Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Transatlantic Migration

The rise of Nazism forced many professors and other intellectuals to leave Germany, generally for the English-speaking countries. The Austrians came soon after. There were smaller contingents from Hungary, Italy, and France. I have a personal interest in this matter because by and large these are the brilliant individuals who educated me.

Recently the fructifying effect of this elite migration has been the subject of a good many monographs. Generally, these are organized on a disciplinary basis. An exception, casting a wider net is Mitchell G. Ash and Alfons Söllner, eds., Forced Migration and Scientific Change: Emigré German-speaking Scientists and Scholars after 1933, Cambridge, 2002 (Publications of the German Historical Institute). Among the topics included in this book are these: physics, life, and contingency: Born, Schrödinger, and Weyl in exile; the impact of German medical scientists on British medicine: a case study of Oxford, 1933–45; emigré psychologists after 1933: the cultural coding of scientific and professional practices; psychoanalysis: from Oedipus to culture; dismissal and emigration of German-speaking economists after 1933; the Vienna Circle in the United States and empirical research methods in sociology; from public law to political science.

Here is a new classification, emphasizing disciplinary cross-overs.

THE HUMANISTS.  The operated in a whole array of fields, including history, classics, literary studies, art history, musicology, political theory, and traditional philosophy (e. g. Theodor Mommsen, WernerJaeger, Erich Auerbach, Erwin Panofsky, Manfred Bukofzer, Hannah Arendt, and Ernst Cassirer). These scholars sought to provide more searching and precise interpretations of traditional culture, without intending to rock the boat.

THE SUBVERSIVES. Most prominent were the Marxists (Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno), though they had to tread carefully because of anticommunism. Then there were the logical positivists (Rudolf Carnap, Hans Reichenbach) who sought to demolish all earlier philosophy, replacing it with a new model ostensibly more suited to a scientific age. In art, the surrealists and abstractionists wanted to replace earlier art with their own creations, as did modernist architects such as Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Finally, the Freudians and other psychotherapists practiced subversion on the individual level.

THE SCIENTISTS and MATHEMATICIANS allied with them. Here Albert Einstein is the iconic figure. However, there were also crack mathematicians such as Kurt Gödel and John von Neumann. For their part, Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller and others were instrumental in creating the atomic bomb.

THE PERFORMING ARTISTS.  They sought to raise standards in their own field.  Conductors included Julius Rudel and Bruno Walter; composers, Paul Hindemith and Arnold Schoenberg.  Hollywood and Southern California welcomed directors like Ernst Lubitsch and Billie Wilder, and also writers like Bertold Brecht and Thomas Mann.


Yesterday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art I took in the current exhibition of Cézanne's portraits of his companion, later his wife, Hortense Fiquet. The sitter seems lost in a world all her own, while the artist's approach is cool and detached. Contrast the large offering of Picasso's portraits of his own wife in his later years, Jacqueline Roque, now at Pace. The big canvases are filled with fiery colors and the quasiexpressionistic distortions of the artist's later years. Why this difference? Is it the glacial, methodical Frenchman, a true disciple of Descartes, vs. the Spaniard's "fandango" exuberance?

I don't think so. I learned from E. H. Gombrich to be wary of the temptation of the physiognomic fallacy, to try to psychoanalyze portraits for a true index of feelings. The art of portraiture has its own conventions, which offset any emotional weighting we may detect in them.

The relationship of Cézanne and his wife was stable, so both must have been satisfied with it. And so was Picasso's relationship with Jacqueline, who proved a highly competent manager of his household and not just a sex object.…/listings/…/madame-cezanne

Friday, December 05, 2014

Nietzsche and Pound

I am currently working on a piece comparing and contrasting two archetypically controversial figures of modern times: Friedrich Nietzsche and Ezra Pound. Electronic searches have yielded several respectful comments by Pound in his earlier years regarding the German thinker.
Yet quite by accident I came across a real gem. Writing in 1933 about the concept of the Will to Power, Pound dismissed N. as a "hysterical teuto-pollak," managing to combine two ethnic stereotypes into one put-down. In a sense his source was Nietzsche himself, because the philosopher believed himself to be of aristocratic Polish extraction (a view that has since been refuted). When Nietzsche's writings were first received in the US, however, some ascribed his emotional intensity to his "Slavonic" heritage.
After teaching for many years in an inner-city college, I learned to be wary of stereotypes based on my students' background. Any assumptions of that kind were almost invariably wrong. Many though still cherish such judgments.