Paul de Man Was a Total Fraud: The literary-critical giant lied about every part of his life

Robert Alter in The New Republic:

Article_inset_alterEvelyn Barish begins her impressively researched biography by flatly stating that “Paul de Man no longer seems to exist.” This may be an exaggerated expression of frustration by a biographer whose long-
incubated work now appears after what might have been the optimal time for it. Yet there is considerable truth in what she says. De Man is now scarcely remembered by the general public, though he was the center of a widely publicized scandal in 1988, five years after his death at the age of 64. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was a central figure, an inevitable figure, in American literary studies, in which doctoral dissertations, the great barometer of academic fashion, could scarcely be found without dozens of citations from his writings. But the meteor has long since faded: over the past decade and more, I have only rarely encountered references to de Man in students’ work, committed as they generally are to 
marching with the zeitgeist.

Paul de Man arrived in the United States from his native Belgium in the spring of 1948. He would remain in this country illegally after the expiration of his temporary visa, on occasion finding ways to elude the Immigration and Naturalization Service. But that, as Barish’s account makes clear, was the least of his infractions of the law. Eventually he would be admitted, with a considerable amount of falsification on his part, to the doctoral program in comparative literature at Harvard, from which he would 
receive a degree, in somewhat compromised circumstances, in 1960. He then went on to teach at Cornell, briefly at Johns Hopkins, and most significantly at Yale, where he became a “seminal” scholar and an 
altogether revered figure.

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