Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma (Gender and Culture Series) Review

Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma (Gender and Culture Series)
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Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma (Gender and Culture Series) ReviewThere is a 4-page Preface, a 2-page Acknowledgments section, a 3-chaptered Part I called "Stein, Fay and the Making of a Friendship" that is 102 pages long, a 2-chaptered Part II called "The Vichy Dilemma" which is 76 pages long, and an Epilogue that is 30 pages long, and a Notes section full of footnote references that is 70 pages long, and 16 pages of an Index. There are also 21 black and white illustrations, one of which is of a photograph of Gertrude Stein giving the Hitler salute along with American soldiers.
The dreaded, controversial topic of Gertrude Stein's affiliations with Fascism is finally and openly dealt with here and the dilemma of it all is clearly and judicially explained -- at least insofar as Gertrude Stein is the concern. Things are not so nearly clearly or fairly explained here in terms of Bernard Fay's affiliations with Fascism and his anti-Semitism, I'm sorry to say.
Nonetheless, the book is absolutely gripping and cutting-edge in terms of what politically was going on in the minds of Gertrude Stein and Bernard Fay back in the 1930s and 1940s and what was going on around them and their lives during this time. The parallels with today's controversies and conspiracies are unmistakeable.
Who hasn't had a major fascination with the Founding Fathers of the 18th century (though, today, they now are regarded as Terrorists in some FEMA circles) and the agrarian life of the 18th century and its values? Who hasn't valued privacy, hard work, land ownership, freedom (all of which are slowly being eroded forms of Socialism and Communism disguised under pleasant-sounding names both in the U.S. and globally) ? Gertrude Stein and Bernard Fay had this fascination and this passion in spades, enough so that Gertrude Stein would dress up in Benjamin Franklin costume and Bernard Fay would wear 18th century breeches! They loved the ideas and values of the 18th century and made the ideals of the 18th century their own vision and values in the 20th century, but each took a slightly different approach and each also suffered drastic consequences as a result of her or his intellectual choices.
Barbara Will writes an absolutely absorbing account of how and why Gertrude Stein, a self-hating Jew, became friends with Bernard Fay, a Roman Catholic and royalist. In essence, they both had a number of values and interests in common, one of which had to do with the 18th century view of life and politics, and another of which involved the uses and abuses of power in business as well as in friendships. But there were other values they shared as well, but you will have to read the book to discover them.
After Barbara Will's thorough examination of Gertrude Stein's sado-masochistic psychology and weakness for authoritarianism as well as Stein's vision of an 18th century individual living in the 20th century and how to respond to the decay of individualism and the tragic development of the mass-man, the reader is left with a wholly exonerating understanding that Gertrude Stein was not a voluntary and volitional conscious Fascist. The reader comes away feeling that Gertrude Stein had many good ideas but that she simply made some bad choices, saw certain events incompletely, even inadequately.
After Barbara Will's extensive but not quite thorough examination of Bernard Fay, the reader is lead to feel much more equivocal and may be tempted to judge the man as a narrow-minded, misanthropic, anti-Semitic throwback of Louis XVI -- if only because Bernard Fay is a man, not a woman like Gertrude Stein. It only seems fair to say that the author stacked the cards against Fay, the man, from the very beginning of her story when she describes Fay in ad hominem terms as "obsessed" with Freemasonry as some form of evil since the author FEELS that Freemasonry today "has a largely philanthropic air about it, closer to the Rotary Club, or even a college fraternity than to the Trilateral Commission." In other words, though Freemasony has a long history of vicious skullduggery, the author chooses to ignore its past and the facts of this hidden and secret organization's dealings in politics and the economy and assigns it a fraternal "air" --- based on no examination and no thought at all. This was an egregious, non-scholarly and unprofessional mistake that ought not to happen in the ranks of academia. Her writing here openly displays the opinion that Ms. Will clearly has no problem with the lack of transparency with any government or government official and certainly no problem with layers of secrecy among America's political elite.
The author piles on one ad hominem attack after another on Bernard Fay's shoulders soon after that, referring to Jacques Lacan's theories of obsession, as if offering by reference proof that Bernard Fay was a doomed and an inadequate soul to begin with -- before an actual historical and factual investigation is attempted. If Barbara Will had been hired by the Freemasons themselves to defend them against Bernard Fay, she could not have done better. This was the saddest and most disappointing aspect of the book for me. Bernard Fay was a serious researcher into the internal organization and wrote books and even gave pubic lectures about it. Barbara Will verbally spits on all of it and doesn't show the reader anything that lies within the pages of Fay's extensive work on the subject. She dismisses his interest, his pursuit, his writing and all of his historical significance in relation to the facts about Freemasonry as "obsessive" merely and sweeps everything under the rug of amnesia and ignorance.
The chapters and pages revealing the politics of the Vichy regime with Bernard Fay as the center of focus, however, were very challenging reading and very informative. It was somewhat painful or disconcerting to find that one's progress through this section was heavily impeded by footnotes at nearly every sentence or every other sentence. Reading the entire section of "Fay's War" was like being at an infinite number of check points where one has to secure one's identity again and again and obtain passports and validate one's citizenry again and again through copious footnotes in order to learn more of what was really going on and how and why.
I felt sad at the ending of the book, both because it ended and couldn't go on any more and because it ends with Gertrude Stein dying of uterine cancer and Bernard Fay aging out at 85 as a kind of lonely, historical fossil.
But Barbara Will nails the whole controversy that Janet Malcolm initiated now almost a decade ago with her New Yorker magazine articles insinuating Gertrude Stein was a secret fascist. Barbara Will's book is so full of enriching facts and interpretations on Gertrude Stein that this reader feels it makes more of an important contribution to Stein studies than does or did Ulla Dydo's dull and mammoth official work called "Gertrude Stein: The Language That Rises."
Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Faÿ, and the Vichy Dilemma (Gender and Culture Series) OverviewIn 1941, the Jewish American writer and avant-garde icon Gertrude Stein embarked on one of the strangest intellectual projects of her life: translating for an American audience the speeches of Marshal Philippe Pétain, head of state for the collaborationist Vichy government. From 1941 to 1943, Stein translated thirty-two of Pétain's speeches, in which he outlined the Vichy policy barring Jews and other "foreign elements" from the public sphere while calling for France to reconcile with Nazi occupiers. Unlikely Collaboration pursues troubling questions: Why and under what circumstances would Stein undertake this project? The answers lie in Stein's link to the man at the core of this controversy: Bernard Faÿ, Stein's apparent Vichy protector. Faÿ was director of the Bibliothèque Nationale during the Vichy regime and overseer of the repression of French freemasons. He convinced Pétain to keep Stein undisturbed during the war and, in turn, encouraged her to translate Pétain for American audiences. Yet Faÿ's protection was not coercive. Stein described the thinker as her chief intellectual companion during her final years. Barbara Will outlines the formative powers of this relationship, noting possible affinities between Stein and Faÿ's political and aesthetic ideals, especially their reflection in Stein's writing from the late 1920s to the 1940s. Will treats their interaction as a case study of intellectual life during wartime France and an indication of America's place in the Vichy imagination. Her book forces a reconsideration of modernism and fascism, asking what led so many within the avant-garde toward fascist and collaborationist thought. Touching off a potential powder keg of critical dispute, Will replays a collaboration that proves essential to understanding fascism and the remaking of modern Europe. (7/18/11)

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