De Man, Paul, 1919-1983

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Paul de Man was a prominent and influential literary critic, scholar, and teacher best known as one of the principle theorists behind an approach to literary texts that became known as deconstruction. This approach to literary texts, which had a profound effect upon the field of literary studies, was developed throughout his career in the numerous essays that appear in the collection. A biographical overview of de Man is provided, followed by a more detailed chronology of significant events and periods in de Man's career.

Paul Adolph Michel de Man was born in Antwerp, Belgium, on December 6, 1919. He matriculated in the Free University of Brussels in 1939 as a student of chemistry. While a student, he began a career in journalism by joining the editorial board of Cahiers du Libre Examen, a student publication that addressed social and political issues from a liberal and democratic position. When the German army invaded Belgium in May 1940, he fled to southern France, where his exodus was brought to a sudden halt when he was prevented from entering Spain.

De Man returned to Brussels in August and found employment writing a cultural column for Le Soir ; between December 1940 and December 1942, he wrote a total of 170 literary and cultural articles for this collaborationist newspaper. After ceasing his column for Le Soir, de Man went to work for the publisher Agence Dechenne. He was fired in 1943 for aiding in the publication of Exercice du silence, an issue of the journal Messages that published the work of various writers associated with the French resistance. De Man spent the rest of World War II in Antwerp, translating Moby Dick into Flemish.

At the end of the war, de Man and three partners began a publishing house, Editions Hermès, dedicated to the production of fine press books about art. Immediately following the war, de Man was called before the Auditeur Général and questioned about his activities during the occupation; no charges were ever filed against him. By 1948, the publishing house was experiencing financial difficulties, and de Man went to New York City with the intention of establishing business contacts. He took a job at the Doubleday bookstore. Hermès collapsed in 1949, and de Man remained in the United States for the rest of his life.

De Man began his career as an academic in 1949, teaching French at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. He entered the graduate program at Harvard University in 1952 and received his doctoral degree in Comparative Literature in 1960 with a dissertation entitled "Mallarmé, Yeats, and the Post-Romantic Predicament." While enrolled at Harvard, de Man held a position as a lecturer and was a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows.

After receiving his degree, de Man accepted a position at Cornell University. The beginning of this period constitutes what may be considered de Man's critical phase, represented by essays such as "Mme de Staël et J.J. Rouseau." During the later years at Cornell, de Man's concerns shifted to more theoretical issues and resulted in the first edition of Blindness and Insight .

In 1968, de Man became a professor of Humanities at John Hopkins University. In 1970, he left Hopkins and joined the faculty at Yale University, where he spent the rest of his career. While at Yale, alongside Geoffrey Hartman, J. Hillis Miller, and Jacques Derrida, de Man articulated an approach to linguistic texts that came to be known as deconstruction. Focusing primarily on works by Nietzsche and Rousseau, de Man developed in Allegories of Reading a practice of rhetorical reading that provided the methodological framework for all his subsequent work.

De Man spent the rest of his career simultaneously pursuing two different paths. First, he undertook an evaluation of the contemporary theoretical environment and explored why the practice of rhetorical reading was resisted so strongly. At the same time, he addressed the nineteenth-century German philosophical tradition and examined the irreducible role of linguistic materiality in the disruption of aesthetic ideologies. Neither of these projects was completed, but both were reconstructed and published posthumously as The Resistance to Theory and Aesthetic Ideology .

Paul de Man died of cancer on December 21, 1983.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Joel Fineman Papers, ca. 1974-1989 Bancroft Library
referencedIn Neil Hertz papers on Paul de Man, 1987-1990 University of California, Irvine. Library. Department of Special Collections
referencedIn Papers, 1920-1995. Houghton Library.
referencedIn John Hollander Papers, circa 1950-2007 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Gore Vidal papers, 1875-2004 (inclusive), 1936-2000 (bulk). Houghton Library.
creatorOf Paul de Man papers, 1948-1984 University of California, Irvine. Library. Department of Special Collections
referencedIn Jacques Derrida papers, 1946-2002, (bulk 1960-2002) University of California, Irvine. Library. Department of Special Collections
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Place Name Admin Code Country
New Haven CT US
Antwerpen VLG BE
Subject
French literature--History and criticism--Archival resources
Romanticism--Archival resources
Deconstruction--Archival resources
Critical theory--Archival resources
Critical theory--Archives
German literature--History and criticism--Archival resources
Literature--History and criticism--Archival resources
Criticism--Archival resources
Occupation
Theorists
Literary critics
Function

Person

Birth 1919-12-06

Death 1983-12-21

English,

French,

German

Information

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