I generally oppose explaining jokes, but when genuinely bright people miss the point, evidence points to me missing the mark. An article in which someone argues that repressed negrophilia motivates the actions of Ben Cameron in The Clansman would be unspeakably stupid. (I thought the caption to the accompanying photograph would've made that plain.) Dixon is admirably frank about his intentions:
"The Clansman" is the second book of a series of historical novels planned on the Race Conflict ... [It] develops the true story of the "Ku Klux Klan Conspiracy," which overturned the Reconstruction regime ... How the young South, led by the reincarnated souls of the Clansmen of Old Scotland, went forth under this cover and against overwhelming odds, daring exile, imprisonment, and a felon's death, and saved the life of a people, forms one of the most dramatic chapters in the history of the Aryan race.
Early in the novel, Austin Stoneman presents President Lincoln with the following argument:
The life of our party demands that the Negro be given the ballot and made the ruler of the South. This can be done only by the extermination of its landed aristocracy, that their mothers shall not breed another race of traitors ... Nature, at times, blot out whole communities and races that obstruct progress. Such is the political genius of these people that, unless you make the Negro the ruler, the South will yet reconquer the North and undo the work of this war.
The Southerners may have been defeated, but their stock is as hale as their minds are sharp. If not put to the Negro's boot, Anderson argues, the South will rise again. He quickly learns the gravity of his error, and by novel's end he entreats the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan thus:
My will alone forged the chains of Negro rule ... When I first fell a victim to the wiles of the yellow vampire who kept my house, I dreamed of lifting her to my level. And when I felt myself sinking into the black abyss of animalism, I, whose soul had learned the pathway of the stars and held high converse with the great spirits of the ages—
At which point he is interrupted. The plot thickens until Stoneman feels compelled to declare:
The Klan!—The Klan! No? Yes! It's true—glory to God, they've saved my boy!
The novel ends with the Grand Dragons of six states wiring in election results so favorable Cameron announces
That Civilization has been saved, and the South redeemed from shame.
In short, The Clansman is so profoundly racist it precludes even the cleverest of scholars from reading against its grain. Any theoretical model allowing for such a reading would be invalidated by its ability to allow for such a reading. Granted, an article claiming Dixon's novel is structured by Cameron's repressed negrophilia should never have been published in the first place. But were one to slip past the gatekeepers, it would be out there. Forever. Articles in the humanity can't be retracted.
This is a bad thing. For one, it means we will always be held accountable for everything we publish. Unless, that is, we happen to be a big-enough-of-a-shot to compel a refereed journal to print our clarification. The irony stings: top scholars can refine their market-persona by disowning previous work, whereas the majority of us must make do with the publications we have and backtrack in personal statements, MLA interviews and campus visits.
For example, were Hillis Miller invited to speak, no one would ask him about his Poulet-inspired early work because his move away from it is documented in numerous publications. Were you or I invited to speak on campus, however, we would be grilled about work we published five or ten years previous because it would be, quite literally, our last word on the subject.
Would it not be wonderful to slap "RETRACTED: DECEMBER 12, 1998" on an article whose methodology you no longer embrace? Then you would only be asked why you chose to retract the article, instead of being forced to negotiate numerous flanking maneuvers as you hastily retreat.* Because as Ahistoricality points out, the growth of digital archives means these embarrassments will be easily available in perpetuity.
Do you really want some kid on Mars in 3031 citing an article you wanted to disown the very moment it was published?
*Of the many job talks I've attended, I can only remember one in which the retreat was dignified. Mostly, candidates hem-and-haw, say something about this committee member, that reader feedback, &c.