Culture in Nazi Germany

Culture in Nazi Germany

By Michael H. Kater

Yale University Press – £11.99

[…] black shirts, shotguns, and wide-hipped maternal fecundity.

The flag-waving poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti combined political and cultural aspirations on the platform of the Futurist movement, which became part of Mussolini’s evolving ideology. A formative element of this movement was a vision of modernity, symbolized by the interaction of machine-age inventions such as the airplane with day-to-day politics, which together signified youth, dynamics, violence, and a crass rejection of the Liberal age prior to World War I.

(‘Conclusion – Culture in Three Tyrannies’).

As we well know, culture subliminally seeps into society in such a way as can be both breathtaking and horribly frightening. Fraught and indebted with an influence as to beguile a populace into the most rigged, yet random of behavioural patterns, culture may well stand at the very vanguard of politics.

Whether it’s a modern day red bus with blatant lies scrawled along its side, a media veritably anchored in an ideology of scapegoatism, or indeed, the inexorable current coverage of the death of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. The latter of which is surely the most perfect diversionary tactic to draw everyone’s lucid thinking away from unfolding events in Northern Ireland.

All three examples of which are an equally perfect reflection of what the author, Michael H. Kater, has written in this wholly superlative book. Apart from enlightening the reader as to how Adolf Hitler managed to truly manipulate Nazi Germany into an intolerable regime – intent on nothing other than division and death – its six chapters shed a most thorough light on the degree to which the choreography of culture can have a profoundly destructive influence over a population.

Such was definitely the case in Germany during the thirties, and such invariably appears to (unfortunately) be the case with regards what is currently taking place throughout the United Kingdom: ‘’[…] nominal correctness rendered them not less, but more dangerous, because they could do much evil under the guise of legality’’ (‘Deconstructing Modernism’).

To refer to Culture in Nazi Germany as unbelievably well researched, thoroughly well written and idiosyncratically ironic, would be a vast understatement.

What’s more, it almost beggars belief as to just how relative its subject matter is.

Even populism is adhered to in the second chapter, ‘Pre-War Nazi Culture’ where Kater writes: ‘’’’Hitler’s personalized form of rule invited radical initiatives from below and offered such initiatives backing, so long as they were in line with his broadly defined goals. This promoted ferocious competition at all levels of the regime, among competing agencies, and among individuals within those agencies. In the Darwinist jungle of the Third Reich, the way to power and advancement was through anticipating the ‘Fuhrer will,’ and, without waiting for directives, taking initiatives to promote what were presumed to be Hitler’s aims and wishes.’’ In such a personalized system of governance geared teleologically to Hitler, the one who had the most guaranteed and most direct access to the Fuhrer would succeed most with his goals.’’

Hmm, who does this remind one of?

These 340 pages (excluding Preface, Notes, Archival Sources, Bibliography and Index) make for an altogether astonishing read in relation to its depth and clarity.

Even if it is a stark reminder that: ‘’In the end, what the Nazis viewed as a winning situation for the Third Reich turned out to be, by all accounts, a deplorable loss for the civilized world.’’

David Marx

Spinoza – Basic Concepts

Spinoza – Basic Concepts

Edited by Andre Santos Campos

Imprint-Academic – £40.00

If it is the external world that is holding us hostage, it is the internal world that will set us free.

(‘Virtue and Freedom’)

Behind the views that Spinoza was either afraid of the multitude or sanguine about their possible power lies the question of democracy. If Spinoza loved the multitude, then his championing of democracy is clear. If Spinoza detested and feared the multitude, then he cannot be the kind of democrat that he claims. These questions are intertwined. Spinoza’s changing view of the multitude reflects his changing view of democracy and what it requires to succeed.

(‘Multitude’)

The first of the above two quotes is beyond spot on; although it does need to be said that most people, for whatever reason, invariably seek solace from the external world. Maybe because it is easier to grasp, quintessentially apparent or obvious; and in most instances, more immediate. Although not necessarily more fulfilling.

Hence the runaway, diversionary fog that so plights modern society.

Everything from designer labels to drug-abuse, McDonald’s to a moral redundancy which appears increasingly endemic throughout much of the western world.

One need look no further than the mere fact that seventy-four million Americans voted for former President, Donald Trump, in the 2020 Election. Or, a little closer to home, the (other deplorable) fact that perpetual liar, Boris Johnson, won the British election of 2019 with a resounding landslide.

There again, populism and morality do make for a rather inflammatory cocktail, which, throughout the 176 pages (excluding Introduction, Bibliography and Index) of Spinoza – Basic Concepts, is made cohesively clear, time and again: ‘’If it is out myopic localism that has placed the stranglehold of our immediate world upon us, then it is the rational operations of the mind in reconfiguring our experience in terms of the infinity of nature that will set us free. So it is reason, the intellect, which becomes our salvation for it can resolve both the passivity and localism that drive our ‘servitude’ as Spinoza understands it (‘Virtue and Freedom’).

Admittedly, the above, written by Heidi M. Ravven, is one of the more easily readable chapters of what can only be described as an exceedingly dense and altogether difficult book to read. Each of its fifteen chapters do take intrinsic negotiation.

There again, we are talking about one of ‘’the most pivotal thinkers in the history of philosophy,’’ which warrants both patience and a continuation of the immediate above: ‘’We can discover the true explanations for things, for self and world, in actively retracing the causes of our singular experiences, as well as of our historical worlds, as product of natural causes in infinity, that is, in terms of bodies or fields of scientific explanation. And we can be released, in the same way and at the same time, from the ongoing pain and anxiety that the death grip of the local milieu – its institutions, rules, incentives and disincentives – exert upon our emotions and also released from the choke-hold it has upon our agency.’’

Again, not the easiest book to read, but ultimately rewarding nevertheless.

David Marx

Englishness

Englishness –

The Political Force Transforming Britain

By Ailsa Henderson & Richard Wyn Jones

Oxford University Press – £30.00

It is not difficult to find the view that England, formerly the land of deference, order, tradition, and squeamish aversion to national excess, has somehow been transformed into a land of right-wing, racist, past-obsessed misanthropes, hellbent on pulling the UK out of a successful economic and political union to satisfy some sort of imperial wanderlust […]. All of this might suggest that we are currently bearing witness to the emergence of a militant Englishness that is irredeemably reactionary.

(‘The English World View’)

The results show that English identifiers are more likely to cite sacrifices in world wars, the countryside, and the Queen, whereas British identifiers are more likely to be proud of openness to other cultures and faiths, as well as shared institutions such as the NHS.

(‘On Englishness and Britishness’)

A mere twelve weeks into the appalling disaster that is Brexit, and it does seem that a menagerie of outmoded and utterly misguided morons are now beginning to feel the economic heat. No surprises there of course, as to varying degrees, a country’s well-being has always invariably been anchored to that of its GDP.

Hence the term, ‘it’s the economy stupid.’

And the UK’s economy has taken such an astronomic nose-dive since January 1st, that even the most the selfish of myopic, racist bigots, are now beginning to realise that they may well have made a terrible, terrible mistake in voting to leave the European Union in 2016.

And lest we remind ourselves that this is just the beginning.

The beginning of what many consider to be an exceedingly bleak and catastrophic period in British cultural and economic history; for which we have the appalling likes of Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and Nigel Farage to systematically thank.

Not that the country was not forewarned mind, as this politically grounded and most meticulous of well-researched books wholly substantiates throughout its 215 pages (excluding List of Figures, List of Tables, Bibliography and Index). Indeed, Englishness – The Political Force Transforming Britain is remarkably coherent, factual and on occasion, severely to the point: If ‘Who will speak for England?’ was probably the best-known Leave supporting headline, then the highest-profile and best-known Leave campaign slogan was, with a shadow of a doubt, ‘Take back control.’ Apparently devised by Dominic Cummings, the campaign director of the officially designated Vote Leave campaign, ‘Take back control’ was pitch perfect. It managed to span the two key themes of the Leave campaign – namely, sovereignty and immigration – doing so in a way that evoked a sense of national history that resonates particularly strongly with those who identify as English. Restoring the ‘sovereignty of parliament’ and restoring the state’s borders in order to stop ‘uncontrolled’ immigration: these are both tropes whose undoubted power resides in a quintessentially English nostalgia for a glorious past in which the monarch in parliament was sovereign and in which the United Kingdom was more ethnically homogenous.’’

One cannot help but wonder – especially with food banks on the increase and the cleavage betwixt the haves and have-not growing exponentially – whether or not ‘‘sovereignty of parliament’’ will eventually begin to count for very little.

If not (almost) nothing at all.

That said, both authors Ailsa Henderson and Richard Wyn Jones emphatically state that: ‘’Englishness is here and here to stay’’ (‘On Englishness and Britishness’).

Hmm, are we to take this as suave benevolence? Or a solace or sorts?

Apart from the fact that there may be one or two many tables and graphs depicting facts and figures and yet more facts and figures, Englishness makes for vitally important, if not compulsive reading.

David Marx

Blonde on Blonde

Blonde on Blonde

Bob Dylan’s Mercurial Masterpiece

By Jochen Markhorst

Independently Published – £10.74

All of it true and not true, as usual with Dylan. The poet Dylan is not a reporter. He connects fiction with memories, is a poetic realist who, from his everyday impressions and personal musings, knows how to grasp universal values, how to transcend the individual experience, how to paint a condition humaine. Driven by little more than the desire to write a song. Paul McCartney expresses this drive in a pleasantly sober manner in his Conversations with Paul du Noyer (2015): ‘’When I write, I’m just writing a song, but I think themes do come up. You can’t help it. Whatever’s important to you finds its way in.’’ And that is in accordance with what Dylan reports […].

(‘Just Like A Woman’)

happy trails, translator.

(‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’)

As with all things Dylan, idiosyncratic interpretation reigns supreme. It is what essentially accounts for a great deal of its quintessential interest – of both the esoteric/intrinsic persuasion might I add.

Hence, the many didactic Dylanologists scattered throughout the world, along with the inexorable number of books that continue to be written. All endeavouring to decipher just what it is that makes Bob Dylan’s work so unquestionably beguiling and brilliant.

Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan’s Mercurial Masterpiece is one such example, although it comes replete with a twist.

Rather than merely endeavour to decipher, Jochen Markhorst both expands and embellishes upon much of what we may (or may not) already know. In so (entertainingly) doing, he informs the reader by way of the most trajectorial, yet relative information: ‘’I’m not just up there re-creating old blues tunes or trying to invent some surrealistic rhapsody. It’s the sounds and the words. Words don’t interfere with it. They… they…punctuate it. You know, they give it purpose. [Pause]. And all the ideas for my songs, all the influences, all come out of that. I’m not doing it to see how good I can sound, or how perfect the melody can be, or how intricate the details can be woven or how perfectly written something can be. I don’t care about those things’’ (‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’).

To be sure, the entire section on ‘Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ – a song which Tom Waits has described as ‘’a dream, a riddle and a prayer’’ – makes for the most compelling of reading.

This is especially the case where Markhorst writes about synaesthesia: ‘’What are warehouse eyes, what is a geranium kiss, what are matchbook songs?

Untranslatable actually, as even the more persistent translators have to recognise. In almost every line the translator has to make a choice between sound and meaning, weighing whether the sound is more important than the image evoked by the content of the words.’’

And on it goes: choices, choices, aligned with the relentless, inevitable deconstruction of the maestro’s huge catalogue of genius.

Jochen Markhorst enables us to get just a little closer to the edge.

David Marx

Whistler’s Mother

Whistler’s Mother –

Portrait of an Extraordinary Life

By Daniel E. Sutherland & Georgia Toutziari

Yale University Press – £18.99

You’re the nimble tread

Of the feet of Fred Astaire,

You’re an O’Neill drama,

You’re Whistler’s mama.

(Cole Porter – ‘You’re The Top’)

Zip! I am just a mystic.

I don’t care for Whistler’s mother,

Charlie’s aunt and Schubert’s brother.

Zip! I’m misogynistic.

(Richard Rogers & Lorenz Hart – ‘Pal Joey’).

Zip! I’m misogynistic. What a line. What a confession. What an altogether brazen benediction of historical class division this book traverses. Even if only by dextrous default. That’s not to say it isn’t a worthy read – far from it – but its flippant, inadvertent preponderance in relation to those who, in their day, had or did not have; comes across as a nigh perfect reflection of current day Britain.

Whistler’s Mother – Portrait of an Extraordinary Life, does indeed reveal the ‘’resilient, bright and deeply engaged woman’’ that Anna Whistler undoubtedly was, although in so doing, it also substantiates the great cloying social cleavage that was ever present throughout her life (1804-1881). The sort of which was undeniably anchored to that of (English) network, privilege and money. Much like today’s Tory Party, only without the inherently dishonest, vile likes of Hancock/Patel and co.

As much is already addressed in the book’s third chapter (ironically entitled ‘Russia, 1843-44’) in which the authors Daniel E. Sutherland and Georgia Toutziari write: ‘’Yet, it all felt British, and most shopkeepers, hotel operators, and tavern keepers, who often catered to English-speaking sailors and travellers, knew some English. The British were also the only foreigners, as noted by one by one observer, to ‘’cohere as a distinct, privileged community, and form a state within a state, or at least continually strive to do so.’’ The business community, which numbered only about eight hundred people, was ‘’extremely wealthy, and equal perhaps in consequence, power and opulence.’’ Most importantly to Anna, there was a well-established ‘’English Church’’ on the quay, which many residents considered the heart of their community.’’

The words ‘’cohere as a distinct, privileged community’’ continue to resonate throughout these 201 pages (excluding Notes and Index); to such an extent, that one has to invariably remind oneself that one cannot help being born unto wealth.

Or poverty for that matter.

One just is.

And once as much is clearly understood, the shackles of entitlement, such as that contained herein, become more tolerable/acceptable/readable: ‘’Yet, as happy and useful as Anna felt herself to be in London, she could not forget the ongoing distress of her native land. As complete as her sympathy for the Confederacy now seemed to be, Anna would have welcomed an end to the fighting under any circumstances, and she blamed both sides for the carnage. ‘’My daily prayer is that God will bring North & South to repentance […]’’ (‘The Manager 1860-67’).

Replete with sixteen pages of colour/black and white picture plates of the highest quality, Whistler’s Mother is, if nothing else, a distinct reminder that history repeats itself. Perhaps not so much artistically, but most certainly socially and economically.

David Marx

Germany

Germany

Various Authors

Lonely Planet – £16.99

There’s something undeniably artistic in the way Germany’s scenery unfolds; the corrugated, dune-fringed coasts of the north; the moody forests, romantic river valleys and vast vineyards of the centre; and the off-the-charts splendour of the Alps, carved into rugged glory by glaciers and the elements. All of these are integral parts of a magical natural matrix that’s bound to give your camera batteries a good workout. Get off the highway and into the great outdoors to soak up the epic landscapes that make each delicious, slow, winding mile so precious.

(‘Bewitching scenery’)

Art aficionados will find their compass on perpetual spin in Berlin. With hundreds of galleries, scores of world-class collections and some 33,000 international artists, the city has assumed a pole position on the global circuit. Perpetual energy, restlessness and experimental spirit combined and infused with an undercurrent of grit are what give this ‘eternally unfinished’ city its art cred.

(‘Berlin Art Scene’)

There really is no denying just how vibrant and captivating Germany is.

Having lived in Berlin for a number of years, I still didn’t get to familiarise myself with everything the city has to offer. There again, as mentioned above, it is along with that other great metropolis, Barcelona, the ‘eternally unfinished’ city. As soon as you have discovered one bar, another three have opened up. As soon as you have familiarised yourself with a particular U-Bahn line, another station has opened u p (und so weiter).

As such, much of this – and a whole lot more besides – is perfectly captured amid the 830 pages (excluding Behind the Scenes, Index and Map Legend) of this chunky, charming, Lonely Planet Guide to Germany.

Invariably rammed with information on each of its nine prime regions (Berlin, Hamburg and the North, Central Germany, Saxony, Bavaria, Stuttgart and the Black Forest, Cologne and the Northern Rhineland, Frankfurt and the Southern Rhineland and finally, Lower Saxony and Bremen), it’s almost hard to know where to begin. This is only partially touched on by one of the authors, Kerry Christiani who writes: ‘’My first trip to Germany some 20 years ago sparked a lifelong love affair. The snowbound spruce forests and castle-topped villages of Bavaria and the Black Forest were more ludicrously beautiful than my wildest childhood dreams. I was so smitten with the south of the country that I spent six years living in the depths of the Black Forest: hiking, cycling and berry picking in summer, mushrooming in the crisp days of autumn, and cross-country skiing in winters where the landscape was transformed into a Christmas card scene. Still today, when I return to the Schwarzwald, it’s like coming home (‘Why I Love Germany’).

I fully understand where she is coming from, as I feel much the same way about Berlin.

Then of course, there is also an abundance of maps and colour photographs to appreciate, not to mention an altogether captivating overview of the nation as whole toward the back of the book, which covers Germany Today, History, The German People, Food and Drink, Literature, Theatre and Film, Visual Arts, Architecture, Landscape and Wildlife and of course, Music: ‘’Germany’s reputation as a musical powerhouse is fuelled by such world-famous composers as Beethoven, Bach and Brahms. Today the country boasts 80 publicly financed concert halls, including internationally prestigious ones in Hamburg, Berlin, Dresden and Munich. But Germany has also punched well above its weight in the popular music arena and is one of the few countries outside the English-speaking world to have influenced rock, pop and electronic music in a significant way (‘Music’).

Once the world begins to get back to some sort of normality, you might want to consider a very worthwhile trip to this most fascinating of nations. So don’t forget to pack this altogether (truly) fantabulous travel guide, along with your euros and toothbrush.

David Marx

The Nostalgic Imagination

The Nostalgic Imagination –

History in English Criticism

By Stefan Collini

Oxford University Press – £26.49

[…] intelligent historians are rarer than hen’s teeth.

(‘Scrutinizing the Present Phase of Human History’)

When I say the Renaissance I mean for this purpose the period between the decay of scholastic philosophy and the rise of modern science. The thirteenth century had the gift of philosophy, or reason; the later seventeenth century had the gift of mathematics, or science, but the period between had ceased to be rational without having learned to be scientific.

(‘Whig History and the Mind of England’)

Far be it for me to agree or (perhaps mightily) disagree with both the above assertions, there is no denying that the fact that the views of Stefan Collini – Fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Historical Society – are undeniably anchored within the altogether dense parameters of his own non-variant vision.

A vision that has obviously come about by way of an intrinsically cynical, if not well informed prism of the most dense deliberation; which in and of itself, goes some way in describing this rather unusual book. For although Collini invariably ‘’shows how the work of critics renowned for their close attention to ‘the words on the page’ was in practice bound up with claims about the nature and direction of historical change, the interpretation of the national past, and the scholarship of earlier historians,’’ one cannot help but actually wonder what the likes of T. S. Elliot, F. R. Leavis, William Empson and Raymond Williams would make of his many bold assertions.

Especially within the realm of literature and history.

As the second part of the book’s title, The Nostalgic Imagination – History in English Criticism, suggests, there is indeed a very English tonality to be found amid these haughty 210 pages (excluding Notes and Index). Two qualities that, given the very current condition of England itself, are perfectly poised to be considered more pertinent than would a good hard boot to the testicles of Boris Johnson. He, who rather arrogantly considers himself to walk in similar footsteps to that of Winston Churchill: ‘’Adverse circumstances are, it seems, conducive to morality: virtue develops out of effort in the face if difficulty, ‘Re-discovery’ suggests each generation needs to re-find these values for themselves, but the current ease is not propitious to this kind of moral education. Hence the decline from ‘cooperation’ and related values to ‘cynicism’’’ (‘The History of ‘the Reading Public’).

Herein, one cannot help but totally agree with Stefan Collini.

Prime reason being, Johnson and his wretched cohorts of grandiose greed (for example), are about as familiar with ‘adverse circumstances’ as former American President, Donald Trump, is with the term decency. Even the title, ‘The History of ‘the Reading Public,’ equates the current decline in Britain’s ‘moral education,’ with those who are currently running the country. Into the ground I hasten to add.

Were it not for the inward and somewhat cryptic (if not exceedingly dense) nature of The Nostalgic Imagination, it would be far more plausible. And as such, ultimately read by far more people.

David Marx