Responses: On Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism

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

An Open Letter to Professor Jon Wiener

J. HILLIS MILLER

Department of English and Comparative Literature
University of California, Irvine, CA 92717
March 20, 1988

Professor Jon Wiener
Department of History
University of California, Irvine

Professor Jon Wiener,

I have been reluctant to write to you, since I think controversy among colleagues is likely to generate more heat than light, but both of us have responsibilities to the larger academic community and to wider communities as well. I wanted to wait, as I had recommended you should do too, until it was possible to see the full set of de Man's articles in Les Cahiers du Libre Examen, Le Soir, and Het Vlaamsche Land before writing. I also had waited to see if you would retract your article and try to correct its errors and unjustified insinuations. I know some at least of these have been pointed out to you by others.

I think your de Man piece is one of the most misinformed, distorted, and irresponsible of all the journalistic essays I have seen on this subject, and that is saying quite a bit. You will say that you allowed both "sides" to speak in your essay and gave your readers the opportunity to judge for themselves, but the "evidence" you give leaves no doubt what conclusions you would draw and would expect your readers to draw both about de Man and about so-called "deconstruction." What you have allowed to be published has done great damage to the possibilities of rational and informed discussion of de Man's writings and of the issues they raise, damage both in this country and in Europe, where your errors have, as you must know, been reprinted, picked up and compounded. Thousands and thousands of readers both in this country and in Europe will have read your article and the ones that copied it as an accurate reporting of the facts. If de Man must be held responsible for what he wrote and for the effects of what he wrote, as I believe he must, I believe also that you bear a great responsibility for the effects of what you have written. You will say that you wear two hats, one as a journalist and one as a historian, but surely your primary obligation is, or ought to be, the one common to both professions: the obligation to state the facts, responsibly and correctly. Your article has carried special weight and authority because it was written by a professor of history. Of course you are free, like everyone else, to pass judgment on de Man and his writings, and on "deconstruction" too, but surely this judgment should be based on an accurate identification of the

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