Saturday, January 12, 2019

Guilt by Association

I have mentioned in a few posts the peculiar argument against classical music launched by, among others, Alex Ross at The New Yorker. Classical music has an indelible stain because it was enjoyed by the Nazis. I can't seem to find my post that is the best example of this, but I took up the issue of the Moral Quality of Music in a related post. I just ran into an interesting comment in Paul Johnson's Art: A New History that beautifully puts it into context:
What can be said is that the Nazi campaign against so-called degenerate art was the best things that could possibly have happened, in the long term, to the Modern Movement. Since the Nazis, universally reviled by all governments and cultural establishments since 1945, tried to destroy and suppress such art completely, then its merits were self-evident morally, for the familiar if illogical reason that 'my enemy's enemy is my friend'. [op. cit. p. 709]
So we have a long-standing association between, on the one hand, classical music and moral monstrosities like Hannibal Lector, shown listening to Bach's Goldberg Variations:

This is from the recent television series, not the movie, but the movie has exactly the same kind of scene. In both cases we are also shown images typical of high culture. In the movie, the camera pans over a well-executed drawing, in the clip above, over a meticulously arranged still life of fruit, both signifiers of high art.

Flipping the associations, this means that the art the Nazis condemned as degenerate, Entartete Kunst in German, shown in a large exhibition in Munich in 1937, which included works by Kandinsky, Chagall, Munch, Gauguin and Matisse among others, must be, again by association, great art of high moral quality. The Nazis also abhorred what they called degenerate music by people like Schoenberg, Kurt Weil, Paul Hindemith and Alban Berg among others. Since the 1990s there has been a cottage industry surrounding composers suppressed by the Nazis based on the same idea that we might call "innocence by association". Hey, if the Nazis hated it, it must be good.

No comments: