Serenity in Crisis: A Preface to Paul de Man, 1939-1960

Serenity in Crisis: A Preface to Paul de Man, 1939-1960

Serenity in Crisis: A Preface to Paul de Man, 1939-1960

Serenity in Crisis: A Preface to Paul de Man, 1939-1960

Synopsis

"This is an outstanding work of scholarship and criticism. It is the most scrupulous and intelligent study of Paul de Man's writings."--Jonathan Culler, author of On Deconstruction (1982). "The debates about deconstruction may now be waning, but the historical and cultural analysis of the phenomenon is just beginning. De Graef's book will be the beginning of a serious study of this movement as an intellectual force."--Sander Gilman, author of Inscribing the Other (Nebraska, 1991).A polymath well versed in European literature and philosophy, one of the founders of deconstruction, and a widely respected teacher, Paul de Man brought unprecedented attention and acclaim to the so-called Yale Critics. His fame was at a zenith when he died suddenly in 1983. A few years later, Ortwin de Graef found the de Man had written for the collaborationist press during the Nazi occupation, a discovery that ignited an international reassessment of de Man's work.Serenity in Crisis is the first sustained account of the complex, intertextual tradition in which de Man wrote and of the persistent concerns expressed in his early work. It reconstructs the truth-models with which de Man justified his political choice before and during the occupation and traces them back to an ambitious intention to integrate the competing truths of the natural sciences, the social sciences, and literature. The significance of de Man's ideational framework and the decisions that followed from it have extended well beyond the disasters of World War II. De Graef clearly illuminates and critiques the abstruse paths of logic in de Man's early writings as well as in the reformulations of de Man's thought expressed in his writings of the 1950s.Ortwin de Graef holds a doctorate in letters and philosophy from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and is a researcher with the Belgian National Fund for Scientific Research. He is the author of several articles and essays on Paul de Man, including one in Responses: On Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism (1989), also published by the University of Nebraska Press.

Excerpt

One of the most persistent criticisms of the work of Paul de Man is that it systematically effects a rejection of 'history,' 'reality,' 'experience,' 'politics,' 'humanity'--in short, the 'important issues' --in favor of impersonal "textual forces' or 'rhetorical mechanisms.' in an attempt to comprehensively address this criticism, I initially set out on a preliminary synopsis of de Man's writing before his pivotal 1969 essay, 'The Rhetoric of Temporality,' in which this 'programmatic (and utterly simplistic) substitution of technical rhetorical categories for existential categories' is generally held to have definitively acquired shape, but I soon found myself unable to progress beyond local difficulties of interpretation and was forced to substitute the terms of these difficulties for those of explanatory summary.

Serenity in Crisis is the first of two books that try to perform this substitution. Its main concern is de Man's writing from the 1950s, but it starts out from a fairly detailed reading of one persistent problem in his wartime journalism, thus displacing the initial project into a further past, with all the complications this entails. This emphasis on the 1950s can easily be justified in observing that that phase of de Man's writing has up to now been either neglected or read only as background material written by the author of Allegories of Reading, but it is also motivated by a refusal to close off these texts by reading them exclusively as written by the author of 'The Jews in Contemporary Literature' (Le Soir, March 1941, 45).

Briefly, it is my contention that a pursuit of the issues developed in earlier interpretations of de Man's 'mature thought' and of . . .

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