“If I survive, I know that I will have to make a clean break from the atmosphere of these essential years, not to repress but to silently throw my “treasure” far away, to direct myself back to the humblest principles of conduct as in the days when I sought myself without ever attaining valor.”
— Rene Char
“…excuses not only accuse but they carry out the verdict implicit in their accusation.”
— Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading
“In the dictionary, under Irony, see Irony.”
— Robin Williams
In November, 1989, I traveled from Israel to what was then, West Berlin.
That week, the Berlin Wall was cracked and came down in a spasm of a moment in historical time.
It was it seemed to me, brutally cold. The area near the Brandenburg Gate was full of people, and media (not to suggest a distinction between the two but not to forcefully dissuade anyone from considering it) and, as I recall a long line of moveable barriers.
Standing there watching the crowd I was struck by the appearance atop the wall of an East German soldier. He was wearing a forest green winter jumpsuit and had a Kalashnikov.
He looked both sanguine and confused. I focused on the gun and his eyes. He surveyed the crowd and then went back to wherever he had been.
My friend, who was German said we should go further along away from the crowd.
We did and passed a memorial to the war which consisted of two older Soviet tanks on large cement blocks. It reminded me of a memorial to the wall I had seen a few days earlier which consisted of several American cars from the 1950s, buried in cement with only their large tail fins sticking up into the winter sky.
We walked along the wall and found two boys in their early teens working on the cement with a small hammer and chisel. My friend asked for a piece and one of the boys handed them the tools. A few minutes later I had a piece of the wall, or if you prefer, history, in my pocket.
Einstein famously concluded that the other previously unknown dimension of reality, was time. It seems in retrospect of that very cold November, that instead of, space-time, it is perhaps more accurate to consider, space-time-consciousness.
That is, human consciousness, however much it may be a mal adaption to the environment, rests on a fulcrum of the symbiosis between consciousness and time with each having no firm border but blending one into the other.
Bergson, ruminating on being Henri Bergson and everything else, said that the moment one experiences anything, it instantly becomes the past.
This means, logically, human consciousness exists in at least two dimensions simultaneously: the perpetual now and the perpetual past.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, we assume had that, and a hundred other things in mind when he wrote: “…so we beat on, boats against the current, borne ceaselessly into the past.”
Memory is a mysterious anchor. It attaches us to a place, an identity, and those in turn conjure facts that are by definition, elastic and undermine our sense of identity and memory.
There seems to be something on the loose; a turn in the atmosphere in which if not exact repetitions of the past, key events and figures feel familiar. The past, said William Faulkner, aint even hardly past.
To which we imagine an amused if somewhat depressed Mark Twain responding: You can say that again.
Why do things seem to repeat?
Here, the first of two attempts to excavate that and related questions.
1. The Theater of the Occupation.
Disorder and chaos are systems of precise logic within the soul crushing certainties of The Occupation. This is a contradiction. The Occupation is ordered chaos. It is a universe of complete severity which manifests as total disorder. Everything is ordered therefore nothing is clear. Everything is clear, therefore nothing is ordered. All identities are compressed like the event horizon of black holes. Everything is reduced to a set of rules and therefore, to exist, to be, becomes an infinite potential defined by the limits of tyranny.
All previous distinctions are absorbed by the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy is all pervasive and thus, invisible. It is a blunt reality in which it dominates everything and in doing so inadvertently hollows out a space in the previous social order. It grows from the inside outward and becomes that which it replaced but wears the past as a suit.
Sartre: “Never were we as free as under the German occupation.”
And: “The republic of silence and the night.”
“It is a taboo subject, a story nobody wants to hear,” said Patrick Buisson, author of 1940-1945 Années Erotiques (“erotic years”). “It may hurt our national pride, but the reality is that people adapted to occupation.”
These two seemingly antagonistic observers are in fact saying the same thing but arrive simultaneously at the same destination while speaking different languages.
Sartre reads the narrative as the presence of death, the elimination of the pretense of freedom, the crushing of class into collaborator and resister, paradoxically creates the freedom to act or not and not acting, choosing not to chose becomes a distinction without a difference. To act is to choose and to go on choosing. To act as resister or to act as collaborator.
Stripped of all other considerations one is free in the provisional context of a totalizing system that eliminates distinctions. Everything is reduced or expanded to a binary reality: Life or death. Silence or confession. Resistance or Collaboration.
Buisson read the narrative as the dishonor of virtue. Conservative if not reactionary, or crypto-fascist, he see it as a betrayal and a series of betrayals inside that reality like sinful nesting dolls. France as slave, concubine and, decadent collaborator all of which is not only the result of the occupier, the barbarian, but because the decadent – the usual suspects – leftists, academics, the “elite,” the treasonous clerks, have all betrayed the sacred and were perfectly content to service the invader.
de Beauvoir: to discover the meaning of the word “party.” Something we assume to be, Dionysian. To dance on the edge of the abyss. To choose. Each moment is defined by the proximity of death but also the possibility of an elongated death by torture. Thus every moment becomes sacred and therefore sanctified, as if god has revealed itself to the anthesis as a fellow traveler
The Theater of The Occupation.
Thus, in the case of Camus, we offer the following: Asked to more or less direct Picasso’s surrealist play, Desire Caught by the Tail, Camus, at what we call (provisionally) The Theater of The Occupation, becomes provisionally, the central act of his life.
Disorder and chaos are systems of logic within the soul crushing certainties of the Occupation. Sartre and de Beauvoir play different roles. Picasso’s dog plays the role of Picasso’s dog to perfection. In other roles are, Michel Leris, Raymond Queneau, and Valentin Hugo. The photo of the evening was taken by noted hobbyist, Brassai. In the audience are, Georges Braque, Henri Michaux, and Maria Casares.
Outside, history steals the night. The night is robbed of its gentleness, its seductions; the scarf that throws stars around your neck in a gesture of romantic elegance. But it’s dead Jim, or rather, entombed and not quite alive. The gesture of romance is erased. In its place the gesture of choosing. Sartre’s republic of silence.
What is the meaning of this?
After the liberation, Hemingway arrives at Picasso’s studio on the Rue Grand Augustins and finds that Pablo is not home. The maid says she will deliver a note and Hemingway writes a brief greeting and places it on top of a crate of hand grenades.
Later, Camus travels to New York.
The universe is vast. So is Manhattan.
Camus in New York.
What does this mean?
There are so many trees and observes Camus, doormen in the uniform of comic operas.
Camus falls in love. He coughs blood. He speaks to students at Bryn Mar. Asked if he is an Existentialist, he says, no. His FBI file expands. He returns to France.
France returns to Camus.
But France does not return to itself.
After the war Camus among many calls for a complete purge. Those who collaborated must be dealt with in no uncertain terms and in a complete, open, manner. It echoes the Jacobins. It has the scent of purity. There is logic to it. It is motivated by revenge and justice. A prayer for the future.
The echoes of Victor Serge’s Midnight of the Century and the festering wound of Franco.
France is aware of the possibility of civil war.
Camus, in The Rebel: “He who dedicates himself to the duration of his life, to the house he builds, to the dignity of mankind, dedicates himself to the earth and reaps from it the harvest that sows its seed and sustains the world again and again. Finally, it is those who know how to rebel, at the appropriate moment, against history who really advance its interests.”
Claude Mauriac disagrees. Catholic and previously a Catholic reactionary and later Catholic and a Resister. There will, he says, be too many mistakes; mistakes of personal revenge and opportunity disguised as the business of the state. For the good of everyone there must be reconciliation.
And again de Beauvoir :”Vengeance is pointless, but certain men did not have a place in the world we sought to construct.”
But then there is the trial of Robert Brasillach.
An anti-Semite, a collaborator and a fascist, he is arrested and put on trial. He has lacerated Mauriac in print but Mauriac signs the petition sent to de Gaulle asking for the accused to be spared.
Camus signs as well deciding that in the end, the death penalty is always immoral.
Others sign as well, like collaborators, Cocteau and Collete. The judge at the trial is a former Vichy judge.
General de Gaulle is unfazed by pleas for mercy, leniency or considerations for historical irony.
Brasillach is found guilty of “intellectual crimes” (as well as being a warm advocate for the liquidation of Jews – though crucially, he was not tried for that but only under the heading of “Crimes against the state”) and executed by firing squad.
Beauvoir, recalling the events 20 years later says she was irritated when asked to sign the petition. She recalls Camus saying: “…we have nothing to do with such people, the judges will decide.”
She attends the trial. Told she should have stayed at home by her friends who are communists, she concludes, Brasillach deserves not only justice – that is the justice of being found guilty and executed – but that hate is a legitimate component in the verdict.
“There are words as lethal as gas chambers,” she writes in her memoirs.
Everyone recognizes the specter of civil war. There are fascists and collaborators and shadows moving in and out of reality; out of a dream from which you cannot wake or from a reality from which you can not depart.
Joyce: “History is a nightmare, from which I am trying to wake.”
A new language emerges.
To say “Occupation” is to say, without speaking the words, “Collaboration” “Resistance” “Liberation.”
To say any one of those words is to say the others without saying them. They are a kind of Holy Ghost, body and blood; transmogrification. They are a kind of secular magic. To say “Occupation” is to speak an epic.
What to do?
Camus and Maria Casares.
They are together and then apart. They are aware of each other but keep their distance. The years pass. Feuds, romances, triumphs, failures, the beginning of the glorious thirty years. Fueled by injections of American financial largess and the growing cancers in Algeria and “Indochina.”
One day, like an accident, a car crash, or a ship colliding with an iceberg, or like a scene from Duras, walking down a Boulevard, they run into each other. Camus is on his way to see Malraux. Casares is on her way to the theater.
They go instead to a hotel.
It’s sudden. Like an accident. There is the reality of before and then the unreality of after. Chaos in order and the order of chaos.
The Theater of The Occupation.
There was no purge. There was a compromise. (Some of) The blatantly guilty were executed. Some were pardoned. In the legal sense. Some received sentences that sent them to prison. Others went free. Some who deserved worse received a second chance and some who deserved a second chance received instead, the totality of justice.
Consider the numbers, as related by Henry Rousso in, The Vichy Syndrome, History and Memory in France since 1944:
“The Vichy regime and the collaborationists were directly responsible for the imprisonment of 135,000 people, the internment of 70,000 suspect (including numerous political refugees from central Europe), and the dismissal of 35,000 civil servants. As victims of exclusionary laws, French governmental apparatus, together with parties in the pay of the Germans, abetted the deportation of 76,000 French and foreign Jews, fewer than 3 percent of whom survived…there can be no doubt that many of the victims of the era were claimed not by the foreign occupation…but by internal struggles in which Vichy figured as the initial issue: this is a fact, not an ideological prejudice…”
And the answer:
“It is also true that the struggle waged by Free French and resistance forces left blood traces as well. Roughly 10,000 people were killed without trial or other legal authorization by the Provisional Government; a good half of the these summary executions were carried out prior to 6 June 1944…of 160,287 cases examined by military and civilian courts, 45 percent ended in dismissal or acquittal, 25 percent in degradation nationale (national dishonor) and loss of civil rights, and 24 percent in prison terms, a third of these being terms at hard labor for a limited period or for life. Finally, 7,037 people were sentenced to death, and perhaps 1500 were actually executed. In addition, the purge of the professions, while not equally thorough or equitable…affected some 150 business executives and mangers, some of considerable importance, as well as some 700 educators…”
The rest passed into silence but it was a silence that spoke all the time. It was the silence that tattooed itself across the faces of an entire nation; a continent. To observe, to see, to be observed, to be seen, was to speak a narrative in which those who were defined as Resister meant by definition that everyone else was a Collaborator.
To walk the streets was to rub shoulders with murderers, whores, furtive survivors. The new dialectic. Shame and betrayal, resistance and collaboration. To ride the metro was to be pressed up against the fetid truth of death and betrayal and the secrets of honorable acts of courage conducted in silence. To live was to remember and to remember was to accuse and to accuse was to condemn. But instead of a result there was entropy as action.
This is a hermetically sealed language in which silence, as the cliché has it, speaks volumes.
Camus explains: To criticize the Soviet Union is to support, indirectly or overtly, the Empire, the reactionaries, the Americans. To support the Soviet Union is to support, indirectly or overtly, the empire, the tyranny, the gulags. Franco is evil but so is Stalin.
Gulags and lynchings. Emmet Till and Siberia. Out of print and almost out of memory it is Victor Serge all over again lamenting the ‘midnight of the century’ the trap where the anti-Stalinist left and the anti fascist left stood as the tyrants and their enablers all shook hands and threw dirt on the grave of revolution.
Serge was dead within a few years after the end of the war – a heart attack in the back of a taxi in Mexico City. Just like Tina Mondotti. Tina Mondotti actress, Stalinist, anarchist-soul, muse, artist, victim, victimizer, betrayed and betrayer. “Mondotti” becomes a narrative; a screen on to which left, right, bourgeoisie project.
Andre Breton knew Serge. They were friends. They waited together at Villa Air-Bel in the South of France to see if their fate was to be a concentration camp or, through the efforts of Valerian Frye, escape to exile.
While waiting, Breton said to Serge: Victor, you know we love you but, every time you tell us a story, it’s like being trapped in a Russian novel.
Breton eventually returns to France after the war. The Surrealist Revolution has failed, or if you prefer it has triumphed and as revolutions do, consumed itself.
After all, what could be more surreal than history.
For some context we quote at length from the introduction by John O’Neil, to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s, Humanism and Terror: An Essay on the Communist Problem, written in1947 in part as a response to Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon which appeared in 1946 (Emphasis added):
“The (post war) intellectual French Left was in an impossible situation which no combination of Marxism or existentialism seemed capable of remedying. French capitalism was bad, but American capitalism was even more anathema to the left, if only because it was in the rudest of health internationally, though perhaps not at home. At the same time, French socialism was anything but independent and its chances looked no better with Communist help.
In such a situation it was impossible to be an anti-Communist if this meant being pro-American, witnessing the Americanization of Europe, and forswearing the Communists who had fought bravely in the Resistance. On the other hand, it was not possible to be a Communist if this meant being blind to the hardening of the Soviet regime and becoming a witness to the Communist brand of imperialism which broke so many Marxist minds.
It is not surprising that many on the Left as well as the Right were unable to bear such ambiguity and therefore welcomed any sign to show clearly which side to support, even if it meant a “conversion” to the most extreme left and right positions.
The attention drawn to those whose god had failed them is thus understandable. Koestler’s Darkness at Noon reveals in its very title the gift of antithesis which generates a bad conversion for the lack of a genuine synthesis, which might have been achieved if Koestler had known how to grasp the lived relation between the senses and ideology in a man’s character…But ultimately it fails to come to grips with its central problem: to create characters who inhabit their own history and live through choices within it rather than to present characters who operate by means of simplistic moral alternatives, decided upon before their story begins”
Catastrophe behind me, catastrophe to the left, catastrophe to the right, a labyrinth without an Ariadne.
Merleau-Ponty, in 1947: ” It is impossible to be an anti-Communist and it is not possible to be a Communist.”
Four years later the French parliament enacts an amnesty. Vichyites are restored, the Resistance as an idea of Opposition is washed from the collective memory replaced by a simulacrum of resistance as a tool of political necessity; a stunt, a parade float.
Camus, writing in Combat soon after the war:
“You must not speak of Russian purges of artists because that will benefit reactionaries…You must stay silent about the Anglo-Saxons maintaining Franco in power because that will benefit communism.”
Picasso’s Minotaurs. Victim as much as brute; hero but forlorn. The labyrinth. Lacan, fresh from listening to Kojeve explain how Marx’s non-Hegalian Hegel would be triumphant in the capitalist West, involves himself with the surrealist magazine Minotaur. Picasso, among others provides illustrations for the cover.
Camus and Sartre end in an acrimonious split. It is about revolutionary terror but let’s be honest, it’s also about sex and let’s be more honest and say it’s about women, and more honest still and say, it’s about pussy. Being distilled to a singular fact and the singular fact expanding to be a multiplicity. The politics of pussy. The dialectic of the erection.
But hidden within that there is the sinister truth. The truth that was already being suppressed. The collaborationists were fading into the ether of the banal. What were they to do about them? There were whispers – rumors – about the elite like Coco Chanel, and the Duke of Windsor but also stories (as early as 1946 and the Leblanc scandal) about Nazis vanishing through networks leaving France for Italy and the Vatican, and then to reappear with new names and new identities in South America. The British, the Americans, the Gaullists were making use of them; keeping some, expelling others, trading them like stocks, or baseball cards.
Jean Cassou, one of the first in line to join the Resistance against the Occupation, in a prize winning book from 1953:
“The judgments of the court were generally nothing but shams, which never got to the heart of what was fundamentally a simple issue. No one learned anything from the trials of Petain and Maurras, neither those unwilling to learn nor those who needed to learn. Maurras was convicted for slandering a neighbor in one of his last articles. But what about all the people he slandered in countless other articles? What about a half century of Action Francaise?”
And, the liberal, but anti-Petain, anti-Vichy Charles Rist:
“Most people were disgusted by the arbitrariness and groundlessness of the arrests and by the jailing of men with spotless reputations…Special courts flourished as they had done under Vichy…”
A contradiction, a paradox. Award winning books, by famous members of the Resistance and the liberal opposition to Petain, speaks to a public discourse from which no one could hide and yet, their complaint was that the public discourse was a fabrication; a fiction into which the truth vanished, and from it emerged a national story that cemented a national dream-state not unlike the Occupation.
Someone, Gerassi perhaps, is asked how Sartre manages to get laid so often considering his face, which looks like it caught a bucket of ugly with its teeth: He sits there, they say, in a café, and explains their souls to these women and that’s it; they surrender. But what truth was he exposing? How had the revelation become erotic, charged with energy?
Camus in contrast is on the edge of being Bogart. Bogart as an idea is on the edge of being Camus. Later Godard makes that idea manifest in Breathless; the criminal as erotic hero outside of the law because the law inside of France is corrupt. France looks at itself looking at America and Belmondo, as an idea, a gesture of the truth, mirrors Bogart as an idea, a gesture of America.
And they’re famous – Camus and Sartre, successful, powerful in certain respects, and so, women and a rivalry which morphs; changes its costume and is about politics fueled by sex and is about sex fueled by politics.
But around them, within that rivalry, silence grows. What can you say? See that fellow there, the shop keeper. He used to sell extra bread to the Germans. In exchange he got extra coffee. Should we put him on trial, find him guilty and execute him? Should we refuse to go into his grocery? Should we tell people not to speak with him?
He has a dog. He calls him pipe. People make a joke out of it: That’s not a pipe. He’s a medium sized mutt with a black coat and a round white patch over his right eye. He sleeps in a wooden crate behind the counter. Sentimental ideas drift over the fact of the dog and whispers. Fuck that man and his dog.
Perhaps the resolution is to be found in Jean Dutourd’s Au Bon Beurre of 1952 where, the saga of profiteering grocers, those collaborators whose money was food, were laid bare? For some, yes but there others who say, no, I’m exhausted. I have neither hate nor love. As Yeats said in a slightly different context: Those I guard I do not love those I fight I do not hate.
I exist but my life runs backwards as if at the moment of the Liberation, I passed myself and like Benjamin’s angel of Paradise, I see only one continuous train of castrophes and my back is turned towards the future.
There’s a story, about de Gaulle, on the balcony of the Hotel de Ville, waving to the vast crowd below. The Liberation is official. The Germans are gone, France is returned to itself, and to the world. One of the general’s men is ecstatic. Look at them, he says, isn’t it marvelous. It’s not really a question, as after all, one does not ask god questions. One makes statements and waits for approval or silence, or a cataclysmic, no.
The general nods and waves to the crowd. Yes, he says, look at that one, I know him; a fascist. And that one, a collaborator. And that one, another fascist. Later of course, this entropy swings in the other direction. Told that Sartre is spreading despicable lies about the regime, (or, if you prefer ugly truths) the thugs plead with de Gaulle to have him dealt with in the appropriate manner. No, he says, after all, one does not arrest Voltaire – a story to which we shall return.
Another story. It is May of 68. The general has vanished. There are rumors that de Gaulle has fled the country and is at a NATO base in Germany. He is missing for four days. Then he returns, and the revolution that was not a revolution fades. Beneath the street, the beach becomes above the street, the state.
What happened? Perhaps an understanding was reached? The army would intervene and restore order but at a price. The PCF betrays itself, and everyone else. It’s the sort of thing one expects in Eastern Europe or South America but not, in France. Except of course it is exactly what one should expect. It’s not as if it hasn’t already happened. Brumaire, and the Commune and the thugs marching on the seat of government in the 1930s.
But everyone pretends otherwise.
The day to day facts of the war, of Occupation, turn everything to a kind of Year Zero. Consider this from Tony Judt’s problematic if also useful tome, Post War:
“To live normally in occupied Europe meant breaking the law: in the first place the laws of the occupiers (curfews, travel regulations, race laws, etc) but also conventional laws and norms as well. Most common people who did not have access to farm produce were obliged, for example, to resort to the black market or illegal barter just to feed their families.”
“Theft—whether from the state, from a fellow citizen or from a looted Jewish store—was so widespread that in the eyes of many people it ceased to be a crime. Indeed, with gendarmes, policemen and local mayors representing and serving the occupier, and with the occupying forces themselves practicing organized criminality at the expense of selected civilian populations, common felonies were transmuted into acts of resistance (albeit often in post-liberation retrospect).”
“Above all, violence became part of daily life. The ultimate authority of the modern state has always rested in extremis on its monopoly of violence and its willingness to deploy force if necessary. But in occupied Europe authority was a function of force alone, deployed without inhibition. Curiously enough, it was precisely in these circumstances that the state lost its monopoly of violence. Partisan groups and armies competed for a legitimacy determined by their capacity to enforce their writ in a given territory. This was most obviously true in the more remote regions of Greece, Montenegro and the eastern marches of Poland where the authority of modern states had never been very firm. But by the end of World War Two it also applied in parts of France and Italy.”
So, how to reset the clock?
A generation of writers emerges in the chaos and out of the new order. They stand in the shadow of the war and stare blinking into the blinding light of the future. They cannot bring themselves to tell the truth; to say, the collaborators are their neighbors, the teachers and administrators at the Ecole Normal Superior. They walk into a bank to cash a check and the teller has a face like a butcher’s knife that has lost its edge. But, it is a face, a blade, that remembers.
Later at a café someone says, oh sure my cousin’s friend he knew the old man’s sister.
The sister was deported. Buchenwald, or perhaps, Dora. Auschwitz perhaps. Who knows.
She vanished as a pillar of smoke rising from a chimney. But the brother, he worked at an office where they decided who received paper and how much and then he got a job at a bank and after the Liberation, he settled in right there and every month there’s this Resistant, who came back after the war, and he goes in every month to deposit his veterans payment and he waits to make sure it’s the old man and they know each other, even if they have never been introduced. It’s the payment you see; that’s the dialogue the epic that has no words.
They don’t say anything to each other but between them there is the barbed wire, the screams, the discipline, the sadism, the infinite sadness that has a weight that crushes everything but floats like a soap bubble. The Resister and the Collaborator and their silence which is our silence.
There was a brief moment in 1944 or 45, again right after the end of the war up to, perhaps ’48, when perhaps things might have taken a different course but the Americans would not have allowed it. There would be a restoration like when the Bourbons returned. And everyone would agree to pretend. Besides, again, the rumors – the Americans and the British are creating secret commando units in case the Russians invade. Stay behind units made up of ex Nazis.
And then there’s Greece where our good friend Churchill is giving assistance to the fascists to crush the Greek communists. And in Italy the CIA is busy making sure the correct people are elected. And helping the Vatican smuggle mass murderers out of the country and the Foreign Legion is being restocked with former SS troopers to be sent to S.E Asia to teach the unruly Viet Cong how to appreciate La Vie en Rose.
Rousso: “The Liberation thus represents the intermediate stage between the Occupation and the memory of the event. It contains in embryonic form the chief characteristic of the Vichy syndrome, which initially took the guise of ambivalences and rivalries…”
And, in a crucial point, he adds that the conflicts of the 1930s, which included strikes, terrorism, attempted coups by fascists, were the beginning of a civil war which did not end until well after 1945.
“Between the darkest episodes in this history – the civil war and the deportation – and the most heroic chapters, there was an unresolved tension…Many important issues were ignored. Memory of the war would therefore develop largely outside this official framework. At the same time, partisan memories and rivalries blocked the formation of a more accurate “official memory…
The communists, for instance, emphasized the clandestine struggle, the antifascist war, and the class war against a “treasonous” elite…The Gaullist view stressed military aspects and republican legitimacy….”
But de Gaulle, busy about the business of recreating the state, and himself as the living manifestation of the state, pronounced: “The time for tears is over. The time for glory has returned.”
Marguerite Duras, soon to be one of post war France’s greatest writers, saw things differently. Waiting for her husband to return from Dachau, she said of de Gaulle, simply, and directly: “We will never forgive him.”
So, officially the past was done. Officially the future had arrived. Too bad for you if your past was not done and too bad for you if the past which was neither dead nor alive but was endlessly purgatorial, held the present hostage and prevented the future from appearing.
Later Duras would write Hiroshima Mon Amor, and stories that were sparse, outside of time yet anchored by and within time. Stories that expressed everything and concealed everything; Beckett and Kafkaesque stylistically, with gnomic utterances that in their very compression expanded. But unlike those two, erotic, sinewy and sensual and then again, so sparse, so minimal, as if a single kiss could in its very lightness convey the weight of history.
Again, Russo, speaking of the French Jews who survived and returned and by doing both were living indictments. How should they speak?
“Among them, the fear of forgetting was rivaled only by the conviction that it is impossible to speak about the unspeakable…their memories, seemingly unified by a common experience of horror, turned out to be various and divergent.” And as they began, in the late 1970s to remember, publicly, the old system returned and one had to contend with people saying, the gas chambers and the ovens were a fake, a fabrication or, if you were Le Pen, only a “detail” of history and thus, unimportant.
Excavating the trial of Klaus Barbie, who had been an agent of France’s ally, America, Alain Finklekraut said:
“We will never know. In that experience there was something incommunicable, a nocturnal portion, which ceaselessly spurs our desire to know but which must be protected against the always arrogant, always mystified belief that once, illumination has come, nothing incommunicable remains…Memory wants both to know the genocide and to recognize it as unknown; it wants to guarantee its presence so that it may not be forgotten, yet hold it at a distance so as to prevent reductive explanations; it wants to make the event contemporary and yet maintain it beyond our grasp; it wants to welcome it without assimilating it…”
To admit the past was to speak it and to speak was to assign blame and guilt and responsibility. And so we add another word to our group – Holocaust, Occupation, Resistance, Collaboration, Liberation.
At the front of the construct, one must designate the Vichy and Action Francaise and the church and the apathetic. But de Gaulle and the byzantine politics of the left and the post war neo fascists made that impossible. And at the end of the construct to admit to the deportation of the Jews was not just to reignite the post war compromises, and not just resurrect the prewar failures, it was, to point the finger of blame at the liberators – the Americans and the British who had parsed the Nazis, and selected the best for their own use.
So, arrest Barbie the Butcher of Lyon and denounce Le Pen and Faurrison, and arrest the men responsible for Oradour-sur-Glane but, the people, the agencies, the governments, including France’s, who had smuggled the Nazis out or had smuggled them back in to take up senior posts, were not to be touched. They were not to be discussed. They existed but, about them there was a shroud of silence which spoke endlessly.
An entire nation, and a continent, was being silenced and the more the silence was expressed as the official language of the state, the more the words would flow.
And so, twenty or so years after the war, there was the eruption. But it went sideways. These geniuses one after another prying open the coffins but, without a single one of them saying, look around at all of these cowards, these fascists, these murderers. Instead they produced a treasury of the most exquisite, precise, excavations of the how the world was built on systems that claimed to be the objective truth but were in fact the subjective, provisional fictions produced by the dynamics of power. Every category was subjected to analysis include the methodology of the analysis of the analysis. Everything was open to being redefined except, the one truth no one discussed.
There were films, and novels, and stories circulated and reputations were shattered or buried behind secrets and matters of state secrecy but, not one of these 68ers said, we demand an excavation of the national graveyard.
Yes, there’s The Last Metro, and Au revoir Les Enfants and it’s not as if everyone didn’t know but notice what they don’t say.
And obviously in France they knew about Fassbinder and the violence of Bader Meinhof but our focus here, is provisionally on France.
Instead, they said it sideways. If everything is some form of provisional myth, a fabrication, then by implication, so is everything else even if we don’t give it a name.
So Bourdieu laments the symbiosis between left and right. Foucault laments the system that fabricates and conceals. Baudrillard attacks the system that sells. Barthes explains how he reads and how authors die. Deleuze and Gautarri turn the system that explains the unconscious upside down, and Lyotard, explains that speaking generally, they all possess a sense that large scale, meta narratives are false. And who, other than the reactionaries can blame them? Where had the large scale explanation led if not to the trenches, the wars, the crashes, the catastrophes. The vanished. The camps. The gas chambers.
And yet, the largest of those narratives goes unnamed.
Consider the schism that erupts between Lacan, Deleuze and Guattari on one side and the strict, orthodox Freudians on the other during May of ’68 with accusation of the students being “Stalinists!” And notice that even now, fifty years later, the argument, like a limp phalus, revolves around who was right who was wrong and ignores that what both were also saying was: how can we live with the stench of so many unburied bodies?
In Distinction, Bourdieu redefines the debate as being about the structure of the debate and not about who is correct. Both left and right are operating within a system that requires them to be in symbiosis with each other.
“Paradoxically, the games of culture are protected against objectification by all the partial objectifications which the actors involved in the game perform on each other: scholarly critics cannot grasp the objective reality of society aesthetes without abandoning their grasp of the true nature of their own activity; and the same is true of their opponents. The same law of mutual lucidity and reflexive blindness governs the antagonism between ‘intellectuals’ and ‘bourgeois’ (or their spokesmen in the field of production). And even when bearing in mind the function which legitimate culture performs in class relations, one is still liable to be led into accepting one or the other of the self-interested representations of culture which ‘intellectuals’ and ‘bourgeois’ endlessly fling at each other.”
“Up to now the sociology of the production and producers of culture has never escaped from the play of opposing images, in which ‘right-wing intellectuals’ and ‘left-wing intellectuals’ (as the current taxonomy puts it) subject their opponents and their strategies to an objectivist reduction which vested interests make that much easier.
The objectification is always bound to remain partial, and therefore false, so long as it fails to include the point of view from which it speaks and so fails to construct the game as a whole. Only at the level of the field of positions is it possible to grasp both the generic interests associated with the fact of taking part in the game and the specific interests attached to the different positions, and, through this, the form and content of the self-positionings through which these interests are expressed.
Despite the aura of objectivity they like to assume, neither the ‘sociology of the intellectuals’, which is traditionally the business of ‘right-wing intellectuals’, nor the critique of ‘right-wing thought’, the traditional specialty of ‘left-wing intellectuals’, is anything more than a series of symbolic aggressions which take on additional force when they dress themselves up in the impeccable neutrality of science.
They tacitly agree in leaving hidden what is essential, namely the structure of objective positions which is the source, inter alia, of the view which the occupants of each position can have of the occupants of the other positions and which determines the specific form and force of each group’s propensity to present and receive a group’s partial truth as if it were a full account of the objective relations between the groups. ”
Foucault launches his assault with Madness and Civilization. The invention of insanity and the invention of an entire lexicon, or, episteme, whose purpose is to both define what it is not, and establish control over that, and, secretly, to establish control over the ability to examine its methodology. It is the establishment of a kind of secret police apparatus. It is, the manifestation of all previous warnings about the state bureaucracy. Orwell, of course, but also Kafka and Zamyatin and Huxley.
But notice that it is Orwell who is referenced the most often. Huxley occasionally crops up and people who don’t understand the meaning of the phrase throw Kafkaesque around the way others change their socks. Zamyatin is an unperson. Literary and historiography aficionados know him and some Hollywood pasha has purchased the rights to his work but, in keeping with the general consensus that too much self-awareness is bad for business, no film or television based on his novel is forthcoming.
Kafkaesque of course is used in the same way that politicians have started and continue to use the word, existential.
This or that is posed as being an, existential threat – a terminal, totalizing threat to ones existence or the continuity of the state as a whole.
Of course that’s not what the word means and politicians being generally about as bright as a piece of furniture don’t know that and don’t care.
Kafka of course did not mean only that this or that situation was Kafkaesque. He meant that existence is Kafkaesque in that existence is the ultimate face of absurd bureaucracy. One is born without will, that is, it is not your choice, and one exists and the one dies and that is the fact that levels out all meaning and is the beginning and end of all debates.
Deleuze and Guattari in turn upend the entire system and declare it to be, if not directly fascistic than in everything but name only, to be, essentially fascistic. They reject the system in its entirety.
Consider at random their statements:
“Courage consists, however, in agreeing to flee rather than live tranquilly and hypocritically in false refuges. Values, morals, homelands, religions, and these private certitudes that our vanity and our complacency bestow generously on us, have many deceptive sojourns as the world arranges for those who think they are standing straight and at ease, among stable things”
“It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at other times in fits and starts. It breathes, it heats, it eats. It shits and fucks. What a mistake to have ever said the id.”
“Psychoanalysis was from the start, still is, and perhaps always will be a well-constituted church and a form of treatment based on a set of beliefs that only the very faithful could adhere to, i.e., those who believe in a security that amounts to being lost in the herd and defined in terms of common and external goals”
“In the literary machine that Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” constitutes, we are struck by the fact that all the parts are produced as asymmetrical sections, paths that suddenly come to an end, hermetically sealed boxes, noncommunicating vessels, watertight compartments, in which there are gaps even between things that are contiguous, gaps that are affirmations, pieces of a puzzle belonging not to any one puzzle but to many, pieces assembled by forcing them into a certain place where they may or may not belong, their unmatched edges violently forced out of shape, forcibly made to fit together, to interlock, with a number of pieces always left over.”
“Besides, it is doubtful that incest was a real obstacle to the establishment of society, as the partisans of an exchangist conception claim…The real danger is elsewhere. If desire is repressed, it is because every position of desire…is capable of calling into question the established order of society…it is revolutionary in its essence…It is therefore of vital importance for a society to repress desire, and even to find something more efficient than repression, so that repression, hierarchy, exploitation, and servitude are themselves desired…that does not at all mean that desire is something other than sexuality, but that sexuality and love do not live in the bedroom of Oedipus, they dream instead of wide-open spaces, and…do not let themselves be stocked within an established order.”
The argument, the counter assault on this Ubu Roi declaration of totalizing shit, is to act as if there is not a shadow inherent in the declaration that the entire system is a lie.
Deleuze and Guattari are also guilty. They are not wrong but they are not honest any more than Foucault is wrong and dishonest and Bourdieu and all the rest of our round up the usual suspects. Lyotard, Baudrillard, Lacan, Derrida, de Mann, Debord, Barthes, etc, etc.
The reactionaries of course are the same. As Bourdieu says they are – left and right – operating in a closed system.
Here is Guy Dabord in The Society of the Spectacle:
“The fraudulence of the satisfactions offered by the system is exposed by this continual replacement of products and of general conditions of production. In both the diffuse and the concentrated spectacle, entities that have brazenly asserted their definitive perfection nevertheless end up changing, and only the system endures. Stalin, like any other outmoded commodity, is denounced by the very forces that originally promoted him. Each new lie of the advertising industry is an admission of its previous lie. And with each downfall of a personification of totalitarian power, the illusory community that had unanimously approved him is exposed as a mere conglomeration of loners without illusions.”
Beyond that system, behind the curtain, outside of the Theater of The Occupation lies the truth.
The Postmodern assault is the repressed coming home to discover it is the crime. The refusal to hold the fascists, the collaborators responsible is the crime.
Again, from Judt’s post War:
“Throughout German-occupied (and even unoccupied) Europe until the very end, the incidence of anonymous reports, personal accusations and plain rumours was strikingly high. Between 1940 and 1944 there were huge numbers of denunciations to the SS, the Gestapo and local police in Hungary, Norway, the Netherlands and France. Many were not even for reward or material gain. Under Soviet rule, too—notably in Soviet-occupied eastern Poland from 1939-41—the Jacobin-style encouragement of informers and the (French) revolutionary habit of casting doubt on the loyalty of others flourished unrestrained.”
If no one can be trusted, then nothing can be trusted. The hangover is merciless. The past cannot be let go and the future cannot arrive.
Barthes kills the author and for a handful of provincial reactionary, intimidated Americans, this is nothing more or less than French arrogance, pretension and the intellectual as stuffy prick. For the European liberals an amusement but seen off the pitch as fashionable left wing nonsense.
For the left and right fascists it’s just more decadence. But even if unintentional, it is the truth – not that the author is dead, but that the truth has been buried under decades of official lies and fabrications. The authority of the state is a fabrication and everyone knows the truth.
For every fascist who was executed after the war, for every collaborator, stripped of their rights or sent into exile or executed, there were the others who received nothing and those who were wrapped in an embrace of silence. Or hired to teach Germanic discipline and opera around the world.
It is exactly the structure of a Greek tragedy.
An entire system is built up around this fact. A handful of the bastards are put on trial. But the trial is compromised from its inception. To try the Nazis but not the masters of the Gulags? To try the Gulag but not the imperialists? Jim Crow? Lynchings?
The secret experiment programs? The assassinations and coups?
To try them but shake hands with Franco? The mafia and the drug dealers who fought the fascists but were themselves, fascists? To install mass murdering tyrants in the name of freedom?
To forget that Churchill embraced fascism, and that Mussolini was on the payroll of British intelligence and that the man to whom he answered had previously been running the British attempt to restore the Czar?
And how that was the prologue to Fulton and the Iron Curtain? To bury the truth under a mountain of skulls while singing hymns to justice? To put Nazis on trial while selecting others to help you build rockets and run your secret stay behind commando units?
To hang some but pardon others? To draft ex Wehrmacht and SS troopers into the Foreign Legion and ship them off to teach proper etiquette to the otherwise unruly Vietnamese?
To build a system around them and then demand obedience to silence which requires an endless stream of words and hysteria about everything else?
This is the crime of the century. This is the moral catastrophe of modernity. This is The Theater of The Occupation.
2. The ship of Fools.
“Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.”
— Charles Peguy
Foucault writes a code. He speaks of the narrenshif, the Ship of Fools and he speaks of how the leprosarium were emptied and how the emergent state repurposed them as asylums for the newly minted “insane.” He is speaking in code. Make no mistake, he means what he says: the invention of “insanity” is treated as a discovery of a condition but is really a fabrication designed by power to define and oppress. It is the creation of an episteme; a system that believes it is objective but is of course, subjective.
But he is talking about the war. He means, the Holocaust – the great confinement. He means the targeting of Jews, homosexuals, leftists, others.
He means, Collaboration, Resistance, Occupation, Liberation. Shoa.
He means post war France, and Europe and the entirety of his message goes undiscussed shrouded instead in arguments about everything but the central point – that which stares back from the mirror.
Here is Foucault, a high priest of the theater explaining Deleuze and Guattari on the one hand and on the other accidentally explaining everything else:
“During the years 1945-1965 (I am referring to Europe), there was a certain way of thinking correctly, a certain style of political discourse, a certain ethics of the intellectual. One had to be on familiar terms with Marx, not let one’s dreams stray too far from Freud. And one had to treat sign-systems—the signifier—with the greatest respect. These were the three requirements that made the strange occupation of writing and speaking a measure of truth about oneself and one’s time acceptable. Then came the five brief, impassioned, jubilant, enigmatic years. At the gates of our world, there was Vietnam, of course, and the first major blow to the powers that be. But here, inside our walls, what exactly was taking place? An amalgam of revolutionary and antirepressive politics?
A war fought on two fronts: against social exploitation and psychic repression? A surge of libido modulated by the class struggle? Perhaps. At any rate, it is this familiar, dualistic interpretation that has laid claim to the events of those years. The dream that cast its spell, between the First World War and fascism, over the dreamiest parts of Europe—the Germany of Wilhelm Reich, and the France of the surrealists—had returned and set fire to reality itself: Marx and Freud in the same incandescent light.”
He is not wrong but he is not being honest. Or rather, completely honest. Better yet, as Faulkner would have it: the facts and the truth seldom have anything to do with each other.
The top hat, black bow tie wearing master of the guillotine who, under the authority of the Nazi state, was responsible for operating the machinery of executions. He executed thousands including the martyrs of the White Rose Resistance Group.
But, after the war, he was hired by the allies to turn his technical expertise and precision to strangle by hanging, his former employers.
He took over the family business back in the days of Weimar and when that faded he worked as a traveling salesman trying to convince people to purchase hymns or religious tracts. But luck, or fate if you prefer, had other ideas and he soon found work again as the new gangsters had a lengthy list of people for whom they had contempt.
During the war he executed nearly 3,000 people. He executed Hans and Sophie Scholl the brother and sister who were members of the White Rose.
After the war he was arrested and spent a week in one of the prisons where he had worked and then, declared officially, “de Nazified” he was put to work by the allies executing Nazis. After that he retired to a villa, and all was well until he was informed that he had executed two innocent people due to cases of mistaken identify.
Arrested again, he was sentenced to two years at hard labor but, following an appeal the sentence was reduced by six months and the forfeiture of a small percentage of his property.
But these stories have a life (sic!) of their own.
His marriage failed. People shunned him. His son committed suicide. He was confined to a psychiatric ward.
But so what?
Are we going to call that justice?
Alright, let’s say it’s a kind of justice.
But that’s not the issue.
He was a ghost haunting Europe. He was one of millions wandering around both anchored to the earth and somehow floating away, detached from the truth.
From the introduction to Deleuze and Guattari:
“The very desire that was brought so glaringly into focus in Europe with Hitler, Mussolini, and fascism; the desire that is still at work, making us all sick, today. Anti-Oedipus starts by reviving Reich’s completely serious question with respect to the rise of fascism: ‘How could the masses be made to desire their own repression?’ This is a question which the English and Americans are reluctant to deal with directly, tending too often to respond:”
But the French do deal with it directly? No, they put on a magnificent show of dealing with it full of sound and fury and an unmatched stylistic set of fireworks; an almost baroque disambiguation that creates a totalizing system of labyrinths, inside still more labyrinths, and while essentially correct they dig, and dig an ever deeper hole into which they jump pulling down all who enter until all that remains is digging.
Don’t misunderstand. This sounds like the reactionary criticism – the boilerplate rejection and the standard accusations of moral relativism. It is not. We say again, they are not wrong.
Jean Paul Lyotard: A suspicion about large scale meta narratives.
He was correct. Religion, the isms – Marx, Fem, Social, Capital, Freud and so on and everything else as well.
Huxley, in the introduction to Brave New World mentions in passing that a prominent critic had defined him as a sad example of the failure of the intellectual class to which Huxley, surveying the burnt out ruins of the world in 1945 said: If I am an example of a sad failure, then I assume my esteemed critic must be, buy definition, a hilarious example of success. Let us build a monument to him here amid the ruins…
He was of course speaking for everyone and not just himself. The all encompassing systems, Fascism, Communism, Marxism, Capitalism, Imperialism and all the small scale empires – the Freudians, the Surrealists, and so on – everyone had formed the circular firing squad and let loose and here were a generation of talkers, thinkers, rebels who said, enough; time to dissect the system that creates the systems and that of course sparked the usual suspects – church, state isms – to denounce them.
Bolsheviks! Marxists! Subversives! Maoists! Existentialists! The Fucking French intellectuals! Faggots! And worst of all: Postmodern Neo-Marxists and, Rebel scum!
Of course the louder they yelled the more ridiculous they sounded. First because anyone who thinks a handful of mostly French intellectuals can take capitalism just aren’t paying attention. And secondly because, even when they were wrong – which was more often than even their most ardent supporters can admit – the gang was on to something like a dog picking up a scent and the louder the denunciations the more the these heretics sounded convincing.
Except of course to the vast number of drones and the foot soldiers of the resurgent fascist bund.
But regardless, both sides miss the point. Like Lucky and Pozzo waiting for Godot they stand on a barren stage and go back and forth without telling the truth, except they are, in every word, being honest. As Dylan was to say: to live outside the law you must be honest
And a word here about French arrogance as a system.
The Americans and the British – the dreaded Anglos – don’t want to discuss it?
Well, yes, except that Beckett was an Anglo – and yes, he was working in France in French but he was a moral termite burrowing his way into the heart of the world digging an escape tunnel with a spoon from Ireland to everywhere else. And he was not alone.
There was a mass escape and it came from everywhere and went in every direction. Henry Miller, who Deleuze and Gautarri quote and paraphrase at length, writing in his almost biography of Rimbaud says, of the period from Rimbaud’s birth until the end of the catastrophe in 1945 that a survey of the poets, the novelists, the playwrights, the mystics is nothing but crisis hallucinations and breakdowns. And it is all-encompassing.
All of Europe is convulsed and with it the whole of the world.
And ironically, Deleuze and Gautarri mention Beckett. Even if he is one of those Anglos who don’t want to discuss things.
Right but for the wrong reasons. Beckett does not want to discuss – anything but in his gnomic utterances he discusses the totality of existence; the dilemma. How to be honest in the face of a system that demands silence and uses silence as its language.
It is ironic, cruel, laughably ironic to hear continental Europeans declare the cliché that the Anglos don’t want to talk; don’t want to discuss it.
The truth is, no one wants to discuss it. And those who do, if they are serious run afoul of the man. As Deleuze and Gautarri say:
“How could the masses be made to desire their own repression?’ This is a question which the English and Americans are reluctant to deal with directly, tending too often to respond: “Fascism is a phenomenon that took place elsewhere, something that could only happen to others, but not to us; it’s their problem.”
Is it though? Is fascism really a problem for others to deal with? Even revolutionary groups deal gingerly with the fascisizing elements we all carry deep within us, and yet they often possess a rarely analyzed but overriding group ‘superego’ that leads them to state, much like Nietzsche’s man of resentment, that the other is evil (the Fascist! the Capitalist! the Communist!), and hence that they themselves are good.
This conclusion is reached as an afterthought and a justification, a supremely self-righteous rationalization for a politics that can only “squint” at life, through the thick clouds of foul-smelling air that permeates secret meeting places and “security” councils. The man of resentment, as Nietzsche explains, “loves hiding places, secret paths and back doors, everything covert entices him as his world, his security, his refreshment; he understands how to keep silent, how not to forget…”
First, a word here about the charlatans accusing the “Postmodernists” of being “Marxists.” Notice the precise delineations and condemnations of the cult of the revolutionary. Notice the rhetorical cannon being turned on the left.
Second, yes, they are correct, no one wants to talk about it but what is this “it” that no one wants to name?
Yes, it is the fascism of the mind about which, forty years prior, Breton had said about, there must be a revolution of the mind against the tyranny of the self. Hence, surrealism and manifestos and arguments with Freud and Trotsky and everyone else who ran afoul of the pope of surrealism.
And they were not wrong but lack precision. “The Americans” in their official capacity will tell you fascism took place elsewhere and that they had nothing to do with it; did not get their hands or their conscience dirty with the details.
But Ginsberg spoke the truth about Moloch and America, and so did Hemingway, Hammett, Chandler, and Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller and Miles Davis and good god it is a long list and we haven’t even mentioned Melville, Twain, Whitman and Thoreau or Sinclair Lewis or Salinger, Heller, Snyder, Corso, di Prima, Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson, Steinbeck, and on and on .
As always, feel free to make your own list.
But what is missing is the lexicon of the four words. Occupation. Resistance. Collaboration. Liberation. And the fifth: Holocaust.
This is the man, as Nietzsche says, who loves to hide. He puts on a costume with three faces: Right wing, left wing, indifferent.
And to those who do talk about? The man come to take you away. It aint too complicated, says the Boss: You’re dealing with murder incorporated.
McMurphy versus Nurse Rachid.
Which ends with the stage, littered with corpses.
This is where we are now. There are moments where the hysteria explodes. Occupy with its refusal to demand anything and demonstrations here and there, and in response the machine cranks out slightly modified editions of the old monsters, and running through the delirium the Stasi of the modern police state, watching everyone, listening to everything, and all around there is silence.
Coco Chanel. The little black dress. Audrey Hepburn wore one. Jackie Kennedy wore a version. The perfume. The glamour. The idea of glamour and the idea of the idea (a simulacrum as Baudrillard would have it) – the system that produces a system by which per Debord, in the Society of the Spectacle, that which appears is good, and that which is good appears.
Chanel. So what if she hated Jews? Jews who, trapped within the totalizing system of lies, later did business with her. Sometimes she hated the French, the British, the Germans. When the lights are out and your face is buried in a pillow who can tell the difference. One might be bigger but so what; it’s all the same.
She had connections with everyone. Royals from England and fascists from Spain. Fascists from England and royals from Spain; six of one, a half dozen of the other. At the Ritz she entertained Cocteau and Cocteau was always charming, if you like that sort of thing.
After the war she went to Switzerland but after the peace she returned to France. France returned to her.
What does one do?
Put her on trial?
Find her guilty?
But, who would she have called as witnesses?
After the war, during the Liberation, Hemingway, fresh from delivering that crate of hand grenades to Picasso’s studio on Rue Grande Augustin, liberates the Ritz.
Never mind the banal stories that make fun of him or inflate his life unnecessarily. He liberates the Ritz because the Ritz had been an unofficial head quarters for the Nazis. Chanel had a suite there. Her German lover, a spy for the Nazis, arranged it. The hotel, the city, the truth, the fabrications, the small bottles of perfume all become texts to be read; signs to be both understood and used to confound.
And so the vast silence. A kind of deal, or understanding is reached except not really. Silence until, the eruption in 1968. But even then, no one demands the arrest and trial of the collaborators.
Underneath the street, the beach. Above the street, the system.
Underneath the deadening cement of the system and its agreement to remain silent, the dead demand to be heard.
And so, the counter narrative, in its relatively benign form:
Sudhir Hazareesing’s How the French Think, an Affectionate Portrait of an Intellectual People. Speaking of the period after the war, he says: “Communism’s seductiveness was reinforced by the visual appeal of its propaganda. Thus Pablo Picasso’s classic Dove for Peace (1949).”
He’s correct but not honest. By amputating his “Picasso” from the context of everything that had come before, he creates an alternative narrative. This “Picasso” has no past and certainly no body of work that was by 1945, attached to his name the way France was attached to Germany and at the other end, Spain.
It is as if Guernica had not occurred and we mean both the attack and the painting. In this narrative “Picasso” is not a rebel, or a subversive but at best a benign fool being used by the left to spread its propaganda. “Picasso” as a useful idiot; a Picasso who has amnesia.
Thus, “Dove for Peace” is trite, a trinket, a piece of kitsch tossed off by the old fool for the young fools who don’t understand the harsh realities of Stalin.
Of course that allows for a corollary narrative in which the fact that your neighbor was a fascist, that Chanel was a collaborator, that you were living in a world full of lies, is all elided; erased, turned into an unperson.
Picasso is painting a portrait of Gertrude Stein. It’s not going well. He begins, and he erases. He begins again and erases. Finally he’s done. She says: It doesn’t look like me. He says: Don’t worry, it will.
The truth is elastic and fixed. That’s mysterious and upsets many people. Narratives change and remain the same.
This distorting mechanism, or mechanism of distortions is widely employed. It takes in “Picasso” “Hemingway” and “Sartre.”
Consider again, huate intellectual, Tony Judt, in, Post War.
Speaking of one of the bête noir of the reformed former leftists, Judt captions a photo of Sartre in the Soviet Union as follows:
“Jean-Paul Sartre admiring rare books in the Leningrad National Library, June 23rd 1954. Sartre’s indulgence for Communism in these years derived from romantic illusions (and anti-Americanism) rather than ideology; but in subsequent decades it was to sully his international reputation and dim his post-war lustre. ”
Well yes, except years prior to that, Sartre was openly, and publicly in a pissing contest with Pravda over his public condemnations of the Gulags and Stalin’s terrorism. And even if one grant’s Judt’s premise, it’s not as if Sartre wouldn’t have been aware of the other true things in the world, including the other events of 1954:
Henry David Thoreau’s Walden was banned from U.S. Information Service libraries and categorized “downright socialistic.”
Feb. 2 The 1st hydrogen bomb explosion was announced by President Eisenhower.
–“The bomb’s brilliant gleam reminds me of the brilliant gleam Beacon Wax gives to floors. It’s a science marvel!” read an ad in the Pittsburgh Press.
Mar. 1 Five congressmen were shot on the floor of the House of Representatives by Puerto Rican nationalists seeking the independence of their country.
Apr. 22 The Army-McCarthy hearings began. Sen. Joseph McCarthy had charged that the Secretary of the Army was interfering with McCarthy’s investigation of communists in the Army; the Army had countercharged that McCarthy had sought favors for an aide who was in the service. The daily hearings became the most dramatic TV show of the decade. After 36 days of bitter wrangling and 2 million words of testimony, McCarthy was totally discredited. Shortly after, the U.S. Senate, which set out to censure him, merely “condemned” him by a vote of 67-22.
May 8 The French garrison at Dien Bien Phu fell to the popular insurgent forces, the Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh. Vice-President Nixon urged direct American intervention.
May 17 The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Brown v. The Board of Education of Topeka that segregated education was illegal. Chief Justice Earl Warren: “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate education facilities are inherently unequal.”
May 24 The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Internal Security Act, thus making membership in the Communist party sufficient grounds for the deportation of aliens.
June 18 A right-wing coup in Guatemala, financed by the CIA, overthrew the popularly elected Government of Jacobo Arbenz, which had nationalized the property of the United Fruit Company. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles’s law firm had written the United Fruit contracts with Guatemala in the ’30s; Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, John Moors Cabot, was a major United Fruit shareholder; CIA director Allen Dulles had been president of United Fruit; and Allen Dulles’s predecessor as CIA director, Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, became a United Fruit vice-president in 1955.
And so, when we create a narrative in which Sartre’s “post war lustre” is tarnished, and we have a photo of him in the Soviet Union – a kind of dog whistle – not only do we confront what is said – manifest – but what goes unsaid; silenced but remains expressed.
Here is Sartre in a public feud with the Soviet machine, in response to a fairly standard piece of Pravda boilerplate, that was masquerading as a criticism of one of Sartre’s recent books and had announced that “Existentialism is unaware of the historical process.”
Sartre responded to the Pravda writer and said about him:
“Provisionally he is the editorialist of Pravda, and it is the “historical process” ( to use his words) that expresses itself through his mouth. Tomorrow, perhaps, the historical process will turn away from him and he’ll be a number in Siberia and everyone will have forgotten him. He will never have been a person; I regret this for his sake and mine.”
And this is not the only example. Judt makes light of 68-er Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s memoir, We So Loved the Revolution, by deliberately mistranslating it as, So, we loved the Revolution, creating the sense that the memoir is a glib rendering of the glib actions of pranksters rather than a lament, a dirge for a moment in time within the Theater of the Occupation.
In practical terms by eliding the other truths Judt, as with the polemicists across the spectrum, reduces “Sartre” to a fool or an idiot savant or both. What goes missing is the moral horns of a dilemma in which, per Merleau-Ponty, the mind breaks caught between a Scylla and Charybdis – America, importing Nazis to build rockets, exporting Nazis to enforce imperial and corporate diktats; and at home enforcing apartheid, banning books and lurching towards justice even if only provisionally and at a staggering cost.
In the Soviet Union no less a system of shadow and fog, state terror and an imperial boot abroad.
This moral pick your poison though is not unique to Sartre or the dilemma of his time.
Hemingway (respected by Sartre and Co as an Existentialist in style if not practice) had by the mid 1950s, already created a body of work built on a basic premise of, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
But in a world that decades later, Hunter S. Thompson would define as being only criminal, and where the only sin left was being stupid enough to get caught, the official narratives on the left, the right and the liberal center, were based on never telling the whole truth. And anyone who dared make the case that the meta-fiction of narratives was just another elaborate fiction, would be pilloried.
And once we speak the rest of what is true, we confront a new reality.
Roland Barthes: “…no immutable character to mythical concepts: they can be constructed, change, be altered, disappear completely.”
Of course the reactionary reads that as an assault on everything – the nation, god, patriotism, gender, values, family, etc. It’s worse than being a Bolshevik or Stalinist or even a Maoist because it enters not with a bomb, or a gun, but furtively through the discourse of the elite who gin up the unruly mob.
For the leftist, ironically, it is the same because it says there is no dialectical certainty and is more dangerous than a fascist with a bomb, or a gun, because it enters furtively through the discourse of the elite who gin up the unruly mob.
Barthes of course was derivative and neither he nor his loose cadre were about to acknowledge that his S/Z, was really a footnote to Hume’s Buddhism with a brogue, and Bundle Theory applied to literature and as to his comments about myth – well, that’s Modernism – it’s Picasso’s satyrs, nymphs, and minotaurs and Joyce’s reworking of the Odyssey in a Dublin whore house; it’s Hemingway making Brett Ashley into Circe, it’s Modigliani making ancient Greek statues look like Parisian boulevardiers, and it’s Faulkner dropping the ancient world into the heat and tension of the Gothic South, like an ice cube into a glass of whiskey.
The great secret of Modernism is its limited vocabulary. Picasso they said, really only had six or seven images but, he turned them into a thousand ideas that reflect the central idea – the elasticity of the idea; History was not a dialectic and it would not arrive at the end of itself, neither right nor left, but a circle repeating and images repeating endlessly.
Everyone feasts. Everyone talks but no one is listening, or everyone is listening and no one is talking. A kind of, Uncertainty Principle. Picasso knows and Hemingway and the rest of them. They see the storm approaching.
There’s a story, about Hemingway, in Cuba, watching a film over and over again. It depicts a Japanese soldier being burned alive by American marines. Asked why he’s watching it Hemingway says: because we may have to kill him some day and we need to know the truth of what it means.
Later he will, almost certainly, run guns for Castro, and then the mafia, and the federal mafia run by Hoover, will execute him by suicide.
Thus, more secrets.
For the liberals, “Picasso” is a genius but also a useful idiot of the left. For the reactionaries he’s a dangerous subversive. There is, they say, the truth and everything that is not the truth. Do as we say, not as we do.
So the CIA and friends, invent the Congress of Cultural Freedom and hires Peggy Guggenheim and she hires Clement Greenberg (who goes to work for the Congresses’ affiliate, American Committee for Cultural Freedom) and together they hire (invent) Jackson Pollock, and promote “Abstract Expressionism” as a uniquely American Art (in aesthetic and political opposition to the figurative and politically committed work of Picasso and with New York as the “new” Paris) and the whole creaking contraption is a house of lies, built on top of still more lies disseminating lies, and even when it tells the truth, about Stalin and the Gulags it demands, like Ginsberg’s Moloch, the human sacrifice of honesty.
Frank Wisner, CIA golden boy, who later cracks and shoots himself, says of the agencies’ efforts at manipulation in the years after the war: It was a mighty Wurlitzer, and on it I could play any tune I wanted to. Propaganda? Don’t be gauche, it was advocacy! Which of course is just another word for propaganda, and deceit, in the name of freedom incorporated. Brought to you by former Nazis and current fascist thugs.
The result is the invention of “Saul Bellow” and the remoras in the media and a dozen other “great” authors about whom, when they are discussed, no one says – gee what impact did the Congress of Cultural Freedom have on the invention of their reputations.
The counter argument, as such, is obvious: Bellow’s reputation would be x or y regardless of who was running Commentary or some other magazine – except no, as with Judt’s critique of Sartre as useful idiot or fellow traveler of the left, the fact is, the entire machine of literary and culture making reputations in America was divided between those who were on the government payroll, like Bellow, and those who weren’t – like, say, Ginsberg (though only a committed fool would deny the importance of Ginsberg’s federal dossier, which must run to the millions of pages).
To put a finer point on Adorno’s critique of the Culture Industry: The first rule of the Culture Industry is, don’t speak about the Culture Industry.
Divided by Philip Rhav into Palesfaces and Redskins, the split, often discussed barely registers the wider context. Thus, Robert Lowell as manic, crazed establishment factotum, and Ginsberg as wild Whitmanesque Beat freak.
And not untrue in either case but both within the wider context of a blunt hocus pocus industry operating on an industrial scale.
And some twenty years after Rhav makes the case, Lowell, lifts it lock stock and smoking barrel and calls it his own and speaks of the Cooked (himself, Allen Tate, Randel Jerrell, etc) and the Raw (Ginsberg, Snyder, Kerouac, Corso, etc).
But, we digress.
Foucault: “Do not ask me who I am and do not ask me to remain the same.”
Sacrilige! The philosopher as artist! The artist as philosopher! A work of history as a novel and a novel disguised as a work of philosophy! No! Unacceptable! How can we market something that doesn’t conform to the prefabricated templates of marketing?!? And when he described his work as “fictions” even those disposed to be sympathetic, like Claude Levi-Strauss, cried foul – “He (Foucault) took some liberties with chronology.”
Ironically the conservatives, both in their disguise as liberals and with the mask removed and thus as reactionaries or fascists, denounced Foucault as a leftist or, a Postmodern Neo-Marxist – a construction not dissimilar to the yeti or a unicorn or a free market Bolshevik.
Foucault: “In fact, we know from experience that the claim to escape from the system of contemporary reality so as to produce the overall programmes of another society, of another way of thinking, another culture, another vision of the world, has only led to the return of the most dangerous traditions.”
“My position is that it is not up to us (intellectuals) to propose. As soon as one “proposes” – one proposes a vocabulary, an ideology, which can only have effects of domination. What we have to present are instruments and tools that people might find useful. But if the intellectual starts playing once again the role that he has played for a hundred and fifty years – that of prophet in relation to “what must be,” to “what must take place” – these effects of domination will return, and we shall have other ideologies, functioning in the same way.”
Thus, he sees off Sartre and the entire French tradition back to Diderot and Rousseau, and when he says the last 150 years he also means to strike Marx from the inventory as well.
And so much for the internet blow up dolls screaming about Focucault, the NeoMarxist Postmodernist.
Or as another intellectual chameolon put it:
“In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach …”
But after May ’68, it wouldn’t matter. To question meant to be a leftist and to say it as an accusation was to be a reactionary and all the while the great secret remained.
Sudreesingh: “This retreat from the public sphere was not unproblematic, most notably during the events of May 1968, which were widely seen as a challenge to the structuralists’ skepticism about political action. The proposition that “structures do not take to the streets” became a popular slogan among the student protestors, and a play by Roger Cremant savagely satirized the main structuralist thinkers, lamenting their aloofness and verbosity, the conservativism lurking behind their professions of radicalism, and their “interpretive delirium.”
And so to Derrida. Sphinx, enfant terrible, pain in the ass labyrinthian ontology, an episteme of confusion, for the sake of confusion, as if to throw a Molotov cocktail of words was an act of subversion, and thus, naturally, who does he support – Paul de Man, accused of collaboration with the Nazis.
“Derrida believed that the meaning of a concept could only be properly elucidated through its relationship with other, related concepts and the ways in which they were deployed in different contexts.”
Thus, as with Barthes’ S/Z this is again, Hume and Bundle theory but neither the Structuralists, the left or the right, will admit it because if the Postmodernists are answering Hume, if they are connected to Hume (let alone repeating his ideas themselves a hefty regurgitation of arguments from the Agora and Plato’s hysteria about the perceived moral decadence of the Sophists) then they are connected to the Enlightenment and if that is true then they are in the tradition of Rousseau and Diderot and thus, Jefferson and Paine, Kant in his less racist form, and you cannot allow that because then it undermines the narrative of the war and the Cold War.
The Nazis and fascism had to arrive Deus ex Machina not only to protect the reputation of the liberals and the conservatives in the pre war scrum but to protect the fascists post facto in the post war hallucinations; the erasure of the facts pointing grimly at just who it was that had put the bastards in power and why.
And then this from Hazareesingh:
“For Derrida, the writing of all the major Western philosophers were structured around binary oppositions (inside and outside, man and woman, reason and madness, freedom and domination), one element of which was generally suppressed. These polarities gave texts a semblance of meaning, yet, once identified, they undermined it and ultimately destroyed the very possibility. As a Derrida scholar explained, “The guiding insight of deconstruction is the every structure – be it literary, psychological, social, economic, political or religious – that organizes our experience is constituted and maintained through acts of exclusion.”
Well yes they are and what is excluded more than anything else? The lexicon of “The Occupation” – Liberation, Resistance and Collaboration. Holocaust.
Derrida is hardly alone.
The Nouvelle Roman – Alain Robbe-Grillet, Duras and – well, round up the usual suspects – echoing in words the man-machine images of Fernand Leger.
The attempt in art to elide the distinction between observer and observed between object and individual.
And all of it, David Hume and Hume, a Buddhist with a Brogue.
A long tradition that keeps insisting it is new; fresh, a different thing to be purchased, and which, if purchased, will change your life for the better.
Thus another irony – the very people most publicly antagonistic towards the soul crushing dogmas of marketing, engage in a kind of marketing that apes the system they denounce.
The left and the right here join forces to denounce these jesters as frauds, as moral relativists. And yet neither the left nor the right asks, why? Why this pissing from a great height upon all structures?
Why do they denounce systems?
Everyone of course knows but they are not allowed to say.
Nobody’s talk’n, says Bruce, in Gypsy Biker, because everyone knows.
Elsewhere there is another front opening up; another point of friction in the subterranean war.
Paul de Man is a smoking gun. He is the perfect illustration of the dilemma. His uncle, Henri de Man is a Belgian socialist of the fascist variety siding with the Nazis because he believes in the National Socialist side of the tyrannical coin. During the occupation of Belgium the Nazis will appoint him as de facto prime minister. Later, they will grow annoyed with him and he will spiral down and out into internal exile under his former masters and then external exile on the run from the post Occupation authorities. But before all of that. he secures a position for his nephew as the literary and cultural critic for Le Soir.
Le Soir is a Nazi collaborationist rag. De Man will go on to write a few hundred articles of which the historians will say, only two or three are blatantly anti-Semitic.
This parsing, as if violent, geocidal bigotry, had a threshold or quota, where anything below the approved number can be dismissed, reappears in a similar form years later when reactionary apologist for fascism and bigotry, James Wood, part time literary critic for the reactionary liberal collaborationist rag, The New Yorker, opines, in demeaning Anthony Julius, that T.S. Eliot was an anti-Semite but, his anti-Semitism was “a small rash confined to one limb” and it was not, he insists, crucial to his larger project and besides, says Wood, Eliot only wrote three overtly anti-Semitic poems. Thus, anti-Semitism lite – twice the Zyclon B, half the calories.
And, in a sense Wood is correct. Eliot’s bigotry and fascism were not essential to his writing, though his writing was essential to the wider fascist and racist zeitgeist of the West. After all, what better way to justify excluding and exterminating people of whom the state does not approve, then to invoke a literary genius like Eliot. Or his contemporary, Louis F. Celine.
Of course Wood goes off the rails in his defense because, as anyone who isn’t making excuses for racial purity, fascism and high church discipline knows, that even if Eliot “only wrote three overtly anti-Semitic poems” it’s not as if the Nazis were going to conclude that as there were only three, then they should only execute 3 instead of 6 million.
As Sartre has it: Fascism is not defined by how many it kills but by the method it uses to kill.
Thus, in the wider context, de Man looms large. On the one hand, we might ask how exactly does the nephew of a prominent collaborator and avowed fascist simply vanish after the war?
The easy and not altogether incorrect answer is that in 1945 the scene in Europe was a combination of euphoria and an emotional coma. It was as if the entire continent had been picked up, shaken to its core, and then dropped back down again with pieces scattering in every direction. It is in a sense similar to the plague or the previous great war. But it is compressed into the space of a few years and in the case of France a kind of dream state – France as land of the lotus eaters.
But in addition of course there is the fact that the allies – Soviet, American, British and French – each had their reasons for burring the truth.
There were Nazis scientists to be sent off via Operation Paperclip, and others to be repurposed as future leaders of NATO, like former Luftwaffe flyboy, Adolf Galand who got a new gig as West German spook in chief, and the Soviets had their reasons and the French, caught between a rock and a hard place, needed troops to teach the finer points of Western freedom to the otherwise disinterested Vietnamese so, they filled out the ranks of the Foreign Legion with former Wehrmacht and SS troopers and, equipped with American surplus gear, off they went to the jungles of S.E. Asia.
And keep in mind the bureaucratic system, the labyrinth needed to facilitate that program. One does not, as the New France, emerge from The Occupation and simply draft or recruit your former enemies – no, one must wrap the crime in a series of secrets within secrets within the crushing banalities of the state machine and create an entire opera of banality and silence that never stops talking. A point to which we shall return in regards to the coup that installed de Gaulle as dictator of France, in 1958.
As part of a world-wide effort at amnesia, everyone had their reasons to forget and to embrace silence. De Man got out of Dodge and landed in the US where he managed to meet among others, Mary McCarthy and Dwight McDonald – as if it’s perfectly normal, if not banal, to be a refugee who gets an invite to a party full of the then current literary assassins and prominent leftists, by which we mean, of course the introduction was arranged, quietly and off the official radar(in a social milieu dominated by an out of control indigenous Stasi, and the machinery of, the Congress of Cultural Freedom).
Through them he was inserted into the elite corner of American academics doing graduate work and teaching at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Johns Hopkins.
His approach, somewhat in conjunction with Derrida, is Deconstruction or Hume’s Bundle theory taken to its limit where all that remains is a kind of nihilistic temper tantrum. Which of course perfectly fits a culture that offers three flavors of collaboration with silence within The Theater of The Occupation.
One can be left wing and remain silent about all of the former fascists while denouncing the right for its hypocrisy.
One can be right wing and remain silent about all of the former fascists while denouncing the left for it hypocrisy.
Or one can be a haute intellectual who offers baroque excavations of the systems that produce meaning within systems, while remaining silent about all of the former fascists while denouncing both the left and the right for their hypocrisy.
In this vortex moments arrive like vast historical trains following a tight schedule. Vietnam and anti-colonialism, East v West, Castro, Guevara, Mao, Uncle Ho, Feminism, dead Kennedys, Nixon-Kissinger, LBJ, Black Liberation, Fanon, and so on each a Mobius Loop of contradictions, half truths, distortions, rage, righteous indignation, and impossible compromise.
Leftists vs leftists, and liberals vs leftists and conservatives and conservatives vs liberals and leftists and so on each drifting along the spectrum.
After he dies, it is discovered that during the war de Man was writing slop for the Nazis.
Well, says Derrida, I’m a Jew and we were friends and you all want to burn his books like a bunch of fascists so fuck off. As if Jews, being human, are incapable of also being Lear, or Othello, or Hamlet, or Gertrude and Lady Macbeth.
Which of course went over as one would expect with Derrida’s followers saying right on chief, you tell’m and everyone else saying, go fuck yourself.
But this being an academic war you have to include somersaults and reverse sow cows as the different camps exceed the g force tolerance of logic and honesty.
Consider the otherwise reasonable Frederic Jameson, in Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism justifying de Man’s Fascism but defining it as a small “f” fascism – not too distinct from a company man or a limp liberal; the damp squib of refined intellectual apathy:
“…it does not seem to me that North American intellectuals have generally had the kind of experience of history that would qualify them to judge the actions and choices of people under military occupation.”
You see, it’s not at all about the systemic demonization of Jews, leftists, intellectuals, queers, or combinations of all of those, resulting in mass industrial slaughter, but it is about capitalism which has a subset that includes the mass slaughter.
No doubt, this distinction without a moral center, is comforting to the dead.
This is an argument he repeats multiple times – that “North Americans” intellectuals and we assume also the lump and proletariat, haven’t lived de Man’s freak show therefore, moral judgement is to be suspended. Keeping in mind that this is a few dozen pages amid several hundred where Jameson, in full Marxist-Superiorus mode, passes moral judgement.
But notice also how, without saying it, in designating de Man’s facile critics as being crippled by being “North Americans” he sees off, unnamed, Black Americans living in and with the legacies of slavery, the Hispanics, the Asians, the Catholics, the Jews and of course the ghosts wandering across the reservations – all sent into a kind of rhetorical ghetto as unpersons.
And then the idea, such as it is, that while Jameson argues for the universality of the left ideology; its ubiquity as the prism through which all human action can be judged, dismisses the idea of a universal human all too human experience.
Thus, Hamlet and Ahab, the Snopes, Anna K or Joseph K, the Magic Rat, Elanor Rigby and Pinball Wizards, are localized but universal except when it becomes inconvenient and so, must be reduced to silence and situational ethics.
Thus, per Jameson, even a reactionary high church fascist like T.S. Eliot loses any claim to universalism. Having not lived through the Nazis Gotterdammerung, Prufrock must be scene off the pitch to a parochial corner. Leopold Bloom as an everyman? Apparently not so much. And when Tom Joad says, I’ll be there, per Jameson, the location is a cloistered precinct.
In other words, the same enforced silence that cripples European intellectuals.
Thus, according to Jameson, the efforts to implicate de Man in the Holocaust hinged on a fundamental misunderstanding of Nazi anti-Semitism:
“The exclusive emphasis on anti-Semitism ignores and politically neutralizes its other constitutive feature in the Nazi period: namely, anticommunism. [The] very possibility of the Judeocide was absolutely at one with and inseparable from the anticommunist and radical right-wing mission of National Socialism (…). But put this way, it seems at once clear that De Man was neither an anticommunist nor a right-winger: had he taken such positions in his student days (…), they would have been public knowledge.”
Yes, let’s calmly discuss all the Jews the Nazis didn’t exterminate.
And if we grant Jameson’s premise then he has scored on his own goal.
If the anti-Semitism was of a whole, inside and reflecting the totality of the fascism, the cult, then to be even a collaborator-lite, is to be a part of the machine.
He’s not wrong, but hardly honest. The denial of the anti-left component, essential to the DNA of German fascism (as well as Franco and Mussolini) is ignored because it would then require seeing the left as victims to be empathized with, which would undermine the entire post war religion of condemnation but – and this is crucial – it would require a retrograde excavation of the prior efforts by the liberals, and the conservatives to install the fascists precisely to destroy the left.
Thus Churchill’s support for Mussolini, Mussolini being on the payroll of British intelligence, Britain’s failed attempts to restore the Czar or the White Russian fascists, British support for Franco’s coup, America’s support for the Nazis, and one might add that instead of reading Jesse Owens as only a rebuke – an in your face Adolf, slap at Nazism, also can be read as a sickening display of collaboration with tyranny.
Yes FDR had to tread carefully but that begs the question – why did he have to be cautious? Because entwined with neutrality was advocacy for fascism. Lindberg and Henry Ford and the American Bund were like Joe Kennedy Sr. all in favor of tyranny and fuck the left and fuck the Jews and fuck the world.
But for Jameson, all of that is like being right that Jack the Ripper was good with his hands while ignoring the screams and the blood.
Jameson: “For one thing, few contemporaries have lived the crisis in history, the crisis in historiography, the crisis in the narrative language of the diachronic, so intensely as de Man”
This is of course wrong factually. An entire generation of European historians, philosophers, artists (Bloch, Sartre, de Bouvoir, Aron, Camus, Mauriac, Levi-Straus, Rene Char, Auerbach, Picasso, Braque, Boll, Gras, Adorno, Horkheimer, etc.) left, right and center, all experienced the abyss and responded.
In fact, the experience was so widespread as to border on the banal, and not in the sense of being banal and thus requiring or generating a shrug and a stifled yawn, but exactly the banality of evil as excavated by Arendt – a totalizing, all encompassing evil that attached itself to everything – street signs, forms to be filled out, coffee to be drunk, curfews, relationships, weddings, divorces, affairs, a dog and a cat, school exams, and the train schedule.
And Jameson forgets, or succeeds in not remembering, that Kafka and Zamyatin’s excavations of the catastrophes of tyranny, predate the war and were hailed, universally for telling the truth – even in translation.
And of course he is excluding an entire cadre of Americans – Hemingway, Mailer, Heller, Miller, Jerrell whose Ball Turret Gunner has been in anthologies – rightly – for decades. A crew who of course obliterates Jameson’s historical hair-splitting in which he claims North Americans are weak sisters in comparison to the more hardboiled Europeans.
Jameson is here a mirror image of the right wing reactionary, who erases the truth in service of a lie in service of a crime, which is itself a series of lies. The difference being he is on the left but other than that it is the same – a hammer striking a nail but making no sound.
Jameson recounting a private conversation with de Man: ” The trouble with Marxism ,” he once observed in private conversation, ” is that it has no way of understanding the eighteenth century.”
A curious statement which, Jameson wraps inside a dead argument about de Man’s connection to Rousseau – as if Rousseau does not attach to the entirety of the European crisis of revolution, reaction, and the struggle for the individual versus the state. And another not unimportant factual issue: Marx’s father, the lawyer, was well versed in the Napoleonic Code because, whole swaths of “Germany” retained the French revolutionary bureaucracy well into the first few years of the 20th century.
Thus both metaphorically and in a banal nut and bolts day to day manner, de Man and Jameson are wrong.
But then the next question: Is it a problem for Marxism or for everyone else? Is there something unique about Marx who was as well read as many if not as well read as others but better read than most? Who now or even then in the middle of the 19th century can feel the twilight world of the 18th with its candle powered evenings and its total darkness where the night sky was an ocean of stars that had not yet vanished amid what Henry Adams would later define as the era of the Virgin and the Dynamo?
No, this wont do at all – this sophistry, this left wing hoax.
But then Jameson reverses course – but only to deceive:
“I want to stress the degree to which, above and beyond this or that local identification and unmasking of a specific linguistic seduction (all of which in one way or another reenact the referential illusions- including desire- generated by the initial metaphoric act) , de Man’s work is unique among that of modern critics and theorists in its ascetic repudiation of pleasure, desire , and the intoxication of the sensory.”
This de Man is a bit of a stiff; a boring liberal at worst and a kind of regurgitated High Modernist who, unfortunately, but not criminally, is devoid of passion.
“I suppose that what is being observed here is the feeling one sometimes has , with a certain distance and a certain shift in perspective, that historically and culturally de Man was a very old-fashioned figure indeed, whose values were more characteristic of a pre-World War II European intelligentsia (something generally calculated to remain invisible to contemporary North Americans) .'”
Pre-World War II? He says that as if he means the era of the Kaiser and top hats but notice he does not offer any examples and so can expand one era into another.
Invisible to North Americans?
Yes, the pre war types who were by the time of the war, already culturally dead and buried under the riot and revolution that stretched from Rimbaud to Rites of Spring to Cubism, Jazz, Film, Joyce, Eliot, Proust, Mina Loy, HD, e.e. cummings, Yeats, and so on – in short, Jameson is recasting not just de Man but the record in order to reconfigure de Man’s crimes as merely an accident and a not very interesting or significant one at that.
A sort of, ho hum, yes, he collaborated but really, so what, it wasn’t that big a deal. The flim flam of the haute left intellectual trying to ride one horse with two asses or two horses with one ass and in either case performing a moral split that sticks the landing and encases the soul in a moral coma and intellectual stupor.
And here we quote Jameson at length:
“I have not until the present wanted to pronounce myself on the now notorious “revelations ;’ the discovery of de Man’s work as a cultural journalist in the first years of the German occupation of Belgium. I’m afraid that much of the debate aroused by these materials has struck me as what Walter Benn Michaels likes to call “handwringing.” For one thing, it does not seem to me that North American intellectuals have generally had the kind of experience of history that would qualify them to judge the actions and choices of people under military occupation (unless indeed the situation of the Vietnam War is taken to offer some rough analogy). ”
So doing the laundry for the Holocaust is handwringing versus wearing the uniform is a sin.
This kind of sophistry must be called out for what it is – not just a moral ulcer but a sin on top of the original sin of the extermination of millions. That it is from a leftist only makes the sin all the worse but that is of course the issue – the all encompassing silence, the system of silence inside the theater is designed and maintained by both “left” and “right” acting to support each other.
And as Jameson seems to have forgotten his previous statement (or was hoping everyone else had) in which he defines German fascism, as all-encompassing:
“[The] very possibility of the Judeocide was absolutely at one with and inseparable from the anticommunist and radical right-wing mission of National Socialism”
Thus all of his attempts amputate de Man from the crime are undone by his own evidence as are his later attempts (examined below) to create a separation between the anti-capitalist wing of National Socialism and what Jameson bizarrely calls, the moderate wing, exemplified by, Hitler.
And take note again of the dodge – the suggestion that some monolithic, uniform mass of “North Americans” lived in some moral and experiential aspic except perhaps for the minor episode of Vietnam.
This sort of logical train wreck, this high handed smug condescension is to be expected from a Kissinger, or a Buckley, or minus the thicket of complex allusions, from a Thomas Friedman acting as the sleep aid for the NY Time’s op-ed readership suffering from insomnia, but in the hands of a self declared leftist intellectual, it is like looking under the Statue of Liberties’ Dress and saying, Christ I’ve seen donkeys with less girth.
Do we really need to regurgitate the totality of what an all encompassing disaster “Vietnam” was – the genocide, the corruption, the death squads, the systemic lies, its connection, essential and metaphoric to Watergate and COINTELPRO, the murders of King, RFK, JFK, and the freedom riders, the catastrophes to the environment, the waste of lives and resources, the servile advocacy for the morbidly obese and porcine military industrial complex, the abuses of the intelligence agencies not just domestically but abroad in Operation Condor where, one would assume that a leftist like Jameson would remember to pack his intellectual nut sac.
And one would hope, say a prayer for the mothers of the disappeared – and all the leftists executed by America’s tools in Chile and Argentina and that crucially those atrocities were aided and abetted by “former” Nazis smuggled out of Europe by the US – and all of that is before entering into the extent to which “Vietnam” is also a corollary to the abuses piled on top of Europe where Jameson positions de Man as an isolated genius, and thus eliminates the context for the rebellion inherent in Postmodernity’s methodology and the explosion of 68.
And that in turn positions Jameson as a fellow traveler and useful idiot of the reactionary right, who to this day deny the context of the European rebellion and in turn deny the context of the Holocaust, which allows Jameson to position de Man’s collaboration as at worst, a youthful indiscretion and quote possibly a sly attempt at resistance.
No, the lie is a lie and the sin is a sin.
This is Moloch and Ginsberg wailing about the best minds of his generation being destroyed. This is Jameson fictionalizing apartheid America, Jim Crow America with the Klan not as an adjunct of state sponsored terror but a historical curio.
Black Codes from the Underground?
Jameson has de Man as neither an anti-Semite or an anti-communist and thus, innocent. Except this requires the same reactionary amputations of the right wing. To operate within the Nazi reality as anything but a Resister under cover or overtly, is to collaborate, for it is of a totality and not a series of autonomous and distinct parts. To write for Le Soir is to stand by while the trains whistle in the distance. To be indifferent is to be in favor of, to declare neutrality is to declare support for, to say nothing is to speak the epic of collaboration.
Again, as Jameson himself states:
“[The] very possibility of the Judeocide was absolutely at one with and inseparable from the anticommunist and radical right-wing mission of National Socialism…”
“But put this way, it seems at once clear that de Man was neither an anticommunist nor a right-winger: had he taken such positions in his student days (at a time when the student movements of Europe were overwhelmingly conservative or reactionary), they would have been public knowledge, inasmuch as he was the nephew of one of the most famous figures of European socialism.”
First the unspoken – as if to be neither this or that, in the context of Europe in the middle of the 20th century, was not, by definition, to be uncommitted and thus a de facto supporter of the twin monstrosities. As Victor Serge put it in midnight of the Century where was liberalism or conservativism in either its enlightened or reactionary iterations if not acting in the service of the looming disasters of Hitler and Stalin?
Jameson has de Man as a product of the catastrophe that was violent anti-left fascism, but as untainted by his silence which serviced the very system that, per Jameson, traumatized him precisely because of its all-encompassing totality – like the event horizon of a historical black hole.
And then this calumny speaking of de Man’s uncle, the fascist: “…one of the most famous figures of European socialism”?!?
No sir! His uncle was a fascist who willingly, happily worked with the Germans to enslave Belgium and was a man dedicated to the destruction of civilization and believed that Hitler offered the salvation of the world.
The question is not how he could have gone unnoticed because his uncle was a famous European socialist but how he could have gone unknown, undocumented, unconvinced, because his uncle was a war criminal and/or a collaborator with war criminals.
And as to how it would have been a secret that de Man was the nephew of a Nazi tool, we have already alluded and we add, that here Jameson doesn’t just run off course, he jumps completely into the realm of hack – he writes as if Operation Paperclip and Bloodstone, and all the rest of the politically motivated facets of “DeNazification” not only didn’t take place, that what did, instead, was a kind of benign parade except for the lingering moral hangover which somehow only impacted de Man.
Thus what is revealed is the Anglo-left system of silence that denies context, and claims to be against denial and in favor of honesty and rigor, as a bulwark against the macabre machinations of the reactionaries, but is in truth their friend and uses the same methodology to enforce, silence.
“…What Paul de Man clearly was , however, as the articles testify, can be seen to be a fairly unremarkable specimen of the then conventional high-modernist aesthete, and the apolitical aesthete at that. This is clearly a very different matter from Heidegger (although it seems unquestionable that the twin Heidegger and de Man “scandals” have been carefully orchestrated to delegitimate Derridean deconstruction)….”
A minor functionary, who cannot be found guilty. A footnote to a footnote and besides, the “scandals” are cooked up agit-prop used by conservatives and assorted anti-leftists in the same way that people find Eliot’s anti-Semitism and praise for Mussolini to be historical and moral also-rans because, ?
Jameson: “Heidegger may have been ” politically naïve;” as they like to say, but he was certainly political, and believed for a time that the Hitlerian seizure of power was a genuine national revolution that would result in a moral and social reconstruction of the nation. As rector of Freiburg University, and in the best reactionary and McCarthyite spirit, he worked at purging the place of its doubtful elements (although one should remember that genuinely radical or leftist ” elements” were very scarce in the German university system of the 1920s, compared to the Hollywood of the 1940s or the Federal Republic of the 1970s). ”
Thus, the “crime” per Jameson, is not that Heidegger and de Man, were doing the best they could in support of fascism but that anyone would be enraged that they were doing anything at all in support of fascism and besides, compared to Hollywood in the 1940s and the Germany of the 70s, most of the radicals in Germany were already either dead – like Liebknecht, Rosenberg and the rest of the Spartacus league – or were in exile like Thomas Mann and Brecht.
And oh by the way, Hollywood of the 40s was run not by ardent leftists but by autocratic reactionaries in bed with the FBI and the mafia, and within a few years of course there was the Blacklist and the radicals of the late 60s and early70s were all seen off by 74-75 when in succession the system discovered the “Blockbuster” and we had, the Exorcist, Jaws and Star Wars – and the era of the auteur died under a cloud of money and government reaction culminating in the Reaganite destruction of Michael Cimino and Heaven’s Gate.
And in terms of methodology a word here about the idea that there is a legitimate contrast between the radicalism of Hollywood in the 40s and the 70s, and then again between Germany in the 30s and those two distinct eras.
There is not and Jameson knows it and pretends otherwise. Entire swaths of German intellectual groups were pushed out the door of universities and newspapers, and publishing, medicine, and the law and in each case each part of the system acted as a mirror of the others so that the idea of Heidegger or de Man as lowly autonomous cogs in a vast machine falls apart. They collaborated. And, keep in mind, de Man’s friend, Derrida, was expelled from teaching by Vichy thugs precisely because, he was a Jew.
The smallest insult, in the shadow of the greatest crime is not morally small, but a moral catastrophe precisely because the gesture of indifference is the bullet in the gun that executes thousands if not millions.
“His ultimate disappointment with Hitler was shared by a number of people on the revolutionary (anticapitalistic) left within National Socialism, who failed for some time to understand Hitler’s pragmatic position as a moderate or centrist or his crucial relationship to big business. ”
His ultimate disappointment, because, he was originally a supporter of what? The Beer Hall Putsch? Of Hitler’s Beat and jazz stylings in, Mein Kampf?
“[The] very possibility of the Judeocide was absolutely at one with and inseparable from the anticommunist and radical right-wing mission of National Socialism.”
This borders on both the precious and the obscene. Even if one grants the premise, that Hitler was pragmatic and a moderate or centrist in relation to Germany’s corporate masters, or relative to some as yet undefined radical political group, is to say, Ted Kaczynski was pragmatic in regards to his relationship with the US Mail system. Technically it’s accurate but morally, it is rancid.
First, if Hitler is a moderate, than who or what would fit Jameson’s definition of a radical in Germany during this era? Rosa Luxemburg and Liebknecht were already dead. The rest were scattered and in hiding or tenuous exile. Ernst Rohm as a radical to Hitler’s moderate only works if one strips away everything except Rohm’s anti-capitalism and leaves Hitler as only a tool or willing symbiont to and with the military leadership, the aristocracy and the industrial barons. But this is War and Peace without the French or Moby Dick without the whale.
Secondly, how does one amputate Hitler’s “centrism” from the rest of his program exactly as Jameson states – it was of a totality? The brutal, race-based confiscation of property, including major industries, banks, and personal fortunes, from German Jews, and the violent destruction of German leftists, which coincided with and were used to bolster the treaty violating increases in all areas of German arms, the violent Weimar era paramilitary cults, and the generalized, delusional fits of paranoia and racism, can only be defined as centrist, or pragmatic, in the sense that, as an all encompassing tyranny, Hitlerian fascism was the center of German politics – as it had eliminated all other factions and was pragmatic in the sense that the logic, as such, of fascism, motivated Hitler’s psychosis.
Third, after the Night of the Long Knives, the pseudo-left or socialist wing of the National Socialist Fascist system, had been eliminated. And in that context if Hitler is a “moderate” and Ernst Rohm is an anti-capital “leftist” and “radical” exactly how much daylight is there between Hitler and the SA? Does anyone really believe that Hitler’s subsequent détente with the aristocracy, the military (aristocrats) and the industrialists was not purely tactical? In other words, if he thought it would have been practical to side with Rohm against the others, who would take the bet that he would refuse for matters of principle?
Rohm may have wanted to execute the wealthy while Hitler wanted to use them but to suggest that makes one a “moderate” and the other a fool to believe Hitler could be trusted is to strip language of meaning.
And considering Hitler’s treatment of Papen and senior officers during the Night of the Long Knives, the issue is not ideological but the fusion of ideology with Hitler’s psychosis. Had Von Papen been an unquestioning supporter he would not have been arrested and had he been an adamant opponent and still an aristocrat he would have been executed.
Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
Not only was the Night of the Long Knives proof of the radical violent reality of Hitler’s agenda, it established Hitler as anything but a centrist, unless one defines the German center as totalitarian and pragmatism as the violent extermination of all opposition.
That Hitler was aligned with the aristocrats against the right wing proletariat no more makes him a moderate then Nixon’s support of the EPA makes him an environmentalist and a Green.
But, crucially, it is necessary to remind Jameson, and his followers that the “left” wing of the Nazis, while advocating “National Socialism” defined it as requiring the extermination of the Jews and the non Nazi left. In that sense there was no daylight between the right wing of Nazism and the left wing of German tyranny.
For Jameson to be correct requires the Strasserite faction of the Nazis to be anti-capitalists but not violent fascists and anti-Semites which of course is impossible. And since Hitler was anything but a wall flower, Jameson’s version of events also requires these so called “anti-capital left fascists” to all have been spectacular morons who believed the Reichstag had indeed been burned down by Communists, and that the likes of Himmler and Goring and Heydrich were honest when they told the rest of Europe, we’ll only put it in a little.
The idea that Heidegger and other “anti-capitalist National Socialists” were surprised to discover that Hitler was a mass murdering psychopath, who wasn’t going to destroy capitalism, and that this alleged surprise somehow exonerates and contextualizes de Man as an innocent within the system, is both laughable and nauseating if not also terrifying.
If Heidegger was surprised it can only be because he was delusional as Hitler’s public utterances from Mein Kampf through the Reichstag fire emergency decrees, and the statements by his allies, and the all too public actions of his Brownshirts, could not have been more blatant. But even if one again grants the premise and says, there were “anti-capitalist leftists” within the Nazi party, one must, if one is honest, define their definition of “anti-capitalist left” as being based on the racist delusion that capitalism qua capitalism, was a Jewish controlled plot to betray and exploit the working class through usury and war.
Thus, the idea, again, of Hitler’s embracing of the establishment as a surprise, is either simply a conjob or a statement of such gross intellectual malfeasance, one is left to either define Jameson as a fraud, or a fool, or both.
It is unlikely that he was a fool, in the sense of being too stupid to understand the intellectual suicide he was committing and one is left instead with the conclusion that he was for reasons unknown, so in debt to de Man, professionally and personally, that he was willing to commit to print a body of lies that sin against the truth.
And finally if it was a “surprise” to Heidegger or anyone else than it would, to quote Arendt, have required a near criminal lack of imagination to be surprised by anything that Hitler said, did, or orchestrated – which in the case of Arendt is a special kind of irony.
As such, ironically, Jameson mirrors the sin of de Man’s collaboration. And take note that Jameson dismisses “collaboration” by de Man as being in truth, nothing more than a man of no sharp political or ideological commitment, just trying to get along in the face of, what he assumed was the certainty of Germany hegemony. In other words, the resistance, both in its covert form, and in the overt form of the alliance against fascism are seen off the pitch as irrelevant, and all those sacrificing themselves are condemned to a kind of historical purgatory.
What then could compel an otherwise intelligent and thoughtful, and observant intellect to cough up such a disaster of half truths, lies and negligence?
The answer, we postulate, is that like so many others, Jameson could not, or was prevented from, opening the door to the truth – the importation of Nazis to the United States, the use of their technological expertise, their use as instruments of terror in other countries, their infiltration or rather, absorption by the CIA, the State Department, and universities, creating a web of collaboration that reached from cafes in Paris to lecture halls at Harvard, Yale and then to torture chambers in other countries.
And to open that door, to admit the post war obscenity would be to open the door to how the Nazis achieved power in the first place, and that would mean admitting that they were the blunt instrument of the West’s reaction to the left.
Jameson: “I know I will be misunderstood if I add that I have some sneaking admiration for Heidegger’s attempt at political commitment, and find the attempt itself morally and aesthetically preferable to apolitical liberalism (provided its ideals remain unrealized) Nothing of this has any relevance for whom the thing dramatically called ” collaboration” was simply a job, in a Europe henceforth and for the foreseeable future united and German, and who as long as I knew him personally was simply a good liberal (and a non anticommunist one at that) . Can one nonetheless follow one of the classic scenarios of Ideologiekritik and argue that the evolution of a whole complex later line of thought was in some way determined by an initial trauma that it seeks to undo?
This therapeutic language can , of course, be replaced by a more tactical one, as in Bourdieu’s magisterial discussion of the way in which Heidegger’s famous Kehre (the turn of his existentialism toward matters of being) constitutes a calculated rhetorical disengagement from the earlier political affirmation of the Nazi “revolution” but (in that, unlike Blanchot) de Man had no such sympathies to begin with.
One can also, however, plausibly discuss such deconversions in terms of trauma itself, as the experience of violence and radical fear: thus, in Conversation in the Cathedral (so oddly prophetic of his own later apostasy from the Left) , Vargas Llosa shows how the very experience of being burned by history (in this case being beaten up after a student demonstration, but in more serious cases torture itself ) installs a crippling structure of self-censorship and a well-nigh Pavlovian avoidance of future political commitment (a kind of peculiar inversion of the canonical Fanonian liberatory act of violence) .”
A crippling structure of self-censorship?
Jameson continues: “It seems ludicrous to suggest that all the complex procedures of deManian deconstruction came into being in some way to atone for or to undo a ” Nazi past” that never existed in the first place. They certainly effectively undid his uncritically modernist aesthetic values (while finally, as we have seen, “saving the text” in another way). As for the notorious ” anti-Semitic” article, I believe that is has been consistently misread: it strikes me as the ingenious effort at resistance of a young man altogether too smart for his own good. For the message of this “intervention” is the following:
“you garden-variety anti-Semites and intellectuals (we will leave the lofty ‘religious’ anti-Semitism of the Third Reich out of it) in fact do your own cause a disservice. You have not understood that if ‘Jewish literature’ is as dangerous and virulent as you claim it is, it follows that Aryan literature does not amount to much, and in particular lacks the stamina to resist a Jewish culture which is supposed to be, under other canonical ‘ anti-Semitic’ accounts, valueless.
You would therefore under these circumstances be better advised to stop talking about the Jews altogether and to cultivate your own garden.”
“It is ironic , although absolutely characteristic of irony as such, that this irony should be so disastrously misunderstood and misread (de Man seems to have at once understood that the piece was most easily readable as the expression of anti-Semitism rather than the latter’s undermining).
Perhaps the rigors of deconstructive reading -so passionately pursued and taught in later years- are calculated to “undo ” this disaster in the sense of forming readers capable at least of resisting this kind of elementary interpretive blunder. But most of his disciples seem to have made it anyway on first confronting this “text”; and in any case a certain further “irony” is afforded by the fact that de Man’s pedagogy, so remarkable in other respects , should have left his students singularly ill-prepared to confront this type of political and historical issue, which it bracketed from the outset.
The ultimate irony, however, lies in the survival of Irony itself-the supreme theoretical concept and value of traditional modernism and the very locus of the notion of self-consciousness and the reflexive -in the otherwise complete debacle of the repertoire of modernism in de Man’s mature work. Indeed, it rises again serenely as the latter’s climax, on the final page of Allegories of Reading.”
And then there is this, from Jameson, in a review of a later day apathetic collaborator with the system, where he offers up an unintentionally revealing comment by de Man:
“Or maybe, as Paul de Man thought, it is the act of telling them that makes them guilty and that turns the telling itself into a confession avant la lettre?”
And there it is – de Man embraced “Deconstruction” in order to remove himself from being guilty of having been a collaborator with the Nazis. Jameson twists and turns and prevaricates, obscures and denounces, but the guilt is unavoidable and the comment above reveals the truth. To speak is to be guilty because the language used – Liberation, Occupation, Resistance, Collaborator, Holocaust – implicates everyone. The telling itself is, indeed the confession.
But take note that even if one yet again grants the premise what remains is that de Man’s suggestion – that Jewish writers should just be ignored – is not a suggestion to ignore them and leave them to live, but is nothing more or less than a call to build a new and better – more effective – ghetto.
And Jameson is guilty of furthering that crime. He knows, beyond any doubt that “leave them alone” was not a plea to leave them alone to do as they pleased but was, within the totality of the historical reality, at best a call to isolate them in a ghetto, and pretend they weren’t starving to death.
This is no different than a White’s Only drinking fountain – operated under the penalty of lynching. For what of the ignored Jew – what of the individual – who crosses the line?
1947, Maurice Merleau-Ponty writes, Humanism and Terror, a response to Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon which had appeared the year before.
Koestler, disillusioned with Stalin, Marx, revolution generally and 1917 specifically, was soon on the CIA’s payroll, if not on their checklist as he could not be counted on to strictly follow the party line.
Ponty’s view: “It was not possible to be an anti-Communist and impossible to be a communist.”
The History of the war in the West generally, and specifically in America is Spielberg’s War. Saving Private Ryan is This Boy’s Life with superior special effects and what appears to be moral calamities and ambiguities folded into the wider, greater certainties of god, country, duty. It is in short, Socialist Realism as filtered through the liberal imagination laying claim to what had previously been the domain of the conservatives and the reactionaries.
Above all the film is about sacrifice and the obliteration of the messy details. In Spielberg’s War America was not at best ambivalent about fascism and at worst, fascist, and instead was reluctant to get involved with those irritating Europeans but by golly, once we were in the fight then we were in it, and Herman the German and Tojo were gonna get a whopping.
Thus, Joe Kennedy Sr. and Henry Ford and Lindbergh, and Father Coughlin slithering out of millions of American radios to denounce Wall Street and the Jews, vanish. Gone are the Palmer Raids and the use by the FBI, of the mafia to break the unions, because the unions were full of leftists – not withstanding that Jay lovestone, was on the CIA payroll. Gone is America’s support for fascist White Russians, and our invasion of Russia and our support for the Nationalist, fascist Chinese.
Instead we get Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, and if you can’t trust them who can you trust?
Then after the war, which Hanks and Damon had won, the US set about the business of stopping the Soviet’s from conquering the world.
To do so the CIA and its friends took in Nazis.
Operation Bloodstone was the successor to Operation Paperclip. As Harry Rositske, an anti-Soviet “expert” at the agency said:
“It was a visceral business of using any bastard as long as he was anti-Communist.”
Which of course was a reheated version of the same policy from the period right after the revolution of 1917.
And so “any bastard” meant people like Reinhard Gehlen, former chief of Nazi military intelligence on the eastern front. Having established his formidable resume, and assorted “successes”, who would be better suited to stopping the Bolsheviks than a Nazi thug?
That such a repurposing of a war criminal and a fascist might give the already psychotically paranoid, psychopath Stalin cause for alarm would, one would think, be a reason to second guess the effort but you would be wrong, as increasing Stalin’s dementia was seen as a net positive. Besides, even if the thinking of Gehlen’s new masters was that sophisticated, he was still a man who knew what had to be done.
A detail of history as Le Pen, was to day a few decades later as he sought the presidency of France.
Suspicion among the Zionists?
So the fuck what, after all, they’re Kikes, so they can fuck off.
And so, Gehlen and Bloodstone and the suppression of the truth.
How, asked Ponty, could one be against the left, if it meant pretending you were not on the same side as the Nazis? How could one be for the left if it meant pretending you were not on the same side as the Stalinists?
A Greek tragedy. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Hugh Wilford, the Mighty Wurlitzer, How the CIA played America:
“As George Kennan and other “determined interventionists” discussed possible means of not only containing the Soviet empire in a campaign of liberation, they kept coming back to the same idea: the possible usefulness…of the numerous exiles from the communist world…By 1946, the War Department was systematically spiriting away…Germans who had desirable “technical” expertise (and often, terrible records as war criminals)…”
A grand irony weaves itself into the story. Just before 1989, a CIA letter is revealed and in it the spooks at Langley describe their admiration for Foucault as an instrument to pry intellectuals and students away from the left; a cudgel that through elaborate front organizations and secret slush funds, would lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union and the discrediting of the left.
This of course reduces contemporary pinheads on the right who scream about Foucault and “Postmodernist Neo Marxists” to cartoon characters. It also of course makes manifest the extent to which Europe is, despite multiple earth shaking events at the same time exists in a kind of stasis from the first World War through to the present. Who is paying for what? Who decides what gets published, what gets reviewed and how?
From, Gabriel Rockhill in the LA Review of Books, The CIA Reads French Theory: On The Intellectual Labor of Dismantling The Cultural Left.
Asking rhetorically if huate intellectuals have any real world impact, he says to those who say intellectuals are irrelevant:
“The Central Intelligence Agency thinks otherwise.
As a matter of fact, the agency responsible for coups d’état, targeted assassinations and the clandestine manipulation of foreign governments not only believes in the power of theory, but it dedicated significant resources to having a group of secret agents pore over what some consider to be the most recondite and intricate theory ever produced. For in an intriguing research paper written in 1985, and recently released with minor redactions through the Freedom of Information Act, the CIA reveals that its operatives have been studying the complex, international trend-setting French theory affiliated with the names of Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan and Roland Barthes.”
“They cite in particular the profound contribution made by the Annales School of historiography and structuralism—particularly Claude Lévi-Strauss and Foucault—to the “critical demolition of Marxist influence in the social sciences.” Foucault, who is referred to as “France’s most profound and influential thinker,” is specifically applauded for his praise of the New Right intellectuals for reminding philosophers that “‘bloody’ consequences” have “flowed from the rationalist social theory of the 18th-century Enlightenment and the Revolutionary era.” Although it would be a mistake to collapse anyone’s politics or political effect into a single position or result, Foucault’s anti-revolutionary leftism and his perpetuation of the blackmail of the Gulag—i.e. the claim that expansive radical movements aiming at profound social and cultural transformation only resuscitate the most dangerous of traditions—are perfectly in line with the espionage agency’s overall strategies of psychological warfare.”
Foucault of course is not wrong – the left leads to revolutionary terror. This is what Trotsky told Lenin in 1903 in Brussels: If you substitute the party for the revolution, and then substitute an elite for the party, you will invite a tyrant from the right, backed by the army, to eliminate everyone until nothing remains.
Needless to say, Lenin disagreed.
Lenin had disapproved of Rosa Luxemburg and Liebknecht in 1919. It was an old argument and you can find people telling Marx the same thing – and Marx saying that the terror of the proletariat dictatorship was a phase; a process beyond which history would defeat its enemies. And he then argued over whether or not the masses had to be led, by an elite, or whether they should lead themselves. Thus from the middle of the 19th century into contemporary times, the arguments remain unchanged.
Or, as Danton said: Let us be terrible ourselves, to stop the people from having to be terrible.
Ponty adds that the criticism of the left and revolutionary terror, and the dictatorship of the proletariat, proceeds from a fallacy: it is only immoral if one adheres to pre-revolutionary liberal discourse, otherwise, it is Year Zero and the “terror” is the legitimate response to the terror and dictatorship of what was, the Ancien Régime. This of course is a distinction lost on the dead.
Surveying the world in 1945 only a professional cynic or a sociopath or some sort of psychopath would tell Foucault he’s wrong. This of course is ironically where both the left and the right join hands.
The left sees the train wreck of events as proof that they’re on the right track – just another few million corpses and the Dialectic will be manifest. The right both in its conservative and fascist forms has the same mantra – the old fool says to push on and so they do. In other words, Walter Benjamin and the Angel of History.
The leftists who attack Foucault as some sort of fulcrum in the CIA’s war against the mess of freedom, in the name of the illusion of the free hand of the market, miss the forest for the trees. For them Foucault, leather harness at the ready, is an anti-Marxist; an elite, effete intellectual who wont take sides. He lacks, in the language of the past, commitment. He, like Barthes and the rest have “betrayed” the left.
As if Stalinism needed any help, let alone from a small band of mystifying French intellectuals. And needless to say, while it may have been difficult to see in 1985 when the CIA assessment of “Theory” was written, it’s not as if the market is in rude health. Far from it – it teeters on the brink of both localized collapse in, for example Detroit, and the burnt out rust belt,(and all the “Detroits” of the world) but world wide as the environment teeters on the edge of the abyss. The official tone of triumphalism is fairly hollow – written in the middle of the Reaganite cult.
Consider that Baudrillard, while contemptuous of failed Marxism, is hardly a cheerleader for a robust neoliberalism. Writing in The Illusion of the End:
“All we have left of liberty is an ad-man’s illusion, that it, the zero degree of the Idea, and it is this which sets the tone for our liberal regime of human rights.”
And (crucially): “There is, moreover, a paradox of Western societies opposite and equivalent to that of communism: though they present all the signs of more developed and open societies, at the same time they have one eye on the past as though it were a void they created behind them, while absorbing the future.”
A further irony: The CIA and the Ford Foundation and a host of other organizations funded the French Intellectual industry, and viewed these people as assets in the fight against the left. And yet, Slavoj Zizek and his Maoist Sancho Panza, Alain Badiou, today extoll the virtues of both Marx and Lacan.
The system consumes itself. It east itself. Culture is a cannibal. The cannibal is an artist.
There is something completely Postmodern about the CIA. It’s as if they were a Nabokov novel. They throw money at anti-Stalinist leftists, like Melvin Lasky and he runs magazines that publish, Adorno, Horkheimer, Heinrich Bool, Hannah Arendt, and Arthur Koestler and T.S. Eliot – Ignazio Silone, Saul Bellow – a who’s who of fascists and borderline reactionaries and anti-left leftists and officially it’s somehow – what exactly? Effective? At what?
Of course one shouldn’t get carried away. The actual article by the anonymous CIA “analysts” is shallow, stiff, one almost wants to say, proletarian, in its hymn to the tractor factory (anti)style, but that would erase the almost gleeful tone of superiority – in turn betrayed by a classic case of missing the forest for the trees.
We are told, correctly, that it was the French left, particularly the PCF, that emerged after ’45 with its honor intact. The Nationalists, the Vichy and Action Francaise thugs were, temporarily shattered. But then comes the gleeful tone:
“Leftist intellectuals became masters at elaborating formulas for reshaping French society, and of producing a constant barrage of criticism against successive conservative governments…
The Socialist and Communist parties also tried in two ways to establish and perpetuate what one critic recently dubbed a leftist “intellocracy.” First the financed numerous journals and newspapers through which intellectuals could channel their torrent of invective against the regime and French society. Second they helped to institutionalize the leftist intellectual establishment and to make it self-perpetuating by underwriting the unionization of the university and secondary school faculties. Both efforts helped ensure that those who circulated into the French intellectual elite were ideologically attuned to its prejudices and partisan’s loyalties. The system worked almost flawlessly for a time…”
Where to begin to untangle this train wreck?
Perhaps by highlighting that as we’ve already mentioned, Sartre and Camus were almost at once at loggerheads and in competition, and that the political was both private and social. One then might add that as early as 1947, Merleau-Ponty was being attacked by the PCF as an anti-Stalinist tool of American hegemony – while writing anti-Stalinist left criticism of the Communists. And of course he was hardly alone. The myth of a monolithic left is one of the odd side effects of the hermetically sealed world of spooks, and certain academics and their journalistic remoras.
Sartre himself as we’ve said, in public letters, in the late 1940s, was critical of Stalin, the Soviet Union and the Gulags and was of course attacked in the pages of the state organ, Pravda.
In turn one then takes note of the total absence of any context. But of course the CIA, is no more going to point a critical public gun at its head than the Vatican.
As a result one has the myth repeated as analysis which in turn as an echo, becomes another myth inside the first. Having subverted democratic regimes and facilitated the rise of Fascism, the West fought the war, then resumed where it had left off previously. Incorporating Nazis back into the fold, developing a friendship with Franco, arming fascists in Greece to defeat the Greek left, subverting elections in Italy to prevent the left from winning, the use of ex SS and Wehrmacht soldiers in the Foreign Legion, the draconian, Caligula-esque orgies of violence in South East Asia and Central and South America, and The Middle East and all the rest, of course are the context for the attitude of French left intellectuals.
As were the camps.
Holocaust, Occupation, Collaboration, Liberation, Resistance.
But instead, we are told it was, “invective.”
Well, the spooks aren’t wrong as there was a lot to cause invective. The left, in both its fascist and egalitarian forms was revenge minded and with good cause. The previous system at all levels had failed. It was not just the right that was shattered but the institutions of the state as a whole, were at best suspect and at worst shit.
Then there’s the distinction without a difference aspect of creating a narrative where the French intellectual left is portrayed as unique in having ideological beliefs, and that those in turn create social obligations.
After all, if you’re not a fascist, and you did not collaborate, and you are a writer or an intellectual and a writer, why wouldn’t you want to associate with like-mined people?
Why wouldn’t you want to create a new social order that offered at least some measure of protection from the fascists, with whom you were sharing a city and a country and a national identity or mythology? Thus, criticism of the French intellectuals, as beholden to doctrine, and personal feuds, is absurd, or banal, and to suggest that unions and union organizing are all somehow, odd if not subversive is to sound, worryingly, like a crypto-fascist.
And if all of that were not enough one might consider that prejudice and partisan’s loyalties are hardly unique to leftists or even leftist intellectuals as the Gaullists, the Vichyites, the Action Francaise fascists, and everyone else were all the same.
But the most absurd notion in this “analysis” is the issue of accusing the left of being dangerous because it funded left leaning or fully left newspapers. Not that the writers stoop to offering examples but they might have considered that there were legitimate reasons for people to read Combat and Camus’ contributions, and that despite what the authors suggest, the fact remains, as we mentioned that the right of center Mauriac, engaged in a very public debate with Camus, the left editor and contributor to Combat, over the fate of the Vichyites and the Collaborators – as one would expect in a free society, or a shaken to its core society struggling to become, free.
Gone missing as well, is that it is amusing, and ironic, if not depressing to read the spooks accusing the French left of funding universities and seeking to staff them with unionized leftists – while the CIA was funding French schools referred to in left circles as, the Tragic Bordello.
And a word here about why the left might want unionized teachers. Precisely because once Vichy assumed power under the umbrella of the Nazis, the teachers who were unacceptable, were forced to resign.
Leftists, trade unionists, and of course, Jews.
What emerges then is the secondary layer of the enforced silence. It is as much of a crime as the crime that created it. The CIA’s alternative history, it’s fiction, is not just bad History qua History, it is of course, an insult to the truth.
Among the historians roped into the Reaganite reactionary version of reality is Marc Bloch. Under the headline: Defunct Marxist Scholarship in the Social Sciences, there is this:
“Among French postwar historians, the influential school associated with Marc Bloch, Lucien Febvre, and Fernand Braudel has overwhelmed the traditional Marxist historians. The annales school, as it is known from its principal journal, turned French historical scholarship on its head in the 1950s and 1960s, primarily by challenging and later rejecting the dominant Marxist theories of historical progress. Although many of its exponents maintain they are “in the Marxist tradition,” they mean only that they use Marxism as a critical point of departure…”
First of course Les Annales begins in the late 1920s. But far more importantly is that Bloch, a Jew, was an active member of the Resistance, and was captured in mid June 1944, turned over to the Gestapo in Lyon, and tortured by, Klaus Barbie, who of course, would be transferred out of France by the US, moved through the Vatican to Bolivia where under a new name, he went to work as a CIA asset, teaching the finer points of German opera to the fascists of South America. Protected for decades, instrumental in spreading fascism across South America, a tool of the enlightened democratic West, he was eventually arrested and when politically expedient, returned to France to stand trial.
It is exactly this sort of elision of the truth, this pettifogging, twisted, Soviet style Orwellian shit that metastasizes precisely because the system – European, American, universal – cannot admit the truth. Having set fascism in motion, having used it to crush the left, having intervened disastrously in the Russian and Chinese civil wars, having at every opportunity supported psychopathic, mass murdering thugs, it has proven President Kennedy (himself guilty of the same mendacity) correct when he said: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”
Crucially however, it must be noted that this pathology is not confined to the reactionary right. In each case the scholarly exegesis of the CIA letter, by leftists, never mentions that Bloch was among those tortured and executed.
The reason being that Boch and Les Annales (Febvre and Braudel) were not doctrinaire Marxists if still, emotionally, of the left, and in the case of Bloch, a Resistant. This is because the ideological hidebound leftists seek to undermine the intellectual authority of anyone who in anyway subverts the party line. Thus, for the leftist, Boch is made an unperson, so that the CIA’s claim to have used Foucault, Barthes, Derrida and the “Postmodernists” is evidence of their failure to support the left, and to be cast as useful idiots of the right.
And then, to consider just one example, think about the following:
In Madagascar, French forces, during the post war effort to restore, “glory” engaged in torture, rape, and murder as well as making use of throwing prisoners from helicopters and airplanes from heights of several thousand feet. These methods were later perfected in France’s efforts to crush the rebellion in Algeria.
Estimates of civilian deaths in Madagascar vary with some as high as 100,000.
All official French documents relating to the rebellion remain classified.
The ferocity of the French government in its efforts to reassert its power after the capitulation to the Germans, is clearly another factor in defining the context of the post war atmosphere in France and across Europe. The refusal of all political camps to address the atrocities being committed factor into any legitimate or honest understanding of the French left during this era.
Neither the US or the Soviet Union made any mention of the mass murder and torture committed in Madagascar, and that in turn undermines any of their claims to righteous indignation about events in Vietnam.
The US did play a policy of cherry picking, limiting Dutch efforts to use force to restore its colonial power, limiting France’s ability to transfer American supplied equipment to Indochina but, was silent about Madagascar and did increase aid to France to assist in restoring French control in South East Asia. For an honest leftist, in the period from 1945 to 1989, existence was a razor’s edge with Imperial America on one side and Imperial Russia on the other. While at home, a succession of French governments perpetrated atrocities and covered up those that occurred previously.
However, the overall atmosphere was one of contradictions. The US Truman regime was split between those in the bureaucracy who echoed the FDR view that the era of empire was finished. They in turn were at odds with those who believed the US had to support the French or risk the French Communist Party coming to power. To muddy the picture further one must take note of the fact that Stalin was keeping the PCF at arm’s length because he was more concerned with Germany.
At the same time Ho Chi Minh engaging in the ideology of pragmatism was willing to push communists out of his ruling clique, and to send an emissary to US officials in Bangkok to assure them that should they support the Viet Minh against the French, they would find the newly independent Vietnam a welcome host for American investment and tourism.
Imagine it: Palm trees and French cafes – brought to you by American cash and Vietnamese “communism.”
It is, a postmodern narrative. Pynchon-esque, or some other hall of mirrors into which, no one wants to look too deeply, for fear, obviously that the truth will look deeply into the viewer.
Here we return to Bourdieu’s point that the “left” and the “right” are symbiotic, corrupt, and committed to each other’s success as a means to ensure their continued relevancy.
Or, meet the new boss, same as the old boss, and the truth vanishes. Or becomes a question of who speaks last.
3. Ferris wheels and Sewers.
Graham Greene, The Third Man.
Greene arrives at precisely the right moment. The war generation. He absorbs the grandeur of the British empire as it begins to crumble and fade. The lion still has teeth, it roars and can topple regimes, stifle rebellions, move its fleet and tilt the axis of the world but, it’s all going to rot.
Greene according to one useful if highly problematic biographer, while a student at Oxbridge, played Russian roulette. Perhaps, perhaps not. No matter, as the idea works perfectly. The empire was doing the same. At least until Suez when Eisenhower said, We do not approve, and that was the end of that. Ironically when Ike wanted Churchill and his successors to commit troops, and diplomatic fig leaves to a US bail-out of the French, and their Nazis mercenaries in Indochina, the Brits said, sorry no can do; just gave up the Raj, don’t ya know.
Michael Wood, in the London Review of Books: “Graham Greene started the research for what would become The Third Man (story and movie) in Vienna in February 1948, and wrote the treatment as a free-standing fiction in March and April.”
1948. A year after Merleau-Ponty’s Humanism and Terror and two years after Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.
Greene: “500 years of peace and prosperity in Switzerland gets you cuckoo-clocks and chocolate, and 500 years of chaos and war in Italy, gets you the Renaissance.”
There is a resigned sigh that floats over Greene’s entire body of work. The same feeling floats over and in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited but, Waugh in finding god, abandons reason, and in finding his reason in god, abandons his passion. It’s a muddle but it’s reactionary and thus exists outside of objective logic, and embraces instead the private logic of the penitent.
But both writers are Europe – specifically England – in its faded glory. Great, impossible country estates that make no sense but are logical; obscene but elegant, decadent but sublime. Like an expert courtesan who still knows what to do but, avoids looking too long in the mirror.
Vienna after the war. There’s a truth to be told but through Greene, the truth will be rendered as a moving target; flexible, contradictory, and built on the idea that there is a general distrust of large scale meta-narratives.
Of course no one is going to accuse Greene of being Postmodern; a leftist, yes, though certainly an odd one similar to the leftism of Picasso and Hemingway – with Papa making a cameo in, Our Man in Havana – a novel that also subverts itself, and the idea of the objective truth and says instead, the entire fabric of the system is just a question of who speaks last.
Today’s fascist is tomorrow’s freedom fighter, and tomorrows revolutionary is next week’s dictatorial thug.
Wood, describing Greene’s Vienna:
“Of course the Third Man Museum has a particular Vienna in mind: grubby, grand, corrupt, postwar, occupied, caught up in the litter of a history it can’t at the moment use. Vienna had plenty of film exposure before Harry Lime got there, but it mostly had to do with music and laughter, waltzes, merry widows and loud baritones.”
“The Third Man Museum” sounds like it should be the title to a novel. Kundera perhaps, or even Borges. Perhaps Pamuk. There will be a phone call, and the narrator will answer: This telephone does not work. And they will hang up setting in motion a string of cause and effect, or effect and no cause, in some sort of approximation of modern physics (an approximation that the rationalists in the hard sciences will neither understand nor approve of) and there will be spies and false identities, and a soft sinister web that all of a sudden reaches out and in a blunt force reality, snuffs out everything, leaving behind a twilight struggle between different versions of the same evil.
“Both story and film make a point of their Vienna not being the old, happy one. Greene writes of the ‘smashed dreary city’, ‘a city of undignified ruins … where the Prater lay smashed and desolate and full of weeds, only the Great Wheel revolving slowly over the foundations of merry-go-rounds like abandoned millstones, the rusting iron of smashed tanks which nobody had cleared away’. We note the repetition: city, park and tanks, all smashed. ”
Greene like Waugh, but with a different conception of faith, is reactionary. For Waugh god existed and was good if capable of great cruelty. Like the empire.
For Greene, god existed and was beyond comprehension, though capable of great cruelty and in both mercy and vengence, wisdom, was possible. Like the empire.
For Waugh the past was a precious thing that had been lost. Brideshead Revisited is both the road sign pointing to the facts of the novel (the constant return of Charles Ryder to the house and his past) and the arrow pointing to an idea – that England had lost the better part of itself but had done its duty and sacrificed. It had fulfilled God’s plan, no matter the cost.
For Greene there was stasis. Existence is purgatorial. Morality, which is god, is suspended; neither absent nor present. A state of permanent ambiguity, in which one might work with a former Nazi, to kill a current communist, or one might work with a current communist to kill a an American CIA man, who has former Nazis on his payroll, for the express purpose of killing communists.
Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
It is of course not a surprise that the official response to Greene was condemnation while at the same time he was lauded. It is a kind of ambiguity.
Years later, amid yet another crisis, another failure, in the intelligence agencies, we find the professional spooks unintentionally paraphrasing Greene:
“People will say, ‘I went to the inspector general and it didn’t work; I went elsewhere and it didn’t work.’ People will see it as a game. It will lead to corruption, and it will lead to espionage. When people see that the system is corrupt, it affects everything.”
“In the end, said the former official, “our biggest insider threat is our own institution.””
And so, then finally France and Europe, try to grapple with something approximating the truth.
Jacques Chirac described by Judt:
“Jacques Chirac at a ceremony commemorating the round-up of 13,000 Parisian Jews in July 1942. To his great credit, Chirac was the first French president to acknowledge France’s role in the Final Solution: he declared the anniversary a day of ‘mourning and shame for the French.’ ”
And Gerhard Schroeder:
“German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, speaking on the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The wartime destruction of Europe’s Jews, conspicuously absent from public consciousness in the initial post-war decades, had become the centerpiece of European official memory: in Germany and everywhere else.”
As distinct from the unofficial.
Postmodern Memory takes as its target the idea of the official narrative.
Now that it’s safe; the criminals are dead or nearly dead – toothless old men and besides the people who hired them are long gone.
Still, it’s better than nothing and it’s not as if the new fascists aren’t a threat.
But point out the problematic nature of Official Large Scale Narratives and watch the mob form and bray for justice.
4. The Tin Bird and Painted Drum.
“We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.”
— Primo Levi
“And I only am alive to tell thee”
“Springtime for Hitler, and Germany…”
— Mel Brooks, The Producers
The battle over memory is a continuation of the war by other means.
Who is allowed to remember, and who is allowed to speak about what they remember.
Efforts are made.
The Tin Drum.
The Painted Bird.
And yet, an official silence remains. And when the official silence becomes the official word, the entirety of the complicity is so vast nothing short of revolution and or civil war can accommodate the truth.
And even if one has the stomach for either of those two pyric ideas, don’t believe for a second either will be allowed.
In the 1920s, fresh from their defeat in trying to restore the Czar or place a puppet on the Russian throne, MI6 decided to start slipping cash to a highly combustible former journalist in Italy.
He may have fallen out of a comic opera but Mussolini meant business. Churchill, at his side, proclaimed him a man of destiny who would hold back the godless tide of Bolshevism.
Fast forward to the post war era and there is Adolf von Thadden.
With family and social connections dating back to the resistance inside Germany to the Nazis, von Thadden emerges after the war as a potential new kind of German fascist.
And quite possibly on the payroll of British intelligence.
Agent Provocateur? Or pawn? Both, neither? Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?
How then to have an honest discussion?
A few years before he died, Gunther Grass, author of, The Tin Drum, is revealed to have served in the SS.
Served however is not exactly accurate and held hostage after being kidnapped is less of a lie.
Asked why he waited so long to discuss it, Grass says, you don’t start with what is most difficult.
5.The Last Plan to Lisbon
“‘I could not help being charmed, like so many other people have been, by Signor Mussolini’s gentle and simple bearing and by his calm detached poise in spite of so many burdens and dangers. Secondly, anyone could see that he thought of nothing but the lasting good, as he understands it, of the Italian people, and that no lesser interest was of the slightest consequence to him.
If I had been an Italian I am sure that I should have been wholeheartedly with you from the start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism. But in England we have not had to fight this danger in the same deadly form. We have our way of doing things. But that we should succeed in grappling with Communism and choking the life out of it-of that I am absolutely sure.
I will, however, say a word on the international aspect of Fascismo. Externally, your movement has rendered a service to the whole world. The great fear which has always beset every democratic leader or working-class leader has been that of being undermined or overbid by someone more extreme than he: It seems that a continued progression to the Left, a sort of inevitable landslide into the abyss was characteristic of all revolutions. Italy has shown that there is a way of fighting the subversive forces which can rally the mass of the people, properly led, to value and wish to defend the honour and stability of civilised society. She has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter, no great nation will be unprovided with the ultimate means of protection against cancerous growths, and every responsible labour leader in every country ought to feel his feet more firmly planted in resisting levelling and reckless doctrines. The great mass of people love their country and are proud of its flag and history. They do not regard these as incompatible with a progressive advance towards social justice and economic betterment.’”
— Winston Churchill, The Times, 21st January, 1927
“I was, of course, really happy that the silence was broken (concerning #MeToo). But what is interesting in France is that no one was ever named. Is it a Vichy thing? We’re so traumatized by the Nazis, so ashamed of having been collaborators, that we can’t name anyone.”
— Camille Cottin
Casablanca can lay claim to being the greatest film ever made.
One can point to any number of films with better acting, better cinematography, editing, dialogue, effects, and more depth and greater nuance but in the end, it’s still the case that it’s the greatest film ever made.
Casablanca is a Greek tragedy. It is elastic in the manner of a cartoon and the cartoon reflects the themes one finds in the clockwork precision of a Greek Tragedy.
Casablanca rests on a set of moral certainties and an absolute faith in the linear nature of reality.
None of those things are true bit it doesn’t matter, or rather matter precisely because they are false.
The good guys do what’s required, pay a terrible if noble price for it, and then go on to do the other noble sacrificing if dangerous thing and, defeat the bad guys, roll credits.
Of course it’s all bullshit.
Casablanca is pure propaganda and subversive of its own attempt at being propaganda.
It is a series of coordinates each designed to offer a sham debate on the issues of the day – isolationism, Spain, fascism, old world and new, Vichy, collaboration, camps, occupation, resistance and so on – but in offering a purely romantic iteration of those issues it both establishes the official talking points and closes the border of the officially orchestrated hermetically sealed version of “history” but also reveals every lie and deceit involved in the official narrative.
The truth is of course, to consider one example, that any honest person knows that after the war, in the 1950s, Rick would have been Blacklisted and ended up in exile in France, running a bar, doing business on the black market and probably would have run guns to Algeria.
Set to repeat his life would be Existential in a terminal nightmare of, repetition.
Perhaps he’d be killed by a jealous lover furious that some moll had dumped him for Rick or perhaps he would grow old and fade away; forgotten, an unperson.
The film is both locked inside time – is decidedly of a specific historical moment – and because it is propaganda – thus false – it exists outside of time.
It offers easy answers. Vichy one moment, the next, Free French. Oddly subversive in that Rick and Ferrari agree to pay Sam double once rick sells Ricks because, “he’s worth it.”
The Germans are bad but not too bad though they of course get what they deserve.
And if you don’t enjoy the scene where Rick agrees to the playing of La Marseilles, check yourself for a pulse.
But the film is an illusion. It sits atop the truth like a carnival ride for everyone who had to surrender their integrity to gain entrance to the charade.
There is a direct through line from the pre war support for fascism to the post war era of Cold War confrontation and atrocities; genocide, coups, counter coups, secret experiments and lies within lies all so rancid that at this point it should come as no surprise to anyone that the system is again reeling like a drunk having a seizure.
In the post information era in which the internet is ubiquitous if not banal, the idea that the X Files is not a metaphoric representation of systemic corruption and deception should be viewed with the same skepticism one would, in theory, reserve for cranks who claim the moon landings were a hoax.
However the trope that claims we are in a post truth moment are in fact just more of the same prepackaged deceptions.
What has vanished is not the truth but the ability to sift, collate and conclude. And that is no accident. It is both by design – cut the budget for the Humanities and then cut them again or conversely allow them to be colonized by doctrinaire ideologues uttering gnomic cultural fatwas so logically barren that even knuckle dragging mouth breathing conservatives can bounce them off the nearest cyber wall – and an accidental or collateral damage situation in which no one of any social clout takes the time to rhetorically gut The Paper of Record for running an Op Ed that proclaims a third rate thinker and first rate hack, like Jordan Peterson as the most significant “public intellectual” of our time.
Casablanca may wear its heart on its sleeve but its heart and its ethics are generally in the right place – it knows there are not good people on both sides and that the bad guys wear grey and speak German.
After all, says (Vichyite) louis, Major Strasse is the reason the Reich enjoys its current reputation.
In the case of the insertion of Peterson into the realm of offcially sanctioned life coach, we have the echo of a belch because the bowel irritation, the moral Crohn’s Disease has been working its magic for decades.
In a pitch perfect example of Bourdieu’s point about the symbiosis between “left” and “right” the Slovenia hurricane Zizek agreed to a sham debate with Peterson because one assumes, the purse was big enough to make exchanging one’s ethics for an opportunity to pay the rent and have enough free time to write another book.
That the “debate” produced almost no YouTube hysteria is here considered evidence that while Peterson would have had no ability to disprove anything Zizek said – as Peterson has admitted he’s read none of the people he claims are Neo-Marxist-Postmodernists and are hiding under his bed – Zizek in turn has no incentive to publicly humiliate Peterson and had to agree a priori to terms that left both more than enough room to claim victory without running the risk of bruising their egos.
A few years ago a biography mentioned Nelson Algren, Sartre, de Bouvoir and others spilling out of a restaurant in Paris, arguing passionately about – everything – and in a series of subsequent hit pieces we were told that it was at best quaint and at worst a sad spectacle – imagine, intellectuals arguing about tyranny and capitalism and freedom and doing it with passion – as if their lives were at stake.
Why, how gauche.
It’s interesting to contrast The English Patient with Casablanca.
In one, the Nazis are Nazis and Rick sacrifices what matters most, except for his integrity which matters more than Elsa.
In The English Patient the fascists, the Nazis, the war are the problem – well, yes but.
There were good people on both sides.
A few months ago Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made headlines (again) by calling the immoral detention centers on the US and Mexico border, “concentration camps.”
Amid the hysteria it was both amusing and depressing to watch the media forget, or succeed in not remembering, that a few months prior, former CIA chief, Michael Hayden had made the same point – tweeting a photo of the entrance to Auschwitz in connection to the current regime’s policy of separating (kidnapping and holding hostage) children from their families.
It was a more rhetorically sophisticated argument then the one used by the newly minted member of Congress because, it did not call the detention centers concentration camps but made the case that the policy was analogous to the sort of thing one would expect from Nazis.
The score on your own goal aspect however was that, if one grants the premise, and we do, then surely one could also tweet an image of the entrance to the CIA and connect it to the Mother’s of the Disappeared in South America.
Goose, gander, sauce, fascism, hypocrisy etcetera.
Consider three points or coordinates we shall call, de Gaulle.
First, an old American journalist of the Kennedy liberal sort, who is a regular on a news discussion show.
He is fond of repeating a story as an example of a bygone era when, he claims, the word of the President of the United States meant something.
He relates that, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, President Kennedy sent two of his top lieutenants to see General de Gaulle.
They offered to show him spy plane photographs of the Soviet missiles in Cuba.
No, not necessary, says de Gaulle, the word of the President is sufficient.
What goes missing here is that de Gaulle, mindful of the rules of evidence and Nuremberg, was establishing the truth so that if the US and the Soviet Union killed half the population, and there were war crime trials, he would be able to state honestly, and truthfully, I never saw the so called evidence.
But that idea is too complex for a professional journalist inside the Theater of Occupation.
In the second de Gaulle repeats the system of the first.
During the height of the crisis over Algeria, fascists come to de Gaulle and demand that he deal with Sartre who was making public statements denouncing the savagery of the French government and its machinery.
No, said de Gaulle, one does not arrest Voltaire.
This de Gaulle is noble, pragmatic, defined by political élan; a certain French self-awareness and chic.
Except even if all that were true, the fact remains, de Gaulle knew there were two options being proposed: either look the other way while the thugs arranged for Sartre to vanish, followed by the thugs owning de Gaulle, or to have him arrested resulting in a trial in which Sartre would have afforded himself every opportunity to publicly humiliate the government.
Thus, de Gaulle said, no, the word of Voltaire is sufficient.
The third is pure fiction.
Peter Lorre, as Ugarte, of course has the Letters of Transit.
Signed, he tells Rick, by General de Gaulle himself.
They cannot be rescinded.
First, obviously, the absurdity of the idea that the Germans would recognize de Gaulle’s authority about anything let alone a piece of paper used by a man they want to kill or arrest and torture and then kill.
Secondly, and more importantly, the fiction – the metafiction in which the film is itself the letter of transit allowing the believer to enter and exit the Theater of the Occupation.
In this charade the viewer enters into the film and becomes Rick, and Louis; Elsa and Victor Laszlo.
The Letters of Transit cannot be rescinded.
Not because they are authentic or valid but precisely because they are false; a pure fabrication.
The last plane to Lisbon.
As this is a work in progress we offer the following as a continuation rather than a definitive statement.
Camille Paglia a sometime public figure has for years been antagonistic towards Michel Foucault and the loose cadre of the more famous French/European Postmodernists and Structuralists.
She offers a variety of arguments about their alleged intellectual and moral malfeasance (some of which we have covered and others we find to be examples of being right but for all the wrong reasons but mostly just examples of being wrong) and mostly zeros in on several Anglo-centric ideas about what she insists are their failures.
However in the following, from a piece entitled, Why I Hate Foucault, she offers an interesting nexus.
“When I pointed out in Arion that Foucault, for all his blathering about “power,” never managed to address Adolph Hitler or the Nazi occupation of France, I received a congratulatory letter from David H. Hirsch (a literature professor at Brown), who sent me copies of riveting chapters from his then-forthcoming book, “The Deconstruction of Literature: Criticism After Auschwitz” (1991). As Hirsch wrote me about French behavior during the occupation, “Collaboration was not the exception but the rule.” I agree with Hirsch that the leading poststructuralists were cunning hypocrites whose tortured syntax and encrustations of jargon concealed the moral culpability of their and their parents’ generations in Nazi France. ”
This of course is fascinating for any number of reasons.
First, and most easily dispensed with, are the byzantine laws in France concerning libel, slander and Holocaust denial.
The legal system, though often likely to trip over its robes, is not a system of accidents.
The law everywhere is crafted and curated by people who want it to work for them at the expense of everyone they define as not them.
One need only consider the trial of Brasallich to see that Paglia and her correspondent sound like intellectual rubes.
Or, to cite the American model of jurisprudence, rich people get lawyers and poor people get guns, or they get fucked. And crucially, Paglia Inc would do well to remember that in the American legal system, if you want to sue the federal government, or one of its franchises, you have to do it in their courts, with their judges and using their definitions – which include the authority to decide if what you have, is in fact evidence.
And even if it’s ruled by their judge to be evidence, the government can rule that due to secret evidence it is not obligated to share, you have no right to sue them, and no right to confront your accuser.
In which case their judge will dismiss your case – with prejudice, if not irony.
France is not that different.
And like a lot of other countries the state reserves the right to define information, as a state secret.
Want to write a scintillating book excavating France’s history of and with the Nazis?
Sure, right next to all the other classified documents you’ll find just what you’re looking for.
And crucially if Paglia & Co were actual scholars they would take into account that Lionel Jospin, then Prime Minister of France, did not open the national archives relating to the Occupation, to the public, until 1997.
By which point Foucault had been dead for a decade.
Consider this from, Alice Kaplan’s, The Collaborator, The Trial and Execution of Robert Brasillach (emphasis added):
“In 1994 when I started my research on the Brasillach trial, certain files from the period were still closed by law, but access to them could be obtained by applying for special permission or “derogation”…In every case except one, the ministries gave me permission to study the files, as long as the people involved were no longer alive.The requests took from three months to a year to come through. Each time I received a derogation I was asked to sign a form saying I would not use any information from the documents that risked harming living people or damaging state security.”
And to state the obvious, “state security” is an elastic euphemism for anything the government wants. Including, keeping secrets about the Nazis and collaborators repurposed to fight for “freedom.”
This off course brings us to the irony of Paglia accusing Foucault & Co of “operating in bad faith” and being “hypocrites” out to pettifog everyone.
To dismiss the legal system of Europe generally and France specifically, and to then attach that to an implied dismissal of the blunt realities of the war, the Occupation, Resistance, and the Holocaust, is itself hypocritical and either deliberate bad faith or just an example of being a spectacular fool.
Or all of the above.
We see no reason to repeat the details of how and why Foucault and others could not openly discuss the unspeakable.
Paglia is operating in bad faith because she ignores things like the Klaus Barbie trial which itself touched on everyone of Europe’s and France’s electrified third rails of culture, history and past and present politics.
To deny the French the trauma of their history, and to deny the process by which they navigate it, is no different than any other application of power – in the sense Foucault excavates – nor is it any different than any other example of America’s crass power dynamics. A fact that transforms Paglia into a solid example of Foucault’s praxis.
Additionally, to deny the reality of France’s trauma regarding Occupation-Collaboration-Holocaust-Resistance edges dangerously close to a form of Holocaust denial.
It clearly aligns Paglia with those who want to deny America’s role in establishing fascism in Europe and its subsequent role in not only denying the first crime but in pretending it did not wantonly make use of former mass murderers after the war and then denying that was in any sense yet another crime.
Thus, in a Structuralist manner (sic!), one might offer that Paglia’s arguments suggest a context, or narrative structure, based on the power dynamics of reactionary corporate America.
That of course is a system committed not only to ridiculing the French specifically and so called Continental philosophy generally but as a corollary, acting to boost the antagonistic and a-historicism of a loose cadre of tools who, have skin in the game and can score cheep points by lashing complex works in translation – for the hidden purpose of keeping buried the ugly truth about the Second World War – its causes and its aftermath.
Paglia here stands as a fellow traveler and or useful idiot of the authentic right wing reactionaries and neo fascists.
And not, to be clear, because she is either.
Rather because she is part of a large scale echo chamber that rests its arguments on a denial of the European and American reality.
It is not so very different from when conservatives blame the poor for poverty.
Additionally of course there is, despite the rhetoric, a profound anti-intellectualism at work in the attacks on Foucault & Co.
As we have outlined in other posts, “Postmodernism” is essentially leaning on David Hume and Hume is leaning on the ancient Greeks and Foucault is then revealed (along with Barthes, Derrida, Lyotard, etc., etc) to be Buddhism with a French accent.
The idea that narratives are illusionary or provisional and that the “self” is a moving target comprised of projections, is hardly a recent one let alone a European monopoly.
The idea that however gnomic or irritating, a gang of PhDs from some of the world’s foremost universities wouldn’t have read the Greeks, or Buddhism, is not worth considering.
One may disagree with their conclusions and one may find people like de Man odious, and one may find Derrida’s (and Jameson’s) sketchy attempts to defend de Man both laughable and sinister but, the hard work of intellectual rigor requires more than the cheep, mile wide inch deep rhetoric of an Op-Ed or the camouflage of “academic research.”
See Paglia’s entire piece here:
And as a perfect example of Paglia’s self-righteous undergraduate rhetoric:
While working on this project we came across the following and found it both amusing and depressing:
From Tony Judt’s Post War, regarding various repatriation issues in the period from 1945 to 1950:
“Belgium, France and Britain especially needed coalminers, construction workers and agricultural labourers. In 1946-47 Belgium took in 22,000 displaced persons (along with their families) to work in the mines of Wallonia. France took in 38,000 people for manual employment of various kinds. Britain took 86,000 persons in this way, including many veterans of the Polish army and Ukrainians who had fought in the Waffen SS ‘Halychnya’ Division.”
One might consider the problematic nature of discussing war crimes and collaboration when your neighbor is an ex SS trooper and your own government has or is willing to use “state secrets” to keep the matter on lockdown.
Here’s Judt’s footnote explaining the make up of the division:
“The Halychnya or Galician Division of the Waffen SS was made up of Ukrainians who had been citizens of inter-war Poland and whose region of origin was incorporated into the USSR after the war. They were thus not repatriated to the Soviet Union, despite having fought against it alongside the Wehrmacht, and were treated by Western authorities as stateless persons.”
This also highlights the simplistic, if not nationalistic chauvinism inherent in Paglia’s criticism.
Within the blunt realities of Cold War politics and the “wilderness of mirrors” the idea that Foucault or anyone else could just “talk about the Nazis” and the Occupation, is absurd. Between national trauma and political gangsterism, as well as benign cost vs benefit, the subject was at best taboo and at worst a catastrophe.
It is however crucial to repeat the fact that Judt is a problematic source. Details have to be sifted carefully.
Not only are his translations suspect but his elision of context is an issue as outlined previously.
For example, he makes the case that the Nazis were able to dominate Western Europe mostly because of the cooperation of the local populations.
Collaboration as we’ve outlined was a serious issue.
However, Judt makes it seem as if the Germans had to exert little force to achieve the pacification of the locals.
Consider these two examples:
“On the contrary, they had on the whole performed with alacrity the occupiers’ bidding. In 1941 the Germans were able to run occupied Norway with just 806 administrative personnel. The Nazis administered France with just 1,500 of their own people. So confident were they of the reliability of the French police and militias that they assigned (in addition to their administrative staff) a mere 6,000 German civil and military police to ensure the compliance of a nation of 35 million.”
“…though that the Protectorate of Bohemia was run in 1942 by just 1,900 German bureaucrats. In these as other respects, Czechoslovakia was at least partly western. ”
Judt leaves out any exact or approximate numbers for regular army German forces – distinct from the police and does not count how many of the 35 million were Vichy or in the Vichy para military police, Milice, and thus, one assumes, already on Germany’s side.
Given the numbers involved in the subsequent battle for France, one can estimate somewhere between half a million to a million German soldiers and if that runs too high, it is still a significant number. Erwin Rommel, mostly in charge of constructing the “Atlantic wall” and the defensive plans for protecting Occupied France, is hardly the sort to have not brought up as many troops as he could.
In regards to the claim that a “mere 1900” officials were needed to run the Protectorate of Bohemia, one should keep in mind that after the assassinations of Reinhard Heydrich the German’s retaliated leading to the Lidice massacre. This was after the previous years’ worth of deportations, executions, and use of random or arbitrary arrest, torture, and the enactment of draconian laws.
Backed by the threat of state terror on an industrial scale, a “mere 1900” takes on a significantly different color.
Additionally Judt ignores the use of hostages by the Germans as a means to control occupied territories and their indigenous populations.
French historian, Paul Ricoeur was captured in 1940 and held in a POW camp until the end of the war.
Ironically some sources claim the camp was recognized by the Vichy regime as an accredited, diploma granting institution due to the number of intellectuals held at the camp.
These distortions and elisions places Judt within the Tragic Bordello.
Another issue to which we plan to return in greater detail is the coup in Guatemala.
In addition to the use by the United States of former war criminals spirited out of post war Europe, and the subsequent enforcement of a veil of secrecy and distortions, there is the collective amnesia of the contemporary media.
Outraged by Trump Incorporated’s blatant corruption, its fascistic merging of state and private enterprise, and its wholesale grifting, it makes the case that Trump represents some sort of cataclysmic break with a previous noble or less corrupt past.
Except of course the sheer weight of overlap between Eisenhower grandees and the United Fruit Company make perfectly clear that Trump is of a continuum.
However an excavation of the past, including media complicity, would upend the official narrative and instead, the same methods of new to out of date to new again, as detailed by Dabord and others, is employed to create and maintain the state sanctioned version of history.
This in turn becomes both private and public memory or “Memory Inc.”
Regarding the lengthy Churchill quote.
Consider the narrative of “Churchill” as rendered in the recent film.
This “Churchill” like all other large scale historical figures is both authentic figure and instantly, permanently, a kind of cartoon.
“Churchill” as anti-Brexit EU visionary, and as anti-left friend to fascists, imperialist, reckless chancer, unstable, and indispensable man, who having helped set the world on fire, is appointed chief of the fire brigade.
While all of that is crucial it is also crucial to see the system, the metafictional Postmodern narrative system at work – to see that the constant additions, subtractions and rewriting of the facts, creates and recreates “Churchill” in the same way it creates and recreates (erases and restores) “Memory.”
And the “truth.”
The quote below, from Judt’s Post war offers a nexus between the practice of elision and the erasure of both public (Historical qua Historical) memory, and the private, as well as serving as an example of “Churchill” as template for different narrative (emphasis added):
“Indeed, so widespread was the view that ultimate blame for the horrors of World War Two must fall on German shoulders alone that even Austria was held exempt. Under an Allied agreement of 1943, Austria had been officially declared Hitler’s ‘first victim’ and was thus assured different treatment from Germany at the war’s end. This appealed to Winston Churchill’s insistence on the Prussian origins of Nazism, a view driven by his generation’s obsession with the emergence of the Prussian threat to European stability in the course of the last third of the nineteenth century. But it also suited the other Allies—Austria’s pivotal geographical position and the uncertainty over central Europe’s political future made it seem prudent to detach her fate from that of Germany.”
For Churchill, this allowed for the elision of his prewar support for fascism. And crucially, not only his support for the “charming Mussolini” but for the fact that in the mid 1930s he had said of Hitler, while he may be more Capone than a statesman, history may yet prove him a great man taking the right course of action.
This of course was a way to run interference for Britain’s ruling class and various royals, and social elites and intellectuals (like G.K. Chesterton and T.S. Eliot) who were anti-Semites and fascists, or indifferent to fascism as a system to be used as a cudgel to defeat “the left” while maintaining their limited version of “freedom”.
And as Judt somewhat points out, there were strategic considerations with Austria’s geography being important in terms of the new Cold War.
That of course mandated a series of interconnected systems that submerged the prewar truth, and generated a post war appeasement of the past, a neutralizing of present concerns for revenge and justice and subsequently seized control or attempted to seize control of the future.