Bruce Lawson’s personal site

Nazis and Art

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So, Leni Riefenstahl, film-maker to Hitler, is dead. It seems impossible to discuss her without someone, sooner or later, saying that regardless of her technique or aesthetics, the subject matter and her perceived politics render it unable to be praised. It becomes unart.

I never enjoyed her films (though I like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, allegedly the Fuhrer’s favourite film). The other day I was reading Ezra Pound’s translations from the Chinese and T.S.Eliot, two of my favourite poets. It’s well-known that Pound was a fascist, and Eliot himself was a a ultra-catholic monarchist who wrote unpleasantly about Jews:

And the jew squats in the window sill, the owner,
Spawned in some estaminet of Antwerp,
Blistered in Brussels, patched and peeled in London ..

That latter poem I rarely read, because it makes me feel uncomfortable and destroys my pleasure at sitting reading great works. But the fact that Eliot and Pound’s politics were horrible doesn’t make them bad artists. In fact, you don’t even have to be a pleasant person to be a great artist – I’ve noticed that a lot of the songwriters whose work I particularly admire, while not fascists, aren’t exactly the most pleasant of people. Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed all come across as arrogant arseholes in interviews. Maybe being a decent, balanced kind-hearted human being prevents you becoming a great artist?

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