The proclamation of the Republic of Weimar brought with it three factors that would seal its fate. One one side, the introduction of a new democratic political model, with the capacity to integrate eighty percent of its population into the proposals made by the most important progressive cultures of the post-war, social democracy, advanced liberalism and social catholicism. The German working class, social democrat or catholic, as well as a significant part of the peasantry and the bourgeoisie, decided to accept the new statute, which would finally be approved in 1919. The second factor was the military defeat and the sever damages of the reparations imposed to the defeated country. Together with this, the economical problems that the country suffered in the first and last years of the regime, channeled a large percentage of the German population towards the most radical nationalism. The third element was the continuation of what we can call today the "crisis of modernity", a cultural proposal that worked until the end of the 19th century, prior to the outbreak of the Great War. It would create its own scenario for the dismissal of Enlightenment values, the formalization of the mass shows, a violent reaction against a 19th century-minded world. If there is a clear continuation of the experimental wealth of vanguard, of the different methods of transgression with which the entry to a new world is organized, or of rupture with the "old modernity", there is also a continuity of the opposite elements: the reactionary cultural pessimism that gave way to the Conservative Revolution, and a cultural support over which the most select nazi ideology would be built.
The German radical nationalism will start building a wide base that will connect with the most exasperated populism in search of a particular identity, a germanism presented in the shape of a community based on racial identification. What will provide ideological poise, normality, and penetration capacity to the nazi alternative will be the ability to present itself as an element to recover the endangered German identity, and at the same time, as a Kultur survival operation by presenting democracy as something alien to the profound German being. This way, the Germans from the Republic of Weimar lived intensively for 14 years with the confrontation of both ways of understanding the world, and nazism had the ability to present itself as the cultural synthesis of one of the positions. Its seduction capacity was based on the normalization of the violence seen in the Great War, on the codes of conduct that arose from this: radical comradeship in the trenches, the ruthless elimination of the enemy, the project of a political proposal supported by the entire nation, the real expression of the community. A community organized, with discipline, and fighting for its survival.
The national socialist ideology is by no means innovative, except in its capacity to adapt to the basic mass of people, and the summarizing of several rejected aspects of modernity and democracy. It is only innovative in its capacity to radically accept or radically exclude, to set a basic separation line between the regenerating efforts of the new nationalism and the decadence of old liberalism, as well as of the new cultural forms proposed at the end of the 19th century. The national socialist project is a paradigm codifying the revolt against modernity applying modern resources. It is not only a simple reactionary project that increases violence and exclusion. It is a social organization criteria that radically surpasses democracy because it establish itself over a basic differentiation of what is own and what is foreign. It is an antisemitism that is resolved within a social culture that sees itself homogeneous from the point of view of its blood and its intimate, and at the same time shared, physical radicalism. It is a domination proposal for the Germans over other populations intended to be slaves, or directly exterminated. Populations that had endangered the own survival of German culture by acting like an epidemic or a plague of parasites. This way, the national socialist utopia was presented and organized like a total community on its way to healthiness, eliminating impurities, and getting rid of imperfections.
Entartete Kunst is the title of the expositions exhibited since 1937 in Hitler's Germany showing the art which the regime considered degenerated. Long queues formed to see the "close relationship", the identity, that existed between the works of the mentally ill, the degenerate personalities, and the works of O. Dix, G. Grosz, P. Klee, M. Beckmann, E. L. Kirchner, E. Heckel, etc., this is, the artists that have a central spot in contemporary art history. The condition of the art of our time was brutally proposed, and brutally resolved. Its hopelessness and critical sense, but also its ludic sense, the rigorous novelty of its language and close condition -social, political, moral- of its topics. The expositions were only a symptom, cruel and violent, of the most common conceptions, while the "popular reply", leaving aside the manipulation that the montage itself implied, requieres of a dispassionate analysis that should allow to understand the magnitude of these events.
This conference proposes the analysis of the origin of this art that national socialism considered degenerate, starting from historical-cultural problems posed by the Weimar Republic, the diversity of it proposals, and consistency of its critical and political sense, with special attention on those topics, such as alienation and nationalism, that were subject of particular attention. Through the degenerate art we perceive both the compromise and the will of resistance that artists show when it comes to developing a ludic and creative sense, discovering new possibilities in the plastic language and elaborating alternatives that overcome the strictly artistic limits.
The degenerate art was classified as grotesque, when not cretin or idiot. Within this classification, built with the aim of condemning and persecuting it, we may find nevertheless an inverted point of view that allows us to get closer to the reality of the European society of the period between wars, all with a comic sense, deeply satirical and ironic. Dix, Schwitters, Grosz, Beckmann, and even Paul Klee himself are the unbeatable manifestation of this proposal. Their work, radically creative, deeply personal, and completely iconoclastic, could not be tolerated by an ideology like national socialism, which eliminated the political, social and cultural conflicts applying a single mindset and brutality: eliminating them, in the literal sense of the word.
Degenerate art can be viewed with this perspective as a misshapen mirror in which the truth of things get reflected much clearer than in any other, perfect shaped, mirror. This is what the art of Hitler became: as misleading as academic and coward, so banal as apparently classicist, so pretentiously idealistic as actually conservative and bourgeois. In comparison, these were, indeed, degenerate, happily degenerate and deformed, within a world that was identified by purity and the extermination of the other, the land with blood, the everyday life compared to a sublime destiny. They were, and still are, a reference for the entire world of art in the 20th century.
On May 24th 1938, an exhibition was opened in Düsseldorf with the simple, yet eloquent, title Entartete Musik (degenerate music), an unmissable follow-up of the exhibition opened in Munich a year earlier under the title Entartete Kunst (degenerate art). Although the exhibition was conceived and produced basically by a single person, Hans Severus Ziegler, it is the most revealing individual product showing the attitude of Nazi leaders towards music, which in words of Joseph Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, was considered "the most German of all arts". Although the exhibition was opened at the same time as the celebrations of the Reichsmusiktage, the most important musical demonstration organized by the Nazi leaders, it had a limited impact, and after its reposition in Weimar, it was never exhibited again in any other German city. Nothing of what was presented in Düsseldorf allows reaching clear conclusions on the master lines of the Nazi cultural policies in regards to music. Goebbels even formulated and published on June 1st 1938 within the official statements of the Reichsmusikkammer (the organism in charge of grouping all music professionals that was initially headed by Richard Strauss) what he defined as the "ten principles of German musical creation". But reading this text only shows ambiguities such as the fact that the nature of music lies in the melody, or that musicians from the past should be respected as long as they were not Jew. The latter was one of the very few principles that was implemented regularly (though not extensively), through the prohibition of programming and executing music from Jewish compositors. Many of them appeared represented in the exhibition Entartete Musik, sharing prominence with other musical manifestations persecuted -sometimes only theoretically- by the Nazi regime like jazz and atonal music, exemplified by what was called the Second Viennese School and its promoter Arnold Schoenberg, an author doubly vilified for being the creator of the twelve-tone monster and for being a Jew.
The conference will show on one side how the Nazis never got to establish a clear profile for their music policy project, and on the other, how certain theoretical prohibitions were systematically ignored in practice. In the case of jazz for example, while the official bodies showed an absolute rejection against this music of innate freedom and unpredictability that clashed against the essence and legacy of the great German musical creation, its popularity among the population allowed it to be clandestinely listened, disseminated and played in the Nazi Germany, sometimes even with the approval of its leaders. The persecution of Jewish musicians also bumped into practical barriers, almost impossible to break. This is for example the case of the ample group of Jewish instrumentalists in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, which went from being a private institution, to become an official organ of the Reich. In this occasion, like in so many others, the Nazi authorities were obliged to apply a double standard that contributed to the confusion of the already fuzzy directives guiding the Nazi musical administration. Obviously there were many internal quarrels and confronted criteria between the different leaders (quite significantly between Joseph Goebbels and Alfred Rosenberg). Thus, "the most German of all arts" never got to know a regulation to the level of the importance that Goebbels gave to it, in many ways due to the fact that music is by nature a slippery and elusive artifact that resists the inclusion or retrieval of ideologies. Starting from the exhibition Entartete Musik, a greatly revealing disgrace of the many committed by the Nazi regime, this conference will address the contradictions of the Nazi cultural policies related to music, which are less known than in other fields like plastic arts, cinema, or literature.
The title of the conference refers to the oil painting of 1913 by Otto Dix: Nacht in der Stadt. We will examine it in regards to the cultural and philosophical basis of a fascinating and dark time period for Germany and the rest of the world: between the fatuous Wilhelminian empire and the settlement of the fearful Third Reich, and through the painful failure of the "experimental" Weimar Republic. The connecting thread goes from the courses imparted by a young Martin Heidegger in Freiburg im Breisgau and in Marburg, up to the sadly famous Speech of the Rectorate in 1933. In Heidegger, indeed, we find the reflection of all the contradictions of a time that still echoes in our present, although the mood and state of mind with which the current society faces the establishment across the planet of economic liberalism and technology, seems radically contrary to the revolutionary impulse -either from the left of from the conservatives, but a statist model in any case- with which the German intellectuals of between wars attempted to discard an entire culture. A culture that on words of the Count Yorck (one of its maximum critics) was "ready to be buried".
With all of this, and going beyond a "traditional" philosophical exposition, that connecting thread could be used to join around it the problems of its time such as the sense of life and the human existence, the radical contrast between objectivist and scientifistic philosophy and another one of Nietzschean inspiration. Also the generalized sense of the fall of an entire time period -like in Kraus' Die letzten Tage der Menschheit-, and the nervous hope around the violent emergence of the "new order". These problems will be illustrated through the artistic manifestations of that time, around the expressionism and the "New Objectivity" (Neue Sachlichkeit), finalizing in a very relevant date: 1937, the year in which Heidegger begins writing a deep self-criticism: the Contributions to Philosophy (Beiträge zur Philosophie), while in Munich the exhibition degenerate art was being shown. A sinister and viscous world denounced and reviled by those who, consciously or unconsciously, participated in it and helped giving it shape..., but also destroying it. The place were differentiating between greatness and infamy is difficult to make.