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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Double Life of Paul de Man (Liveright), by Evelyn Barish

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Paul de Man managed to die before his past caught up with him. Turns out, the tastemaker of academic fashion (or was it more like dogma?) during the ’80s and early ’90s was an active Nazi collaborator during World War II. Perhaps his theory of “deconstruction,” an abstraction that could serve as evasion for responsibility, was at root a self-justification for the hundreds of articles he wrote for a pro-Nazi periodical in wartime Belgium and his other activities on behalf of the German occupiers. Evelyn Barish’s fascinating biography reveals de Man’s emotionally damaged childhood, his pre-war roots in fascism (in the zone where far left shades into far right) and a lifetime of opportunism.