For some, the decision to become Muslim is political. For others, trendy. But trends come and go, and when people pursue an aesthetic rather than the beliefs that ground it, these folks are often the first to move on to the next thing. The main issue is not these political or aesthetic choices — human beings make them all the time — but rather what are we, the current community, building to help those who choose Islam as their way of life and become function, operational and just plain normal?
From its very beginning, the Nazi regime sought to engender a sense of purity and beauty, wrapped around and embodied within a race of people: the German people. Through the manifestation of this aesthetic through the German folk, the Nazis were able to completely dominate all definitions and concepts of beauty within German society. That which appeased the Nazi sensibility of beauty, aiding it in its objective of societal domination, would be appropriated as pure art or pure beauty (as was in their obsession with classical Greek or Roman art). And in a move of complete and total control, that which fell outside the pale of consideration was labeled base and deviant. Through examining the ways in which the Nazis appropriated art to further their cause we can learn more about the role that art plays in war and tyranny.
In many ways, one can simplify the approach that the Nazis took, in relation to the co-opting of art for their purposes, as a two-pronged approach. One involved the designation and appropriation of Greek, Roman and Nordic art forms. The Nazis had a fascination with antiquity and the ancient that would border on fanatic. But their association with these historical art histories went further than misplaced admiration. They saw themselves as the inheritors and benefactors of these great art and civilizational traditions. The second concerned banishing certain forms of art as deviant and abnormal. The Nazis even went so far as to suggest the modern maladies that society faced were in direct correlation to deviant art. Abstract paintings that might show a disjointed face was in fact a catalyst for mental health instability. This strain of thought permeated to all forms of human disfiguration. By having an iron grip on the possibility of aesthetics, the Nazis held total sway over the public discussion and consumption of art in German society.
The above statements illustrate the methods of how the Nazi regime held sway of the German conscience of art but the totality of how the Nazis saw themselves as a living aesthetic goes even further. With their chief ideology, Adolph Hitler, heavily influenced by other anti-Semitic artists such as Richard Wagner, Hitler borrowed many of the themes from Wagner’s operas, such as Twilight of the Gods, an opera that saw the death of its hero as an act of aestheticism. This would prove to be a haunting foreshadowing of how, in the final days of the Nazi regime, the Nazis would fall and more importantly how they would see their own demise as a list will and testament to beauty. There was a great deal of fetishism over the beauty of death in Nazism. From the above mentioned view on their own demise as a sort of Götterdämmerung, the Nazis took it a step further to incorporate this into their works of architecture. Many of the designs of buildings and structures were provisioned with age and decay, a longing for the Nazis and the German people to fade into antiquity much like the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Death was not the only sentiment the Nazis sought to evoke in their use of art. Another equally important notion was that of struggle and resistance. Despite their admiration of ancient Greek art traditions, such as statues, the Nazis saw themselves embroiled in conflict against the rest of the world and that manifested in their art. Unlike the Greek busts, Nazi statues were often portrayed with a sense of pain and anguish on their faces. Male bodies were overtly muscular. With these contorted faces and straining bodies, this art conveys a sense of intense agony and grimace. That, in an almost Calvinist work ethic, this anguish takes a pseudo work ethic.
I am not given over to commenting on politics [at least on-going discourses] with great frequency; I tend to prefer bigger picture issues, but I thought I would share a short piece on my reaction to John McCain and the rhetoric I’ve heard coming from the Republican party. This should not be seen as anti-Republicanism, as I am not a part line personality. Rather, it is a critique on what they are presenting to the American public, particularly as one coming from the Blackamerican population.
John McCain’s legitimacy, based on his service in the military, is a telling point. While it is certainly a terrible thing to be held in a POW camp, no one in the media has yet to look at the Vietnam war in terms of a) was this a beneficial war b) what did it accomplish for the United States and c) what has been done for all of the veterans who returned from the war, permanently scared [mentally and physically]. I find this whole legitimacy based on participation in an unjust war disgusting and misleading. It smacks of classic nativist ideologies. In fact, I was fully reminded of Marinetti, when listening to members of the Republican Party laud their support of McCain at the GOP convention:
“For twenty seven years we Futurists have rebelled aginst the the branding of war as antiaesthetic… Accordingly we state: … War is beautiful because it establishes man’s dominion over the subjugated machinery by means of gas masks, terrifying megaphones, flame throwers, and small tanks. War is beautiful because it initiates the dreamt-of metalization of the human body. War is beautiful because it enriches a flowering meadow with the fiery orchids of machine guns. War is beautiful because it combines the gunfire, the cannonades, the cease-fire, the scents, and the stench of putrefaction into a symphony. War is beautiful because it creates new architecture, like that of the big tanks, the geometrical formation flights, the smoke spirals from burning villages, and many others… Poets and artists of Futurism!… remember these principles of an aesthetics of war so that your struggle for a new literature and a new graphic art… may be illuminated by them!”
Some may find it an unduly harsh step to brand this kind of talk as facist/futurist but it does have many of the same talking points. Like Marinett’s Futurists, the GOP barked the very same anti-intellectualism that is present in Marinetti’s writings. That fact that the Republicans put forth war as an aesthetic, as something beautiful, is undeniable. The War On tError has certainly shown us plenty of burning villages and civilian casualties. And for what? What “evil criminal force” has been detained, dismantled or destroyed? Many a young man or woman returns home, their limbs replaced by that very same “dreamt-of metalization”. The poppy fields of Afghanistan are indeed ripe with “the fiery orchids of machine guns” and yet, drugs still pour into our country, not debilitated in the slightest. And as for the cannonades, we have our “shock and awe” and Missions Accomplished, yet do we have anything to show for it?
I cannot say with any certainty that Barack Obama will be able to bring about wide, social or economic changes, but given the doctrine that McCain and his party are spewing forth, given that someone as obviously unqualified as Palin has been championed over the accomplishments of the likes of Obama, we have to look and work for an auspicious outcome. The alternative seems grim indeed.