Monday Modern Art Madness#19: Radical Tradition Besieged by Modernity, Otto Dix’s “Großstadt (Metropolis)”.

There is this peculiar critique of Nazism from the traditionalist right one never encounters, that is unless one dwells within the darkest corners of Twitter for long enough. Hitler and the Nazis are the template of pure evil for a modern world that has forsaken a belief in Satan and Hell. World War 2 is a foundational mythologized event that has established the very foundations of the world we live in today. Even that language will invariably be misconstrued by the materialists, the political hacks,  the “spiritually dyslexic” as John Anthony West once refers to the as. We have lost the very term “mythology” itself, most people think its a short-hand for a tall-tale, or “untruth”. When we say the events of WW2 are mythologizes, what one should mean is that it has gone down as the fundamental narrative that has set the course of our civilization, not that it was “fictional”.

Anyways, where am I getting with this? There seems to be this re-sensitization of anything related to the Third Reich for political purposes in the age of ORANGE MAN, because “trump IS ON THE WAY TO FASCISM don’t you know?” you don’t agree? Well, then you are a non-person, on part with apologizing for NAZIS! If you don’t know this, well here is a string of blue check journalists and no-name academics profiled in coastal media outlets to TELL YOU how evil you are! I mean, one can’t even describe the social conditions or possible motives behind the rise of Nazism, Even Jordan Peterson found this lesson out in a podcast where he repeated what was common place on the History channel not but 10 (5) years ago; The Nazis were resentful because of this and this social condition during the Wiemar republic. Any attempt to describe the rise of the Third Reich now in nothing short of “Nazi-apologia” to our cultural and media gatekeepers. Because the evil of the Nazis should just appear like a thief in the night, kind of like satanic influences before.

I am rambling here, but I am setting the stage for an artist during the Wiemar period that very much saw first hand, the various facets and aspects of German culture and society at the time that was rife for Hitler and the Black shirts to come along and exploit; Otto Dix was an artistic visionary, a truly reactionary modern artist in the quite literal sense; I mentioned the traditionalist critique of modern Fascism or “fascism viewed from the Right” if you will. The charge is that the Nazis were just as modernist and decadent as their western liberal ally, and soviet communist counter-parts. Of course the Nazis tried to pay lip-service to traditionalism and the “Aryan-Teutonic” past (both real and imagined), especially in the realm of art and Aesthetics. But even here the Nazis show their utter lack of tact when dealing with such things. Otto Dix was one of the artists censored and labelled “degenerate art” despite his vicious critique of Wiemar society, and a hearkening back to the old masters, as we shall see. Even during the war when he could not produce his main body of work, Dix chose to paint landscapes exclusively while holding up in the countryside. Very trad indeed.

Dix was a social realist first and foremost, and his reactionary qualities were quite nuanced, in fact, his approach makes him very close to my heart in terms of his project, and what his work was subjected to; Dix used the tools of surrealism and Dadaism to his advantage, but this was ultimately to make much more powerful and older forms of art relevant in the modern world. While other artists went with what was in vogue at the time, namely abstraction, Dix ventured into pure realism, vividly and grotesquely displaying the fallen reality of Wiemar Germany around him, pulling no punches. The figures are off-shape and distorted, because everyone around his was distorted and lost. He found that the paintings of the old masters were not anachronistic, but their power, and archetypal, even spiritual meaning is eternal, so he defended them in a very particular way. He quite literally used the tools of the pop-nihilist art world against itself, retreating to the past in order to vanquish the very grim reality of the present in an aesthetic manner. Dix realized the eternity of traditional art, while the avant-garde always fades into irrelevancy and ugliness, being constantly toppled by newer and more sensationalist forms of art in a world of aesthetics that is not grounded in the eternal.

Dix was a social critic that even mimics much of the same resentful and bitter tomes modern day traditionalist pour out in rapid fire, pointing out the glaring contradictions and soul-crushing realities of the modern world. It is not wonder that, being a very popular artist after the war, the real intent behind his works and their subject matter would be quite “problematic” for the various organs of the cathedral culture-industry. This is another point of admiration I and all traditionalists should have for Dix: The global Hollywood culture industry machine came directly for him, trying to sanitize his work. To quote a quite illuminating essay by Art History professor Donald Kuspit:

“Otto Dix was first and foremost a critic of capitalism — a fact obscured by the bullshitizing of his art by Hollywood, that is, the dumbing of it down into entertainment in such films as Cabaret, more pointedly, the neutralizing and kitschifying of its critical content by its assimilation into the society of the spectacle we culturally inhabit. It is the trivializing fate that Hollywood reserves especially for artists who are critical of everything it stands for: the military-industrial complex it serves. The military-industrial-entertainment complex controls consciousness, and it is determined to control”.

Dix was a fierce critic of war, for modern warfare had no honor or glory left in it, but became a meat-grinder for the great men, broken down, mutilated and caste aside as irrelevant by society after world war 1. Dix saw the decline of masculinity, the triumph of decadence and rampant sexuality in Wiemar Germany, and pointed to it as largely a product of western (see, Anglo-American) pollution and liberalization of social and sexual norms. His female figures, often celebrities and “professional women”, are all rendered as gaunt, looking aged beyond their years, twisted bodies, and always possessing a unique link between sexual education and the air of death. Dix saw this link of sex and death in society gone totally insane, charging headlong into moral apathy and hedonism. There is no glamour or beauty in his nudes, because women are sadistic victimizers, such as in his piece Dedicated to sadists” (1922), where dominatrix women stand nude in front of a bloody cross, yet women are also victimized by the sadistic sexual permissiveness of Wiemar society. Once again, How very trad indeed, yet placed within the context of using surrealism and and avant-garde illustrative style.

Now on to our piece at hand, the aptly named “Metropolis” (1927-28). The Triptych depicts a ghastly scene at a place usually filled with frivolity and pleasure-seeking, a German Cabaret club, the heart of Wiemar decadence, filled with “women of the night”, lights, jazz music, all designed to pollute and hypnotize the sense, whipping the participant up into a sensual frenzy. Only here, it is not a very pleasant scene, but one with reminders of decay and death surrounding it.

Metropolis, how aptly named considering the groundbreaking film of the same name , made during this same period in Wiemar Germany as well, depicts the hidden moral and spiritual depravity, and decrepitude of modern cosmopolitan life. Dix hated the capitalist “new money” imported from the rest of allied Europe and North America, and was a fierce critic of the bourgeoisie and their suffocating modernist excesses upon German society.  In the first panel we see the outside of the Cabaret, where the darkness of night half-conceals two broken vagrant veterans, one lying on the ground half-dead, at the feet of society-women adorned with ornamental robes and fox hairs. The other soldier is a beggar, his legs blown off, walking with a cane on two wooden stilts, representing the evisceration and decline of masculinity in Germany at this time. As the saying goes “harsh times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men” etc. The real men of Germany were crushed by the war to Dix, and only those poor and destitute are left. This is a later painting that shows the real consequences of modern warfare, similar to the earlier protest-paintings of Dix with soldiers dying and wreathing in pain among the mud and ghastly conditions of the trenches. Dix in these paintings took direct inspiration from Goya, and took on his legacy of depicting the grime realities of warfare.

The women in this panel are totally indifferent, looking at themselves, yet the makeup and thin-veneer of beauty is made to look decrepit and gnarly. These women, and the ones in all three panels, have death hanging over them. They look sickly, bloated at the face from consuming alcohol and drugs, leering over higher class men, half-exposed in some pathetic, yet miserable attempt at performative seduction. All of these patrons of the club are huddled together like jackals waiting and braying to get in. Here we have the mixing of social classes and castes, all living it up in a performance of pleasure and happiness that is quickly betrayed by the morose and bemused looks of the patrons in and outside of the club. Like the pathetic displays of decadence and hedonism in todya’s modern club scenes, these people do not truly live it up in their hearts. They are only seeking palliatives for the emptiness brought about by the erosion of traditions, the machinations and harsh economic conditions of the new globalized capitalist thresher, and the decent into depravity that comes with the trans-valuing of all virtues and morals.

In the last panel we see a quite telling scene of a slouching homeless veteran, again with both legs blown off, revealing his bandaged stumps. He looks up at the remorseless crowd of bougie women, all tarted up, and has a look of half-indifference, and half-annoyance, just wishing it would stop. His face is cracked like a shattered piece of porcelain or glass, a fragile face, or the effacing of a once great warrior, stripped of all pride and dignity by the artificial lights and ghastly decadent displays of this cosmopolitan reality. The fur coats and roman marble columns are merely a facade, an appropriation of the past that does nothing but serve the shallow and crass aesthetic needs to the present. The solider rests up against them, as if a Roman warrior is still beating in his heart, but like those columns, they no longer signify a great civilization, but a fallen one. They and the soldier are tuned into amusing side-street displays to mock and derive cheap interest in for a split second.

Dix did all he could to lament the great loss of warrior masculinity, and rips off the social mask, exposing the poisons of German and even western society back then and now. How telling the Nazis considered him as part of “degenerate art” when he is nothing of the kind, he is firmly a reactionary artist of anti-degeneracy, and anti-modernity. The Nazis may have banned those cabarets and clubs, but their modernism is still exposed in Dix work. Truly his works should be looked at as a clear example of a reactionary modern art that is terrifyingly effective, and trads should not simply look at the stylistic choice of Dix work alone, this would be pure philistinism.

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