November 5, 2013

Without Truth, There is Only Power

Albert-Speer-neg-berlin.jpg
I am an artist. I am also an architect. I designed my education by substituting an an undergraduate degree in architecture for an undergraduate degree in art. I pursued this course to a hard won architectural license in order to drive a piton into the face of architecture before I completed my elaborate educational plan and entered graduate studies in art proper.

It was in that formative phase of architectural education that I first formulated an vision of urbanism that I called Parallel Cities, and which carried in it the seed of an idea of complimentary hybridity that I have conjured again and again in other realms. In painting, I seek to reconcile the poles of abstraction and representation by evoking the image of a compass whose ordinates work together to guide an exploration into the world of paint applied to support. In politics, I endorse the center by seeking a fusion of the best aspects of the Right and Left. In Art, I seek to reconcile the twin aspects of theory and practice.

So it was that I wrote a blogpost, stung by a searing critique of an architectural hero in the figure of Leon Krier. Michael Z. Wise blasted Krier on the occasion of the publication of his book Albert Speer, Architecture. Krier replied in my comments and I didn't read those comments until several months later (I fell out of the habit of reading comments after many years of a broken comment engine in this blog, since repaired). I was taken aback. I thought that perhaps I had blindly piled onto the condemnation of Krier's attempt to rehabilitate the architectural efforts of Albert Speer without reading the source materials. I then sent an email to Michael Z. Wise for his response to Krier's defensive comments. Wise wrote back tersely:

Dear Mr. Hollingsworth,

My review speaks for itself.

Best wishes,


Michael Wise

So I began my research in earnest, reading as much as I could online about Albert Speer (examples here and here, here) and Michael Z. Wise. I've also ordered Krier's book on Speer, it has yet to arrive in my mailbox. I struck the title of the original blogpost.

What follows are a few steps into the labyrinth.

Dear Mr. Wise:

Back in April of this year, I wrote a blogpost on your article "Hitler's Words Into Stone", which I titled "Please Feel Guilty, Leon":

http://www.dennishollingsworth.us/archives/002899.html

To my surprise, Mr. Krier had replied twice with comments to my blogpost, which I have pasted below.

I'm curious as to your response to his defense that:

1) He had framed his remarks in a way as to critique "the scandalously selective process of denazification", in essence saying that his words and ideas had been taken out of context.
2) He was fully aware of Speer's culpability in the clearing of Jewish properties in Berlin in 1938 and he did not exculpate Speer.
3) He is not a crypto-fascist, and this accusation conceals a confusion of the distinctions and affinities between classicism and modernity.

These are hot labels: dishonesty and proto-fascisicm. Personally, I think that it is probable -certain, even- that this dispute has arisen from the limitations of human perspective and that both of you have acted intellectually in good faith. My philosophical predilection is to identify polar opposites and celebrate their complimentary nature and this is how I think I will probably handle my follow up to my original blogpost.

I appreciate your attention in this matter, in advance. These are extremely hot topics, and my interest here is primarily about increasing clarity, comity and understanding. I intend to write a subsequent blogpost addressing Mr. Krier's reply and I could not begin until I had sent you this query.

Sincerely,


-Dennis Hollingsworth

***

Leon Krier | July 22, 2013 3:44 AM |

Riposte to Michael Z. Wise - Hitler's Words into Stone- Wall Street Journal 12 April 2013
My introduction to the Architecture of Albert Speer contains a fable designed to lay bare the scandalously selective process of denazification, that led the US Army in 1945 to employ Wernher Von Braun, the Nazi rocket engineer and criminal slave master. Mr Wise quotes my sentences without explaining their fictional nature. His is a dishonest procedure, designed to confuse the reasons for debating the questions," Can a war-criminal be a great artist?" and "Why was Classicism banned since the allied victory and not Modernism, Science and Technology, Socialism and Engineering, all of which sustained the Nazi terror and war machine more ominously than Hitler's mostly unbuilt classical architectural and urban projects.
The criminal involvement of Speer in clearing Jewish properties in Berlin in 1938 were first revealed, not by Susanne Willems in 1988, as Michael Wise erroneously states, but by Matthias Schmidt's in "Albert Speer; The End of a Myth" in 1981. Mr Wise insinuates my ignorance of revelations that are fully credited in my book of 1985 and in the 2013 reprint. It is those revelations that, in my opinion, killed Albert Speer. His bluff had finally been called.
Mr Wise holds me to be "no crypto-fascist." Thank him but neither do I hold a principled aversion to modernism as he states. I am merely allergic to bad design for which architectural and artistic modernism have become the unequalled world champions. Michael Wise quite simply cannot conceive of the possibility that a criminal can be a great artist, nor that a classical architect practicing today is part and parcel of modernity. Those all too common preconceptions are wrong. Classicism and modernity are not contradictory terms, suffice to consult a dictionary


leon krier | July 22, 2013 3:53 AM |

Dear Mr Hollingworth,
Instead of commenting Mr Wise's manipulative comments, you should read the texts I wrote about Speer explaining also the reasons for dealing with the unsavoury subject.
Then I would be interested to respond to your comments and questions.
Best regards
Leon Krier

***

Krier prompts some important questions:

-Can a war-criminal be a great artist? Can an artist's oeuvre be condemned by his character, the strength or weakness of his moral constitution? Wise pulled short of this position. This topic has not be settled yet in our time. Writers today regularly pause to reflect on the works of Leni Riefenstahl and even Polanski.

-Is there redemption, even for a Nazi?

-What about Krier's assertion that there were scores of former (?) Nazi scientists drafted by the USA and associated Allies after the war? If their hands aren't clean then what about the whole nation of Germany of that time and even thereafter?

-Why has Classicism and tradition have to bear the stains of reactionary taste, just because a Hitler or a Stalin endorsed and mandated it? Is there no knowledge that can be transmitted through the generations because we are condemned to live in an eternal modern NOW?

-What is a fascist? Wikipedia defines it as a form of radical authoritarian nationalism. It is an epithet tossed about too freely in this day. To Wise's credit, he pulls back from this as Krier clearly acknowledges. But the word hangs heavy in the air, and finally it was Krier who had pulled up adjacent to it. If Krier wanted to make the case for Classicism, why use Speer at all? Wise put it well: "...there were far more accomplished early 20th-century neoclassicists than Speer, among them Edwin Lutyens, John Russell Pope and Paul Cret." I tend to think now that it was a blunder for Krier to go there, but then I have to hold any judgement in abeyance until I actually read his book.

In the meantime, here is a good capsule history of this subject, Gilbert King for the Smithsonian Magazine Blog: Candor and Lies of Nazi Officer Albert Speer

In September 1945, Speer was informed that he would be charged with war crimes and incarcerated pending trial at Nuremberg, along with more than 20 other surviving members of the Nazi high command. The series of military tribunals beginning in November 1945 were designed to show the world that the mass crimes against humanity by German leaders would not go unpunished. As films from concentration camps were shown as evidence, and as witnesses testified to the horrors they endured at the hands of the Nazis, Speer was observed to have tears in his eyes. When he took the stand, he insisted that he had no knowledge of the Holocaust, but the evidence of slave labor in his factories was damning. Speer apologized to the court and claimed responsibility for the slave labor, saying he should have known but did not. He was culpable, he said, but he insisted he had no knowledge of the crimes...

...A quarter-century after his death, a collection of 100 letters emerged from his ten-year correspondence with Helene Jeanty, the widow of a Belgian resistance leader. In one of the letters, Speer admitted that he had indeed heard Himmler's speech about exterminating the Jews. "There is no doubt--I was present as Himmler announced on October 6 1943 that all Jews would be killed," Speer wrote. "Who would believe me that I suppressed this, that it would have been easier to have written all of this in my memoirs?"

***

An excellent related article by Wise is worth reading by the way: Did Hitler's Architect Know the Plan? A closer look at Albert Speer's role in the Third Reich
Here are the first three and the last three paragraphs:

Soon after Albert Speer began serving a 20-year sentence for war crimes, he made a soul-searching request to the chaplain at Spandau prison. "Would you help me become a different man?" Hitler's former architect and armaments minister asked George Casalis, a Protestant cleric who fought against the Nazis in the French Resistance. The chaplain did his best to comply. Eventually he concluded that Speer was "the most guilt-ridden, the most tortured man I have ever known. By the time I left Spandau," Mr. Casalis told writer Gitta Sereny, "I saw him as the most repentant."

Following his release in 1966, Speer repeatedly accepted a general responsibility for Nazi atrocities and spoke of being haunted by the Holocaust. But he steadfastly refused to admit he had known Jews were being killed while he served his F├╝hrer, just as he denied awareness of the horrendous maltreatment of millions of slave laborers under his own control.

That such a high-ranking official was uninformed about the fate of European Jewry seemed incredible. So despite Speer's avowed contrition, a number of critics condemned his best-selling memoirs, "Inside the Third Reich" (1970) and "Spandau: The Secret Diaries" (1976), as laundered and self-serving accounts. In "Albert Speer: His Battle With Truth," Ms. Sereny concurs that Speer sought to avoid facing the magnitude of his evil role. Yet she persuasively argues that "it is too easy to accuse Speer simply of lying....The truth, of course, is that lies are not necessarily simple, nor are the motivations which bring them about."...

...Once the Allies had won the war, Speer likened his emotional attachment to Hitler to Faust's fatal bargain with Mephistopheles and said he faced great anguish over the Nazi effort to annihilate the Jews. "I awake with it, spend my day with it, go to sleep with it and dream it," he told the author. She reports that he donated a portion of his book proceeds to charities assisting Holocaust survivors, and after his release from Spandau sought solace in meetings with an iconoclastic German Jewish rabbi who endured Buchenwald. Speer also retreated one or two times a year to a Benedictine monastery. "The ambivalence between his moral necessity to confront the long-repressed guilt of his terrible knowledge and his desperate need to deny -- or `block' -- it was the great dilemma of his life," she writes.

But blocking out the past proved no long-term solution. A few years before his death, Speer belatedly admitted involvement in the murder of European Jewry in an affidavit he provided to South Africa's Jewish community for legal use against Holocaust deniers. "To this day I still consider my main guilt to be my tacit acceptance of the persecution and the murder of millions of Jews," he wrote.

Speer's torturous path to this 11th-hour acknowledgment, Ms. Sereny suggests, stemmed from a condition described by a Dutch Protestant theologian, W.A. Visser't Hooft. "People cannot find a place in their consciousness," he said, "or finally have the courage to face (or allow themselves to remember) unimaginable horror. It is possible to live in a twilight between knowing and not knowing." By illuminating Speer's own nebulous realm of moral consciousness, Ms. Sereny adds to our understanding of how unimaginable horror became reality.

***

The Labyrinth and the Compass

Without truth, there is only power... these are words that deserve to be chiseled in stone.

And a world only of power is a hall of mirrors.

Speer lived in a world of power. Architects and artists work via clients and collectors. His remorse tells us that he once knew of truth but the shell game that became his life led him to perdition. His first steps on this path were taken first by seeking agencies of power -the sanction of ultimate civic authority- in order to realize unencumbered the supremely difficult projects of an architectural/urbanistic dimension, not unlike the the career path of Robert Moses, for example.

Further steps along this path had him rationalizing and banishing to the periphery of his awareness the signs -first small, later large- of what we variably call fascism today. We must remember that during Albert Speer's time, the appellation "fascist" was not ugly, that word was born with a great popular appeal. Great world actors such as Churchill and Roosevelt are on record as having praised fascist leaders such as Benito Mussolini during the first moments of his spotlight in history.

Further steps had Speer furtively confronting the monster that was Hitler, only to have to deflect and eventually conceal his growing moral qualms. He had by that time, been too compromised by the power he courted to take a moral stand. He satisfied his conscience by employing soft resistance and harboring outright assassination -but solely confined to his fantasy. He was in too deep, and the way he got there -by increments- was also a way of rationalizing to himself why he finally remained there.

Further steps along this path desperately transferring his agency of authority from an expired Hitler to the fleeting Flensburg Government and then quickly to the Allied Army for his disposition by the Nuremberg Trials. Compliant, cooperative. Every step along the way, he was the eager supplicant to power, wherever it presented itself. He was mocked and derided by his fellow Nazis during the trial for his hypocrisy, and one has to be taken aback to admire of the integrity of a committed Nazi. They were all sentenced to death for their integrity but Speer received only 20 years in prison for his comely self presentation.

And still, we are walking down his labyrinth, because further steps had Speer trying to redeem himself with the authorship of history in the production of his memoirs, first penned while he was in prison, and later through his attempts to charm biographers and historians along the way. Further along still, he tried to launder his stain with his penitent consultation with a Rabbi who happened to have survived Buchenwald.

Winding and winding, Speer was lost. Without truth, there is only power. Speer entered the labyrinth of power without an Ariandne's thread to find his way back to truth again.

***

Leon Krier is walking his labyrinth and I want him to show us that he has his hand on the thread, if only for the sake of his beloved Classicism, for the value of tradition and the intergenerational transmission of knowledge that Classicism implies.


Posted by Dennis at November 5, 2013 11:53 AM

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