The Double Life of Paul De Man

The Double Life of Paul De Man

by Evelyn Barish


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A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year (Nonfiction)

A landmark biography that reveals the secret past of one of the most influential academics of the twentieth century.

Over thirty years after his death in 1983, Paul de Man, a hugely charismatic intellectual who created with deconstruction an ideology so pervasive that it threatened to topple the very foundations of literature, remains a haunting and still largely unexamined figure. Deeply influential, de Man and his theory-driven philosophy were so dominant that his passing received front-page coverage, suggesting that a cult hero, if not intellectual rock star, had met an untimely end.

Yet in 1988, de Man's reputation was ruined when it was discovered that he had written an anti-Semitic article and worked for a collaborating Belgium newspaper during World War II. Who was he, really, and who had he been? No one knew. Still in shock, few of his followers wanted to find out. Once an admirer, although never a theorist, the biographer Evelyn Barish began her own investigation. Relying on years of original archival work and interviews with over two hundred of de Man's circle of friends and family, most of them now dead, Barish vividly re-creates this collaborationist world of occupied Belgian and France.

Born in 1919 to a rich but tragically unstable family, Paul de Man, a golden boy, was influenced by his uncle Henri de Man, a socialist turned Nazi collaborator who became the de facto Belgian prime minister. By the early 1940s, Paul, while seemingly only a reviewer for Nazi newspapers, was secretly rising in far more important jobs in Belgium's and France’s collaborationist regimes.

Postwar, barred from the university, de Man created a publishing house, but stole all its assets; then, facing jail, he fled to New York, abandoning his family (his opportunistic, anti-Semitic writing seemed the least of his crimes). Arriving penniless, he quickly rose again, befriending an entire generation of American writers in New York, including Dwight Macdonald, Elizabeth Hardwick, and Mary McCarthy. Barish sketches de Man's renowned careers at Bard and Yale, as well as the circumstances surrounding his loving—but bigamous—second marriage to former Bard student Patricia Kelley, who created the tranquillity he so lacked.

Juxtaposing this personal story to his meteoric rise through American academia, Barish traces the origins of the philosophical deconstructionism that he later created with Jacques Derrida, showing how de Man attracted followers with his attack on the hypocrisy of society that attempts to cover up the "essential alienation" of art from "the system." While focusing on the biographical facts, this commanding and psychologically probing biography reveals as much about human behavior and the cross-currents of twentieth-century intellectual thought as it does about the man who held an entire generation in his thrall.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781631490057
Publisher: Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 02/02/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 560
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Evelyn Barish is a professor at City University of New York’s Graduate Center and its College of Staten Island, and the author of Emerson:The Roots of Prophecy, for which she won the Christian Gauss Award. She lives in New York City.

Table of Contents

Note on Translations xi

Introduction xiii

Part 1 Belgium

1 The Butcher's Soy 3

2 Kalmthout: The Rules of the Game 15

3 Paul and his Teachers 29

4 Le Rouge Et Le Noir 39

5 Madeleine's Death 43

6 "My Father, Henri De Man" 47

7 A Broken Rudder 55

8 University: Taking Sides 68

9 The Didier Circle: Servants to Power 77

10 Anne 86

11 Exodus 93

12 Paul Collaborates 104

13 "The Jews in Present-Day Literature" 116

14 The Young Wolf 126

15 Drinking From Three Spouts 135

16 The Boulevard Had Two Sides 151

17 Icarus Falls 163

18 Hiding in Plain Sight 172

19 Hermès 183

20 The Palace of Justice 193

21 Despair, Rage, and the Pursuit of Shadows 203

Part 2 The American Years

22 "Books Are the Keys to Magic Kingdoms" 215

23 The Radical Gentry 228

24 Making Friends 239

25 Recommended By Mary 250

26 Finding Pat 268

27 Bard 283

28 "Lies, And Lies, And Lies" 295

29 Bad Weather 306

30 Boston 324

31 Prince in Exile 333

32 Denounced 347

33 Return to Europe 361

34 Heidegger: A Place to Stand 367

35 "Excusez le Jargon" 382

36 The Mirror 394

37 Mending the Net 402

Epilogue 427

Acknowledgments 445

Notes 447

Index 519

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