The Aesthetics of Hate: Far-Right Intellectuals, Antisemitism, and Gender in 1930s France

The Aesthetics of Hate: Far-Right Intellectuals, Antisemitism, and Gender in 1930s France

The Aesthetics of Hate: Far-Right Intellectuals, Antisemitism, and Gender in 1930s France

The Aesthetics of Hate: Far-Right Intellectuals, Antisemitism, and Gender in 1930s France

Synopsis

The Aesthetics of Hate examines the writings of a motley collection of interwar far-right intellectuals, showing that they defined Frenchness in racial, gendered, and sexual terms. A broad, ambitious cultural and intellectual history, the book offers a provocative reinterpretation of a topic that has long been the subject of controversy.

In works infused with rhetorics of abjection, disgust, and dissolution, such writers as Maulnier, Brasillach, Céline, and Blanchot imagined the nation through figures deemed illegitimate or inferior-Jews, colonial subjects, homosexuals, women. Sanos argues that these intellectuals offered an "aesthetics of hate," reinventing a language of far-right nationalism by appealing to the realm of beauty and the sublime for political solutions.

By acknowledging the constitutive relationship of antisemitism and colonial racism at the heart of these canonical writers' nationalism, this book makes us rethink how aesthetics and politics function, how race is imagined and defined, how gender structured far-right thought, and how we conceive of French intellectualism and fascism.

Excerpt

There is meaning in what seems not to have any meaning,
something enigmatic in what seems self-evident, a spark
of thought in what appears to be an anodyne detail.

—Jacques Rancière, The Aesthetic Unconscious, 2009

In a little-examined episode of the controversial 2006 novel Les bienveülantes, the author, Jonathan Littell, sketches a fairly accurate portrait of the French intellectual far right. The episode is brief: only a few pages in this almost thousand-page novel. Yet, to most readers, it appears to offer an interesting—and informative— glimpse into the world of the French far right during the Vichy years. The novel’s fictional hero, a Nazi officer named Maximilien Aue, visits occupied Paris in 1943 and socializes with two of the most famous French fascists and collaborationists, Robert Brasillach and Lucien Rebatet. Aue, whose obsession with perversion and abjection, we learn, is matched by his love of classical literature and impeccable erudition, remembers meeting Brasillach at the École normale supérieure, and Brasillach brought him to meet the “bitter” Charles Maurras at the Action française offices, who was “always eager to pour his bile onto Marxists, bourgeois, republicans, and Jews.” Aue then joined the young far right, made up of Thierry Maulnier, Jean-Pierre Maxence, and Georges Blond. He also recalls going to a classical concert with Céline and “feverishly discuss [ing] whether there could be a ‘fascist’ literature” with those young French men late at night in student restaurants.

Here, Littell’s portrayal of Aue’s 1943 visit veers away from careful historical accuracy, instead borrowing the tropes that have haunted depictions of the interwar intellectual far right especially since 1945, namely, the associations between fascism, masculinity, homosexuality, and perversion. Hatred of the “other”—the Jew, the Communist—is bound to a secret or shameful love of . . .

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