Responses: On Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism

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

Terrible Reading (preceded by "Epigraphs")

ANDRZEJ WARMINSKI

Aux écrivains qui ont trop donné, depuis quelques mois, à l'actualité, je prédis, pour cette partie de leur oeuvre, l'oubli le plus total. Les joumaux, les revues d'aujourd'hui, quand je les ouvre, j'entends router sur eux l'indifférence de l'avenir, comme on entend le bruit de la mer quand on porte à l'oreille certains coquillages.

[To writers who have given too much these last months to recent events, I predict, for that part of their work, total oblivion. When I open the newspapers, the journals of today, I can hear rolling over them the indifference of the future, as one hears the sound of the sea upon lifting certain seashells to one's ear.]— Henri de Montherlant, Le Solstice de juin [translation by Jeffrey Mehlman 1]


EPIGRAPHS

The above sentences from Montherlant's Solstice de juin —"the volume that earned Montherlant his accusation as a collaborator" 2—are quoted by Paul de Man at the beginning of his article on Montherlant in the November 4, 1941 issue of Le Soir. "One could not say it better," says de Man and adds that this "just and severe sentence" applies to all the books and essays in which writers have offered us their reflections on the war and its consequences—including the Solstice de juin itself. There is more than one irony in these reflections—and, as always in the case of irony, more than one reflection in these ironies. Not the least of them—reflections, ironies—is de Man's turning Montherlant's words back upon themselves: that is, the very words Montherlant uses to consign to oblivion the writing of his contemporaries are the "same" words that in turn would consign Montherlant's writing to oblivion. Another obvious enough irony and reflection in de Man's use of these words is their turning back upon de Man's own wartime writing—back upon the I69 plus articles in Le Soir and Het Vlaamsche Land in which he "gave too much" to recent events, to l'actualité. A certain self‐ immolating self-reflection—a self-ironization—takes place here, as both Montherlant's words about his contemporaries and de Man's about Montherlant say one thing and mean another. But the ironies do not end here—indeed, irony, once it begins (and it has always already begun), never just ends, at least not just here. No matter how self-immolating it may be, the act of self-reflection always leaves remainders, traces, ashes—a reste or a restance du texte, as Derrida might put it, that resists the totalization of any oblivion, that insures a certain memory for every forgetting, even "the most total." And if there is a remainder to the ironies, it is not just because we can go to the library and find (or "discover") the writings of Montherlant's or de Man's "forgotten" (or "hidden") past, the books and articles that they consigned to a future of oblivion for having given too much to the present. No, the Solstice de juin and the 169 articles in Le Soir are not what remains, they are not the remainder (or the "remaindering"?) of the text, la restance du texte, no matter how many times we pick them up and try to listen to them like shells upon the shore. The only memory possible for those remainders is the same journalistic "memory" of the present, the one that "remembers" only the present and hence has neither past nor future (and hence does not happen, is not an event, is not historical)—or only the past and the future of total oblivion. The part that remains is, ironically enough (but with an irony other than that of mere self-reflection), precisely the part of these writings that did not give too much to the present, the part that predicts total oblivion for

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