Self-destruction as aesthetic pleasure? The Aryan myth was born as a minor issue in comparative linguistics at the end of the eighteenth-century. From there it assumed proportions of a full-fledged racial theory in the Romantic age that welded sentimentality, blood, soil and nationalist fervor into a racial theory of history and rationale for toxic action. It ended by almost devouring European civilization in an us-and-them confrontation. It created a role of aesthetics in the Nazi reich and its policies; an idealization of purity, violence and the human form that was integral to Nazi ideology, and not just a decorative accessory. It was the Weimar artistic idiom of “lustmord” on a societal level where an aesthetic was fashioned on a convergence of art, murder and sexual politics in a society obsessed with outside threats and in which the victims could be disavowed and erased.
In fact, the dynamics of this aesthetic, as asserted by Walter Benjamin, was that fascism would finish by gratifying a sense perception that had been changed by technology to such an extreme degree that a society could experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order, where nihilism would be a necessary condition of redemption:
Gur Ze’ev:These goals stand in opposition to the struggle for the language of paradise and for varnishing the goal-driven self, history, politics and, implicitly, the concept of revolution contaminated by the present order. The dimension linking positive utopianism and the thought of redemption is clarified in Benjamin’s negative utopianism and in the philosophical struggle (as a serious aesthetic game) for the salvation of the soul, which assumes the state of redemption and demands the negative utopian struggle. However, it is already possible to point to the clearly Cabalistic dimension merging into Benjamin’s thought, whose yearning for the eternal, for the completely other, suppresses the temporal, the political, the ever-transient within reality. The appropriate political attitude is defined as “nihilion”. Read More: http://construct.haifa.ac.il/~ilangz/Utopia4.html…
Eternity – the completely other, presented by Benjamin in the metaphor of the reality of “the language of paradise” – splinters into small fragments. Only by means of the fractures of contingency and of the awareness of absence can we find redemption, standing beyond the indefinite anticipation of the last catastrophe, which appears as the critique of given reality and as its negation. Benjamin followed Franz Rosenzweig on this issue. He knew Rosenzweig’s Star of Redemption, and even wrote a review of it. Read More:http://construct.haifa.ac.il/~ilangz/Utopia4.html
The first to really develop this dualism fully was Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the son of an English admiral, whose lengthly treatise The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century first appeared in 1899. To understand Chamberlain, it is necessary to emphasize the crucial difference upon him of the Bayreuth circle presided over by Cosima, widow of Richard Wagner. In the last years before the composer’s death in 1883, Wagner had become an admirer of certain aspects of Gobineau’s racial philosophy. Though the Bayreuth circle devoted itself partly to propagating a version of Gobineau’s ideas, its primary object was to deify Wagner himself, principally by staging his operas at the festival theatre, which served almost as a temple.
James Young: Essential to this discussion is understanding how two conceptual cornerstones of Nazi ideology — redemption and monumentality — found their expression in Nazi aesthetic productions, which were not only means by which to deliver the Nazi message but very much part of the message itself. One of the most brilliant “documentary films” ever made, of course, was no mere documentary, but was the last century’s benchmark for cinematic propaganda. In the opening moments of “Triumph of the Will,” Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi-commissioned film of the 1934 Nuremberg rallies, we find an object lesson in what we might call the Nazis’ “aesthetics of redemption.” A plane is carrying the Führer and his entourage over a picturesque landscape of hills, valleys and churches on its way to Nuremberg. A strident voiceover narrative introduces the scene: “Twenty years after the World War [I], 16 years after the crucifixion of Germany, 19 months after the beginning of Germany’s Renaissance, Hitler flew to Nuremberg to greet his columns of followers.” The plane suddenly appears from the clouds and glides over the countryside, its shadow in the form of a cross. As if in a Second Coming, a Führer has arisen who will save and redeem Germany, and Riefenstahl frames his arrival in the explicit iconography of Christian redemption and messianic deliverance.Read More: http://www.forward.com/articles/8694/
The Ring cycle, concerning the adventures of the great Germanic hero Siegfried- symbol of purity, strength, and innocence-was the work of the same man who in 1850 had written the hysterical anti-Semitic diatribe Judaism in Music. It was therefore scarcely surprising that the Gobineau Society, founded in 1894 largely by members of the Bayreuth circle, should give an unjustifiably anti-Semitic emphasis to the Frenchman’s writings, thus bringing them into line with Wagner’s view of Jewish cultural degradation. In this atmosphere Chamberlain not only wrote his Foundations but also eventually married Wagner’s younger daughter and became a German citizen.
Chamberlain understood to explain the complexities of universal history solely in terms of racial factors. He suggested that the foundations of modern civilization were the culture of ancient Greece, the statecraft of Rome, the Christian revelation, the Jewish menace, and the regenerative power of the Aryan-Teutons. All that the author hated became Jewish. His idea of the Jewish “race” was supplemented by that of the “inner jew” , who though not Jewish by birth, may become one by acting like one, and conversely, whoever behaves like a Teuton is a Teuton wharever his racial origin. Here, as later with the Nazis, we perceive that singularly dishonest mixture of scientific panoply and crass emotional subjectivity.
James Young: Friedlander has argued compellingly that the very notion of redemption actually played a central role in the Nazis’ particular brand of antisemitism, what he termed “redemptive anti-Semitism, born from the fear of racial degeneration and the religious belief in redemption.” Friedlander elaborates: “The main cause of degeneration was the penetration of the Jews into the German body politic, into German society, and into the German bloodstream. Germanhood and the Aryan world were on the path to perdition if the struggle against the Jews was not joined; this was to be a struggle to the death. Redemption would come as liberation from the Jews — as their expulsion, possibly their annihilation.” Just as Germany’s disastrous defeat in World War I was to be “redeemed” by the messianic advent of the Führer, in Riefenstahl’s version so would the war effort, no matter how terrible the costs, be redeemed by Germany’s “liberation” from the Jews.Read More: http://www.forward.com/articles/8694/
Weinbaum:The urgency of Benjamin’s essay thus stemmed from his desire to advocate for the liberatory potential of mechanical reproducibility and from his hopeful sense that it was still possible to appropriate reproductive technology and turn it away from fascist ends. In his essay’s famous epilogue, he starkly renders the stakes of his argument:
The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. The violation of the masses, whom Fascism, with its Führer cult, forces to their knees, has its counterpart in the violation of [a technological] apparatus which is pressed into production of ritual values . . . All efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war . . . Only war makes it possible to mobilize all of today’s technical resources while maintaining the property system. According to Benjamin, Fascism aestheticizes politics, using film and photography as required. Through “violation of an [technological] apparatus,” Fascism mobilizes the masses to maintain their own proletarianization
and the prevailing property system. Read More: http://www.princeton.edu/~publicma/Weinbaum_article.pdf