Responses: On Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism

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

DeMan's Resistances: A Contribution to the Future Science of DeManology1

RICHARD KLEIN

Le diabolique est intelligent. Il s'infiltre où il veut. Pour le refuser, il faut d'abord le réfuter. Il faut un effort intellectuel pour le reconnaître. Qui peut s'en vanter? Que voulez-vous, le diabolique donne à penser.—Emmanuel Levinas (Nouvel Observateur, January 7, 1988.)

Whatever DeMan may have thought he was doing, or said he was doing, publishing regular articles in that newspaper, Le Soir, at that time in Brussels can only be taken as a discursive act of collaboration. In order to judge the, perhaps criminal, responsibility he bears, it might seem enough to register the context of those articles and to remark his silence regarding them. 2 One does not need to read a word of the hundreds of articles he wrote during that brief period, one need only hold them up for inspection, in order to observe the illocutionary performance which their heinous setting determines. The editors, in addition to everything, have made available the whole cruel page of the newspaper on which appears DeMan's most egregious act of complicity with the racist policies of the Occupant, his article entitled "Les Juifs dans la Littérature actuelle;" one can observe there the immediate context of his work, surrounded by graphic and written material full of scurrilous claims, vicious stereotypes, and perverse lies. In fact, reading DeMan's journalism may already constitute a gesture mitigating his political responsibility in so far as it embarks on the slippery slope that runs from decipherment to interpretation. 3

If reading, without fail, cannot help but veil the abyss of De‐ Man's moral responsibility, then perhaps one ought not to read these articles at all. Just say No! to collaboration. One ought to refuse to lend oneself to the business of finding motives and arguments to explain the evidence of this act of conscious cooperation in the enactment of malicious evil, this public performance of sympathy for the Devil. Only observe, do not read. Indeed, there is some question whether undertaking to read closely would not in itself betray, at best, some moral shabbiness, at least a relaxed insensitivity to the questions at issue, and to the fate of lives. Or whether treating them as texts requiring interpretation would not risk, at worst, seeming to insult the memory of those who did truly struggle and die to resist the Occupant. Suppose one read these articles as if they were enigmatic objects of hermeneutical interest, concealing latent thoughts or double meanings, as if conceived and written under the scrutiny of a censor, with a signal or message for those who could read not just the lines but between them. Even to glance at them for consideration like that (as if they weren't already material evidence enough of DeMan's complicity) might smack of a form of Revisionism, analogous to the mendacious arguments of those, like Faurisson, who deny the existence of gas chambers, or to the disculpating powers of positive forgetting with which Waldheim confronts his accusers. A "reader" might "read" the unequivocal evidence, with interest, in order profitably to find there no evidence of a crime or that the crime is collective—for the sake, say, of saving the text of the Master from

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