Atlas, James. "The Case of Paul deMan," New York Times Magazine, 28 August 1988, pp.

 

Atlas, James. "The Case of Paul deMan," New York Times Magazine, 28 August 1988, pp.
36ff.

Paul deMan was a respected Yale Professor when he died in 1983. He was Yale's leading
"deconstructionst." (Deconstructionism is a literary/critical movement which holds that all
meaning must be an interpretation because language is a poor medium for ideas.) Internationally
famous, his death was a great loss. Now, however, some new facts have come to light: in his
early years, he wrote some anti-Semitic journal articles. He was a Jew-baiter who went along
with the dominant ideology of the day. One notes other failings too: he deserted his first wife and
their children, and married an American student bigamously. He apparently misappropriated
funds from a business bankruptcy and then, rather than facing up to his deed, he fled Europe. A
colleague, George Goriely, Professor at the Free University at Brussels, describes deMan: "He
was ‘completely, almost pathologically, dishonest,' a crook who had bankrupted his family.
‘Swindling, forging, lying were, at least at the time, second nature to him'" (p. 37) The
psychopath inside the professor, inside the deconstructionist, provides a story at several different
levels.

There are several deconstructionists and anti- deconstructionists looking into the case of Paul
deMan. One can endlessly "interpret" events. (That is, of course, the heart of deconstructionism.)
On the other hand, there are those who want to understand the truth, who want to get to the
bottom of all this. Then there are those who are ardent opponents of deconstructionism who will
use any failings to score points against the political stance of a champion. What are the motives
of the defenders and the accusers? It is clear, however, that deMan developed a theory which
covered himself. He was his own subject. How many theories are not like that? This is much
more interesting than the fables of genius told to students about professors.