Paul de Man – The Messenger Lectures (1983)
The Messenger Lectures are a prestigious series of talks given by leading scholars and public figures at Cornell University. They were founded in 1924 by a gift from Hiram Messenger and are regarded as one of the most important of Cornell’s extracurricular activities. There were initially “twelve lectures per year, delivered by the ablest non-resident lecturer or lecturers obtainable” but are now a series of either three or six lectures given by one nominee each semester.
The purpose of the lectures are “to provide a course of lectures on the evolution of civilization, for the special purpose of raising the moral standards of our political, business and social life”. The first series was delivered in 1925 by archeologist James Henry Breasted.
They were initially known (or perhaps have a fuller title) as the Messenger Lectures on the Evolution of Civilization.
Paul de Man (December 6, 1919, Antwerp – December 21, 1983, New Haven, Connecticut) was a Belgian-born deconstructionist literary critic and theorist.
He began teaching at Bard College. In the late 1950s he completed his Ph.D. at Harvard University, then taught at Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Zurich, ending up on the faculty in French and Comparative Literature at Yale University, where he was considered part of the Yale School of deconstruction. At the time of his death from cancer, he was Sterling Professor of the Humanities and chairman of the Department of Comparative Literature at Yale. De Man oversaw the dissertations of Gayatri Spivak (at Cornell), Barbara Johnson (at Yale), Samuel Weber (at Cornell), and many other noted scholars.
After his death, the discovery of some two hundred articles he wrote during World War II for collaborationist newspapers, including one explicitly anti-Semitic, caused a scandal and provoked a reconsideration of his life and work.
The 1983 Messenger Lectures by Paul de Man are available to listen to here and include:
1. Anthropomorphism and Trope in Baudelaire
2. Kleist’s über das Marionettentheater
3. Hegel on the Sublime
4. Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant
5. Kant and Schiller
6. Conclusions: Walter Benjamin’s Task of the Translator