Conspiracy, Concealment and Persecution
In Bloomberg Business Week, of all places, I came across this piece on Proust and the Dreyfus affair by Caroline Weber, an associate professor of French at Barnard College.
Weber draws on material from a secret dossier that was used by the French army to convict Alfred Dreyfus for treason.
The dossier contains letters exchanged by two foreign spies, which reveal not only that one of them – Colonel Maximilian von Schwartzkoppen – had been sold French military secrets by Esterhazy (and not by Dreyfus), but also that Schwarzkoppen and the other spy, an Italian military attache named Lieutenant Colonel Alessandro Panizzardi, were having an affair. The fake documents in the dossier refer to the affair between these foreigners. Furthermore, the potentially devastating effects of public knowledge of the homosexual affair, Weber suggests, gave officials the excuse to keep the whole dossier secret, preventing Dreyfus and his lawyers seeing it throughout his 12 year ordeal. The dossier was only made public this year.
The secrecy of the dossier in turn fed accusations of a “Jewish conspiracy” – this much is well known. But Weber also highlights homophobia in the rhetoric of conspiracy around the affair, and finds an echo of the “phantasmagoric convergence of Jewishness, homosexuality and dreyfusisme” in a passage at the beginning of volume four of Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time,” in which he evokes the clandestine nature of gay and Jewish identity.
What I don’t know about the Dreyfus affair could fill a book (like this one), but what interested me about this article was the connection between conspiracy and the clandestine nature of homosexuality at the time. Weber notes that the conspiratorial accusations surrounding the affair made frequent reference both to jewishness and to homosexuality, both of which involved degrees of secretive association in order to avoid persecution. These clandestine associations, she suggests, amounted to “a tacit conspiracy not to destroy the community at large, but to preserve, through secrecy, their own unstable position within it.”
In this case the necessity of concealment of homosexuality seems to have played a role in both the alleged conspiracy itself and in the forms of conspiratorial accusation and denunciation that surrounded it.
I don’t think it makes sense to talk, as Weber does, of a “tacit conspiracy” – though this takes us to an earlier discussion of whether there has to be intent for there to be a conspiracy – but I do think it illustrates an interesting interplay between persecution, concealment, and conspiratorial accusation.