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Notre Dame des Fascistes,
Part I: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, & the Joy of Collaboration

Gertrude Stein.

6,991 words

Barbara Will
Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma (Gender and Culture Series)
New York City: Columbia University Press, 2011

The joy of the body, the most honorable and fecund joy of all, reign[s] in America.

— Bernard Faÿ

We do amuse ourselves with ourselves and each other and it is rather nice.

— Gertrude Stein in a letter to Bernard Faÿ

In the aphorisms that precede The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde defined the twin poles of public outrage thus:

The nineteenth-century dislike of Realism is the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass. / The nineteenth-century dislike of Romanticism is the rage of Caliban not seeing his own face in a glass.

Much of contemporary life can be seen to be a form of the latter, especially the “Woke” attacks on statues, murals, and other monuments that displease them by failing to be entirely of “current year.” Something similar has been going on in the academy for a longer time, at least since the Paul de Man scandal at Yale, back around 1988. One by one, many cherished figures have been discovered to have unsavory pasts, ranging from suddenly recalled “anti-Semitic” remarks (e.g., Joseph Campbell) to pro-Fascist writings (e.g., Cioran [1] — promoted by Sontag herself! — or Eliade or Jung) to actual participation (e.g., Pope Benedict XVI’s life in the Hitler Youth, or Heidegger’s party membership and enthusiastic rectorship).

Of course, we here at Counter-Currents have always known that the great intellectuals of the twentieth century have mostly been men of the Right. [2] What was particularly irksome to the academic establishment was that many of these figures were idols of the Left, tribunes of modernism and even post-modernism. How could they, you could hear the anguished screams, how could one of us be so evil? Only one of those “Right-wing pseudo-intellectuals” could be one of them! [3]

So, what are the crimes of Gertrude Stein, and how do they compare with the rest of this rogue’s gallery? Oddly enough, we can let everyone’s favorite internet conspiracy maven, Miles Mathis, give us the skinny:

Stein is sold as a great promoter of Modernism, so most would assume she was progressive. Was she? Not at all. It takes very little research to discover her direct links to fascism. She was a vocal supporter of Franco during the Spanish Civil War, and was also a supporter of Hitler and Mussolini. She said Hitler deserved the Nobel Peace Prize. Although Jewish, she was a collaborator with the Vichy government in France, even translating some of the speeches of Marshall Philippe Pétain. She also provided an introduction for these speeches, comparing Pétain to George Washington. Remember, this is the Vichy government that deported 75,000 Jews to German concentration camps, where 97% of them died. As late as 1944, Stein said of Pétain’s policies that they were “really wonderful so simple so natural so extraordinary.” This was in the same year that the Jewish children of Culoz were forcibly removed and sent to Auschwitz. Stein was then resident of Culoz. She continued to praise Pétain even after he was sentenced to death for treason. If, as some have said in her defense, she had befriended Pétain only to save her own skin, why was she still praising him after the war and after he was dead?

Stein also hated Roosevelt and the New Deal. This put her firmly with the Rockefellers, the Kennedys, the Vanderbilts, the Morgans, and all the other fascist old families in the US, who didn’t like to see any re-redistribution of money they had already redistributed into their pockets. I can see some reading this and going, “The Kennedys?” Do your research. Joseph Kennedy was one of the great opponents of the New Deal and of Roosevelt. Stein wasn’t too difficult to unwind, as you see. It took all of one paragraph. I haven’t yet linked her unambiguously to Intelligence, but I have proved she was a fascist.

Indeed, “not too difficult to unwind” at all; although Miles uncharacteristically doesn’t give us any sources, the book under review documents all that, and more. Most of this has been out there all the time: Stein had finally, at the age of 60, gotten the public acclaim for her “genius” that she had always assumed, [4] when The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was a surprise bestseller, resulting in a return to the United States for a triumphant tour in the annus mirabilis of 1933, during which she had the opportunity to spout off her views on America, fascism, Mr. Hitler, and anything else in public lectures and to such high-visibility outlets as New York Times Magazine and The Atlantic. [5]

But, as Lovecraft (another miscreant) tells us, it is a mercy that the human mind finds it hard to “correlate its contents.” [6] People fairly successfully averted their eyes from the evidence until the late 90s; by 1997, readers of The Journal of Historical Review could encounter Mark Weber’s “Gertrude Stein’s Complex Worldview,” based on a then-new biography of Stein, Favored Strangers: Gertrude Stein and Her Family, by Linda Wagner-Martin, as well as reports on the Nobel matter in the New York Jewish weekly The Forward.

Still, as late as 2011, two Jewish museums launched major exhibits devoted to Stein and her family, even as the book under review appeared. [7] But what finally opened the floodgates was when that notorious anti-Semite, Barack Obama, stepped in:

On May 1, 2012, the celebration of Jewish Heritage Month began with an official statement from the White House: “From Aaron Copland to Albert Einstein, Gertrude Stein to Justice Louis Brandeis, generations of Jewish Americans have brought to bear some of our country’s greatest achievements and forever enriched our national life.” One day later, Stein’s name was no longer wanted in the celebration because of allegations that she survived the Holocaust in France as a Nazi collaborator. Stein, the supersized lesbian “genius” of Jewish origins, has always been controversial, but now she was considered “unkosher.” The White House staff dropped her on the sly by removing all individual names from the Celebration of Jewish Heritage Month.

Never one to shy away from an opportunity to vociferate in public, Alan Dershowitz jumped in that very day to denounce Stein as “a major collaborator with the Vichy regime and a supporter of its pro-Nazi leadership,” citing the Will book. [8] An attempt — appropriately, in Tikkun — was made by Renate Stendhal to tamp down the fires, but this led to the editor taking the unusual step of publishing his own disavowal. [9]

Now, I must step forward and declare myself. I have not a dog in this fight, and, to mix metaphors, I am happy to see this pack of culture-distorters scratching each other’s eyes out.

Before reading this book, I had no interest in Gertrude Stein; the little I had read gave me no reason to think she was anything other than another fake, phony fraud, perhaps the biggest, in more than one way, of them all. [10] And nothing in this book has given me a reason to change that view. [11] However, Stein herself has become rather interesting, and I will suggest she should interest people in the Dissident Right, as should the relatively obscure Bernard Faÿ.

As one might infer from the title, Will’s discussion of “the Vichy dilemma” — what does someone do in Vichy, and what should we latecomers think about it? — has two foci, Stein and this Faÿ chap. The life, writings, and utterances of La Stein are shifted for clues to explain how she could have been “misled” into supporting Pétain, or even Hitler himself. A key to this is her “friendship” (a word that will become important) with Faÿ, the leading French scholar of the United States.

Will’s first chapter is a bit of a grab-bag, or, more charitably — and more in the spirit of modernism — it’s a kind of overture where several themes are introduced. We first meet our protagonists in action; although the stout, middle-aged American lesbian Stein and Faÿ, stricken by polio as a child, are not suitable for military duty, Stein and Toklas returned to Paris from Mallorca to join the American Fund for the French Wounded, ministering to troops with a “particular mixture of support for their beleaguered France and American nationalist pride,” and ultimately receiving the Medaille de la Reconnaisance for outstanding service to the nation, while Faÿ had been active in the Red Cross and was a decorated veteran of the Belgian campaign and Verdun, where he was almost killed but saved by the military strategy of Philippe Pétain, who would become a close friend.

And Stein would as well, who had also acquired an admiration for Pétain. Will steps back a bit to tell us why this is important:

In the wake of World War I, both sought to come to grips in their writing with the enormous cultural, geopolitical, and transnational changes around them; both were committed observers of the moment. And in the anxious period building up to World War II, both forged connections between the aesthetic and the political, seeking a similar course in navigating these uncertain times.

Stein’s political rhetoric during the 1930s and 1940s was inseparable from the feeling — shared with Faÿ and many of their contemporaries — that the societies they lived in, knew of, and wrote about were limping along in an advanced state of political and social decay.

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These connections and shared feelings are what trouble people like Will, who says bluntly: “We want our good writers to have good politics.” And yet, as we have seen, “certain artistic and intellectual modernisms. . . in their rejection of modernity for an alternative social and political future found ready agreement with fascist regimes.” For guidance, Will turns to the work of Jeffrey Herf [12] and especially Roger Griffin:

What Griffin terms “the sense of a new beginning under Mussolini and Hitler” [13] — and I might add, under Philippe Pétain — was precisely this anticipation of a future that was also a return to something lost or hidden under what he calls “the decadence of modernity.”

This is what folks among the Dissident Right have called palingenesis or archeofuturism, which Stein gives a remarkable expression to in her peculiar language:

The young ones said I was reactionary and they said how could I be who had always been so well ahead of everyone and I myself was not and am not certain that I am not again well ahead as ahead as I ever have been. [14]

The nub of the issue here, which I don’t think Will expresses or addresses with any degree of clarity, is that “modernism” has come to be promoted by its fans and denounced by its opponents as a kind of ultimate “avant-garde” devoted entirely to destruction. Will describes “Stein’s work [as] celebrated for its decentering, destabilizing use of language” — and welcoming a supposedly liberating and creative chaos. As a not entirely subsidiary matter, both philo- and anti-Semites agree on assigning a key role in all this — artistic and social — to Jews. Hence the “dilemma” of how a Jewish (and homosexual) modernist could be, as Will says with a shudder, a “conservative fascist.”

When not worried about “conservative fascists,” those with such convention ideas of modernism sometimes notice that modernism is pretty popular among capitalists and globalists as well, as a glance at any corporate headquarters plaza or boardroom reveals. [15] Instead of smashing “the system,” modernism is used to smash the opponents of the system, such as morality, national identity, traditions, and anything else that gets in the way of the global marketplace.

And this is what the “reactionary modernists” were trying to strangle in its cradle during the interwar period. For Stein and others, “conservative” principles were needed to not only preserve society but precisely to provide the necessary background for the artistic “breakthrough” they aimed at.

Pétain represented above all the will to “peace” — a term, like “daily living,” that resonated for Stein with an entire worldview. “Peace” implied balance, equilibrium, and stasis; a sense of order; a commitment to tradition and habit, to what needed to be defended and preserved in the face of change, upheaval, and revolution. “Peace,” “daily living,” “habit,” and “tradition” were terms that Stein would begin to use with increasing frequency after World War I and in contexts that often illuminated her reactionary political views.

In Paris France, a book she published the day France fell to the Germans in 1940, Stein argued that peace, habit, and tradition were the requisite conditions for creative freedom, the backdrop, support, and foil against which “the art and literature of the twentieth century” could emerge.

“I cannot write too much upon how necessary it is to be completely conservative that is particularly traditional in order to be free.”

And here is where Faÿ comes in, as someone sharing Stein’s idealization of Pétain:

Faÿ admired Pétain not only for his military success but also for his conservatism and traditionalism.

Pétain came from a family that aligned itself clearly with one side of the “two Frances”: Catholic and royalist rather than secular and Republican, opposed, above all, to the French Revolution and its liberal democratic legacy. For both men. . . far from ameliorating the excesses of prerevolutionary France, the French Revolution had in fact robbed France of its spirit: a complex term signifying a range of moral, juridical, religious, and even racial characteristics. [16]

Pétain became not only a war hero for France as a whole but also a potent symbol of the past for individuals, like Bernard Faÿ, who were deeply suspicious of modern, post- Enlightenment notions of “progress.”

But if Pétain was a hero for France as a whole — and would be supported by “the entire population of France” in 1940 — what brought Stein and Faÿ together in particular? For that, we must take a look at Faÿ.

Faÿ is new to me, and I expect to the reader; he seems almost forgotten in France, until recently, [17] but in his day, he was quite the big shot — the first professor of American Studies at the uber-prestigious College de France. In America, his doctoral thesis was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize. “He would eventually become one of the few establishment intellectuals during the war to actively collaborate with the Nazi occupiers.”

But wait a second; American Studies? Pulitzer Prize? Yes, he was the doyen, almost the founder, of American studies in France, which for some reason I find adorable. Actually, here’s the reason: unlike most Frenchmen of the Left or Right, Faÿ was pro-American, almost fanatically so. This little changeling had dreamed of attending Harvard since he was seven years old. By the time he met Stein, he was just back from “teaching stints at Columbia, Kenyon College, and the University of Iowa, with a master’s degree in modern languages from Harvard and a tenured professorship at the University of Clermont-Ferrand.”

But it was during his wartime service that the love affair was consummated, fighting alongside American volunteers at Verdun, that his “dream of a people ‘made of joys, of confidence, and of universal ambition’ became ‘incurable.’” [18]

We’ll hear more about that “joy” in a bit, but for now, the point is that for Faÿ, unlike today’s academic Leftists, it was America, not France, that got the revolution right. Will expounds the thesis of his “major text on Franco-American relations from 1929, The American Experiment,” thus:

Faÿ argues that while both were waged in the name of certain ideals — liberty, equality, and democracy — the French Revolution had ultimately devolved into a catastrophic parody of social renovation. The vital spirit that had led French citizens to overthrow the bonds of tradition in the name of democratic human rights had produced a disastrous vacuum in leadership and power. Like his spiritual father Charles Maurras, Faÿ felt that the rejection of the two major sources of authority in French society, the Catholic Church and the monarchy, had had shattering effects on social order and stability. Far from redressing inequalities and bettering the lives of “the humblest,” the French Revolution had done the work “of leveling and obliterating, of destroying the great and reducing the strong and active” (AE 253). “Democracy” had worked only to place everyone on the same debased level, favoring the “turbulent, envious, and mostly powerless elements” in society (AE 42). Moreover, the vacuum in leadership opened up by revolutionary events had been filled, clandestinely, by a cabal of shadowy figures who secretly directed society to their own ends — a subject that would increasingly preoccupy Faÿ as he turned his attention to the “problem” of French Freemasonry.

In comparison, America’s revolutionary experiment had produced far different results. While America’s “revolutionary spirit” had likewise worked to overthrow certain traditional structures of social order (in the case of America, British colonial rule), the new ideal of democracy in America never came to signify a total capitulation to “the masses,” as it did in France. Rather — and here Faÿ departs from almost every other French commentator of the day — America appeared to have escaped the problem of mass rule in large part because the framers of America’s revolution and constitution were themselves an elite and hence committed to a system that would reflect and support their interests.

Bizarrely, Faÿ’s Hamiltonian vision of America would provide him with “the first dimensions of a new blueprint for French society, one that would eventually, over the course of the following decade, align his work precisely with the French and European Right.” Rather than being a “creeping, miasmic cultural and social abomination,” as most Frenchmen saw it, America was a model to be learned from.

America’s “lesson,” Faÿ writes, is one alien to the democratic and parliamentary traditions of postrevolutionary France; it is a lesson of federalism and authoritarianism undiluted by the false claims of democratic egalitarianism.

America’s federalist political structure based in a constitutional division of powers. . . Faÿ calls “truly an eighteenth-century masterpiece” (AE 44). Federalism preserves the autonomy of the local and the individual, again preventing the popular voice from achieving dominance.

On yet another level, Faÿ writes, Americans, unlike the French, have always disdained truly democratic or communitarian ideologues. Although Americans express a great deal of public conformity — “Clothes, pleasures, attitudes, styles, opinions, momentary preoccupations, belong to all, and are adopted or rejected by all” (AE 132) — within themselves, Americans are each individual strivers, each dreaming of a way to break free from the pack. Blessed with enormous natural resources and prodigious geographical space, America has been able to sustain its central ideology of individual achievement and call it “democratic.” But, in fact, in this “land of strong and ambitious men,” democracy is less important than the “tendency to avoid strict limits and to seek a constantly enlarging scope.” [19]

Faÿ extended his critique beyond France as well; “Like his friend and eventual Vichyite Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, Faÿ saw America as the model for a new order in Europe, an order that would transcend and reverse two centuries of democratic rule through reasserting its united supremacy and power to defend itself against “other [non- European] human groups.”

And, as it turns out, his work “aligns” precisely with Stein as well. For Stein located not only “peace” and tradition, but also her linguistic art, in the eighteenth century. For her, modernism was an attempt to get back to the eighteenth century, bypassing or destroying the bourgeois accretions and clutter of the nineteenth. [20]

Like Faÿ, Stein’s interest in the eighteenth century was lifelong, and has usually been noted in light of her aesthetic appreciation for eighteenth-century English novelists such as Defoe and Sterne.

Stein fetishized the historical eighteenth century as the high point of a kind of authentic American populism as well as the pinnacle of classical economic liberalism. Looking back nostalgically to prerevolutionary America and to the rugged masculine individualism of Thomas Jefferson’s idealized yeoman farmers. . . Stein insistently contrasted this lost epoch with an urbanized, effeminate, industrialized, and capitalistic modernity. It would not seem much of a stretch to translate this nostalgia for prerevolutionary America and corresponding critique of modernity into contemporary European pro-fascist terms. [21]

Stein consistently contrasts freedom and what she calls “organization”: “the beginning of the eighteenth century went in for freedom and ended with the beginning of the nineteenth century that went in for organization. . . . so there they were and everybody was free and then that went on to Lincoln.” And after Lincoln, ultimately, the great betrayer, FDR.

Stein, as a writer in particular, “links the nineteenth century to an impoverishment of the English language and linguistic experimentation:

“And now came the nineteenth century and a great many things were gone,” she writes in “What Is English Literature” (1934), “[t]hat the words were there by themselves simply was gone. That the words were livelily chosen to be next one to the other was gone. . . . And the clarity of something having completion that too was gone completely gone.”

I think she means that the very words of our language had succumbed to “organization,” reduced to clichés and stereotypes (as with Newspeak or PC codes) with the task of the modernist being to liberate them in a process of artistic breakthrough; just as the task of the politician of the Right is to liberate his society from the way its been “organized.”

What matters for Stein is that the “eighteenth-century” may, and perhaps already is, on its way back; that the future — or the present occupied by an avant-garde — may emerge as a return to the past, now fully realized as the solution to, rather than the precedent for, nineteenth-century decadence.

For example: Stein calls the eighteenth century one of sentences, the nineteenth one of phrases, and the twentieth one of paragraphs. The problem is that “the nineteenth century having lived by phrases really had lost the feeling of sentences.” Solution: “I made my sentences and my paragraphs do the same thing, made them be one and the same thing.”

Making the twentieth century (the period of paragraphs) and the eighteenth century (the period of sentences) “be one and the same thing,” at least in writing, allows for the “losses” of the nineteenth century to be overcome. [22]

In refusing to imagine the past as something passed, as “an objective reality that could be grasped and contained,” Stein portrays a past always available to the interpreter as part of a living present and potential future [:] open-ended, on hand, and ready for appropriation and mobilization to new ends.

It is indeed at this point where Stein’s rhetoric begins to dovetail with emerging reactionary discourses of the French Right, including those leading to collaboration under Pétain.

Gertrude Stein saw [Pétain as] someone who seemed to embody the imaginative and subjective reach of the high modernist writer or artist, but with real-world, transformative power.

Pétain reminded Stein of her own efforts in language to transcend and transform the public sphere.

What she saw in the emerging regime of Philippe Pétain was reform, heroism, national redemption, religious piety, traditionalism, and — perhaps above all — an aesthetic sensibility not entirely alien to her: the idea of the aesthetic breakthrough.

With his fascination with America, and having frequented avant-garde circles during his American visits, it seems inevitable that Faÿ would wind up among Stein’s circle. Yet on their first meetings, Stein found the ambitious little bourgeois unimpressive, while Faÿ was terrified by Stein. Toward the end of the twenties, however, Stein’s circle mutated; Hemingway, seen as a threat to the Toklas/Stein relationship, was banished and returned to America, as did Sherwood Anderson and others. “In their place a different set of artists, writers, and hangers-on began to converge on Stein’s salon”: such as Virgil Thompson, Carl Van Vechten, Hart Crane, Paul Bowles, Aaron Copeland, among others.

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Almost all of these “disciples” — Carl Van Vechten’s word — were homosexual or bisexual, and the electric atmosphere of the salon reflected this new orientation.

And Faÿ shared that orientation. [23] Indeed, while he may have dreamed of Harvard at age seven, he was also asking himself the cryptic question: “Shall I ever be a man in body, or will my life remain forever shut up in my thought?” The answer arrived during the war:

Faÿ’s romance began when he caught sight of an American soldier in 1917 during the war. “His supple body, his unskillful and graceful movements, then his glance and his slow words mingled with smiles and pride attracted me. I saw him in the midst of dangers. I saw him in the midst of pleasures. I saw him abandoned and sought for. I studied him with passion.” After the war, enrolling as a graduate student at Harvard, Faÿ was able to pursue ever more passionate “studying” of American men. [24]

For most of his own life, in fact, Faÿ idealized America as a place of unorthodox desires and enlightened if secular politics, an anti-France that held all the attractions and dangers of the mythic Other.

“Joy” was the word Faÿ consistently used to describe America: its optimism, its idealism, its futurity. And until he began to sour on America and its politics in the late 1930s [as we’ll see] Faÿ also consistently — even obsessively — linked American “joy” to erotic vitality.

Later, in “Protestant America” (1928), Faÿ writes of America that one “cannot conceive of what physical and sexual excitement is caused by the close proximity of white, yellow, and black races.” In general, for Americans, “it seems that everything is done to encourage them to enjoy their bodies as much and as freely as possible.”

While all of the entourage treated the Stein/Toklas partnership as a “substitute family,” and the salon as a place where, in the late 1920s, “gayness — or what Bernard Faÿ called ‘joy’ — was a mantle to be worn without shame,” Faÿ was particularly obsessed with Stein.

Associated in his mind with joy, Stein manifested the best traits of the Americans whom Faÿ “studied” while at Harvard. Yet as an American woman, Stein could seemingly never be the true object of Faÿ’s desire.

Faÿ remarks that it was never “skewed by sensuality.” Contrasting Stein to the “sensual” homosexual writer André Gide, Faÿ remarks on the “purity” of Stein’s language, which allowed her to approach reality in a way uncorrupted by “la volupté.”

At this point, with the reference to Gide as the corrupt counterpart of Stein, I had one of those Manhunter Moments, and exclaimed, “You’ve seen these films before, haven’t you, my man!” The group of French writers sitting around a married (sort of) couple, enjoying the “queer aura,” (Will) and discussing the war of purity against sensuality, as a blind for homosexual chastity: it’s the Maritain circle again, which we last saw in “Trad Queen Story Hour at the Vatican, Part II;” even with Gide playing the bad guy.

Will never mentions Maritain himself, but does something more interesting. As noted in my review of Martel’s book, the Maritain gang had made “friendship” their word du jour. This was excavated from the Christian/Classical tradition, from Jonathan and David’s “friendship beyond that of woman” through the idea of “Platonic love” through the medieval monks and mystics, and stood for a pure, clean, manly relationship, unsullied by the carnal filth of reproductive relations. [25]

Faÿ had emphasized how much the attractiveness of the male Harvard student depended upon “honesty, patience, and tolerance” that produced a “noble and masterful air.”

Another gay disciple, Virgil Thomson, would make a similar point when discussing how he and Stein got along “like Harvard men.”

In both Faÿ’s and Thomson’s accounts, Stein’s joie de vivre is alluring precisely because it reminds them of the collegial and homoerotic bonhomie of the Ivy League campus. [26]

What Will does contribute is a fascinating section on the almost obsessive use of “friendship” in international relations just after WWI. Listing about twenty or so “treaties of friendship” or “friendship pacts” signed during the 1920s, she notes that “in this tense environment, the slippery and deceptively innocuous term ‘friendship’ came to stand in for the complex dance of the world’s major powers as they sought to navigate the relationships of their new world and to avoid a repetition of their immediate past,” replacing the “militaristic” word “alliance.”

However, after the Wall Street market crash, the various European economic crises, and the rise of fascism, “allies” or “collaborators.” By the time Carl Schmitt penned The Concept of the Political, “friend” had become an ally willing to defend a community to the death: “The darkness of Schmitt’s vision perfectly matched the mood of the thirties, where “friendship” had now become overtly tied to the workings of power.”

From Virgil Thompson back-slapping his buddy Gertrude Stein to Carl Schmitt, not bad! And yes, Faÿ, the Franco-American historian, does give it the old Maritain spin:

Faÿ even trumps his contemporary Aristide Briand, suggesting that Franco-American friendship “is on a higher plane than conventional “goodwill” and formal “pacts.” It is friendship in its finest meaning” (FAF 455).

Although not mentioning Maritain, Will does eventually get around to his overall doctrine, “personalism,” a sort of Catholic counter-existentialism. Turns out they would influence a “leadership school” in Uriage near Stein, who would befriend them during the war:

With their antidemocratic, antiparliamentary stance, their outrage at France’s perceived military and moral weakness, and their elitism, the men of Uriage shared a conservative revolutionary ideology with the Nazis. Like the Hitler Youth, the Uriage men adhered to a doctrine of physical toughness, moral probity, and aggressive patriotism: authoritarianism and strict mental and physical discipline were their guides. In their monastic setting almost completely devoid of women, they imagined themselves “knight-monks of Vichy France; [unlike Hitler Youth] they were piously, fervently, and above all politically Catholic. [Their] role models were [Action Franҫaise] and the Catholic “personalist” philosophers of the early 1930s, with their calls for a “reform of the spirit.”

“Training school,” eh? Where have I heard this before? [27]

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Notes

[1] “Emil Cioran was a Romanian philosopher who, before becoming a noted esthete of nihilism in the Parisian literary scene, dared to be a hopeful fascist.” — Guillaume Durocher, introducing his translation of Cioran’s ode to Codreanu.

[2] As the author of the book under review admits, elsewhere:

Why were so many prominent modernist writers and philosophers attracted to fascist or authoritarian regimes in the first half of the twentieth century? A list of those who were not — Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, Thomas Mann, and Robert Musil — pales in comparison to a list of those who were — Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Knut Hamsun, Paul de Man, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Filippo Marinetti, Martin Heidegger, Robert Brasillach, and a host of others.

As for Mann, he may have wanted to be remembered as a liberal, but before the war he “rejected the Weimar Republic for monarchy on essentially liberal grounds: ‘I want the monarchy. I want a passionately independent government, because only it offers protection for freedom in the intellectual as well as the economic sphere. . . . I don’t what this parliament and party business that will sour the whole life of the nation. . . . I don’t want politics. I want competence, order, and decency.’” See Greg Johnson, “Notes on Schmitt’s Crisis and Ours.”

[3] “It is a rum thing when the patron saint of a literary movement that has so arrogantly proclaimed itself a champion of freedom is brutally exposed as having trafficked with a political force whose very essence was the denial of freedom.” Roger Kimball on De Man.

[4] “Concentrate your attention upon the idea of identifying yourself with your ideal. Assume you are already that which you seek and your assumption, though false, if sustained, will harden into fact.” Neville Goddard, Five Lessons of 1948, Lesson Two; see my review of Five Lessons: A Master Class (1948), reissued with a bonus chapter by Mitch Horowitz (New York: Tarcher/Perigree, 2018), here. Neville met his guru, Abdullah, in New York City in 1931; Stein undoubted never read or heard of him, but she likely absorbed the similar doctrine of The Will to Believe from William James when studying under him at Harvard (or rather, Radcliffe); see Will, p 122. On the other hand, the Marxist critic Michael Gold had this to say: “Which seems to me to be proof that with enough money and enough persistence a madman can convince a world of his sanity. Gertrude Stein appears to have convinced America that she is a genius.”

[5] This may be one of the first instances of that irritating modern phenomenon of artistic “celebrities” either being asked for their opinions on issues of the day, or else feeling empowered to offer them at will.

[6]

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but someday the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu,” 1929. As we will see, Stein shares with Lovecraft an attempt to recreate 18th-century literary style, in direct opposition to the corruption of the 19th century. Lovecraft’s attempts were mere imitation and pastiche; Stein’s deliberate attempts to forge a new, old style represent “reactionary modernism.”

[7]

The modern and postmodern relevance of Gertrude Stein has been recognized last year [2011] by two epochal traveling exhibitions: “Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories” at the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco (May-September 2011) was the first-ever museum show that focused solely on Stein’s personality and life, organized in tandem with the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, where it showed last fall. In a unique collaboration between San Francisco museums, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) launched a parallel fifteen-week exhibition about the profound influence of the Stein siblings on modern art: “The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde.” This exhibition, the largest ever undertaken by SFMOMA, was at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art until June 3.

Renate Stendhal, “Why the Witchhunt Against Gertrude Stein?”

[8] The Met responded by offering to sell Will’s book at the exhibit; talk about log-rolling! Typically for his tribe, Dershowitz not only continued to hold a grudge but became increasingly hyperbolic: by 2017, he was ranting “Do you know who one of the villains of the French Occupation was? A Jewish woman named Gertrude Stein. . . She was a horrible, horrible woman, who collaborated with the SS in turning in Jews.” So now translating speeches of Petain and speaking out for an old friend becomes helping the SS round up Jews.

[9] As they say: two Jews, three opinions. The Stein damage control squad eventually had its own website.

[10] Guy Davenport notes that “Periodically there are compendia. . . published in the thin hope that somebody will read her. . . . The general opinion is that The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) is charming, that Three Lives (1908) is significant, that her operas (scores by Virgil Thomson) are great fun, but that the large part of her copious works is unreadable.” Curiously, this puts me in the company of B. F. Skinner, who in 1934 concluded that Stein’s writing was (mindlessly) “automatic,” by an “arm that has very little to say”; see his “Has Gertrude Stein a Secret?” (The Atlantic Monthly 153 (January 1934), 56; quoted by Logan Esdale, “Barbara Will, unliking Stein, and scholarly malpractice.” It’s interesting to note that in the list given earlier of modernists who weren’t drawn to fascism, two of the four — Beckett and Joyce — are also frauds and phonies (although Joyce was readable up through Dubliners). An American or Irishman in Paris is always to be suspected.

[11] Politics has sometimes forced some honesty: reviewing Stein’s wartime autobiography, Wars I Have Seen, Djuana Barnes says that she is “thrown off by the ‘happy idiot’ simplifications, the baby-like repetition” of Stein’s style” (Review of Wars I Have Seen],” Contemporary Jewish Record (June 8, 1945): 342–343); while forty years later, John Malcolm Brinnin says that “Naïve, self-justifying mannerisms that had seemed artlessly fresh in the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas now tended to be tiresome and cute.” (The Third Rose: Gertrude Stein and Her World [Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1987]); both quoted in Will, p233, n26.

[12] Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich (Cambridge, 1984)

[13] Modernism and Fascism: The Sense of a Beginning under Mussolini and Hitler (Palgrave, 2007).

[14] Everybody’s Autobiography, p. 310-11; quoted by Will, p. 208, note 24.

[15] Indeed, even Mad Men’s Bert Cooper decides to add a Rothko splotch to his japonaiserie office, leading the staff to try and figure out something intelligent to say about it. Not to bother; Cooper says “it should double in value by next Christmas.” Of course, by the end of the series, he had learned that “the best things in life are free.”

[16] “During the 1930s, [Stein] would express a basic nationalist credo: ‘every nation has a way of being of being that nation that makes it that nation,’ she writes in 1935. Or again in 1945: ‘Germans are as they are and French and Greeks and Chinamen and Japs.’ A nation’s ‘being,’ its essence — its ‘bottom nature,’ to use another Steinian term — must be respected and defended, else it leads to ‘real catastrophe. That is what happened in France.’”

[17] Faÿ’s books are mostly out of print, but some are sold on Amazon at outrageous prices; more astonishing is that Routledge has chosen to reissue his 1933 Roosevelt and His America as part of their (equally ludicrously overpriced) “Routledge Revivals” series, despite it being the work of a notorious collaborator, and indeed with no particular note of the fact, in the text or listing.

[18] Will, quoting Faÿ’s “Harvard 1920” from the Harvard Graduate’s Magazine.

[19] All quotes from Faÿ’s The American Experiment. On the frontier, see Morris V. De Camp, “The End of the Frontier.”

[20] One can usefully compare this to Lovecraft, who also fetishized the eighteenth century; but rather than the modernist approach of recreation, Lovecraft stuck to mere imitation, producing nothing but pastiches and parodies. This is perhaps connected to his taking the British side of the Revolution. Alan Moore, of course, has another view: Lovecraft

absolutely detested Modernism. He loathed — in his letters, of which he wrote I think a hundred thousand, possibly, certainly getting on for that, during his lifetime — in his letters, he goes on about how much he loathes the output of Gertrude Stein, of James Joyce, of TS Eliot. He wrote a brilliant parody of The Waste Land, called Waste Paper, which is actually very very clever and funny, but it’s derogatory, it’s dismissing Modernism. Now, the weird thing is that actually reading his work again, I’ve realized that HP Lovecraft was a closet Modernist, that he’s using things like stream-of-consciousness techniques, he’s using a kind of glossolalia that wouldn’t be entirely out of place in the work of Gertrude Stein or James Joyce — alright, that’s a broad comparison, I’m perhaps reaching a bit there, but you know what I mean?

[21] As did Pound, of course, although Will adds that Stein had little use for “the village explainer.”

[22] It may sound sophistical, or childish, but I realize that when I was trying to develop a style for writing on the internet, it occurred to me to do the same thing: make each sentence a paragraph. Did Stein foresee the internet?

[23] Hemingway had dubbed him “Bernard Fairy.”

[24] Will notes that during his 1946 trial, a deposition details “among the items seized in his home. . . was a document describing his ‘intimate relations with a certain number of [male] American students while he was a lecturer in the United States.’”

[25] “Clean” is an important word for Stein, but Will only emphasizes a supposed connection with fascism.

[26] This sort of thing always reminds me of the deeply closeted Major Penderton in Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye, as he explains why he likes hanging around enlisted men to his wife:

Of course you’re laughing at it, but there’s much to be said for the life of men among men. . . with no. . . luxuries, no ornamentation. Utter simplicity. It’s rough and it’s coarse, perhaps, but it’s also clean — it’s clean as a rifle. There’s no speck of dust inside or out. . . and it’s immaculate in its hard, young fitness. . . its chivalry. They’re seldom out of one another’s sight. They eat, and they train, and they shower, and they play jokes. . . and go to the brothel together. They sleep side by side. The barracks room offers many a lesson in courtesy and how not to give offense. They guard the next man’s privacy as though it was their own. And the friendships, my lord. There are friendships formed that are stronger than. . . stronger than the fear of death. And — they’re never lonely. They’re never lonely. And sometimes I envy them. . . well, good night.

Of course, there’s also this.

[27] “Cardinal Raymond Burke has severed ties with his once-ally, former White House adviser Steve Bannon, and his institute designed to train future populist leaders. The apparent cause of discontent was Mr. Bannon’s desire to make a film about the Vatican’s homosexual subculture, according to Inside the Vatican. The pair had been close allies, meeting in person in recent years and collaborating over the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, Bannon’s “gladiator school“ which was meant to instill alt-right values in its students, and where Cardinal Burke had been honorary chairman.” Quoted in “Trad Queen Story Hour Part I: Papa Francesco vs. Steve Bannon’s Army of Cath-Boys.”

 

2 Comments

  1. Posted August 11, 2020 at 9:56 pm | Permalink

    Just wondering, what makes Andre Gide a bad guy? I don’t know much about him, but I haven’t heard anything particularly damaging.

    • James O'Meara
      Posted August 12, 2020 at 10:16 am | Permalink

      Gide made a great to-do about being ruthlessly “honest” about himself, keeping a voluminous Journal and publishing endless amounts of it, often to the consternation of others, such as his wife. While you or I might object to what Gide actually revealed — not mere homosexuality, but insatiable pederasty, especially with Arab boys purchased in Morocco — the French intelligentsia objected to the act of revelation itself. Apparently, in Catholic countries — note to Giles Corey — one conducts ones life on the “don’t ask don’t tell” principle, which Protestants find dishonest.

      In my review of Martel’s book, Trad Queen Story Hour part II, I quote Gide saying “I hate lying. That’s where my Protestantism takes refuge. Catholics don’t like the truth.”

      Interestingly, while Catholics like Maritain and Fay deplored Gide, Sartre also despised him, considering that his fetish for “telling the truth” amounted to nothing but “bad faith,” i.e., the idea that our identities are not freely chosen at each moment; he frequently used Gide as an example of bad faith, and promoted Genet as an example of authenticity. Roger Scruton called Sartre’s 500 page hagiography, Saint Genet, “a literally Satanic book.”

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