Ideology, Cultural Politics and Literary Collaboration at la Gerbe

Article excerpt

Of the major weekly reviews published in Paris during the Occupation, perhaps none is more representative of the period itself and the spirit of collaboration with Nazi Germany than La Gerbe. Created |out of whole cloth' by the German Embassy to serve its political and cultural objectives,[2] la Gerbe began publication in July 1940 and ceased publication in August 1944. Two hundred and fourteen issues of the journal appeared in all. A large-scale poster campaign in the streets of Paris preceded the appearance of the first number of La Gerbe on 11 July 1940,[3] and the offices of the journal on the Rue des Pyramides were ransacked following the Liberation.[4]

The founder and director of La Gerbe was Alphonse de Chateaubriant, a novelist, essayist and self-styled prophet. Indeed, David Pryce-Jones describes Chateaubriant as fitting |some hoary image of the sage', sporting as he did a flowing white beard and a heavy cane.[5] it is instructive to examine briefly some of Chateaubriant's pre-war literary output, since many of the themes and ideas developed in these works eventually shaped editorial policy as well as the rhetoric of collaboration at La Gerbe.

Chateaubriant made his literary reputation largely on the basis of two novels, Monsieur de Lordines, which won the Goncourt prize in 1911, and La Briere, published in 1923. The first novel deals with a young country nobleman who goes to the city and is corrupted by Parisian decadence, only to return home and find peace and purity on his native soil at novel's end. La Briere focuses on the efforts of a group of men dwelling in the provinces to protect their marshlands from outsiders. Neither work is overtly political, but both are reminiscent of the Barresian cult of |la terre et la race francaise', and in this sense they prepare the way for Chateaubriant's later conversion to fascism and his admiration of Nazi Germany, with its racist, nationalist ideology. In a later work, the 1933 novel La Reponse du Seigneur, Chateaubriant celebrates the notion of the leader in the story of a young man and his older mentor.[6] Discussing the book in Les Quatre Jeudis, Robert Brasillach argues that it was Chateaubriant's capacity for hero worship of this sort which led to his idolatry of Hitler in the late thirties.[7]

In 1936, Chateaubriant spent several months in Nazi Germany, and, upon his return, wrote a memoir of his journey which amounts to a record of his conversion to Nazism. The book, La Gerbe des forces, would later inspire the title of the Occupation review. |Conversion' is not too strong a word to describe Chateaubriant's experience, since for him Germany under the Third Reich was, in effect, the worldly realization of the City of God, a modern utopia for all nations to emulate, and Hitler a quasi-divinity on a providential mission.

Chateaubriant's reverential attitude towards the Nazi leader is evident both in the adjectives he uses to describe the man and the role he assigns him in the resurrection of Germany and the future of Europe. Hitler is variously described as |un poete un artiste, un grand coeur' (:74),[8] and despite misguided public perceptions of him, he is both good and sincere. The physical description Chateaubriant provides suggests a harmony between thought, deed and gesture, and an innate purity which epitomize the natural aristocracy of the new German race:

Pas tres grand, mais d'une taille bien prise, qui ne manque ni de force

ne de souplesse. Une parfaite aisance dans la domarche et dans le

geste. A ce point de vue, pas de faute ... Et ce detail a son prix. Je le

repete: jamais une seule maladresse dans l'adaption du geste A la

pensee. Toute la nuance y demeure; et de cette nuance observee se

degage, comme d'une musique choisie, un veritable parfum d'aristocratie.

L'aristocratie, d'ailleurs dont je parle ici n'a rien d'historique...Elle

est l'aristocratie d'une certaine lumidre apparue au sommet, dans les

transparences glacees de la montagne (:67-8). …