Responses: On Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism

By Werner Hamacher; Neil Hertz et al. | Go to book overview

Paul de Man, Le Soir, and the Francophone Collaboration (1940-1942)

ALICE YAEGER KAPLAN

De Man started writing for Le Soir in December of 1940. It is fairly certain that he got the job through his uncle, Henri de Man, who had been up until the German invasion the head of the Belgian Workers Party. In a Manifesto to the party members on July 2, 1940, Henri de Man announced his support for collaboration in the interests of social justice and dissolved the party. 1 Paul de Man was at the time 21 years old, too young, in ordinary times, to qualify for the job as literary columnist in the biggest Brussels daily. His work at Le Soir, which had an obvious propaganda value from the German point of view, may well have saved Paul de Man from the fate of many young Belgian men and women—so-called "voluntary" deportation to one of the German labor camps.

"Tu n'étais qu'un enfant"—"You were but a child," the Belgian liberation government official is reported to have said to Paul de Man in May 1945 when he was called in for investigation, 2 after the most violent purges had taken place. Even agreeing, from a judicial point of view, that Paul de Man was but a child, I think it would be a mistake not to read de Man's war‐ time writings closely, today, on the grounds that their content is mere juvenilia. The literary column that the twenty-one year old Paul de Man published in Le Soir gives us an intense account of a young intellectual celebrating, obfuscating, and then, toward the end of his stint at the paper, quarreling with the circumstances that allow him to write in the first place.

In order to locate both his common and individual position within the collaboration, I am going to work around de Man's reviews. I will be quoting the books that he writes about, comparing other reviews of the same books, mapping authors on a political spectrum, reading pages on which articles appear. Sometimes this means going four or five layers out before getting back to de Man, but it is research that has to be done if de Man is to be understood as part of a community of readers and writers. This community is not the static "background" of de Man's writings, it is the environment, the paper air he breathes, the possible world of positions that he can take within the constraints of censorship imposed by the New Order. The staff at Le Soir, the collaborationist colleagues at Le Nouveau Journal, a German propagandist, a French fascist role model: these provide the overview, the bigger page on which I will read de Man's own language.

The enabling condition for the publication of De Man's reviews in Le Soir was the takeover of the newspaper by a pro‐ German staff. Much like the French daily Paris-Soir, which reappeared in a pro-German version in 1940 against the will of its owners, Le Soir was started up in Brussels after the Occupation under new pro-German management. Anne Somerhausen, a

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