revenge of the mediocre: all hail the chief

The Aryan myth. It started simply enough as an irresoluble issue in comparative linguistics at the the dawn of the Romantic Age. Then, caught between quack science, nationalist fervor, and raw emotion, it transformed itself into a full-fledged theory of history replete with heroes, villains and victims and then crashed and burned but not before almost devouring European civilization….

Adolf Ziegler. Judgement of Paris. "It is tempting to try to excuse this as mere foolishness. As Hitler himself once remarked, “Artists are simple-hearted souls. Today they sign this, tomorrow that; they don’t even look to see what it is, so long as it seems to them well-meaning.” But as he knew—better, perhaps, than any other politician of the 20th century—ideas have consequences, and the artist who succumbs to the temptation to dabble in ill-digested political ideas, be he a Nazi, a Communist, or a pacifist, is as morally responsible for their ultimate consequences as any other human being. In the end, beauty excuses nothing, least of all mass murder. Read more: image:

Such doctrines of Aryan regeneration, in Germany above all, naturally had repercussions in popular culture and in art. Even before 1914 the artistic typologies of both Aryan and Jew were well established. These were epitomized in the work of the popular illustrator Hugo Hoppener, or “Fidus” , who synthesized his interpretation of the Greek ideal of Beauty with his conception of the Aryan-German essence. His emphasis on the nude forms of young Aryan males fitted into the broader context of Strength and Joy, of Eros and Sun Worship, that surrounded twentieth century Aryan mythology.

Emil Schiebe. "Hitler had informed but determined views on the visual arts and he intended to impose them on the rest of the world. He disliked the 'Nazi' art displayed in Troost's Munich gallery--except for the homoerotic statuary--and he was, apparently, an early twentieth--century admirer of Angelica Kauffmann. He did not rule out Modernism: he had Bonatz design a Modernist railway station for Munich. Everything had to be 'the largest in the world'. According to the German media, Hitler's new autobahns, presented here as an aesthetic, social, project, were 'the greatest single masterpiece of all times and places', 'the sixth wonder of the world', 'greater than the Great Wall of China', 'more impressive than the pyramids', more imposing than the Acropolis', and 'more splendid than the cathedrals of earlier times'. Some of Hitler's early service stations were apparently designed by Mies van der Rohe. The new roads did not have, according to Spotts, any military role, and indeed their high visibility made them an easy targ et." Read More:

The Nazis black-listed “Fidus” because of his theosophic and spiritualist symbolism, but the creations of their own pet painters were otherwise all too similar. The Fuhrer himself lived amid the sexually obsessed realism of Adolf Ziegler’s paintings. The striking degree to which the Nazi leaders themselves failed to conform to their own racial ideal is surely one reason why the myth was modified to accommodate those who were Aryans in spirit as well as those who were so in body.

In 1925 Hitler went to Bayreuth to pay his respects to the aging Houston Stewart Chamberlain on behalf of the Nazi party, whose newspaper had already praised Chamberlain’s “Foundations” as the gospel of the Volkish movement. Thus the chain of personal and intellectual links from Arthur de Gobineau and Richard Wagner to Chamberlain and Hitler was complete. In Mein Kampf, and in his other writings, speeches and actions, the Fuhrer made plain his indebtedness to Aryan mythology. He said, “Every manifestation of human culture, every product of art, science and technical skill, which we see before our eyes today, is almost exclusively the product of Aryan creative power. Read More: The Aryans were the founders and upholders of civilization; the Jews were the architects of its destruction.

Riefenstahl. Triumph of the Will. "It would scarcely be exaggerating to call the Third Reich one vast performance, epitomised by the awe-inspiring if spine-chilling Nuremberg rallies, those epic son-et-lumière shows with their immense choreography - what Goebbels called "a via triumphalis of living bodies". They were more than the usual circuses that tyrannies provide for the masses. As Spotts says, their ultimate purpose "was to fill a void at the centre of National Socialism... unlike Marxism, it offered little that was concrete enough to get hold of. What Hitler provided was ritual in place of belief, or ritual as belief." The form was the content, the medium was the message." Read More: image:

Eventually Hitler’s Aryan myth, like many another, monstrously devoured both its creators, and its supporters. The evolution of Hitler’s racial doctrine indicates that he came to regard the German people, upon whose support he relied, as themselves debased in comparison with a supranational elite, limited in number but geographically boundless.

sepp hilz. central panel. rural trilogy. James Carrol:What his monumental aesthetic would leave behind, therefore, was not the uniqueness of individual human experience or its messy heterogeneity, but monolithic forms that imposed singular meaning on disparate deeds, experiences and lives. The monumental in Hitler’s eyes was not only an end result, however, but also a means by which he could reduce the individual to insignificance, thereby making all appear as one. Read more: image:

James Young:Hitler made redemptory sacrifice one of the aesthetic architectural pillars of his Reich. As Spotts points out, even the Nazis’ elaborately choreographed party rallies, during which Hitler would salute a “blood flag” included scenes of “almost pagan ritual, [in which] animal sacrifice has been replaced by the prospective human sacrifice of wars to come.”

We are reminded of Hitler’s own indifference to individual human lives, especially as they paled in comparison to the larger cause and idealizations of race and nation, and the way this diminution of the individual underpinned his aesthetic embrace of the monumental.

tts suggests that Hitler’s “lack of feeling for humans, even for fanatical party members, was already evident at the Nuremberg rallies and other spectacles when his ‘architecturalizing’ of the participants and his deployment of them in geometrical patterns reduced them to noctambulent creatures.”Read more: a

Sepp hilz. Gur Ze'ev:According to Horkheimer and Adorno technology has not taken control of nature but even of man. Enlightenment's ruinous tendency has even led to the destruction of speculative thought, and to its incorporation within the teleological orientation. Benjamin tried to present this theme in The Work of Art in the Age of Technological Reproduction. He concluded this essay in saying: "Mankind, which in Homer's time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian Gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order".(57) It is worth noting the correspondence of Marcuse's critique - The One-Dimensional Man - and Horkheimer's critique - "the administered world." Both describe a totalitarian reality, a reality encompassing the pleasure industry and technological progress in general. Read More: image:

“Hitler believed, according to Spotts, that “the ultimate objective of political effort should be artistic achievement.” He meant this in a literal sense: “Once he had won his war and established an Aryan state that was a dominant world power, he intended to devote himself to the creation of cultural monuments that would change the face of Germany and immortalize himself.” But Hitler was no mere builder of temples celebrating the triumph of his iron will. As Spotts goes on to explain:

The Hitler of this book is someone for whom culture was not only the end to which power should aspire but also a means of achieving and keeping it. . . . Using a new style of politics, mediated through symbols, myths, rites, spectacles, and personal dramatics, he reached the masses as did no other leader of his time.Read more: a

Geoffrey Wheatcroft: It may be thought that the Germans had never properly understood what the Ring actually teaches about hubristic power-worship and the annihilation of love. As it was, "the final and most curious aspect of Hitler's Wagnermania" was that after Stalingrad he couldn't bear to listen to that music any more, and turned to Lehár for consolation. read more: image:

“Much of the Reich’s official art was mere kitsch, and its architecture was vulgarly and oppressively grandiose, endless monuments to the fallen and, in Hitler’s morbid doodlings, still huger monuments to those who would one day die for the fatherland. The only admirable and even beautiful products of the regime shown in the fascinating and copious illustrations were purely functional, like autobahn bridges. And yet National Socialism was alarmingly art-conscious.

Hitler apart, many of his entourage had nurtured creative aspirations: Goebbels the published novelist, Rosenberg the architecture student and would-be philosopher, Baldur von Schirach who wrote poetry and patronised music, Hans Frank an aspiring poet. Creative aspirations did not, of course, mean creativity. Hitler banned art criticism on the grounds (with which some artists might sympathise) that “the stupid must not criticise the clever”; his reign was in some ways the revenge of the mediocre on the original.” Read More:


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One Response to revenge of the mediocre: all hail the chief

  1. Kim Finley says:

    Full of insight. Images that continue to disturb – particularly the organization of the crowds and the repressed eroticism of the idealized images in the paintings. I find it fascinating and it still makes me go, “Yikes!”

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