The Double Life of Paul de Man

Brooks_1-040314_jpg_600x996_q85Peter Brooks at the New York Review of Books:

The question remains: What did the burden of the past mean for de Man’s intellectual development? The opponents of “deconstruction” were quick to pounce on the “revelations” as an explanation: de Man’s views about the disconnect between word and world came from his need to deny history and politics, to shut himself up in an echo chamber where language had no reference outside itself. That is as unsubtle about de Man’s writings as it is about the relation of the present to a haunting past. De Man’s work resists simplification, and also systematization—as he said himself, he was not a philosopher, but a philologist—and it evolved over time. One can say, in the most general terms, that it is united by a suspicion of ideology as a mystification that takes the seductions of rhetoric as something in which to believe. He wrote: “What we call ideology is precisely the confusion of linguistic with natural reality, of reference with phenomenalism.”3

Most of his work is dedicated to a kind of askesis, a clearing of the terrain of literary study of the ideological and indeed theological presuppositions he found there. He argued in “The Return to Philology,” written for the TLS, that one should study the structure of language prior to the meanings it produces. Literature should be taught as “a rhetoric and a poetics prior to being taught as a hermeneutics and a history.”

more here.