The Enemy Within
Culture Wars and Political Identity in Novels of the French Third Republic
Gilbert D. Chaitin
Literature and Criticism/French
314 pp. 6x9
$69.95 cloth 978-0-8142-0231-9
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“Because Gilbert D. Chaitin demonstrates a rare degree of expertise on the philosophical issues at stake in the French novel of education, and can skillfully apply a range of interpretive methods from the psychoanalytic to the historical, he is very well-qualified for this ambitious undertaking. He displays an effective, highly original, sophisticated yet clear prose style that succeeds in the difficult challenge of synthesizing the diverse genres of literary criticism, philosophy, history, and political theory.” —M. Martin Guiney, professor of French at Kenyon College
“Gilbert D. Chaitin’s readings of four novels of ideas are gripping and impressive. Even if one hasn’t read the texts, one is persuaded by the intelligence and sophistication of his interpretations. One follows—clearly and without confusion—a complicated set of arguments about the relations between students and teachers, past and future, history and politics that are explored in the novels. At once philosophy, history, psychoanalysis and literary exegesis, the book is a tour de force.” —Joan Scott, Harold F. Linder Professor of Social Science, Institute for Advanced Study
In The Enemy Within, Gilbert D. Chaitin deepens our understanding of the nature and sources of culture wars during the French Third Republic. The psychological trauma caused by the Ferry educational reform laws of 1880–1882, which strove to create a new national identity based on secular morality rather than God-given commandments, pitted Catholics against proponents of lay education and gave rise to novels by Bourget, Barrès, A. France, and Zola.
By deploying Lacanian concepts to understand the “erotics of politics” revealed in these novels, Chaitin examines the formation of national identity, offering a new intellectual history of the period and shedding light on the intimate relations among literature, education, philosophy, morality, and political order. The mechanisms described in The Enemy Within provide fresh insight into the affective structure of culture wars not only in the French Third Republic but elsewhere in the world today.
Gilbert D. Chaitin is professor emeritus of French and comparative literature at Indiana University-Bloomington.