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? 

Book chapter – From Heritage Politics to Hate: Neo-Confederate Novels & White Protectionism

The white nationalist movement, culminating in the 2017 Unite the Right rally, has publicly coalesced around the preservation of Confederate monuments. However, with leaders like Bostonian Richard Spencer and a critical mass of Northern hate groups, Southern heritage is revealed as a convenient landscape on which to map a specious narrative that conflates the removal of Confederate monuments with the erasure of white dignity. Although organizers capitalized on this distorted heritage politics, the credit for successfully linking white prosperity to the valorization of Confederate history belongs elsewhere. Two novels from 2000, Ellen Williams’s Bedford a World Vision and Lloyd Lenard’s The Last Confederate Flag,offer narrative accounts of this linkage, presenting visions of the brown-skinned, liberal encroachment on a white Southern landscape. By dramatizing the bureaucratic and violent maneuvers necessary to protect the flag, the indexical stand-in for white peace, the authors reveal the rhetorical craftiness behind a normalized heritage politics. The authors did not invent the narrative conflation of Southern history with white prosperity. However, these novels highlight the imaginative work that convinces a disaffected readership that the protectionof monuments to Southern history naturally leads to the protection at all costs of white sovereignty.

New project – Masculinity & Sentimentality in White Nationalist Fiction

In 1978, a physics professor published his first novel, The Turner Diaries. Written in installments for a racist tabloid, William Pierce tells the story of Earl Turner, an underdog who successfully leads a violent race war, revenging himself and fellow whites against the socio-political order that would relegate them to a disenfranchised second-class. But for all the lasting influence of his novel—cited by figures from Timothy McVeigh to Richard Spencer—Pierce was hardly the first author to envision mass lynchings as the ultimate white supremacist corrective. In fact, Pierce was simply writing his generation’s Clansman.
The 1905 Thomas Dixon novel that served as the foundation for The Birth of a Nation, The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan hit all the right sentimental notes, as deployed to such different ends by Harriet Beecher Stowe and cut down in James Baldwin’s critique of sentimentality. Dixon masterfully describes the threat to white virtue by the emboldened post-Civil War blacks, lust-crazed and power-hungry. Compared with Dixon’s account of the South, overrun with Reconstruction-era black barbarism, Pierce’s novel offers us a vision of Dixon’s landscape left unchecked, of the risks posed to virtuous whites when “the day of the rope” is too long deferred.

Continue reading “New project – Masculinity & Sentimentality in White Nationalist Fiction”

Book project – Plantation Pimps & Nazi Monsters: Labor, Sex, and Madness in American Slavery and Holocaust Fiction

Following the 1978 premiere of the television miniseries Holocaust, a vocal number of African American activists protested what they argued was a Jewish attempt to steal attention from the long overdue social and cultural interest in America’s egregious criminal past. More specifically, these critics begrudged NBC’s admitted attempt to mimic the overwhelming and unexpected success of ABC’s 1977 eight-night television event, Roots, with their own ethnic melodrama. Whereas NBC successfully had the day of their own premiere nationally dubbed “Holocaust Sunday,” those critical of the attempt to piggyback off of Roots’sachievement were left with the distinct sense that the critical success of the series about their own traumatic history, and more importantly the history that inspired it, were being pushed aside. In retrospect, it hardly matters that production of Holocaust was underway by the time of Roots’s success; this social fissure simply brought into relief a tension between blacks and Jews that had been quietly simmering for some time.

This fraught response to the Holocaustminiseries took place a full decade before Toni Morrison’s 1987 dedication of Beloved to the “sixty million and more,” and its implicit critique of the refrain-like familiarity and focus on the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Anticipating Morrison, the African American critics of Holocaust were already sounding the drum about what they perceived as an ultimately successful attempt to eclipse America’s domestic shame, plantation slavery. Even now, there is a frequent contest between purveyors of African American and Jewish history over the consequences of slavery and the Holocaust, the cynically labeled “olympics of suffering.” However tedious this conflict may seem from the outside, its resonances in contemporary social discourse and cultural production point to a set of unarticulated but significant stakes. This project seeks to pull back the veil that is so often distilled as “Holocaust vs. slavery”—at its most charged, “black vs. Jew”—and sort out the significance of the narratives to contemporary American moral identity.

Project Description


The operating premise of Plantation Pimps & Nazi Monsters: Labor, Sex, and Madness in American Slavery and Holocaust Fiction, and the arc that ties its chapters together, is the idea that, although slavery and the Holocaust are discreet historical and temporal events with unique victims and perpetrators, causations and consequences, American popular culture has converged around a surprisingly small set of tropes to tell these stories, so that novels and movies about slavery and the Holocaust are constitutive of and reliant on the same core, causal narrative. The opening chapter discusses William Styron, the author whose best-known novels conflated slavery and the Holocaust in an effort to indict proto-capitalism, and sets the stage for the larger American rejection of Styron’s characterization of these histories. Although he succeeded at permanently if tenuously yoking one atrocity with the other, Styron’s successors implicitly reject what he argues is the shared animating principle—greed—leaning instead into a multiplicity of alternative explanations for how and why these two events fit so tightly together. I have attempted to recover Styron, not in an effort to recover his oversimplified explanation that places money at the root of all evil. What he does, though, that the authors in the second, third, and fourth chapters don’t do, is insist upon the reasonableness of atrocity in the context of contemporary culture.

Styron anchors his accounts of slavery and the Holocaust, and thus his critique, on the established politics of financial prosperity that define success in the Western European story, and particularly the American mind that has taken this story and crafted an economic myth and mystery all its own. He acknowledges in his myopic way a dimension of the larger truth as it evolved in the 1960s-70s American worldview: a Darwinian landscape that instrumentalizes “survival of the fittest” as an ideal, constructs a myth of merit that names the strongest as deserving of the spoils, and advances a system of social capital and economic commerce that intensifies competition for limited resources (financial or otherwise). In this context, establishing merit by eliminating the social and economic threats that weaken your position is simply good politics and good business; it is equally bad politics and business to acknowledge, to oneself and one’s fellow citizens, that the performance of this worldview may not only lead to, but in fact calls for, the tolerance of atrocity every so often.

The second chapter begins the process of showing how that acknowledgment of tolerance was buried over time, and explains why, when we think of slavery and the Holocaust, we are so often conditioned by books and movies to think, first and foremost, of sexual violence and brutal torture. If Styron’s version can be summed up as “capitalists commit atrocity,” Kyle Onstott and Orlando Patterson, the authors examined in the second chapter, can be summarized as advancing the idea that “sexually depraved torturers commit atrocity.” And while the latter is certainly true, the perpetrators of slavery and the Holocaust were far more likely to be just plain greedy than they were to be driven by sadism for its own sake. This idea is discomfiting indeed because, if true, our day-to-day encounters with plain old capitalists—in fact, the likelihood of our membership in their ranks—means that we may be rubbing shoulders with, or perhaps even in league with, the atrocity perpetrators of tomorrow. Collapsing the macro-narrative means that avoiding sexual depravity is no longer sufficient to evade the guilty or risk guilt.

The subsequent chapters elaborate on an alternative causal narrative—namely, madness—and consider the ultimate synthesis of all of these narratives (greed, sexual violence, and lunacy) in twenty-first century screen culture. The fact that Plantation Pimps & Nazi Monstersopens by discussing 1960s Southern fiction and ends with readings of 2010s popular film and television is not simply proof of the depth and breadth of these narrative tensions in American cultural production, though that alone accounts for the critical interest in the topic. More importantly, the range of the archive, and the works’ disparate contexts, illustrate the perceived and shifting stakes associated with how we explain away the enslavement and annihilation of blacks and Jews, and the lasting belief that understanding one means understanding the other, and that understanding both means understanding the basic nature of good and evil in the American intellectual and creative imagination.