The only people who cared about literature were the KGB

by Corey Robin on October 7, 2013

Cornell historian Holly Case has a fascinating piece in The Chronicle Review on Stalin as editor. Reminds me of that George Steiner line that the only people in the 20th century who cared about literature were the KGB.

Here are some excerpts. But read the whole thing.

Joseph Djugashvili was a student in a theological seminary when he came across the writings of Vladimir Lenin and decided to become a Bolshevik revolutionary. Thereafter, in addition to blowing things up, robbing banks, and organizing strikes, he became an editor, working at two papers in Baku and then as editor of the first Bolshevik daily, Pravda. Lenin admired Djugashvili’s editing; Djugashvili admired Lenin, and rejected 47 articles he submitted to Pravda.


Djugashvili (later Stalin) was a ruthless person, and a serious editor. The Soviet historian Mikhail Gefter has written about coming across a manuscript on the German statesman Otto von Bismarck edited by Stalin’s own hand. The marked-up copy dated from 1940, when the Soviet Union was allied with Nazi Germany. Knowing that Stalin had been responsible for so much death and suffering, Gefter searched “for traces of those horrible things in the book.” He found none. What he saw instead was “reasonable editing, pointing to quite a good taste and an understanding of history.”



Stalin always seemed to have a blue pencil on hand, and many of the ways he used it stand in direct contrast to common assumptions about his person and thoughts. He edited ideology out or played it down, cut references to himself and his achievements, and even exhibited flexibility of mind, reversing some of his own prior edits.



For Stalin, editing was a passion that extended well beyond the realm of published texts. Traces of his blue pencil can be seen on memoranda and speeches of high-ranking party officials (“against whom is this thesis directed?”) and on comic caricatures sketched by members of his inner circle during their endless nocturnal meetings (“Correct!” or “Show all members of the Politburo”).



The Stanford historian Norman Naimark describes the marks left by Stalin’s pencil as “greasy” and “thick and pasty.” He notes that Stalin edited “virtually every internal document of importance,” and the scope of what he considered internal and important was very broad. Editing a biologist’s speech for an international conference in 1948, Stalin used an array of colored pencils—red, green, blue—to strip the talk of references to “Soviet” science and “bourgeois” philosophy. He also crossed out an entire page on how science is “class-oriented by its very nature” and wrote in the margin “Ha-ha-ha And what about mathematics? And what about Darwinism?”



But Stalin was still not satisfied. In the next round of substantial edits, he used his blue pencil to mute the conspiracy he had previously pushed the authors to amplify (italics indicate an insertion):

The Soviet people unanimously approved the court’s verdict—the verdict of the people annihilation of the Bukharin-Trotsky gang and passed on to next business. The Soviet land was thus purged of a dangerous gang of heinous and insidious enemies of the people, whose monstrous villainies surpassed all of the darkest crimes and most vile treason of all times and all peoples.

 

{ 164 comments }

1

PatrickinIowa 10.07.13 at 4:17 pm

I took a class from Joseph Brodsky at Michigan in the mid-seventies. He used to say that a major thing he missed about Russia was the seriousness with which everyone approached poetry, even the police.

2

SusanC 10.07.13 at 4:36 pm

If I recall correctly Julian Assange expressed a similar sentiment, to the effect that there’s still some hope for China because their censors still care what you say. (Whereas in the West, you can say what you like because the government is confident it will make no difference…)

3

Daragh McDowell 10.07.13 at 4:40 pm

I think Brodsky might have been channeling Mandelstam – “Only in Russia poetry is respected–it gets people killed.”

4

Trader Joe 10.07.13 at 5:21 pm

An excellent article and a practical example of history being written, and then edited by, the victors/survivors.

The examples given of Stalin editing his own name out of various texts was to me the most interesting. Its either the most exteme egoism to assume he’d be remembered regardless of whether he was named or not; or fierce belief in his own cause and the primacy of the party. No doubt a bit of both, but interesting all the same – thanks for highlighting.

5

Anderson 10.07.13 at 5:48 pm

Trader Joe, I think Stalin was just practicing false modesty; if accused of a cult of personality, he could point to how he’d even edited his name out of the history books!

6

Anderson 10.07.13 at 5:53 pm

I’m particularly interested in that annotated edition of the Short Course! I picked up an old copy at a library sale (red cover and all), tho somehow I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet …

7

Hidari 10.07.13 at 7:17 pm

In Alex Ross’s ‘The Rest is Noise’ he points out that Stalin was the least vain and arrogant of men (in the flesh). He adopted a quiet and modest demeanor on social occasions and rarely (in person) bragged about his achievements: the theory being (Ross surmises) that only people with limited power are given to boast about it (of course, when his back, so to speak, was turned, he was happy to ‘allow’ fellow-comrades and artists such as Shostakovich to praise him ‘if they so wished’).

But Hitler was the same. There was no ‘cult of personality’ about Hitler: there were no giant statues of him put up about Germany, German cities were not named ‘Hitlerville’ (or whatever). And even more than Stalin he discouraged artists from writing symphonies or plays that were directly hagiographical about Hitler (as a person, that is. Plays and operas etc. that were openly supportive of National Socialist ideology were a different issue).

8

Marcus 10.07.13 at 7:19 pm

Stalin also wrote about the philosophy of language, repudiating Marr, surely there must be some connection between his views on that and his editing work. Altogether it is very strange how somebody who was supposedly in control of everything in the USSR let Lysenko and Marr go about their ways, whilst himself obviously not believing any of it.

9

dbk 10.07.13 at 7:24 pm

I wonder whether the only people who cared about literature were indeed the KGB, or whether this phenomenon extends a little more broadly. I recently saw a Metropolitan Opera HD performance of Eugene Onegin, and both the star (soprano Anna Netrebko) and conductor (Valery Gergiev), who were interviewed during intermissions, mentioned that the Pushkin original was part and parcel of their education. Gergiev actually noted that they had memorized it in school.

10

I.G.I. 10.07.13 at 7:53 pm

@9 Authoritarian and totalitarian societies are usually enthralled by and aiming at ethereal immortal values – be it the goodness and justice of Communism, or the soil and the spirit of the ancestors. And this was indeed still true in the later “mellow” years of the Real Socialism, the 1970s and 1980s. While the state was often hostile to the silly trivia coming from the Western pop culture the same state censors (actually better to speak of the party and the cultural elites) approved – and facilitated the import – of the best of the bourgeois high culture which treated such immortal values, and often employed the inventive artistic language to do so.

11

Matt McG 10.07.13 at 8:52 pm

Stalin’s favourite play was apparently Bulgakov’s White Guard which isn’t pro-Bolshevik, either, and Stalin himself had been a poet:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stalin's_poetry

12

Alex 10.07.13 at 9:04 pm

There was no ‘cult of personality’ about Hitler: there were no giant statues of him put up about Germany, German cities were not named ‘Hitlerville’ (or whatever)

All *sorts* of things were named after him.

13

Anderson 10.07.13 at 9:11 pm

7: Hitler’s table talk is not a particularly modest document. Stalin does seem like the kind of guy who preferred listening to jabbering … listening, and taking mental notes with the blue pencil. Can’t remember from Montefiore how voluble he was.

14

Mao Cheng Ji 10.07.13 at 9:24 pm

“I wonder whether the only people who cared about literature were indeed the KGB, or whether this phenomenon extends a little more broadly. … the Pushkin original was part and parcel of their education.”

I’m afraid many of the young generation in later years had been corrupted by decadent bourgeois culture; by The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and such. Due to the proliferation of miniature cassette-playing machines. The dedicated and ideologically strong KGB comrades – not so much.

15

Mao Cheng Ji 10.07.13 at 9:33 pm

…actually, not even The Beatles. I suspect it was the band named Shocking Blue that destroyed the high culture and ruined everything…

16

peterv 10.07.13 at 9:38 pm

If Comrade Stalin did indeed write the anonymous reviews of Shostakovich’s music that are said to be by him, then he was no slouch at music criticism either. His taste was something else, but he had a good ear and a good understanding of music history.

17

Marcus 10.07.13 at 9:39 pm

@15

“Never marry a railroad man” is indeed a stunning attack on the collectivist values of the proletariat. An indictment of the worker whose heart is always at his mule-train.

18

Lee A. Arnold 10.07.13 at 10:08 pm

Stalin rewrote like the Tea Party rewrites economics. And like them, he would surely pay attention to literature coming from others. This would serve two purposes. He would find supporting propaganda to add to the doublespeak, and he would find budding young dissidents to neutralize.

There is also the great care for premises and terminology, and the need to expunge heresy. Bateson noted this among both Marxists and Catholics:

“I have taught various branches of behavioral biology and cultural anthropology to American students, ranging from college freshmen to psychiatric residents, in various schools and teaching hospitals, and I have encountered a very strange gap in their thinking that springs from a lock of certain TOOLS of thought. This lack is rather equally distributed at all levels of education, among students of both sexes and among humanists as well as scientists. Specifically, it is a lack of knowledge of the presuppositions not only of science but of everyday life.

“This gap is, strangely, less conspicuous in two groups of students that might have been expected to contrast strongly with each other: the Catholics and the Marxists. Both groups have thought about or have been told about the last 2,500 years of human thought, and both groups have some recognition of the importance of philosophic, scientific, and epistemological propositions. Both groups are difficult to teach because that attach such great importance to “right” premises and presuppositions that heresy becomes for them a threat of excommunication. Naturally, anybody who feels heresy to be a danger will devote some care to being conscious of his or her own presuppositions and will develop a sort of connoisseurship in these matters.

“Those who lack all idea that it is possible to be wrong can learn nothing except know-how.

“The subject matter of this book is notably close to the core of religion and to the core of scientific orthodoxy. The presuppositions — and most students need some instruction in what a presupposition looks like — are matters to be brought out into the open.”

Mind and Nature, p. 26

19

Peter T 10.07.13 at 11:06 pm

In the early 30s Stalin would take long vacations in the Crimea, communicating by post with Moscow (which meant a lag of several days). Quite often he returned papers on issues with a scribbled “whatever you decide”. Not exactly the micromanaging dictator. We forget how much of the revolutionary project in Russia had support, both among the elites and more widely.

20

dsquared 10.07.13 at 11:07 pm

There was no ‘cult of personality’ about Hitler

Are you one hundred per cent sure of this? IIRC, he made it compulsory for everyone in schools to read his terrible autobiography. For instance.

21

I.G.I. 10.07.13 at 11:52 pm

I am quite sceptical about the current propaganda myth-making where super-villains (or super-heroes) are created as personification of large historical events, Hitler and Stalin being a text book examples. As a matter of fact authoritarian illiberal, and often brutal societies often have large social support base – many Germans for instance were eager to assist the “law & order” and Gestapo was inundated with Germans reporting one another voluntarily; while Hitler received thousands of letters fan mail every single day. I think ordinary people are to a large degree making the cult of personality phenomenon with their gullible admiration for the strong personality/leader.

22

Theophylact 10.08.13 at 1:00 am

You know, when the official salutation is “Heil Hitler!” , the issue of whether a “cult of personality” exists seems irrelevant.

23

Barry 10.08.13 at 1:01 am

Peter T 10.07.13 at 11:06 pm

” In the early 30s Stalin would take long vacations in the Crimea, communicating by post with Moscow (which meant a lag of several days). Quite often he returned papers on issues with a scribbled “whatever you decide”. Not exactly the micromanaging dictator. We forget how much of the revolutionary project in Russia had support, both among the elites and more widely.”

Remember that ‘whatever you decide’ is plausible deniability; it wasn’t *his* fault, but rather that of the wrecker kulak sympathizer……

24

Nick 10.08.13 at 1:47 am

I don’t have anything to say about Stalin as editor — but I think it’s worth just commenting that in addition to being a ghastly dictator, he was also an interesting and remarkable man in ways that I certainly don’t associate with Hitler. A citizen of a remote colony he rose from great poverty to find his way into a seminary, became a gangster and bank robber, a social theoretician, he lived for four years in an indigenous village in remote Eastern Siberia, was instrumental in leading a tiny fringe group to power, outmaneuvered his rivals many of whom had social and cultural connections that he lacked, and held onto power for decades. It’s as if the political and intellectual history of the United States in the 20th century was dominated by a Navajo poet.

25

Anderson 10.08.13 at 2:18 am

Nick: “Bohemian corporal” to Führer ain’t too shabby. And Stalin rose within a party, whereas the Nazis were nada before Hitler, who was kinda Lenin and Stalin in one. And, I reluctantly say, he had more personal loyalty than Stalin, low bar to be sure. Hitler purged old enemies, but one can’t imagine his directing the murders of every Nazi leader of note. Hitler was a romantic, exemplifying the dark side of that movement; Stalin was … what? Words fail me.

26

chris 10.08.13 at 2:20 am

German cities were not named ‘Hitlerville’

Is it too obvious to point out that assuming this is true, it is actually a way Stalin and Hitler were *not* the same, because a Russian city was in fact renamed Stalingrad?

Also, surely it would have been “Hitlerburg”, to be properly Germanic?

27

Meredith 10.08.13 at 5:13 am

Stalin as editor, in the OP’s example, puts me in mind of Pound as editor of Eliot’s The Wasteland. Less is more, so I’ll stop there.

28

Mao Cheng Ji 10.08.13 at 7:05 am

@17 ““Never marry a railroad man” is indeed a stunning attack on the collectivist values of the proletariat.”

No, not the Railroad Man. This Satanic chant: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_%28Shocking_Blue_song%29#.22Shizgarah.22.2C_or_.22Venus.22_in_Russian_urban_folklore

29

Alex K. 10.08.13 at 7:28 am

” it is actually a way Stalin and Hitler were *not* the same, because a Russian city was in fact renamed Stalingrad?”

Same or not, it was not just one Russian city. There were hundreds of cities, towns, townships, boroughs, villages and hamlets named after the man. Every town had a Stalin street or square.

Yes, Stalin was an aspiring critic of sorts.

30

Alex 10.08.13 at 8:04 am

31

Walt 10.08.13 at 8:16 am

Didn’t the German government ask that the Hindenburg be named the Adolf Hitler?

32

Mao Cheng Ji 10.08.13 at 9:03 am

I could be wrong, but I got the impression that, in general, most of the Bolshevik leaders were intellectuals, and the Nazi leaders just tribalistic troglodytes.

33

chris y 10.08.13 at 9:22 am

in general, most of the Bolshevik leaders were intellectuals, and the Nazi leaders just tribalistic troglodytes.

Except for a handful of actual labour leaders from the working class, such as Shlyapnikov and Tomsky, yes. How much this was a function of the fact that the Bolshevik party was largely organised in exile while the Nazis were free to roam the streets is an interesting question to which I have no answer, since it didn’t occur to me until I read your comment.

Stalin was regarded by his comrades as one of the less intellectual Bolshevik leaders in fact, with a dodgy education etc. But that was probably mainly snobbery, of which there was plenty to go round.

34

Chris Williams 10.08.13 at 9:46 am

Goebbels was an intellectual. Of the left Hegelians, here’s Spufford, _Red Plenty_ p. 272

“In a way, the surprise is that Bolshevik idealism lasted as long as it did. Stalin took his philosophical obligations entirely seriously. The time he spent in his Kremlin library was time spent reading. He held forth on linguistics, and genetics, and economics, and the proper writing of history, because he believed that intellectual decision-making was the duty of power. His associates, too, tended to possess treasured collections of Marxist literature. It was one of Molotov’s complaints, after Stalin’s death, that by sending him off to be ambassador to Outer Mongolia, Krushchev had parted him from his books. And Krushchev, in his turn, tried his best to talk like the great theoretician one magically became by elbowing and conniving one’s way to the First Secretaryship. It came even less easily to him, but the transition to utopia by 1980 was all his own work, and so was the idea of peaceful competition with capitalists. He was not a cynic. The idea that he might be committing an imposture bothered him deeply: he worried away at it, out loud, in public, busily denying and denying. A sculptor dared to tell him he didn’t understand art: ‘When I was a miner’, he snapped, ‘the said I didn’t understand. When I was a political worker in the army, they said I didn’t understand. When I was this and that, they said I didn’t understand. Well, now I’m party leader and premier, and you mean to say I still don’t understand? Who are you working for, anyway?’ Stalin had been a gangster who really believed he was a social scientist. Krushchev was a gangster who hoped he was a social scientist. But the moment was drawing irresistibly closer when the idealism would rot away by one more degree, and the Soviet Union would be governed by gangsters who were only pretending to be social scientists.

35

Mao Cheng Ji 10.08.13 at 10:24 am

“How much this was a function of the fact that the Bolshevik party was largely organised in exile while the Nazis were free to roam the streets”

No, it’s the underlying idea. One is a complex intellectual worldview, and the other the basic “blood and soil” thing.

36

Pete 10.08.13 at 10:38 am

“the Soviet Union would be governed by gangsters who were only pretending to be social scientists”

As opposed to the United States, which is being held hostage by gangsters who reach for their revolvers at the slightest mention of social science.

37

maidhc 10.08.13 at 10:39 am

There were quite a few American authors available in the Soviet Union. Naturally the more left-wing ones like Jack London and John Steinbeck. But aside from that, quite a wide selection.

Of course Steinbeck gave people the wrong impression — “In America, poor people have cars!’

I think there was a big difference between Hitler and Stalin. Stalin made his own way to the top, however criminal his actions. Hitler managed to attract the sponsorship of big corporations like Ford, General Motors, Standard Oil, Dupont, etc. Once he got the big money it greased his pathway.

38

Marcus 10.08.13 at 10:43 am

@ 34

Strange how idealism can ‘rot away’ in an environment dominated by hard-core materialists that used it as one of their primary terms of abuse.

39

Daragh McDowell 10.08.13 at 11:12 am

@chris y “Stalin was regarded by his comrades as one of the less intellectual Bolshevik leaders in fact, with a dodgy education etc. But that was probably mainly snobbery, of which there was plenty to go round.”

Actually no, it wasn’t. Stalin was a fairly primitive thinker compared to most of his contemporaries – Lenin (initially) loved him and praised him as ‘that magnificent Georgian’ because he was a bit of a thug and a brute. The leaders of the Bolsheviks were intellectuals who glorified violence and criminality in pursuit of the revolution, but had little direct experience of it. Stalin was the real deal. He outmaneuvered his opponents largely by stuffing the ranks of the CPSU with semi-literates like Khrushchev, who were loyal to and more impressed by a hard nosed vozhd like Stalin than they were with book smarts.

40

The Dark Avenger 10.08.13 at 12:28 pm

Hitler used oratory as a tool in his path to power, he had a grasp of human psychology that, coupled with a dedication to practicing such skills, allowed him to rise to power by appealing to the masses directly.

Also, he started out wanting to be an artist, whereas Stalin wanted to be an intellectual, going into the seminary was his mothers’ idea, not his.

41

ajay 10.08.13 at 12:56 pm

There was no ‘cult of personality’ about Hitler

This is without a doubt one of the weirdest things I have ever read on Crooked Timber and it is up against some pretty severe competition. Not only was the official greeting “Heil Hitler” but he got the entire German army to swear personal loyalty to him, by name, and named entire formations after himself.

42

LFC 10.08.13 at 1:55 pm

Alan Bullock’s Hitler and Stalin wd seem relevant to this discussion (haven’t read it).

Mao@35: I’m not sure Marxism-Leninism was all that complex a worldview. YMMV.

ajay@41: “…named entire formations after himself.” Plus the Hitler Youth.

43

Alex K. 10.08.13 at 2:35 pm

@Daragh McDowell

Stalin was a fairly primitive thinker compared to most of his contemporaries…

Yes – compared with the better-educated Bolshevik leaders like Trotsky and Lenin, to say nothing of non-Bolshevik thinkers.

…. – Lenin (initially) loved him and praised him as ‘that magnificent Georgian’ because he was a bit of a thug and a brute.

That “wonderful Georgian” technically speaking. In calling him so back in 1913 Lenin showed appreciation – so it seems – for Stalin’s understanding of ethnic issues. But in 1915 Lenin still knew Stalin only as Koba, his party nickname, suggesting that Stalin had not risen to the leadership level and was regarded as a former operative – pretty close to “thug” in his case.

He outmaneuvered his opponents largely by stuffing the ranks of the CPSU with semi-literates like Khrushchev… With younger people who did not have the same “cred” as older Bolsheviks and owed their promotion largely to Stalin. Then the old guard was purged.

44

ajay 10.08.13 at 3:08 pm

No, it’s the underlying idea. One is a complex intellectual worldview, and the other the basic “blood and soil” thing.

I don’t know. The Nazi worldview, with all its peculiar beliefs about Jewish conspiracies, Bolsheviks, autarchic economics etc, was pretty complex. Nuts, but complex. Certainly compared to “Communism is Soviet power plus electrification”.

45

Mao Cheng Ji 10.08.13 at 4:02 pm

“plus electrification” is a slogan. I’m sure the library of any Russian Social-Democrat (and any Bolshevik, later) had hundreds of volumes. They were constantly engaged in discussions and polemics. True, Lenin was more of a tactician, but really, without a doubt, they were intellectuals. German Nazism has one book.

46

ajay 10.08.13 at 4:44 pm

Not sure about that. I would imagine here was plenty of ludicrous race science, etc. published during the Nazi period, not to mention all the Social Darwinism and declinist nonsense that is the intellectual substrate of Nazism just as the socialist books in your social democrat’s library are the substrate of Bolshevism. Comparing “everything that every Bolshevik might ever have read” to Mein Kampf isn’t really apples to apples.
Plus, if you want Nazi intellectuals, there are some impressive ones: Lenard won a Nobel prize, which is more than can be said for the major Communist intellectuals.

And don’t forget, too, that the Bolsheviks were around for a lot longer – more time to write books.

47

Anderson 10.08.13 at 4:46 pm

Hitler managed to attract the sponsorship of big corporations like Ford, General Motors, Standard Oil, Dupont, etc.

Ummm … no, never mind.

48

Mao Cheng Ji 10.08.13 at 6:17 pm

Heh heh. I’d like to play, but I’m kinda busy tonight, sorry. Maybe tomorrow.

49

Hidari 10.08.13 at 7:03 pm

@20: “Are you one hundred per cent sure of this?”

No. Looking again at the Alex Ross book, I see that Ross was specifically talking about music (Hitler turned down proposals for musical hagiographies from aspiring ‘pro-nazi’ composers, and preferred public playing of Beethoven to, say, the Horst Wessel Song, and I would imagine that he had the same view about (visual) Art as well, given his background as an ‘artist’). So in that highly limited sense he didn’t encourage a ‘cult of personality’.

On the other hand, as some commentators have pointed out, the official greeting in Nazi Germany was ‘Heil Hitler’ so obviously his self-effacement had its limits.

The whole chapter (‘Death Fugue’) is worth reading, as is the companion chapter about music under Stalin.

50

Jacob McM 10.08.13 at 7:18 pm

Germans were taught to worship Hitler as a near demi-god, to the point where crucifixes and pictures of Christ and Martin Luther were replaced with pictures of Hitler in many public places. If that’s not a cult of personality…

Just look at this painting, with the instructive title “Am Anfang war das Wort” (In the Beginning was the Word)

http://images-00.delcampe-static.net/img_large/auction/000/119/728/517_001.jpg

The Nazis were a movement that attracted intellectuals in spite of themselves. It’s hard to gauge the “complexity” of an ideology, but I challenge anyone to find many passages in Mein Kampf that would not have been considered respectable in certain educated circles at the time. Most aspects of Nazi racial policy were regarded as scientifically grounded, and countries like Sweden and America upheld similar laws.

This pamphlet offers a fairly good summary of the revolutionary and world-historic importance the Nazis accorded their ideology:

http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa/rassenpo.htm

Mussolini was an intellectual, though his appearance (prognathic jaw and barrel chest) and later decisions make people forget that. Not only could he speak four languages (Italian, French, German, English), but he was also fairly well-versed in political theory and art, and often courted artists and intellectuals to great success. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Fascist Italy was the most intellectual right-wing regime of the twentieth century.

51

Anderson 10.08.13 at 8:02 pm

50: yeah, your run-of-the-mill History of Political Thought anthology may well include a snippet from Mussolini … not so likely anything from Mein Kampf.

I have blessedly forgotten what little I ever knew about Nazi intellectuals, but I think Rosenberg considered himself the Party’s philosopher, and exemplified how little use Hitler, Himmler etc. had for a Party philosopher.

Right you are re: attraction *of* intellectuals … Heidegger most conspicuously? though he soured on the Nazis a bit once they proved not to be properly posing the Question of the Meaning of Being or whatever … imagine that …

52

Vanya 10.08.13 at 8:26 pm

Of course Stalin purged the party of intellectuals during the 1930s and replaced them with provincial mediocrities like Molotov and Khrushchev. Any interesting Communist intellectual works published after 1930 came from the West (Gramsci in particular). By 1940 there probably wasn’t a great deal of difference in intellectual firepower between the leadership of the NSDAP and the CP of the USSR.

53

Marcus 10.08.13 at 8:47 pm

Nah, I’m not a fan of this regime in any way but if figures like Mikhail Bakhtin and Ewald Ilyenkov can present themselves to me in English translations that stimulate my own thought, then there must have been some soil out of which they emerged that was quite fertile.

54

PatrickfromIowa 10.08.13 at 9:01 pm

Speaking of weird thoughts: Lenin = Kerouac; Stalin = Cassady?

55

Daragh McDowell 10.08.13 at 9:35 pm

@Alex K – Thanks for the correction in the translation and for the more measured and accurate phrasing on how Stalin took power. As to Lenin and ‘Koba’ I’m not sure how much use Lenin would have had for ethnic issues in 1913 – IIRC he was highly sceptical of even the pseudo-federalism Stalin instituted later. As to the issue of pseudonyms, well, virtually ALL the Bolsheviks were known by their respective noms de guerre, and Stalin looks to have been pretty firmly in the driver’s seat of the Caucasus communists from around 1905 onwards, and was in a position to turn down many of Lenin’s submissions to Pravda by 1913 at least, so not sure it is accurate to depict him as not being part of the ‘leadership’ by 1915.

56

LFC 10.08.13 at 10:27 pm

Jacob McM @50
Most aspects of Nazi racial policy were regarded as scientifically grounded, and countries like Sweden and America upheld similar laws.

Sweden and the U.S., in certain of its states (and see Buck v. Bell), prob. had laws permitting involuntary sterilization of the mentally ill or handicapped, but certainly the U.S. did not, at least AFAIK, have laws prohibiting intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews and *systematically* discriminating vs. Jews in the way Nazi Germany’s legal code did in the ’30s. There was antisemitism and discrimination vs. Jews in the U.S. in the 20s and 30s, to be sure, but it was not systematically enshrined in govt policy the way it was in Nazi Germany.

Anderson @51
Heidegger soured on the Nazis but did he ever *publicly* repudiate or renounce his political stance of the 30s? IIrc, no. (that might be wrong, in which case someone will tell me)

57

William Burns 10.08.13 at 11:15 pm

Yes, LFC, the 30s US did not have laws forbidding the intermarriage of Jews and non-Jews and systematically discriminating against Jews. Blacks, on the other hand. . .

58

Jacob McM 10.08.13 at 11:21 pm

@56

The U.S. certainly had anti-miscegenation laws at the time, though it’s true that they did not apply to Jews. The Nuremberg Laws not only prohibited mixing between Aryans and Jews, but also with any “non-Aryan.” The point was that both countries upheld laws seeking to safeguard “racial purity” and codified White supremacy, with the qualification that in America Jews were considered sufficiently “White” to intermarry. Hence my use of the word “similar” rather than “identical.”

59

Main Street Muse 10.08.13 at 11:47 pm

Headline nearly as inflammatory as “men eat menstrual pads.”

Sad to think only KGB cared about literature. Idea that the enforcers of the gulag would be so fond of words. Wonder what Solzhenitsyn would think of this idea?

60

LFC 10.09.13 at 12:04 am

@57, 58
Yes, points taken. (I read Jacob McM’s “similar” too narrowly.)

61

Peter T 10.09.13 at 12:49 am

Of course the KGB cared about literature. The glorious socialist future would have glorious socialist writers (and artists, architects, scientists and more). Building it required the production of literature and, commensurately, a critical eye for what contributed to the project and what did not.

The common comparison of Soviet and Nazi rule focuses on their use of coercion, but there was nothing special about this – large-scale coercion has been a common tool of rulership ever since rulership began. In this, Hitler and Stalin are in the same company as Oliver Cromwell, or Mary Tudor, or Ashurbanipal. But to weave together a few recent threads, what separates these two regimes are their grand narratives. The great Nazi vision was of war – specifically racial war – but war until Germany was all-victorious. Books were not central to this vision, and the regime was only interested in them in so far as they might undermine support for the vision. Nor was much else – Nazi Germany only lasted little more than a decade, but it’s hard to point to anything it excelled at other than fighting (at which it was very good – part of its downfall is that war is about much more than fighting).

By contrast, the Soviet vision was far broader. It was undermined and then abandoned when the participants realised, as a Russian friend of mine put it, that while they were building socialism, others had already built it. The US is wrestling with a similar dilemma at the moment – the grand narrative to date has been “freedom”, but the question is, as always, “for whom” and “from what”. The Tea Party expresses a real fear – that their freedom to shape or participate in this grand narrative is being taken away.

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bianca steele 10.09.13 at 2:02 am

The monotony of having the same headline at the top of the page for so long causes it to take on different meanings. If only the KGB cared about literature (Steiner is wrong, incidentally, that fascism was incompatible with art; it produced some effective film, stage direction, and architecture, and probably though not in Germany painting and sculpture also; also incidentally, Alex Ross’s book is terrific but is the heaviest paperback I have ever owned), what did other people do? Ignore it? Consume it uncaringly, or otherwise lackadaisically?

On intellectualism, my understanding is that most of the foundations even for fascism were laid long before Hitler took them up and gave them a new name.

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bianca steele 10.09.13 at 2:10 am

And on the other hand (don’t ask me why I know this), Clare Asquith argued (as the realization that gave her insight into Shakespeare’s supposedly real meaning), that as Soviet theater was structured entirely around the need to convey double entendres that would be recognized by the audience but not by the agents of government (don’t ask me how this worked). So, in that case everybody except the KGB cared about literature (or at least theater, if that’s not the same thing).

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Alex K. 10.09.13 at 7:17 am

@Daragh McDowell: “Stalin looks to have been pretty firmly in the driver’s seat of the Caucasus communists from around 1905 onwards…” Agreed. He was an influential and effective regional party leader, but not a member of the Bolshevik intellectual “elite.”

“As to Lenin and ‘Koba’ I’m not sure how much use Lenin would have had for ethnic issues in 1913…” Let me translate more from his 1913 note:

“As for nationalism, I agree with you completely – we need to approach this more seriously. We’ve got a wonderful Georgian here writing a big article for Prosveschenie [Enlightenment, a legal Bolshevik monthly published in St. Petersburg in 1911-14], having collected all the Austrian and other material… In the Caucasus, we had social-democratic Georgians+Armenians+Tatars [Azeris]+Russians working together, in one soc-dem organization for ten years. This is not an empty phrase but the proletarian solution to the national [ethnic] question. The only solution. Same in Riga: Russians+Latvians+Lithuanians. Only the separatists stood apart, the Bund. Same in Vilno. There are two good brochures on the national [ethnic] question – Strasser and Pannekoek…”

Stalin’s long article appeared in three issues of the journal and (sort of) established him as a party authority on the ethnic question. I’m not sure it had much bearing on the actual Bolshevik policy post-1917.

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Mao Cheng Ji 10.09.13 at 7:18 am

“Of course Stalin purged the party of intellectuals during the 1930s and replaced them with provincial mediocrities like Molotov and Khrushchev.”

Yes, but that is not the point, or at least not my point. People are surprised that Stalin was an intelligent fellow with a good taste and understanding of history. But he was one of the old Bolsheviks. He could sit at a table with Lenin and Trotsky and have a conversation.

And they made him gensec. The likes of Brezhnev and Yeltsin wouldn’t have been hired as their limo drivers. A well-meaning simpleton like Khrushchev could’ve become, at best, a local organizer.

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Alex K. 10.09.13 at 7:57 am

@Marcus: “…if figures like Mikhail Bakhtin and Ewald Ilyenkov can present themselves to me in English translations that stimulate my own thought, then there must have been some soil out of which they emerged that was quite fertile.”

Bakhtin was born in 1895 and Ilyenkov in 1924, almost 30 years later. Intellectually, one cannot say they grew out of the same soil.

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Phil 10.09.13 at 8:18 am

Heidegger soured on the Nazis but did he ever *publicly* repudiate or renounce his political stance of the 30s?

I don’t think so either. Rorty wrote a peculiar piece for the LRB, following Heidegger through an alternative timeline in which the great man met and fell in love with a Jewish woman. This alt-Heidegger never endorsed the NSDAP; instead, he became an early Zionist. I remember discussing it with a friend who was supporting his philosophy PhD by working at the Palestine Solidarity Canpaign; he wasn’t impressed. I’m not sure what it was meant to prove, other than that it’s possible to write quite detailed alternative timelines.

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ajay 10.09.13 at 8:56 am

the 30s US did not have laws forbidding the intermarriage of Jews and non-Jews and systematically discriminating against Jews

I seem to recall reading about university quotas? But apart from that, correct, of course.

Steiner is wrong, incidentally, that fascism was incompatible with art; it produced some effective film, stage direction, and architecture, and probably though not in Germany painting and sculpture also

In fact, architecture, with its focus on grands projets and magnificent vistas, is probably the most fascist of the arts (with the possible exception of couture). I remember reading a NYT article in which Iraqi architects mourned the end of the Saddam regime, which at least understood architecture: nowadays the People (ugh) were allowed to build whatever they wanted and paint it whatever colour they liked, which had led to the Baghdad Trade Ministry looking like a giant Neapolitan ice cream.

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Jim Buck 10.09.13 at 9:27 am

an alternative timeline in which the great man met and fell in love with a Jewish woman.

Martin and Hannah–a love story for the ages:

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/412800.article

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Daragh McDowell 10.09.13 at 9:39 am

@65 “And they made him gensec.” A position regarded by the rest of the old Bolsheviks as rather unimportant administrative position – certainly nowhere near as important as chairing the Politburo or SovNarKom!

@64 – Thanks very much for the further info. Very interesting. I’ll have to dig into my old copies of Service further, and perhaps expand the reading list too… Ahh to be a young Grad student again!

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Phil 10.09.13 at 10:12 am

Perhaps I should have said, a different Jewish woman – one with less severe views on the actually existing Jewish community.

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LFC 10.09.13 at 2:07 pm

@ajay
I seem to recall reading about university quotas?
yes, but they weren’t mandated by federal law.

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ajay 10.09.13 at 3:27 pm

72: good point. I wasn’t sure of the details, just that they had existed. It was done at university level then?

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dr ngo 10.09.13 at 5:30 pm

Not only at the university level, but often semi-surreptiously, i.e., everyone knew (at various institutions) that there were quotas, but they were not “public knowledge,” IIRC. At least by the 1950s-60s (post WW2) it wasn’t good public relations to be openly anti-Semitic. Whereas segregation, as pointed out above, was actually The Law in several Southern states (although not national policy once Truman integrated the Armed Forces in the 1940s).

Both racism and anti-semitism were real, and unpleasant for their victims, but only the former was official policy, FWIW.

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LFC 10.09.13 at 6:22 pm

@ajay
Yes.
I took a quick glance at the Amazon page for Jerome Karabel’s (unfortunately titled) The Chosen, which is a scholarly study of the history of admissions policies at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. From the Publishers Weekly review, excerpted at the Amazon page:

The emphasis in college applications on balancing grades and extracurricular activities appears benignly positive at first glance. Yet, as Karabel explains, the top Ivy League schools created this formula in the 1920s because they were uncomfortable with the number of Jewish students accepted when applicants were judged solely on their grades. The search for prospective freshmen with “character” was, with varying explicitness, an effort to maintain the slowly declining Protestant establishment.

Today there are claims that this approach to admissions now discriminates against Asian-Americans (googling/searching, I’m sure, will produce the relevant links). On the historical question of Jewish quotas etc., the key period for Harvard is the presidency of Lowell (1909-1933). (For another aspect of which, see this, which I haven’t read.)

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Warren Terra 10.09.13 at 6:40 pm

The quotas weren’t exactly a big secret; I’ve seen a letter sent to my father’s PhD adviser that thanked him for his application but informed him that the year’s quotas for Jews had already been filled and so he would not be considered. I think the letter was from Harvard, but I may be misremembering.

More generally, and lasting much longer than school quota limits, well into the 70s some housing developments and neighborhoods had a No Jews policy (sometimes formally, in the Homeowner’s Agreement), and some professions effectively did (for all the cliches about Jewish Bankers, some of the biggest banks were reluctant to hire anyone who wasn’t a WASP, including Jews and Catholics).

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slavdude 10.09.13 at 7:18 pm

In many parts of Russian society, literature and philosophy are still taken seriously, as in last’s month’s shooting in an argument over Kant’s philosophy.

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Chris Williams 10.09.13 at 11:29 pm

Before us Ukanians tut at transatlantic bigotry which could never happen in our dear academia, note this: An old friend of mine, recruiting for Courtald’s in the 1960s, discovered that the head of careers at Edinburgh university was rabidly antisemitic, and attempting to actively dissuade him from hiring Jewish students. Apparently this careers advisor got his office turned over by rioting students in 1968 <- too good a story to check.

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notsneaky 10.09.13 at 11:46 pm

In terms of literature and poetry, is there even a single German Nazi-associated writer from the relevant period worth reading? There were some fascist ones, generally from other countries (Hamsun, Pound, Celine… maybe Cela, etc.) but we’re talking specifically about Hitler’s Germany vs. Stalin’s Russia here.

On the other side, it’s true that the Stalinist period lasted longer but even if we exclude the early post-revolution phase where the aesthetic was still heavily influenced by futurism or other forms of avant-garde and start with straight up socialist realism (so we throw out folks like Mayakovsky, but probably keep Gorky) and also put aside straddlers and early dissenters (so ignore Yesenin and Bulgakov) there are still definitely some. Without thinking too hard about it, off the top of my head, there were Tolstoy and Sholokov, you can probably put Ehrenburg in there too.

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john c. halasz 10.09.13 at 11:53 pm

@79:

Gottfried Benn.

And, er, Vasily Grossman.

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Jacob McM 10.10.13 at 1:00 am

@79 you could arguably include Ernst Jünger and Ernst von Salomon, although both only sympathized with the Nazis during their earlier, more radical phase during the 1920s. They were unimpressed by the regime itself and kept their distance.

If you count Austrian Nazis, then Josef Weinheber as well.

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notsneaky 10.10.13 at 3:35 am

I thought about including Grossman but he’s primarily known as a journalist and simultaneously he’s more in the “straddler” camp.

Gottfried Benn works (and I had not heard of him) but for others, it’s important to separate plain ol’ “German nationalist” (interwar Europe was overflowing with nationalists of various stripes) from “Nazi”.

There’s also the “worth reading” qualification, which is different than “people at the time thought they were worth reading”. Quiet Is the Don is still worth reading.

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Alex K. 10.10.13 at 7:15 am

@79: “Without thinking too hard about it, off the top of my head, there were Tolstoy and Sholokov, you can probably put Ehrenburg in there too.” Where do we draw the line between traditional Russian realism and “socialist realism?”

I would suggest only focusing on authors whose aesthetics and/or general worldview were shaped or strongly influenced by socialist realism dogma – as adopted by the first congress of Soviet writers in 1934. A.N. Tolstoy was a fellow traveler from the early 1920s but, born in 1882/3, he was already an accomplished author by then.

Sholokhov published a large chunk of The Don as early as in 1928 and was much criticized for his treatment of “Red” characters. In the next 15 years he completed and edited The Don to fit the dogma but it’s obvious the core of the work has nothing to do with socialist realism (regardless of Sholokhov’s authorship).

But I would agree Grossman, paradoxically, belongs on the list; and to some degree, even Solzhenitsyn.

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novakant 10.10.13 at 8:05 am

Haven’t read him, but Benn is definitely in the pantheon of German writers. Btw, Grass was in the SS, which caused a bit of a stir recently – less because of his actual membership, he was very young, more because he had kept it secret for his entire career and lectured everybody and their dog about morality.

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ajay 10.10.13 at 10:40 am

The quotas weren’t exactly a big secret; I’ve seen a letter sent to my father’s PhD adviser that thanked him for his application but informed him that the year’s quotas for Jews had already been filled and so he would not be considered.

Same thing happened (pre-war) to Richard Feynman when he applied to (I think) Columbia?

In terms of literature and poetry, is there even a single German Nazi-associated writer from the relevant period worth reading?

As novakant points out, Gunter Grass has to be at the top of that list. He won a Nobel Prize, just like Sholokhov. And, yes, he counts as Nazi-associated, because he did after all voluntarily pledge allegiance unto death to Adolf Hitler.

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Jacob McM 10.10.13 at 2:04 pm

@82, Josef Weinheber’s poems still appear in Austrian textbooks and, unlike Benn, he wrote poetry that explicitly supported Nazi ideology (though those are not the works which appear in textbooks, of course).

Ernst Jünger is generally considered among the finer German writers of the last century, and he was associated with the Nazis in the 1920s, though not in the 1930s when they seized power. Ernst von Salomon also enjoys a solid reputation, though his link with the Nazis was primarily through the Freikorps.

If Günter Grass counts, then perhaps you can include Heimito von Doderer as well. Doderer was another Austrian Nazi, but, like Grass, he didn’t write any of his important works until after WWII and after disowning any Nazi sympathies, though he remained conservative. Doderer is highly esteemed in Austria, but his work hasn’t yet caught on stateside.

I’ve always thought that George Steiner quote odd, since he himself has been a champion of the French fascist Lucien Rebatat, who was just as hardcore a racist and a collabo as Celine.

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 3:38 pm

And, yes, he counts as Nazi-associated, because he did after all voluntarily pledge allegiance unto death to Adolf Hitler.

Sure, but then you cheapen “Nazi-associated” down to where it’s barely meaningful. Is it not correct that Grass was conscripted into a labor battalion, and then into the Waffen-SS? At the age of, what, 16 or 17?

I think Grass should have come clean sooner, and been more measured in his criticisms of those tainted by ass’n with the Nazi regime, but that doesn’t make him a Nazi.

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 3:42 pm

Benn is a great writer, but hardly a great writer within the Nazi camp (so to speak). Wikipedia says he was one of those Expressionist types who longed for a revolution and hoped that the Nazis were it, but found out otherwise:

Appalled by the Night of the Long Knives, Benn abandoned his support for the Nazi movement. He lived quietly, refraining from public criticism of the Nazi party, but wrote that the bad conditions of the system “gave me the latter punch”, as he quoted in a letter — a “dreadful tragedy!”[11] He decided to perform “the aristocratic form of emigration” and joined the Wehrmacht in 1935, where he found many officers sympathetic to his disapproval of the régime. In May 1936 the SS magazine Das Schwarze Korps attacked his expressionist and experimental poetry as degenerate, Jewish, and homosexual. In the summer of 1937, Wolfgang Willrich, a member of the SS, lampooned Benn in his book Säuberung des Kunsttempels; Heinrich Himmler, however, stepped in to reprimand Willrich and defended Benn on the grounds of his good record since 1933 (his earlier artistic output being irrelevant). In 1938 the Reichsschrifttumskammer (the National Socialist authors’ association) banned Benn from further writing.

During World War II, Benn was posted to garrisons in eastern Germany where he wrote poems and essays. After the war, his work was banned by the Allies because of his initial support for Hitler.

So if he’s the best they’ve got for “Nazi writer,” then the pickings for “German Nazi-associated writer” look slim.

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 3:46 pm

… And if anyone wants to read a poem by Benn, with y.t.’s connecting it to a poem by Sylvia Plath, well here ya go.

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Jacob McM 10.10.13 at 3:54 pm

Well, Benn’s politics were definitely right-wing enough to dovetail neatly with the Nazis. He loathed democracy, liberalism, and Marxism, and as a doctor, he was also a firm supporter of eugenics (doctors were among the most Nazified of all professions).

He was also a reader of Nietzsche, and published articles at the time which defended slavery as providing the necessary soil for high culture.

Don’t be misled too much by the “Expressionist” label.

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SusanC 10.10.13 at 4:10 pm

I was completely unsurprised at the news of Gunter Grass’s Nazi past.

It was about as unsurprising as discovering that Phillip K Dick took drugs, or that William Burroughs was gay. (In that Nazi guilt is a major theme in Grass’s works).

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 4:20 pm

Expressionists came in many flavors. But “right-wing” doesn’t get you to “Nazi,” as Benn himself found out. (I like his poems, but I wonder about his bedside manner. Are doctors in America any less right-wing, on average?)

Gotta say, Weimar politics got an “A” for candor.

I will overlook your implication that Nietzsche was a fascist.

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ajay 10.10.13 at 4:37 pm

if he’s the best they’ve got for “Nazi writer,” then the pickings for “German Nazi-associated writer” look slim.

Oh, come on. If Heinrich Himmler in person steps in to defend you from criticism, I think it’s defensible to say that you’re “Nazi-associated”.

you cheapen “Nazi-associated” down to where it’s barely meaningful. Is it not correct that Grass was conscripted into a labor battalion, and then into the Waffen-SS?

And that he volunteered for service in U-boats. Don’t forget that. U-boat service in 1944 (or at any time in the war really) was close to a certain death sentence and he volunteered for it. That’s pretty impressive commitment to a cause.

I am baffled as to why so many people on this thread are so heavily personally invested in the belief that the Nazis had no intellectuals. There isn’t a major political movement in history, good or bad, that hasn’t had some very bright and able people supporting it and some very bright and able people opposing it. Why on earth should the Nazis be any different? It doesn’t tarnish the profession of letters to note the existence of a few really unpleasant authors, any more than it should offend academics to note the existence of John Yoo.

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 4:57 pm

Ajay: Himmler was a kook with many non-“Nazi” interests, and if the regime bans you from writing, I think it’s a stretch to identify your writing with the regime.

As for Grass’s (teenaged!) commitment “to a cause,” sure. What cause? Nazism? Nationalism?

I have no moral interest in pretending the Nazis lacked intellectuals. But Nazism was a fundamentally anti-intellectual movement, unlike the Communists. The Nazis were more like today’s GOP – basic German common sense and loyalty to the Blood and the Soil were supposed to triumph over pointy-headed Jewish-liberal intellectualism.

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Cleanthes 10.10.13 at 5:06 pm

Nazism was a fundamentally anti-intellectual movement, indeed. Which is why it shocked Benn’s fellow intellectual his initial complicity with Nazism. Klaus Mann wrote in a letter to Benn:
‘I couldn’t make myself believe what I have heard about your statements on the recent events in Germany, that you – in fact as the only German author on which we had counted – have not resigned from the Academy. In what kind of company do you think you find yourself now? What is it that could make you lend your good name to characters so low, that they defy any comparison in the whole of European history; characters of such depravity that the world turns in disgust? Your name had been to us a symbol for the highest standards and an almost fanatical purity; how many friends must you lose to make common cause with this hateful rabble, and what kind of friends are you about to gain? Who is going to understand you there? ‘

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 5:07 pm

Richard J. Evans on Benn: “He regarded Hitler as the great restorer of German dignity and honour. But after the intial purges of the Academy, Benn fell rapidly out of favour with the regime. As the Nazi cultural establishment turned its guns on Expressionism in music, art and literature, Benn made things worse for himself by attempting to defend it. The fact that he did so in terms he thought would appeal to the Nazis, as anti-liberal, primal, Aryan, born of the spirit of 1914, did not impress those who denounced it as unpatriotic, over-intellectual, perverse and immoral. ‘If anyone is to be named as the moving spirit of the bolshevistic delight in the disgusting that celebrates its orgies in degenerate art,’ one of his critics told him, ‘then you have a right to be the first to put in the pillory.'” – Third Reich in Power, at 157.

As Evans says elsewhere (318), the Nazi regime “was built on contempt for the intellect.”

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 5:12 pm

95: to be clear, I am not denying that Benn was an asshole. I just don’t find it correct to label him as a Nazi asshole.

(I did not even know that Klaus Mann was Thomas’s son – never put the two together – which suggests my limited qualifications in German literature. I am fascinated that Thomas Mann had two gay kids.)

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Jim Buck 10.10.13 at 5:13 pm

he volunteered for service in U-boats. Don’t forget that. U-boat service in 1944 (or at any time in the war really) was close to a certain death sentence and he volunteered for it.

U-boats were spiffing! Wouldn’t you have volunteered for them?

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Cleanthes 10.10.13 at 5:16 pm

And Benn’s impressive response to Mann’s private letter, delivered over the radio:
(taken from here: http://michael-sympson.blogspot.com/2011/02/sellout-with-conviction-gottfried-benn.html?_escaped_fragment_=#!)

‘If only you amateurs of civilization, you troubadours of modern progress could see it, we are not talking here of policies and government; this is a vision of the rebirth of mankind, perhaps a very ancient notion, perhaps the last and grandest idea of the Caucasian race. I commit myself to the new state, it is my people who are opening a new road.

Who am I to exclude myself, do I know any better? No! I can try to guide my people to the best of my abilities, but if I fail, it still is my nation. ‘Nation’ means so much! I owe this nation my intellectual and economic existence, my entire life, my relationships, the sum of my understanding. From this nation rose my ancestors; to it my children shall return. I grew up in a village and between the herds; I still know what ‘home’ means. The metropolis, industry, and intellect, the epoch under whose shadow I walk, all the powers of the century which my work addresses – there are moments when all this tortured life is sinking away and nothing else is left, than the open plains, the wide horizon, the seasons, soil, simple words, folk.

I am not a member of a political party, unacquainted with any of their leaders, I don’t expect to make new friends. It is my fanatical purity for which you give me so much credit in your letter, my purity of thought and sentiment, that compels me to give you this answer.

It is the increasing reduction of the human stature that motivates to breed a stronger race. And a new race can only rise from a terrible and violent turmoil.’

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 5:17 pm

99: Thanks, Cleanthes! Evans just says that Benn retorted that exiles couldn’t appreciate the revivification caused by the Nazis ….

Benn could definitely have held down a job at National Review.

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Jacob McM 10.10.13 at 5:54 pm

As I’ve stated before, the Nazis attracted intellectuals in spite of themselves. They were anti-intellectual, but that didn’t stop the universities (both students and professors) from being the first institution to fall under their sway:

Here’s Joachim Fest:
——————–

“In spite of the almost exclusively recondite elements in such ideology, National Socialism was able to rely not merely upon the confused utterances of obscurely fantasizing eccentrics but also upon the authority of university lecturers, politicising lawyers, poets and literary-minded teachers. Its hostility to reason was intellectual, just as it was essentially a movement of failed intellectuals who had lost their faith in reason. (5) It was intellectuals above all who made possible that intellectual facade without which, in a scientific age, it is impossible to win over the petty-bourgeois masses: even the denial of reason must be presented in rational terms.

‘The spiritual preparation of the German revolution,’ so Ernst Lunger, who had fostered it intellectually from the sidelines, wrote in 1953, ‘was carried out by countless scientific works’ and to these the German nation owed ‘the undermining of the ideology of human rights upon which the edifice of the Weimar Republic was founded, as well as the destruction of belief in formal law, in dialectics and the intellect as such’. (6)

Even the crudest texts of that trend of the 1920s generally referred to as the ‘Conservative Revolution’ contain hints of this. The vehemently inflated, categorical tone, impervious to the lessons of reality, reveals traces of the deviation of a collective mind striving to escape from its nooks and crannies and provincial limitations into the ‘eternal’, a mind that wishes its thoughts on the political situation to be taken not as sociology but as a theological tract, not as analysis but as vision.

‘The renewal of the German reality must spring not from the head but from the heart, not from doctrines but from visions [!] and instincts.'(9)

As early as 3rd March three hundred university teachers of all political persuasions declared themselves for Hitler in an election appeal, while the mass of students had gone over to the National Socialist camp considerably earlier. As early as 1931 the party, with 50 to 60 per cent of the votes, enjoyed almost twice as much support in the universities as in the country as a whole. The dominant influence of rightist tendencies was as evident in the teaching staff as in the self-governing student body, which was largely controlled by the Union of National Socialist German Students (NSDStB). It was no less noticeable on Langemarck Day, regularly celebrated from 1927 onward with nationalistic excesses and a lack of feeling for the tragic nature of the events, than in the style and speeches of the student congresses, the last of which, in summer 1932, was held significantly in a barracks. (12) In May 1933 a collective declaration of support for the new regime was made by the professors. This was accompanied by a welter of individual expressions of approval, some of them linked with concrete demands, such as those advanced by the well-known cultural sociologist Hans Freyer, who wanted the universities to become more political in keeping with the new spirit. On the eve of the popular elections of 12th November well-known scholars and scientists like Pinder, Sauerbruch and Heidegger called for an understanding attitude towards Hitler’s policies. (13) An ‘Oath of Loyalty by the German Poets to the People’s Chancellor Adolf Hitler’ was signed among others by Binding, Halbe, Molo, Ponten, Scholz and Stucken. Almost everyone invited to do so placed himself at the disposal of the regime, which was out to woo recognition and secure a list of decorative names, and which here and elsewhere concealed the aims of the National Socialist revolution behind a general screen of nationalism. The list included Richard Strauss, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Gustaf Grtindgens, Heinz Hilpert and Werner Krauss. This fatal willingness to serve was paralleled by the ease with which the new holders of power overran existing institutions, such as the Prussian Academy of Poets. Undoubtedly many of those who entered into the pact could claim honourable motives; but more courageous was the attitude of Ricarda Huch, who resigned from the new Academy of the Arts on the grounds that her Germanness was not that of the government. (14) Faced with this mass conversion, Hitler issued in September 1933 a warning against those who

‘suddenly change their flag and move into the new state as though nothing had happened, in order once again to have the main say in the realms of art and cultural policy, for this is our state and not theirs’. (15)

While the new rulers almost had to defend themselves against the influx of new supporters, comparatively few coercive measures were required, and finally all the cultural officials of the regime had to do was to set the institutional seal upon a spontaneous toeing of the party line over wide areas of the intellectual field. Only during a brief phase in a few universities did the well-tried combination of ‘spontaneous expressions of will’ from below with a subsequent administrative act from above have to be employed to create the necessary order, which was inseparably linked with the leadership’s concept of power and of the Third Reich for which they were consistently working. For never was there the slightest doubt about the leadership’s determination to extend strict control to the cultural sphere in particular.

Many of those who had stayed behind, Blunck, Benn, Baumer, Hauptmann, Molo or Seidel, and now occupied official positions in the academies and at official banquets, had friends among the emigrants; they were all, as one of them later recalled, one great community. (18) But the nationalist intoxication swept away such feelings, and where official intellectuals did not avert their eyes in embarrassment from the many tragedies of the outlawed and expelled, they mocked them in the full consciousness of their fine illusions.

‘If the fulminations of world opinion strike us because we have ostensibly betrayed freedom, we can only smile wryly as they do who know the facts,’
Wilhelm Schafer declared in a speech in Berlin under the self-confidently ironic title ‘Germany’s Relapse into the Middle Ages’. And while Rudolf G. Binding in his ‘A German’s Answer to the World’ defended the expulsions on the grounds of the national interest and stated:

‘Germany this Germany — was born of the furious longing, the inner obsession, the bloody agonies of wanting Germany: at any price, at the price of every downfall,’ (19)
Borries von Munchhausen justified the same process with the words:

‘Once more the corn is being thrashed on the threshing floor of the world — what does it matter whether a few handfuls of golden grain are lost when also the chaff is swept out, the holy harvest will be kept safe! Germany, the heart of the nations, is prodigal like all true hearts.’

Often the terrorist lived cheek by jowl with the aesthete, and at the beginning of the Third Reich Gottfried Benn reflected that everything which had made the West famous had come into being in slave states, and commented that history is ‘rich in combinations of the pharaonic exercise of power with culture.’ (22)

The story of the Third Reich clearly demonstrates the contrary. Rarely was a government’s cultural ambition higher; never was the result more provincial and insignificant. The self-confident prophecies of the initial phase about ‘an unheard-of blossoming of German art’, a ‘new artistic renaissance of Aryan man’, gave way, in a retrospective assessment undertaken by Goebbels after five years of National Socialist cultural policy, to much more modest formulas, as when he states that literature is working, ‘thoroughly cleansed, in great agony towards new light’. (23)

http://www.ourcivilisation.com/smartboard/shop/festjc/chap20.htm

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bianca steele 10.10.13 at 6:37 pm

Andersen:
The narrative you give suggests that Benn supported the Nazis, possibly helped them come to power, and then they turned on him. They censured him, and he did what they told him to do.

By comparison with Mayakovsky, Benn is more identified with the regime, and no one doubts Mayakovsky was a Bolshevik.

Or compare with Emil Nolde, who was pretty confident his Expressionist painting expressed National Socialist principles, and didn’t decide Nazism was wrong until after they condemned his work and himself (which Benn didn’t do even at that point).

If you’re talking only about his writing . . . maybe. Say, Luther: obviously he is not a Catholic writer. Is it possible that a Catholic writer, for example, might be forbidden to publish by the Catholic church, and that even his writings both before and after that point would still be considered “Catholic”? Probably not, but in politics, it doesn’t seem impossible for someone to be identified with the government’s professed ideology even if the government opposes them.

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bianca steele 10.10.13 at 6:45 pm

“The fact that he did so in terms he thought would appeal to the Nazis, as anti-liberal, primal, Aryan, born of the spirit of 1914, did not impress those who denounced it as unpatriotic, over-intellectual, perverse and immoral. “

Too bad, he was right, and the attack on “degenerate” art was always a liberal attack on the enemies of liberalism. Ironic.

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 6:47 pm

Bianca: I think the issue is whether Benn proved mistaken about what the Nazis were up to. A lot of people were – wishful thinking or whatever. One could be a loyal Nazi but fall out due to bureaucratic infighting, so in that sense, rejection by the regime doesn’t imply lack of fidelity to the cause. I thus agree with your last sentence, but I don’t think that describes Benn.

As for

Is it possible that a Catholic writer, for example, might be forbidden to publish by the Catholic church, and that even his writings both before and after that point would still be considered “Catholic”?

Hans Küng comes to mind – not forbidden to publish, only to teach, but a Catholic whose Catholicity in his writings would be questioned by some in that church.

(Sad – pulled him up on Wikipedia and saw that he is contemplating suicide due to Parkinson’s Disease.)

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steven johnson 10.10.13 at 7:38 pm

The commentary is really odd. Given the continuing power of Nazi esthetics in current society, from S&M to political pageantry, disputing the artistic contributions of fascism just seems oblivious. Granted they’re not high-minded contributions, but they are still living contributions. Contrast that to the universal disdain on the part of the high-minded for anything smacking of Communist esthetics.
Somebody above noted that Jack London and John Steinbeck for instance were widely popular. Here both have been demoted to children’s literature. Do you really think this is an accident?

Montefiore? Spufford? Do people really take them seriously?

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 7:42 pm

Given the continuing power of Nazi esthetics in current society, from S&M to political pageantry, disputing the artistic contributions of fascism just seems oblivious. Granted they’re not high-minded contributions, but they are still living contributions.

True enough. Riefenstahl perfected the concert film. But I think we’ve been focusing, in fact, on the existence vel non of “high-minded contributions.”

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LFC 10.10.13 at 8:00 pm

bianca s. @103
the attack on “degenerate” art was always a liberal attack on the enemies of liberalism
??? Didn’t the Nazi exhibit of ‘degenerate art’ consist of a bunch of modernist stuff they didn’t like and wanted to trash? How is that “a liberal attack on the enemies of liberalism”?

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LFC 10.10.13 at 8:09 pm

@105
Somebody above noted that Jack London and John Steinbeck for instance were widely popular. Here both have been demoted to children’s literature. Do you really think this is an accident? Montefiore? Spufford? Do people really take them seriously?

WTF? The fact that ‘Of Mice and Men’ is read in middle school or whatever does not mean Steinbeck has been demoted to children’s lit. That’s just one of his bks.
(As for Spufford: if you’re not already aware of it, this blog devoted an entire symposium to ‘Red Plenty’. So the answer to yr perhaps rhetorical question is: yes.)

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bianca steele 10.10.13 at 8:35 pm

LFC:
As noted by Wikipedia, the notion of degenerate art stems from Max Nordau’s 1893 book “Degeneration,” which was absolutely an attack from a liberal standpoint on contemporary writers and artists whom Nordau viewed as enemies of liberalism. In this case, the enemy of my enemy was not my friend. The complexities involved may well have been what tripped Benn up.

I think there is something with a visible affinity to fascism–in the sense of what those artists were doing who did identify their work ideologically with fascism, and in the sense of the fascination with brutality, with the inexorable march of futurity, the robotization of humans, the adoption of mechanistic visuals while emphasizing dehumanization, etc.–in the artists who later reacted to the war with disgusted fascination with modernity, though many of them weren’t fascists in the 1930s. Hitler objected to their anti-classical visual style, whatever their ideas may have been.

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 8:56 pm

109: haven’t looked at the Nordau since grad school, but wasn’t he just part of the whole “ooh look, decadence” fad in late 19C Paris? If I can recall anything original about the book, it’s that he associated physical degeneration with decadence, tho even that probably wasn’t original – didn’t some critics of Impressionism say that there was obviously something wrong with the painters’ eyes?

Whatever one wants to say about Gautier, Baudelaire, Bourget, I don’t think there’s anything terribly fascist going on there, or anything liberal for that matter. It would seem to be more rooted in a reaction against the bourgeois age, which puts it closer to fascism than to liberalism, but “decadence” was the kind of label poets etc. could adopt, which is not at all fascist.

The fact that Nordau was a Jew is a funny little bonus. I wonder was his book banned in Germany, or just reprinted without his name on it?

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bianca steele 10.10.13 at 9:02 pm

On Nordau: Originality and influence aren’t the same thing, and perceived influence may be something else altogether. “Degeneration” was a best seller and writers of the WWI generation tell of memories of their fathers’ having it in the house. Nordau does get the lion’s share of blame for it having occurred to Hitler to create an exhibit called “degenerate art” and for it having occurred to anyone that non-representational artists are most likely mentally ill (the latter almost certainly unfairly). There are probably a handful of ideas in the book that are original to him, such as the idea that non-classical representation of the human figure is caused by a mental or visual pathology in the artist, and which do show up precisely in the propaganda surrounding the “Entartete Kunst” exhibit.

“Entartung” was not banned, though Nordau’s earlier books, which called for a broadening of the franchise in Germany and Austria, the elimination of orders of merit, a restriction on the powers of the established church, and increased rights for the elected branches of the legislature.

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bianca steele 10.10.13 at 9:03 pm

. . . were banned.

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 9:06 pm

Well, I’ll certainly agree that it’s weirding me out that Matei Calinescu doesn’t so much as mention Nordau in his Five Faces of Modernity, which has a chapter on decadence.

Interesting re: Nordau’s effect, tho I suspect the Nazis would have found a label and a theory to attack modern art regardless. Would still want it explained to me how Nordau’s book came from a liberal p.o.v. (as, apparently, did his other books). Lots of otherwise liberal people are cultural philistines.

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Jim Buck 10.10.13 at 9:06 pm

continuing power of Nazi esthetics in current society, from S&M

In the recently liberated east, it is the Stalinist aesthetic which throbs through S&M. Cf Lupus Pictures.

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bianca steele 10.10.13 at 9:07 pm

In restrospect, also, it may seem natural to consider Baudelaire a bourgeois poet, but he was certainly anti-bourgeois himself. I suppose that from a Marxist point of view, the freedom he was permitted to be anti-bourgeois and anti-liberal is itself bourgeois and liberal. There are complexities, however, in that Baudelaire’s opposition to liberalism was dialectically backward-looking, so to put him in the same boat as others might seem to them a bit uncomfortable.

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bianca steele 10.10.13 at 9:09 pm

@113
I would bet that any English-language book on decadence that you pick up will have an index entry for Nordau. Hobsbawm does, in “Age of Empire.”

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Mao Cheng Ji 10.10.13 at 9:15 pm

“There isn’t a major political movement in history, good or bad, that hasn’t had some very bright and able people supporting it and some very bright and able people opposing it. Why on earth should the Nazis be any different?”

Nazism is just too primitive.

Sure, some intellectuals may like it, they may even write something (or make a film) about it being beautiful and exiting, and what they wrote may turn out aesthetically pleasing, but that’s still neither here nor there. There is nothing there to reason and think about. That’s Nazism. Fascism is different, I think, it does have something.

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Jacob McM 10.10.13 at 9:19 pm

For the record: Baudelaire openly declared himself a disciple of Joseph de Maistre while Paul Bourget ended up as an anti-Dreyfusard and early supporter of the Action française. I recall that the Action française’s newsletter, which was of high literary quality and read by people like Proust and Gide, attempted to claim Baudelaire as part of a reactionary aesthetic patrimony.

Another complicating factor is the fact that non-Nazi fascist movements often embraced aesthetic modernism. Fascist Italy the most overtly and proudly, but also the Spanish Falange, many French fascists, etc.

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 9:21 pm

116: that’s what startled me. Calinescu is good, but that is an odd omission.

Certainly didn’t mean to imply Baudelaire was bourgeois – rather the opposite. Your aside on Marxism is both funny and, alas, true; I have been reading in Anne Applebaum about how that theory was put into practice in eastern Europe post-1945.

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bianca steele 10.10.13 at 9:26 pm

Well, not just Marxist. Daniel Bell, quite a good liberal, would probably attribute Baudelaire’s rebellion against his society to the antinomianism natural to liberalism. Possibly he derived that idea from Marxism at some level of remove, but somehow it doesn’t seem likely (though now that I’ve written this I’m no longer sure).

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LFC 10.10.13 at 9:28 pm

ok, I see, at least roughly, what you meant. (I don’t know much about Benn, hence have not expressed a view on him.)

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LFC 10.10.13 at 9:30 pm

oops — my 121 was a response to bianca’s 109

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Anderson 10.10.13 at 9:35 pm

120: I meant that the liberty to be anti-bourgeois was itself bourgeois. Such a pernicious liberty was helpfully stamped out by the Soviets and their tools.

… I have NEVER READ Daniel Bell, for some very poor reason. Cultural Contradictions a good one to start with?

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bianca steele 10.10.13 at 9:41 pm

My local library used to have “The End of Ideology,” but it no longer does. It’s been a long time since I picked it up, though excerpts seem to have been anthologized relatively frequently.

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SusanC 10.10.13 at 9:54 pm

In music, there’s Carl Orff (Carmina Burana, etc.)

“Tom of Finland” is somewhat notorious for the inclusion of Nazi uniforms in his homoerotic cartoons; though it seems he wasn’t a Nazi, he just liked having sex with them…

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Jacob McM 10.10.13 at 10:12 pm

Among composers, Alex Ross also names Anton Webern as a Nazi enthusiast, although yet another one whose aesthetic was not in line with the regime’s taste.

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novakant 10.10.13 at 10:31 pm

The communists/socialists were anti-intellectual. If by intellectual you are referring to someone who values the free exchange of ideas they were philistines at best.

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hix 10.10.13 at 10:47 pm

“(for all the cliches about Jewish Bankers, some of the biggest banks were reluctant to hire anyone who wasn’t a WASP, including Jews and Catholics).”

In contrast, Goldman and Meril Lynch were happy about every protestant applicant.

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LFC 10.10.13 at 11:04 pm

@Anderson
“… I have NEVER READ Daniel Bell, for some very poor reason. Cultural Contradictions a good one to start with?”

The D.Bell bk I happen to have on the shelf is his collection of essays The Winding Passage in which the piece “Beyond Modernism, Beyond Self,” drafted in the late ’60s and first published in the mid-70s, might be of part. interest. “What is central to modernism is the derogation of the cognitive.” That has the sort of assured, quasi-oracular quality of some of the things mcmanus usu. quotes here, except it’s more comprehensible. My favorite quote from Bell is what he (supposedly) replied to someone who asked what he specialized in: “I specialize in generalizations.”

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js. 10.10.13 at 11:15 pm

bianca steele,

Do you mean to be saying that the works of Woolf, Joyce, H.D., et al, have implicit fascist affinities? Or if this is limited to the visual arts: Picasso, Braque, Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy—implicitly fascist all in their work? I suppose by this reasoning it may well turn out that “The Work of Art in an Age of Mechanical Repropduction” may well turn out to be an implicitly fascist work? I hold no brief for liberalism but I find this beyond bizarre.

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bianca steele 10.10.13 at 11:21 pm

js:
No, I mean a few painters, especially those who served in the war, like Leger and Di Chirico.

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bianca steele 10.10.13 at 11:26 pm

And I wouldn’t describe it the way you did; you seem to have jumped to conclusions out of offense that anybody would associate a famous work of art with politics.

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js. 10.10.13 at 11:31 pm

you seem to have jumped to conclusions out of offense that anybody would associate a famous work of art with politics.

No, more just the purported modernism-fascism connection. I’m extremely comfortable with the thought that, umm, _all_ art has (at least) implicit political content. I find it bizarre to think that modernist art in particular and as such has implicit political content that is fascist in nature.

134

John Quiggin 10.10.13 at 11:36 pm

I’ve asked before, but can anyone point to a piece sympathetic to Heidegger that attempts to explain the relationship between his support for (some version of) Nazism and his general philosophical position, and shows how the two can be disentangled?

Or, for that matter, anything arguing that his philosophy should have led him to oppose Nazism, and that his actions were the product of some combination of hypocrisy and self-deception?

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bianca steele 10.10.13 at 11:39 pm

I don’t mean that their art is implicitly fascist. I mean that they have concerns that the early fascists had, and they wrote about those concerns, and addressed them in their art, and taken altogether, their solution looks a bit similar to the fascist solution, which didn’t exist yet as such.

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Jacob McM 10.10.13 at 11:51 pm

@134, I don’t think the two can be successfully and fully disentangled; on the other hand, lots of the fascist/proto-fascist content in a work like Sein und Zeit, such as Resoluteness and the importance of confronting one’s own Death for the proper comprehension of Being, is not immediately obvious unless one is well-versed in Weimar interwar radical conservatism, which the average contemporary reader, including most college students, is not.

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js. 10.10.13 at 11:51 pm

I mean that they have concerns that the early fascists had, and they wrote about those concerns, and addressed them in their art, and taken altogether, their solution looks a bit similar to the fascist solution, which didn’t exist yet as such.

Okay. I would actually agree with all of this except the “taken altogether, their solution looks…” part. Not because I don’t think “their solution” looks like something else, but rather because I don’t think it’s possible to isolate any even vaguely-coherent thing as “their solution”. (Tho if it did, at least to me it would imply that their work is “implicitly fascist”, perhaps avant la lettre. I suppose I take “implicitly fascist” to mean something quite like that.)

But again, I don’t think that liberalism and fascism are the only categories in the offing, and I think that the possibilities canvassed by Benjamin in “The Work of Art” are quite useful and relevant here.

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Jacob McM 10.11.13 at 12:00 am

As an addendum, things are also muddled by the fact that there is now a left-wing “irrationalist” school of thought — think of people like Bataille and those influenced by him, like Foucault — that has taken up many of the same themes as Nietzsche and Heidegger. Richard Wolin has written extensively on this, citing it as a case of right-wing intellectual currents “infiltrating” the left.

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bianca steele 10.11.13 at 12:08 am

js.
I don’t know what you think I’m saying, but by “their solution,” I mean to the problem of how to paint the kind of thing they wanted to paint. Their soldiers caught in the throes of modern battle look a lot like fascist machine-men. Their visceral sense of being caught in a terrible and overwhelming war-machine looks a lot like admiration for mechanistic, systematic war. But we know what they were trying to do because they wrote it down. It’s just very easy to imagine fascist sympathizers a decade or two later painting exactly the same thing and intending a different meaning. (I don’t think the issues w/r/t literature are the same. The relationship to the public and to the tradition and to other artists is different.) But these are just my own thoughts based on a couple of specific shows I’ve seen.

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js. 10.11.13 at 12:30 am

Yeah, I think we agree more than we disagree. It’s just that I don’t think you can get any thesis about modernism per se, or what’s inherent in modernism (which was Mondrian and van Doesburg, and Picasso and Braque, etc, etc., as much as it was Leger, etc.). I don’t even think you can get a thesis about _those strands of modernism_ that were grappling with the questions that the fascists were to grapple with a little later, within which strands I would include a bunch of Bauhaus stuff, the Russian constructivist stuff, etc.

But the “degenerate art” business at least as deployed by the Nazis was clearly aimed at all of these and more. So while I might well agree with you about Leger and a couple of others, I still recoil at (what still seems to me like) the far more general claim at 103/109.

Still, sorry to have misunderstood originally.

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Anderson 10.11.13 at 12:59 am

129: ha! My kinda guy!

… Re Heidegger, I don’t think SZ is a fascist book, but it definitely comes out of the same anti-democratic soul. The stuff Jacob mentions is definitely there, but I don’t think that Dasein makes any sense cheering at a Nuremberg rally. There was a lot of quasi-fascist stuff in Weimar Germany, not all of which was compatible with Nazism. LOTS of people on the Right thought democracy was crap.

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Lee A. Arnold 10.11.13 at 1:39 am

I remember about 20 years ago, going into the modest-looking house in L.A. of a man named Sylvain Robert to fix a faucet. It was chock-a-block with astonishing artifacts from all over the world, an intricate jade Shiva 4 feet high, lots of other wild stuff. He explained that he had been an opera star at in the 1920’s and travelled and collected, then came to Hollywood and was technical advisor on “Passage to Marseilles” (a Bogart picture) among other things. (He is in the IMDb.) He was in his mid-90’s with two strings of hair combed over his bald head, but just danced rings around me and laughed and laughed: no one except little children move that fast… I tried to guess where the art pieces were from (I have no training at all, just love museums.) Anyway, he had a very odd thing hanging inside the front door, sort of an ancient Greek warrior’s helmet, except it was about three times life-size, and the lines were very simplified, and kind of modern, but not really: at first glance, you might have thought it was ancient classical. He thought he would stump me, and so I took a wild guess: “Nazi kitsch?” He punched me in the arm and roared laughing. It was indeed from pre-WWII Germany! I have never seen anything else like it, and I cannot find a photo of anything similar. It was extremely watered-down classical, not attractive really, but very interesting.

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bianca steele 10.11.13 at 1:48 am

@140
No problem. I didn’t even mean the Leger and Nordau points to intersect very much, and wouldn’t have mentioned Nordau except that the Benn quote was so interesting, and I’d just noticed Nordau’s name when checking something about Nolde, and had a chance to show off otherwise unused old research.

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john c. halasz 10.11.13 at 3:50 am

@134:

You’ve asked about Heidegger before. My response at the time is that he couldn’t provide any epistemological guidance, because part of the upshot of his work is the critical dissolution of the epistemological project in modern philosophy, (in which respect he’s comparable to Wittgenstein, with Richard Rorty just recycling their arguments in the context and idiom of Anglo-American Analytic philosophy, without adding anything original). But there is much more to Heidegger than just his Nazi entanglement, which accounts for his continuing influence. For one there is his account of human existence as a thrown project, which gives rise to existential hermeneutics. And that in turn amounts to a kind of philosophy of praxis, uncovering what underlies one’s cognitive, because practical, commitments. IOW it invites reflection on just what basic and “ultimate” ends one is pursuing and their desirability qua “authenticity”, precisely because such ends are not pre-given, but projectively constructed, solely a human responsibility, (Lucien Goldman, a disciple of Lukacs, argued that SZ was a rejoinder to “History and Class Consciousness” from the right). Being-toward-death BTW plays the role in SZ that theoria played in the 10th book of “Nichomachean Ethics”, as the limit condition for human ends, given the modern metaphysical groundlessness of human existence.

In his later work, Heidegger carries out the project of the “Destruktion” of the history of ontology that SZ announced and was to prepare for. I.e. the dismantlement of the schemas of metaphysical thought, from which Western ideas about “reason” originated (with the Greeks). This is another valuable and influential part of Heidegger’s legacy, bringing out and critically questioning the substantialist roots of such thinking, (which H. restyles as the interpretation of Being as the presence of the present, drawing that insight much more from Husserl than from the Greeks) and the unitary logic it gives rise to. That’s not simply reducible to “irrationalism”, since it amounts to a “meta” reflection on the sources and presuppositions of what we mean by “reason” and its effects: metaphysics as totalizing objectifying “reason” and its reifying effects upon our understandings of the world and the beings in it. Now I happen to think that there is something of an irrationalist cult of sacrifice buried in and bound up with Heidegger’s mode of thinking. (Levinas is the best source on excavating that, but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms, as he’s himself a very difficult thinker, who is at once thoroughly dependent on Heidegger and conducting an excoriating critique of him). But it’s a petitio principii to reduce Heidegger’s whole body of work and thinking to mere irrationalism and reactionary motives. (If he’s a reactionary, it’s of a very sophisticated sort, not turning the clock 180 degree back but 180 degrees forward).

That leads on to reflections on modern technology, as a self-proliferating complex that reduces everything, including human beings, to raw material in its service. (I happen to think his lucubrations on technology to be insufficiently differentiated to be of much use, but the Frankfurt School’s “critique of instrumental reason”, a better, more differentiated account of the pervasively manipulative attitude toward the world and human beings, parallels it, and he does have a point). And to reflections on language as “ontologically” disclosive of beings and Being, and hence to the poesis, “thinking, building, dwelling”, that modern human beings, in their care, are tasked with.

As to Heidegger’s Nazi involvement, it’s always to be taken under advisement. He was always a nationalist conservative, a man of the right. (He was by origins a south German RC peasant boy, educated on scholarship to become a priest). He was also something of a socialist, so if you take the notion of “national socialism” seriously, the self-seduction becomes even plainer. (He was heavily influenced at the time by Ernst Juenger, who never joined the party and who styled his own views as “national Bolshevism”). But his intense involvement lasted maybe 2 years, and his rectorship even less, followed by gradual disillusionment. And he was among the least successful of aspirants to influence. There is some fairly nasty material in the archives, but he doesn’t seem to have been a virulent anti-semite, (his wife apparently being another matter), but more of a cultural-nationalist sort, for whom Jews, like leftists, vitiated the “purity” of the German spirit. The crude biological racial theory of the actual Nazis ran entirely counter to the linguistic turn of his own thinking. (So, yes, he should have known better, by his own lights). In the early ’50’s, writings were published based on lectures from the late ’30’s, which cause as scandal because he retained a phrase about “the inner truth and greatness of National Socialism”. It’s obvious that he remained an authoritarian-elitist sort and never became a liberal-democrat. But what was that “inner truth”? Presumably he meant the confrontation between modern human beings and the complexes of modern technology, so as to overcome the nihilism, the “forgetfulness of Being”, that he saw it giving rise to. (Hence Adorno’s quip that efforts to overcome nihilism are always worse than the thing itself). In his quietistic post-war phase, while never quite recanting or issuing any apologia, he reconfigured his thinking, so that “the leaders” were the culmination and not the cure for nihilism. Just as he had reconfigured his own prior thinking in the infamous “Rectoral Address”, which had a perverse dark majesty to it. The call to service to the “Fuehrerprinzip”, exoterically, was rallying for the new regime. But, esoterically, he likely was translating the Greek “arche”, under the delusion that he would “fuehren der Fuehrer”.

So to return to the subtopic here of this thread, 2/3 of the members of the German Philosophic Association, (the professional body of the academic discipline), joined the Nazi Party. Most of them are long forgotten, and even some who remain of some minor significance, such as Nicolai Hartmann, (d. 1936), are forgotten in that respect. Heidegger is reproached because he “failed” to break his silence and because of his continued renown and semi-relevance. But actually Nazi ideology was such an incoherent and crazy hodge-podge, that while it attracted much initial enthusiasm amongst the intelligentsia, as a revolution of national renewal, it neither produced nor attracted any lasting creative achievements. Post-war we tend to think of intellectuals as tending left, with the right being an embattled minority amongst them. But my sense is that in pre-war Germany, the reverse was true. Heidegger was just one among many, though it’s little likely he intended the “final” result or failed to grasp the catastrophe that ensued, even if from his own premises and commitments. Though it’s clear the man himself failed to live up to his own self-proclaimed criterion: to stand out, ek-sist, in (one’s exposure to) Being and let it make or break you.

Richard Wolin is a second tier Habermasian, and, whatever one makes of Habermas, his work is question-begging, in terms of defining “reason” unquestioningly as “Enlightenment values”. Which in this age of neo-liberal agnotology, is even more questionable. I can’t think of anything that clearly and simply lays out the question of Heidegger’s Nazism, (since, as I hope to have made plain, it’s neither clear nor simple). But the best, clearest intro to Heidegger that I ever read was by the Indian philosopher J.L. Mehta, (though the version with a summary of SZ, since the later stuff makes no sense without it). But that’s old, from my school days, and possibly out of print.

But then I don’t think Heidegger would be to JQ’s taste anyway.

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Jacob McM 10.11.13 at 4:49 am

@144

Just a few minor comments…

“He was also something of a socialist, so if you take the notion of “national socialism” seriously, the self-seduction becomes even plainer.”

Many German conservatives at the time such as Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Oswald Spengler, and Werner Sombart advanced an anti-materialist and authoritarian form of “German Socialism” or “Prussian Socialism” which would respect private property but subordinate the individual to the collective good. It was also similar to the “National Bolshevism” advocated by Ernst Niekisch and which influenced Juenger. If Heidegger ever expressed sympathy with socialism, it was almost assuredly these currents he had in mind and not the Marxist or left-wing varieties of socialism that people normally associate with the term.

“Post-war we tend to think of intellectuals as tending left, with the right being an embattled minority amongst them. But my sense is that in pre-war Germany, the reverse was true.”

You’d be correct. The cultural and intellectual output of the right-wing in countries like France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Romania, and, yes, Germany, easily matched that of the left before the war. People like Heidegger, Pound, Hamsun, et al. were far from alone. The crimes of Hitler and pals tarnished the right so much that they paved the way for left-wing dominance in the post-WWII world, so only people who study the period in depth are aware of the magnitude of right-wing influence before then.

By the way, if I call so-and-so a reactionary or a proto-fascist/fascist, it’s not with the intent of dismissing or simplifying their work. Some reactionaries and fascists are very very interesting thinkers, but I believe in calling them what they are rather than dancing around the issue and attempting to sweep it under the rug. Whatever his disagreements with this or that plank in their program, Heidegger was a card-carrying Nazi. There are definitely fascist or “conservative revolutionary” themes which pervade his philosophy. He had a fairly good idea what he was endorsing. I suspect that the “inner truth” of Nazism to which he referred was indeed the confrontation with modern technology, and that he was disappointed when Hitler only carried industrialization (and thus modernization) further in order to re-militarize Germany and wage war. This would put Heidegger more in line with “Blood and Soil” ideologists like Walther Darré who sought a return to rural life.

Anyway, I don’t require philosophers/artists to be saints, so while I don’t approve of their private decisions, I have no problem appreciating their work nor do I have any objection to them being taught in schools with the proper guidance and context.

146

roy belmont 10.11.13 at 5:09 am

re way up thread:
How is it that Stalin’s configured permanently infamous and Beria’s MIA? Not to engage the literary discussion on that, but isn’t Stalin’s infamy permanent? Isn’t that the moustache? He’s got a moustache, he’s infamous, oh and maybe some kind of influence on later Soviet then Russian etc. society tied into the infamy
. Beria’s dragging a lot of the same ghosts around, but he’s invisible. No moustache.

147

Peter Erwin 10.11.13 at 3:34 pm

… the universal disdain on the part of the high-minded for anything smacking of Communist esthetics.

Huh? Constructivism has proved quite popular in Western graphic design circles:
http://www.creativereview.co.uk/cr-blog/2008/august/constructivism-the-ism-that-just-keeps-givin

148

Anderson 10.11.13 at 9:07 pm

146: and Stalin, at least, was not a serial rapist. That we know of.

149

John Quiggin 10.12.13 at 6:48 am

jch (and Jacob McM)

Thanks for that. As with Hayek, I now understand a bit better why Heidegger lined up to support fascism. Also, again as with Hayek, though not quite as clearly, I have an idea which of his arguments need to be confronted, and which can be dismissed with a straightforward modus tollens denying the consequent “fascism is good”.

You’re right in concluding that Heidegger is not to my taste, but at least I now have a understanding of why I should dislike him beyond the mere fact that he was a Nazi apparatchik. From my perspective, just as neoliberalism is worse than the classical liberalism it purports to revive, a sophisticated argument to move the compass ‘180 degrees forward’ to a 20th century Blood and Soil ideology is worse than reactionary nostalgia directed towards an anachronistic version of the same goal.

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steven johnson 10.12.13 at 6:09 pm

146: Shostakovitch has become acceptable since he was claimed as an anti-Communist. Insofar as constructivists are still significant outside specialist circles, I gather they get the same treatment: Acknowledged success in creating art is directly proportional to their anti-Communism.

As to Stalinist imagery in east European S&M, well, the poor slobs haven’t caught up with the lifestyles of the free & rich yet, no?

Not from a high enough class to comment on Fascist vs. Communist esthetic influence in high culutre.

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Jim Buck 10.13.13 at 8:30 am

As to Stalinist imagery in east European S&M, well, the poor slobs haven’t caught up with the lifestyles of the free & rich yet, no?

The availability of communist era uniforms, and locations, may be the simple explanation. However, the Lupus films have had quite an impact among that section of the free and rich, to which you refer. Some of the scenarios are highly political–to do with the suppression of Slav nationalism, and the like.

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novakant 10.13.13 at 12:32 pm

#149

As j.c. halasz said, there’s a bit of a petitio principii to your thinking: Of course if you want to find this stuff in Heidegger it is there and his life and work leaves enough room for ambiguity that interpretations of it can be fine-tuned in many ways to fit our initial assumptions.

I don’t mean this as an attack, I’m just a bit tired of a certain tendency to judge, sort and categorize writers according to moral and political axioms. Not because I think that this can’t be a worthwhile undertaking in itself on some level, but because I think it often precludes us from actually reading and engaging with the works of those writers with an open mind or even altogether. Also, there is a philosophical level of discourse that is interesting and valuable quite independently, just as there is a level of appreciating art and literature independent of morality and politics. Finally, Heidegger (like e.g. Hegel) inspired so many and such diverse thinkers that one needs to ask oneself why all these brilliant people would have bothered reading and discussing him, if his works could be dismissed so easily.

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Jim Buck 10.13.13 at 1:40 pm

one needs to ask oneself why all these brilliant people would have bothered reading and discussing him, if his works could be dismissed so easily.

Similar arguments are made about all types of discourse. As Ian Drury said:
There ain’t ‘alf been some clever bastards!
Clever bastards have to have something to think about; and the the more the horizon of understanding recedes, the longer some individuals will slog towards it—determined to make oases out of mirages.

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William Timberman 10.13.13 at 2:34 pm

The most interesting thinkers on the right, it seems to me, are all about holding the center, or rather a center, against what they interpret as the ever-present threat of chaos and the dismemberment of consciousness. In fact, a good part of their effort is spent not on defending a center, but on locating it once and for all where everyone can see it and therefore can’t deny it.

The thing is, chaos is our nature, mortality, whether of individuals or whole societies, is inescapable, and our bulwarks, no matter how carefully constructed, tend to follow us into the grave. One of the reasons the left has a hard time getting anyone’s ear these days, is that it’s succumbed to the temptation to build even more shining and permanent cities-on-hills than its adversaries on the right have already established. Really, this isn’t our game, and we shouldn’t try to play it.

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novakant 10.13.13 at 3:39 pm

P.S

If this is on the same level as his Schopenhauer book it should be well worth reading:

http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/05/03/reviews/980503.03rortyt.html

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john c. halasz 10.13.13 at 3:41 pm

@154:

“are all about holding the center, or rather a center, against what they interpret as the ever-present threat of chaos and the dismemberment of consciousness. In fact, a good part of their effort is spent not on defending a center, but on locating it once and for all where everyone can see it and therefore can’t deny it.”

That sounds more like Kant to me.

157

PatrickinIowa 10.13.13 at 4:08 pm

The “holding the center” phrasing puts me in mind of Yeats, of course. Here’s Seamus Deane on Yeats’s putting together of Fascism, the occult and a touch of Nietzsche: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v03/n10/seamus-deane/blueshirt. I suspect that a lot of what could be said of Yeats’s attraction to the hard right of the early 20th century could be said of many modernist writers, not just visual artists.

Joyce, however, not so much. Ever since I read this from a letter to Stanislaus in Ellman’s biography, “It is a mistake for you to imagine that my political opinions are those of a universal lover: but they are those of a socialistic artist,” I’ve read Joyce in those terms. Joyce prioritizes his aesthetic over the overtly political always and everywhere, but it’s always seemed to me his intermingling of the heroic and everyday in each person, not just “men of action,” completely opposes the nation, soil and authenticity ideologies that moved writers to the right.

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Anderson 10.13.13 at 7:45 pm

Lots of modernists were on board with art as a substitute for religion or aristocracy as something pure vs the masses. Evidently some could con themselves that Nazism was filling the same slot, subordinating the mob. Even today, the more democratic side of modernism is held inferior compared to Yeats, Eliot, etc.

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Jim Buck 10.13.13 at 8:32 pm

Tradionalists are island-dwellers who follow landmarks.. Modernists are sea-farers who sail by the stars.

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SusanC 10.13.13 at 9:02 pm

The most surprising thing I learned from this thread is the existence of communist-flavoured BDSM pornography. Yes, I know, “Rule 34: if it exists, there is porn of it”. And I say this as someone who knows the local kink community, via LGBT political activism. (So I do have some idea of the things they get up to…)

Judged by their subsequent influence on porn, the Nazis did have better uniforms than the Soviets. I think this is objectively true, in so far as fashion preferences can be objectively true :-), and it’s not just that the Soviet-style BDSM scenes hold no personal relevance for me.

[And in case you’re wondering: the local scene over here is more influenced by St. Trinians than the Nazis or the Soviets, as far as I can tell…]

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William Timberman 10.13.13 at 9:15 pm

jch @ 156

It is very like Kant, I agree, but I was actually thinking about poor Burke when I wrote it, that Burke who was so intent on explaining why the French Revolution represented the end of everything sensible men held dear, the death knell of those wise and benevolent institutions built up so fastidiously over the centuries. Oh, yes, there were such things as tyrants, to be sure, but — ahem — none in England, not for years and years and years. He absolutely refused to consider that the evil lay not in the National Assembly he mocked, but in institutions that — thanks to technological developments he was powerless to intervene against — had manifestly outlived their usefulness to any but the privileged.

When I worked at a university, I was constantly amazed at how many people who ought to have known better rejected the idea that a university is less about the ivied halls, and more about the processes that take place within them. That this should be generally considered a radical formulation, especially when funding decisions were being debated, struck me as the worst indictment possible of our ossified educational system.

Despite all that, the post-war model of the university is still of the more flexible institutional models we have, and will likely remain so until reformers like Bill Gates and General Petraeus get through lamenting the fact that a) it doesn’t make any money, and b) its present administrators can’t just order people to do what needs to be done.

Kant was probably the most sophisticated thinker who ever tried to demonstrate why the verb should forever be held in thrall to the noun, and as such, was certainly not any guiltier than Nietzsche of the crimes committed in his name. Lord know, the Burkes were — and are — more common, the William F. Buckleys and William Bennetts commoner still. Those are the ones I really have a beef with.

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john c. halasz 10.14.13 at 2:35 am

JQ @ 149:

At any rate, just a few follow up points:

1) What I regard as one of the most valuable and lasting parts of Heidegger’s work is the existential hermeneutics that formed the innovative method of SZ. One of his students provided a generalized account:

http://www.amazon.com/Method-Continuum-Impacts-Hans-Georg-Gadamer/dp/082647697X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1381707062&sr=8-2&keywords=gadamer+truth+and+method

It’s written in clear conventional academic prose and, though long, an interesting and enjoyable read. I myself much prefer his justification of the “humanities” to French Structuralist clap-trap. It’s at least a good “beach read”.

2) As to the later Heidegger and the “Destruktion” (i.e “deconstruction”) of the history of philosophy, it is difficult to convey to someone not versed in the disciplinary commitments of philosophy the full “force” of that project. What I mean is that all academic or scientific disciplines have constitutive rules delimiting their basic concepts, domains and angles of approach and applicability. (For traditional and academic philosophy, that would be the provision of grounding arguments, with respect to the intelligible experience and order of the world and the phenomena within it and how that is possible). Heidegger’s readings at once revive and undermine virtually the entirety of Western philosophical heritage. (Which is why the likes of Rorty, who in one of his banal provocations, declared himself a “Hubert H. Humphrey democrat”, could be so impressed.) Heidegger could be regarded as the last “pure” philosopher. After him, in his utmost extremity, philosophy has lost any self-grounding “autonomy” as a discipline. It’s no longer “metaphysics as the queen of the sciences”, nor even philosophy as the handmaiden of science, but with the loss of its “authority”, its concerns migrate to other disciplines or become questions we all (can) ask. It’s the strength of questions and not any particular answers that matter, because, to quote to old wizard, “questioning is the piety of thought”, i.e. finding and asking the “right” questions open “things” up to where to look for answers, are revealing, whereas “bad” questions serve to distract and detract from “truth”.

3) I had some reservations about Jacob McM’s response, insofar as he was doing intellectual or political history rather than “philosophy” proper. Heidegger’s political views were shared by a large sector of the German “mandarin” intelligentsia and were not very original and even rather conventional among that set, and he wasn’t regarded before or after as an especially acute political thinker. But I take the whole Black Forest ski hut routine as a piece of schtick and I don’t think it amounts to merely a nostalgia for rural life and a wish to preserve it against encroaching industrialization in the name of “blood and soil” ideology and thus simply reactionary. To put it in terms of his own dubious distinction, whatever was spinning in his head ontically in the early ’30’s, that does not reduce the ontological generality of his thinking, as it is only one particular instance of a range of possibilities and commitments. And far from rejecting the advent of technological civilization and wishing to return to some earlier era, Heidegger is concerned with its “productivity”, (together with the tendency to fetishize such productivity), and wanted to re-think how to live with it without succumbing to its domination. (He was rather too impressed with the early cybernetic musings of some German physicists and left such scientific matters to their care). The Greek words “poesis”, (i.e. “production”) and “techne” (i.e. craft) are central to that re-thinking. Drawing out and enhancing the potentials of “physis” (i.e. nature as a generative order), without over-running its limits are what he sees as the problem of a post-metaphysical future, not any actual return to its origin. Economists, by their disciplinary commitments, tend to regard ever expanding productivity as an unmitigated good, but that’s something to be drawn into question, since the world and the human and natural beings in it are not reducible to “economy”. (I mentioned neo-liberal agnotology, because, aside from just having finished Philip Mirowski’s not very useful book, the experience of watching mainstream economists agreeing on a common paradigm, only to discover that they didn’t at all agree amidst the GFC, calls into question and reflection what basic project they are pursuing, not merely an “epistemological”, still less just a methodological, question of disciplinary “foundations”, but a matter that operates “beneath” such questions without providing any alternative “grounding”). At any rate, what remains of value in Heidegger is not any particular answers that he might have be inclined toward, but the “force” of the questionings he left behind, (which can readily be turned against him).

I tend to agree with Novakant that what “saves” Heidegger isn’t the man himself, but the quality of his students. It’s easy to make a list, some of whom are directly his students, some of whom are just strongly influenced by studying him, some of whom are of Jewish extraction, others not, some of whom are conservatives and others ranging left in various degrees, but none of whom were Nazis or had pro-fascist (or even “left-fascist”) sympathies. Even excluding po-mo types. But it’s not that reading Heidegger is somehow obligatory, (other than as a general matter of his having occupied a certain central place in mid-20th century intellectual history). It’s just that he’s also not easily and reductively dismissible.

But maybe the Safranski book, which I hadn’t heard of, that Novakant uncovered would suffice to satisfy JQ’s limited interest. The subtitle alluding to Celan is encouraging and the reviews indicate, any biographical fallacy aside, it mostly attends to the work. (And the author was once a student of Adorno).

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ajay 10.14.13 at 4:05 pm

Judged by their subsequent influence on porn, the Nazis did have better uniforms than the Soviets. I think this is objectively true, in so far as fashion preferences can be objectively true :-), and it’s not just that the Soviet-style BDSM scenes hold no personal relevance for me.

If there is, in the former Raj, a thriving porn industry involving ginger moustaches, solar topees, khaki shorts, knee-length woollen socks and clumpy boots, I don’t want to know about it.

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Jim Buck 10.14.13 at 4:34 pm

Czech s&m movies were rigidly patriarchal; even on those occasions when it did become F/f, there was likely to be an erect, bearded, frock-coated, figure directing proceedings. F/m or switching was entirely absent. Lupus also made vanilla tv productions–so production and directorial values, for the porn movies, were high. The writing had an educated, Middle-European, sensibility, and processed the extended trauma of Stalinism; extended, that is, in Decartes’ sense of extended. Perhaps, the nearest western analogue, to the erotics of writing a poem that may attract the attentions of the KGB (if one writes it exceptionally well) is doing homework one’s homework–exceptionally badly–and attracting the attentions of the teacher’s cane?

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