Friday, September 10, 2010

"Bodies and Evidence," Indeed

This passage came up in the monograph we read for Approaches last week, Tamara Chaplin's Turning on the Mind: French Philosophers on Television:
Although all sectors of French society were exposed to charges of collaboration, the purging of the intellectuals was particularly harsh. The anti-Semitic writer Robert Brasillach was included amongst the 791 accused collaborators who were eventually executed. Basillach's offense was distinctly textual: his published ideas, opinions, and assertions were deemed criminally influential. "There are words," wrote Simone de Beauvoir, "as murderous as gas chambers."
It shouldn't surprise me that there are bloodthirsty elements in the intelligentsia. This is, after all, the same era as what I study in Russia, the same phenomenon that I study in Russia.

And yet I am surprised.

Is it because of some predisposition I have to think of the "civilized" French?

Is it because of my love for Simone and her cohort?

I feel cold every time I think about de Beauvoir using her words to create a dead body, by which I certainly don't mean to be an apologist for Nazi sympathizers. Did Simone write those words with a touch of irony, realizing that her people's indictment of the collaborators was as murderous as those others' words had been?

Much as I say that I buy into a rhetoric of the "angry" or "dissident" intellectual, I hold much more with the belief in and attempt towards the ideals of Elucidation and Enlightenment. Welcome, then, to my continued confrontation with the Dark Side of the Academy.

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