The Fate of Fonts, Part Seven

The Fate of Fonts

Typography and Danger in Germany, Part Three

In the history of the Nazification of all things “German,” the suppression of the modern fonts might be a footnote to the destruction of modern art if it is mentioned at all. However, as was pointed out in earlier posts, the font, particularly the fraktur font or the traditional German blackletter font had a deed and strong hold on the imagination of the people as being part of their “identity.” The Nazis were nothing if not thorough, the entire culture in all its manifest details came under their purview. The goal was to completely Germanize, if you will, Germany, which had been slipping into decadent and non-German ways, falling prey to the dubious delights of jazz and allowing “degenerate” art to be hung in the finest museums. There were internal enemies that Adolf Hitler and his allies had every intention of rooting out in order to establish a Volksgemeinschaft or a racial community. On one hand, the Nazis were very clear on who the enemy was–the Jew–but there was less clarity on how this purified racial community should be represented. Many Nazis liked and collected “modern art,” and it was some years before it was finally determined that art had to be classicizing and naturalistic. Modernism in art originated, not in Germany, but had invaded Germany, coming from other, alien sources, incompatible with the soil of the nation, the Heimat, the homeland. Above all, modern art was foisted upon the naïve art world by Jewish dealers, intent upon polluting the purity of Germany. Font selection for the Third Reich was no different from the official art style–it took years to decide upon and disseminate the official Nazi font.

One might ask the question of why so much emphasis was placed upon the font in Nazi Germany. Surely Germany already had a “national” font that connotated “Germany” and “Germanic” in fraktur. In fact, in the minds of many, even today, fraktur was the “official” font of Nazi Germany. However, the actual story was more complicated. Outside of the elegant printed Bibles of the fifteenth century, most books were printed in the difficult to read Gothic style known as Textura. In Germany, a cruder version, called Schwabacher, was the favored typefont. For Emperor Maximilian, such an unartistic font was unacceptable for his planned library of beautifully printed books. The new font for the Emperor needed to be both German and legible, incorporating the humanism of the Antiqua style, which was a Renaissance version of the ancient Roman lettering. The Emperor’s font designers turned to history and used the calligraphic bastarda handwriting. This distinctive font, “a mixture of Gothic and Roman, and blending the qualities of both,” according to H. Liebaers in Mostly in the Line of Duty: Thirty Years with Books, had been the official font of the Burgundian court. Bastarda was, as was often the case in early printed books, a version of Medieval handwriting, cursive, adapted to a formalized font, as designed by the court calligrapher, Leonhard Wagner. Sadly, only four of the proposed series of books were published but they were illustrated by artists such as Dürer and Cranach, with Dürer’s Unterweysung giving lasting fame to fraktur.

The contest between Fraktur and Antiqua was also a religious one in Germany, the birthplace of the Protestant version of Christianity. The Protestants used Fraktur, while the Catholics used Antiqua. In contrast, the general readership, especially in the scientific community, the preferred font was Latin. The state of affairs–multiple fonts, each having a different connotation, continued well into the twentieth century. The introduction of the modernized fonts, such as Futura or the Bauhaus font of Herbert Bayer complicating font matters in Germany. It seemed as if Hitler himself would solve the issue–tradition or modernity. Surprisingly, Hitler, who had little use for Modernism, came down on the side of the modern, stating in 1934 that fraktur was not appropriate to “an age of steel and iron, glass and concrete, of womanly beauty and manly strength..The script called Gothic is replaced by the script we have called Latin.” Hitler’s proclamation was particularly interesting, with all his emphasis on gender implications, in light of the preceding semiotics of the dueling fonts. According to the book, Smallest Mimes. Defaced Representation and Media Epistemology by Paul Majkut, “Antiqua was deemed ‘un-German’ and Roman fonts were castigated as ‘trivial’ because of their ‘light’ fonts. Fraktur, like all Blackletter scripts’ dark, dense strokes, was viewed as representing German character marked by qualities of substantiality, gravitas, fortitude, and intellectual depth.”

In the book, Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich, George Lachmann Mosse explained that the Nazis were no ordinary political party. The Nazis were a cultural force that wanted to envelop all aspects of German life with National Socialism. “This society,” he wrote, “would not allow for the differentiation between politics and daily life which many of us naturally make..Hitler’s aim was to construct an organic society in which every aspect of life would be integrated with its basic purpose..no one could be allowed to stand aside. Politics..was..the concrete expression of the Nazi world view. This world view as held to be the very crux of what it meant to be German, and therefore, politics was the consciousness of race, blood, and soil, the essence of the Nazi definition of human nature..Such a total view of politics meant–as it was called after January 1933–Gleichschaltung, “equalizing the gears” of the nation.” This “equalization” of a complex culture was a massive undertaking, which aimed at nothing less than a complete rebuilding of Germany in a very compressed period of time, from 1933 to 1939. During this six-year sequence, and it was a sequence, various elements of the society were brought in line with the Nazi way of thinking. As Mosse wrote in his book, “What developed between 1933 and 1939 was the level of effective enforcement, not the kind of culture which was to be enforced.” This is a book of primary documents that show the various proclamations over time, adding up to a loyalty to the Nazi regime that preceded the actual politics. In other words, once they were trained to be obedient to the will of Hitler, the German people would fall in line with any laws or demands that presented themselves, regardless of their contents or implications.

It was to be expected that art, in all its manifestations, would fall under the notion of “enforcement.” Individuals who worked in the arts were required to join the Reich Chamber of Culture (Reichskulturkammer) long before any official policy emerged. Therefore, artists were positioned in waiting, so to speak, dependent upon the demands of the regime and trained into obedience. As Mosse wrote, “..we are dealing with an emotionally charged and unified ideology which was translated into fact by 1934..This new Germany was to be built upon the foundation of the “new man,” and this man, in turn, was the product of the correct world view. The world view or ideology (and the terms can be used interchangeably), was all-inclusive: a true instrument of reform. Originating in the wellsprings of man’s nature, it was pushed outward into all aspects of human life. Because this world view arose from the depths of the human soul, its expression must be cultural and not material..That is why Hitler himself put such a high valuation upon artistic endeavors, and his own artistic ambitions must have played a part in this emphasis..The ‘new man’ must be culturally centered, creative person who through his creative drive activates his “Germanism.”

Der Stürmer Christian blood.jpg

At first, it seemed as if fonts had escaped the attention of the Nazis. The neutrality was surprising given that before they ascended to power, the party had used the fraktur font for all of its publications. However, once in office, a compromise was reached and a standardization for fonts was apparently decided. As Gideon Reuveni wrote in Reading Germany: Literature and Consumer Culture in Germany Before 1933, “Fraktur became the German national typeface and all official publications, newspapers, and textbooks were required to use it. The decision did not eradicate rounded typefaces. In the 1930s we find abundant use of Antiqua fonts in books, advertisements, and magazines.” Reuveni speculated that the decision to allow two fonts to coexist was an economic one. It is also known that non-Germans found the fraktur font difficult to read and that Hitler wanted Europeans and Americans to be able to follow his career and triumphs with ease. German designers had long been on a crusade to modernize and to usher Germany into the modern era. In addition, the conquered territories seized by the Nazis in the late 1930s all used Antiqua and all needed to be communicated with through printed materials. So, for the meantime, practicality dually reigned with ideology.

For the modern artists of the twenties and thirties, the objection to serifs comes from the fact that the serif was the result of handwriting with a pen, which leaves traces at the ends of each letter. It was indisputably clear to the artists that times had moved on and that design must reflect this decades-long evolution. For font designers, the goal was to replace the hand with the machine, which was incapable of such idiosyncrasies. When Jan Tschichold (1902-1974) entered the field of book design and page layout, there were fonts aplenty but they were applied without regard to the page or its shape, much less the content of the text itself. “The essence of the New Typography,” he said, “is clarity.” Shaking off “beauty” for the doctrine of “form,” Tschichold was closer to László Moholy-Nagy in his holistic conception of book design. Impacted by De Stijl, he insisted on certain rules for printing according to strict geometric principles. He rejected the idea of arranging the print on the page as if there were an imaginary central spine or focal point ruling from the middle. For Tschichold, the form is the content of the printed page. But, following the logic of De Stijl, he insisted upon the balance of asymmetry in which logic and order become possible. As he declaimed in 1930, “Standardization, instead of individualization. Cheap books, instead of private-press editions. Active literature, instead of passive leather bindings.”

Image result for jan tschichold the new typography

Tschichold followed the thinking of Adolf Loos and thought that fonts should not be decorative and should divest themselves of ornament, such as serifs. Like Renner, he came to the conclusion that the “grotesque” or sans-serif fonts could be the source of modern typefaces. By paying attention to the needs of the content itself and by purging the page of its imaginary center, the designer can then arrange blocks of text in proportional relationship to the size of the page which needed to be standardized. The arrangement or layout design can be asymmetrical and balanced and harmonious, not in terms of the Renaissance middle or central axis, but along the rules of abstract painting. But he cautioned that typography is not painting and is led by another logic. Tschichold called his “rules,” or philosophy, “asymmetrical typography,” by which he meant layout. He insisted upon the importance of the blank white page which becomes part of the design. In his book, he dealt briefly with color, maintaining the common combination of Black and White with Red as the accent. His own fonts were heavier than Futura, but Tschichold always insisted upon modernity. He argued that the traditional German ‘blackface’ could never be “comfortable” in the modern world and “must be totally excluded as a basic type for contemporary work.” He objected to the “emphatically national, exclusivist character of fraktur” now “retrograde” in a transnational world. Tschichold asked, “Do other typefaces express anything? Is it really a typeface’s job to express spiritual matters? Yes and no.” The designer argued that since each typeface must express its age—a common sentiment in German in the 1920s—this is an age of clarity and truth, in search for “purity of appearance.” In his book, the artist insisted,

None of the typefaces to whose basic form some kind of ornament has been added (serifs in Roman type, lozenge shapes and curlicues in Fraktur) meet our requirements for clarity and purity. Among all the types that are available, the so-called “Grotesque” (sanserif) or “block letter” (skeleton letters would be a better name) is the only one in spiritual accordance with our time. To proclaim sanserif as the typeface of our time is not a question of being fashionable, it really does express the same tendencies to be seen in our architecture. It will not be long before not only the “art” typefaces, as they are sometimes called today, but also the classical typefaces, disappear, as completely as the contorted furniture of the eighties.

Like Paul Renner (1878-1956), Tschichold relied upon simple geometry to construct his plain “essential” letters. That said, the main contribution of Tschichold was his new rules for layout and design in a modern age. Hand drawn illustration was rejected in favor of half-tone photographs, and he freed design from the tyranny of the center and replaced the image of the artist with that of the engineer who reformed fonts without reference to aesthetics. Tschichold and Renner knew of each other’s work and knew each other as professionals. As principal, Renner hired Tschichold in 1925 to teach typography at the Münich Meisterschule für Deutschlands Buchdrucker (Master School for German Printers). These two masters of the font and the new book layout were part of a larger and wider effort in Germany to modernize, including the Bauhaus in Dessau. But in 1933, the Nazis seized control of the German government and everything changed for artists. Their crimes were numerous and ideological, ranging from being modern to being Jewish to being “international,” that is not German.

Image result for jan tschichold the new typography

For Renner and Tschichold, their faults were more political than cultural. Renner had long held socialist beliefs, for moral reasons, which was not a problem during the prevailing socialist Weimar Republic. Tschichold, like many intellectuals of the twenties and thirties supported–naïvely as it turned out–the Communist Revolution in Russia. In other words, for both artists, politics aside, their “cues” or their inspirations came from the incorrect sources, the Eastern Europeans and the Russians. For the Nazis, the Slavs were an inferior race and their artistic ideas and styles had infiltrated Germany, polluting its purity. Tschichold would be the first to be arrested. Indeed, as soon as the Nazis were in power, the tide turned against Renner, who was one of the early artists to be arrested as “subversive” by the new government. Because both artists were interested in the work done by the Constructivists in Russia, they were accused of being “Bolsheviks,” a term that would later be used to persecute these designers. Although unlike Renner, Tschichold had not created a widely-used counter-font, like Futura, his adherence to Constructivist design made him a “cultural Bolshevik” in the eyes of the Nazis, who found a Mondrian painting which they thought was a safe and spied various printed and artistic materials linked to Constructivist works. Tschichold was arrested and held for six weeks. Renner protested and was also arrested in 1933. To make matters worse, Renner, in what turned out to be an ill-advised move, published Kulturbolschewismus in 1932, a strong statement opposing Nazi ideas and policies. This outspoken opposition was particularly risky for, in that same year, the Bauhaus in Dessau was closed by the local Nazi government. He arranged for George Trump to be appointed principal of the school to be appointed in his stead, thus avoiding the fate of the Dessau Bauhaus.

Book image

The website wiedler.ch explained the impetus of this dangerous book: “In his brilliant essay “kulturbolschewismus?” (culture bolshevism?) Renner demasks the Nazi’s campaign against modern art and architecture as false, racist and dangerous. the title refers to a term that was popular among conservative ideologists and the national socialist party to denounce modern art as “non-germanic”. and Renner puts a provocatively oversized question mark after it! In 1932, Paul Renner was unable to find a German publisher for his explosive essay, but finally it was published by his Swiss friend Eugen Rentsch. The response was a mixed one: while Thomas Mann wrote a letter full of praise to Renner, the brown newspaper “der völkische beobachter” published a spiteful review. after the Nazis seized power in March 1933, Renner was arrested, his office searched, and he was sacked from his post at the meisterschule. He spent the next 12 years in “inner emigration”, painting. Soon after its publication, “kulturbolschewismus?” had to be withdrawn from the German book market. few original copies seem to have survived.”

But according to Keith Houston in his book, Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks, after his arrest, “Tschichold reacted strongly to his ill-treatment at the hands of the Third Reich and repudiated his earlier work, detecting ‘fascist’ elements in the strictures of Modernism.”Alarmed that so many of his students were showing up in Nazi uniforms, Tschichold slipped out of the country and found safety and new employment in Switzerland, where he spent the rest of his life. When he was released, Renner went into what was called inner exile and refrained from criticizing the font now and forever identified as Nazi. But, as it turned out, fraktur was actually not the font of the Nazis: this misunderstanding probably dates back to the early use of fraktur in Nazi publications. That said apparently confusion among fonts must have continued for some time, inside Germany. Order had to be imposed. Order, of course, had to flow from Hitler himself who had long preferred the antique, the ancient, and its evocations of the Roman Empire, after which the Thousand Reich was modeled. Despite its “German-ness” the fraktur font had to be eliminated in favor of the Roman heritage because in his disorganized mind Hitler determined that the Romans were a part of the Nordic race–despite their southern roots—and were prescient in their hostility and opposition to the Jewish faith. Hitler banned fraktur. The question is how did Hitler justify jettisoning a “German” script in favor of a font alien to Germany? The answer, as it always would be, was to blame the Jews.

In 1941, Martin Borman decided that the Fraktur font was a bit too Gothic and had it officially replaced with Antiqua. Ironically the fraktur font, once considered quintessentially “German,” was declared to be too “Jewish.” He stated, “To regard or describe the so-called Gothic script as a German script is false. In reality, the so-called Gothic script consists of Schwabacher Jewish letters. Just as they later took over possession of newspapers, Jews resident in Germany when the printing of books was introduced took over book-printers, and thus the strong influence of Schwabacher Jewish letters came into Germany.”

Bormann1941_460

Strangely, the heading of the stationary is the fraktur font. Nonetheless, Borman’s letter continued,

For general attention, on behalf of the Führer, I make the following announcement: It is wrong to regard or to describe the so-called Gothic script as a German script. In reality, the so-called Gothic script consists of Schwabach Jew letters. Just as they later took control of the newspapers, upon the introduction of printing the Jews residing in Germany took control of the printing presses and thus in Germany the Schwabach Jew letters were forcefully introduced. Today the Führer, talking with Herr Reichsleiter Amann and Herr Book Publisher Adolf Müller, has decided that in the future the Antiqua script is to be described as normal script. All printed materials are to be gradually converted to this normal script. As soon as is feasible in terms of textbooks, only the normal script will be taught in village and state schools. The use of the Schwabach Jew letters by officials will in future cease; appointment certifications for functionaries, street signs, and so forth will in future be produced only in normal script. On behalf of the Führer, Herr Reichsleiter Amann will in future convert those newspapers and periodicals that already have foreign distribution, or whose foreign distribution is desired, to normal script.

One should never seek consistency in the mind of those who are unbalanced, but, in the end, the fraktur font won. It seems that fraktur was used locally or internally when the Nazis were fighting to achieve power but that once the “empire” began to be built, the Antiqua came to the fore. Notice that serifs were beside the point and that Hitler never warmed to fonts associated with Communism and socialism. Despite the fraktur font being condemned as Jewish, as was stated earlier, this font is still linked to all things Nazi and to this day, the font carries with it all the horrors of the crimes of its former owners.

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German Artists in the Aftermath of the Great War, Part Three

AFTER THE GREAT WAR

John Heartfield: The Social Critic

One might ask, if there was a Third Reich, when were the first two Reichs and where does the Weimar Republic fit in? It’s an interesting question because in answering it, one comes to realize that the Republic is an odd, and perhaps, doomed interval, wedged in between centuries of absolutist regimes. The First Reich, which was never called the “First Reich,” only the Reich or the kingdom, was the revived Holy Roman Empire, brought back to life first by Charlemagne in 800, according to some. But other historians date the beginning of the First Reich by Otto I. By the middle of the tenth century, Otto had managed to bring much of northern Europe under his control. His military might and territorial domination meant that Otto was the temporal equal to Pope John XII, who needed the King’s protection. In return for the mutually beneficial partnership, the Pope crowned Otto the new Emperor of the now “Holy” Roman Empire in 962. At its peak, Otto’s Empire stretched north to south, from the North Sea, reaching down to absorb all of Italy, with the exception of the Papal States. Setting a precedent that would last for centuries, Otto I was strong enough to later depose John, install his chosen Pope, and take over the “holy” aspect of the Empire by controlling the Papacy. Otto II and Otto III, the son and grandson of the first emperor, used the title “Emperor” and their successors carried on the tradition of deciding who should be Pope for hundreds of years.

The title passed from family to family, through advantageous marriages: the Hohenstaufen and the Habsburg families ruled until modern times. For a thousand years, this Reich, which officially became “German” in 1452 and called the Heiliges Römisches Reich Deutscher Nation. Under this new designation, the Empire continued for four more centuries, only to finally be dissolved during the Napoléonic Wars in 1806. By that time, the capital of the Reich, a shell of its former self, was located south and east of the Germanic states, in Vienna; and out of this dissolution, the embryonic modern Germany began to emerge. It was Napoléon who divided the Germans from the Austrians and turned the Germans into the Confederation of the Rhine, a geographic and governmental creation, later ratified by the congress of Vienna. Emerging from the shards of the long-dead Empire, this Confederation consisted of a cluster of thirty-five monarchies and four free cities. The Deutscher Bund or German Confederation was dominated by Austria and Prussia, and the two powers vied with one another for power well into the nineteenth century. The prolonged struggle between two German-speaking cultures held back both the modernization and the consolidation of both sides. While England and France were building overseas Empires and significant navies, the Germanic factions wrestled with each other, intent on establishing internal European “empires,” to dominate north-eastern Europe. The Seven Weeks War of the mid-1860s ended with Prussia, under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck, vanquishing Austria. Prussia rose out of a long power struggle as threateningly militaristic and ambitious to expand, anxious to catch up with the nations seen as its new rivals. In less than ten years, Prussia subdued France, ending the Napoléon III’s Second Empire with the French surrender in 1871. In an act designed to humiliate France, Germany, the modern state, the Second Reich, was declared in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles, the former palace and home of the French kings.

George Grosz. The Engineer Heartfield ()

A united Germany, seeking “living room,” was a danger to Europe and the older powers kept wary eyes on this possible adversary. These mutual animosities almost certainly led to the disastrous Great War, a war into which Russia, Italy, France, and England fell, pulled down by the gravity of German desire to rule. The Second Reich ended when German finally recognized it could fight the Great War no longer and surrendered to the Allies. The Armistice in 1918 and the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm in November was the final and complete end to a short and ill-fated empire. A full thousand years under some form of autocracy and absolute rule had passed and suddenly, by Treaty, Germany was transformed into a Socialist Democratic Republic, an utterly alien political condition for the German people. The Weimar Republic lasted less than two decades and was wiped away by the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler who was “elected” in 1933. Hitler’s dream of another “Thousand Year Reich” was a mirror image of the First Reich, started by Otto I. It is also interesting to note that, less than a century after the Seven Weeks War, an Austrian once again ruled the German speaking people.

The Weimar Republic, a coalition government, was threatened from within and destabilized by the Allied powers from the very beginning. Unused to self-governance, the German people were locked into left-wing and right-wing power struggles politically, while the Treaty of Versailles saddled the nation with crippling reparations that had to be paid back. While the new nation fought to survive frequent incursions from the vengeful French, the sudden freedom from a repressive Empire allowed a surge of creativity in the arts. Under the most unlikely of circumstances, a new and modern cultural blossomed under what was surely a pale and baleful light. Minds now liberated from censorship, lives that had once been stunted by social disapproval enjoyed free reign, as Berlin became the European capital of sexual freedom, open to all tastes and needs and proclivities. Artists were allowed a certain level of freedom of expression, but the insecure Weimar Republic kept a wary eye on restive artists who dared to be too critical. And the most critical artists, whose sharp eyes and cynical minds, honed by a Dada sensibility, were the old friends John Heartfield (1891-1968) and George Grosz (1893-1959). They could not have foreseen the future, a period when the political unrest would prove to be the proving ground for a dangerous group of thugs, who would style themselves in elegant uniforms as “Nazis.” They attacked what was in front of them, not knowing that what lay ahead was much worse. As Patrizia C. McBride explained, the main weapon of Dada art with critical intent, photomontage, took on a different sensibility in Berlin:

While in a German context the initial inspiration for experimentation with visual and verbal collage may well have come from cubism’s “pasted-paper revolution,” it is significant that terms like Klebebilder and geklebte Bilder (pasted images) were soon supplanted by the generic term montage. To the radical artists associated with Dada and Constructivism, montage appeared preferable to the clumsy translations of the French collage because it directly evoked the world of machines, industrial production, and mass consumption, thus emphasizing the constructed quality of artifacts and their reliance on found materials and ready-made parts. The iconoclasm and antiestablishment streak of interwar montage practices have long been associated with an all-out assault on traditional notions of representation and narrative. In undermining the integrity of the artistic object, montage challenges the idealist premises that governed aesthetic dis- course in the nineteenth century, first and foremost the requirement that the artwork display a character of unity and organicity and thus allow for a hermeneuticc mode of reception based on the congruence between the whole and its component parts. Montage hinges on yanking elements out of their trusted environments and inserting them into new contexts.

In her article, “Weimar-Era Montage. Perception, Expression, Storytelling,” McBride stressed the formal impact of photomontage, but, when one is discussing Heartfield especially, it is equally important to establish the political context. The Weimar Republic was rent with competing factions that kept the government from effectively gaining control, and Heartfield was an unrelenting gadfly, stabbing at the heart of the new democratic Germany. During the 1920s, the Weimar Republic seemed a sinking ship run by fools and incompetents and their critical art was aimed towards the government and the favored and corrupt few who were prospering while the rest of the nation could not get out from under the animosity of the victors, especially France. In his book on The Weimar Republic, Stephen J. Lee explained the internal weakness within the government which prevented it from heading off fascism. The SPD was the most powerful of the coalition parties, but deliberately kept its interests narrow, directed to the working class, refusing to expand its appeal to the middle class. According to Lee, the Center Party (Zentrum or Z), mainly a Catholic party was uninterested in a Protestant constituency and would move to the hard right in the 1930s. The liberal parties, the DDP (Democratic party) and the DNVP (German Nationalist Party or the DVP), were “fundamentally divided between its progressive and conservative wings,” but were also not interested in the middle class. As Lee pointed out, “..after 1928, the DDP and DVP lost almost all their electoral support from the Nazis.”

Obviously, the government consisted of a variety of interests, none of which would seek support from the broad middle and build a support system for the Republic, leaving the vast unallied voters open for a hostile takeover. The fact that the Nazis moved into this vacuum of power was perhaps less a factor of political parties that pulled apart instead of pulling together and more about the nation’s lack of experience with self-governance. John Heartfield (once Helmut Hertzfeld) was a bitter opponent of the SPD and much of his work during the 1920s was directed against the Socialists. Like many adherents of the hard-left, he blamed the SPD for betraying the Left by lending a hand in crushing the Revolution in 1919. As a result of what seemed to be a failure of political nerve, Heartfield, along with most artists and intellectuals in the Republic were either sympathizers of or members of the German Communist Party. Lee explained the position of the party of Heartfield, the KPD (Kommunistisch Partei Deutschlands), in relation to the Weimar Republic:

The far left also had a role in the destruction of the Weimar Republic. In the crucial period after 1931, they refused to collaborate with the moderate parties to save the Republic; there was, in other words, no coalition of the left and center to hold back the advancing right. Why did this not happen?..the KPD had strong reasons for not doing this. In addition to their bitter memories of 1919, they had an ideological perception of the future which could not include the Weimar Republic. Stalin instructed the KPD not to collaborate in any way with the rest of the left, regarding the SPD as ‘social fascists,’ who gained ‘the trust of the masses through fraud and treachery.’ In the case of Thälmann, the leader of the KPD, saw Nazism as a catalyst for the eventual triumph of Communism. It would shake up bourgeois capitalism before collapsing in its turn–having cleared the way for a Communist revolution. According to this logic, it made no sense to help prolong the Republic..the KPD were therefore indirectly, but knowingly, involved in the rise of Hitler by 1933.

Heartfield claimed, incorrectly, that he joined the Communist party in 1918 during the founding congress but that congress did not take place until the end of December 1918 and the first of January in 1919. The assertion was one of emphasis–he was a strong and loyal member of the KPD from the start and identified so thoroughly with the working class that he wore overalls, styling himself as a Monteuranzug, an engineer or someone who assembles. As one of the first members of Berlin Dada, Heartfield and Grosz separated themselves and their art from the other members in their insistence that art had to be not only revolutionary as art but revolutionary as political art. The artists Raoul Haussmann and Richard Huelsenbeck and Hannah Höch, according to Dawn Ades in Dada and Surrealism, were more apolitical, focusing on an artistic revolution and steering clear of confrontation. Heartfield and Grosz, in contrast, put their art in the service of Communism and supported the working class and its struggles against the ruling powers.

Rudolf E. Kuenzli’s article, “John Heartfield and the Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung,” noted that “the new photojournalism of illustrated magazines with circulations of up to two million copies greatly determined the interpretation of social reality in Weimar Germany. Although the use of photo-essays was a powerful innovation, it served the interests of the middle and upper classes by never questioning the social and political structures of the Weimar Republic.” In other words, because photography had a claim on the “truth,” that is what the camera’s eye captured, the public would never question the authenticity of the photograph itself. However, this very public, even after decades of manipulation by the Second Reich, still did not understand that the photograph constructed a “reality” that could be completely disconnected from the truth. Coupled with explanatory text, the photo-essay was a powerful new discursive weapon.

Heartfield and his younger brother, Wieland Hertzfelde (the “e” was added when he was an adult) set up a radical press Malik Verlag, which published left-wing literature. They published, for example, the German translations of the novels of American writer Upton Sinclair, another champion of the workers and of the truth from the perspective of socialism. With Heartfield designing the book covers, the press set new standards for artistic designs that not only caught the viewer’s eye but also sent out a political message, even to those who were just passing by a bookseller’s stall on a German street. Even more innovative these book covers were meant to be removed from the book so that the owner could see how the message–words and images–flowed beyond the front cover to the back cover.

John Heartfield. Der 9. Januar (1926)

Once opened flat, a complete picture or message was revealed on the dust jacket. The purpose of these publications, as Kuenzli noted, was to provide a counter-narrative to the mainstream flow of “information.” To that end, many of these covers had an apparently three-dimensional effect. The flat silhouette of George Grosz on the cover of Gesellschaft, Künstler und Kommunismus (1921) by Wieland Herzfelde was unusual. Heartfield turned the rather staid design of paper covers into an art form in their own right in which text played with picture and photography was sliced and diced and redeployed to jolt the passive reader.

In fact, the Weimar Republic was a golden age for book cover design. The back-to-front innovation was used by other artists and strong eye-catching or Blickfang work was not uncommon. However, the cover designs by Heartfield were, for the most part, far more complex and contained a great deal of information, as the artist wasted no opportunity to communicate. Although other designers also used photography, the use of the photograph, cut up and severed from its original context, was hostile and subversive to the status quo. By combining apparently “truthful” segments into a new assemblage (the artist as an engineer), Heartfield literally under-cut the meaning of the photograph by demonstrating just how easily and effectively the “truth” can be manipulated.

John Heartfield. Cover for Franz Jung’s Die Eroberung der Maschinen (1925)

After his early experiments with photomontage for Berlin Dada, Heartfield took his new political weapon, photomontage, and dedicated it to the promotion of the Communist Party and socialist ideals, an unwavering quest that divided his oeuvre during the Republic into two main bodies, one design oriented and the other politically directed. His book covers for Malik were works of layout and design, and although he also created montages for The Red Flag, a communist newspaper, his magazine covers for AIZ, also a communist publication, are more well-known. The next post will discuss Arbeiter-Illustrierte-Zeitung in relation to the mainstream photo essay and the work of pioneering editors such as Stefan Lorant and the power of illustrated news.

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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

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Edmund Husserl and Philosophy

EDMUND HUSSERL (1859 – 1938)

It is the dead date of Edmund Husserl that is of great interest. The fact that the philosopher died in the year 1938 speaks volumes of, not just his fate, but the history of the reception of his work. Like the philosophers of the Frankfurt School, Husserl was a Jewish scholar in Hitler’s Germany and was all but doomed. Unlike the theoreticians at the Institute for Social Research, Husserl apparently made no attempt to leave his homeland. The fact that Husserl and his wife, the daughter of a renowned Jewish scholar, had converted to Christianity mattered little to the Nazis who were obsessed with “blood.” Exclusionary laws passed between 1933 and 1937 pushed Jews out of public life and Husserl was pushed out of his home university at Freiberg by the very man he had mentored, Martin Heidegger. Heidegger’s complicity with the Nazi regime was but part of a general eagerness on the part of German intellectuals to make a “Faustian bargain,” as it were with Der Führer. As Robert P. Ericksen wrote in Complicity in the Holocaust: Churches and Universities in Nazi Germany,

the Nazi regime actually found enthusiastic support in German universities during the transition of 1933, from students and faculty alike, and Nazis were effective in weeding out Jews and left-wing critics, thoroughly and without mercy. For the rest of the Nazi period, the atmosphere at German universities seems to have been one of enthusiastic support for the new regime and its politics, rather than resistance or criticism.

For what appear to be historical reasons—the interruption of the free flow of philosophical ideas and writing from Germany during the ten year period of the Third Reich—there was a delay in the reception of the philosophy of Husserl. But one must consider also the fact that the thought of Husserl evolved: from a focus on mathematics to logic to psychology, until after decades of deep and complex meditations on the ontology and then on the epistemology of things, he settled on phenomenology as a means to explicate the foundation of reality. Husserl considered his approach to phenomenon as being akin to the transcendentalism of Kant, with whom he found an affinity, and, in his desire to transcend to a universality for a firmly grounded philosophy, he was also akin to Georg Hegel in his absolutism. Husserl’s longing to construct a philosophy of universality began in earnest after the Great War, a war that killed one son and wounded another. He translated his sentiments into a scientific approach to the problem of who we encounter or perceive objects. By rejecting situational interpretations, Husserl attempted to eliminate relativity. The Nazis also despised relativity, but they interpreted the philosopher as being inclusive, which is somewhat different from universal. In the end it was an epistemological system of the universal that was facing a racist ideology of purity and superiority, and, given that his earlier work was tainted with anti-war sentiments, Husserl was simply could not win such a contest.

As Dermont Moran relates in Edmund Husserl: Founder of Phenomenology, although Husserl was forbidden to publish in Germany, the elderly scholar continued an active lecture schedule and he continued to write until he fell ill and died. His former colleagues at his university refrained from attending his funeral, but those who admired his work, such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, gathered together his unpublished manuscripts, which were salvaged for publication throughout the 1950s. Thus Husserl’s oeuvre gradually became available in English in time to filter into American universities so that by the 1960s, graduate students, even those in the arts, could be come conversant with that aspect of his very varied writings with which the philosopher became most identified: phenomenology. And, in turn, phenomenology provided the language for the artists and critics associated with the Minimalist art movement, who were seeking to provide a philosophical framework for reductive shapes which aspired for “objecthood.” Although there is much in Husserl’s thought that seems to relate to the New York art world, from the materialistic formalism of Clement Greenberg and his followers to the very antithesis of Greenbergian formalism, Minimal Art, it is well to remember that Husserl was not translated into English until the 1960s and 1970s and any art world knowledge of his work would have been second hand.

Husserl’s long search for an unshakable ground for philosophy came to fruition in 1907—the year of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Alfred Stieglitz’s The Steerage—when he gave a series of lectures which were developed later as The Idea of Phenomenology. True to his methodical nature, he was more of a note maker than a manuscript writer, Husserl’s follow up books, Ideen I and Ideen II, evolved slowly during and after the Great War. Although there were treasure troves of unpublished work, these are the seminal works for phenomenology. For Fernand de Saussure and for Ludwig Wittgenstein, the proper study of philosophy was language or Logos, which is fully expressed in speech. However, for Husserl the proper domain of philosophy was a special kind of seeing, called phenomenology or that which is based upon discernible phenomena. Given that this is a philosopher who was trained in mathematics and logic and who swerved towards a neo-Kantian perspective, it is clear that Husserl would examine the relationship between the human subject and the world of material culture or objects in the world.

Phenomenology begins of course, with the dialectical logic of Georg Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit and ends with Husserl who, many will argue, is the end point of Western philosophy. Given that Husserl regarded philosophy as a universal science and sought to uncover an absolute foundation of knowledge, phenomenology is the totality of human objectivity that creates a “transcendental subjectivity” or a universal ego. It is the human mind who not only recognizes the Other—objects, other people—but which also structures these experiences. This is where Husserl is in agreement with Kant but Husserl, the mathematician, the logician, must cordon off these experiences in such as a way to purify them so that these phenomena can truly be known.

A “phenomenon” is an entity as it appears to the unconscious. All being is being for consciousness. In other words, objects exist independently of consciousness. Kant insisted that, even if this were so, these objects were inaccessible except through mediation; but Husserl asserted that it was possible to recover lost origin by disclosing the (Kantian) constructive activity of consciousness. Although neither Friedrich Nietzsche nor Wittgenstein were interested in recovering lost origins, Husserl’s quest is for clarity and “complete clearness” in philosophy. He believed that phenomenology was a special kind of seeing that could be cultivated through an operation called “bracketing.” Bracketing in math is simply a way of setting off or aside a grouping of numbers with parentheses or square, curly or angled brackets. Bracketing is separating a set of numbers in order to act upon them in a certain manner. And thus is a phenomena can be set aside or apart or “bracketed” from its cultural surroundings, it can be “seen” in a more rigorous or universal or essential fashion. This “reduction” of surrounding noise is referred to by Husserl as an “eidetic” reduction that is capable of transcending the relativity of that which lies outside the brackets.

Possibly because of his disillusionment towards the War or more possibly due to his foundation in logic, Husserl was suspicious of early Twentieth Century pragmatism and its relativity. Worse than the turn towards relativity, Kantian “disinterest” had become fatally entangled with “naturalism” which extended knowledge of nature to the psychic processes as thought they, too, were natural objects. In other words, the natural attitude or reaction of humans was to impose their personal (relative) understandings or interpretations upon a circumstance or thing. These mis-directions that had been allowed in philosophy had caused a crisis that Husserl saw as solvable by a return to the ideal of rational certainty, pioneered by the Greeks. Like those philosophers of the nineteenth century, Husserl admired the Greeks and considered them the first Moderns because the Greeks, in contrast to the other cultures of their era, were able to disentangle themselves from the “mythico-religious” and to attend to the theoretical or philosophical aspects of life. To be sure that one would achieve clarity and rationality, one must take what Husserl called the Natural Standpoint or the phenomenological stance. What we experience from this stance is the “fact-world.” But we are then instructed to doubt this fact world, that is, we are asked to suspend “belief” and make more pure “judgments” about this world.

We bracket the object in this fact-world in that we take the object “out of action”, we “disconnect” ourselves from our “interest” in or knowledge of this object, and thus we detach ourselves from the object. From this attitude of Husserlian disinterestedness, we now possess a “unique form of consciousness.” We now see differently and what we see are the “essences” of things. Husserl calls the result of this “transcendentally reduced experience” to be the self-appearance, the self-exhibiting, the self-giveness of objects themselves. We are and have become directly aware of objects, not just their appearances but their thing-ness, their very existence. In other words, we have bracketed out that which is extrinsic to the object and become fully into its presence and reflect upon the way in which the object is present for the consciousness. Husserl was not so much concerned with the meaning of the objects as with their existence as evidence. Husserl considered himself as an “archaeologist” like Freud, but he did not excavate for meaning but for an origin–what the object is in existence: the being of the object. Rather than a unity, according to Husserl, consciousness then is a flow of realizations in experience of the object that allow the object to come into being for the subject.

Within this flow through a process of “unfolding” of layers or strata of consciousness, what is sought is the ‘foundedness” of the object . The result of the stance of phenomenology would be a “rigorous disengagement” and ”systemic neutrality” towards phenomenon. Ultimately, Husserl’s influence expanded and the method of bracketing would hopefully achieve the certainty and clarity in philosophy that he desired. The philosopher was part of a larger group of philosophers concerned with the mechanisms of consciousness—not psychology—from Bergson to Merleau-Ponty. Thanks to their continued interest in his work, Husserl’s Ideas: General Introduction in Pure Phenomenology was eventually published in English in 1931 but the only work he considered as complete at his death, Die Krisis der eruopäischen Wissenschaften und die transzendentale Phänomenoligie, delivered as lectures in 1935 and 1936, would not be published until 1954. Although, with hindsight, we can see Husserl as part of a larger phenomenon played out in the arts as the “new objectivity,” Husserl’s philosophy was, like the art of the Thirties, caught up in the rising tide of the next war. Like many creators of his generation, Husserl would have to wait for a new generation, emerging after the Second World War, to appreciate his ideas. Until then, the world would be propelled into catastrophe by belief systems and ideology that shaped a destructive force in Nazi Germany, which resulted in one of the greatest brain drains in modern times as scholars fled to America.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

Podcast 55: Nazi Art, Part Three

NAZI SCULPTURE

Long sequestered and rarely viewed, recent art historical writings have begun to examine the art of Fascism. This series of podcasts, in four parts, attempts to answer a series of questions: what were the goals of Nazi art, who were the Nazi artists—the painters and sculptors—and what was the impact of Nazi art? This podcast presents the cultural context of Nazi art and looks at Nazi sculpture to examine the causes of its ultimate failure as art.

 

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad or iPhone.

Remember that you must download iBooks on your iPad or iPhone.

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline

Podcast 54: Nazi Art, Part Two

THE PROPAGANDA OF NAZI PAINTING

Long sequestered and rarely viewed, recent art historical writings have begun to examine the art of Fascism. This series of podcasts, in four parts, attempts to answer a series of questions: what were the goals of Nazi art, who were the Nazi artists—the painters and sculptors—and what was the impact of Nazi art? This podcast presents the cultural context of Nazi art and looks at Nazi painting to examine the causes of its ultimate failure as art.

 

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed. Thank you.

[email protected]

Important Announcement

The Podcasts from this Website

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available through iTunes and can be listened to on your iPad or iPhone.

Remember that you must download iBooks on your iPad or iPhone.

Art History Unstuffed: The Podcasts

Also the complete

Art History Timeline Videos

by Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette

are now available and can be viewed on You Tube

This twenty-seven episode series of five minute videos span Western art history, from the Caves to Romanticism. The videos can be used by students and teachers as introductory, supplementary or review material. Each video is written,narrated and produced by the author of this website, and is reinforced by written text and is richly illustrated by many images. The entire Timeline can be accessed through

this link: Art History Timeline