Goldmann, Renate, Erhard Knauer, and Eusebius Wirdeier, eds. Moderne. Weltkrieg. Irrenhaus. 1900-1930. Bruche in der Psychiatrie. Kunst und Psychiatrie.
Heikaus, Ulrike, and Julia B. Kohne, eds. Krieg! Juden zwischen den Fronten 1914-1918. Berlin: Hentrich, 2014. 328 pp. 42.90 [euro] (paperback).
Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, ed. 1914, The Avant-Gardes at War. Cologne: Snoeck, 2013. 360 pp. 78.00 [euro] (hardcover).
Stiftung Deutsches Historisches Museum, ed. DerErste Weltkrieg in 100 Objekten. Darmstadt: Theiss, 2014. 244 pp. 24.95 [euro] (hardcover).
The centenary of the beginning of the First World War last year led to a veritable avalanche of events and publications, and reviews of the latter will be accompanying us for a while to come. Of the four volumes under review, three are exhibition catalogues and one is a coffee table book. As such, all four are engaged in public history, though each tackles the task of conveying history to a wider public in a different way and with varying degrees of success.
The laziest of these volumes is Der Erste Weltkrieg in 100 Objekten. It is also, as one might expect from a coffee table book published by an effectively state-run national museum--think "national" in the emotive German rather than the flat Anglophone sense of the word--blatantly propagandistic. The final section of the book bears the title, "Der bruchige Frieden--Revolution, Kriegsende und Neuordnung." One can understand that the editors found themselves in something of a pickle here, given that the Revolution did indeed break out before the war was over and was crucial in bringing about its end. This does not yet explain the rather odd decision, though, to let this section begin with the entry of the USA into the war in April 1917, more than 18 months prior to the end of the war. While the earlier section on the Eastern front does end with the Bolshevik Decree on Peace of October 1917, Germany's extensive military activities in the East between the February and October Revolutions are missing entirely. The Western Offensive in the spring of 1918 does conclude the section on the Western front but reference to US participation in the war is made neither there nor in the section on sea and air warfare. Presumably this is simply down to the fact that the volume as a whole was conceived along the objects that the museum happens to have in its collection. Even so, by framing the entry of the USA into the war in this way, a radical disjuncture is created between the war as such and the US role in it, casting the US as an alien element in the mix.
Returning to the final section, we are presented with a a fairly predictable selection of objects pertaining to the Revolution, its immediate aftermath, and the process leading to the Peace Treaty of Versailles. Both objects related to the latter reflect militant rejection of the peace process. Then follow an urn with earth from one of the battlefields, the graphic representation of a war invalid, and a flier published by the Reichsbund judischer Frontsoldaten, apparently in 1920 (thought the year is not in fact made clear), refuting antisemitic accusations that German Jews had not pulled their weight during the war. And with that we go straight to a bundle of bank notes from the period of ultra-inflation in 1923, a right-wing propaganda poster from 1924 portraying the Dolchstofi, and back again to the helmet of a Freikorps member.
Given Gerd Krumeich's introduction to the volume (12-19), we already know what these objects are trying to tell us. The Peace Treaty of Versailles failed to create
dauerhaften Frieden, weil sich die Siegermachte zu Richtern aufschwangen und vor allem die Kriegsschuld nach Belieben zuwiesen. ... Fur das demokratische Deutschland stellte insbesondere der "Kriegsschuldartikel" ... eine schwere Belastung dar.... Wegen des Stigmas als Aggressor durfte Deutschland nicht stolz auf seine gefallenen Flelden sein wie die anderen Nationen und aus deren Ehrung und Gedenken eine Art Enttraumatisierung der Gesellschaft entwickeln.... Die Deutschen wurden durch den verlornen Krieg und den Schuldvorwurf ein "Volk des Zorns" ... Erst unter Hitler wurde das Reichsehrenmal in Tannenberg fertiggestellt, und die Deutschen jubelten Hitler nicht zuletzt deshalb zu, weil er versprach, die Schmach zu tilgen (19).
Distortions of grotesque proportions abound in this teleological account. What Krumeich is trying to do here is steal Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich's clothes and apply their claims about German society after 1945 to the interwar years. Leaving to one side the fact that the Mitscherlichs' generalizations are themselves not uncontested, and that they saw the cause for Germans' much-quoted "inability to mourn" in their embarrassment at having lost the war and their sense of having been betrayed by Hitler, rather than extraneous ascriptions of blame and guilt, it is well documented that the overwhelming majority of Germans in the interwar period had no qualms about, and indeed spent a considerable proportion of their time and energy, honoring the war dead. Nor does Krumeich as much as acknowledge the existence of the substantial body of scholarship that insists that the Peace Treaty of Versailles by no means placed an insurmountable burden on Germany and that the ensuing crisis sprang principally from the refusal of large parts of German society and, increasingly, the German government, to respond constructively to the settlement.
Irrespective of one's interpretation of this particular trajectory, though, why is this the only one pursued beyond the end of the war? If one is going to draw out subsequent developments, why not focus on democratization, greater gender equality, sexual liberation, various forms of critical self-reflection articulated through a range of media, artistic and otherwise? Should the museum genuinely not hold any objects to document these alternative trajectories, this would only reveal its lop-sided collection policy. Instead of challenging readers to think critically, the volume thus encourages their desire to hold on to a widespread self-exculpatory misconception--which surely must be a very precise definition of what public history should not do. It is not without irony that the editors/authors are perfectly capable of criticizing, say, the way in which Karl Liebknecht's uniform coat was treated virtually like a relic in the GDR (44-45) and yet seem entirely oblivious to their own blind spots.
Given that some items have been grouped together, I counted 110 objects in total, comprising 57 objects in the narrower sense of the word, 16 paintings, 30 print items, two manuscript items, and--rather surprisingly, given how crucial the war was in turning photography into a mainstream form of representation--four photos and one photo album. How useful one will find this collection of objects in opening one's eyes to the less obvious will inevitably depend in high measure on the level of one's prior knowledge.
Objects that particularly struck me included a wooden trench cudgel, introduced because the trenches did not offer enough space in which to deploy bayonets; an ornate handkerchief with the dedication "Meiner lieben Frau" stitched on to it by one of many impoverished French women who became economically dependent on the German occupation troops; a collection of small metal arrows thrown off en masse by military aircraft before they routinely carried heavier weaponry; and a poster for the film, Es werde Licht!, directed by Richard Oswald, the first German "Aufklarungsfilm." As the disorder of war wreaked havoc on traditional sexual mores, the rates of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies skyrocketed and effective sex education became an urgent cause, no matter how prudish or restrictive one's own attitude toward sex. Perhaps one of the most topical objects included is the cover page of an issue of El Dschihad (166-67), the propaganda periodical produced by the Germans for muslim prisoners of war in a range of languages--most prominently in Tartar, but also in Arabic, Russian, Georgian, Urdu, and Hindi--in an attempt to prise muslim soldiers away from the Russian or British army and instead enlist them to fight for the Ottoman empire. In the event, more than two thousand prisoners of war were won over and subsequently fought in the Ottoman army.
The emphasis of the texts accompanying each of the objects is squarely on their contextualization; their materiality, their "objectness", as it were, rarely receives attention. The objects basically serve as a hook on which to hang various morsels of fairly general First World War history, they do not feature as worthy of attention in their own right and capable of pointing to what might otherwise go unobserved. Consequently, this volume is light years away from the standards developed for the use of images and material culture by Ludmilla Jordanova in The Look of the Past: Visual and Material Evidence in Historical Practice (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2012). I doubt that the editors will be terribly shaken by these comments, though. The 'TOO objects" approach is clearly en vogue and a volume of this kind, exploiting the centenary by focusing on objects and offering no intellectual challenge to its readers, must have seemed too good a commercial opportunity to pass by.
The exhibition, Krieg! Juden zwischen den Fronten 1914-1918, ran at the Jewish Museum in Munich from July 9, 1914, to February 22,2015. It was organized in two parts around the caesura of the so-called "Judenzahlung" of 1916, an ostensibly purely bureaucratic census designed to measure Jewish involvement in the war that was in fact commissioned in the expectation that it would bear out the antisemitic accusation that Jews were not pulling their weight. The core contention underlying the exhibition is that the "Judenzahlung" radically changed the self-perception of Jewish soldiers: "Die meisten judischen Soldaten waren zwar ihrem eigenen Selbstverstandnis nach als 'Deutsche' in den Krieg gezogen, sie verliessen ihn aber gefuhlt als 'Juden'" (28-29).
In placing this much emphasis on the "Judenzahlung" the curators of the exhibition are somewhat at odds with the dominant trend in current historiography. Most historians in the field are increasingly downplaying the immediate impact of the census and focusing more on continuities and incremental change. The exhibition's first exhibit in fact consisted of two appeals, one put out joindy by the Centralverein deutscher Staatsburger judischen Glaubens and the Verband der Deutschen Juden, the second signed just by the latter. The first appeal called on German Jews to go beyond the call of duty in volunteering as soldiers; the second called upon all Jews to document any and all contributions Jews were making to the war effort so that one would be able to refute claims that Jews were not doing their bit. "Es war also nicht nur der hoffnungsvolle und aufopferungswillige Aufruf zum Patriotismus," Ulrike Heikaus writes in her introduction, "sondern auch die Sorge, dass wiederum grundsatzliche antisemitische Vorbehalte innerhalb der Gesellschaft eben dieses Engagement in Frage stellen konnten, die fuhrende Vertreter des deutschen Judentums bei Kriegsbeginn 1914 umtrieb" (10-11). To my mind, this sense of ambivalence from the outset reflects a rather more realistic assessment of the German Jewish experience during the First World War than the notion that the "Judenzahlung" suddenly disabused the Jews of their boundless optimism.
As a companion volume to the exhibition, this book is clearly directed primarily at a wider audience. For the most part, it comprises very respectable contributions, for instance, on the role of Fritz Haber and Richard Willstatter in facilitating the use of gas in combat and the invention of the gas mask (Florian Schmaltz), on the "Judenzahlung" (Anna Ullrich), and on the memorialization of the Jewish contribution to the First World War up until the 1990s --beginning, to be precise, in 1916, when the rather optimistic Jewish community in Dresden erected a monument for its fallen members in its cemetery which had the dates 1914-1916 engraved on it (Tim Grady, 265).
The title of David Fine's contribution--"Judische Soldaten und Religion an der Front"--is something of a misnomer and should really read: "Judische Soldaten und Religionsausubung an der Front." Its principal focus is on the provision of Jewish chaplains and the various ways in which Jewish holidays were celebrated. By far and away the most intriguing exhibit pertaining to this chapter is a photograph from 1917 showing a Priest, Imam, and Rabbi on the Eastern front posing arm in arm (143). Unfortunately, Fine makes only a perfunctory reference to, but does not discuss, this image.
Ulrike Heikaus also provides a short introduction--with the rather silly title, "Bilder erzahlen," as though what images seem to tell us were not a matter of our interpretation, whether spontaneous or preconceived--to a series of photos of East European Jews from albums compiled by the Verband der deutschen Juden during the war. In terms of the complex and ambivalent responses of German Jews to their encounter with "Ostjuden" in their natural habitat, Heikaus presents the bare essentials, drawing on a very narrow source base (notably omitting Steven Aschheim's Brothers and Strangers). Heikaus prefaces her remarks with a characterization of photography and the function of the camera: "Die Kamera agiert nicht nur wie ein 'unbeteiligtes Auge', vielmehr ist sie der verlangerte Arm des Photographen, wahlt den Blickwinkel, bestimmt Ort, Zeitpunkt und Aussage der Aufnahme." Talk of the tail wagging the dog!
The two contributions that will be of interest to scholars too are the first two. In her chapter on "Deutsche Juden und die Liebe zum Militar," Ute Frevert charts, and carefully contextualizes, the desperate attempts of a prominent Jewish physician and Associate Professor at the Friedrich Wilhelms University in Berlin, Max Rothmann, to ensure that his fifteen-year-old son, Hans, was enlisted as a cadet as soon the war began. Rothmann, who had been present when Wilhelm II proclaimed the unity of all Germans in the Reichstag on August 4, 1914, eventually applied for an audience with the Kaiser, but all his efforts were in vain. Rothmann killed himself in August 1915, and Hans Rothmann was not called up until 1917.
Julia B. Kohne charts the pioneering works of the psychologists, William Stern, Otto Lipmann, and Paul Plaut in seeking to assess and document the psychological effect of war on soldiers. Plaut picked up the project after Stern and Lipmann had been stopped in their tracks by the censorship authorities who feared that their questionnaires might encourage soldiers to vent negative sentiments. The project was underpinned by genuine compassion for the soldiers, insistence that only accounts by the soldiers themselves could form an adequate basis for their psychological assessment, but also the desire to render the German military more efficient by being able to deal with the war's possibly detrimental effects on the soldiers' mental health. One is reminded of Freud's insistence at the trial against Julius Wagner-Jauregg (on which more below) that physicians ultimately could only fulfill either their duty toward the military or their duty toward the patient.
All in all, this is an informative and well illustrated and documented book that is to be commended not least for the decision of the curators and editors to reconstruct, wherever possible, the lives of the soldiers who feature in the exhibits/chapters not only for the war period but in their entirety (including their fate after 1933). Ultimately, though, the volume radiates worthiness rather than sparkle, something I always worry about in publications pertaining to Jewish history, because it threatens to perpetuate the fundamental misunderstanding that these issues are of import principally because the Jews have had it tough and showing them an interest is the decent thing to do, rather than promoting the insight that understanding the fate of the Jews is crucial to understanding the world at large.
Moderne. Weltkrieg. Irrenhaus. 1900-1930 is the companion volume to two remarkable conjoined exhibitions that ran from May 1 until August 6,2014 in Duren: Moderne. Weltkrieg. Irrenhaus. 1900-1930. Bruche in der Psychiatrie, held in the former secure block, now Haus 5/Psychiatriegeschichtliches Dokumentationszentrum (PDZ) Duren and Moderne. Weltkrieg. Irrenhaus. 1900-1930. Kunst und Psychiatrie, held in the Leopold-Hoesch-Museum & Papier-museum Duren. The principal focus of the former was on the impact of the First World War on the development of psychiatry in the early twentieth century, the principal focus of the latter on art produced by psychiatric patients.
The core thesis underlying the exhibition on the impact of the war on the development of psychiatry is that the generally speaking progressive agenda that prevailed among psychiatrists in the early twentieth century was drastically arrested by the war, given the urgent need to send mentally ill soldiers back to the front as soon as possible. Rather than taking the mental health problems of the soldiers sent to Duren and similar clinics seriously, the consensus among most psychiatric professionals was that their patients were displaying a "Defekt des Gesundheitsgewissens" (20) and needed to be helped to snap out of it. The various horrendous treatment programmes developed in this vein are described in some detail in this catalogue, alongside numerous images of electroshock devices and a selection of individual case histories. The treatment regimes are particularly well documented because they were filmed, for the most part on the behest of the National-Hygiene-Museum in Dresden. Sigmund Freud is quoted, who in October 1920 testified when the subsequent Nobel laureate, Julius Wagner-Jauregg, was tried for the abuse of soldiers because he had subjected them to electroshock treatment. "Der Arzt soli in erster Linie Anwalt der Kranken sein, nicht der eines anderen," Freud stated and continued:
Wie der Arzt in den Dienst eines anderen tritt ist seine Funktion gestort und in dem Momente, wo der Auftrag kame, die Leute moglichst bald fur den Kriegsdienst wieder tuchtig zu machen, musste sich ein Konflikt ergeben, fur den man den arztlichen Stand unmoglich verantwortlich machen kann. Zwischen der Unterordnung unter die Humanitat und der allgemeinen Wehrpflicht lasst sich ein Kompromiss nicht herstellen (51).
In their contribution on fife in the public psychiatric clinics in the Rhineland, Hendrik Graf, Erhard Knauer, and Linda Orth also touch on the thorny issue of patient starvation during the war. By 1917, the mortality rate among the patients had increased threefold from its pre-war level to more than 20 per cent. The authors present intriguing material suggesting that while the authorities indeed exercised massive pressure on the clinics to lower the rations for their patients to an unsustainable level, the management of the clinics stubbornly refused to follow suit and did their best to ensure the survival of their patients. Given the insufficient rations, the clinics thus became increasingly dependent on their own agricultural produce and mortality was at its highest (almost one quarter) in the clinic in Bonn, which had only a minimal agricultural infrastructure of its own.
Erhard Knauer concludes the section of the catalogue focusing on the first exhibition with a short contribution on Conrad Felixmuller, the artist, writer, and conscientious objector who was posted to a military hospital in Saxony as a nurse and produced a succession of wood cuts and texts reflecting on his observations in the clinic.
The principal conceit underlying the exhibition on art and psychiatry is that a significant affinity exists between the visual arts associated with classical modernity and the art produced by mentally ill patients. Given the personal affliction of a number of major modern artists and the extent to which some of them were preoccupied with mental illness, this is by no means an entirely implausible suggestion but the catalogue makes little effort genuinely to substantiate it, and one cannot help wondering whether those in charge of the Leopold-Hoesch-Museum & Papiermuseum simply thought this was too good an opportunity to show off their relevant treasures to miss. This might also explain the decision to reproduce most of them between six and nine to a page.
The exhibition is on much more solid ground with its focus on what is now the Sammlung Prinzhorn in Heidelberg, the world's largest dedicated collection of art produced by mentally ill patients. This collection was originally initiated in Heidelberg by Emil Kraepelin--the psychiatrist who would re-diagnose Aby Warburg as bipolar rather than schizophrenic and facilitate his release from the psychiatric clinic in Kreuzlingen--but took off in earnest under the auspices of the art historian, Hans Prinzhorn, whom the clinic director in Heidelberg, Karl Willmanns, employed specifically for the purpose of building up the collection on a professional basis. Prinzhorn and Wilmanns wrote to clinics all over Germany asking them to submit work by their patients (the letter is reproduced in the catalogue) and received, inter alia, 88 drawings and paintings from Duren, produced by eleven patients there. Roughly half of these are reproduced in the catalogue, some of them in conjunction with relevant documents, followed by biographical sketches of the patients who produced them. While their artistic value may vary, they are all stunning documents worthy of much more detailed study. Perhaps most intriguing of all are three photographs of Franz Kockartz who made himself his work of art by getting his peers to tattoo him all over his body.
The exhibition, 1914, The Avant-Gardes at War, ran at the Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle in Bonn from November 8, 2013, to February23,2014, in conjunction with a smaller exhibition curated by Jay Winter, Missing Sons. Unfortunately, the latter is represented in the catalogue only by a short though powerful introductory text by Jay Winter (326-31). Winter points out that half of the men killed in the First World War "have no known graves." War, as he puts it, "became more than a killing machine. It became a vanishing act," making the missing of the First World "the original displaced persons of the twentieth century" (326) The Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, and the Shoah had added tens of millions to this initial group of the missing, subsequently complemented by those who "were disappeared" by various regimes and, not least, half of those killed in Manhattan on September 11,2001. Winter draws attention to a variety of monuments that feature the names of the missing and to the act of touching the names as a means of "framing the loss," as well as a variety of "languages of mourning," including spiritualism, which was expressly forbidden by the Vatican in 1917. Throughout, the focus is principally on parents--specifically on Kathe Kollwitz, Rudyard Kipling, and Arthur Conan Doyle--and their attempts to come to terms with the loss of their "missing sons."
Winter discusses Kathe Kollwitz's memorial for her son that now stands close to his grave in Vladslo. He describes it as being "at one and the same time personal, communal and political. On her knees, she and her husband and an entire generation of parents beg forgiveness from their sons, and from his generation" (329-30). Winter emphasizes how "grief is gendered" by Kollwitz in this memorial: "The devastating emptiness of parents outliving their sons is reinforced by the fact that the mother and father do not even support each other. [...] The unbearable is borne by each in different ways--the father by holding his grief within, the mother by bowing in resignation" (330). Rather bewilderingly, this section includes reproductions of a number of Kollwitz's drawings and a photograph of the famous and evidently unavoidable Pieta--which has had its aura, if there is such a thing, well and truly raped out of it by Harald Haacke who produced the magnified version of it for the "Kranzabwurfstelle" that is the Neue Wache in Berlin--but none of the memorial itself.
The main message the curator of the main exhibition, Uwe Schneede, and his colleagues were trying to bring across is, in the words of Joes Segal in his concluding contribution, that "the patriotic zeal engendered by August 1914 was a pan-European phenomenon and seized the imaginations of avowedly modern artists and critics no less than those of their conservative counterparts. They volunteered for military service in droves, they chimed in with the vociferous enthusiasm for war and placed their art and commitment in the service of the Fatherland" (294). (Though for most of them the "fatherland" was in fact a motherland, of course; the translation of this English edition of the catalogue is for the most part precise and elegant but there are occasional glitches.) Indeed, "precisely modernist artists and critics were often the ones to speak out in the harshest of tones" (295). Rather intriguingly, Segal goes on to show just how short-lived the initial "Burgfrieden" among German artists actually was. In very short order, different currents began to define themselves as the only true representative of genuinely German art at the expense of their competitors: the impressionists found themselves buffeted by traditionalists and expressionists alike, both of whom were adamant that Max Liebermann's Jewishness alone disqualified impressionism from being any sort of patriotic endeavor. Liebermann himself, in turn, denounced expressionist primitivism as being a form of "Hottentot art."
The catalogue is replete with discomforting utterances by avant-garde artists embracing the war, be it Liebermann--"Wars seem to be necessary in order to inhibit an all-too luxurious and rampant materialism from spilling over in peacetime," August 27, 1914 (24)--or, as late as April 6, 1915, Frank Marc--"The war is just as much atonement as it is a self-willed sacrifice that Europe has thrust upon itself in order to 'come clean' with itself. Everything else is completely external and ugly; but those going to war and the dying warriors are not ugly" (307)
As Schneede points out in his introduction, the significance of August 1914 as a caesura in the development of European avant-garde art could hardly be exaggerated. He illustrates this with the fate of the Blaue Reiter group:
The idea of war divided Marc and Kandinsky, as it did Marc and Klee. The Russians Kandinsky, Alexej von Jawlensky and Marianne von Werefkin were forced to leave Germany [...] as 'enemy aliens', which effectively meant the dissolution of the group. The host of travelling exhibitions came to an abrupt end. ... A close friend and associate, the Frenchman Robert Delaunay was henceforward considered an official enemy. August Macke was killed in September 1914 and Franz Marc in 1916. Thus, Der Blaue Reiter had been annihilated by political events (8).
The research undertaken in preparation of the exhibition has unearthed "scarcely known or completely unknown" works (8). Particularly intriguing among these are, to my mind, Ludwig Meidner's sketches made in the prison camp of Merzdorf near Cottbus (114-15) and drawings by Hans Richter (160-61), which are characterized in the catalogue as being "among some of the most impressive works from the war years, bearing witness to an extremely personal trauma and consequently touching upon the very extremes of what can be feasibly represented" (99). The catalogue covers avast amount of material and will doubtless be something of an eye opener for many. Who knew, for instance, that artists were not only "repeatedly commissioned to design camouflage for devices of war and then to realise them accordingly," but that they also "frequendy utilised their own artistic forms in this context" (72)? There is also an instructive chapter on art dealers by Friederike Kitschen (284-93).
As far as the German and Austrian artists covered by the exhibition are concerned, the backbone of the volume consists of concise essays devoted to Oskar Kokoschka (Regine Bonnefoit and Gertrud Held, 246-53), Max Beckmann (Uwe Schneede, 254-63), and Paul Klee (Christine Hopfengart, 274-83), in which their individual developments during the war are charted, revealing considerable diversity between them.
In 1914, Kokoschka used his connections to join an exclusive cavalry regiment. To do so, he had to provide his own horse and equipment--none other than Ludwig Wittgenstein provided him, anonymously, with the necessary funds. Following his training and a disciplinary transgression, he was moved to the Eastern front. His spirits remained high. "For me," he wrote, "the whole advance of the Austrian cavalry was an adventure not unlike something out of a book from childhood, a Karl May story perhaps" (246). As late as July 1915, Kokoschka was expressing his yearning for an Iron Cross. At the end of August 1915, he was seriously wounded, and within a fortnight he was beseeching his contacts to find some way of getting him out of having to fight again. He subsequendy served as an official war artist on the Italian front in the summer of 1916 where he suffered severe shell shock. Now determined to avoid all further military service he managed to exploit his connections successfully to keep him out of trouble for the remainder of the war. None of the drawings Kokoschka produced as a war artist or following his recovery from shell shock were ever used by the War Press Section. Indeed, Kokoschka did not mention this episode in his memoirs. Two of the drawings highlighted--Der Volkeifrieden, a bleak scene that plays out on a cemetery, and Doppeladler aufeiner Pyramide aus Totenschadeln--make it abundandy clear how drastically Kokoschka's attitude had changed since the heady days of dreaming of Karl May and the Iron Cross.
Beckmann joined up in the first half of September 1914 and served as a medical orderly, first on the Eastern front, then in Belgium. Having evidently suffered a nervous breakdown in the summer of 1915 he was initially sent on leave and eventually released from military service altogether in 1917. In Schneede's words, "Beckmann was solely concerned about his art." He quotes Beckmann's pre-war yearning for "direct admittance to the terrible, base, magnificent, quotidian and grotesquely banal in life." As late as April 1915, he wrote that "war is something of a miracle for me, even if it is a somewhat uncomfortable one," adding that "my art has plenty to guzzle on here" (255). Schneede concludes that "Beckmann needed the experience of terror for a sense of truth in his art and to underpin his formal precision" (256). Yet precisely because for Beckmann it was all about the art, his personal affirmation of the war experience did not translate into any sort of artistic glorification of the war itself. It was, Schneede concludes,
as though he wanted to prove that, as an artist, his personal expectations of the war had been fulfilled. He had witnessed the events of the war from the point of view of an artist who was searching for extreme experiences of suffering in order to be able to express them artistically and, above all, to predicate the whole of his artistic outlook upon them (260).
Klee in some ways emerges as the odd(est) one out. From the outset, he was unable to muster any enthusiasm for the war. Consequently, he found himself at loggerheads with most of his previous closest associates and his "intellectual milieu ... shifted from fine art to literature, a direction also reflected in his oeuvre." Christine Hopfengart draws attention in this context to Klee's drawing, Dichter-Zeichner (1915). His critical stance vis-a-vis the war notwithstanding, Klee chose not to evade military service by returning to Switzerland (which he could easily have done). Finally called up in the spring of 1916--on the same day in fact as he received the news of Franz Marc's death at Verdun--he was fortunate enough never to be posted to the front. Following his basic training he was posted to an airbase where he repaired number plates, painted equipment, and stencilled numbers on to the wings of aircraft after they had been camouflaged. He was treated with great respect and allowed to live off base to give him more opportunity to continue his artistic work. The tone of his reports to his wife was generally jocular--"We put on helmets today; now I look much more war-like [...] I could star in a patriotic tragedy"--so much so, that his wife took issue with his forced levity. "You are taking the army seriously," Klee responded, "whereas I view it as a fantastic dream" (279).
On Hopfengart's reading, Klee responded to war and military service by withdrawing from reality, a withdrawal that "finds expression in Klee's works from 1915 onwards, in particular in the watercolours, which, in their cubist forms [...] minimise the reference to reality as extensively non-figurative compositions" (276). And yet, she argues, this is not the whole story. For Klee's watercolors were increasingly characterized by "nocturnal romanticism, cosmic symbolism," and "the invocation of demonic powers," thus reflecting "not simply ... a withdrawal from reality, but rather [...] an equally contradictory and powerful perception of war" (281). Ultimately, then, the war had afforded Klee "a creative space for what would be a fundamental process of artistic maturation" (282). And with that, for Klee, unlike so many others, there was nothing more to say on the matter. "Neither in his writings nor in his art," Hopfengart notes, "are there any subsequent attempts worthy of note to process the shocking events of war" (282).
This is in every respect a big book, beautifully produced with a wealth of sumptuous reproductions (the sort where one feels the yearning to touch the page and, when one does, one can often feel the texture of the print). The chapters are short, accessible, well referenced, and generously illustrated. In terms of its balance of substance, originality, presentation, and accessibility this volume strikes me as going a long way to showing how public history can be done--were it not for the price. The National Gallery in London has increasingly been issuing big catalogues both in hardcover and in paperback and this volume would be an excellent contender for that practice.
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|Publication:||The German Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2015|
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