grey melancholia: looking for mourners

“Where one comes from?” The work of art invested with the pathos of melencholia.Fake tears? The failure of the West as a humanizing endeavor? Dreams of resurrection decomposing. The numbing greyness of the decaying corpse, the failed experiment of regeneration that ended up on death support in the morgue before being re-born as a Frankenstein, a monster, the symptom of a final succumbing to spiritual nihilism. Germany was always the never-never land of the morbid imagination.

The magic mountain, and the naive loser of the Faustinan bargain. Romanced and seduced with death that was mistaken for a yearned for life. Life? More like an irritating commercial break before we return to our regular programming of fake revelation and nature walking into a corpse littered dungeon. Ah. The glimpse of light at the bend in the dreary tunnel of history. German history. The flash was just an illusion that broke through the thick shell of boredom. A fake revelation. The glory of the everyday profane world. The bizarre contortions the failure of spiritual renewal assumes to justify its existence and the near perverse strategies it employs in continuing to commodify its victims:

---BERLIN // The Holocaust memorial, a field of 2,700 grey-coloured concrete slabs erected in the German capital to commemorate the six million Jews killed in the Second World War, is crumbling just five years after it was opened. Ugly cracks have appeared in 1,900 of the slabs, according to checks carried out before the winter, and the harsh frost since December is expected to have done further damage. Lime has seeped from the cracks in white trickles that commentators have likened to tears. "The whole monument seems to be grieving," wrote Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany's leading newspapers. The foundation in charge of the memorial has not ruled out that it may seek damages from Peter Eisenman, the US architect who designed it. "An independent evidence-gathering process will establish who is responsible," said Leonie Mechelhoff, the spokeswoman for the foundation. She declined to confirm one newspaper report that a further 300 slabs were now affected.--- Read More: image:

Donald Kuspit:Kiefer’s new works are supposed to be about the Kabbalah, but I think they show his ongoing preoccupation with the Holocaust — indeed, his obsession with the Jews Nazi Germany sacrificed to ensure victory as well as rid the world of degeneracy (the Holocaust had alchemical purpose, that is, it embodies Nazi Germany’s alchemical ambition to make the world a pure place). The Kabbalah is an excuse to dwell on violence and loss — and Kiefer’s works reek of violent loss. They are more descendental than transcendental. The stairway in the lower part of Sefroth (2002) seems to descend rather than ascend — it doesn’t go very high, but does reaches to the bottom of the picture, that is, the earth. The Hebrew terms — Kiefer litters his works with them — are fading graffiti, suggesting the transience of Jewish beliefs even as it mystifies them. The Jewish star in the upper half of the picture is a fragile molecule that shines with reflected light, like the dead moon. There is no hope in Kiefer’s works, only inevitability. Grayness alone has enduring presence in Kiefer’s work, and also blackness….

---Fassbinder understood that as a German in the seventies, one had to do real historical work: to recreate not just the images but the mental framework of the past, to not merely acknowledge historical amnesia, but make an effort to understand how and why it manifested itself. “When I see the fuss being made over Holocaust,” Fassbinder once said of the traumatized German reaction to the American TV miniseries, “I wonder why they have to make such a fuss; have they really repressed and forgotten all of that? They can’t have forgotten it; they must have had it on their minds when they were creating their new state. If a thing of so much significance could be forgotten or repressed, then something must be pretty wrong with this democracy and this ‘German model.’” He knew that all roads led back to the gray, amoral confusion of the fifties and the years of the Wirtschaftswunder—Germany’s postwar economic miracle.--- Read More: image:

…Does the grayness symbolize mourning or melancholy? Does Kiefer reify the Holocaust into German melancholy or does he convincingly mourn for the Jews it destroyed? To rephrase Freud, there is mourning, which is alchemically successful, in that it liberates one from the dead, but mourning can become melancholy when one feels guilt toward them, as though blaming and punishing oneself for their death. One really disliked them — and also felt they never really liked you, even though they lived with you. Thus one can’t really get rid of them — they remain alive inside one, like the exciting black patches in Kiefer’s pictures. They darken one’s self-image–they are the opaque abyss in oneself. I submit that Kiefer’s pictures have more to do with melancholy than mourning — traditional German melancholy, so closely related to traditional German mysticism (and Kiefer is a traditional German melancholy mystic, producing fragmentary modern versions of Dürer’s Melencolia I (1514), conceived as German as well as artist’s melancholy, that is, the artist’s inability to reach the heavenly palace as well as Germany’s failure to become one under the Nazis and in general, despite its musical pretensions to being one)….

---The Right's disgust with Garbage, Death, and the City seems more easily explained both because of Fassbinder's political convictions and defiant homosexuality, and because the play, rather than simply blaming the Jews as the cause of German misery, actually implicates the capitalist mechanism, as well as the subvert fascistic tendencies present in every economic and social relationship. With the Right heavily invested in denying the existence of fascism for a variety of reasons, not the least being that many conservative industrialists were business partners of ranking Nazi officials, their insistent attack on Garbage, Death, and the City seems to merely mask their anxiety over the notion that big business is perceived as complicit with institutionalized fascism.--- Read More: image:

…They are more about Germany’s self-respect — the great narcissistic wound it suffered in a century’s worth of wars, which ironically disintegrated it into an unholy version of the Holy Roman Empire, a composite of fragments that had no organic unity — than about Germany’s wish to repair the damage caused by its own history. Kiefer is not mourning for the Jews, but using the Jews to mourn for Germany. That mourning must go on forever, for the Jews are a dead bone stuck permanently in the throat of a melancholy Germany, which is why Kiefer shows us — and this is his radical honesty — that his art no longer sings as art did in the work of Bach and Beethoven, Schiller and Goethe, among many other German masters. Kiefer’s works are about Germany’s loss of self-esteem — the failure of its will to power, now become a failure of spiritual nerve — rather than about the Jews or the Kabbalah, however much it cleverly mystifies the Nazi destruction of the Jews through its laudatory allusion to the Kabbalah.

For Kiefer, Germany is not the phoenix that has alchemically risen from its ashes, but spirit that has become all gray: the gray in which light and dark dissolve, the gray that is the dregs of spirit. Kandinsky, in On the Spiritual in Art, wrote about the struggle between light and dark, but in Kiefer’s art both have been obliterated into gray — the washed-out color of the stripes on concentration camp uniforms, canceling the individuality and human identity of those who wore them — confirming that there is no longer anything spiritual about art, whatever illusion of spirituality it creates. Working with gray, Kiefer identifies with the anonymous Jewish victims of Nazi Germany. But by spreading gray ash on his head, as it were — a traditional gesture of mourning — he also identifies with the German victims of war. They are not the same thing: they did not perish the same way. Dust to dust, no doubt, but the Germans didn’t turn to dust in a crematorium. They lost their lives fighting for a different cause. Read More:

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