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Critical Writings, 1953-1978

Paul de Man
Edited and with an introduction by Lindsay Waters
Volume: 66
Copyright Date: 1989
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 324
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttfgz
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  • Book Info
    Critical Writings, 1953-1978
    Book Description:

    Twenty-five essays and reviews not previously collected, most of which were written before 1970, and eight of which are appearing in English for the first time.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8289-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface (pp. vii-viii)
    L. W.
  4. Introduction Paul de Man: Life and Works (pp. ix-2)
    Lindsay Waters

    Paul de Man was born in Antwerp on December 6, 1919, the second son of a wellto-do Flemish bourgeois family. His most notable ancestor was his grandfather, the popular Belgian poet Jan van Beers (1821-88). The de Man family was both liberal and nonreligious, and a number of them were Freemasons. De Man’s family was “flamingant” but at the same time of some social standing. It was customary for members of the high bourgeoisie in Flanders such as de Man’s family to differentiate themselves from the general populace by the assimilation of French culture. Moreover, the de Mans were decidedly...

  5. Montaigne and Transcendence (1953) (pp. 3-11)

    “Man can be only what he is, and imagine only within his capacity” (II, ch. 12). “These transcendental humors frighten me, like lofty and inaccessible places” (III, ch. 13). On the basis of a great number of similar passages, we are tempted to make rejection of transcendence the axis of Montaigne’s thought. He keeps repeating that for him all transcendence is impossible, even harmful: “countless minds are destroyed by their own strength and suppleness” (II, ch. 12). The tone is intensified whenever he asserts man’s inability to escape himself; it becomes solemn, very different from his usual ironic grace, when...

  6. The Inward Generation (1955) (pp. 12-17)

    There always is a strange fascination about the bad verse that great poets write in their youth. They often seem more receptive than any to the mannerisms and clichés of their age, particularly to those that their later work will reject most forcefully. Their early work, therefore, is often a very good place to discover the conventions of a certain period and to meet its problems from the inside, as they appeared to these writers themselves.

    Every generation writes its own kind of bad poetry, but many young poets of today are bad in an intricate and involved way that...

  7. Poetic Nothingness: On a Hermetic Sonnet by Mallarmé (1955) (pp. 18-29)

    For Mallarmé, poetic nothingness assumes the form of a concrete and specific choice, one that continued to obsess him: “namely, if there is occasion to write.”¹ The question remains. Fifty years later, Maurice Blanchot entitles an article on Paulhan’sFleurs de tarbes,“How Is Literature Possible?”; these two names-Paulhan and Blanchot—taken together sum up a whole historical period and a present situation. We are in the habit of dating this interrogation back to the work of Stéphane Mallarmé, poet of sterility and the blank page. But is it not all too easy to make the validity of such a...

  8. The Temptation of Permanence (1955) (pp. 30-40)

    In a well-known letter of Rilke, the disquiet of our age in the face of the menacing development of the technological world finds expression in a personal and intimate form: “for our grandparents a house, a well, a tower were still infinitely more than these things themselves, infinitely more intimate.¹ Almost everything presented itself as a vessel where they discovered and into which they poured the human. From America have come to us now empty, indifferent things, artificial things that deceive us by simulating life. . . . In the American sense, a house or an apple tree or a...

  9. Keats and Hölderlin (1956) (pp. 41-60)

    The parallel between Keats and Hölderlin has often been suggested—so often that it tends to be taken for granted. Mr. Hamburger, in his introduction to translations of some of Hölderlin’s poems, refers to it as a matter of course,¹ and it has found its way even into such semipopularizing works as Gilbert Highet’sThe Classical Tradition.² The fact is, however, that the only published work on record entirely devoted to this comparison was written by an obscure German Oberlehrer in 1896,³ when the major part of Hölderlin’s poetry was still entirely unknown, even in Germany.⁴

    As the understanding and...

  10. Situation of the Novel (1956) (pp. 61-63)

    The four essays on the novel Nathalie Sarraute has collected inL’Ere du soupçon(The age of suspicion) (Paris: Gallimard, 1956) constitute a coherent and attractive study. They are written from inside the present situation of the French novel, by a novelist who has offered her hostages and taken up a position with regard to tendencies identified here in order to justify her own way of writing. The book therefore offers a twofold interest: it proposes a diagnosis of the present state of a literary genre that has become problematic, and it suggests a solution, an approach the author believes...

  11. Process and Poetry (1956) (pp. 64-75)

    When contemporary thought, in its most legitimate forms, concerns itself with poetry, it is generally by conferring on it a power of eternity that makes it either distinct from or superior to a process of becoming.¹ Those writers who try to move beyond the historical concept of becoming that preoccupied nineteenthcentury consciousness approach poetry as anticipating, in Heidegger’s terms, “that whichremainsin the process of becoming.” Poetry thus acquires a value analogous to that which childhood held for certain romantics: that of an ideal state from which we have freely separated ourselves, but one that acts in memory as...

  12. Thematic Criticism and the Theme of Faust (1957) (pp. 76-89)

    If there is one work that contemporary criticism should be able to explicate and provide commentary for, it is certainly Goethe’sFaust,which is generally considered to be the paradigmatic poem of modern consciousness. Nevertheless, in spite of a great number of critical studies in all languages, the commentators are far from agreeing, even in general terms, on questions as fundamental as the structural unity of the poem, its place in the history of European thought, or even its value in relation to other versions of the same theme. Can one speak of the two parts of the poem as...

  13. A New Vitalism: Harold Bloom (1962) (pp. 90-96)

    Harold Bloom’s new book on English romanticism,The Visionary Company: A Reading of English Romantic Poetry(New York: Doubleday, 1961), coming after hisShelley’s Mythmakingand preceding an announced study of Blake, testifies to an upsurge of active interest in romanticism among a new generation of critics. Not very long ago, someone of Bloom’s talent and temperament would in all likelihood have centered his attention on early twentieth-century poets such as Yeats, Eliot, or Stevens, while his historical interest would probably have been directed toward the metaphysical poets; this was the predominant pattern under the influence of leading New Critics....

  14. Giraudoux (1963) (pp. 97-101)

    It is a nostalgic experience to encounter Giraudoux dressed in the dignity of a foreign translation that, coming several years after his death, consecrates him as an “immortal” figure (Three Plays: Judith, Tiger at the Gates, and Duel of Angels,trans. Christopher Fry [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963]). His works—the now too neglected novels as well as the works of the theater—had something deliberately ephemeral about them, a self-ironic lightness that made little claim to future fame and mocked any monumental pose. When they came out during the thirties, they blended so easily with the flow of literary...

  15. Heidegger Reconsidered (1964) (pp. 102-106)

    The main interest of William Barrett’sWhat Is Existentialism? (New York: Grove Press, 1964) stems from the contrast between the two parts in which it is divided. They deal with the same topic-the work of the contemporary philosopher Martin Heidegger—but were written twelve years apart. The first essay originated shortly after the war, at a time when American intellectuals were discovering existentialism, a movement that by then had practically become a part of French popular culture; the second essay is dated 1963. Among the many attempts to write on a nontechnical level about this subject, I find this book...

  16. Spacecritics: J. Hillis Miller and Joseph Frank (1964) (pp. 107-115)

    Ever since the war, American criticism has remained relatively stagnant. This does not mean that no outstanding individual works have been produced, or that no gifted and original newcomers have appeared on the scene. It is from a methodological point of view that no striking innovations have taken place; the assumptions on which literary criticism has been living, in the universities and in the journals, have not been fundamentally challenged. This in itself is not necessarily distressing; it may well be that the developments that occurred earlier, in the thirties, were so rich and varied that it took more than...

  17. Sartre’s Confessions (1964) (pp. 116-122)

    Last year, when Jean-Paul Sartre’s autobiography began to appear in his reviewLes Temps modernes,it stirred up great expectations among its readers. One had the impression of rediscovering a voice that had spoken with great authority in the past but that had lost some of its power in more recent years. Sartre’s influence reached its peak during the occupation, when it was by necessity confined to France, and in the years immediately following the war, when it spread rapidly over the entire world, giving him an international reputation almost unprecedented in French literature; one would perhaps have to go...

  18. A Modern Master: Jorge Luís Borges (1964) (pp. 123-129)

    Although he has been writing poems, stories, and critical essays of the highest quality since 1923, the Argentinian writer Jorge Luís Borges is still much better known in Latin America than in the United States. For the translator of John Peale Bishop, Hart Crane, e. e. cummings, William Faulkner, Edgar Lee Masters, Robert Penn Warren, and Wallace Stevens, this neglect is somewhat unfair. There are signs, however, that he is being discovered in this country with some of the same enthusiasm that greeted him in France, where he received major critical attention, and has been very well translated. Several volumes...

  19. Whatever Happened to André Gide? (1965) (pp. 130-136)

    It has almost become a commonplace of today’s criticism to state that André Gide’s work had begun to fade away even before the author’s death in 1951. Compared to Proust, to Valéry, to Claudel, and outside France, to Henry James, Joyce, and Thomas Mann, he seems hardly to be part of the contemporary literary consciousness. An easy contrast can be drawn between the relative indifference that now surrounds his work and the passionate intensity with which the generation of Europeans born before 1920 used to follow his every word, considering his private opinions a matter of general concern. During the...

  20. What Is Modern? (1965) (pp. 137-144)

    The full title of the substantial and ambitious anthology,The Modem Tradition: Backgrounds of Modern Literature,edited by Richard Ellman and Charles Feidelson, Jr. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), twice uses the word “modern,” thus stressing modernity as the key concept that binds together a miscellaneous collection of literary and philosophical essays dating from the second half of the eighteenth century up to 1960. On the other hand, the title also contains two words that, at first sight, seem to contradict this claim: “tradition” and “backgrounds.” The various appeals for modernity recurrent throughout the nineteenth and the twentieth century...

  21. The Mask of Albert Camus (1965) (pp. 145-152)

    The subtle but radical change that separates the intellectual atmosphere of the fifties from that of the sixties could well be measured by one’s attitude toward the work and the person of Albert Camus. During his lifetime he was for many an exemplary figure; his work bears many traces of the doubts and agonies that such an exalted position inevitably carries with it. He has not ceased to be so: in several recent literary essays, written by men whose formative years coincided with the period of Camus’s strongest influence, the impact of his presence can still be strongly felt. On...

  22. Modern Poetics in France and Germany (1965) (pp. 153-160)

    Continental poetics remain remarkably autonomous and isolated within their national traditions. A few major figures extend their influence beyond the national borders and there are instances of fruitful cooperation between writers from different nationalities. But on the whole there is less contact between, for instance, French, German, and Italian poetical theorists than there is between the actual poets of these countries.

    In France, up to a recent date, literary theory was overshadowed by the techniques ofexplication de texte,a discipline that is not primarily concerned with poetics. It aims at the correct reading of literary texts and is pedagogical...

  23. The Literature of Nihilism (1966) (pp. 161-170)

    Two recent books on the German literary tradition—Erich Heller’sThe Artist’s Journey into the Interior and Other Essays(New York: Random House, 1965) and Ronald Gray’sThe German Tradition in Literature 1871-1945(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965)—serve to show that highly competent treatment of detail can be warped by a misleading general view. Both works deal with the same topic: the development in the history of German thought and literature that took place during the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth. Erich Heller, who now teaches in the United States after having spent several years...

  24. Madame de Staël and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1966) (pp. 171-178)

    We know that the best means of characterizing the various preromantic thematic structures is to trace them back to the source that almost all of them have in common: the work and thought of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Thereby we escape the superficiality of positivist histories, since any serious contact with Rousseau necessarily takes the form of a withdrawal into oneself, of an interiorization. The history of an influence then becomes, almost immediately, an internal history. This is certainly the case when we try to understand what Rousseau meant for Madame de Staël.

    Rousseau’s influence covers the whole of Madame de Staël’s...

  25. Introduction to the Poetry of John Keats (1966) (pp. 179-197)

    In the course of time, the reputations of the main English romantic poets have undergone considerable and revealing fluctuations. It would nowadays be considered eccentric to rate Byron above Wordsworth or Blake, yet during his lifetime Byron’s fame far surpassed that of his contemporaries. Not till the end of the nineteenth century did Blake begin to receive full recognition, and we are now no longer surprised to find critics give him a central position that none of his contemporaries would have remotely suspected. We may have some difficulty in sharing the excitement with which the young Yeats discovered the audacities...

  26. The Riddle of Hölderlin (1970) (pp. 198-213)

    When Hölderlin’s first works began to circulate in Germany in the 1790s, they met with limited response. Hölderlin was known to be a man of considerable poetic and intellectual power: both Hegel and Schelling, who had been his fellow students at the theological seminary in Tübingen had been struck by his genius, and Schiller had taken it on himself to sponsor the literary beginnings of the younger poet who, like himself, was of Swabian birth. But, from the very beginning, something unsettling in his personality and in his poetry, a combination of tense abstraction and exalted fervor, created a barrier...

  27. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology (1970) (pp. 214-217)

    This work attracted considerable interest from the moment of its publication; indeed its philosophical scope, accommodating in a profoundly original formulation the Nietzschean critique of the polarities governing Western philosophical discourse, tended to eclipse the more strictly exegetical part, which is of the greatest concern to readers of Rousseau. Even livelier was the interest awakened by the polemical portions on Saussure and Lévi-Strauss, and the reading of Rousseau’sEssay on the Origin of Languages,which in itself takes up more than half the book, risked passing unremarked. Yet far from constituting a simple illustration or, as has been said, a...

  28. Foreword to Carol Jacobs, The Dissimulating Harmony (1978) (pp. 218-224)

    I well remember that, some ten years ago, I had occasion to recommend to an enlightened and benevolent university press the publication of a dissertation that, in my view, had merits of originality and critical insight.¹ It dealt with one particular, rather brief work of a very prolific novelist. It was refused for entirely legitimate (though probably misguided) considerations, because the market could not absorb a book-length study of a single work out of a large canon, especially in the case of a novelist. One could justify a book on Flaubert, say, or on Stendhal, but the public would balk...

  29. Sources (pp. 227-228)
  30. Index (pp. 231-246)
  31. Back Matter (pp. 247-249)