Responses: On Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism

Responses: On Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism

Responses: On Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism

Responses: On Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism


This collection of essays serves as a forum for a broad spectrum of responses to the war-time writing of Paul de Man, responses rarely in agreement and often sharply contradictory, differing in approach, affect, and style. Responses engages in reading de Man's early articles, in articulating their multiple contexts, then and now, and in opening the limitations imposed by rubrics like "the case of Paul de Man" and "deconstruction politics."

Responses brings together the readings and commentaries of literary critics and historians from the United States and Europe, with their diverse strategies- historical, rhetorical, psychological, political. The primary aims of these essays are reading de Man's texts, from 1940 to 1983, and assessing them in their political, ideological, and institutional fields.

Responses also provides essential historical materials- letters, documents, personal recollections- on Le Soir and Het Vlaamsche Land, on the occupation of Belgium, and on the biography of Paul de Man. An appendix collects the recent reactions of newspapers in the United States and Europe (France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Belgium, and elsewhere) to the discovery of de Man's wartime writings.

Contributors include Yves Bonnefoy, Cynthia Chase, Else de Bens, Ortwin de Graef, Jacques Derrida, Rodolphe Gasche, Gerald Graff, Barbara Johnson, Jeffrey Mehlman, J. Hillis Miller, Edward Said, Marc Shell, Gayatri Spivak, and others.

The collection appears under the auspices of the Oxford Literary Review, England's leading theoretical journal for over a decade.


The publication of these Responses, a companion volume to Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism, 1939-1943, requires some explanation.

When Paul de Man's early writings came to light last year, the news that he had written a great deal before his emigration to America, and the discovery that much of the writing was for collaborationist journals in occupied Belgium, took most of his readers by surprise. The news was provocative, and it provoked, in the first instance, hasty gestures of explanation, condemnation or defense. It very soon became clear that if the questions raised by the existence of these writings —questions about the historical, ideological, and biographical contexts in which they were written, questions about their relations to de Man's later work as a literary critic and theorist—were to be taken up seriously, the writings needed to be widely and rapidly disseminated. The editors of the Oxford Literary Review agreed to bring out a special issue which would reprint the articles—it was unclear at the time just how much writing was involved —along with, as an introductory text, the transcript of a round-table discussion that had taken place at the University of Alabama in early October, when Jacques Derrida had brought a selection of the articles to the attention of the participants in a colloquium there. On reflection, however, the transcript of their remarks— the first reactions of people who had had little time to consider some, but not all, of the articles—was judged inappropriate as an introduction.

After a month of discussions, we decided to undertake two projects: first, to collect and make available the entirety of de Man's Belgian writings; second, to open a forum for the publication of more studied responses from a larger group of scholars. It seemed to us that the public acts of a public figure could not simply be addressed as a matter of individual conscience ; they demanded critical, public responses. In November, we wrote to fifty or so people here and abroad whose acquaintance with Paul de Man's writings from the I950s on, with the theoretical issues they raised, or with the cultural and political history of occupied Europe, seemed to us to qualify them to produce particularly cogent and informed commentary. In order to initiate the process of responsible assessment, we addressed both critics and friends of Paul de Man's later work, as well as those without a clear parti pris, and offered to provide copies of all of de Man's wartime writings and "an opportunity for those who have something to say about these texts to publish their views." Many, but not all, responded with essays; others, learning of the projected volume, submitted unsolicited essays, which we have also included. We made clear to our contributors that we had no interest in monitoring what they . . .

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