Klaus Theweleit and the Fantasies of Fascist Males, #8


Today is the last in my series of posts on Klaus Theweleit’s two-volume work, Male Fantasies.  The entry below is one I first wrote in my philosophical journal on the date indicated.  It is the only entry on Theweleit’s second volume.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies, Volume 2, Male Bodies: Psychoanalyzing the White Terror, translated by Erica Carter and Chris Turner (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press, 1989), p. 189:

Fascism’s most significant achievement was to organize the resurrection and rebirth of dead life in the masses [cf. Santner on the  “animated undead”]. . . . In the contemporary context, dead life can hardly be called a rarity; and its resurrections remains an important politicalprocess, perhaps the most important political process of all.  the task  of the nonfascist, however, is not to organize dead life, but to release it from its bonds, to intensify, accelerate, and transform it into a multiplicity whose best quality is that it cannot be organized as fascism, nor in any way assembled in blocks of human totality-machines, knitted into interlocking networks of order; a multiplicity that will not fit into the slot of power-hungry bodies of party formations, that refuses to function as the liver or the little finger of institutions and rulers, but instead holds the promise of a lived life that must not scream endlessly for rebirth.

A bit reminiscent [forgive the anachronism] of Hart and Negri on the notion of “multitude,” but, more importantly, of Santner.  Yet is the “nonfascist” move he calls for any longer “political” at all?  Certainly not, if Schmitt [is accepted] on the essence of the political being the division of  enemies from friends.

A few pages later (on p. 192), he has some insights that apply to addiction, though he does not so apply apply them (my italics in what follows)

War is a function of the body of these men. . . . In war, the man appears not only naked,  but stripped of skin; he seems to lose his body armor, so that everything enters directly into the interior of his body, or flows from it.  He is out of control and seems permitted to be so.

But at the same time, he is all arms, speeding bullet, steel enclosure.  He wears a coat of steel that seems to take the place of his missing skin.  He is collected, directed toward one strict goal:  in this sense he is controlled in the extreme.

Klaus Theweleit and the Fantasies of Fascist Males, #7


What follow is my final journal entry, first written on the date indicated below, addressing the first volume of Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies.  The entry below consists solely of four citations from that first of two volumes.  In my next post, I will move on to an entry concerning his second, concluding volume.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Theweleit, p. 377:

At the end of the section on the marriages of solder males, I said that these men never break free of their mothers or reach beyond their sisters.  Now it becomes possible to indicate more precisely why.  The (threatening) attachment to the mother remains,  because, in all likelihood, dissolution of the earlier symbiosis was too abrupt to allow the boy to form an independent ego.  The sister, however, remains a “boundary,” by virtue of the incest commandment [and not just prohibition:  a “double bind”] that is inculcated in the boy.

P. 378:

Just as military armament, advertising, and administration function by skimming off and absorbing a portion of amassed social wealth or surplus value as a means of maintaining the lack by which the system stands or falls [my italics:  a model of addiction], so also the force of production of women is constructed into the system of power relations through functions of antiproduction, as a kind of agency of antiproduction within desiring-production itself.

Pp. 416-417, with special reference to the Frankfurt School:

Ideologiekritik-based studies of paperbacks written for “the masses” . . . don’t give any thought to the thrills that run through the body of a woman reading a hospital romance; they merely find the error in her thinking.  Yet what the masses (all of us) suffer most from are “false” feelings, feelings that are perverted, alienated from their goals [thus, inauthentic in Heideggerian language], and turned into their opposites.

As a consequence:  “Our bodies cramp up when they try to feel pleasure; sweat breaks out where love should . . .”

Klaus Theweleit and the Fantasies of Fascist Males, #6


Below, with the date I originally wrote it, is yet another entry from my philosophical journal  concerning the first volume of Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Theweleit, p. 306:

At this point [14th and 15th centuries], according to [Norbert] Elias [in The Civilizing Process(New York:  Urizen Books, 1978)], the elaborate system of “self-restraints,” which the developed bourgeois ego later learned to direct against its own desires, was not yet in force; or, rather, its evaluation was still confined to small sections of the population.  In the absence of direct intervention by external authority [this being after the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire but before the development of multiple “central powers” in the domains of the old Empire], people had little reason, and probably lacked the ability, to set up barriers against possible new, pleasurable expansions of bodily boundaries–even when their lives depended on it.

The emphasis above is mine,  meant to highlight the phenomenon, familiar to me in my own experience with alcoholism and recovery, of first needing to develop such capacities as being able to “let go,” for example, or, in general, to have any “self-control.”

But the end of the  road of self-control is itself, as monasticism can teach us, the (re)liberation of free flow:  by changing one’s desires themselves, one comes eventually to  a point of being able to “cut oneself loose” again, we might say–to trust oneself again,  to let one’s desires flow freely again.  And, what is more, that “again” is also a for the first time:  Now one no longer lacks the ability to “control” oneself, but, rather, cannot choose not to exercise that ability–Shakespeare’s “power to hurt that will do none,” that is, power as power at last.

Klaus Theweleit and the Fantasies of Fascist Males, #5


Below is another entry in my series on Klaus Theweleit’s two-volume Male Fantasies, with the date I originally wrote it in my philosophical journal.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Theweleit, p. 257 (in favor of flows and the “mechanical,” à la Deleuze and Guattari):

The negativization of the “mechanical” in the bourgeois vernacular [in the preceding paragraph he has just written that “an artificial division, or actual opposition, of humans and machines holds sway within the realms of [capitalist] production.  The responsibility for that surely doesn’t lie in the machines, but with those who finance them, who have planned and built them in a way that allows the principles of antiproduction [that is, of death] to be introduced into production.”] and in bourgeois thinking in general, corresponds, therefore, to the negativization of the machine in the capitalist production process [where it is made to serve not flow, but the stoppage and fragmentation of flow, as emblematically occurs in the assembly line].  thus a new relation becomes evident:  the hostility between worker and machine, set up by the capitalist, is identical to the hostility the bourgeois ego reserves for the productive force of its own unconscious.  This hostility is dictated by the social compulsion to become an “ego” of  that type, in order to remain bourgeois.  The bourgeoisie’s fear of having to become “workers,” should they cease to meet the social demand of their class, can thus be seen to spring from the bourgeois ego’s fear of coming in contact with its unconscious, of being condemned “to the machines.”

Thus, in contrast to  such up-tight [insistence on] being “in control,” the unleashing of the flow ([which is experienced negativizingly as] “flood” [and] so feared yet obsessed about in fascism of whatever stripe) that we can find in alcohol, drugs, sex, etc., [helps account for] the lure of addiction.  More importantly, [it helps account for] the promise that lies at the heart of addiction itself, when it finally self-escalates into breakdown, and the collapse of all ego/hardness/ constraint in total surrender of openness to the (divine?) flow.  “Where danger is, there lies also what saves.”

Theweleit continues (p. 258):

The formulation of the later Freud, “Where id was, there ego shall be,” can thus be seen as a program for  eliminating the machinic and the flowing from the productions of the  human unconscious:  shutting down and draining . . . like the draining of the Zuider Zee [which Freud himself uses as a comparison here].  The person capable of being described by the ego/id/superego topography would in this case be conceived as a dry grave, the final resting place of streams and desiring-machines.  This ties in with an assumption . . . that the concrete form of the struggle against the flowing-machinic productive forces of the unconscious has been (and still is) a battle against women, against female sexuality [which is made to equal “flow” and “flood”:  menstruation, paradigmatically].

He then does a quick tour of world literature to show how often (how recurrently, mechanically, I might add–in Theweleit’s own spirit, I judge) flood  and flow and spurting and jetting and the like are sung praises to.  P. 260:

It is the desire for a life free from lack [i.e., for a free-flowing fullness of spewing life itself]–or writing extravagantly in the knowledge of abundance (as Bataille would say)–that writers from different societies and regions arrive at such similar ideas when trying to describe states, or expectations, of happiness.  They are rooted in a feeling they must all have felt of the actual experience of nonlack in the streaming of pleasure through their own bodies.

In a note at the bottom of the page to this passage, he mentions that he gives a few more citations of praise for flow and flood in the appendix.  So I turned to that, and found him using precisely the appeal to the longing for free flow and  flood to explain the attraction of Nazism/fascism even for the workers!  Then, however, he adds this crucial qualifying explanation (p. 432):

Fine, except for one thing:  all of that affirmation is theatrical; it never gets beyond representation [still the sovereignty of the image!], the illusion of production. . . . Fascist masses may portray their desire for deliverance from the social double bind, for lives that are not inevitably entrapping, but not their desire for full stomachs.  The success of fascism demonstrates that masses who become fascist suffer more from their internal states of being than from hunger or unemployment.  Fascism teaches us that under certain circumstances, human beings imprisoned within themselves, within body armor and social constraints, would rather break out than fill their stomachs; and that their politics may consist in organizing that escape, rather than an economic order that promises future full  stomachs for  life.  [But, I’d add, that never even intends to fulfill that promise, any more than fascism  (or addiction) ever finally delivers on its promise to free life to flow freely].  The utopia of fascism is an edenic freedom from responsibility.

I’d add that only when responsibility is itself deadened into bourgeois, passionless “doing one’s duty” will freedom appear as freedom from responsibility,as it does in all fascist and/or capitalist societies–despite and against the rhetoric of those societies.  So the flow keeps getting blocked again.  In contrast, full freedom of free flow coincides with accepting of responsibility.

What he says here bears comparison with both Lacoue-Labarthe on the fiction of the political and the aestheticization of politics in fascism, and Badiou on the obfuscating “fascist subject.”

All of it also points to this, I’d suggest:  The “truth” of fascism (of Auschwitz) is fully freely flowing life.  That is, the response to fascism, the response it calls for and forth from us, is to tear down the walls (to undistort what Reagan so distorted at Berlin) that block fully free flow:  dismantle capitalism and bourgeois society entirely, since fascism now stands in the light as inseparably interconnected with capitalism itself (at least as conjoined with “patriarchy”–though his remarks here seem to me to undercut that very distinction, just as they, by the way, resurrect another, namely, the distinction between real or true, and apparent or false).

The way to “remember Jerusalem” (the truth that goes by that name) is not to  found a new Israeli state but is, rather (and as Rosenzweig for one suggests), to remain in, and embrace, dispersion (to stay in the Diaspora).

Theweleit on pages 263-264 gives an interesting study of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde story.  In Theweleit’s reading Hyde is/represents the free flow of life/desire, which Jekyll dams up.  Jekyll is the man bound and constrained by social repression of free flowing life:  Jekyll  is the ego.  And, of course, Hyde, the id, must in the end die!  Yet the death that Hyde himself represents would be, in truth, life–in relation to the “animated undeadness” ([Erik] Santner’s term) of Jekyll.

This reading seems to me to fit with my own reading of addiction as the binding of the otherwise disruptive (or at least uncontrolled) power that lies in the potential addict,  a power disruptive of the state.  That is–my idea is–that the state-system engenders addiction as a way of disabling those otherwise dangerous (to the state) elements that threaten it; and the addict in recovery, by finally getting free of the bonds of  addiction, actually comes free and open to genuine dismissal and inactivation of the power of the state.  (Hence,  for example, my liking for the image of [heroin addict Mark] Renton free to walk among us, at the end of [Scottish novelist Irvine Welch’s novel] Trainspotting [of which Renton is the fictional narrator].)

Klaus Theweleit and the Fantasies of Fascist Males, #4


Below, with the date I originally wrote it, is the next in the series of entries from my philosophical journal that address Klaus Theweleit’s two-volume work, Male Fantasies.  The following entry continues with my reflections on the first of the two  volumes.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Theweleit, p. 207, argues that fascism involves something earlier than the level of ego formation and the “Oedipal” conflict.  It invokes what,  following Michael Bolint, he calls the “field of basic fault,” where the ego never fully develops.  He argues, first, that “the ego doesn’t simply differentiate itself out of the id, as Freud tells us; it differentiates itself out of the mother-child symbiosis, a dualistic union” (one that precedes, then, the Oedipal situation).  Basic fault occurs when there is a failure to form the ego in the first place.

Later, he gives a [clear and helpful] presentation of Deleuze and Guattari.  Their anti-Oedipal stance does not (p.214) “dispute the aptness of the names [Freud] gave to ideas he considered significant, such  as ‘incest’ and ‘castration’ [or “‘Oedipal crisis”].  Yet by declaring these to be formations and modes of expression of the unconscious [rather than socially conditioned forms of “desiring production”], Freud himself contributed to the repression of the unconscious as a productive force that explodes the framework of authority of every society.”

After a quote from Anti-Oedipus he continues:

The form of interpretation psychoanalysis is thereby consigned to is incapable of penetrating to the unconscious.  It is forced to borrow its concepts from itself, and in the end it is the interpretation “by means of which the conscious makes of the unconscious an image consistent with its wishes.”

Very pertinent to my [own thoughts] on trauma and [what I call] “the sovereignty of the image”!

P. 215:  “The linguistic process is inherently a process of production, one that appropriates and transforms reality.”  In the fascist texts he’s studying, that “desiring production” (following Deleuze and Guattari) is one in which “the particles of reality taken up in their [the fascists’] language lose any life of their own.  They are deanimated and turned into dying matter. . . . a parasitic, linguistic onslaught, which seems to find ‘pleasure’ in the annihilation of reality.  Reality is invaded and ‘occupied’ in that onslaught.”  Thus (p. 216):  “Their [such texts’] mode of production is the transformation of life into death, and dismantling of life.  I think we are justified in calling it an anti-production.”  As such, it destroys reality and then builds on the scorched earth (my metaphor) a new, dead order.

p. 217:  “We can speculate from this that it is above all the aliveness of the real that threatens these men.”

P. 219:  Accordingly, we need to get past thinking in terms of such binary oppositions as objective/subjective, rational/irrational, or real/unreal.  All there is, is desiring production, which is always production of the real.  The task is to see under what conditions this becomes the production of the real as dead.

Cf. Heidegger on Auschwitz as “the production of corpses.”

P. 219:  “In truth, these bipolar opposites are related to another opposition–that of negative and positive–and to the distinction between ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’  They are evaluative terms. . .”  [Also:]  “Any attempt to label one phenomenon of human existence ‘more real’ than another is arbitrary.”

(But:  doesn’t this, in common with all other “monisms,” in Michel Henry’s sense, presuppose the very distinction of truth from falsity, “real” from “not real”?  How else distinguish an “arbitrary” procedure from a “non-arbitrary” (“legitimate”?) one?  If everything is “desiring production,” what is being produced by that [very] claim [that any distinction in terms of more or less real is “arbitrary”]?)

Thus (p. 220), what we need is “to ask why, under certain conditions, desiring-production can turn into murdering-production.”

Pages 225-226:  We need to learn how to do history/research/reading “in such a way that our understanding . . . finally comes through the experience of our own unconscious.”  I.e., we need to learn, as  historian Alain Besancourt puts it   “‘to listen to oneself as well as the other person; to inform the anxiety attendant on the research and attaching to its function, that an interesting truth is about to rise up and approach,’ and to unmask that truth.”

Klaus Theweleit and the Fantasies of Fascist Males, #3


The entry below, which I first wrote in my philosophical journal on the date indicated, is the third in the series I am in process of posting on Male Fantasies, a two-volume examination by German scholar Klaus Theweleit of “soldier male” literature emerging from the German defeat at the end of World War I.  Theweleit’s work casts light on the processes whereby trauma can be exploited by social forces to encourage continuing societal avoidance of that very trauma–exploited by those who stand, one way or another, to benefit from such avoidance.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Theweleit, Male Fantasies, vol. 1, p.89, gives a neat summary statement of his goal, which is to address this question:  “To what degree . . . did a specifically masculine organization of life–in short, ‘patriarchy’ . . . –use fascism to ensure its own survival?”  By that focus, he does not mean that other approaches, such as the one he explicitly mentions, of looking at patriarchy’s “survival under fascism [as] organized by capital” [are not also viable].  “It seems to me,” he ends this paragraph, “that . . . the  only necessary point of criticism in formulations of the primacy of economic determinants [or, by implication, I’d add, other factors] in isolation is their claim to totality.”

Interestingly, on another point, he writes on p. 90, citing Freud’s Notes on a Case of Obsessional Neurosis (Standard Ed., vol. X,  p. 202):  “Freud once commented that doctors have a tendency ‘to dismiss patients’ assertions as gross exaggerations.’  He  went on to say, ‘In my opinion the patients are once again nearer to a correct view than the doctors; for the patients have some glimmering notion of the truth while the doctors are in danger of overlooking an essential point.’ “

Klaus Theweleit and the Fantasies of Fascist Males, #2


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.”

Klaus Theweleit and the Fantasies of Fascist Males, #1


Today’s post is the first in a series dealing with German literary theorist Klaus Theweleit’s two-volume work on the fantasies embedded in the literature of the far right in Germany after World War I, leading up to the Nazi state.  I first wrote the entry below in my philosophical journal on the date indicated.  The entry–and all but one of those to follow in the series–concern the fist volume of Theweleit’s work:  Male Fantasies, Volume 1.  Women,  Floods, BodiesHistory, translated by Stephen Conway (Minneapolis:  University of Minnesota Press,  1987–original German edition, 1977).

 We can learn much from Theweleit’s study, much of importance for addressing not just the rise of Nazism and the death camps in Germany in the 1930s, but also the waging of the American “war on terror” since 9/11–and for addressing trauma in general.  


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies, Volume 1–a treatment of the affects revealed in the German military right “soldier male” writings and art about, especially, women.

P. 70: 

The process of naming is of great significance [compare, for example, the resurgence today of so called “right to work” laws!], characteristic as it is of the formation of all the central fascist concepts, at  the core of which there always lies some displacement of the kind seen [below, in his list at the end of the passage I’m citing].  Thus the language of the fascists may be seen to take on something of the features of a secret [or code] language–though it protects itself from “decipherment” by appearing so utterly inane.  Self-styled critics from the bourgeois intelligentsia (like the German Communist party in the 1920s) all too readily accept the implication of that inanity, namely that it is something not worth troubling themselves with.  The bourgeois intelligentsia withdraws with an aloof smile on its own complicit lips [complicit, I’d say, “despite itself,” perhaps (to be charitable), in and through that very withdrawal].

Then, after a space break at the end of this paragraph, he lists such a slippage/displacement of names, all in italics:  “Erotic male-female relationships–violent, unfeeling woman–threat to the man–dirt, vulgarity–prostitution–proletarian woman–communism.”

Consider:  “reverse discrimination”–affirmative action–“discrimination”–“racism.”

The right continues to  be master of–and mastered by–such political acts of mis-naming!