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Fascism and Aesthetics (Khatib, Kreft, Slaček)


The aesthetic aspect of fascism must be conceptualized through a dividing line that, on the one hand, poses fascism as an aesthetics phenomenon, and on the other, looks at the aesthetic aspects of fascism as a broad social phenomenon. Fascist art and culture were often described as the mythical dark side of fascism that stands alongside it as an autonomous space, separated from the wider fascist social context. In this aspect these approaches follow one of the basic characteristics of fascist art itself, as they substitute a rational approach with direct political experience.

The fascist political apparatus was often mobilised through the construction of a fascist spectacle, which was based on the exploitation of real social needs of the masses. The masses were at the same time a part of the spectacle and also its direct audience. But this approach alone cannot explain the specificities of fascist art – after all, similar tendencies can be noticed in massive festivals of the first French republic, in poetry of the Chartist movement and in workers’ cultural institutions of the Weimar republic. According to Bürger, the aim of the historical avant-garde was precisely to break the barrier between the autonomous institution of art and social practice.

In this panel we will attempt to answer questions regarding the specificity of fascist integration of art and social practice, and its distinctiveness from progressive projects. In other words: what did Walter Benjamin mean by countering the aestheticization of politics with the politicization of art?

Speakers: Sami Khatib:Fascism in the Age of Its Neoliberal Reproducibility: Rereading Benjamin’s Theory of FascismLev Kreft:Beauty and Nazi Art RegimeSašo Slaček:How to Politicize Art?


Sami Khatib – Fascism in the Age of Its Neoliberal Reproducibility: Rereading Benjamin’s Theory of Fascism

Fascism is originally reactionary – a re-action in lieu of an authentic revolutionary action. If fascism is a “pseudo-event” (Slavoj Zizek), which fills the void of an absent or failed revolutionary event, fascism can only be grasped from the perspective of an emancipatory struggle. Benjamin’s theory of fascism is written from such a perspective. In the mid 1930s he famously stated: “The masses have a right to changed property relations; fascism seeks to give them expression in keeping these relations unchanged. The logical outcome of fascism is an aestheticizing of political life.” In other words, the politico-economic deadlock that forecloses the chances for the democratization and/or communization of the productive forces inherently needs the aestheticization of the political sphere in order to keep the status quo unchanged. In our age of neo-liberal austerity politics, the rules of capitalism seem to be unchangeable – capitalism has finally become “second nature,” a material and ideological formation that defines the horizon of the thinkable. As a result, capitalism’s phantasmagorias have become tautological; hegemonic ideology doesn’t even care to reproduce its own mode of aestheticization. This sort of “capitalism realism” (Mark Fisher) produces a ‘naturally-grown’ fascism to provide a displaced articulation for the disagreement with the current state of affairs. In this way, fascism is both the ideological expression of and for those who are subjected to the ‘iron laws’ of capitalism’s really existing nihilism, that is, production for the sake of production, improvement for the sake of improvement, growth for the sake of growth, and exploitation for the sake of capital accumulation. As a pseudo-rebellion against capitalism, fascism is one of the most prominent forms of today’s ideology, allowing for the transformation of meaningless subjection and humiliation into meaningful sacrifice and domination. In my paper, I will explore these forms of contemporary fascism and their coexistence with the capitalist realism of neoliberal policies. I will argue that Benjamin’s theory of fascism proves its untimely contemporaneousness precisely because its past subject matter can never be fully historicized as long as we live under capitalism.

Sami Khatib is a critical theory and Walter Benjamin scholar based in Berlin. He worked as a lecturer of Media and Cultural Theory at the Freie Universität, Berlin, and as a researcher at the Theory Department of the Jan van Eyck Academie, Maastricht. He is the author of the book “‘Teleologie ohne Endzweck’. Walter Benjamins Ent-stellung des Messianischen” (“‘Teleology without End’. Walter Benjamin’s Dislocation of the Messianic”). More here.


Lev Kreft – Beauty and the Nazi Art Regime

We come across an interesting parallel reading Adorno, one that can be reduced to two statements: “The Whole is a lie!” and “Beauty is a lie!” An old definition of beauty, which says that something is beautiful when you can neither add nor take anything away, is political in as much as it expresses the desire for self-esteem. With the help of this desire, political (democracy) and economic (the relation between labour and capital) freedom is maintained in the limits of the existing order that obviously even today cannot have anything added or taken away from. When Max Nordau put the term “entartete Kunst” (degenerate art) into circulation, he aimed precisely at such beauty, harmony and a closed image of the world. The need to preserve fine arts arrives with the modernism of the 19th century into mass and popular art almost as logically as the catchword of Max Nordau, otherwise an ideologist of physically and mentally beautiful Judaism, into Nazi use. However, the theme is not to be narrowed to Nazi art policies and socialist realism, for (similarly as racism) a conflict with non-beautiful art is an actual tendency in liberal artistic policies as well. Adorno signifies this wider fascistic side with the term Entkunstung, which seems to have the same meaning as Entartung, but it aims at the wholesome confrontation and conflict with capitalist aesthetic cosmetics and its political meaning, that is, in exactly the opposite way than the rehabilitation of beauty.

What is then—besides beauty as a common signifier of cultural politics of the main part of 20th century—especially typical for Nazi cultural policies and its Nazikunst?

Lev Kreft (1951) graduated and received his PhD at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Ljubljana. In the old days he worked in the Ljubljana Cultural Community, in the League of Socialist Youth in Belgrade and in the Marxist Centre of the Central Committee of The League of Yugoslav Communists. In the new days he was an MP and vice president of the Slovenian parliament and a professor at the University of Ljubljana. He teaches aesthetics, philosophy of art, cultural history and philosophy of sports. He was also director of The Peace Institute in Ljubljana on the side. He is married, father of two grown daughters and four underage grandsons and a granddaughter.


Sašo Slaček Brlek – How to politicize art?

Walter Benjamin concludes his famous essay on the Work of art in the age of its mechanical reproducibility with a call to battle the aestheticization of politics with the politicization of art. If the first part of this call – the call against the aestheticization of politics, which blocks the fulfilment of the needs of the masses by staging it – strikes at the very heart of its historical situation, the second part – the call to politicize art – remains quite problematic. We are not facing a problem that can be solved through hermeneutic means since the aporia at the very point of articulating a positive demand is neither coincidental nor irrelevant. In it Benjamin’s unsatisfactory understanding of the relationship of the masses to art becomes painfully obvious. Walking in the opposite direction, he reaches the same dead end as Adorno: if Adorno robs the masses of their capacity to act by utterly subjugating them to the immanent logic of art, to which the masses can never aspire to ascend, Benjamin does the same by attributing to the masses a spontaneous revolutionary nature, which only needs to be brought to light by (capitalist) technological innovations. Benjamin’s positive demand therefore turns into its opposite through the workings of contemporary culture industries: the development of the capacity of technological reproduction does not set the masses free but again blocks the fulfilment of their needs by staging it. Just like fascist art, the culture industries tear down the walls of the autonomous institution art in a way that aestheticizes social praxis.

Sašo Slaček Brlek is a researcher at the Social Communications Research Centre of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ljubljana, vice-president of the Communication Association of Slovenia and a member of the advisory board of the Institute for Labour Studies. His main research interests are public opinion, the public sphere and the political economy of information and communication.


Fašizem in estetika

Estetsko plat fašizma je potrebno proučevati skozi zarezo, kjer se, po eni strani, fašizem sam kaže kot estetski fenomen in po drugi strani preko estetskih vidikov fašizma kot nekega širšega družbenega pojava. Fašistično umetnost in kulturo se prepogosto obravnava kot pravljično temačno plat fašizma, ki mu stoji ob boku kot avtonomen prostor, ločen od celostnega fašističnega družbenega konteksta. V tem pogledu ti pristopi sledijo eni od temeljnih specifik fašistične umetnosti, saj razumski pristop nadomeščajo z neposredno politično izkušnjo.

Fašistični politični aparat se je pogosto mobiliziralo prek konstrukcije fašističnega spektakla, ta pa je temeljil na izkoriščanju realnih družbenih potreb množic. Množice so ostajale tako del spektakla kot tudi njegovo neposredno občinstvo. Vendar zgolj po tej poti ne moremo ugotoviti, kaj je za fašistično umetnost specifično, kajti podobne težnje lahko opazimo v množičnih festivalih prve francoske republike, v poeziji čartističnega gibanja in v delavskih kulturnih institucijah Weimarske republike. Po Bürgerju je bilo prav podiranje ločnice med avtonomno institucijo umetnosti in družbeno prakso smoter zgodovinske avantgarde. Poskušali bomo odgovoriti na vprašanje, kaj je specifika fašističnega povezovanja umetnosti z družbeno prakso in kako ta projekt razločiti od progresivnih projektov. Povedano drugače: kaj je mislil Walter Benjamin s tem, ko je estetizaciji politike zoperstavil politizacijo umetnosti?

Govorci: Sami Khatib:Fašizem v času njegove neoliberalne reprodukcije: ponovno branje Benjaminove teorije fašizmaLev Kreft:Lepota in nacistični režim umetnostiSašo Slaček:Kako politizirati umetnost?


Sami Khatib – Fašizem v dobi njegove neoliberalne reprodukcije: Ponovno branje Benjaminove teorije fašizma

Fašizem je izvorno reakcionaren – je re-akcija na pristno revolucionarno delovanje. Če je fašizem “psevdodogodek” (Slavoj Žižek), ki zapolnjuje praznino revolucionarnega dogodka, ki se ni zgodil, ali pa je spodletel, ga lahko razumemo le iz perspektive emancipatornega boja. Iz takšne perspektive je napisana Benjaminova teorija fašizma. Benjamin je v sredini tridesetih let 20. stoletja trdil: “Množice imajo pravico do drugačnih lastninskih odnosov; fašizem jim namesto tega ponuja izraz, da bi te odnose ohranil nespremenjene. Estetizacija političnega življenja je logična posledica fašizma.” Povedano drugače, politično-ekonomska blokada, ki omejuje možnosti demokratizacije oz. komunizacije produktivnih sil, inherentno potrebuje estetizacijo politične sfere, da bi lahko ohranjala status quo. V dobi neoliberalnih varčevalnih ukrepov se zdijo pravila kapitalizma nespremenljiva – kapitalizem je končno postal naturaliziran, torej postal je materialna in ideološka formacija, ki določa horizont misljivega. Posledično so fantazmagorije kapitalizma postale tavtološke; hegemonska ideologija se niti ne trudi, da bi reproducirala sebi lasten način estetizacije. Takšna oblika “kapitalističnega realizma” (Mark Fisher) proizvaja ‘naravni’ fašizem, da bi na ta način omogočila premeščeno artikulacijo nezadovoljstva z obstoječim stanjem. Na ta način je fašizem hkrati ideološki izraz teh, ki so podvrženi ‘železnim zakonom’ resnično obstoječega kapitalističnega nihilizma – produkcija zavoljo produkcije, izboljšave zavoljo izboljšav, rast zavoljo rasti in izkoriščanje zavoljo akumulacije kapitala – in hkrati ideološka predstava zanje. Kot psevdo-upor zoper kapitalizem je fašizem ena od najvidnejših oblik sodobne ideologije, ki omogoča spreminjanje nesmiselnega podrejanja in ponižanja v smiselno žrtvovanje in dominacijo. V svojem prispevku bom raziskal te oblike sodobnega fašizma in njihov soobstoj s kapitalističnim realizmom neoliberalnih politik. Zagovarjal bom aktualnost Benjaminove teorije fašizma, saj dokler živimo v kapitalizmu, preteklost, s katero se ukvarja, ne more biti zares zapisana zgodovini.

Sami Khatib živi v Berlinu in je raziskovalec kritične teorije in teorije Walterja Benjamina. Delal je kot predavatelj na oddelku za komuniciranje in kulturno teorijo na Freie Universität v Berlinu in kot raziskovalec oddelka za teorijo na Jan van Eyck Academie v Maastrichtu. Khatib je avtor knjige “‘Teleologija brez končnega smotra’. Benjaminovo premeščanje mesijanskega” (“‘Teleologie ohne Endzweck’. Walter Benjamins Ent-stellung des Messianischen”). Več tukaj.


Lev Kreft – Lepota in nacistični režim umetnosti

Pri Adornu naletimo na zanimivo vzporednico, ki se jo da reducirati na dve izjavi: »Celota je laž!« in »Lepota je laž!«. Stara definicija lepote, ki pravi, da je lepo tisto, čemur se ne da ničesar dodati in ničesar odvzeti, je politična toliko, kolikor izraža željo po samopodobi, s pomočjo katere se vzdržujeta politična (demokracija) in ekonomska (razmerje dela in kapitala) svoboda v mejah obstoječega reda, ki se mu očitno še danes ne da ničesar dodati niti ničesar odvzeti. Ko je Max Nordau spravil v obtok izraz »entartete Kunst« (razumetničena umetnost), je meril prav na tako lepoto, harmonijo in zaključeno podobo sveta. Potreba po ohranitvi lepih umetnosti z modernizmom druge polovice devetnajstega stoletja preide v množično in popularno umetnost skoraj tako logično, kot krilatica Maxa Nordaua, sicer ideologa telesno in duševno lepega judovstva, preide v nacistično rabo. Vendar ne kaže tematike zožiti zgolj na nacistično umetnostno politiko in socialistični realizem, saj je (podobno kot rasizem) spopad z nelepo umetnostjo aktualna težnja tudi v liberalnih umetnostnih politikah. To, širšo in fašistoidno plat, označuje Adorno s svojo skovanko Entkunstung, ki ima na prvi pogled enak pomen kot Entartung, vendar meri prav na celovito soočenje in spopad s kapitalistično estetsko kozmetiko in njenim političnim pomenom, torej prav v nasprotni smeri od rehabilitacije lepote.

Kaj je torej, poleg lepote kot skupnega imenovalca kulturnih politik večjega dela dvajsetega stoletja, posebej značilno za nacistično kulturno politiko in njeno Nazikunst?

Lev Kreft (1951) je diplomiral in doktoriral na Filozofski fakulteti Univerze v Ljubljani. V starih časih je delal na Ljubljanski kulturni skupnosti, v Zvezi socialistične mladine v Beogradu, in v Marksističnem centru CK ZKS. V novih časih je bil poslanec in podpredsednik Državnega zbora Republike Slovenije in profesor na ljubljanski univerzi. Predava estetiko, filozofijo umetnosti, kulturno zgodovino in filozofijo športa. Za zraven je bil direktor Mirovnega inštituta v Ljubljani. Poročen, oče dveh odraslih hčera in še nedoletnih štirih vnukov in vnukinje.


Sašo Slaček Brlek – Kako politizirati umetnost?

Walter Benjamin svoj znameniti esej Umetnina v dobi, ko jo je mogoče tehnično reproducirati zaključi s pozivom, da je treba estetizaciji politike zoperstaviti politizacijo umetnosti. Če prvi del tega poziva – poziv proti estetizaciji politike, ki zadovoljitev potreb množic preprečuje tako, da jo inscenira – zadane bistvo zgodovinske situacije, pa ostaja drugi del poziva – poziv za politizacijo umetnosti – precej bolj problematičen. Ne gre za vprašanje, ki bi ga lahko razrešili hermenevtično, saj aporija prav na točki artikulacije pozitivne vsebine ni niti naključna niti postranska. V njej se zgosti problematičnost Benjaminovega razumevanja odnosa množic do umetnosti, saj po sicer nasprotni poti zaide v isto slepo ulico kot Adorno: če Adorno množicam odreče zmožnost delovanja tako, da jih popolnoma podredi imanentni logiki umetnine, ki ji te ne morejo biti nikoli dorasle, Benjamin isto stori tako, da jim pripiše spontano revolucionarnost, ki jo nova (kapitalistična) tehnologija zgolj spravi na površje. Benjaminova pozitivna zahteva se tako v podobi sodobnih kulturnih industrij sprevrže v svoje nasprotje: razvijanje tehnoloških zmožnosti reprodukcije umetnin množic ne osvobaja, temveč zadovoljitev njihovih potreb še vedno preprečuje tako, da jih inscenira. Kulturne industrije prav tako kot fašistična umetnost meje avtonomne institucije umetnosti poruši tako, da estetizira družbeno prakso.

Sašo Slaček Brlek je raziskovalec na Centru za raziskovanje družbenega komuniciranja FDV, podpredsednik Slovenskega komunikološkega društva in član programskega odbora IDŠ. Ukvarja se z raziskovanjem javnosti in javnega mnenja ter politično ekonomijo informiranja in komuniciranja.


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