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Monday, July 12, 2010

"There is never a moment of culture, without it being at the same time a document of barbarity"

Stolen from Frederick Spotts' Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, quoting Walter Benjamin's tombstone.

An interesting counterpoint to Arendt's Men in Dark Times, which I'm also skimming. Arendt's book is mostly a history of flawed but talented/gifted people struggling to preserve or change the world for the better. Spotts' book ends up being mostly a role call of artists, thinkers and builders who sold out to Hitler's flattering grand vision.

And Spotts is good at both at cultural journalism on the aesthetic tendencies/interests of the Third Reich on the one hand, and on the other driving home the destructive results of Hitler's own artistic aspirations. And, of course, tying those aesthetic impulses, of both the party and the leader, back to the atrocities they committed. Speer, Strauss and many others come in for very harsh words for both their crimes (towards humanity, not just artistically) and their attempts to whitewash them after the war.

The book does make me wonder if there are any in-depth studies of either the German stage or the German cinema in Nazi Germany. Neither were of particular day-to-day interest to Hitler (even if he enjoyed their works sometimes, he showed nothing of the fascination he felt towards opera) and were mostly left up to Goebbels and other administrators. The few articles I've seen on the subject (such as this fascinating one on the man who was considered the Nazi Noel Coward or anything on Gustaf Grundgens and Jew Suss) and Richard J. Evans' short discussion of UFA's propaganda films in The Third Reich at War suggest a complex relationship between the public at large, working artists, and the government. Spotts' dissection of the various competing factions that fought for control of the visual arts (as in virtually every other area of administration, when something did not have Hitler's explicit interest) is by turns darkly comic and depressing. Reading Goebbels bitchily insulting Rosenberg's artistic tastes, for example, is a discomfortingly humanizing experience.

I promise something not so heavy or weird soon.