“Maybe I Can Have It Both Ways”: Fascism, Deconstruction, and the Politics of the Personal in Academic Writing
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The purpose of this investigation is twofold. On the one hand, this essay will argue that French deconstruction’s ideological focus on effacing the personal from all academic projects was a key link in the French avant-garde’s relationship with fascism. Then, by referring to the works of Alice Kaplan, a post-holocaust deconstructionist scholar, this project evaluates her efforts to introduce the personal and political perspectives into academic discourse in a way that remains ideologically consistent with her post-structuralist training. In three chapters this project untangles Kaplan’s relationships with three fascist characters whom she folds into her academic writing. Central among these characters is the literary scholar Paul de Man, Kaplan’s teacher, whose influence haunts all of her academic work. The goal of this project is to emphasize the centrality of the authorial subject in post-war efforts to rescue French avant-garde thought from fascism, and to investigate a mode of scholarship that might help these second-generation scholars resolve the tensions in academia left by fascist intellectuals. Ultimately this project hopes to alleviate some of the stigma of inserting, intentionally or otherwise, personal bias into academic projects. By examining Kaplan’s work, I hope to demonstrate the impossibility of objective research, while also showing that the personal and political are inseparable from even the most self-aware academic writing. Kaplan’s inability to fully evaluate de Man on an ethical scale reveals the shortcomings of a deconstruction methodology, namely that while it is useful for analyzing rhetoric, it is unable to account for the ethical implications of historical actions. In turn, this project attempts to elucidate the benefits we gain from studying the overlooked space between the academic, political, and personal, however difficult they may be to untangle.