[Marxism] portrait of the artist as a nazi pervert? - additional comment

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Tue May 11 08:22:01 MDT 2004

> Where are these sketches?

As I said I do not know whether they exist, or whether the story is true.

What makes them "pornographic" and the poses
> "obscene" other than the motive imputed to the artist by the authors
(Wallace et al
> )?

It is commonly acknowledged that the exact distinction between
"pornographic" and "erotic" is very difficult to define, and to a great
extent conventional. But, generally speaking, pornographic depiction focuses
sharply on sexual identity and genital activity but fails to depict the soul
or spirit of the person, and suggests lust (or desire for affection), but
not love. The term "pornography" is derived from the Greek "pornos" meaning
sexworker. This implies that, in pornography, the sexuality of a person is
transformed into abstract labor which can be appropriated and traded, and
that sexuality is abstracted out (separated) from the essence of a person,
who then more or less successfully plays a "role" (as in theatre) which does
however not reflect who that person really is. It could be argued that this
is "the portrayal or suggestion of intimacy combined with the destruction of
real human intimacy", an instance of reification, which (1) objectifies
something which intrinsically cannot be objectified without losing part of
its full potential meaning, and (2) renders something exclusive into
something anybody can buy in a shop with the belief something exclusive can
be bought. Hence, pornography suggests an impoverished, or at any rate less
developed understanding about what human intimacy and eroticism really
involve. Since I do not know how exactly Adolf Hitler depicted Angela in his
supposed sketches, I cannot adjudicate on their pornographic content.
Eroticism, by contrast, extends beyond the depiction of sexual identity or
naked flesh, integrating sexual identity with a real, historically formed
personality; the eroticism may not reside in the provision of a sexual
stimulus, but in the subjective or intersubjective erotic meaning which an
otherwise non-sexual stimulus happens to have for people. All of this is ABC
and well known by advertisers, who, knowing that "sex sells", seek to
associate products with stimuli which are commonly experienced as erotic.
One of the modes of dispossession is the appropriation of the erotic meaning
of living human subjects for the purpose of the consumption by somebody
else, through deconstruction and reconstruction. This transforms human
subjects from creators of erotic meaning to consumers of erotic meaning,
with the result that overall erotic meaning is impoverished rather than
enriched and extended.

Would the same critique apply to another "artist" whose politics produced
> less murderous works?

Our aesthetic appreciation of a work of art is undoubtedly influenced by the
context in which it exists and was made. The reason for that is, that this
context affects the full potential meaning that it has. There is a sense in
which one has to be "in the know" to fully appreciate a work of art, i.e.
possess background information about the total context. Thus, a "naive"
appreciation of a work of art would only consider the work of art as such,
by itself, but a deeper appreciation would place it in the total context in
which it exists and was made, which constitutes its full potential meaning.
This is wellknown, and it is also wellknown that the rich and powerful often
seek to impose their own aesthetics on the masses, or deny the validity of
the aesthetics of subordinated classes and groups, or seek to appropriate
the aesthetic meanings of the subordinated classes for the purpose of
"novelties". By reflecting ourselves in art, we can be inspired to
spiritually enrich ourselves, and extend the boundaries of what is possible
for human beings to be and to create.

If we looked at the drawings of Geli while ignorant of who
> drew them, would we draw the same conclusions as to their artistic merit?

Yes and no. If, for example, the supposed drawings were just bad drawings,
then knowing that Hitler produced them, may not affect our aesthetic
assessment very much at all. They were just bad. If on the other hand they
were very good drawings, the fact that Hitler drew them might not affect our
aesthetic judgement of the artwork much either. Nevertheless, the authorship
and context of the drawings might affect our aesthetic judgement, in the
sense that they add to the meaning of artwork - thus, if the drawings were
bad, we might feel this showed something about the ugly, immoral or twisted
nature of Hitler as a person or the social crisis of the time that he lived
in. Or, if the artwork was very good, we might feel that it is ironic or
paradoxical that a person so immoral and ugly could create such beautiful
things amidst such terrible conditions, and probe the specific causes and
contradictions which made this result possible. One of the characteristics
of capitalist development is the increasing functionalisation or
instrumentalisation of artwork, as suggested for instance by Walter
Benjamin. That is, artwork becomes signifier which is just a means for
gaining access to desirable experiences, for example sex of a certain type
or beautiful people or entry to certain cultures, and so on. In that case,
art is no longer a pursuit of beauty and aesthetic insight for its own sake,
but just a means for appropriation. One of the sources of counterculture is
the revolt against the theft or abuse of artistic or erotic expression for
the purpose of functionalisation and instrumentalisation, processes which
refer to the immoral appropriation of what the other has, to the detriment
of human creative powers.


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