Below is another entry from my philosophical journal addressing the first of Klaus Theweleit’s two-volume study of right-wing militarist literature in Germany after World War I, Male Fantasies.
I first wrote the passage below just three days after the election that made Barack Obama the first African-American President of the United States. In the original entry, I begin with some of reflections on the election, before returning to Theweleit. They are pertinent to the parallels I would draw between the right-wing response to the trauma of German defeat at the end of World War I, the subject of Theweleit’s study, and the response of the Bush administration and the American right-wing in general to the attacks on September 11, 2001. Accordingly, they give some idea of why I regard it as important to discuss Theweleit’s work in this blog devoted to “Trauma and Philosophy.”
My entry for the day at issue begins with a reference to William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom–Faulkner’s classic novel grappling with the trauma that slavery was for America, both North and South, black and white, but most especially focused, in Faulkner’s work, on white American Southerners such as the novel’s fictional narrator, Quentin Compson–the suicide in Faulkner’s earlier The Sound and the Fury. At the end of Absalom, Absalom, a Canadian character named Shreve McCammon, Quentin’s room-mate at Yale, to whom Quentin has been telling his twisted, complex story of the South, asks Quentin, “Why do you hate the South?” The brief paragraph of interior monologue with which Faulkner then closes the novel has Quentin trying to convince himself of the truth of what he is thinking by repeating over and over to himself, “I don’t hate it.”
In my journal entry, I draw a connection between that ending of Faulkner’s novel and my own unexpectedly emotional response–unexpected to me, at least–to Obama’s election a few nights earlier. Even if I did not “hate” the United States, as Shreve, in Faulkner’s novel, suggested that Quentin hated the very South from which he sprang and which he could never spring over, by election night 2008 it had been a long time since I had been able to feel any real pride in my own country. In that way, I had certainly been able to understand how Michelle Obama, during the campaign, had let slip the remark that for the first time in her adult life, she felt proud of the United States. After mentioning that episode, I went on to write in my journal that apparently Obama’s election had reawakened in me “the deep desire, buried under years of betrayal, to have at least some hope that the country, my country, might at last, at least once, begin to do ‘the right thing.’ ” Then I continued: “Another way of putting that, one that came to me just a bit earlier this morning, is that Obama’s election is at least a [possibility of] letting ‘9/11’ take place, after more than seven years in which ‘9/11’ was not yet allowed to happen”–a reference to my article “September 11 Never Happened, President Bush Wouldn’t Let It: Bob Dylan Replies to Henri Bergson,” published by the Electronic Book Review. “Now,” I concluded in my journal entry, “if only some fidelity [in Alain Badiou’s sense of that term] to that event may be forthcoming. At least [now] there is some hope for that prayer to begin to be answered.”
Fidelity to an event such as the German defeat in World War I, or what struck on September 11, 2001, must be maintained, among other places, in our language itself, just as it is in language, among other places, that the forces of avoidance strive to deny such events any place at all. Theweleit’s analysis of what happened on–as well as in and through– right-wing literature in Germany after the German defeat in World War I can perhaps help alert us to such danger in America after 9/11.
Friday, November 7, 2008
In the “male soldiers” of Theweleit’s study (p. 88), their insistent, characteristic “preoccupation with large-scale politics, with the destinies of the race and with humanity, implies a negation of the small, the close at hand, of microhistory. By moving outward to broad horizons, to the public and the social, they attempt to avoid the private, the intimate, the individual, or, more precisely perhaps, the singular.”
Contrast, especially and for example, [Franz] Rosenzweig.
Theweleit goes on to observe that his soldier authors’ preoccupation just described also shows that in their writing there is a breakdown of the utility of any analysis in terms of “the subject-object dichotomy.” “Their language,” he writes (pp. 88-89), “is as uninterested in the object as it is in the subject; it seems indeed to be penned by fictive authors. What we see at work here can best be described in terms of a process: the fascist process of appropriating and transmuting reality, recorded stage by stage in the writings of these authors.”