The Authority of Everyday Objects: A Cultural History of West German Industrial Design

By Paul Betts | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
Re-Enchanting the Commodity
Nazi Modernism Reconsidered

One of the most curious things about contemporary academic culture is the amount of recent attention devoted to what is now known as “fascist modernism. ” These days there seems no end to the intense international preoccupation with a subject that only a generation ago was routinely regarded as reckless and even repugnant, more recycled Third Internationalism than legitimate scholarship. 1 This was especially true during much of the Cold War in Western Europe and the United States, where fascism and modernism were typically treated as intrinsically antithetical and morally incompatible. What has emerged quite clearly since the events of 1989, however, is the extent to which these perceptions were products of the Cold War. Nowhere was this more apparent than in West Germany, where cultural imperatives often went hand in hand with political ones. Because the overriding task of the late 1940s and early 1950s was to integrate this new postfascist polity into the charmed circle of the liberal West as quickly as possible, the postwar period soon gave rise to a distinctly transatlantic campaign to neutralize the toxic cultural legacy of Nazism. Often this meant recasting fascist culture as a “regressive interlude” in an otherwise redemptive tale of modernism triumphant. 2 While dissenting voices challenged the supposedly elective affinity of liberalism, progress, and modernism with increasing intensity from the 1960s on, it is really the end of the Cold War that has spurred new curiosity about the shadowlands of modernism. 3 That this interest has extended well beyond Germany and Italy to include Austria, France, and Spain only highlights its broadening appeal. 4

Although it is scarcely surprising that Nazi Germany remains the focus of this broader reappraisal, the degree to which new accounts of Nazi

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The Authority of Everyday Objects: A Cultural History of West German Industrial Design
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Introduction - Design, the Cold War, and West German Culture 1
  • Chapter One - Nazi Modernism Reconsidered 23
  • Chapter Two - The New German Werkbund 73
  • Chapter Three - The Promise and Peril of Organic Design 109
  • Chapter Four - The Ulm Institute of Design 139
  • Chapter Five - The German Design Council 178
  • Chapter Six - Design and Domesticity 212
  • Conclusion - The Return of History as Design 249
  • Notes 265
  • Bibliography 319
  • Index 339
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