Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies vol 1: Men and Women

Male Fantasies, Vol. 1: Women, Floods, Bodies, History by Klaus Theweleit

The first chapter of Klaus Theweleit’s book Male Fantasies, Vol. 1: Women, Floods, Bodies, History, is an examination of origins and manifestations of fascism. Theweleit argues that Freud’s concepts of psychoanalysis, such as the Oedipus complex, castration anxiety, repression and the unconscious, cannot sufficiently describe the types of fascist men that were members of the Freikorps in Germany in the intra-war era because their hypre-violent mysogyny expressed a more primal alienation. The Freikorp members’ pursuit of the “bloody mass” originated in their prepersonal, symbiotic phase of infancy. Theweleit builds his argument by profiling members of the Freikorps and then putting them on the couch for psychoanalysis that has been informed by post-Freudian theories.

Theweleit does not overtly situate himself within established historiography as he pursues the “fascist phenomena” (227), but instead uses the Freikorps as a case study and applies to them theories developed in the fields of philosophy, psychiatry, and child analysis. His own analysis is not theory-driven, but instead originates from his sources and is his response to documents that consistently featured “strangely ambivalent emotions” when members of the Freikorps mentioned women. Far more bold and ambitious than a historical account of blood-thirsty men of a certain era, Male Fantasies attempts to untangle the fears, desires, and relationships that “might belong at the center of fascism, as a producer of life-destroying reality.”(227) Theweleit uses autobiographies of members of the Freikorps, novels written about their exploits, eyewitness accounts of their activities and the actions of the Freikorps themselves to establish common perceptions, motivations and fears amongst these exemplars of fascism.

Theweleit focuses on their relationships with women and women’s bodies in his analysis, exploring their articulation of their marital relationships, their ideals of motherhood and purity and their descriptions of the bodies of the women they killed. He interprets the meaning of his sources and states that, for these men, “the idea of woman is coupled with violence” (50), “women are robbed of their sexuality and transformed into inanimate objects” (51), and “the men experienced communism as a direct assault on their genitals” (74). Theweleit quotes a Friekorps hero in a novel by Dwinger describing a woman’ death as “it wasn’t really so much a mouth as a bottomless throat, spurting blood like a fountain” (177) and telling his men to attack the rifle-women and “let our revulsion flow into a single river of destruction. A destruction that will be incomplete if it does not also trample their hearts and souls”. (180) The reader imagines the men that would “wade in blood” (205) and recognizes that the intentions and the actions of these men were hauntingly destructive. Theweleit shows his reader the face of the fascist.

Yet there is no comfort in Theweleit’s quantification of the manifestations of fascism because after he illustrates their commonalities he seeks their origin. At this point, Theweleit contrasts a Freudian explanation for the Freikorps with the theories and contributions of Deluze and Guattari, Michael Balint, Wilhelm Reich, and Melanie Klien, among others. Unfortunately, this last portion of the chapter is thick with both Marxist and Freudian jargon that almost obscures Theweleit’s “preliminary findings”. (204) While Freud’s description of the Oedipal triangle and the ensuing repression and anxiety is a simple model not “capable of apprehending the fascist phenomena” (127), the idea that fascism stems from “the fear of/desire for fusion, ideas of dismemberment, the dissolution of ego boundaries, the blurring of object relationships” (206) is daunting both in its complexity and its banality. If the “unconscious is a molecular force” (211) whose “mode of production” (216) could be annihilation as a result of a disturbance in one’s “separation-individuation of symbiosis” (207), then the fascist lives inside us all.

Theweleit profiles these men knowing that he unravels the fascist sensibility without offering a solution to its existence. Once we begin to understand that both the fear of dissolution and the failure to adhere to boundaries are rooted in an infant’s inability to distinguish itself from the living reality that threatens to envelope and extinguish it, we are left to wonder how we can prevent such disorders, and their underlying misogyny, from manifesting into a fascist state.