To the Editor:
Your recent dialogue on deconstruction recalled an experience I had early in my teaching career, in the 1970s. As a recent Ph.D., I was eager to attend the English Institute, then being held at Harvard. Among the featured speakers were Frank Kermode, then at Cambridge University, and Paul de Man, from Yale. Their topic was the work of Roland Barthes.
After Kermode had spoken rather critically about Barthes, de Man took the podium. I can recall his words almost verbatim:
“Mr. Kermode has misunderstood Monsieur Barthes. This is not surprising, as M. Barthes has also misunderstood M. Barthes. Only I have understood M. Barthes.” At that point I decided deconstruction was not a road I was going to travel. I have never regretted that decision.
Oak Bluffs, Mass.