Responses: On Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism

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

The Monument Disfigured
SAMUEL WEBER

If it is true and unavoidable that any reading is a monumentalization of sorts...—Paul de Man, "Shelley Disfigured"


I. Coming to the Point
What are we talking about? What have we been talking about? What are we going to talk about? Does it make any sense to begin with such questions? Can one begin without them? Can we assume that 'we' know who is talking, and 'about' what? And what does it mean to talk or to write about something : for instance, about texts written almost fifty years ago by one Paul de Man, but also about many other texts, written before and since, yet to be written, yet to be read?Perhaps the difficulty of the answers is prefigured in the asking of the questions. The status of all these where's and what's and how's and why's is at stake, as well as the system that links these interrogative pronouns, on the one hand, to questions of definition and of temporal situation and, on the other hand, to questions of shape and of figure. 1What exactly are we talking about? What does it mean to talk, to ask 'about'... ? For instance, about the "character" of an individual man? About a practice of language, of reading and rewriting, known as 'deconstruction'? About a war fought some half a century ago? About Nazism? Fascism? Collaboration? About academic institutions and academic intellectuals? What about the word 'about,' that relates the question to its object? To talk 'about' something is to position ourselves in its vicinity, to be sure, and yet nevertheless: outside it, alongside perhaps, but still at a certain remove from what we are talking about.There are those for whom such distance is intolerable. They are impatient to come to the point. Their impatience is generally in direct proportion to the violence of their moral convictions. Writing about the first serious, dignified, probing discussion of de Man's wartime writings to appear in English: Geoffrey Hartman's article in the New Republic, 2 Roger Kimball accuses Hartman, and through him, "deconstruction," of"intellectualized mendacity," of "intellectualizing reality," of "a deviousness that willingly forsakes the most basic moral distinctions." What are these distinctions? That, for instance,—it is Kimball's instance—between "intelligibility" and "character." "Note," he lectures his readers,
Professor Hartman's conjecture that "the biographical disclosure may hurt de Man's intelligibility," when what is at stake is not his "intelligibility" (which remains untouched by the disclosure of his early writings) but his character. It is symptomatic of the real blindness of deconstruction that it should fail to have any insight whatsoever into this fundamental distinction. 3

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