La Crème de la Crematoria

La Crème de la Crematoria (The Shoah must not go on)

            “Follies seem these thoughts to others, and to philosophy, in truth, they are so.” Said Rienzi; “but all my life long, omen and type and shadow have linked themselves to action and event: and the atmosphere of other men hath not been mine. Life itself is a riddle, why should riddles amaze us?” (Bulwer Lytton, 1840:364).

            In the darker humors of a post-Pythonesque imagination, Malibu Barbie is supplanted by Klaus. One can envisage a MAD-TV sketch, with a Margot Robbie lookalike donning Hugo Boss’s menacing red and black, belting out ‘Under the Double Eagle’ with Ken as they pop-top tour the streets of Lyons. Now Robbie is herself no Nazi, of course, but a good actor should be able to play almost any role. And Mattel’s ubiquitous doll is, after all, ‘very Aryan’, to borrow from Chaplin. She’s a tall lanky blue-eyed blond who epitomizes the ideal whiteness of commercially defined glamor. That the somewhat sartorial film ambushes various clichés which abound in the toy itself is a rather different attempt at a demythology than say, Bruno Ganz’s stellar portrayal of the great dictator in ‘Downfall’. There, we must agree with Ganz’s own assessment, which shocked and dismayed his Jewish friends and colleagues, which can be summed as: ‘I feel I now more truly understand Hitler; I know why he did the things he did, and indeed, my overwhelming reaction to him is one of pity, sympathy and a sense of the tragic.’. But ‘Barbie’ rests its case on popular fiction, and that directed to children to boot. ‘Downfall’ is a dramatization of historical events, as related intimately by Hitler’s personal secretary. It is a memoir writ large, and thus accesses an aspect of the authentically historical. ‘Barbie’ is also a memoir of sorts, but one recessing anything historical into the timeless space of childhood play.

            If only Hitler’s own imagination had remained in that same space. If only he had viewed Rienzi at the tender age of fifteen, and shrugged it off as a reasonable allegory of the political confrontation between the people and the elites, discarding any sense that Wagner – or Lytton for that matter – were somehow in the know about what actually occurred during the republican period of the Roman Empire. Instead, he himself relates that ‘this is where it all began’. Much later, he declares, with his usual rhetorical unction, that, ‘our state is that which rests upon the people’s deep sense of the irrational, and thus it is art which must lead society, and to which we must bend our collective will.’ I am both translating and paraphrasing here, but you get the idea. What he meant was, of course, not the ‘irrational’, but rather the non-rational, as in those feelings and beliefs associated with a religion. He was aware that people were moved more by their hearts than their minds, and as well, that those same non-rational hearts suffered in a way that the rational mind cannot. The Reich arose from such misery, and then trebled its misery by projecting it around the globe, where it resonates to this day.

            In its propaganda, in its diaries, and in its policies, one encounters the leitmotif of ressentiment above all others. This is the same emotion – malicious existential envy – that is the source of the neo-conservative movement and its evangelical vanguard. This is the emotion which Trump has tapped into and channeled, though he as an individual likely feels little of it. Yes, he has been consistently mocked, by none other than Jewish entertainers for the most part, such as David Letterman. Hitler felt himself to be cheated out of a position at the Vienna school of art by the majority Jewish entrance committee, and the fact that the painter Oskar Kokoschka was the 20th and final successful applicant of 1908 and Hitler came in 21st could not have helped. Kokoschka much later suggested in interview that if their positions had been reversed, ‘he would have gone on to become a mediocre painter and I a benign dictator.’ Perhaps not quite benign, as he once created a life-size BDSM doll of Alma Mahler after she had dumped him. But my point is simply this: ressentiment is widespread in any society that markets heavily unattainable ideals, and then also appears to limit certain people’s access to the very resources that would foster gaining such ideals. The phenomenologist Max Scheler is owed the greatest debt in analyzing this dangerous condition, first understood more fully by Nietzsche. The neo-conservatives are those who, in general, have been marginalized by modernity and by modernism, and have, since about 1980, reacted to this growing erosion of their beliefs and individual rights by adopting a chopped-down version of personhood set into a mockery of Christian ethics. In this simplistic sensibility, they have attained a strength of numbers which is politically formidable. If all of the nuances of both Burkean conservatism and authentic Christianity had been maintained, such numbers and their apparent agreement would not have been possible.

            What this means for the rest of us is that we must make a choice between a regression into the same kind of social motion that animated the NSDAP and got them elected, and the usual gang of idiots, to make a second nod to MAD, who populate the corridors of power in so-called liberal democracies. These latter may be incompetent and irresponsible but they are not generally dangerous, so the choice seems clear enough. All the while, those who are most at risk, arguably people of Jewish descent and Black Americans, must together continue their uneasy partnership purveying low-culture (over the) counter-propaganda. If there is even a hint that the entertainment industry has an ethnic-enclave gatekeeping mechanism about it, then it is surely one of utter desperation, even outright fear. The Goyim must be kept distracted, made to laugh, to swoon, to sentimentalize their otherwise barbaric and cruel passions, and in spite of a Black leader’s epithet regarding New York and the case of Bernhard Goetz, amongst many other tensions, these two social groups, through sports and fiction, feel compelled to continue to concoct what is essentially a minstrel’s dire duet.

            It is not a stretch to imagine another Shoah. Hamas and Hezbollah have neither the firepower nor the allies to construct it, but the American neo-conservatives very much do. And for the same reasons that Hitler was enormously popular, seen as a savior, not unlike the recently fetishized Trump, all those who suffer from the ignominy of ressentiment are capable of any act. Scheler makes it clear by distinguishing resentment, which gives way to simple envy, from its more extreme sibling. Resentment tells me I should be like her, have what she has, youth, beauty, admiration, wealth, or what-have-you. But ressentiment tells me that I should be her, which implies that she herself should be dead and I have replaced her with myself. In all those breasts which have been sidelined by science, by art, by education, and by the economy, malicious existential envy rages, and rages on. And it is the arrogance of cultural – though not necessarily actually cultured – elites which performs the final straw on such a social stage. A common plaintiff of Goebbels’s films is that ‘the Jews’ have ‘passed their arrogant judgments’ upon art and life alike. Art history itself is not at issue. Even the long-suffering Red Army shrugged it off, sending some 200 Hitler Youth fighters back home to their surviving parents and their leader, a professor of art history, back to his academic position, after their ludicrous attempt at defending the Olympic stadium in Berlin. But the neo-conservatives, unlike the Nazis, have interest in neither art nor culture. Imagine then, in a yet darker humor, a sheer simple madness this time and not the great Al Jaffee’s crew, a Reich in which there is no art, no culture, and no thought. For after all, no less than Heidegger himself, arguably the world’s greatest living thinker, was invited to become state philosopher, a posting he toyed with for several months before wisely turning it down. Richard Strauss, one of the world’s two greatest living composers, became the Reich’s arts director. For all of their ressentiment, the Nazis still knew who was good.

            Not so this reprise movement. There is not the faintest sign or signage that culture of any sort is present in its minions. Michelangelo’s ‘David’ is naked, my blushes. Judy Blume talks teen sex, how disgusting. And uh, no Margaret, I’m actually dead, remember? Quit your bitching and leave me in peace. Give me the Nazis any day of the year, one is tempted to say. They not only celebrated the naked form – well, if you looked like Margot Robbie at least – they avidly listened to Bruckner. They disdained swing music, as do I. Of course, their ‘taste’ in such things was incorrectly sourced in the idea of authorship. The big bands were often helmed by Jewish musicians, and after all, Mahler himself was born a Jew. Speaking of Gustav this time and not his wife, Mahler gave the Nazis conniptions, with many listening to him discreetly, since they loved his art but publicly had to hate his person. And while I wouldn’t have turned the Tchaikovsky Museum into a motorcycle repair shop, as the SS did whilst temporarily in the neighborhood, I do think Bruckner is the superior composer, as did they. It is sage to recall Putin’s recent comment about there being ‘no gays in Russia’. Maybe not now, but then there was Peter Ilyich. To extend our satire, the SS may have been taken aback to know that Tchaikovsky might well have admired men on motorbikes.

            All of this would be anathema to the neo-cons, and thus none, including any sense of humor, would be present in the Fourth Reich. Let’s not fool ourselves into hoping that such desires shall pass, and without a fight. Ressentiment is present in all of us. Our hearts feel its minor fuel each time we are denied something we had been promised, that we knew we had earned, that we are owed by another, by a social institution, by government, or perhaps even by life itself. And though it may be true that ‘deserves got nothing to do with it’, our basic will to that very life can conflate chance and destiny, belief and opinion, even fact and fiction. When it does, go look in the mirror and tell yourself that you would never, ever, be a death camp guard.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 58 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.

The Dreams of the Perpetrators

The Dreams of the Perpetrators (A deathless Arcadia in Ego)

            “We do not know the dreams of the enthusiasts, the victors…” Koselleck intones in his Holocaust study ‘Terror and Dream’. And we are immediately reminded of the deepest of connections; that all humans, no matter their worldly merits or deficits, sleep and dream, as Whitman declaimed. The content of such dreams must differ, pending the dreamer, we might assuage ourselves. But it is not so much the character which is at stake but rather the conditions in which I might find myself, now sleeping peacefully, now fitfully, now lethargic and thence insomniacal. “…they dreamed as well, but hardly anyone knows how the content of their dreams related to the visions of those that were crushed by the temporary victors.” Koselleck finishes. If the murderer sleeps and dreams as well as does his victim, what then characterizes the difference which we feel must be present?

            In the dreamscape, I am not free to master the otherhood of the self. How often have I seen the looks of reproach, even revulsion, on the faces of the young women I encounter in this dream or that. As often those willing, lustful, playful. Why does the lover turn to the one who hates? Mostly, we do not ask such questions, preferring to dwell on the ‘how’ of it all, which in such cases might be able to be explicated by an advanced neuroscience. And what drives the compunction of my dreaming self, along with its compulsions, so that dreaming content is so often conflicted, even if the act of dreaming and its attendant Traumdeutung occur precisely so I can ‘process’ the real-time conflicts of the day to day? I once hauled a girl in full Blytonesque school kit into a specific room to beat her. I equally foreswore having sex with a young woman who, after we kissed somewhat diffidently, told me she ‘could not do this’. I ‘decided’ to assault another in an office but her look of absolute disgust stopped me cold. I was myself accosted by many, but since I am male, I took it in my supposedly so-masculine stride and allowed ‘nature’ to take its burlesque course. All these were but dreams, at once the playing out of suppressed desires, so we are told, but at the same time, themselves hermeneutic commentaries on those same desires. And why are there scenes which we know so well that are never replicated in the dreamscape? I have never been a death camp guard, that I recall. I have never been the pope. I have only once or twice been emplaced as another gender. I seem to be stuck on myself, in myself.

            It is commonplace to acknowledge a kind of gatekeeping mechanism between one’s desires and one’s sociality. This ‘superego’ style of boundary maintenance keeps the extremities of the ‘id’ from becoming too real in the world of both the ego and its fellows. Koselleck notes that “It is a characteristic common to all camp dreams that the actual terror could no longer be dreamed. Phantasy of horror was here surpassed by actuality.” When indeed the extremes of human intent turn to action in the world, as they do all too often, it appears, we no longer have the ability to separate the unreal from reality. The very unreality of human horror is suggestive that those who perpetrate it have themselves lost the means of dreaming it. What can no longer be processed by the unconscious aspect of my mind breaks forth into the open space of other minds. Is it a mere case of bad manners, wherein we can no longer keep our hands to ourselves, as it were? A case of being a child in an adult’s body, having a childish mind but the capabilities and resources of a mature being? Certainly, cognitively disabled persons who are violent manifest this kind of admixture, attacking their caregivers with willing wantonness and yet somehow also knowing that they are, for whatever rationale, exempt from any serious consequence, unlike the rest of us. There are, however, darker disabilities than those which prevent maturational growth. Such a list would include the lack of compassion, absence of empathy, ignorance of otherness, and the like, which we observe as being regularly present in much politics of our time. There seem to be few enough public figures who do not express such disabilities, at least in their rhetoric. Anyone who stakes their own claim to existence through annulling the other’s equal claim seems the willing vehicle for a desire so vain as to be bereft of self-recognition. There is a certain solipsism in political life which strides bodily over the claims of others to exist at all.

            Are these then some of the monstrous forms that the ‘dream of reason’ has produced for us moderns? Have we been regressed to the inferior forms of pre-modernity, recreating a world in which the other is automatically an enemy, and at best, a passingly dormant threat? Is youth the assassin of adulthood, or is it the other way round? In my vain desire to be ever youthful, my dreams speak to me not so much of desire alone, but of slaying the process of aging before it can itself do me in. I no longer want to possess the young female; I want to be her. To live again from the point of optimal departure, to have not a care for health and fitness, to be the envy of all who are called to witness my outward beauty, to have the market pander to my every whim. Surely there is a link between the industry-contrived charisma of a Taylor Swift and the very much self-constructed charisma of an Adolf Hitler. Practicing endlessly in front of the mirror, the latter, cast into an autonomic obloquy by his social anxiety, could not rely on himself to stand and deliver in any spontaneous manner. This contraption, so calculated yet never cool with itself, unlike Swift’s, is mimicked in the death camps. The rationalized precision of mass murder makes the desireful sprees of splayed-open recent nightmares look amateurish. The terrorist of today can only ever dream of being the Fourth Reich. As well the politician?

            Yet the chief character of human reason is that it does not dream. Reason is the tool of the waking mind alone, conscious of itself without becoming self-conscious. This may be a key: that we are capable of compassion only in forgetting the self. When we proffer our desires unto others with the expectancy they will comply, we are lost. The parent who demands obedient children is the living archetype of this fascist fantasy. The lawmaker who expresses only his own druthers is their child, along with the barking coach, the banal teacher, the masturbating school administrator, the self-serving civil servant, the insolent official. Even the best of reason, held within its mortal coil, does not necessarily escape its own monsters. Aristotle’s exclusion of the female, his xenophobic hatred of barbarians, Russell’s disdain of women, Foucault’s reckless abandon. And then what of my own dreams? We know that violent sexual imagery, a leitmotif of Wagnerian proportions in the libidinal world, is so commonplace within the dreamscape as to not excite comment. Yes, analytically, perhaps. The psychoanalyst’s guild, a new priesthood born at the height of modernity but actually practicing a postmodern art, one which we have of late suppressed, perhaps inevitably but certainly ironically, allots our confessional and thence allows our confession. If unreason is demonic, then reason has become the new religion, its ‘spirit’, if you will, the ghost in our shared mechanization; what we might have called ‘conscience’ if it weren’t for our collective disenchantment.

            Mostly, we are jaded with ourselves. How can it be that my mere dreams are more exciting, and assuredly also more immoral, than my waking life? Would I trade the one for the other? It has been done before: “The compulsion to de-realize oneself in order to become paralyzed at the final stage of existence led also to an inversion of temporal experience. Past, present, and future cased to be a framework for orienting behavior.” Koselleck is aware that both memory and anticipation, dual phenomenological forces that act as a bulwark against absolute desire, have no place in the camp, just as dreams are themselves taken outside of human and historical time, instituting their own vapid irreality in its stead. Oddly, there are living spaces which seek to mimic such primordial experiences, including the casino and the church service, the vacation and the spectacle. It is as if we remain possessed, not by the collective unconscious and its memory of the visionary, the creation of all things and their destruction as well, but rather the pressing absence of vision in our current and very much conscious condition. Is it also then the case, that along with compassion, we must bid final farewell to futurity itself?

            In dreaming desire, there are no real consequences. In order to make such fantasies real, we must disarm and thence dismiss no less than history along with biography. The perpetrators dream awake. This is how they can commit the impassioned acts of horror upon the others who now appear to them as mere projections, in their way or submissive, it matters not. It is not a case of decorum managing desire, or even compassion trumping the passions. It is rather that the vision of primordial Man has been reconstructed, and at cost, in the picayune and rationalized manner which modernity requires of it. No less costly than the first murder, the most recent one is yet less authentic since it is so seldom necessary. I am no longer an endangered species. In my fullest presence, I have become the one who endangers, and mine ownmost death can only be owned in life by the killing of others. This is the unreasoned monstrosity of a faux-phenomenological phantasy: that there are no unwilling victims, that I no longer dream alone.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 57 books in ethics, education, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.