Gregory Maertz – Eugenic art: representations of the ‘new man’ in Nazi Germany from the seizure of power to Hitler’s suicide

Event Date: 26 – 27 September 2014
Teesside University Darlington
Vicarage Road

The Centre for Fascist, Anti-Fascist and Post-Fascist Studies at Teeside University presents:

The ‘New Man’ Symposium

Conveners: Jorge Dagnino (de los Andes) & Matthew Feldman (Teesside)

The ‘New Man Symposium’ will examine fascist movements and regimes through the lens of an attempted anthropological revolution. This attempt to create a ‘homo fascistus’ during the fascist epoch is approached via a comparative angle, with presentations by leaders in the field of Fascist Studies. Taking different perspectives and looking at national movements across Europe, as well as in Latin America, it is hoped that this interdisciplinary conference will revive interest in this much neglected topic.

Professor Gregory Maertz (St. Johns) – Eugenic art: representations of the ‘new man’ in Nazi Germany from the seizure of power to Hitler’s suicide

As Ruth Ben-Ghiat suggests, Hitler’s demand that Germany mobilize in order to create a futural art that would anticipate the National Socialist utopia expressed “the desire to develop a model of modernity that would supplant liberal and leftist conceptions of contemporary life” (Fascist Modernities, 120).  The resulting “fascist model of modernity”—transhistorical, non-linear, and anti-mimetic—proceeded from Hitler’s radical retroversion of the conventional Enlightenment teleology of progress that posits growth from a condition of brute nature towards an increasingly sophisticated state of civilization. Instead, Hitler’s futural aesthetic vision is based on a rejection of progressive Modernism on the grounds that it generates pathogens of Nordauian decadence. “Progress,” in National Socialist terms, constituted a nostalgic journey to an imaginary pre-modern world of Nordic racial perfection that could only be recovered by bringing about the future biocultural purification of the German Volk. Accordingly, the regeneration and rebirth of Nordic humanity—the ultimate goal of the National Socialist rebellion against the legacy of the Enlightenment—was to be anticipated in the visual arts of the Third Reich. “Nazi Modernism,” an indigenous phenomenon, rooted in the soil of German cultural practice, was to supplant and bury “international” or progressive Modernism, which was considered a foreign, decadent dead end. The Nazis did not differ from the avant-garde in that artists on both the right and left “regarded art as the matrix from which the future would be born” (Michaud, The Cult of Art in Nazi Germany, 97), and this emphasis on art as a transformative force in society paralleled the revolutionary, transformative potential of progressive modernist art. In this sense alone, we can see the family resemblance between fascists and progressives as modernists. In contrast to Soviet Socialist Realism, in Nazi aesthetics art does not reflect “reality” in a manner that seeks to anchor the proletariat in the present moment, but rather the art of the Third Reich offers a vision of a utopian future that seeks to win the commitment of the German Volk to work for its realization.





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