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Spectacular Nazism : strategies of resistance in 1930s Anglo-American fiction / Miriam Reesa Spiro

Publication | Library Call Number: PS3503.A614 Z945 2009

The burden for many politically engaged writers in interwar Europe was how to resist the growing threat of fascism and whether it was possible to narrativize the numbing and alienating effects of Nazism as it began to overtake mass culture in Europe. Among the key novels of the 1930s that illustrate these concerns are Djuna Barnes's experimental Nightwood (1937), Christopher Isherwood's semi-autobiographical Goodbye to Berlin (1939), and Virginia Woolf s Between the Acts (1940). In the dissertation I analyze how these writers document the conditions of racial and sexual marginalization endemic to modern Europe in the 1930s and warn against the dangerous allure of fascist ideology. Specifically, I assess how these narratives draw upon the connection between Nazism and the notion of the "spectacle." In Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord characterizes the spectacle as "a social relationship between people that is mediated by images" (12). As he explains, for those "to whom the real world becomes real images, mere images are transformed into real beings—tangible figments which are the efficient motor of trancelike behaviour" (Debord 17). The ideology of dictatorship relies on a society that treats the myth of the spectacle as real; these people become virtual "automatons" because they relinquish their desire to think for themselves. While the works of these three authors reveal a number of formal differences, all similarly challenge the fascist spectacle and its effects on the masses in what I term an "anti-fascist aesthetic." An anti-fascist aesthetic links ethics and aesthetics by disclosing new ways of thinking through narrative forms that disrupt notions of the Absolute. Woolf, Isherwood, and Barnes all highlight the homogenizing effects of the Nazi spectacle and contrast them with the heterogeneity of local theatre performances and visual representations of the "Other" bodies that fascism resists—most prominently the Modern Woman, the homosexual, and the Jew. Yet, rather than deploying an argument against fascism polemically, they use modernist experimentation—textual disruptions, parataxis, intertextuality, fragmentation, and parody—to challenge the illusion of harmony and unity in fascist ideology. Thus they not only promote a transformation in viewpoint, but also expand the ways in which people can think about justice. Using an interdisciplinary approach that includes close readings, feminist critique, discourse analysis, historical and political analysis, media and cultural theory, gender theory, and philosophy, I consider the contexts from which Barnes, Isherwood, and Woolf write, and how their texts engage with, resist, and even collude with fascist discourse. Through this process I uncover the broad scope of aesthetic and thematic approaches to constructions of gender, race, and sexuality in the novels, and the way the interrelated oppressions of sexism, antisemitism, and homophobia are complicated by historical and cultural contexts. Considering that anti-fascist efforts in the 1930s failed to transform the public or encourage new ways of thinking, the dissertation finally addresses the theoretical question of whether an "anti-fascist aesthetic," or any fictional resistance for that matter, can be an effective mode of opposition to political and social oppression.

Format
Book
Author/Creator
Spiro, Miriam Reesa.
Published
2009
Includes bibliographical references (p. 391-414)
Language
English
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Record last modified: 2018-05-25 09:44:00
This page: https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/bib209212