Date of Award

2008

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Michael Lang

Second Committee Member

Howard Segal

Third Committee Member

Benjamin Friedlander

Abstract

This thesis examines the controversy ignited by the 1987 discovery that literary critic Paul de Man authored almost 200 pro-Nazi newspaper articles during World War II. My research is based on newspaper articles, Jacques Derrida's and Paul de Man's scholarly works, and articles from the journal Critical Inquiry. In the Critical Inquiry debate, Derrida's and empiricist historians' different understandings of the nature of history resulted in incommensurable interpretations of de Man's life and work. Derrida argued that close readings of de Man's wartime writings expose as ambiguous what might otherwise be understood as obvious. Empiricists argued that history occurred in the past and that through the use of primary sources and the accumulation of evidence, historians could reconstruct past meanings of de Man's "real-life" actions and literary criticisms. My four chapters examine Derrida's and empiricists' interpretations of de Man's wartime articles, his forty years of silence, and the relationship he had later in his life to the articles he wrote in his youth.

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