Monday, 6 August 2018

Entartete Kunst

How should we react if a thoroughly evil, sadistic, degenerated mind of one of the most immoral, diabolical criminals correctly explains the Pythagorean theorem? That he is not as demented, as immoral as we thought? That the Pythagorean theorem must somehow be evil as well to be capable of being explained by a criminal? One of the odds of the human psyche is that it is so manifold, so rich in diversity, that things can be exist in different compartments, sometimes interconnected, sometimes entirely disconnected from each other. Therefore it is important to make distinctions between the thing being said and the person saying it. Logic, meaning, descriptions of reality are 'things in themselves', which have to be evaluated for themselves. Hitler was a vegetarian, but that does not mean that vegetarism is evil or fascist.

The same goes for art. The nazis annexed high culture in an attempt to lend credibility to one of the most destructive and evil regimes the world has ever seen, but that does not mean that any culture thus victimized, is tainted by association. People who think that 20C figurative art and tonal music is part of an attempt to support insanity and evil, are blaming the victim, and thus unintentionally side with the forces which wanted to destroy the realm of true artistic achievement and humanist expression.

Music and visual art after WW I show a field of the greatest diversity, ranging from traditionalism to an avantgardism that wanted to reject everything from the past since that was the cradle of the senseless insanity of the war. An ironic or cynical expression of that insanity, meant as critique and warning, became part of the artistic field; deformation, ugliness, emptiness, frivolity and nihilism - as understandable reaction to war trauma - became artistic extensions of the creative palette, as well as a surface of coldness and emotional suppression.

In 'Avantgarde, Trauma, Spiritualität' the German musicologist Wolfgang-Andreas Schultz explores this territory with the instrument of depth psychology and the history of ideas, an impressive endeavor which has recently been extended and crowned by his 'Die Heilung des Verlorenen Ichs' which offers an entirely credible and enlightening analysis of the subject, plus perspectives for future developments.

The painful conclusion of all this is, that the notorious exhibition of 'Entartete Kunst' that the nazis organised in 1937, although a primitive and ignorant thing, touched a point of truth and reality: that deformation and ugliness had entered the field of artistic expression. Only, the real reasons were completely missed, and the painful effect of so much modern art (and music) merely described as a process of erosion of something that had been worthwhile and noble. Given the grim circumstances of the Weimar Republic and the devastating effects of the Great Depression, the general longing for something better in life was thus cleverly manipulated. And the art which was offered as an alternative to 'degenerate deformation', a rude and kitschy form of classicism, besmeared the reality of any classical art from the past that had survived the times. The annexation by the nazis of 'classical art and music' as the expression of the 'purity of the German race' does not mean, that Rembrandt and Beethoven are fascistoid, nor that modernism is superior to surviving classicism because of it having been banned by dangerous idiots. The aureole of moral superiority surrounding post-1945 modernism and its forerunners from the interbellum is an unintentional present from the nazis, not an inherent characteristic of the art form, and the association with the Holocaust (after 1945 modernism as the only morally acceptable option) an entirely dishonest annexation of a moral catastrophe to enhance the legitimacy of the 'avantgarde'.

The association of new figurative art and new tonal (serious) music in our own time with rightwing politics belongs to the same category as the above-described miserable misunderstandings. It takes some courage to disentangle the reality of artistic expression from the tentacles of demented degeneration of evil politics, and to recognize dehumanizing tendencies in modernism itself, characteristics which are closer to totalitarian ideas than its advocates mostly are aware of. The irony of the 'Entartete Kunst' exhibition is that the degeneration that it wanted to reveal, was at the heart of the movement that wanted to reject it and replace it by imitation kitsch. The anti-humanism of much modernist art, also in its earlier manifestations in the twenties, is related to the anti-humanism of fascism and communism. This trait comes clearly to the fore in its post-1945 avantgardism with its ideologies, exclusions, fatwas, condemnations and directives - entirely independent from any evil political regime: the artists themselves were quite capable of organising their own mental concentration camp without such support. Recognizing the evil behind its manifestations is thus a complex and rather painful business, but unpicking the entanglements of history is the only way in which the reality of authentic artistic expression can be found again and understood.

Friday, 13 July 2018

Debussy versus Mahler

The well-known music journalist Norman Lebrecht, passionate lover of classical music, author of important books about music life and tireless collector of news, gossip, and useful information for music lovers, does not like Debussy. He doesn't hear any real meaning in his music and finds him an unpleasant person as well. Some time ago, in a post on his website 'Slipped Disc', he mentions an article he wrote about his dislike and the reasons why he much prefers Mahler. Both composers were more or less contemporaries, so comparing them is not so strange as it may seem at first, considering their utterly opposite musical worlds and intentions. I wrote a short text as a comment:


Excellent article and putting on the table what 'meaning in music' actually might be. Is musical meaning located in the work itself, or does it consist of references towards the world outside the work? My understanding of the article is, that it says that music which has no bearing on the human condition, is mere ornament, more or less chique entertainment, nice after a heavy meal but unconnected to the real business of human existence and hence, easily developed into sonic art which 'means' only itself. But I think it is clear that Debussy never intended to avoid meaning in his music, but located it away from the egocentric 'I' which was cultivated by the romantics. The comparison with Mahler makes all this clear: for Mahler, the emotional experience of the Self was central to his work, while for Debussy, it was the experience of the world that he wanted to render, without the 'I' coming in-between with its emotional outbursts. That is why we have 'Nuages' not as the Self reflecting upon itself during a summer night sky, but as the Self loosing itself in its observation of the sky where clouds calmly sail ahead. So, Debussy's art is, in fact, very modest, forgetting the Self and being absorbed into the world, and expressing the process very eloquently. 

This means that this music is very subtle, in psychological terms. In Pelléas, it is not the 'thrills' of nice sounds that form its meaning, but the revelation that the lovers occupy a wave length inaccessible to Golaud, who gets insane with jealousy because on that ethereal level, his wife commits adultery but not in 'real' terms, so she is 'guilty' and 'not guilty' at the same time. To be able to express such subtleties, a music is needed that is capable of expressing meaning with equally subtle means, and thus: meaning that directly relates to the human condition.

With Mahler, meaning is trumpeted fortissimo at every bar, so much so that the listener forgets and excuses his vulgarities, clumsiness and lack of stylistic consistency. It is, anyway, very true and meaningful music. Debussy however, opens a door to much more subtle worlds of meaning, through which we can only enter if we accept that there are more ways in which we can experience meaning in music. 

The obvious sensual beauty of Debussy's music does not show that it must therefore be 'meaningless', but in contrary underlines the beauty which is embedded in the natural world, and thus in the human psyche which has developed together with the world in millions of years of evolution. With an amplifying glass, Debussy picks-out the beauty of the world and relates it to our capacity to perceive it, thereby confirming that we are part of the world. If that is not meaning, within and outside music, I don't know what it otherwise could be. 

Debussy was, of course, misunderstood by modernists, who lacked the subtlety to hear where this music is 'about', and only perceived the sonic surface of the music. They also misunderstood Webern, who was a passionate and very frustrated romantic, and tried to concentrate the last drops of existential meaning in cristalline constructions, where they easily evaporated under the gaze of quasi-scientific postwar modernism.


The discussion that ensued on SD can be read here:

Thursday, 28 June 2018


I have read quite a lot about German history and the twenties and thirties, when the dark evil raised its ugly head. This was caused by the bottomless ignorance of people who, criticizing my ideas, think that tradition and especially, something like a classical tradition, is a fascistoid idea and a dangerous reactionary ideology - result of complete unawareness of the deep humanism that classical music represents. Such people think that when Hitler loved classical music, there must be something inherently evil in that art form. (He was also a vegetarian, loved dogs and did not smoke - must I eat steaks every day, kick every dog I meet and must I smoke havannas to show that I'm not a fascist?)

Today, a pre-fascist atmosphere blows through the Western world, which is something so incredible that it needs quite some adjustment to get to take-in the full reality of it. Here is an article which brings it clearly to the point, and I can vouchsafe that the process of today by which fascistoid actions try to undo civilization, are exactly those which were the tactics of the nazis in the last, very dark century. Only a combined effort of all people who realize the nature of the slippery slope the West is on, can prevent repetition of the worst. It is by far not too late, but the early signs of the type of evil have to be recognized. Better to be warned too much than not enough.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Regressive progress

If someone would still doubt the infinite craziness of the 'established' art world, with its 'art historians' trying to explain the obvious, then an article in The Atlantic will quench any such doubts.

"By 1982, Basquiat’s use of color, surface, and line had grown more confident. (Untitled [1982], acrylic and oil on linen."