Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West / Picasso: The Communist Years / French Modernisms: Perspectives on Art before, during and after Vichy / Mario Sironi and Italian Modernisms: Art and Politics under Fascism

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SUSAN BUCK-MORSS. Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2000. 432 pp.; 13 color ills., 179 b/w. $55.00; $24.95 paper

GERTJE R. UTLEY. Picasso: The Communist Years. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. 288 pp.; 40 color ills., 175 b/w. $55.00

MICHELE C. CONE. French Modernisms: Perspectives on Art before, during and after Vichy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 224 pp.; 35 b/w ills. $70.00

EMILY BRAUN .Mario Sironi and Italian Modernism: Art and Politics under Fascism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 316 pp.; 16 color ills., 215 b/w. $70.00

In Dreamworld and Catastrophe by Susan Buck-Morss, "the Cold War discursive binary of totalitarianism versus democracy is challenged at its core" (p. xiii). This binary has begun to be questioned with the closing of the century that produced it, generating increasing interest in the cultures of the so-called totalitarian regimes that propagated the losing versions of the 20th century's dream of industrial modernity: Communism and Fascism. If the dominant binary structuring the history of 20th-century art has been abstraction versus realism, one of its powerful corollaries has been modernism versus totalitarian art. This binary is being reexamined as well, as art historical scholarship and museum exhibitions are turning to previously dismissed moments of 20th-century Western art like Soviet Socialist Realism and Fascist art.1 Because the state-supported and -mandated artistic production of these regimes challenged art historical models of modernism based on quality, originality, or social critique, totalitarian art has so far been studied primarily under the rubric of visual culture. Most commentators have devoted more attention to the cultural function of these images as pure ideology than to the specificities of their pictorial form. Yet this work demands to be understood not only culturally and functionally but also art historically, as distinct kinds of visual images that engage with the histories and categories of art. We need new critical models that can account both for the specific meaning and function of the forms of totalitarian realisms within the "dreamworlds" of their totalitarian cultures, and for their relation to the modernist forms of nontotalitarian art. Of the four books considered here, two directly address totalitarian examples-Buck-Morss on Soviet culture, Emily Braun on Italian Fascism-while two others take it up more obliquely-Gertje Utley on Picasso's politicized figuration during his Communist years and Michele Cone on collaborationist art under the Vichy regime. Taken together, they suggest some of the methodological problems involved in confronting this material, as well as possible directions for inventing new models of interpretation.

Susan Buck-Morss's Dreamworld and Catastrophe: The Passing of Mass Utopia in East and West is a work of political philosophy that is also an "experiment in methods of visual culture" (p. xv). It asks what the history of the 20th century would look like, now that the Cold War is over, if we were to analyze the similarities between the two dominant dreamworlds of industrialized modernity rather than the differences. Against the received wisdom that the West won the Cold War, she argues that "the historical experiment of socialism was so deeply rooted in the Western modernizing tradition that its defeat cannot but place the whole Western narrative into question" (p. xii). Her unapologetic thesis is that the two systems were linked as much by their violent abuse of state power as by their common Utopian dream that mass sovereignty paired with mass production would bring about social harmony. Historical fragments and images from the Soviet Union are her main examples, but this is not a Slavic Studies book; rather, familiar and unfamiliar Soviet images are here unmoored from their usual historical connections and made to signify as dream images of mass Utopia that were shared across the 20th century. …