Paul de Man

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Paul Adolph Michel de Man (* 6. December 1919 in Antwerp , † 21st December 1983 in New Haven ) was from Belgium originating literary theorist , critic and philosopher .

As a student of native wandered Flame 1952 in the United States and was at the Harvard University with a thesis on Stephane Mallarme and William Butler Yeats doctorate. From 1960 to 1966 he taught at Cornell University ; from 1967 to 1970 at the University of Zurich and at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore . In 1970 Paul de Man was offered a professorship at Yale University , where he was professor of comparative literature until his death . In 1973 he was made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences .


De Man is the leading representative of the so-called Yale Critics.

At the center of his interest were the inherent contradictions of literary texts, which are based on the fact that they are both rhetorical and logical in nature. A text says something, wants to convey knowledge, provide clarification, etc. - that is its logical aspect. In order to achieve this, however, he must use means that have a certain power of persuasion, i.e. above all rhetorical figures . It is de Man's thesis, repeated many times, that this dual character inevitably results in the text's self-destruction because its rhetorical content undermines the logical one. Most of his interpretations - especially romantic literature - come to the conclusion that the linguistic means used by a text say exactly the opposite of what the text aims to convey logically - this is the dialectic of blindness and insight (" Blindness and Insight ", New York 1971). Since language can only put together logical objects from rhetorical functions, it always covers the object that it wants to show.

The only exception is the literary text. Since such texts are clear from the outset about their rhetoric and know the means with which they work, they have an advantage in terms of the resistance of the language to logical truth. Literature is precisely about 'blindness' and can therefore deliberately subvert it. Literary texts have the ability to demonstrate to themselves how language can obscure our view of reality. By showing that a text cannot be clearly read, it becomes an 'allegory of reading' itself. Since the attempt to interpret texts is itself merely a rhetorical function of the texts, the attempt to pin down a rhetorical figure with a clear meaning provokes at most a “misreading” . Only a deconstructive reading that recognizes the literary character of the texts can be a way out. Examples include analyzes of the texts by Friedrich Nietzsche , Rainer Maria Rilke , Immanuel Kant , Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel , Friedrich Schiller , Jean-Jacques Rousseau , Marcel Proust , Baudelaire , Percy Bysshe Shelley , William Wordsworth , Walter Benjamin , TS Eliot and Heinrich von Kleist .

De Man's mode of language criticism is conceptually close to Derrida's deconstruction , who was on friendly terms with him, and post-structuralism , but opposed to post-modernism , insofar as his theory denies the historicity of texts. In terms of method, his approach can be understood as a radicalization of structuralist approaches, which ties in with procedures of the early Russian formalism .


After de Man's collaboration with the Belgian collaboration newspapers Le Soir and Het Vlaamsche Land was discovered in 1987 , there was massive criticism of the person and the work. After de Man's failed attempt to flee the National Socialists to Spain, this collaboration in true-to-life magazines began at the end of 1940 and lasted until the end of 1941. The anti-Semitic tendency of these articles is clear, especially in the article of March 4, 1941, Les Juifs dans la littérature actuelle ("The Jews in Contemporary Literature"). Despite all efforts, the Jews had not succeeded in corrupting European literature; she continues to remain "healthy". The summary of the article is that from a literary point of view there are no objections to an “isolated Jewish colony” outside Europe. The discovery of these articles four years after de Man's death, together with the objection that his theory favored political inactivism, led to a devaluation of his work in academic discourse. In the meantime, efforts have been made to prove that various other articles of the time deal positively with, for example, the Dreyfus defender Charles Péguy and the French surrealists despised by the Nazis .

In Siri Hustvedt's novel Damals (2019) he is not only accused of having written anti-Semitic articles, but also “that he forged his degrees, stole money, abandoned his children, lived as a bigamist and got through to the authorities To have evaded lies umpteen times ”. The narrator of the novel states that "Paul de Man was a psychopath."

Catalog raisonné

  • Blindness and Insight. Essays in the Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism. London 1971.
  • Allegories of Reading. Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust. New Haven and London 1979.
  • The Rhetoric of Romanticism. New York 1984.
  • The Resistance to Theory. Manchester 1986.
  • Aesthetic Ideology. Edited and with an introduction by Andrzej Warminski. Minneapolis (Minnesota) 1992.
  • Allegories of Reading. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1989, ISBN 978-3-518-11357-8 .
  • The ideology of the aesthetic. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1993, ISBN 978-3-518-11682-1 .
  • Allegories of Reading II: The Rousseau Essays. From the American English by Sylvia Rexing. Edited and with an afterword by Gerhard Poppenberg. Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-88221-567-0 .


Secondary literature

  • Karl Heinz Bohrer (Ed.): Aesthetics and Rhetoric. Readings on Paul de Man . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1993, ISBN 3-518-11681-9 .
  • Michael Cebulla: Truth and Authenticity: On the Development of the Literary Theory Paul de Mans. (= M - & - P series for science and research ), M and P, publishing house for science and research , Stuttgart 1992, ISBN 3-476-45010-4 , (dissertation FU Berlin 1992).
  • Jacques Derrida : Mémoires. For Paul de Man (= Edition Passagen , Volume 18). Passagen, Vienna 1988, ISBN 3-85165-687-3 .
  • Werner Hamacher : Lectio. De Mans imperative. In: Werner Hamacher: Distant Understanding. Studies in philosophy and literature from Kant to Celan . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 1998, ISBN 3-518-12026-3 , pp. 151-195.
  • Werner Hamacher, Neil Hertz and Thomas Keenan (eds.): Responses. On Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln 1989, ISBN 0-8032-2352-8 .
  • Eckhard Schumacher : The irony of incomprehensibility. Johann Georg Hamann, Friedrich Schlegel, Jacques Derrida, Paul DeMan . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2000, ISBN 3-518-12172-3 , esp. 257-337.
  • Stefan Speck: From Sklovskij to de Man. On the topicality of formalistic literary theory . Fink, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-7705-3199-X , (dissertation University of Stuttgart 1995).
  • Wolfram Fleischhauer : The stolen evening . Piper, Munich / Zurich 2008, ISBN 3-492-04847-1 .
  • Gerhard Poppenberg: "into the open". Problems of figurative language according to Rousseau and de Man. In: Allegories of Reading II: The Rousseau Essays . Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-88221-567-0 , pp. 271–346.
  • Jens Szczepanski: Subjectivity and Aesthetics: Counter-discourses on the metaphysics of the subject in aesthetic thinking in Schlegel, Nietzsche and de Man. Transcript, Bielefeld 2007, ISBN 978-3-89942-709-7 .
  • Evelyn Barish: The double life of Paul de Man. Liveright Publisher, New York, NY [u. a.] 2014, ISBN 978-0-87140-326-1 .
  • Mark H. Gelber : Literary anti-Semitism after the Shoah from a comparative perspective: Paul de Man and Mel Gibson's “Passion”. In: Klaus-Michael Bogdal , Klaus Holz , Matthias N. Lorenz (eds.): Literary anti-Semitism after Auschwitz . Metzler, Stuttgart 2007, ISBN 978-3-476-02240-0 , pp. 75-84


Web links


  1. Siri Hustvedt: Back then. Reinbek near Hamburg 2019. p. 130.
  2. Siri Hustvedt: Back then. Reinbek near Hamburg 2019. p. 130.
  3. The fictional author expresses his horror at Paul de Man, who is clearly recognizable under the name of Jan van den Rouwers, when he has to realize that his idol and role model was a Dutch Nazi in his youth: "All in all, so much the worse that The old philosopher never said a word about it. After all, in my generation of students he was something of an example, a moral teacher and a role model for many, given the incredible quiet charm, yes, the magnetism he possessed, and his ethical conviction I am sure they would have forgiven him for that - if he had said how it was. If only he would have shown the depth of his ethical convictions if he had revealed what evil tendencies, What destructive and diabolical value systems he once worshiped in order to then overcome them! " Lars Gustafsson: The thing with the dog. DTV, Munich 1994, p. 74.