Paul de Man
1919 – 1983
Who was Paul de Man?
Paul de Man, born Paul Adolph Michel Deman, was a Belgian-born literary critic and literary theorist. At the time of his death, de Man was one of the best-known literary critics in the United States—known particularly for his importation of German and French philosophical approaches into Anglo-American literary studies and critical theory. Along with Jacques Derrida, he was part of an influential critical movement that went beyond traditional interpretation of literary texts to reflect on the epistemological difficulties inherent in any textual, literary, or critical activity. This approach aroused considerable opposition, which de Man attributed to "resistance" inherent in the difficult enterprise of literary interpretation itself.
De Man began his teaching career at Bard College. In the late 1950s he completed his Ph.D. at Harvard University, then taught at Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Zurich, ending up on the faculty in French and Comparative Literature at Yale University, where he was considered part of the Yale School of Deconstruction.
- Fashion is like the ashes left behind by the uniquely shaped flames of the fire, the trace alone revealing that a fire actually took place.
- The ambivalence of writing is such that it can be considered both an act and an interpretive process that follows after an act with which it cannot coincide. As such, it both affirms and denies its own nature.
- Modernity exists in the form of a desire to wipe out whatever came earlier, in the hope of reaching at least a point that could be called a true present, a point of origin that marks a new departure.
- Metaphors are much more tenacious than facts.
- The writer's language is to some degree the product of his own action; he is both the historian and the agent of his own language.
- The critical method which denies literary modernity would appear -- and even, in certain respects, would be -- the most modern of critical movements.
- Death is a displaced name for a linguistic predicament.
- Literature exists at the same time in the modes of error and truth; it both betrays and obeys its own mode of being.
- Literature... is condemned (or privileged) to be forever the most rigorous and, consequently, the most reliable of terms in which man names and transforms himself.
- Curiously enough, it seems to be only in describing a mode of language which does not mean what it says that one can actually say what one means.