Since we are talking at this moment (in Paul De Man’s War) about discourse that is totalitarian, fascist, Nazi, racist, anti-Semitic, and so forth, about all the gestures, either discursive or not, that could be suspected of complicity with it, I would like to do, and naturally I invite others to do, whatever possible to avoid reproducing, if only virtually, the logic of the discourse thus incriminated.
Is there a systematic set of themes, concepts, philosophemes, forms of utterance, axioms, evaluations, hierarchies which, forming a closed and identifiable coherence of what we call totalitarianism, fascist, Nazism, racism, anti-Semitism, never appear outside these formations and especially never on the opposite side? And is there a systematic coherence proper to each of them, since one must not confuse them too quickly with each other? Is there some property so closed and so pure that one may not find any element of these systems in discourses that are commonly opposed to them? To say that I do not believe there is, not absolutely, means at least two things; (1) Such a formalizing, saturating totalization seems to me to be precisely the essential character of this logic whose project, at least, and whose ethico-political consequence can be terrifying. One of my rules is never to accept this project and consequence, whatever that may cost. (2) For this very reason, one must analyze as far as possible this process of formalization and its program to uncover the statements, the philosophical, ideological, or political behaviors that derive from it and wherever it may be found. This tasks seems to me to be both urgent and interminable. It has occurred to me on occasion to call this deconstruction.
In the many discourses I have read or heard in the last few months -1987- (and I was expecting them in a very precise way), whether they attack or defend de Man, it was easy to recognize axioms and forms of behavior that confirm the logic that one claims to have rid oneself of; purification, purge , totalization, reappropriation, homogenization, rapid objectification, good conscience, stereotyping and nonreading, immediate politicization or depoliticization (the two always go together), immediate historicization or dehistoricization (it is always the same thing), immediate ideologizing moralization (immorality itself) of all the texts and all the problems, expedited trial, condemnations, or acquittals, summary executions or sublimations. This is what must be deconstructed, these are a few points of reference (that is all I can do here) in the field open to this research and these responsibilities that have been called, for two decades, deconstructions.
What I have practiced under the name deconstruction has always seemed to me favorable, indeed destined (it is no doubt my principle motivation) to the analysis of totalitarianism in all its forms, which cannot always be reduced to the names of regimes. And this in order to free oneself of totalitarianism as far as possible, because it is not enough to untie the knot through analysis (there is more than one knot and the twisted nature of the knot remains very resistant) or to uproot what is finally, perhaps, only the terrifying desire for roots and common roots.
One does not free oneself of totalitarianism effectively at a single blow by easy adherences to the dominant consensus, or by proclamations of the sort I could, after all, give in to without any great risk, since it is what is called objective truth: “As for me, you know, no one can suspect me of anything: I am Jewish, I was persecuted as a child during the war, I have always been known for my leftist opinions, I fight as best I can, for example against racism (for instance, in France or in the United States where they are still rampant, would anyone like to forget that?), against apartheid or for recognition of the rights of Palestinians. I have got myself arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned by totalitarian police, not long ago, so I know how they ask and resolve questions, and so forth.”
No, such declarations are insufficient. There can still be, and in spite of them, residual adherences to the discourse one is claiming to combat. And deconstruction is, in particular, the tireless analysis (both theoretical and practical) of these adherences.
In spite of its discouraging effect, I have begun to get used to journalistic presentations of deconstruction and to the even more discouraging fact that responsibility for them belongs most often not with professional journalists, but with professors whose training ought to require at least some attempt at reading but, this time- upon discovery of Paul d Man’s early journalism in Nazi occupied Belgium- finding as always its foothold in aggressivity, simplism has produced the most unbelievably stupid statements!
By saying several times and repeating it again that de Man had radically broken with his past of 1940-42, I intend clearly an activity, convictions, direct or indirect relations with everything that then determined the context of his articles. In sum, a deep and deliberated uprooting. But after this decisive rupture, even as he never ceased reflecting on and interpreting this past, notably through his work and a historico-political experience that was ongoing, he must have proceeded with other ruptures, divergences, displacements. My hypothesis is that there were many of them. And that, with every step, it was indirectly at least a question of wondering:: how was this possible and how can one guard oneself against it? What is it, in the ideologies of the right or the left, in this or that concept of literature, of history or of politics, in a particular protocol of reading, or a particular rhetorical trap which still contains, beneath on figure or another, the possibility of the return of the totalitarian project?