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It is inevitable that some readers will take from Evelyn Barish’s biography of the life and misdeeds of Paul de Man the notion that literary theory is a crock. The title doesn’t help. The Double Life of Paul de Man (Liveright, $35) — the wind shrieks as the whip, or the hatchet, comes down. Barish is not the first to take a swing. Once, de Man was renowned with Jacques Derrida for reshaping literary study through deconstruction, a form of extremely close reading, a practice of digging up and pressing down on the oppositions and contradictions of language to generate a “play of signification,” hermeneutics without end. But he was discredited in 1988, when a diligent graduate student uncovered evidence of his anti-Semitic wartime journalism.

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