Monday, August 08, 2016

High-Cultured Barbarism

Hans Hotter’s outstanding 1942 recording of Schubert’s Winterreise seems to call for an intentionally anachronistic reading: it is easy to imagine German officers and soldiers listening to this recording in the Stalingrad trenches in the cold Winter of 42/43. Does the topic of Winterreise not evoke a unique consonance with the historical moment? Was not the whole campaign to Stalingrad a gigantic Winterreise, where each German soldier can say for himself the very first lines of the cycle:

“I came here a stranger,
As a stranger I depart"?

[...]The obvious counter-argument is that all this is merely a superficial parallel: even if there is an echo of the atmosphere and emotions, they are in each case embedded in an entirely different context: in Schubert, the narrator wanders around in Winter because the beloved has dropped him, while the German soldiers were on the way to Stalingrad because of Hitler’s military plans. However, it is precisely in this displacement that the elementary ideological operation consists: the way for a German soldier to be able to endure his situation was to avoid the reference to concrete social circumstances which would become visible through reflection (what the hell were they doing in Russia? what destruction did they bring to this country? what about killing the Jews?), and, instead, to indulge in the Romantic bemoaning of one’s miserable fate, as if the large historical catastrophe just materializes the trauma of a rejected lover.
from "Lenin As a Listener of Schubert" by Slavoj Zizek

In my diary I called this phenomenon Goethe Oak, after the ancient oak tree on the Ettersberg, near Weimar, under which Goethe had supposedly written his sublime “Wanderer’s Night Song,” but which was then enclosed on the grounds of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Goethe and Buchenwald, the highest and the lowest in human history, together in one place. A place called Weimar. A place called Germany. A place called Europe.
from Timothy Garton Ash - "The File: A Personal History"

Addendum: Bach or Mozart? - a scene from Schindler's List