When I hear "culture" I reach for my gun

Discussion in 'Ethics and Philosophy' started by rhphoto, Dec 4, 2005.

  1. rhphoto

    rhphoto Member

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    This quote is attributed to Goering, the Nazi war criminal. I use it to start a discussion about a theory of mine. I think that one of the reasons art is so powerful, and hence so threatening to fascist regimes (where intellectuals and artists are the first to be rounded up), is because it reaches poeple in a way no other form of communication can.

    My theory is simply that what we respond to viscerally in photographs is processed on the right side of the brain, and as such transcends verbal or purely rational thought. Stieglitz developed an aesthetic called "equivalence" which meant that he desired to create in a photograph the "equivalent" of certain feelings or impressions. No words, no title, are involved - just the communication from the artist to the viewer, and utilizing only the non-verbal side of the brain. In this way, I think photography, and all art, is "subversive". This might go a long way to explaining the otherwise irrational response of law enforcement and such toward photographers setting up tripods. Something about people wanting to create pictures threatens the authorities.

    The bright side of this is that, through photography, I can actually SAY something from my non-verbal, intuitive (even spiritual) self to another human being, and they can understand it in their intuitive self -- no words exchanged. That is a very powerful and beautiful thing.
     
  2. Pastiche

    Pastiche Member

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    "Right brain communication, threatening the State without words." - just to paraphrase the idea behind your post (sorry, this is an echo of a thread I read earlier about titles for forum threads... descriptives work best)

    You may say something - and part of the magic is that you have no control over how that will be interpreted on the other end...
     
  3. eumenius

    eumenius Member

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    This quote is actually taken from one theater piece, popular in 1920s... but the very word Kultur in German, as I can understand, is more than just a culture - it's between "culture" and "civilisation", a ripe fruit of education, handed down from one generation to another. It's a national summary of attitudes and other stuff, gluing the state and people together. And there was no compromise or amalgamation between German Kultur and the others, that's why Goering quoted this mediocre, as it were, play. All other Kulturs had to be destroyed to preserve Third Reich Kultur, handed to it directly by Hohenzollerns. But the time, fortunately, showed which Kultur was more powerful - the atrocious, but "educated" old European evil, or the Kultur of New World.

    Just a small example of what the Kultur was. Russian famous philosopher Rozanov wrote once: "Let's not be misled by what we see with our eyes. Oh, you say, nice gemuetliche Germany! Clean nice children all go to school, people visit church and read books, the lawns are mowed, the well-dressed farmer doesn't beat his horse with stick! Yes, that's right, but if he would punish it, he would do it sober in his private clean barn on a backyard, and will do it in German way - torture and kill it with brazen iron, not with just a stick like a Russian drunkard". Unfortunately, the WWII showed that the guy was quite right :sad: So the Goering quote shows the complete unacceptability of other Kulturs to the Third Reich Kultur, and not the particular aesthetic views - for example, poor Erich Salomon and Hitler's private photographer used the same techniques and lighting, the classical ones, but what fate did they achieve each?

    And you're right about the subversive and non-verbal side of photography - that's where the magic lies :smile:

    Cheers from Moscow,
    Zhenya
     
  4. rhphoto

    rhphoto Member

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    You're right, I shouldn't have been so "provocative" with my title . ..
    but I love your point about no control over how my picture will be seen. Excellent.
     
  5. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    In the 'post enlightenment', the intuitive nature of humanity was subordinated to 'rationality'; giving rise to narrow minded literalism, loss of context to enable critical thinking, and the denial by the 'enlightened' and 'rational' that only that which is quantifiable is of worth.


    An interesting text which examines this, in regard to the interpretation of images, is "Image as Insight", by Margaret Miles.
    .
     
  6. David Brown

    David Brown Subscriber

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    I don't totally agree or disagree with your theory.

    However, I do feel that the hostility toward setting up tripods (or taking pictures of buildings, bridges, etc,) probably has nothing to do with art.

    Of course, as always, I could be wrong.
     
  7. rhphoto

    rhphoto Member

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    I guess I wasn't so much interested in the particulars of the origin of this quote, more that it makes you think a little. But thanks for the very insightful views on where such thinking came from in Germany, pre WWII.
     
  8. eumenius

    eumenius Member

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    Yes, but I wanted to refine the meaning of this quote (Wenn Ich hoere Kultur... entsichere Ich meinen Browning) - you have used it in apparently wrong way, or it's just my English that fails :smile: Goering didn't want to round up all the Kulturtraegers, because of their nonverbal powerful magic of art - he wanted to destroy only the wrong ones, not fitting in TR Kultur field. More, the whole set of TR attributes was designed to fully exploit the non-verbal side of human, and to claim to his animal side - remember just the monumental art or giant architecture of the TR period, or the sea of banners in Triumph des Willens... it was all made to break the human, to subverge a person to, say, a buiding representing Fuehrer himself. The same thing was in the USSR at the time, of course.

    So your claim that the fascist regimes felt threatened by art in common (or I have misunderstood you?) and tried to round them up, seems to be incorrect - they didn't want anyone wrong to use the power of art, and cultivated their own Kultur with their full might. For example, Bauhaus people called more to nice shapes and light play in their art, so they were sacrificed to more "meaty", frightening, animal yet more non-verbal art forms that live inside every human.

     
  9. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    HA! Goerring favored a pistol designed by an American over one built by Germany's Walther or Luger? A great many Brownings of many forms made a significant contribution to the Third Reich's demise.
     
  10. eumenius

    eumenius Member

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    Oh yes, that made me laughing for many times :smile: Not too patritotic for such a guy, no? :wink:

     
  11. Alex Hawley

    Alex Hawley Member

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    Even more ironic - it was primarily Browning 50 caliber machine guns, the standard armament on US and many British aircraft of the time, that shot Goerring's Luftwaffe out of the skies.
     
  12. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    Well your theory is pretty much the same thing Nietzsche exposed in the "Birth of Tragedy" or what Antonin Artaud wrote in "Theater and its Double" (Le théâtre et son double). For these two guys, European civilization was essentially sclerosed by too much "civilization," too much psychology (for Artaud), too much logic, too much Socratism (for Nietzsche), and they were pining for a way to be reunited with a "primal unity."

    Nietzsche argues that Greek tragedy was an instance of such unity with the primordial, amoral substance of life, whereas the introduction of Socratic thought linking virtue with knowledge was essentially "driving music out of art." Nietzsche was after trying to render conscious to his contemporaries the possibility of a metaphysics not predicated by the moral, i.e. that life was essentially amoral, that it had no good or bad purpose, but even though it was cruel it was to be celebrated as such. Joyce has an interesting word for that: "jocoserious." Of course Nietzsche is more torrid in his exposition, but the essential idea is that reason shields us from "the real thing" and pessimism, cruelty, rage, irrationality, can be a far more worthy window on the world than positivism. Everyone who ever read Comte may feel favorable to Nietzsche on that point.

    Ditto for Artaud: he abhorred the idea of a theater based on character. Fascinated by the Balinese theater, but also completely ignorant of what it meant, he fashioned the idea of a theater (which he called the Theater of Cruelty) in which mise en scène, not dialogue, was the important item. For him, the impossibility to repeat a gesture was the true expression of unalienated life, compared to the repetitive potential of dialogue and language. He favored sound, the voice not as speech but as a concrete entity, movement, the body, etc. 20thC theater is hugely indebted to him in reconsidering the approach to the spectacle. When you think of it, even a Metallica concert or a Pink Floyd show is a kind of Theater of Cruelty: your senses are attacked from everywhere, the distinction between peroformance and audience is lost, etc.

    What I want to point out to you after this lengthy exposé is where your theory stands from a historical perspective. You're grosso modo coming from a critique of the Enlightenments that started with Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, and that continues today with post-modernity or whatever the hell it's called now, embodiement theory (in cognitive science and cultural studies), performance art, etc. We've been dissatisfied with rationality since the late 19thC for its role in tyranny, global war, class subjugation, and we show growing dissatisfaction with it.

    However i don't think we can get rid of it, even if we wanted, even if that would perhaps avoid disasters if that was possible at all. It goes the same with art: the Western world is in a situation where it's sick of its rationalism, and it fetishizes the East or the past for models of non-rationality. I would warn you that interest in Eastern philosophy and its emphasis on the void (Buddhism), the emotions (Indian rasa theory), or the non-verbal may open you up more to your OWN preconceptions than to salvation and de-alienation. Have a look maybe at Edward Said's "Orientalism," it's the summa on the fancy that the West created of the East.

    Regarding subversion, I will admit that while I think it's important, I am growing more and more frightened by the ease with which it gets co-opted. Abstract art, subversive in the early 20thC (because people were still extremely gung-ho on rationality, so the contrast was strong), has become worst than musak in terms of flaccid impact. I think the critique of rationality has been done, and that we can't be subversive anymore just by going for the non-verbal, the immediate, or the Dionysiac. The Dionysiac is on the page of People Magazine when Paris Hilton exposes her new antics every other week. I watched the "Yes Men" the other day, which shows a pair of smart guys posing as WTO members, and actually going in congresses and delivering the most insane speech with a straight face. Well, guess what? No uproar from the WTO itself. Instead, they manage to be featured in the "hoax" section of the newspapers.

    Corporations are the EXACT opposite of rationality: they behave insanely, almost schizoidly if you follow the thesis put forth in The Corporation, and I think THEY are the totalitarian regimes of today. You can put them down with rationality, legal proofs, tv reporting, blogging, critique, whatever. You can also play their own logic against themselves, use their craziness and turn it around, but you'll need also good old logic and proof of fact. If you must be subversive today, in art or in politics, I'm afraid you'll need at least SOME rationality.
     
  13. Dan Fromm

    Dan Fromm Member

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    Oh, my.

    Zhenya, if I were in the mood for bombast, I'd find a recording of A Soviet Artist's Reply To Just Criticism and play it. I believe I have one.

    Um, about rationality. Much over-rated, because of the difficulty in practice of acquiring and using all relevant information. Naturally one should try, but failure is almost guaranteed.

    Gosplan's downfall, eh, Zhenya? Some very bright hungarians worked the math out, but their russian peers didn't have the means to reduce the ideas to practice. At the time there wasn't enough data acquisition, transmission, and processing capacity in the known universe. The closest thing to a Gosplan that actually works these days is Walmart, and Walmart doesn't work all that well.

    About discussions between intellectuals. Interesting, sometimes, but this one doesn't seem to be well-anchored in empirical reality. Doing sociological or anthropological fieldwork is time-consuming, expensive, not always easy. And it doesn't always lead to solid conclusions. Much, much easier to sit in an armchair and make pronouncements about what something or other really means or reveals about how the world is. Not obvious, though, why the assertions should be believed.

    We ignorant barbarians are such skeptics. What a pity that I was a student of the late Karl Brunner, whose greatest contribution to knowledge probably came from insisting that his students ask "why should I believe THAT" more than possible.

    Cheers, and a mighty raspberry to all,

    Dan
     
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  15. rfshootist

    rfshootist Member

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    Art is always, in all societies part of the culture, because the culture of a society is nothing else than the sum of the details of a certain way of living
    Culture is the superstructure on a economical, geographical and climatic base and depends on the evolution of those elemnts.

    So if art reaches poeple in a way no other form of communication can (I agree), it is logic that totalitarian regimes always "clean" the definition of art as long as it tells THEIR story only in a way no other form of communication can indeed. ( Eisenstein) For the Nazis it was easy to do because the very most top artists had been jewish and so they had a perfect excuse to chase them outta the country or kill them and to burn their work. Guys like Arnold Breker and his esthical trash took their place.

    Leaving aside the totalitarian non democratic societies we can observe that ALL societies practise a certain kind of political control when it comes to art,
    there happens censorship in many ways, more or less subtle to all who produce anything which is considered to be "correct" by those who control the money and the power and try to take care that everything runs as they want it to run.

    Just remember the incredible disgusting public campaign against the first Impessionists in Paris beginning arond 1860, which lasted almost 30 years and made Impressionism beeing a banned art, also called "entartet" like the Nazis called all kind of art which did not contribute to the general mental and esthetical coma in those days.

    The almost unlimited artistic freedom we have in central Europe nowadays is very young, actually my generation had to fight hard for it in the 60s and the 70s, in Germany trying to get rid of a kind of correctness which was still much more influenced by a Nazi attitude than the society was willing to realize.

    A camera can be a weapon indeed for the fight for freedom , yes, and therefore it is often regarded as beeing subversive in principle by the power of government.
    And the worse the crimials are which rule a country the more they are afraid of cameras, especially of those which produce art. :wink: The history of the 20th century proves it.

    Regards,
    bertram
     
  16. rhphoto

    rhphoto Member

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    Love to see how a topic evolves. I guess I'm not that interested personally in historical philosophy as much as a more "Jungian" approach, hence my curiosity about the subliminal, archetypal processing the brain does upon viewing photographs. Some of you guys are obviously way ahead of me in how this has developed in the Western philosophical tradition, especially in the context of recent European history. For me, the subversive nature of photographs is about this common recognition of an abstract, two dimensional surface (a photograph) and the possibility that it can convey something deeply felt between artist and audience, without resorting to rational, verbal communication. I'm not trashing the Enlightenment or rational thought -- to the contrary, I hate watching the slide our (American) culture is making back into the dark ages where we distrust science and reason in favor of our parochial belief systems.

    I just think that alongside reason there flows another, complimentary consciousness that cannot be communicated any other way than from one person's right brain to another's, and as that can't be verbal, it must be, what, symbolic? Irrational? Emotional? It's a balance. I think I'm opting for the whole, the totality of consciousness, not favoring one over the other. Maybe it means that art is a way to deal with the resident Fascist in my mind. (Or the resident Totalitarian)
     
  17. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I swear I have a picture somehwhere of a poster from that era that advertise an upcoming show in which the superiority of "normal" art will be asserted by bringing such tableaux to an impressionist exhibition, and showing them side by side so that the "decadence" of the Impressionists will be made visible. I'll try to scan it when I have some time on my hands.
     
  18. eumenius

    eumenius Member

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    Uh-oh, am I mising something? :smile: Did I say a single word about both Soviet Artists and Gosplan?? :smile: Both topics are indeed huge, self-standing and nice to discuss, but what I am to do with these in this thread? :smile:

    And the Russian peers of Hungarian brothers were quick to adopt things, as we know... at least in case of A-bomb :smile: The Gosplan idea was not as attractive, so it was a bit in shade :smile:

    Zhenya

     
  19. rfshootist

    rfshootist Member

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    I heard of it but have never seen it, would be interesting to watch it now. One of the very few who were willing to defend the impressionist was Emile Zola, did not make him popular tho in the Bougeois circles of "art experts".

    Considering that there was no really subversive political message in this kind of painting one is blown away by that exploding hate and that shit storm in the newspapers in those days.
    Taking painting out of the studios into the nature and developing a new style of painting based on a different understanding of the human perception was subversive enuff to justify the worst insults and personal attacks.

    Bertram
     
  20. jimgalli

    jimgalli Subscriber

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    Couple of thoughts: while I have experienced that kind of "shunt to the soul" on rare occasion with visual arts, good music can get there faster and more often. Sadly, I don't think my pile of "art" will get me rounded up. Probably don't have a thing to worry over.
     
  21. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    Each person to their own thoughts and methods is what i be;ieve to be best. Should I am bothered enough by anothers way of culture or expression to reach for a gun I would choose to reach for their gun. My gun is busy showing others my ideas.
     
  22. Dan Fromm

    Dan Fromm Member

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    Fair questions, unfortunately.

    Fascist regimes can't always suppress artistic subversion. For example, D. Shostakovitch's 5th Symphony, subtitled "A Soviet Artist's Reply ... " and supposedly a response to complaints from old cockroach whiskers himself about Katerina Ismailovna.

    The Gosplan digression flowed from MHV's digression on rationality. When the very good Hungarian mathematical economists were theorizing about how to make central planning by god work the data handling etc. necessary conditions were satisfied nowhere. As far as I can tell, they still aren't.

    Cheers,

    Dan
     
  23. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    I just found the one I was thinking of, but it's actually the opposite message.

    "Expérience Promenade sur l'Art Impressioniste" ("ballad-experiment")

    English translation of the rest, capitals are in the original text:

    "The organizer of the Salon, each a VAN GOGH painting under the arm, will walk the rooms of the MODERN MUSEUM to reiterate the demonstration of the Inferiority of the Flemish School painting that are exposed there."

    "Entrance: ONE FRANC -- Reduction for the Pointillists and the special societies"

    It may have been in reaction to the first exhibition that shafted the Impressionists, but it's damn funny anyway! I'll post a scan when I can.
     
  24. Will S

    Will S Member

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    If you are really interested in finding out more about the mind-set of the German people during the rise of Nazism I humbly suggest “Defying Hitler” by Sebastian Haffner.

    From Umberto Eco: http://www.themodernword.com/eco/eco_blackshirt.html

    "Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Goering's fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play ("When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my gun") to the frequent use of such expressions as "degenerate intellectuals," "eggheads," "effete snobs," and "universities are nests of reds.""


    A great article. Suppression of artists is, I think, one of the main indicators of a fascist state. See: Laurence Britt (Free Inquiry Magazine, Volume 23, Number 2 ) for example (sorry I don't have the link). He lists 14 characteristics found in 9 different Fascist states. The list is eerily familiar.

    Funny that this all came up as I was doing some reading on fascism this weekend.

    Best,

    Will
     
  25. rhphoto

    rhphoto Member

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    Scary. Remember Spiro Agnew? " Effete intellectuals" was his phrase. I look at it this way, if art makes an Ur-Republican like S. Agnew pissed, then it's doing its job.
     
  26. Chazzy

    Chazzy Member

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    This has to be one of the most widely misattributed quotes of all time. It actually originated with Hanns Johst, in his play _Schlageter_, concerning the German patriot executed by the French during their occupation, following the First World War.

    It has variously been credited to Goering, to Goebbels and to Hitler, who probably wished that they had come up with it, and may indeed have used it themselves. As I recall, someone quotes it in Leni Riefenstahl's _Triumph des Willens_--I'll have to check and see who that was. I'm thinking that it was either Johst himself or Baldur von Schirach, but I don't trust my memory.

    There have been lots of amusing variations over the years--"when I hear the word Culture, I reach for my checkbook," and so on. My dissertation advisor used to say that when he heard the word "creative" with respect to liturgy, he reached for his revolver. Regardless of the original political context, it's a great quote, which people have been having fun with ever since.