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Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul De Man Hardcover – February, 1991
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From Publishers Weekly
Poet and critic Lehman adds a new afterword to his acclaimed critique of deconstruction and that movement's late high priest, Yale professor and sometime Nazi apologist Paul de Man.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Deconstruction leaves few people neutral. Lehman examines the current academic uproar over this literary movement and the scandal arising from the revelations that the late de Man, one of its chief exponents, had collaborated with the Nazis, writing anti-Semitic articles during the German occupation of Belgium. He includes a translation of de Man's 1941 essay, "The Jews in Contemporary Literature." Lehman is especially interested in analyzing the often disingenuous defenses of de Man offered by the deconstructive establishment, and the deeper implications of these with regard to the state of intellectual life in the United States. While Lehman finds the implications of deconstruction disturbing, his treatment is lively and thorough.
- T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong State Coll., Savannah, Ga.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
The book reads very well too--Lehman is a mystery novelist. I'm not a fan of that genre, but Lehman's storytelling abilities really shine here.
My favorite line was when Lehman quoted an associate of de Man describing how de Man once revealed that he knew Camus and "Camus...was a phony." Camus, one of the great writers of the twentieth century, dismissed as a phony by Paul de Man! The irony is almost too thick.
If you've been perplexed by deconstructionism, post-modernism, post-structuralism, post-postism, those three dozen exotic French theorists that you keep hearing you can't live without understanding, READ THIS BOOK! It is liberating, to say the least.
Part of the joy in reading Lehman's account of the origin of deconstruction lies in comparing his prose style with someone like Jonathan Culler whose own style of circularity well matches with the self-referentiality of orthodox deconstructionism. Both Culler and Lehman hold a PhD in English, but where Culler writes primarily for clones of himself, Lehman strives to write in a manner that is clear, consise, and intelligible--exactly the contrary to the spirit of Derridean deconstructive tenets. I do not mean to imply that Lehman is "dumbing down" an admittedly abstruse and convoluted topic. Rather, he proves that one need not get bogged down in a linguistic fog when the topic resists easy comprehension.
The second half of Lehman's book is dedicated to coming to grips with the disturbing linkage of de Man's Nazi writings of the 1940s with his later exposition of deconstruction. If this linkage of the two is "disturbing" then Lehman insists that it is rightfully so. And I agree. Yes, on one hand, one must not automatically place an equal sign between two sets of writings spread apart over several decades, but on the other, if the logic of the later writings is used (misused?) to recontextualize the reality of the former, then it is eminently justified to call into question a theory of criticism that basically allows anyone to say, to do, or to write anything and not have to worry about consequence. It is not likely that SIGNS OF THE TIMES will ever be assigned on a required reading list for Intro to Literary Theory at Columbia anytime soon, and that is a shame.