Born in Antwerp, Brussels, de Man is one of the most respected literary theorists and deconstructive theorists of the 20th Century. Received his Ph.D. in comparative literature from Harvard in 1960, taught at Cornell (Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak studied under de Man here), John Hopkins, and Yale. During World War II, de Man apparently wrote anti-Semitic articles for a newspaper sympathetic to the cause of the Nazis, and like Martin Heidegger, this has done considerable damage to his reputation as a competent theorist and reader.

De Man's work in critical theory was key to this movement's so-called political turn. In his Aesthetic Ideology, de Man interrogates the representation of singularities as knowledge, which knowledge is then exchangeable, classifiable, and transmittable as information, information which it is the specific purview of the university to transmit, relay, archive, preserve, and determine, etc.. Many scholars have picked up on this demanian theme and use it in turn to criticize the university (and similar institutions of 'knowledge') for its eurocentric approach to theory and politics.
"The standards... and the values by means of which we teach... are more than ever and profoundly Schillerian."
(de Man in Aesthetic Ideology)

De Man was also obsessed with a fissure internal in language itself, whereby language was always working against itself, and in spite of itself: particularly the ways in which the rhetorical and the grammatical converge upon, and against, each other. For de Man, texts are always 'spilling over', as the rhetorical aspects of a text threaten (or promise) to infect (or resist) the grammatical and straightforward aspects of a text. In these regards (and many others), there are affinities between de Man's work and that of the French philosopher Jacques Derrida (read the latter's Memories for Paul de Man). For both de Man and Derrida, we are, in reading a text, faced with an aporia (or paradox, or undecidability) regarding the text and what it is 'saying', or 'writing'.
"Curiously enough, it seems to be only in describing a mode of language which does not mean what it says that one can actually say what one means."
(de Man in The Rhetoric of Temporality)


(Suprisingly, there is little information available on de Man on the Internet (at least according to Google), who is, after all, one of the most prolific and important theorists of the 20th century. Perhaps this is a function of the respect most theorists have for de Man, and their initial unwillingness to interpret him, and to determine that which is indeterminable in his writing. Perhaps we are all afraid to torment his texts through the writing of our own hands.)

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