The MFA in photography and Nazi porn without Nazis


you’ll find an article about the heavy-metal bassist Nikki Sixx, whose memoir in words and images, This Is Gonna Hurt: Music, Photography, and Life Through the Distorted Lens of Nikki Sixx (William Morrow, 2011) covers his recovery from substance abuse and his thoughts about current events. The photographs are largely devoted to amputees, people with scars, and obese people, and Mr. Sixx has published them, he says, in order that we may learn “what life is like for those whom society has labeled as freaks.” Here’s a video of Mr. Sixx explaining, with sample images.

Presumably to allow for sales in Germany, the Nazi shot required by the genre has been replaced at minute 3:10 with a shot from somewhere in the Socialist Camp.


In memoriam Walker Evans. In memoriam Lewis Hine. In memoriam Jacob Riis. In memoriam the last human being with a camera who saw someone suffering and yet didn’t take a picture for the portfolio.


Commercial directed at historical linguists

The new National Jukebox project at the Library of Congress

is a trove of acoustic recordings from 1901 to 1925 with a great streaming-audio engine. Among much else in the collection, the spoken-word discs show us how strong the regional differences were in American speech before radio started homogenizing them. Here’s Warren G. Harding in 1922, for instance, with an Ohio accent thicker than anything I’ve heard in Ohio in my own excessively long life.

And now that I’ve heard this song from 1906, I’m going to have an easier time reconstructing the voices of the tough guys in Stephen Crane’s Maggie, A Girl of the Streets — right down to the tone of disdain in the cry of “Aw, gee.”

Some pages bearing bodies


Start at the back of the book, with the appendix. It’s six pages long, and it begins this way.

“Appendix: some lists and references

“Proof of Jewishness is found in the following sources:
. . .

“Collaborators with the ‘Storm’ group,
led by the Jew Herwarth Walden:”
. . .

Click to enlarge.


The book, Säuberung des Kunsttempels, is by a German artist named Wolfgang Willrich, and literary history remembers it for its attack on Gottfried Benn as the author of poems unworthy of a Nazi. I knew it only by that reputation when I mentioned it in my April 22 post “The poetics of cleansing,”, where I translated its title as Cleansing the Temple of Art. Now that I have the book in front of me, however, I see that I should have relied for my vocabulary on the newspaper, not the dictionary. I shouldn’t have written “cleansing,” which (in contemporary American usage) is ladylike, euphemistic, and semi-literary. I should have gone directly to the language of men in leather boots and written “purging.” The phrase requires such a word from the nineteenth-century nomenclature of shit. It proposes that there be a purge to rid society of certain unhealthful men and women. Listing them, name by name, it proposes that Jews are shit and non-representational artists are shit.



The book was published in 1937 by the house of J. F. Lehmann. In the years when the international language of science was German, Lehmann was perhaps the world’s greatest medical publisher, and after it became a political publisher as well during the Third Reich it continued to publish works of Nazi science. It was the publisher, for instance, of Hans F. K. Günther’s Racial Typology of the German People, one of the most important texts in National Socialism’s educational curriculum.

Here at the back of Säuberung des Kunsttempels the book is advertised in both a long and a short edition, along with a companion Racial Typology of the Jewish People (“Blond hair and blue eyes among Jews; gestures and behavior; odor; crime”). The page is headed, “Every German must inform himself of the questions and responsibilities of racial thought,” and at its foot it completes its catalog of Günther titles with a picture book: German Heads Belonging to the Nordic Race.

“A splendid collection of truly Nordic women and men,” explains the text. After the temple of art has been purged, to see a face there in the temple will be to take it to ourselves. The visions we place in the penetralia of memory will be fully blond, and all head. Later, when we contemplate our collection, the word Geist might come into play. We might even believe it could be perceptible in the collection’s interior, a dark blur ensouled, form by single form, just behind the bright collective hair.



But no; the art of Wolfgang Willrich and J. F. Lehmann is community property. It is Leviathan: an art that forms one body.

“To artists we cry, ‘Create the exemplary!’ and to other racial comrades we cry, ‘Demand exemplary forms in which a fundamentally healthy and racially noble life and a noble, undivided mind are revealed! Turn away from the worthless doll figures and saccharine nonentity of the era before the war, and turn away before all else from the ghosts and gnomes in whose sickly and foul doctrine can be seen a great evil! Be certain: what you demand of an art whose creators hearten you by deed and command, art will give you. Be certain: its images will make you obedient and disciplined German people, your better selves pledged only to what is elevated, for the sake of your children’s children!’

. . .

“Then — a servant first of the church, after that of princes, after that of cosmopolitans and philistines, latterly of the most questionable pseudo-society — German art will at last serve the German people and its highest hope: the immortality of the noble German blood!”



August 7, 1942. Rauca, accompanied by Garfunkel, toured the institutions of the Ghetto. During the tour he noticed a pregnant woman, in her seventh month. Rauca said: “This embryo must perish. If not, it will be taken away from its mother right after birth.”

— Avraham Tory, Surviving the Holocaust: The Kovno Ghetto Diary, ed. Martin Gilbert, trans. Jerzy Michalowicz (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990), 123



The title of Willrich’s own painting can be translated, “The Guardian of Kind.”

It shows us body within body, body all the way to the center. The blank face and averted eyes communicate only with an opaque interior. When this embryo comes forth, its hair will be blond and it will speak in imperatives and (because it will be a kind, not a man or a woman) immutable Euclidean truths. In its book now, however, it has been delayed at an imperfect stage. Its paper matrix is brown, the spine of the cloth and cardboard that shield the matrix has been snapped, and the routing slip on my interlibrary copy from the University of Nebraska is annotated, “Please HANDLE WITH CARE.” That imperative, at least, I can obey. But what may I do if or when the event promised by the image goes to completion?

Models of style


A provisional definition: style is an artist’s way of arranging symbols that have passed under the control of imagination. When the symbols are changed (by, for instance, historical circumstance), our ways of imagining them change and the artists’ styles change accordingly.



An example: George Orwell’s explanatory essay “Anti-Semitism in Britain.” Published in the April 1945 issue of an American Jewish magazine, Contemporary Jewish Record, this article begins with a history of England’s attitudes toward Jews in the twentieth century — a history that breaks down into two parts: before Hitler and after Hitler. Before Hitler, Orwell says, Jews in England had to accept prejudice and discrimination at every level of society and throughout every cultural institution, high or low. That was simply one of the facts of British culture. After 1933, however, that fact became unacceptable, at least as an idea that someone might mention aloud. In “Anti-Semitism in Britain,” Orwell articulates the change in the field of his own art with the help of this catalog of before-and-after detail.

There was also literary Jew-baiting, which in the hands of Belloc, Chesterton and their followers reached an almost continental level of scurrility. Non-Catholic writers were sometimes guilty of the same thing in a milder form. There has been a perceptible anti-Semitic strain in English literature from Chaucer onwards, and without even getting up from this table to consult a book I can think of passages which if written now would be stigmatised as anti-Semitism, in the works of Shakespeare, Smollett, Thackeray, Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, T. S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley and various others. Offhand, the only English writers I can think of who, before the days of Hitler, made a definite effort to stick up for Jews are Dickens and Charles Reade. And however little the average intellectual may have agreed with the opinions of Belloc and Chesterton, he did not acutely disapprove of them. Chesterton’s endless tirades against Jews, which he thrust into stories and essays upon the flimsiest pretexts, never got him into trouble — indeed Chesterton was one of the most generally respected figures in English literary life. Anyone who wrote in that strain now would bring down a storm of abuse upon himself, or more probably would find it impossible to get his writings published.

Orwell might have had in mind something like this page from G. K. Chesterton’s record of his trip to the Holy Land, The New Jerusalem (New York: George H. Doran, 1920).

Click to enlarge.



Chesterton has headed this page “The Problem of Zionism,” and we can see that he defines the problem as an artist would: in relation to his own creative impulse. For Chesterton, Zionism is a Christian artist’s gesture. Making the gesture, the Christian creator of a Zionist art will confine every Jew he sees to a ghetto and force him to look as different from the Christian as the Christian understands him really to be. After all, says Chesterton (who was educated in the visual arts at the Slade School), that act, performed with handcuffs and clubs, will be nothing more than an enforcement of the Platonic laws that govern the universe. Given real expression by those laws, truth is a style — a style in clothing, a style as a way of seeing, style itself as a universal grammar of perception, now translated into a human language by G. K. Chesterton.



Of course, Chesterton has articulated his translation with the help of a technique specific to the reality of his time and place. On this page, for instance, he has expressed himself as a specifically Edwardian artist — that is, as an artist working in an era when the classical trope of copia was taught as a moral virtue and a writer was expected to say something, then say it again, then say it again, then say it again, then say it again, then say it again, then say it again, then say it again, then say it again, then say it again, then say it again. It’s an imperial trope, and its domain in Edwardian history extends beyond the borders of the map where the countries are named in words. The overtopping impulse to build and build and build is also audible in the music of Elgar, and perhaps its most striking manifestation lies in the wordless achievement of Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens, the architect of the capital that the British Empire built between 1912 and 1931 to show its face to the world from New Delhi.

Most of the images you’ll see of Lutyens’ buildings are imperial. In architecture, imperialism is primarily a style of conceiving and delineating: the abstraction of a building’s presence in a space whose human inhabitants are reduced to sketchy markings that serve to show the scale. But from Lutyens’ own time there has come down to us this striking photograph of an architecture at work in a counter-imperial space from which it draws the idea of  a style dominated not by stone quarried from the mute earth beneath the imperial map but by the wordy human body.

Left unfinished by the architect and only recently completed, this is Lutyens’ model for a Roman Catholic cathedral in Liverpool. If it had been built, the cathedral would have been the second-largest in the world. It was never built, however. At the outbreak of World War II only its crypt had been finished, and the postwar structure that now serves Catholic faith from Liverpool was built under the regime of a diminished imaginative power. As a symbol of transmission and perpetuation, its little circle of antennas or stick-figure crown (the cathedral is named Christ the King) is no match for Lutyens’ great egg full of light.

But look again at that blurry monochrome image of a church coupled with its man. If the church were a building, the man would make it tiny: a tabernacle, the housel of a god compacted to a symbol. Since the church is a model, the man makes it huge: a temple, the home of an unconfinable god. The reciprocating translations of scale are a continuous transformation. They prevent us from coming to rest in any single perception. They change our style of receiving reality from the Chestertonian sub specie aeternitatis to something unresting, ever rising from its deathbed.

That change is the gesture of a history capable of renewing the human through a sense of the real as a continual surprise. You could think of its effect as the advent of a Jew in an emerald green tie. To G. K. Chesterton such a sight in what’s called the real world (he named its purlieu: Margate) amounted to a blasphemy before God. He thought of it as a defiance of eternal styles, a peremptory demand for its own erasure. Chesterton even claimed the artist’s creative privilege of giving that erasure a name of its own. He called it Zionism.

But from his perch on the roof of the cathedral, the Jew in his green tie may yet be about to speak back to Chesterton and to us. In a language that won’t be Edwardian ever again, he’ll say . . .