How Paul de Man hid his past

When faced with charges about Nazi collaboration, the literary philosopher employed an amazing array of obfuscation

Published March 30, 2014 3:00PM (EDT)

Excerpted from "The Double Life of Paul de Man"

By the summer of 1954, Paul de Man’s persona had evolved. No longer the impassioned firebrand of the Bard years, or the supple, agreeable young immigrant who had been Mary McCarthy’s friend, he had become an older man, wise, charming, and deeply cultured. He was already a father figure to some students and a cherished ally of other doctoral candidates, who rejoiced in his knowingness, acerbic wit, his tone of unshakable, indifferent self-confidence, and his charisma. In December 1953, he had published his first academic essay, “Montaigne,” in Critique, an important step both because it foreshadowed his future intellectual development and because publication before completing—much less beginning—one’s doctoral dissertation was a signal achievement. Then, a few months later, he had been elected a Junior Fellow. And with that, a high-flying tone began to appear in some of de Man’s correspondence, a bit of swank or boasting that must have felt justified. That summer was the first time he rented an inexpensive cottage on Gotts, a remote island off the coast of Maine; it lacked running water and electricity but was covered in pine forests and romantic mists. There, he wrote Levin, he was “reading nothing more frivolous than Plotinus and Husserl,” and Harry was welcome to join him “if Wellfleet becomes too worldly.”

In the meantime, while continuing to teach fulltime at Berlitz, de Man had also been assisting Henry Kissinger. It was in his office and in the same exuberant mood that de Man may have made a nearly fatal mistake when he spotted a letter from Georges Goriély, who by then was a fully accredited historian at ULB. The young professor had applied in the spring of 1954 to join a seminar that Kissinger was running at Harvard in international studies. Paul saw the application, and in April he wrote Georges that chance had “put him in the presence” of it. Kissinger was a “friend,” Paul had a “tiny” influence, and if the “decision depended only” on Kissinger, then “your chances of coming here would be considerable” (the implication being that Kissinger trusted de Man’s judgment). After his ignoble flight in May 1948 and the following years of enforced silence, anyone in de Man’s position would have been gratified now to reappear in so desirable a role. Then de Man asked Goriély to pass on to Gilbert Jaeger—the third member of the ménage à trois—a letter that had “a certain importance.” As a “phantom from the past,” de Man said he’d been out of touch too long to have Jaeger’s address. He added further news of his own success, mentioning his doctoral project as a summation of symbolism, “whose philosophic echoes interest me ceaselessly.” He saluted “destiny” for this encounter with Georges.

The letter was written in an elevated mood, and it may have been a mistake to send it. Undoubtedly, Paul had long wished to return to Belgium in a favorable light, and this must have seemed the right moment to prepare the way. Yet de Man was boasting to Goriély about his connections: He had been admitted to Harvard as a Ph.D. candidate and now had some “influence” on Kissinger, a figure who was now important to Goriély. He did not know that Goriély had by coincidence that very spring served on a jury with Robert Guiette, one of the men whose names de Man had forged while stealing funds from Hermès, and that in talking about their mutual friend, Georges had learned for the first time about Paul’s acts of fraud, embezzlement, and forgery while at Hermès and his subsequent conviction in Antwerp. The historian was shocked, and the letter from Paul de Man that followed this encounter doubly amazed him. Goriély did not get the grant, but he did get de Man’s address and learn of his status at Harvard, information that until then no one in Belgium had possessed. From there those facts were intended to go elsewhere, and they did. Thus by disseminating his address while still a fugitive, de Man had emerged into full view, possibly of Belgian jurisprudence and certainly of his former friends.

De Man was hoping to return to Belgium, regain legal status, and somehow make amends for his misdeeds. He told Patricia that because he felt secure in his status as her husband and as a student at Harvard, he had gone to the Belgian consulate in Boston to get a visa for his return to Europe. Suddenly, however, on the very day they returned from Maine, September 7, the agents of the INS once more showed up without warning at his home, again in the midst of violent weather. The de Mans had planned both to celebrate Michael’s birthday that day and also to move to a better apartment on McLean Street. Instead, Paul now faced deportation. The Immigration and Naturalization Service knew that he had arrived on a brief visitor’s visa in 1948. Six years later, they had run out of patience. His position as Pat’s husband would no longer shelter him, and the agents were no longer interested in the scars and injuries he had shown them at Bard in 1951. De Man would have to leave the country. He had only two choices: to be deported, or to leave via “voluntary departure,” which permitted him the possibility of returning under the sponsorship of his wife.

He chose the latter. Returning to the States would be the problem, however, for he would need a Belgian visa on his expired passport—but that he would face when he had to. Yet to get a visa in Europe was highly problematic, for, given his notorious surname, if he visited any of his nation’s consulates, whether in France or Belgium, he would be only a phone call away from the Antwerpen judicial system, and should a zealous attaché discover his fugitive status, de Man might even be arrested. It was a chilling thought, but there was much worse to come.

Sometime between the day the agents descended and September 28, when the Service gave de Man its ruling, Poggioli suddenly called him in. The Society of Fellows had received a detailed and deeply damaging denunciation of their protégé. Wide-ranging accusations showing considerable knowledge of de Man’s past came in the form of a letter, whose writer, according to de Man’s widow, was never revealed to him. She never saw the letter herself. However, it was clearly from someone who had precise information about the émigré, not only in Brussels under the occupation but also in Antwerp postwar. In addition, the writer both knew that de Man was at Harvard and raised questions about the circumstances of his admission there. This meant that every invented story de Man had told the university about his background was now either controverted or in question.

The authorship of this denunciation was kept secret at the time and has never been admitted by any person able or willing to respond. There was wide speculation but no agreement about who might have written it. De Man told his wife the unlikely story that it was not composed by anyone who had been close to him and that he guessed that when he had gone to the consul’s office in Boston, some Belgian national had recognized him from across the room. Others speculated to this writer long after the fact, naming a specific person. Perhaps they were correct, but their hearsay information was always thirdhand. However, the letter certainly contained Belgian information, was relatively up-to-date, and clearly came from someone with both detailed knowledge of de Man’s former life and a motive to attack him. Noticeably, it did not mention de Man’s bigamy.

The authorities could not ignore the denunciation; they wanted clear and specific answers. A roof had actually fallen on him in 1951. Now, if Poggioli and the others were allowed to believe the accusations, if de Man did not find some way of dismissing them so entirely that none of his American friends and superiors would even dream of mentioning them to others, more than his collarbone would be broken. He would lose all he had created: His profession, family, and residency in the country would all vanish. He would have no future. For four months, de Man delayed replying to the accusations, but eventually he responded to Poggioli in a letter dated January 25, 1955, which until this point has been the only known document he produced with regard to this matter. Some of the words in this letter later became notorious when they were published in Responses: On Paul de Man’s Wartime Journalism, a posthumous compilation of essays by his friends, critics, and former students intended to make accessible the facts and arguments on both sides of the controversy.

De Man’s reply dismissed the accusations, explaining them away inventively and with odd plausibility. His argument was that he was the victim of being the son of “Hendrik” de Man, a “controversial” Belgian politician (he avoided the word fascist) and a man evidently still so problematic that his son Paul, although living in self-exile, was now victimized even overseas and made the hapless target of baseless attacks. This assertion that his uncle was his father, quite as much as his essay of March 1942 critical of Jewish writers, outraged de Man’s Belgian readers and quondam friends; it both confused and profoundly puzzled his American supporters in 1992. What could it mean that a man they had so respected—loved, and some would say idolized—could have lied to this extent? Some wondered if it was conceivable that he actually was his uncle’s son.

Two hitherto-unpublished manuscripts open a new window into Paul de Man’s thinking at this time. Both were long separated from the typescript that was printed in Responses. The second, shorter one will be discussed below. The first is the actual manuscript of the published self-exculpation, a nine-page handwritten document marked by many revealing changes. It shows that de Man actually wrote the letter he sent in January much earlier, beginning it on September 25, 1954, just before the INS offered him the choice between deportation and “voluntary departure.” Between that date and late January, he revised the manuscript, redating it January 28, 1955. He had it typed the same day, after the second semester had already begun and months after he should have sailed for France. In the long-meditated manuscript emendations, one can see what issues gave him trouble and second thoughts. At least one of the changes he made is of central importance.

As to what he was accused of specifically, until now we have had only de Man’s printed replies to them made available in Responses. Lacking the actual denunciation, we must approach these with caution. He began with a set of rubrics to which he must reply, but the manuscript variants permit us to see that he decided to ignore or minimize at least some of what he did not wish to address. He summarized the points on which he stood accused, listing these as: “(1) the modalities” of his admission to Harvard and election to the Society of Fellows; (2) the conditions under which he entered the country and “my present status with the Department of Immigration”; “(3) my political past, particularly under the German occupation”; and (4) “legal charges brought against me as a result of the liquidation of a publishing firm to which I was attached.”

The most revealing difference between the published and unpublished texts of his reply is the presence in the early draft of an accusation that his final version omits entirely. At the beginning, he set himself to discuss “(3) my legal status as the adopted son of my uncle.” Later, he crossed this line out. However, this rejected rubric is the first time one sees de Man make this yet more bizarre claim that he was the son of Henri de Man, not Bob de Man’s son, but, rather, his nephew. Henri was far from being forgotten by Paul; in fact, he seemed, perhaps in spite of himself, to be reliving aspects of his uncle’s ever-changing career. Indeed, many aspects of their lives, from their early rebellions to the complexities of their sexual and marital adventures—even to their exile and work at Berlitz—followed a parallel trajectory. There was undoubtedly a deep strain of identification with that mentor. (Henri, however, had claimed his children—by kidnapping them—rather than abandoning them, and it was ideology and a longing for power, not money, that brought him down.)

It is a strange and baroque fantasy for a grown man to entertain, but under pressure, one regresses. Paul de Man was a swan in a family of geese. His parents’ marriage was dubious—they were first cousins—and had been disastrous. Why should not another cousin, Henri, Bob’s sibling, older and better, have become his father? It is clear, in fact, from a last letter he wrote to Poggioli, that Paul not only wondered about this, but asserted it again. That de Man himself was uneasy about the assertion is evident from the fact that he struck it out, and it did not appear in the typescript or printed versions of this letter. Nevertheless, he saved it, so to speak, and did return to it in another text, as will be apparent in the second manuscript to be discussed below.

Some of the language in de Man’s four headings is obfuscatory. “Modalities” of admission, for example, can mean anything, but the original accusation may have related to de Man’s record of failure in or abandonment of three different majors (engineering, then chemistry, then social science) at ULB. Obviously, his enemy knew that de Man lacked a postsecondary school degree and knew that it mattered, that entering Harvard without a college degree might have been a matter of deceit. Paul handled this issue by evasion, admitting only that at ULB there had been “a change in my academic field, from science to the humanities,” and that he had said so in applying. Telling Poggioli about a “change” of course was not the same thing as admitting he had no degree at all or that he had entirely failed his first year and spent only two at the university. In this first letter, he did not renew the claim he had made two years earlier on his transcript that he had been “licensed” by a state board, having probably written that phrase at the bottom of ULB’s letter of September 5, 1952. That particular document had gotten him into Harvard, but the body of the letter from ULB also attested in French to his failure of the social science examination, and it would not bear scrutiny well, especially if his emendation were now reconsidered. (Renato Poggioli, trusting de Man as always, went on believing in this phantom license and still accepted it when, trying to help his student, he edited de Man’s curriculum vitae in his own hand in 1959.)

The second attack in the denunciation related to de Man’s status as an immigrant. Here he replied that he was “married to an American citizen” and thus “was allowed to stay here, and I started naturalization proceedings.” This was doubly untrue, for they were not married, and Pat later attested that he had never applied for citizenship. He could not have done so, of course, if it had meant producing a marriage certificate or undergoing background checks in Belgium. After 1952 or 1953, even Pat came privately to realize, she said, that the marriage was invalid; yet she could not confront Paul about it, and he told her only in 1960. The vague but portentous term moral turpitude hovered over them; for anyone, but especially a Junior Fellow, to live in a bigamous relationship with an illegitimate child would at that time have meant dismissal.

De Man told his superior, “Up to the moment when I was notified that there were restrictions on granting me a passport, I never knew that anything was wrong.” This was a lie in so far as his contacts with the INS went. Interestingly, however, he found a way to make a strong argument out of this supposed status as candidate for citizenship by asserting that when he had applied, his “entire history, here and abroad, was investigated and found to be satisfactory." Of this process, there is no remaining evidence, nor could there be, as he never applied, and of course the threatened deportation implied the opposite of any putative “satisfactory” investigation. Nevertheless, by claiming that he had applied for citizenship, de Man could also assert he had passed a rigorous investigation—all without proof. It was a kind of piggybacking, a leveraging of an assertion that rested on a narrow and plausible but unsupported claim into a ringing defense. To the end of his days, de Man did not become an American citizen, although in 1959, he again told Poggioli he was making an attempt. This method of establishing as it were a first-stage, or foundational, lie and building upon it a bigger narrative edifice—all untrue—became a technique de Man used later on.

The third accusation was probably the one he considered the most damaging: charges “about my political past, particularly under the German occupation.” Here he faced a much bigger threat. Matters of immigrant status or academic degrees were one thing, technical in nature, but political allegiances had obvious implications and were potentially far more dangerous. In reply, he reached for the broadest assertion he could make and claimed to be the son of “My father, Hendrik de Man,” whom he described as “former Minister and Chairman of the Belgian social-democrat party.” Here and elsewhere, de Man has focused on details of language: The POB, the Parti Ouvrier Belge, or Belgian Workers’ party, of which his uncle had briefly been head, was not the same as the nonexistent entity he invented as the “Belgian social-democrat party,” but the latter provided a more winning title than one with “Workers” in it would have done, for in mid-1950s America, that word had a red-tinted connotation. In this role and “because of [Henri de Man’s] attitude under the occupation he was sentenced in absentia after the war and died in Switzerland, in exile, last year. His case remains an extremely touchy issue, which, for reasons that go to the roots of internal Belgian political problems, arouses extremely strong feelings at least in some Belgians, apparently still today.” Nevertheless, the man showed “devotion to his ideals,” not “machiavellism [sic]” and “did what he thought was best for his country and his beliefs.” Far be it from this son “to pass judgment on him.” One notes that de Man gives nothing away: If someone ignorant of “Hendrik’s” actual career and work under the Nazis should read this letter, he would learn nothing here, for the language gives us instead an idealistic politician suffering unto death from the unfortunate political infighting of his country.

It is special pleading: a mixture of untruths, half-truths, and evasions that achieves a tone that is mature, thoughtful, forgiving, and yet moral, the voice of a man who is able to separate himself from wrongdoing, disliking the sin but not the sinner. Yet the fundamental assertion was false. He was not Henri’s son. During the war in Brussels, he had made the same claim (or let the story flourish) when it gave him prestige. Now he used it in reverse, but he was still sheltering under Henri’s powerful aegis: Being a fallen and hunted leader’s “son” would explain at once why he had fled Belgium and why, as Goriély’s “prince in exile,” he should not be pressed on the subject.

In the light of de Man’s later theoretical assertions as to the slipperiness of language, one must acknowledge that he knew what he was talking about. Grand lies had their place and must be provided, but the details were crucial. In comparing the first and revised texts of this self-exculpation, one notes that many changes center on his uncle, with significant minor variants indicating that the writer was aiming to smooth away the more negative references. For example, a reference in the first draft to the leader’s “ambiguous” attitude under the occupation loses its qualifying adjective in the second version. An initial assertion, “He remains an extremely debatable figure,” which Paul let stand in the second version, he altered before it was typed, so that it read, “His case remains an extremely touchy issue.” The “figure” becomes the “case”; a hot argument about a human being becomes an issue that is “touchy.” De Man moved the language toward the instrumental and impersonal because he aimed to minimize and detoxify the accusation. It was best to use a rhetoric as cool as possible, suited to the administrative committee that would review it.

As to the specific charges of collaboration, he denied everything. “I wrote some literary articles [but] I stopped doing so when nazi [sic] thought-control did no longer allow freedom of statement.” Gone was his closeness to the Nazi Lothar von Balluseck, the Belgian Nazi Raymond De Becker, and Louis Didier, the Nazi-paid publisher of Editions Toison d’Or, men condemned to death postwar and forced into lifelong exile. Gone were the Nazi-funded publishing enterprises he had proposed to run—and to use to disseminate Nazi doctrines. Forgotten were the years of high pay from multiple collaborating companies, of toadying to the infamous Paul Colin, and of looking forward with Anne to a role as “minister of culture” in the embassies of the pan-European German Reich that would dominate Europe after the war. Instead, he stated that “during the rest of the war I did what was the duty of any decent person.” Not only had he acted “decently,” he had passed a postwar “severe examination of his political behavior” and gotten a certificate of good conduct to boot. This was reference to the brief interrogation by the prosecutor Roger Vinçotte in 1946, from which he had emerged unpunished and certainly with no certificate by dint of the falsehoods detailed in a previous chapter. One notes that in this argument, too, as in the one about his status as an immigrant with the INS, his strategy was to leverage a first and false claim (the lie that his behavior had been officially approved postwar) into a broader one, the assertion that there was not “the slightest reproach against me” and that he had actually received a “certificate of good conduct.”

In similar fashion, he denied and swept away whatever questions were raised about Hermès. Yes, he had published art books, but although in fact he alone had had access to the company’s funds, de Man spread the blame around to “three other” managers and asserted that he had merely left Belgium to pursue business interests in the United States. He knew nothing, and had heard nothing. Paul de Man had done “nothing dishonest.” His “address ha[d] always been known in France and in Belgium.” This, too, was false. The one incontrovertible statement in this letter was that he had “devoted the last seven years of my life to building an existence entirely separated from former painful experiences.”

Finally, more in sorrow than anger, he deplored the motives behind the attack. The false information was “calculated to cause me a maximum of harm.” Made in secret and “behind my back,” it was caused not by “viciousness, but merely because of the connotations of my name.” This heavy burden of history had rendered him “weary and exhausted.” The “dammage [sic] which all this has cost me” would be extensive; he had “no illusions” about that. He hoped now only to be able to “prove the truth of what I have stated” by keeping his fellowship and “letting the future depend on what will happen in Belgium.” Keeping the fellowship indeed was everything.

Paul’s effort succeeded. It was hopeless for Americans in their field, living in Massachusetts, none of whom spoke Flemish or were literate in Dutch, to penetrate the arcana of a Belgian lawsuit, bankruptcy, or whatever the denunciation asserted, and de Man knew it. It was lost in the murk of the postwar years, and de Man gambled accurately that no one really wanted to wade into it. The Society of Fellows, after all, wanted not to convict him, as the tone of his letters to Poggioli suggests, but to keep its skirts clean and have a document that would fully justify keeping him on.

There was criticism of Paul’s delay in sailing for France, but very likely he was working overtime at Berlitz to earn extra money to spend on his return to Europe, where a dollar went almost twice as far as in the United States. Simultaneously, he was also thinking deeply—and creatively—about how to strengthen his reply. He came up with an added element to his response that, by its very oddity, perhaps made it more plausible. In private conversations held perhaps in January with Poggioli and evidently with Roger Shattuck, at the Society of Fellows, he shared with them in deepest confidence a profound family secret: He was not only the actual son of the disgraced minister; he was also the adopted son of his merely putative father, known as Bob de Man. Robert de Man had adopted his brother’s love child.

In a letter of January 20, 1955, addressed to Shattuck, he modified his application for travel, asserting that he must go to Belgium for several reasons. (Belgium was not the home of any of his three subjects of study and travel there needed justification.) His visit there would be in connection “to adoption,” to “liquidation of a publishing firm,” to “finish naturalization” and to “see documents” for his work. All four explanations were either outright lies or wild improvisations. There had been no “adoption,” his publishing firm had long since disappeared, and he could not afford even to be seen by any of his creditors. Thus it was highly unlikely that he could solve his visa problems on the Belgian end of things. And with regard to his work, documents about Stefan Georg, a German, or de Man’s French and Irish subjects would also not be found in his homeland.

Shattuck accepted the story, and so would the Society of Fellows in general, under the friendly influence of Harry Levin and Renato Poggioli. Eight days later, to secure his position yet more tightly, after having his official response typed, de Man composed a two-page handwritten letter (dated January 28), a somewhat eccentric communication. In it, Paul confided in Poggioli that he had “mentioned the political aspect of my father’s career [sic]” but hoped that “the matter relating to my adoption by my uncle, Robert de Man, could not [sic] remain unstated.” He went on to say:

You could mention it orally to the Senior Fellows, but I would prefer not to put it in a letter which is, to some extent, a part of a public record. It has no direct bearing on the case, since it has nothing directly to do with any of the charges and, really is strictly an internal family matter. Also, I think that when it was done in 1938, some legal corners were cut, and this would involve my uncle whom, certainly, I want to keep out of this. So, unless you think it better otherwise, I would prefer to leave this unstated.

Now Bob de Man was not only displaced as Paul’s real father but he had cut “legal corners” in adopting this love child of his brother. Having told the lie about his family history successfully to Poggioli and Shattuck, Paul de Man now ensured that it would get around, requesting that it be disseminated orally, but in secret.

Why assert the adoption? And why choose that date? In 1938, the nineteen-year-old Paul had been still mourning for his mother, was estranged from his father, and was growing closer to his uncle Henri. Perhaps he hit on that date because it was then that his ties with his uncle had flourished and he had shared the minister’s family dinners and Jan’s flat. As to why he claimed not only that he was Henri’s son but also that he actually had been adopted by his own father, one is powerless to imagine what good he thought it might do him. To be sure, the official records, if ever checked, would show that Paul had enrolled at ULB as the son of Robert de Man, but official records going back to his birth on December 6, 1919, would also show that Robert was his father. Perhaps by giving a false date to a false adoption, de Man thought to give the narrative verisimilitude. The weird detail of a brother’s adoption of a sibling’s illegitimate child added the disagreeable whiff of deep family scandal. Having had to deal with his own son’s illegitimate status, he already knew that in Belgium it was illegal to adopt one’s own illegitimate child. (One recalls that he had made young Hendrik first disappear and then return to life four years younger via a false birth certificate.) It is likely that, knowing this, Paul may have created this convoluted narrative: Bob had adopted his own brother’s bastard because Henri could not legally do so himself. It also mirrored the story, part of the family myth, of Bob de Man’s informal adoption by his aunt Ida when he was substituted for her institutionalized, supposedly dead son, Adolph Kemna. One thing is clear: In its many falsities and multiple levels of confessions that are not confession (and as such is proleptic of de Man’s later investigation of Rousseau’s confessions), the narrative testified most of all to how deeply de Man was committed to this strange fantasy.

Mary McCarthy’s memory may be apposite. She replied to Ortwin de Graef, quoting her onetime friend:

He used to talk quite often with me about his uncle, Henri de Man—the Belgian socialist who . . . became a Fascist. This weird transformation which took place in his own family greatly interested Paul and said something to him probably about his own nature.

Perhaps Paul felt that he and Henri shared a tendency to move and change their shape, as well as sharing an ability to please and move others, that gift for charismatic appeal. In many ways, the wandering “socialist who became a Fascist” was deeply embedded in his nephew’s psyche. And so, no doubt, was his unhappy death as a stateless man who most likely committed suicide at a railroad crossing in Switzerland. This was a fate Paul did not wish for himself.

“But how is it possible to be capable of such a lie?” his onetime friend Georges Goriély wondered when he contemplated Paul’s claim to be his uncle’s son. Goriély was a man of strong family feeling and intellectual integrity and could ask that question without irony. The American poet James Dickey, on the other hand, who in private life was no exemplar of morality, once commented insightfully, “The manner in which a man lies, and what he lies about—these things and the form of his lies—are the main things to investigate in a poet’s life and work.” De Man was not a poet, but he was a master of concealment and invention, “a wonderful liar,” as his cousin Li said, and Dickey’s words are apropos. In later years, de Man often used the word mystification in his theories in no creditable way: It was, he thought, what texts and writers and all of his contemporaries must inevitably do. But the blame was not theirs; it rested on the nature of language itself. De Man was not seriously out of touch with reality. He was not his uncle’s son, and in promulgating this lie, he was not living a delusion, but using it to mystify others. Part of his indifference to what others would call truth was part of his family’s culture. Among that generation of de Mans, this sort of storytelling was what was known as “kicking up sand.” His cousin Jan laughed about the process when he described it as a family skill, part of the de Mans’ inherited “dominance” of character, and Paul’s second wife remembered the phrase also. His cousin Li had laughed when remembering Paul’s skill at the practice.

De Man sent his long-withheld official letter of defense, four typed and single-spaced pages in its final draft, to Poggioli on January 28, 1955, along with the manuscript previously discussed. Then with his wife and son, he boarded the French liner Liberté on February 5. He loved the luxury of the great ships, and it was a well-earned rest. Icarus was returning to earth, where, guided by Jean Wahl, he would become a philosopher; he would stay at the Hôtel des Grands Hommes. Under the circumstances, it was not a bad address.

Excerpted from "The Double Life of Paul de Man" by Evelyn Barish. Copyright © 2014 by Evelyn Barish. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation.

By Evelyn Barish

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