Gnomes On A Hot Tin Drum

”I want to show that there is far-right thought in the heads of all of us,” he said, adding that gnomes were a particularly fitting method for conveying his message “in a lighter and unpatronising way, at the same time as being strong enough to provoke a reaction.”

Ottmar Hoerl, Dance With The Devil

Ottmar Hoerl, Dance With The Devil

And thus spake Zarathustra. 1250 gnomes making nazi salutes in an installation in Straubing, in southeastern Germany ,are artists Ottmar Hoerl’s satirical comment on the rise of fascism. Did it ever leave? At the Yalta conference in 1945, it was decided, that since the victors liked Germany so much, they decided to share the wealth and make two of them.

Like Nietzsche’s belief that religion is a comforting but limiting self delusion, its surrogates and substitutes in Germany also proved to be be far more repressive and damaging in the hands of atheism’s apostles. The psychological transfer is simply a manifestation of herd mentality run amok.  The exhibit called ”Dance With The Devil” finished last week, but not before garnering publicity for the uniform  15 inch plastic gnomes that the locals have dubbed the Hitler Dwarves, which though physiologically inaccurate, provide a telling glimpse of  pint sized moral terpitude available in convenient six packs for the zombie like followers parading as pillars for the progress of civilization.

The nazi mentality is a well suited salute to Nietsche’s theory of eternal recurrence, and the final wave, a farewell to arms as the remains are unceremoniously dumped at sea like a cheap viking funeral, a sentimental adieu  to the old perverts with the unzipped flys, a 21 urinal salute; are hopefully near this tipping point. ‘‘ When the crisis of language and poetry is pushed beyond certain limits it end up placing the very structure of society in question” ( Isodore Isou, 1964 )

The doctrine of the eternal recurrence is simple. Events do not happen once; they recur an infinite number of times, so that every event in the present has already happened an infinite number of times in the past and will recur an infinite number of times in the future .The doctrine of the eternal recurrence appears to be based on the claim that if time is infinite, all events must recur at some time.Zarathustra cannot confront the thought of eternal recurrence, largely because he would have to recognize that the mediocrity of humanity that he so despises will never be fully overcome, but rather will be repeated over and over again.Perhaps the source of the ”banality of evil ” articulated by Hannah Arendt.

Thus, in Nietzsche’s conception of the universe, there are no fixed things, like a one true God or one fixed morality . All things change, but these changes recur eternally.Hoerl’s gnomes installation and his other public art exhibitions invoke eternal recurrence through a narrative that vacillates from the present to the past.

Ottmar Hoerl, Straubing, Germany

Ottmar Hoerl, Straubing, Germany



”What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: &#

;You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.”—Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche created a framework involving a re-description of existence as an aesthetic phenomenon; involving an understanding of a work of art as self referential, as containing its own criteria of legitimation. A morality, artistically convened, with the pallor and odour of death. … ” how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and your life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal”. Hoerl’s protest art must be seen from a peculiar and idiosyncratic German perspective; one that sustains this doctrine of eternal recurrence through its dependency on grounding the value of one’s existence as work of art.One reason the Third Reich’s actions are still so potent as pop-art, and culture material, is that the nazis didn’t seem to have any valid reason for what they did, so any number of motives can be ascribed to the actions. Murder is a substitute for social revolution, and on the mass scale of euthanasia and multiple and simultaneous ”final” and ”final final” solutions, a way to turn negatonist and nihilistic energies back toward the creation of a new culture which ultimately devoured itself.

 But back to the Hitler dwarves.Gnomes originate in Germany from the late 19th century and  are a feature in many German fairy tales, both as a force for good and evil.Their morality is ambiguous and in flux in Hoerl’s work.

The gnome installation also, more importantly coincides with the 50 th anniversary of Gunter Grass’s novel ‘‘ The Tin Drum ”  A black and ultimately tragic saga delivered in a form of magical realism that captured  the absurdity and sickness of war, and the large open wound at the heart of humanity that allows such degradations to occur with eternal and recurring frequence. The protagonist, Oscar Matzerath, resolves at age three, to remain the same size his entire life, thus serving as allegory for Hoerl’s gnomes and their mocking salute.Grass depicts the sins of Nazism through Oskar’s recollections of the grotesque public and personal events that shaped his life and the lives of the people around him. Oskar’s rejection of adulthood and his drumming and screaming can be seen as metaphors of stunted development, immorality, and senseless destruction that illuminate some of the effects of Nazism.

 Since its publication, the novel has raised profound and painful issues for contemporary Germans, including the extent to which the German public was complicit in and remains responsible for Nazi war crimes. From Darran Anderson’s, ”Gunter Grass and the Tin Drum,( 2003 ):

”Oskar’s rebellion is that of the free spirit against all matter of final solutions and explanations and systems, even those that claimed to be just and righteous. (For didn’t even Nazism do so?) Remember who the first enemies targeted by the Nazis were, not the Jews or the gypsies or homosexuals. It was the artists, the Dadaists, the writers, the free thinkers, because they posed the most problems to the orthodoxy. In a strange roundabout way, the Nazis gave artists proof of their own moral potency and power by choosing to wipe them out first. Only by clearing away the artists, the askers of questions, could what happened later become acceptable. “Art is accusation, expression, passion,” shouts the students’ art instructor in The Tin Drum. That is the reason Hitler failed as an artist and why he persecuted artists before any other group.

The Tin Drum, 1979

The Tin Drum, 1979



When Hitler himself was an artist he sought order, perfection, exact replicas of landscapes and postcard depictions of buildings as accurately and soulless as possible. He could not succeed as an artist because he could not evoke the rebellion of real art, the fearless abandon, the rational intoxication of the senses. He could not do it but he did fear it. And from fear comes hatred. So from the beginning, the Nazis burned books and “degenerate art” because they knew this embodied free spirit (skepticism, free will, rebellion). InThe Tin Drum Grass says, “even bad books are books and therefore sacred” and he is right. For what is literature if not the conscience of society? This is why Hitler burned them. To clear the way so he could later burn human beings.”


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One Response to Gnomes On A Hot Tin Drum

  1. Benjamin says:

    Real good one! The tin Drum looks good.
    I have to see this movie…

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