The Double Life of Paul de Man

Evelyn Barish. Norton/Liveright, $35 (564p) ISBN 978-0-87140-326-1
Paul de Man, a highly respected comparative literature professor whose critical theories laid the foundations for deconstructionism, fell from grace five years after his death in 1983 when it was discovered that he collaborated with the Nazis during WWII and wrote an anti-Semitic article for the Belgian newspaper Le Soir (volé). In this engrossing, meticulously researched biography, Barish (Emerson: The Roots of Prophecy) reconstructs the events of de Man’s life, contextualizing his duplicity. Two major influences were his closed-lip family and his uncle, Henri de Man, a prominent socialist who, following the Nazi occupation of Belgium in 1940, openly advocated collaboration. Without justifying his behavior, Barish, in her vivid recreation of life in war-time Brussels, shows how de Man and many of his colleagues saw writing propaganda as an opportunity for literary advancement, with Germany’s triumph a foregone conclusion. The picture that emerges is that of a charismatic and dishonest opportunist who, after embezzling funds from a publishing house he founded, fled to America and reinvented himself as an academic. Barish lets the facts speak for themselves, but leaves no doubt that a “philosophy of language” built on the innate instability of words and futility of communication provided de Man with an appropriate means for obscuring his past. 8 pages of photos. Agent: Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt Inc. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 11/18/2013
Release date: 03/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 480 pages - 978-0-87140-693-4
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