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The Deconstruction of Literature: Criticism after Auschwitz Paperback – November 1, 1991


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From Library Journal

The author's scholarly treatise delineates the decline of contemporary literature by proponents of the deconstructionist movement in Europe. He illustrates how literature became alienated from the human element as European culture disintegrated with the advent of World War II and the rise of inhumanity and the atrocities in Germany. Although the new criticism attempted to absolve the European philosophers, e.g., Heidegger, who ignored the situation, Hirsch finds this stance ludicrous and holds them responsible for the empty literature that evolved. Furthermore, he repudiates the belief that Nazism was masterminded by the uneducated and is further appalled by the revisionist view of this chapter of history by Nazi sympathizers. This is a disturbing, skeptical, and well-researched study that will be a welcome addition to the literary criticism collections of academic libraries.
- Mary Ellen Beck, Troy P.L., N.Y.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 326 pages
  • Publisher: Brown (November 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0874515661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0874515664
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,199,034 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Camille Nussbaum on December 26, 2007
Format: Paperback
Undergraduates who have been inundated with post-structural theory will find this book illuminating and deeply disturbing.

David Hirsch has compiled a set of distinct but closely related articles on the the most prominent Deconstructionists, anti-foundationalists, and reception-aesthetic critics of the last thirty years.

Hirsch's first essay performs a pain-staking analysis of one of Stanley Fish's most famous essays, bringing its contradictions into focus, exposing its rhetorical pretensions, and debunking his case against New Criticism. Along with Martha Nussbaum's powerful rebuttal to Fish in Love's Knowledge, this essay serves as a refreshing counter-argument to the anti-foundationalists.

Hirsh is at his strongest when he brings the factual record to bear against his literary adversaries. Hirsh documents the following in terrifying detail:

--Martin Heidegger was a unrepentent member of the Nazi party for 11 years, who prepared himself to become a prominent professor under the victorious Nazi world order. He devoted himself to perfecting his notion of Being while millions were being hauled to death camps in cattle cars. In all the years following the defeat of the Nazis, he never wrote a single word regretting his membership as a Nazi, nor for all the atrocities and exterminations of the organization he supported.

--Paul de Man actively collaborated with the Nazis. de Mann wrote anti-semitic articles for the pro-Nazi newspaper Le Soir from 1939-1942, including one in which he claims that Jews had "contaminated" the population of continental Europe and suggested they be rounded up and exiled. de Mann concealed his collaboration for decades and, upon being exposed, obfuscated his involvement at every turn.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Martin Asiner on July 9, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In THE DECONSTRUCTION OF LITERATURE: CRITICISM AFTER AUSCHWITZ,David Hirsch, Professor of English at Brown University, sees a straight line of nihilism that began in the linguistic abstractness of thought of Neitzsche, Heidegger, and de Man that led to the crematoria of the Nazi death camps. There was no single trait, Hirsch notes, that made Germany the only society in human history that made genocide the very foundation of its existence. Other societies--Stalin's Russia, Pol Pot's Cambodia, Mao's China--as terrible as they were killed millions as a means toward an end not as an end itself. Though this distinction would not have mattered to one of Stalin's, Pol Pot's, or Mao's victims, it matters greatly to a humanist like Hirsch who sees with blinding clarity how a country like Germany, which envisioned itself as the very personification of culture and enlightenment, could devolve its essence into the fires of the ovens. For this atavism to occur, there had to be a confluence of overlapping elements: anti-Semitism, a use of language to devolve man and his inner core of goodness, a willingness by millions to close their eyes to unfolding horrors, and a further complicity by those millions to collaborate with a few key individuals to invoke the rhetoric of the sacredness of soil to identify, to exclude, then ultimately to annihilate a target population.

Hirsch divides his book into two parts. The first is "Deconstruction in its European Setting." The second is "Antihumanism and the American University." In the first section, he focuses on the overlapping careers of two Aryan writers: Paul de Man and Martin Heidegger. De Man was a Belgian who until 1987 managed to hide his Nazi past as a writer who published anti-Semitic tracts for the collaborationist newspaper LE SOIR.
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Spectralis on July 1, 2011
Format: Paperback
I bought this book thinking it might offer some insight into why postmodernists abandoned Marxism and became right wing apologists for neoliberalism. The author makes the most ridiculous statements such as implying that the whole of the French population colluded with the Nazis and because of this now play down the Holocaust. For example, he questions why a book about the Holocaust didn't receive more attention when published in France. This claim isn't backed up by any evidence nor does the author compare the books reception in other countries. Hirsch then goes on to question why Foucault and other French philosophers didn't play a more prominent role in the resistance. The intention appears to be to try to build a case against these academics of having Nazi sympathies. On this basis alone the book is dishonest to say the least. Hirsch has done those of us who oppose the anti-enlightenment and relativism of postmodernism no favours. Anyone looking for a sensible critique of postmodernism will need to look elsewhere.
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