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For many years a taboo subject for all but a small number of specialists primarily in the fields of history and political science, and treated as an aberration in discussions of ‘Western Culture’, fascism has returned with a vengeance. The resurgence of extreme right wing and neo-fascist movements in Europe and throughout the world in the last fifteen years have, of course, played a major and indeed chilling role in this ‘return’. So too, have revelations concerning fascist involvements on the part of major intellectual figures and artists whose work has had a profound inxuence in shaping modern and postmodern culture. Fascism, in short, can no longer be considered a short-lived aberration but must be dealt with as an ongoing presence in our cultural and political heritage. Richard Golsan+s talk will pursue these observations and attempt to assess why fascism remains a scandal, which we are still not able to cope with culturally or politically.
WHAT is the Spectacular State?
The Spectacular State: Fascism and the Modern Imagination is a public forum happening in which brings together artists, activists, and scholars to generate critical discussion about the various characteristics and consequences of fascism in its historical and contemporary contexts. The forum will include film and video screenings, art exhibitions, lectures, panels and roundtable discussions at a number of different venues.
WHY Look at Fascism Now?
There are many reasons why a public forum dedicated to the critical examination of fascism is especially urgent. The most immediate and obvious is the resurgence of neo-nazism and the extreme right, and the subsequent need to understand how these movements operate so that they can be more effectively resisted.
Nineteen ninety-five marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the European Holocaust and the beginning of international recognition of its crimes and atrocities. Although this part of history has had a pivotal role in contemporary understanding of fascism, we are still far from acknowledging its full significance and consequences and no less immune to ethnically and racially motivated violence.
The contemporary political climate is characterized by a sense of scarcity, conecting trends in
economic and cultural globalization, and fractious micro-politics. The subsequent environment of uncertainty, friction and fear could provide a fertile breeding ground for fascism.
Finally, the word fascism is used more frequently in the media, popular vocabulary, and political analyses in order to describe and condemn a broad range of situations and behaviors. Does the wide use of the word threaten to drain its meaning, or does it indicate the need to consider the wide variety of contexts in which fascist sensibilities can flourish?
FASCISM OVER TIME
It is impossible to mention fascism without invoking the most spectacular of fascist regimes: Nazi Germany. Whether in academic research, artistic expression, or popular culture, the clearest images of the horror and fascination of fascism are the jackbooted and swastika-festooned legions of the Third Reich, or the gaunt faces of their victims.
The rise and fall of Adolf Hitler and his political philosophy was an archetypal experience for modern society. Understandings of that archetypal experience shift over time. For example, Linda Mizajewski has examined different stage and screen versions of a Christopher Isherwood short story set in Berlin in the 1930’s.
Mizejewski shows how successive representations of the story (including the 1978 film, Cabaret) engage different cultural issues and anxieties of their times, from postwar confusion over femininity to the Vietnam War. In these various versions, the female protagonist, Sally Bowles, stands for German history at the cusp of the Third Reich, symbolizing ‘wild Weimar’ or Nazi eroticism, within the grid of many controversial discourses, including sexuality, deviancy, art and politics. To Mizejewski, these adaptations often end up duplicating the fascist politics they strain to condemn, reproducing the homophobia, misogyny, and fascination with spectacle and emphasis on sexual difference that characterized German fascism.
Similarly, Anson Rabinbach discusses how recent exhibitions of ‘Nazi art’ provide very different evaluative contexts. The 1989 ‘Degenerate Art’ show in Los Angeles accepted the Nazi distinction between modernist and kitsch art, but simply inverted it. The New York exhibit of 1993 presented this work within a didactic model, lecturing its audience in the politics of racism. The 1994 Vienna exhibit tries to establish a totalitarian aesthetic, comparing art of the Third Reich with that of Fascist Italy and Stalinist Russia. Each exhibition reflects the concerns of the time and place within which it occurred as much as providing insight into the nature of fascist art.
With the demise of Soviet Communism, the emblems of fascism have taken on renewed vigor as rhetorical foils to Western democracies’ idealized self-image. These emblems evolve and vary considerably, but they always form a contextual framework within which the political (in the broadest sense of that word) discourse of the present is forged. For example, when George Bush wished to mobilize public opinion for war, he could think of no more appropriately damning metaphor for Sadam Hussein than to describe him as “worse than Hitler”. This indeed helped make a bloody war in a remote piece of desert more palatable.
The strong historical focus of this project is a means of exploring the boundaries of the imaginative present as much or more so than it is about any attempt to describe any particular string of facts about ‘what happened’.
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