FASCISM, MASS CULTURE, AND THE AVANT-GARDE
It has become commonplace for scholars of modern German culture to say that National Socialism cannot be understood without considering the role of Nazi culture and aesthetics. According to this view, the stage-managing of political action and the coordination of all cultural expressions during the Nazi period served the decisively antimodern goal of dedifferentiation and false reconciliation. National Socialism infused aesthetics into the political sphere in order to turn life into a unified work of art. As a perverse continuation of certain avant-garde projects, Nazi aesthetics revoked peculiarly modern boundaries between modes of cognition, experience, and expression. It recast the political as a realm of the beautiful so as to compensate for the costs of modern disenchantment and to suture disenfranchised individuals into an all-encompassing spectacle of homogenization, an aesthetic simulation of community. Don DeLillo's 1985 novel White Noise neatly summarizes what has become standard fare among historians and theorists of National Socialism. The novel's protagonist, Jack Gladney, a professor of Hitler studies at a small midwestern college, regularly screens a self-edited documentary that features military parades, mass rallies, and other highly choreographed crowd scenes: “Close-up jostled shots of thousands of people outside a stadium after a Goebbels speech, people surging, massing, bursting through the traffic. Halls hung with swastika banners, with mortuary wreaths and death's-head insignia. Ranks of thousands of flagbearers arrayed before columns of frozen light, a hundred and thirty aircraft searchlights aimed straight up - a scene that resembled a geometric longing, the formal notation of some powerful mass desire."1
Deeply engrossed in the power of the visual, the postmodern imagination remains haunted by the operatic extravaganzas of Nazi culture and aesthetics. Contemporary entertainment industries, in fact, utilize images such as those of Gladney - political spectacles, the Nazi cult of death, and the
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Publication information: Book title: Walter Benjamin and the Aesthetics of Power. Contributors: L. T. Koepnick - Author. Publisher: University of Nebraska Press. Place of publication: Lincoln, NE. Publication year: 1999. Page number: 1.
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