- Avant-Garde Fascism: The Mobilization of Myth, Art, and Culture in France, 1909 – 1939
A scrupulously detailed and exacting argument that much of the significant art of three decades in twentieth-century France should not be seen as ancillary to the reactionary politics of the time, but integral to them, this book catalogs the ways in which symbolists, sculptors, photographers, and architects generated the myths that made fascism not only acceptable, but also inspiring, to an intellectual society thirsting for what the author repeatedly refers to as a “palingenetic” reordering that would begin a new order of society and human development. Stemming from the visionary energies set forth by Georges Sorel and then absorbing the power of cubism, futurism, surrealism, artists such as Georges Valois, Philippe Lamour, and Thierry Maulnier imagined ways in which the degeneracy of the time could be lanced and its poisons, many of which could be traced to the parasitic influence of “the Jew,” could be drained away. The book is at pains to make no polemical judgments about this abhorrent turn to the right but is instead almost wholly concerned that the artists of the time should not be seen as “epiphenomenal” by-products of the growth of fascism but, instead, crucial to its development. Insofar as the author is correct, and his arguments are fortified by impressive learning, the portrait he gives is all the more dismaying. His neutrality in the face of what he investigates is a model of imperturbability.
William M. Chace’s most recent book is One Hundred Semesters: My Adventures as Student, Professor, and University President, and What I Learned along the Way. The author or editor of books on Pound, Joyce, T. S. Eliot, and Lionel Trilling, he is president emeritus of Emory University.