contribution to the field of literary theory and the development of rhetorical reading into issues of ideology and the political. His Harvard thesis and related fragments (de Man 2012) as well as a collection of essays, translations, and pedagogical material (McQuillan 2014) have also appeared more recently.

  • de Man, Paul. The Rhetoric of Romanticism. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

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    This book brings together a series of important essays on European romanticism, including texts on Hölderlin, Rousseau, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Kleist. It also substantially reproduces the section of de Man’s Harvard thesis on Yeats, demonstrating the ways in which his early “pre-deconstructive” critical work foreshadowed the concerns of his later theoretical writing. The important essay on the trope of prosopopeia, “Autobiography As De-facement” is included in this volume.

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  • de Man, Paul. The Resistance to Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986.

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    This volume includes some of de Man’s most notable pronouncements on the field of literary theory and its troubled place within the academy. It features important articulations of technical aspects of rhetorical reading and de Manian deconstruction, including a definitive account of the problem of translation in Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Task of the Translator.”

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  • de Man, Paul. Critical Writings, 1953–1978. Edited by Lindsay Waters. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

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    The volume includes a number of significant critical readings of Heidegger and also continues a dialogue with Blanchot first evident in the Harvard thesis. All but one (short) text comes from the period 1953–1970 when de Man left Johns Hopkins, by which time he was fully engaged with theoretical questions of literature. The introduction places this writing in the context of the later de Man.

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  • de Man, Paul. Romanticism and Contemporary Criticism: The Gauss Seminar and Other Papers. Edited by E. S. Burt, Kevin Newmark, and Andrzej Warminski. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993.

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    This collection draws together texts written by de Man between 1954 and 1981, including the Gauss Seminar lectures delivered at Princeton in 1967. It traces a line of thought in de Man concerning the reception of European romanticism by 20th-century criticism, through readings of texts by Hölderlin, Wordsworth, and Baudelaire. It also includes interesting texts by de Man in response to the work of his peers Roland Barthes, Murray Krieger, and Frank Kermode.

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  • de Man, Paul. Aesthetic Ideology. Edited by Andrzej Warminski. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996.

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    Based upon late published essays and assembled according to notes left by de Man on the future direction of his thought toward an unwritten book on Marx and Kierkegaard, this volume represents some of de Man’s most challenging and provocative theoretical writing. He reads Pascal, Kant, Hegel, Schiller, and the romantic tradition in daring ways to investigate the materiality of language, ideology as an aesthetic experience, and the aesthetic as an ideological one. It remains a significant challenge to critical theory today.

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  • de Man, Paul. “Textual Allegories.” Edited by Martin McQuillan. Transcribed by Erin Obodiac. Irvine: UCI Libraries, University of California, Irvine, 2010.

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    This is an online publication of a lengthy handwritten manuscript by de Man held in the Critical Theory Archive at the University of California, Irvine. It was conceived as a stand-alone monograph study of Rousseau (as such the only monograph tout court de Man attempted in his life) and seems to have been written in 1973. It forms the basis and blueprint for the second half of Allegories of Reading.

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  • de Man, Paul. The Post-romantic Predicament. Edited by Martin McQuillan. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.

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    This collection includes the Mallarmé section of de Man’s Harvard doctoral thesis given in 1960, alongside sections on Yeats not reproduced in The Rhetoric of Romanticism. It also includes a fragment on Stefan George, abandoned by de Man as a third section of the thesis, and some preliminary essays on George. It is a presentation of de Man’s formation as an audacious thinker and reader.

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  • McQuillan, Martin, ed. The Paul de Man Notebooks. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014.

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    Running to 354 pages, this is a considerable volume of unpublished and uncollected material from the Critical Theory Archive at the University of California, Irvine. Part 1 reproduces selected essays from 1948 to 1984. Part 2 presents some of de Man’s work as a translator. Part 3 covers de Man’s practice as a teacher. Part 4 outlines de Man’s trajectory as a researcher. It also offers a comprehensive bibliography.

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Editions

De Man’s work on textual editions constitutes an important part of his output as a scholar of romantic literature. They include versions of Flaubert (de Man 1965) and Keats (de Man 1966) published during his lifetime. An online version of de Man’s contracted edition of Rousseau (de Man 2010) has recently been made available.

  • de Man, Paul. Madame Bovary. New York: W.W. Norton, 1965.

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    Edited with an introduction by de Man, it also includes sources and criticism on Flaubert’s novel, selected by the editor. The book is described as “a substantially new translation by Paul de Man with Patricia K. de Man” (p. iv), his wife Patricia (née Kelly), but it relies heavily on an existing version by Eleanor Marx Aveling, daughter of Karl Marx.

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  • de Man, Paul. John Keats. New York: Signet, 1966.

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    A selection of Keats’s poetry with an introduction by de Man, the introduction is also reproduced in Critical Writings.

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  • de Man, Paul, and Martin McQuillan, eds. The Portable Rousseau. Irvine: UCI Libraries, University of California, Irvine, 2010.

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    De Man was commissioned by Viking to edit a volume of texts by Rousseau for its popular series of anthologies. De Man made substantial progress in translating and assembling texts for inclusion in the volume but he did not complete it before his death. This is an online presentation of the material de Man had prepared for the collection, including an introduction and outline of the principles of selection. It is an example of the importance of translation and editing to de Man’s intellectual practice.

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Interviews

Interviews with de Man are included in The Resistance to Theory (de Man 1986, cited under Posthumous Publications) and The Paul de Man Notebooks (McQuillan 2014, cited under Posthumous Publications), as well as Salusinsky 1987.

  • Salusinsky, Imre. Criticism in Society: Interviews. London: Methuen, 1987.

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    This is an important early collection of interviews with major literary theorists from the mid-1980s, including the then four surviving Yale School critics (Hartman, Bloom, Miller, and Derrida) and Barbara Johnson. The interviews give some context to this period at Yale and frequently discuss de Man.

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General Overviews

Few scholars have been bold or naïve enough to attempt either an introductory text or general overview of de Man’s complex and demanding thought. Rather, writing on de Man tends to follow the example of its subject, either by concentrating on reading a select moment in de Man’s work or by using a passage in de Man as a springboard for discussion of wider concerns. However, texts are available that will help the reader gain an entry to the de Manian corpus; they include Norris 1988 and McQuillan 2001, which should be understood in terms of the several years distance between them.

  • McQuillan, Martin. Paul de Man. London: Routledge, 2001.

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    In keeping with the genre of the Routledge Critical Thinkers series, this book attempts a plain introduction to the work of de Man, rhetorical reading, and deconstruction. It offers an account of key ideas in Blindness and Insight, Allegories of Reading, The Resistance to Theory, The Rhetoric of Romanticism, and Aesthetic Ideology. It also outlines the events of the de Man affair and looks at de Man’s wartime journalism. It includes a translation of the 1941 text “The Jews in Contemporary Literature.”

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  • Norris, Christopher. Paul de Man: Deconstruction and the Critique of Aesthetic Ideology. New York: Routledge, 1988.

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    Norris’s book is an accessible and lucid early attempt to account for de Man’s notion of aesthetic ideology at a time when these late essays were still in periodical form. It attempts to trace de Man’s concerns with ideology through his work from the 1950s onward and thus provides a helpful overview of the entire corpus. Its publication was delayed by the de Man affair revelations and, in a final chapter, the author attempts to account for them.

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Theoretical Studies

Numerous attempts have been made to read the work of Paul de Man according to the theoretical principles that he first articulated. This considerable body of work is a continuing conversation with the challenge of de Man’s thought as well as a further elaboration of his approach to reading into areas that de Man had not considered or that seem urgent now. A distinction is to be made between the rhetorical reading of de Man and Derrida’s use of the term deconstruction. Derrida himself is one of the most important readers of de Man’s work (Derrida 1989, Derrida 2002, Derrida 2007), with several significant essays on the topic. J Hillis Miller, de Man’s colleague at Yale, is another key reader of de Man (Miller 1987) who innovates concerning de Man’s interests and approaches. The influence of de Man can clearly be seen in the writing of several of his former students, such as Barbara Johnson (Johnson 1987), Kevin Newmark (Newmark 2012), and Andrzej Warminski (Warminski 2013a, Warminski 2013b), who have extended the questions raised by de Man’s writing into a sophisticated elaboration of reading, materiality, gender, literature, and other topics. Other theorists, such as Tom Cohen (Cohen 1998; Cohen, et al. 2011) and Ellen S. Burt (Burt 2000), have mobilized de Manian approaches to read contemporary culture and the Western tradition. A de Manian formation in a theorist can be identified by their attention to textual detail and the transformative vitality of their reading, which brings a precise critical pressure to bear on textual aporia.

  • Burt, Ellen. Poetry’s Appeal: Nineteenth-Century French Lyric and the Political Space. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000.

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    An example of Burt’s direct and indirect negotiations with the legacy of rhetorical reading. It asks a series of provocative questions about the public space of politics and the private world of writing through a string of readings of poetic and theoretical texts.

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  • Cohen, Tom. Ideology and Inscription: “Cultural Studies” after Benjamin, de Man and Bakhtin. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

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    While moves in Cultural and Literary studies toward the historical and political (in the wake of the de Man affair) are sometimes said to challenge the formalism of de Man’s reading, Tom Cohen expertly shows how de Man’s understanding of ideology undoes such an easy notion of a division between reading and politics. In particular, he mobilizes inscription and ideology in de Man to develop the idea of what he calls “mnemotechnics.”

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  • Cohen, Tom, Claire Colebrook, and J. Hillis Miller. Theory and the Disappearing Future: On de Man, On Benjamin. New York: Routledge, 2011.

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    An inventive collaboration between different generations of readers of de Man, this volume orientates the de Manian legacy toward another future. Based upon the recovery of de Man’s notebook on Walter Benjamin’s “Task of the Translator,” essays by Miller, Cohen, and Colebrook consider global warming and the anthropocene, demonstrating the relevance of de Man for thinking today.

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  • Derrida, Jacques. Memoires for Paul de Man. Rev. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

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    First given as the Wellek lectures at the University of California, Irvine, the first three essays in this book are an attempt to think through the question of memory and narrative as an act of mourning for Derrida’s recently dead friend. The revised edition from 1989 includes a long essay “Like the Sound of the Sea Deep within a Shell” in which Derrida responds to de Man’s wartime journalism.

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  • Derrida, Jacques. “‘Le Parjure,’ Perhaps: Storytelling and Lying.” In Without Alibi. Translated by Peggy Kamuf. By Jacques Derrida, 161–201. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.

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    See also “Typewriter Ribbon: Limited Ink (2)” (pp. 71–160). This volume contains two late important essays by Derrida on de Man. The first reads Henri Thomas’s novel Le Parjure, a heavily fictionalized account of de Man’s marriage to Patricia Kelly through Derrida’s interest in perjury arising from his seminar. The second is a long reading of de Man’s essay on Rousseau’s Confessions in Allegories of Reading. It is both a salute to and a correction of de Man’s approach to textuality.

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  • Derrida, Jacques. “Psyche: Inventions of the Other.” In Psyche: Inventions of the Other. Vol. 1. Translated by Catherine Porter. By Jacques Derrida, 1–47. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.

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    This long essay is another iteration in Derrida’s ongoing conversation with de Man. Written shortly after his friend’s death it salutes creativity in de Man’s reading as a point of entry into wider considerations of invention in philosophy and culture.

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  • Gasché, Rodolphe. The Wildcard of Reading: On Paul de Man. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

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    Gasché approaches de Man from the point of view of philosophy rather than literary studies. In this rigorous account of de Man’s approach to reading, Gasché places de Man in context with Kant, Hegel, and Derrida, while raising questions about some of the philosophical gestures in de Man’s writing.

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  • Johnson, Barbara. A World of Difference. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

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    Includes a memorial to de Man that introduces the possibility of a feminist deconstruction. The essay “Rigorous Unreliability” is one of the best available explications of de Manian method. An earlier companion volume, The Critical Difference: Essays in the Contemporary Rhetoric of Reading (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980) also includes significant essays on Yale School deconstruction.

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  • Miller, J. Hillis. The Ethics of Reading: Kant, de Man, Eliot, Trollope, James and Benjamin. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.

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    Written before the rediscovery of de Man’s wartime journalism, Miller’s dazzling reading of de Man draws out the importance of ethics as a question in his writing. Given all of the commentary that was soon to follow on de Man and deconstruction, this is a remarkably prescient work that demonstrates that de Man first articulates arguments on history, ethics, and responsibility in reading that will later be used against him.

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  • Newmark, Kevin. Irony on Occasion: From Schlegel and Kierkegaard to Derrida and de Man. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012.

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    While Newmark looks at a range of literary, philosophical, and historical examples of the digressive power of irony, his analysis is de Manian to a fault. He concludes with an extensive analysis of irony in de Man, an important trope throughout his writing.

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  • Warminski, Andrzej. Ideology, Rhetoric, Aesthetics: For de Man. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013a.

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    First of two important volumes by a significant de Man scholar. It includes readings of Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, and Derrida. They mark a significant contribution to contemporary theoretical arguments concerning materialism.

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  • Warminski, Andrzej. Material Inscriptions: Rhetorical Reading in Practice and Theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013b.

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    Second of two volumes of essays by one of de Man’s foremost readers and editors. Each essay is a rigorous demonstration of the critical power of a rhetorical reading strategy, some commenting directly on de Man, some finding in de Man the resources brilliantly to extend an understanding of aesthetic ideology and materiality into a range of texts and circumstances.

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Collections of Essays

The work of de Man has always served as a stimulus and provocation to continued reading by others. Arac, et al. 1983 is an early attempt, using the theoretical resources of the day, to account for the significance of de Man as a literary theorist. Brooks, et al. 1986 is a memorial edition of reflections and salutations published shortly after de Man’s untimely death. The 1989 volume Reading de Man Reading (Waters and Godzich 1989) is a good example of how de Man’s mature work was considered by his peers and how it was influencing thought at the time of his death. The later volumes (Cohen, et al. 2000) and Redfield 2007 are collections with greater distance on de Man’s published work and posthumous legacy. The more recent volume, The Political Archive of Paul de Man, (McQuillan 2012) responds to material made available through the University of California Critical Theory Archive.

  • Arac, Jonathan, Wlad Godzich, and Wallace Martin. The Yale Critics: Deconstruction in America. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983.

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    An early collection of texts by and on the Yale School as an attempt to recognize an important configuration of thought, and its dissemination, from the Yale Comparative Literature program. Includes an essay by de Man republished elsewhere.

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  • Brooks, Peter, Shoshana Felman, and J. Hillis Miller, eds. The Lesson of Paul de Man. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1986.

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    This volume draws together contributions from a number of friends, colleagues, and students of de Man to reflect on the significance and legacy of his writing. The book began life as an edition of Yale French Studies 69 (1985), published after de Man’s memorial service at Yale. It includes contributions from Shoshana Felman, Barbara Johnson, Jonathan Culler, Geoffrey Hartman, J. Hillis Miller, Ellen S. Burt, and Andrzej Warminski.

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  • Cohen, Barbara, J. Hillis Miller, Andrzej Warminski, and Ton Cohen, eds. Material Events: Paul de Man and the Afterlife of Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

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    Following the publication of de Man’s Aesthetic Ideology (see de Man 1996, cited under Posthumous Publications), this excellent volume brings together skilled readers of de Man to comment on his understanding of materiality and to account for the state of his theoretical legacy a decade after the de Man affair, with contributions from Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler, Barbara Johnson, Ernesto Laclau, and others.

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  • McQuillan, Martin. The Political Archive of Paul de Man: Property, Sovereignty and the Theotropic. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.

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    On the occasion of the online publication of the transcription of Textual Allegories, this volume places de Man’s writing in the context of contemporary theoretical concerns about political theology and political economy; it includes contributions from Éienne Balibar, J. Hillis Miller, Tom Cohen, Andrzej Warminski, Ellen S. Burt, and others.

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  • Redfield, Marc, ed. Legacies of Paul de Man. New York: Fordham, 2007.

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    This collection looks at the importance of de Man as a teacher and a writer in light of developments in the humanities since his death, such as the rise of cultural studies in the United States; it contains contributions from Cynthia Chase, Andrzej Warminski, Rei Terada, and others. The volume began life as an online edition of Romantic Circles, available online.

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  • Waters, Lindsay, and Wlad Godzich. Reading de Man Reading. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

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    An impressive collection of theoretical essays that examine de Man as a reader and comment on rhetorical reading as deconstruction, with contributions from Jacques Derrida, J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey Bennington, Peggy Kamuf, Werner Hamacher, Rodolph Gasché, and others.

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Biographical Context and Criticism

Since his death, Paul de Man’s biography has attracted almost as much interest as his published writing. Ortwin de Graef (de Graef 1993, de Graef 1995) provides a detailed, scholarly, and groundbreaking account of de Man’s intellectual and personal history. His work is patient and scrupulous and has yet to be surpassed as a study of the relationship between de Man’s life and writing. Geoffrey Hartman’s memoir (Hartman 2007) includes an interesting section on his years with de Man at Yale. The more recent biography by Evelyn Barish (Barish 2014) is at the same time a work of impressive archival research and a motivated account of de Man as a scandalous villain, published many years after the heat had drained from the “de Man affair.” Several scholars have responded to the biography, asking questions about its rigor while commending its original content (Brooks 2014; Suleiman 2014, McQuillan 2015, McQuillan 2014 [cited under Posthumous Publications]). Marc Redfield’s Theory at Yale (Redfield 2015) looks at the wider Yale phenomenon and the media’s role in its construction. It contains some important chapters on the work of de Man.

  • Barish, Evelyn. The Double Life of Paul de Man. New York: Liveright, 2014.

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    First commissioned as a biography at the height of the de Man affair, this volume took twenty-five years to produce. Barish has undertaken considerable archival research in Belgium and the United States to offer a compelling account of de Man’s life up until his appointment at Cornell. It is a fascinating account of a complex life, even if an appreciation of his later theoretical writing is beyond the concerns of the author.

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  • Brooks, Peter. “The Strange Case of Paul de Man.” New York Review of Books, 3 April 2014.

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    Long review and commentary on Evelyn Barish’s biography of de Man (Barish 2014) by a colleague at Yale, identifying translation and factual errors in the book.

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  • de Graef, Ortwin. Serenity in Crisis: A Preface to Paul de Man, 1939–1960. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

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    The first of de Graef’s important volumes on de Man, covering the period of his writing from wartime Belgium to the publication of his Harvard thesis. The companion volume covers the period from Harvard to his arrival at Yale.

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  • de Graef, Ortwin. Titanic Light: Paul de Man’s Post-romanticism, 1960–1969. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

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    Following the sensationalism of the de Man affair, this is the second of two volumes representing Ortwin de Graef’s considered and rigorously scholarly account of the life and work of de Man before Yale. Together they are a monumental achievement that has not been surpassed for accuracy and scrupulous intellectual endeavor. Unlike other biographical accounts of de Man, de Graef is an accomplished reader of deconstruction who is able to facilitate de Man’s theoretical writing as well as the events of his life.

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  • Hartman, Geoffrey. A Scholar’s Tale: Intellectual Journey of a Displaced Child of Europe. New York: Fordham University Press, 2007.

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    This memoir of Hartman’s academic career and intellectual life contains an account of de Man at Yale and, correspondingly, a considered assessment of what the author thinks of the wartime journalism and the furor around its release. Hartman left Nazi Germany aged nine and has spent years studying and recording the testimony of Holocaust survivors. He is generous in his assessment of de Man’s mistakes and his subsequent silence.

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  • McQuillan, Martin. “The Biography Regime.” Oxford Literary Review 37.1 (July 2015): 141–152.

    DOI: 10.3366/olr.2015.0154Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Review essay on recent biographies of both Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man, theorizing the protocols of biography and their relevance for understanding the theoretical work of authors.

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  • Redfield, Marc. Theory at Yale. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015.

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    This study gives an account of the phenomena of the Yale School and the emergence of literary theory in the United States. It is theoretically astute in itself and attempts to offer a reading of the media event that produced the semi-fictional collective, as an understanding of theory as an aesthetic scandal.

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  • Suleiman, Susan Rubin. “The Deconstructionist Deconstructed.” New York Times, 2 March 2014.

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    Insightful and careful review of the Evelyn Barish biography (Barish 2014) by an expert on occupied Europe. Suleiman raises a number of questions about the certainty of Barish’s narrative.

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The de Man Affair

Copious journalism and Op-Ed pieces were written at the time about the de Man affair. Both the New York Times and the New York Review of Books are rich resources for an understanding of the positions adopted and the exchanges that ensued. This was a pre-Internet scandal so the complete wartime journalism was published in book form in their original languages (French [Le Soir] and Flemish [Het Vlaamsche Land]) as soon as possible (Hamacher, et al. 1988). A companion volume of responses from de Man’s colleagues, friends, and students was produced a year later (Hamacher, et al. 1989). David Lehman’s Signs of the Times (Lehman 1992) is a good example of the journalistic discourse, fascinated and wrong footed, on de Man’s theoretical writing and complex life. Geoffrey Hartman’s reflections on the culture wars of the 1980s (Hartman 1991) includes his own contribution to debates on de Man at this time. Following the publication of the biography of de Man by Evelyn Barish (Barish 2014, cited under Biographical Context and Criticism), other scholars have attempted to make a just assessment of de Man in a contemporary context (McQuillan 2014 and Menand 2014).

  • Hamacher, Werner, Neil Hertz, and Thomas Keenan, eds. Paul de Man: Wartime Journalism, 1939–1943. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1988.

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    This volume both reproduces all of de Man’s wartime journalism (as it was understood at the time) and attempts to reconstruct a timeline of the facts of de Man’s life in occupied Belgium. The aim was to make public all of the material that had been rediscovered and to provide a just assessment of the context in which it was produced. The book provides testimony from people who knew de Man during the occupation and who comment on his activities to support resistance writing after 1942.

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  • Hamacher, Werner, Neil Hertz, and Thomas Keenan Wartime, eds. Responses: On de Man’s Wartime Journalism. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989.

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    This volume would be significant enough for the list of contributors it assembles (Jacques Derrida, J. Hillis Miller, Samuel Weber, Rodolph Gasche, Peggy Kamuf, Richard Klein, and many others) but it also contains rich and moving accounts of de Man. The essays are not an attempt to “deconstruct” the wartime writing or to absolve de Man; rather, they roundly condemn him and attempt to understand in a scholarly way the wound this writing constitutes.

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  • Hartman, Geoffrey. Minor Prophecies: The Literary Essay in the Culture Wars. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.

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    Includes the chapter “Judging Paul de Man,” which addresses de Man’s wartime journalism and his activities during the occupation of Belgium. Hartman analyzes the media response to the de Man affair and places de Man within the history of the American critical essay.

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  • Lehman, David. Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man. New York: Poseidon, 1992.

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    This classic example of de Man affair discourse is a coruscating attempt to debunk de Man and deconstruction on the basis of revelations about de Man’s private life and his wartime journalism. The author argues that all of de Man’s theoretical work can be understood and dismissed in relation to his biography.

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  • McQuillan, Martin. “Paul de Man: The Fall and the Fallout.” Times Higher Education, 10 July 2014.

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    An economic summary of the issues involved in the de Man affair, twenty five years on, and its enduring allure for the academy and in fiction, following the publication of Evelyn Barish’s biographical study (Barish 2014, cited under Biographical Context and Criticism).

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  • Menand, Louis. “The de Man Case: Does a Critic’s Past Explain His Criticism?” The New Yorker, 24 March 2014.

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    Written by a professor of English at Harvard, this is a detailed account of the de Man affair and its aftermath that attempts to do justice to both de Man’s intellectual work and the archival endeavor of Evelyn Barish’s biographical study (Barish 2014, cited under Biographical Context and Criticism).

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Criticism of de Man

De Man has been reproached by other scholars and theorists for the excessive formalism of his reading and the seeming absence of questions of history and politics in his writing. These arguments have been addressed by more sympathetic readers of de Man, such as Marc Redfield, J. Hillis Miller, and Andrzej Warminski; in particular, the importance of politics, ethics, and the historical to all of de Man’s writing. However, interesting accounts of de Man can be found in significant works. Theorists such as Frank Lentricchia (Lentricchia 1980), John Guillory (Guillory 1993), Sean Burke (Burke 1998), and Frederic Jameson (Jameson 1991, Jameson 2005) approach de Man’s writing from a perspective that might be loosely designated as materialist. While others (Hirsch 1991, Morrison 1996, and Kerr-Koch 2013) are more concerned with de Man’s wartime biography in occupied Belgium as indicative of a wider truth about his theoretical writing and tend to approach de Man through models of literary history.

  • Burke, Sean. The Death and Return of the Author. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998.

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    This clever study is not so much a critique of de Man as an attempt to trace the idea of authorship through a range of theorists. De Man’s own writing and the fallout from the de Man affair feature prominently in Burke’s analysis.

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  • Guillory, John. Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226310015.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In the chapter “Literature after Theory: The Lesson of Paul de Man” (pp. 176–268) Guillory looks at the institutional and economic circumstances of de Man’s writing and the Yale School phenomena as the reaffirmation of bourgeois cultural capital. Marc Redfield responds to Guillory in The Legacies of Paul de Man.

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  • Hirsch, David H. “Paul de Man and the Politics of Deconstruction.” In The Deconstruction of Literature: Criticism after Auschwitz. By David H. Hirsch, 69–79. Providence, RI: Brown University Press, 1991.

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    Hirsch makes a humanist defense of literature against what he sees as the alienating work of deconstruction and literary theory, which he ties to wider cultural shifts in the post–World War II era.

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  • Jameson, Frederic. Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1991.

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    In Jameson’s justly famous account of postmodernism he includes a chapter on de Man, “Immanence and Nominalism in Postmodern Theoretical Discourse” (pp. 181–259). He identifies de Man and Derrida as postmodernists rather than, say, as part of an impersonal modernist tradition, and he offers a Marxist analysis of their institutional and discursive position.

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  • Jameson, Frederic. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. London: Verso, 2005.

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    In the chapter “Synthesis, Irony, Neutralization and the Moment of Truth” (pp. 170–181) Jameson comments critically on de Man’s understanding of irony and what he sees as deconstruction’s failure to recognize its negative mode and own methodology.

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  • Johnson, Barbara. “Gender Theory and the Yale School.” In A World of Difference. By Barbara Johnson, 32–41. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987.

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    A reflection on the Yale School as the “male school” by one of de Man’s best readers and Yale colleagues. Johnson thinks through questions of gender in de Man and other theorists.

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  • Kerr-Koch, Kathleen. Romancing Fascism: Modernity and Allegory in Benjamin, de Man, Shelley. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

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    This theoretical study is more of a rehabilitation of de Man’s theory of allegory than an overt criticism. It places it alongside the work of Benjamin and Shelley in a wider thinking of the history of modernity, while challenging too easy dismissals of close reading.

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  • Lentricchia, Frank. “Paul de Man: The Rhetoric of Authority.” In After the New Criticism. By Frank Lentricchia, 282–317. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980.

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    Lentricchia places de Man in a lineage of formalist reading related to the American tradition of New Criticism. He argues for a greater emphasis on the social and historical in US literary theory.

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  • Morrison, Paul. The Poetics of Fascism: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and Paul de Man. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

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    Morrison attempts to trace a perceived crisis in the politics of post-structuralism to social and cultural arguments espoused by modernist poets in the 1930s: provocative if unfamiliar with the material it addresses.

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Fictional Representations of Paul de Man

The events of de Man’s life, the powerful cultural allure of Yale School deconstruction and the sensation of the de Man affair, have given rise to several fictional representations of de Man. They can be divided into two kinds, those written by people who knew de Man during his early life in the United States (McCarthy 1952, Thomas 1964) and who used him as the basis for characters in their fiction, and post-de Man affair novels in which an august professor of literature is revealed to have a secret Nazi past (Adair 1992, Banville 2003, Banville 2012, Schlink 2008). De Man’s own theory of figuration would have much to say about the ways in which the figure of the fraudulent, scandal-hit professor has such appeal to the cultural imagination, beyond the actual facts of de Man’s own biography, as exemplified by TV dramas such as Signs and Wonders (Phillips 1995).

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