Book project – The Literature of Blood & Soil: White Nationalism and a New American Canon

Project Description

Merriam-Webster defines white nationalist as “one of a group of militant whites who espouse white supremacy and advocate enforced racial segregation,” while the more democratic—in typical crowd-sourced irreverence—distills white nationalism to its fairly useless abbreviation (WN), modeling its use in the sentence: “We’re having a WN party on 8/8, details at Stormfront.” But as a go-to media term for an otherwise mystifying Trump-era politics, the signifier—and sometimes epithet—white nationalist functions as an umbrella descriptor for a person who subscribes to any number of related ideologies. This includes the usual suspects (e.g., white separatists and supremacists) to the gateway ideas encoded within the incel and men’s rights movements. Although shades of nuance exist between these groups, they share an overlapping literary oeuvre comprised of narratives of intellectual origin, violent wish fulfillment, and speculative utopias in the making. The veneer of repugnant ideas that would have the unsympathetic reader dismissing these works as “hate literature” cloaks a more complex set of dreams and desires, political attitudes and idealized possibilities. 

An illustration of “Alt-Right Jane Austen,” The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Literature of Blood and Soil provides a provocative reading of a cross-section of texts written between 1905 and 2018, all borrowed from what I argue should be understood as a coherent white nationalist canon. These works reflect a consistent reliance on several tropes: white annihilation and cultural genocide; gun-grabbing, calculating Jewish villains; ignorant-but-organized brown and black hordes; and the über-hero, personified as the alienated embodiment of emasculated white grievance, driven by righteous fury to stave off these encroaching threats. Rather than a comprehensive literary history, this monograph does different work: it limits attention to a selection of the most prominent and influential white nationalist fiction and illustrates how to critically engage with tales of identity-based exclusion and massacre, reading the canon of white nationalist literature within the broader landscape of twentieth-century American fiction and popular culture. 

Project Description

The Literature of Blood and Soil is divided into four sections, each of which is comprised of two chapters. I use white supremacist David Lane’s ubiquitous “fourteen words” of white nationalist philosophy—We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children—to organize the project. Part one, “‘We Must Secure’ a Culture: Refining a Literature, Rereading a Canon,” includes the introduction and first chapter, which together provide the scaffolding on which to understand white nationalist cultural production as literature, and the ways in which white nationalists have cannibalized the traditional canon to defensively historicize this culture. Part two, “Defending ‘the Existence of Our People,’” includes the second and third chapters, both of which discuss texts defined by a thematic resistance to perceived assaults on the fabric of white personhood: respectively, the domestic ideal of white womanhood and the triumphalist symbolism of Confederate culture. The third part, “Crafting ‘a Future for White Children,’” includes chapters four and five, offering readings of novels that situate racial conflict in the poisonous environment of tomorrow’s liberal American classroom, and in the sci-fi doom of racially militated one-world government. Finally, part four, “Blut und Boden: The Mainstream Edition,” made up of chapters six and seven, recalls the book title, considering popular, normalized, even celebrated mainstream fiction that, respectively, theologizes the destructive tropes of white nationalist politics and advances the high culture legitimization of white male rage. Finally, the book closes with a short coda gesturing at the consequences of a willful blindness to the insidious “creep” of white nationalist culture. These chapters, taken together, attempt to answer an urgent question: How do the critical instruments of literary studies provide meaningful insight into the ideological threads of the past, present, and future when brought to bear on white nationalist stories as a credible sub-canon of American literature?