Suicide notes : on Paul de Man's Wartime Journalism
Frank, Sarah Noble
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2013 will mark the thirtieth anniversary of Paul de Man’s death, and the twentieth anniversary of the 2003 MLA special session titled “Is Now the Time for Paul de Man?” Is now the time, the panel asked, to put the scandal of de Man’s Wartime Journalism behind us? Arguing (via an allegory of “the suicide note”) that to give Paul de Man a “time” would be a negation of spectrality and a contradiction to his thought, this paper asks instead: How are we to respond to Paul de Man now, thirty years after his death? For as Jacques Derrida writes in his response to Wartime Journalism, this scandal (the scandal of Paul de Man’s suicide note) is “happening to us,” and it is happening now. To read his writings still entails certain responsibilities. Taking Theseus from Euripides’ Hippolytus as the hapless reader par excellence, I suggest that it is not misreading which produces irresponsibility, but rather a failure to have read—or even, perhaps, the failure to have continued reading. How are we to respond to Paul de Man now, thirty years after his death? How are we to grieve his death, to read his suicide note? I conclude, with Avital Ronell, that if we are to have responded to Paul de Man, we will need to do so not by becoming better interpreters, but rather by becoming better mis-readers of the texts he leaves behind, like suicide notes, after his death.