As to the poetical Character itself (I mean that sort of which, if I am any thing, I am a Member; that sort distinguished from the wordsworthian or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se and stands alone) it is not itself - it has no self - it is every thing and nothing - It has no character - it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated - It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher, delights the camelion Poet. It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things any more than from its taste for the bright one; because they both end in speculation. A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity - he is continually in for - and filling some other Body - The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute - the poet has none; no identity - he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God's Creatures. (John Keats, Letter to Richard Woodhouse, Oct. 27, 1818)
Jacques Pluss' rather, ah, eccentric apologia for his stint as a Neo-Nazi does not appear to be enlarging his fan base, and the "intellectual" explanation for his purported project certainly doesn't help matters. Anyone who has spent time studying historiography may well wonder how Pluss manages to shake and stir Foucault, Derrida, and Kantorowicz into any sort of potable concoction. Even less palatably, he puts them all on the menu as scholars who advocate "the need for the historian to 'become' her or his subject in order to develop a relationship with it." Citations, please? (Would Derrida even think that such a thing was possible, let alone desirable?) But don't worry--Pluss' grasp of Romantic poetry proves to be about as good as his grasp of twentieth-century historiography.
Pluss claims that "I have also been a life-long non-academic author, primarily of poetry. In that capacity, I developed a feel – yes, 'feel' is about the only way I can put it – for the poets of the Romantic Era, particularly the works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Byron, and the prose of Mary Shelley." Putting the somewhat puzzling nature of the last sentence to one side--how is Mary Shelley's "prose" encompassed in the "poets of the Romantic Era"?--most readers may still wonder, understandably, what Byron and the Shelleys have to do with research. Pluss to the rescue! It's that "becoming" again: "Through reading them, in my own dolce styl nuovo, it slowly yet surely dawned upon me that any attempt to understand a group, a movement, or an individual psyche, would have to include becoming, as much as an individual can, the subject under study." Alas, readers still don't know what Byron and the Shelleys have to do with research. (Perhaps we just haven't sufficiently entered into Pluss' psyche.) Cue the end of the essay: "In conclusion, if there is any lesson I hope to impart to the historical community, it is that we historians will never grasp history as a felt and sensed discipline without an attempt to live a historical era as the British Romantic Poets lived the joy, and the torment, motivating and rising from their verse."
Oh, dear. This, to be none too polite, is at best a lower-division undergraduate's understanding of Romantic authorship, and one that would have baffled any one of the Big Six. Saying that "the British Romantic Poets lived the joy, and the torment, motivating and rising from their verse" requires studied indifference to the evidence at hand. At a practical level, of course, many Romantic lyrics only appear to be expressions of the poet's experience; Wordsworth, for example, frequently drew on his sister Dorothy's observations, as well as other literary or nonfiction sources (as is the case, e.g., with "The Solitary Reaper"). Byron and Shelley, though, are the Romantics most commonly flattened into purely expressive autobiographical poets. As biographers and literary critics have noted (at considerable length), however, Byron strategically manipulated his public image, and encouraged readers to conflate his life with his poetry; this is something very different from somehow "becoming" or "inhabiting" a character. It's also worth remembering that Byron is the least "Romantic" of the major Romantic poets; he self-consciously positioned himself as an heir of the neoclassical tradition that Wordsworth and Co. claimed to reject. (In some ways, Byron's ambivalent attitude to his public image echoes that of one of his heroes, Alexander Pope.)
Again, it it not clear how Percy Bysshe Shelley can be said to have "lived" his work, in Pluss' sense of the term. Of course, he outraged public opinion in any number of ways--as a practitioner of what we'd call "free love," as an atheist, and so forth--but there's no simple connection between Shelley's life and Shelley's poetry. It's not as though Shelley needed to kill someone in order to write The Cenci. And Shelley most assuredly would not have recognized his own theories and representations of imaginative power--in "A Defence of Poetry" and elsewhere--in Pluss' debauched costume drama. "The great secret of morals is Love; or a going out of our own nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action or person, not our own," says Shelley. "A man to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own." Poetry, for Shelley, thus carries a moral burden: it "strengthens the faculty which is the organ of the moral nature of man in the same manner as exercise strengthens a limb." In other words, by developing our capacity for sympathetic identification, poetry indirectly shapes our everyday interactions with the world; it is, in that sense, "political." But--and here is where Shelley dovetails with Keats, in the letter quoted above--"A Poet therefore would do ill to embody his own conceptions of right and wrong which are usually those of his place and time in his poetical creations, which participate in neither." As Shelley says elsewhere in the essay, the poet works on the "cause" (the imagination) and not the "effect" (the desired moral outcome); poetry can thus be "moral" or "political" without actually referring to contemporary issues. Both Keats and Shelley are in general agreement that the poet is not simply uttering "himself" in the act of creation, although they perhaps differ in their understanding of how far the poet can de-self himself, as it were. (In "Ode to the West Wind," Shelley figures the imagination as beyond the poet's control; the poet gives "tone" to that which speaks through him.)
This is all very far from actually becoming a Neo-Nazi in order to write about the experience. The major Romantic poets would, in all likelihood, have loudly complained that Pluss' behavior betrayed their understanding of how an author "becomes" his subject (and the radical Shelley would have had some tart things to say about Pluss' morality, too). Now, it's quite true that academics, commentators, and sociologists have "joined up" in order to study their subjects at closer range; one thinks, for example, of recent books by Barbara Ehrenreich and "Rebekah Nathan." But the rules of their "performances" were quite different. Nathan, after all, cleared her work through IRB and occasionally revealed her identity to students when the situation demanded it (see here). And I don't recall any of them actually disseminating neo-Nazi propaganda.