Research

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.

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Book project – Auschwitz & the Plantation: Labor, Sex, and Death in American Holocaust and Slavery Fiction

Auschwitz and the Plantation is about the relationship between American slavery and Holocaust narratives, their evolving and complementary claims as to why these events took place, and the philosophical underpinnings of these claims. Neoliberalism, a socioeconomic philosophy popularized throughout the 1970s, holds that free market privatization and its limits to government interference protect against state corruption, including crimes perpetrated by totalitarian regimes (e.g., the Nazi regime’s responsibility for the Holocaust). As neoliberalism was increasingly celebrated over the 1970s and 80s—and was formally institutionalized during the 1980s movement for legislative privatization and deregulation, often characterized as Reaganomics—so were American narratives of slavery and the Holocaust subtlety but significantly changing. Revisionist fictional and historiographical narratives of these events excise any suggestion of economic structural incentives for mass murder and enslavement, lest the reductively optimistic account of the free market be tainted as a potential force for “evil.” Finally, then, Auschwitz and the Plantation is an exploration of the unexamined outcomes of reinventing and revising history in the service of an American hero narrative in which the state is antagonist and the profit-motive guarantees against brutality. 

I begin by looking at those exceptional works that depict these events as explicitly economic phenomena, like William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner. I then move to Holocaust and slavery narratives that provide causal accounts to the deliberate exclusion of economics, instead positing race and sex as primary motivators. More generally, I argue that, in what is now regarded as the emerging dominance of American neoliberalism—with its emphasis not just on the economic value of efficient markets but also on their moral value as well—an intensified interest in identifying racism as the source of the world’s greatest evils became linked with an intensifying interest in rehabilitating greed. It is this nexus of relations, between the emerging sense of the horror of genocide and the different but, I argue, compatible sense of the value of markets, that is at the center of my project.  Continue reading “Book project – Auschwitz & the Plantation: Labor, Sex, and Death in American Holocaust and Slavery Fiction”