26 September 2015

Vanishing Point (3)

(My translation on the opening of Peter Weiss's novel Fluchtpunkt continues below.)

Max set in with an attack.  What was he looking for in Denmark, he called, and struck his fingers through his bristly hair. Back then you had only closed your mind out of self-defense, he said, but in the moment of choice you should have known what side you belonged to.  I answered that if I hadn't escaped like all the others, I would have drifted onto the battlefield.  I carried Uli's picture in my wallet.  I pulled out the photo. It showed a young blonde man, with a smooth, well-defined face and broad shoulders.  He wore a Luftwaffe uniform.  Max considered the picture, then looked at me silently.  His gaze said, the man in this picture is the enemy, he would turn a machine gun on you and blow you away. I remembered the enthusiasm Uli had shown before the Pergamon frieze in the Berlin Museum, and the Doge's bust by Bellini in the National Gallery during a visit to London.  The veneration of this hard, cold, sovereign face and of the war heroes of ancient Greek artwork were tied to the national intoxication with power and greatness.  Uli's penchant for Greek mythology, classical Rome, the massive statues of Michelangelo, had indicated to me the contrast that stood between us.  For me, art in which battle and strength were glorified were strange.  Painters like Cranach, Baldung Grien, Bosch, Brueghel, Klee, Nolde attracted me. The hero-cult of the Greeks and Romans was decadent. Medieval compositions, the oratories and masses, the classical dramas and operas, were steeped in lies; in everything there was a tremendous sense that that the commanders, the saints, the martyrs, all of them were duplicitous and offensive. Bach himself could be disfigured.  I thought of Dietrich, the musician, who had introduced me to the world of fugues and organ music.  Dietrich's home was filled with treasures of gothic art, and with treasures from China and Egypt.  In this home, which stupefied with its cultural assets, the image of the Führer hung in a domineering place, and the enthusiastic features and noble profile of the man with the Charlie Chaplin mustache was worshipped, as if before an altar.  You can interpret art however you like, said Max.  You can fabricate everything, you can use everything for your own interests.  But right now there is only one question: Which side are you on?