More on Paul de Man + Fredric Jameson

So, I just finished Fredric Jameson's Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Like A Singular Modernity, I found it at times to be like castles built in the sky: immensely intelligent and complex and generally internally coherent, but anti-foundationalist, suspicious or neglectful of evidence, and overdetermined from the start. Jameson has his basic beliefs/convictions/schemata, like capitalism or even just "economy" as a differentiation machine (this plays a much larger role in Singular Modernity but shows up here too), and those tend to guide his analyses, which end up selecting their own evidence and demonstrating the original claim. It comes off as circular reasoning, and he even admits at times that he's begged the question. Frustrating, no? And while I liked seeing someone else talk about Luhmann, his Luhmann is not quite my Luhmann. Then again, it helped refocus my discomfort with Luhmann as a post-human or even non-human thinker, which is what fundamentally bothers me most about Jameson: symptomatic thinking flattens the basic reality of the world as composed of subjects who act and feel. Yes, I know that phenomenology also has its problems and flaws, but I'd rather work from there and not throw the subjective baby out with the bathwater. I can't here get into my current thinking about symptomatic analysis - while I hate it as an a priori critical methodology, I also know that there are ways that it's useful, and I don't want to condemn it. (For instance, with creative texts that invite a symptomatic reading or that seem to be written already with a sense that they will be engaged in that way. I might see this in the L poets, for instance, but also with David Foster Wallace in a different way, and with the new sincerity/new realism/contemporary moment as well. I think Wallace works to invite but then short-circuit a symptomology (he creates defenses against it, he thematizes diagnosis, his general method is get-so-self-reflexive-that-the-levels-just-collapse). And I think new sincerity could be conceived as a response to this kind of reading as well: it says "no no, you needn't be suspicious of me, see, I will just be honest with you and we needn't worry about this, let us just be up front and authentic." Of course that's generalizing, but really this is just my way of reconceiving the progressive configurations of "irony" and "sincerity" in terms of authorial positioning relative to audience.  (Good god, am I maybe bringing together de Man and rhetorical narratology here? I will have to work through this much more carefully or be taken to task by Jim. And yet in thinking of irony as a much more fundamental quality of textual directness or indirectness, and connecting it to the stylizing "figure" as Genette conceives it in Figures of Discourse, I become much more confident that this reading is possible.)

ANYWAY, I didn't sit down intending to write about all this- I really just wanted to share a passage from the end of Jameson's chapter on "Theory," which is really a chapter on de Man. It's one of the best in the book because this focus makes Jameson much more unified and much less, well, A.D.D. (I know, I know, Jameson performs the postmodern formally even as he writes about it. This doesn't mean it's pleasant to read, because none of his sentences have real subjects or active verbs and the passive voice is everywhere. He has a symptomatic style for christ's sake.)

So, the selection: this relates to what I was gesturing towards last time about the ethical questions of de Man's early journalism - it's from Jameson's Postmodernism 256ff and is a pretty stunning defense/exploration of DeMan's politics and program:

     "I have not until the present wanted to pronounce myself on the now notorious 'revelations,' the discovery of DeMan's work as a cultural journalist in the first years of the German occupation of Belgium. I'm afraid that much of the debate aroused by these materials has struck me as what Walter Benn Michaels likes to call 'handwringing.' For one thing, it does not seem to me that North American intellectuals have generally had the kind of experience of history that would qualify them to judge the actions and choices of people under military occupation (unless indeed the situation of the Vietnam War is taken to offer some rough analogy). For another, the exclusive emphasis on anti-Semitism ignores and politically neutralizes its other constitutive feature in the Nazi period: namely, anticommunism. That the very possibility of a Judeo-cide was absolutely at one with and inseparable from the anticommunism and radical right-wing mission of National Socialism is the burden of Arno J. Mayer's conclusive new history, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? But put this way, it seems at once clear that DeMan was neither an anticommunist nor a right-winger: had he taken such positions in his student days (at a time when the student movements of Europe were overwhelmingly conservative or reactionary), they would have been public knowledge, inasmuch as he was the nephew of one of the most famous figures of European socialism. (Meanwhile, a certain background political ideology in these texts, utterly devoid of any personal originality or distinctiveness, simply rehearses the general period corporatism common across the board from Nazism and Italian fascism, through the New Deal and Henrik DeMan's post-Marxian social democracy, all the way to Stalinism.) 
     "What Paul DeMan clearly was, however, as the articles testify, can be seen to be a fairly unremarkable specimen of the then conventional high-modernist aesthete, and the apolitical aesthete at that. This is clearly a very different matter from Heidegger (although it seems unquestionable that the twin Heidegger and DeMan 'scandals' have been carefully orchestrated to delegitimate Derridean deconstruction). Heidegger may have been 'politically naïve,' as they like to say, but he was certainly political, and believed for a time that the Hitlerian seizure of power was a genuine national revolution that would result in a moral and social reconstruction of the nation. As rector of Freiburg University, and in the best reactionary and McCarthyite spirit, he works at purging the place of its doubtful elements (although one should remember that genuinely radical or leftist 'elements' were very scarce in the German university system of the 1920s, compared to the Hollywood of the 1940s or the Federal Republic of the 1970s). His ultimate disappointment with Hitler was shared by a number of people on the revolutionary (anticapitalist) left within National Socialism, who failed for some time to understand Hitler's pragmatic position as a moderate or centrist or his crucial relationship to big business. I know I will be misunderstood if I add that I have some sneaking admiration for Heidegger's attempt at political commitment, and find the attempt itself morally and aesthetically preferable to apolitical liberalism (provided its ideals remain unrealized). 
     "Nothing of this has any relevance to Paul DeMan, for whom the thing dramatically called 'collaboration' was simply a job, in a Europe henceforth and for the foreseeable future united and German, and who as long as I knew him personally was simply a good liberal (and a nonanticommunist one at that). . . .
     "It seems ludicrous to suggest that all the complex procedures of DeManian deconstruction came into being in some way to atone for or to undo a 'Nazi past' that never existed in the first place. They certainly effectively undid his uncritically modernist aesthetic values (while finally, as we have seen, 'saving the text' in another way). As for the notorious 'anti-Semitic' article, I believe that it has been consistently misread: it strikes me as the ingenious effort at resistance of a young man altogether too smart for his own good. For the message of this 'intervention' is the following: 'you garden-variety anti-Semites and intellectuals (we will leave the lofty 'religious' anti-Semitism of the Third Reich out of it) in fact do your own cause a disservice. You have not understood that if 'Jewish literature' is as dangerous and virulent as you claim it is, it follows that Aryan literature does not amount to much, and in particular lacks the stamina to resist a Jewish culture which is supposed to be, under other canonical 'anti-Semitic' accounts, value-less. You would therefore under these circumstances be better advised to stop talking about the Jews altogether and to cultivate your own garden.' 
     "It is ironic, although absolutely characteristic of irony as such, that this irony should be so disastrously misunderstood and misread. . . .Perhaps the rigors of deconstructive reading - so passionately pursued and taught in later years - are calculated to 'undo' this disaster in the sense of forming readers capable at least of resisting this kind of elementary interpretive blunder. But most of his disciples seem to have made it anyway on first confronting this 'text'; and in any case a certain further 'irony' is afforded by the fact that DeMan's pedagogy, so remarkable in other aspects, should have left his students singularly ill-prepared to confront this type of political and historical issue, which it bracketed from the outset." 

I found this pretty stunning food for thought, especially coming from Jameson. Then again, it was written in 1991 and we may have more information now; I need to find out when I get a free moment. And what of this claim that the Heidegger and de Man scandals were orchestrated to delegitimate Derridean deconstruction...?!

Dear reader: Thoughts? Knowledges?