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Tenured Radicals?

May 27, 1990

I share Donald Lazere's dismay at the reductive, fraudulent arguments that conservative cultural critics have been aiming at American higher education. Lazere's efforts to set the record straight by doing the research that the Kimballs and Sykeses only pretend to do are valuable for checking the misperception of what goes on in colleges and universities across the country.

For that reason, I was dismayed to read in his litany of what "leftists" and Kimball find distasteful: " . . . Paul de Man (whose posthumous exposure as a Nazi collaborator confirmed leftists' belief that deconstruction was a conservative movement)." Lazere's comment is no less scurrilous than the gossip for which he rightly chastises Kimball. It substitutes the reviewer's bogeyman for the author's and begs an equally irresponsible analogy between left culture criticism and Stalinism.

I do not want to explain away De Man's wartime journalism . . . (some anti-Semitic comments in newspaper reviews, as Lazere does not tell us--did he rely on Newsweek's sensationalism, or does he suppress the information hoping that we will think the worst?) but its mention here is a red herring. His "leftist" objection is to a certain moment in deconstruction's Americanization that threatened to reduce it to a method of close reading, conservative in being apolitical. De Man's wartime writing, obviously political, did not produce deconstruction or vice-versa, as Lazere deceptively suggests. . . .

KEVIN McNAMARA

WESTMINSTER

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