Friday, September 14, 2007

It can get worse

This is really shocking: the arch-conservative archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Meisner, in the ceremony opening the new art museum in the former parish church of Columba said that: "There, where culture is separated from religion, uncoupled from honoring God, is where religion rigidifies into ritualism and culture degenerates." The word Meisner chose, entartet (degenerate) is precisely the word the Nazis used to describe prescribed modern art works, and was the title of the 1937 Munich exhibition organized by Nazi propaganda chief Goebbels -- including works by van Gogh, Chagall, Picasso, Beckmann, Kirchner, Matisse -- under the title Entartete Kunst. That phrase has stood, as the Spiegel puts it, for "one of the worst chapters in German history and for a catastrophic treatment of art and culture." Works deemed "degenerate" by the "Degenerate Art Commission" were banned from exhibition or sale and their artists were banned from teaching positions. Thousands of art works were publicly burned, and a select few were discretely sold by the Nazi state in Switzerland including Van Gogh's self-portrait. Works of modern literature and musical works, especially atonal music, were also banned and their authors livelihoods were similarly restricted.

Meisners choice of words represents a serious break in post-war German discourse about art and culture.

* The original text: "Dort, wo die Kultur vom Kultus, von der Gottesverehrung abgekoppelt wird, erstarrt der Kult im Ritualismus und die Kultur entartet."

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