Responses: On Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism

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

Journals, Politics

Notes on Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism

WERNER HAMACHER

And thanks to Tom


November 12, 1987

These early newspaper articles of de Man cannot be read without considering their uses, both then and now. The articles themselves were composed for immediate consumption, daily commodities with relatively small ideological mobility. Utterly political. Despite the control they exercise over it, the vocabulary of the time is virtually never scrutinized or redefined. Their stereotypes, along with the models of thought they propagate, belong among the most appalling products of the century. A cultivated wasteland in which anything can happen. Frightening.

These articles enter their second phase of use, now. Without further ado, the signature they bear will be taken as that of de Man's later texts, and they will be turned to use against everything he later wrote. But we ought to ask whether this use does not indicate a need—and what is it, today, this need for horror as a polemical tool?


December 12, 1987

The journal is not a form of the fragmentary. Comparable in this only to the aphorism, it is the form of literary perfection under the threat of fragmentation. It registers the completeness of one, and yet another, and still another day gone by, a day that for this individual diarist might find no repetition and renewal in a next day. The diarist is in the situation of the skeptic who is no longer absolutely sure that the sun will rise again in the morning; and the habit of expecting it to do so has become just as doubtful to him as the certainty that the truths of today will still be valid tomorrow. The entry of one day stands for no other. Each is written from the perspective of the absolute disaster—that it cannot be continued, revised, renewed, or outdone. The diarist's every word could be his last. Thus in the form of the diary—and in every related form, from the aphorism to the newspaper article—the absolute skepticism about the durability of the written word and its meaning is intertwined with an astonishing optimism that demonstrates itself more in the compactness and conciseness of its linguistic expression than in its contents: since each entry could be the last, everything that comes together in it must appear under the aspect of its perfection, that is, of closure and finality. The world and language of the journal are finished. Its words are no longer intended for someone else, not even for the writer—thus the diary's appearance of empty inferiority, thus the newspaper's merely formal, abstract public aspect, thus the pathos of the obsessively detailed realism of both. The diarist and the journalist

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