Tuesday, March 2, 2010

"At least it's an ethos"

This remark of Ian Buruma's strikes me as extremely stupid:
Hitler’s Third Reich produced no great films. Leni Riefenstahl was a brilliant innovator and superb editor, with an extraordinary gift for visual effects, but I would hesitate to call Triumph of the Will, or even Olympia great films, unless greatness can be confined to technical prowess. Nazi Germany did not have the equivalent of an Eisenstein or Pudovkin, who still managed to create masterpieces out of political propaganda. Perhaps this reflects a difference between National Socialism and Communism, even though Stalin was no less murderous than Hitler. Great work can still emerge from the utopian ideal of the workers’ paradise. It is harder to imagine artistic excellence arising from violent racism.
Never mind that Stalin was in power twice as long as Hitler; that Communism survived a lot longer than Stalin; or that if you pick a different genre -- literature, say -- you immediately run into Celine, Hamsun, Yeats, Eliade and the rest of that lot, maybe not all Nazis, but certainly (1) brownshirts and racists fascinated with violence and (2) by and large, very great writers. (See e.g. this recent NYRB piece on Celine.) The assertion is prima facie so absurd it scarcely merits refutation. Violence and racism are, frankly, individually aesthetically appealing. There are tons of established literary tropes that a Fascist would feel at home with. There's all that stuff about blood and primal screams and ancestral soil and whatnot -- all that D.H. Lawrence crap -- which is racist or at least deeply anti-racial-mixing. (cf. Riefenstahl's later work on the Nubile Nubians) Then there's all that stuff about weeding out the degenerates -- the Taxi Driver tendency. As for hero-worship tied to expansionist nationalism, well, that was not without its appeal even to non-fascists like Virgil. And don't get me started on literature and violence...

I suppose one could argue that Celine et al. were simply "technically proficient" but that'd just be admitting that the original claim was designed to be true by construction. Incidentally I'm not trying to defend Nazi ideology as intellectually respectable; it's just that it gets the history all wrong to say that it wasn't plausible.

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