June 10, 2008

Negativity Won't Pull You Through

by Jerome du Bois

This will probably be the last piece I'll be writing about local art and artists for the foreseeable future, because what I foresee is more of the same. The same what? you ask. The same stuff I wrote regarding Brad Kahlhamer back in late 2004, when some emailer complained about us being "negitive":

Is it negative to uphold human dignity, the upward glance, evidence of hard-won optimism?

Is it negative to object to the degradation of women and children?

Is it negative to decry depictions of decapitations in current art?

Is it negative to condemn the celebration of superficiality, so that the cowardly and shallow may hide from the heartbreakingly significant?

Is it negative to point out technical incompetence, especially when its perpetrators are proud of it?

Is it negative to ask for some respect for the human being, the human condition, the human future?

Nobody answered my questions. But I do take a little satisfaction in seeing that my one and only piece on Kahlhamer is still #5 on his Google page, out of about 6,000 citations.

These days, right here in town, this is what I see:

There is a black woman who paints unflattering portraits of herself in whiteface and greenface.

There is a woman who stitches crude portraits and scenes with black thread on small white napkins.

There is a woman who constructs, with plaster and glue and paint, life-sized reproductions of pastries and other snack food.

There is a man who photographs closeups of the faces of people experiencing what used to be, and should be, a private sensual moment.

There is a man who makes collages with sewing patterns and blueprints as background, then paints colored shapes over them.

There is a clinically obese woman who makes charcoal drawings of closeups of her own giant swells and folds.

There is a man who makes "landscape" photographs constructed from various kinds of breakfast cereal.

There is a woman who photographs faces distorted in curved mylar, then reproduces them in paint.

There is a man who "draws" while trundling along roads on a go-cart.

There is a woman who photographs tableaux populated by sock-puppet monkeys.

There is a man who placed an open plexiglas box in a gallery and requested visitors to clip some of their hair and put it in the box.

There is a whole crew of artists customizing vinyl toys.

I could go on, but that way lies despair. Negativity won't pull me through. Nor them, either, but the big difference between us is, they don't mind.

Posted by Jerome at 08:43 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

June 08, 2008

New Art: The Dinner Party

The Dinner Party. By Catherine King ©2008.

Posted by Jerome at 08:20 AM | TrackBack

June 02, 2008

The Jewish Enemy and Relentless Lies

The core sentence is this statement: The Jews are guilty of everything!
--from Word of the Day, a daily directive to all German press outlets from the Reich Press Directorate, May 5, 1943.

The Nazi leadership pushed to the extreme the widespread human capacity for delusion and belief in illusions.
--Jeffrey Herf, The Jewish Enemy, p.271.

by Jerome du Bois

In the early mornings and early evenings, as I click through the cable news coverage of the Presidential campaign, I hear talking heads relentlessly parsing the word of the day, the word of the week. From "bitter" to "appeasement" to "downright mean," from "100 years" to "denounce" to "propaganda" to "Bush's third term," analysts from left to right weigh in on meanings and repercussions. Words count, words matter, and a single word, such as "macaca," can burn your ticket.

In Nazi Germany the Word of the Week (Parole der Woche) was a wall newspaper (wandzeitungen). Jeffrey Herf, Professor of History at the University of Maryland, makes them the centerpiece of his groundbreaking 2006 book The Jewish Enemy: Nazi Propaganda During World War II and the Holocaust.

German wall newspapers were a unique combination of newspaper editorial, political leaflet, political poster, and tabloid journalism, employing modern techniques of reproduction and directed at a society whose daily rhythms were characterized by walking and mass transit. . . . Every week from 1937 to spring 1943, an estimated 125,000 copies of black-and-white or color wall newspapers were displayed in the nooks and crannies of everyday life . . . . In densely populated Germany, where people got around primarily on foot or by mass transit, political wall newspapers, strategically situated at nodal points where the "masses" converged and dispersed in the course of any given day, were the most effective means of intruding on the visual field of millions of individuals.(P.14)

These wall newspapers, published weekly and mass-distributed with coordinated efficiency, were not wheat-pasted directly onto surfaces. They were mounted in glass-fronted poster boxes which were meticulously maintained. The reader may peruse over one hundred (untranslated) examples on this page.

The posters were 100 centimeters high and 212 centimeters wide. They were printed in large, bold type and were meant to be read from a distance of a few feet or less. Several people could read one at the same time, so a small, shared public reading and viewing experience was created. The posters were designed "not only to slow the stride of the passerby but also to compel him to read" them. Their efficient distribution was an important task for propagandists. . . . According to one commentator, the effort was a success. The posters, he wrote, comprised "what we all heard and read every day. . . They could not be avoided."(P.30)

And what were the key words in these posters? First was a group of reductive abstractions for those the Nazis considered their most important enemies, twenty-million-plus individual, nonfungible Jewish people, which the propagandists reduced to "international Jewry," "world Jewry," "Juda," and simply "The Jew." Literary scholar Victor Klemperer, in I Will Bear Witness, wrote in 1944, "However much I resisted it, the Jew is in every respect the center of the language of the Third Reich, indeed of its whole view of the epoch." The Nazi leaders were convinced, Herf argues persuasively, that there really was a huge, dispersed, interconnected conspiracy of Jews whose paramount aim was to murder all Germans and destroy Germany as a national entity, prior to taking over the whole world. Hitler's only recourse, given this paranoid assumption, was to kill them first.

Two other key words --in verb and noun form-- almost always appeared paired with the subject of the Jews, and were "at the core" of the propagandists' "language of mass murder": vernichten, which means "annihilate," and ausrotten, which means "exterminate." These words appear over and over throughout Herf's book, not just in the Word of the Week, but in public and private conversations and writings of Nazi leaders and press people.

I cannot do justice to Herf's remarkable book. I am not a professional historian. Of the more than 20,000 books written about Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, I've read about a dozen, due to my interest in creating a complex artwork about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. (The interested reader may find a provisional description of it here.) What I'm going to do instead is select a single and singular image to show how it neatly and chillingly encapsulates Herf's major points. Though not a wall newspaper itself, a variation was later made into one. Herf writes that it "stands as one of the defining anti-Semitic visual images of the war and the Holocaust," and thought it was important enough to reproduce on the cover of his book. It was created by graphic artist Hans Schweitzer (known as Mjölner), who was hand-picked by Hitler in 1936 to "the post of Reich representative for the creation of artistic form. He was charged with translating Nazi ideology into 'artistic form' and distinctive style in various arenas --uniforms, stamps, flags, and posters." Here it is:


This is the cover of a brochure distributed to over five million Germans and excerpted in many Reich newspapers. The title reads, "The War Aim of World Plutocracy." The man at the typewriter is (was) an American Jew from Newark, New Jersey, named Theodore Nathan Kaufman. Here's what Joseph Goebbels and his Nazi propagandists (words in quotes) wrote about him.

The author of Germany Must Perish!, a book advocating a plan to "exterminate" the German people, was one "Jew Theodore Kaufman," described as "the president of the American Federation of Peace." Kaufman . . . was a "close associate of the New York Jew Samuel Rosenman" who was an adviser to President Roosevelt. In "Jewish literary circles in New York, it was an open secret . . . that Roosevelt himself inspired the main theses of the book and had personally dictated the most important parts of this shameful work." The plan called for sterilizing German prisoners of war, sending them to labor camps to work on postwar reconstruction of other countries, sterilizing the remainder of the German population so that the Germans would die out in two generations, and then dividing up German territory among the neighboring countries. Official American policy, it was averred, called for an "enormous program of annihilation."(P.110-111)

Theodore Nathan Kaufman was a real man, and he did write Germany Must Perish! The description of its contents is accurate. But as for the rest . . .

No American publisher would publish it. Kaufman founded Argyle Press and printed and distributed the book himself through the US Post Office rather than through bookstores. The book received only a few reviews, highly unsympathetic. Though sales figures are not available, its mode of distribution suggests they were minimal. There was no such organization as the American Federation of Peace, nor was Kaufman known to be involved in any other American Jewish organizations, whether major or peripheral, or connected in any way to the Roosevelt administration. He was an independent, understandably very angry Jewish writer who published his own book. But his book had no importance in American politics or intellectual life, inside or outside the Roosevelt administration.(P.111)

But for Goebbels, Kaufman's book was a gift from some evil Nazi god. He wrote in his diary, "He really could not have done it better and more advantageously for us if he had written the book to order." Herf notes that Goebbels made "a telling mistake" in the title of the book; he called it Germany Must Be Annihilated! --a Freudian slip of projection, using one of his favorite words. (In his Conclusion, Herf writes, "Projection and paranoia were the handmaidens of aggression and genocide.") Joseph Goebbels was a prolific writer during the Nazi era. He wrote over three millions words a year for public consumption, and about 15,000 words a night in his diary. Herf: "His personal diary covering the period from the mid-1920s to April 1945 takes up more than forty volumes of six hundred pages each." Nowhere in all this logorrhea do the German words for "gas chamber" or "crematorium" appear, but vernichten and ausrotten and their variants occur literally millions of times.

Back to the image. First, note the disparity in size between the giant Jew and the diminutive figures of Churchill, Roosevelt and assorted military leaders. Then follow the paper, as it comes out of Kaufman's typewriter, floats to his left --with this underlined sentence in English: "Germany must perish forever from this earth!"-- then drops down onto the pages of the open books in the world leaders' hands as they literally sing off the same page ("perhaps," Herf writes, "singing 'Onward Christian soldiers' during their meeting off Newfoundland during the ceremonies surrounding the signing of the Atlantic Charter"). The Nazi propagandists often referred to "the Jews" as "the wire-pullers." Here the wires are invisible, or perhaps have turned into paper.

Goebbels was grateful to have the opportunity to put a real face and real name --shortened to "Nathan Kaufman"-- to the faceless abstraction of the international Jewish conspiracy, and used that face several times afterward. He also scoured Western news outlets for any reference to any prominent Jew, and went to great lengths to tie them to Western war policy and personnel, posting their faces for the German public to see. An abstract mass evolves into discrete individuals. As for the subject of the book --forced sterilizations of Germans-- Herf writes:

In view of the thousands of forced sterilizations the Nazi regime had already done and was continuing to do, this was a particularly grotesque case of projection of the sins of the perpetrators onto the victims.(P.265)

Poor Kaufman, in his lonely rage, could not have known how the Nazis would transform him from a nonentity to a world-connected conspirator, but there seemed to be no boundaries to their paranoia, and they never seemed to care about their inconsistency when attributing power to their enemies. Herf:

They attributed seemingly unlimited autonomy, subjectivity, and power to the Jews, while denying these attributes to the political leaders of the most powerful nations in the world at that time, notably Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Joseph Stalin.

During Hitler's rise to power, by the way, German Jews made up less than one percent of the population of Germany.

What impact did this image, and all the wall newspapers and radio speeches and newsreels, have on the German population, whose press was completely controlled by the Nazis? As I neared the end of the book I suddenly realized that Herf had not covered this. He rarely notes the reaction of the person on the street. He writes, "We do not know what people in Nazi Germany made of the wall newspapers with the headlines 'They Will Stop Laughing!' or 'The Jewish Conspiracy.' We do know that people saw them."

Why don't we know?

The beginning of wisdom in these matters is a certain restraint and much less certainty regarding what "ordinary Germans" made of Nazi propaganda. . . . skepticism is in order about assertions regarding what most Germans in Nazi Germany really believed, because the evidence is insufficient to support assertions on that score. The evidence from the period is fragmentary, anecdotal, not based on representative samples of the population, and tainted by the mode of collection and its reporting by Nazi security services. The postwar record is subject to the distorting influences of memory and political self-interest.(P.276)

So we don't know what the Germans on the street thought. But we do have facts about their behavior. For example, the home front never collapsed, even while citizens could see the red star of the Soviet tanks on the eastern outskirts of the city, and watch their buildings collapse from Allied bombing all around them. During the war, the only public protest was by non-Jewish wives of Jewish husbands. (Stand-up women!) Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto fought the Nazis, and the prisoners in Sobibor and Treblinka rose up against their murderous captors. (The bomb plot to kill Hitler was planned and carried out by high-ranking Nazis, not ordinary citizens.) After the war, "the Allied occupation authorities had sufficient evidence to arrest almost 100,000 people on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity." Finally, of course, there was the evidence of over six million Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and other "undesirables" who were exterminated.

The great lie about a world Jewish conspiracy is, of course, alive and well, most prominently among fundamentalist Muslims. Its dissemination and repetition began hundreds of years before the Nazis. Andrew Bostrom, in a lecture at the Hudson Institue on May 21st that summarizes his forthcoming book The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism, refers to dozens of suras and hadith which promote Jewish extermination. The message has remained the same from the founding of Islam to the twenty-first century.

During WWII the Nazis reached out to the Arabs of Palestine for both strategic and ideological reasons. But Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (and Yasser Arafat's uncle), was already there, ideologically and later physically. He lived in Berlin during the war, and was even allowed to establish an SS division of Bosnian Muslims. (By the way, Joseph Goebbels' distorted political vision seemed to have affected his eyesight as well. When he met the Grand Mufti in Berlin, he remarked on his "Nordic appearance." Readers may judge for themselves, but to me this man doesn't look at all like Rutger Hauer.)

Through the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Nazism's message was diffused to the Arab and the rest of the Islamic world. From the Grand Mufti's perspective, international Jewry not only won the world war but won another victory in 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel. In the ideological documents of fundamentalist Islam in recent decades [e.g., Baathists, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran's mullahs], the replacement of history's contingencies and complexities persists, as do the seemingly absolute clarity and simplicity of a paranoid conspiracy theory focused on actions attributed to international Jewry. Examination of the impact of Nazism on the Arab and Muslim world is still in its early stages. Regrettably, however, the themes of this study have a contemporary echo in the terrorism that is one manifestation of Islamic fundamentalism.(P.275)

Herf thus brings us to the present day. His book is as timely as this morning's headlines, and this evening's newscasts.

* * * * *

Relentless lies, repeated over and over, are not confined to Jews. In this volatile election year, we have become aware of several of them. Unlike the press-controlled Germans, we in the Western world have ubiquitous television (our wall newspapers), cell-phone videos, YouTube, and blogs. Thank God for all of them. These days we not only know what the propagandists say, we can witness the reactions of their audiences.

I begin with John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. After years of Neanderthal pontifications "interpreting" the Book of Revelation, and growing a church of over 19,000 and a television outreach of 20 million, he was caught out calling the Roman Catholic Church "The Great Whore," the "apostate church," the "anti-Christ," a "false cult system," and a supporter of Adolf Hitler. For years, thousands of foolish Christians sat in his pews, listened, watched him with his slides and his pointer, and presumably accepted what he said. Nobody objected, nobody protested, except Bill Donohue and the Catholic League. Oh, quo vadis, ignoramus? Turn around and face the truth: without the Church of Peter, you wouldn't even have the New Testament to thump out of shape. The Book of Revelation is a mystery, not a crystal ball.

Back in the Eighties, when the now-moribund Hal Lindsey --a latter-day Millerite-- was hot stuff, and thousands of gullible and deluded Christians were convinced that the Proctor & Gamble logo was Satanic, and that the Rapture was right around the corner, my pastor at the time --a level-headed man-- addressed this kind of dangerous foolishness. On the question of when Jesus would return, he began by quoting from Ephesians 5:27, which is about the character of the Church He would return to: "That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish." Then he said something like, "If those are the Lord's standards --without spot, wrinkle, or blemish-- then I'd say we've got about five hundred more years to go."

Amen, brother. And John Hagee, along with Pat Robertson and Rod Parsley and too many others, is not hastening that moment, that's for damn sure.

Neither is Michael Pfleger, a Roman Catholic priest. (I refuse to honor his honorific.) His theme may be summarized this way: The whites are guilty of everything! Beyond his misogynistic mockery of Hillary Clinton and his virulent racism, he proclaims to the 8,000+ parishoners of Trinity United Church in Chicago his bedrock hatred of the United States of America, the first and last bastion of political and religious freedom: "Racism is still America's greatest addiction," Pfleger says. "I also believe that America is the greatest sin against God." No: the greatest sin is the sin against the Holy Spirit --attributing God's work to Satan. Michael Pfleger should watch his step, and his words.

But the parishoners at Trinity United, as millions have witnessed, responded with cheers and clapping and dancing, as they did with Jeremiah Wright, and as they continue to do with Otis Moss. Moss refers to the late Tupac Shakur as "a prophet" and calls Abraham, Biblical father of all Jews, "a pimp."

Finally, witness the public emergence of James T. Meeks , pastor of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, which claims a membership of over 22,000. This guy despises gay people, and thinks that "Hollywood Jews" were responsible for the movie Brokeback Mountain.

Jesus wept. And He's weeping still, as the relentless lies roll on and on, and too many people nod agreement and believe them. We would do well to heed Herf's warning near the end of his book (p.270):

The assumption that these men [the Nazi leaders and propagandists] did not believe these fantasies relies on an optimistic view of the power of human rationality, justified neither by the events of modern history nor by our now widespread awareness of the role of nonrational forces in human experience.

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