Week Six: All that is solid melts into air*

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Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912

American history, any history, is not teleological. There is no purpose, no meaning, no goal. It does not neatly follow from one development to another, to another. It is not progressive.

Things end.

There is no comfort in this, but as fervently as Victorians believed in progress, I know there is no point, no map. I believe in science and dumb luck, not gods and master plans. I accept modernity, as nebulously defined as it has been since Einstein and Freud and the First World War changed everything.

And so, this week, I have been thinking about historian Modris Eksteins’ book, Solar Dance. It is a wonderful, powerful, thoughtful book that tries to explain, through an art forgery, how the Nazis came to power. That doesn’t do it justice—buy it and see what I mean. This is what I wrote about it a few years ago in an essay on  modernism:

“His book is not just about modernists and antimodernism. It is an argument explaining the breakdown of cultural and moral values during the inter-war years in Germany, a failure that he insists left a gaping hole through which the National Socialists goose-stepped in 1933:

‘If authenticity was assaulted and denigrated, as it clearly was in the Wacker Affair and in the Weimar period as a whole, then there was nothing solid left to hold onto. The entire middle-class belief system was gutted. This void Hitler and Nazism would fill with their fantasy world of myth and mastery.[1]

Eksteins echoes Yeats’s “The centre cannot hold.” In this past few weeks, we have ample evidence of the centre failing to hold, from a gun-wielding idiot “investigating” a fake news story to the revelation that Trump may be taking office with what amounts to his own SA.

Yesterday, the electoral college met and made it official—Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States, though we won’t formally know that until January 6, when Vice President Joe Biden, in his role as the departing President of the Senate, reads out the results.

Yesterday we also watched a twitter loop of a man standing at a podium grimace then fall, shot dead in the back at an art gallery in Ankara, Turkey. I don’t believe, like some, that this assassination will set off our July Crisis, though it understandably makes us scholars of the First World War more than a little queasy. The neatly dressed killer shouted for all to remember Aleppo before he too, ended in gunfire, not filmed for our twitter feeds, though a still picture is circulating, of his dead body up against the gallery wall, a smear of blood and bullet casings in the foreground—art at the end of 2016.

So too are the mini-videos of the doomed and the desperate of Aleppo. Many of its children are slaughtered, but one has come to symbolize them all. She is safe. For now.

Since life is not progressive and there are no gods or plans, all that matters is who we are and how we act towards each other now. When it’s all over, we are just dust.

I have always believed that most people are kind, are motivated to do the right thing. This year has shaken those core beliefs. What happened to empathy?

*I borrowed the title of this entry from Marshall Berman’s 1982 book on modernism. He borrowed it from Marx.

[1] Modris Eksteins, Solar Dance: Genius, Forgery and the Crisis of Truth in the Modern Age. (Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), p.222.

© 2016, Kate Barker. All rights reserved.

Week Five: When is Trump’s Night of Long Knives?

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I’ve been wondering when Trump’s Night of Long Knives will take place. Who will he target to further consolidate power, tighten his inner kleptocratic circle, and what mythical message will it feed to his gullible followers, those aficionados of fake news?

I think it will quickly follow his inauguration on January 20. There are hints already. This week, The New York Times reported that Department of Energy employees were issued a 74-point questionnaire asking for the names of all employees and contractors who had attended conferences about climate change. The Times report suggests that Trump is sniffing out civil servants who do not publicly swallow his anti-climate change magic pill. In another report released this week, the damage Trump so cavalierly tweeted upon a young woman who mildly criticized him in public on the campaign trail in 2015 is a small indication of the devastation he can wage once he is in power. With Trump’s inauguration just weeks away, now seems like a good time to revisit the night Hitler cleaned house.

Hitler was paranoid and easily led. Sound familiar?

Ernst Röhm had been with Hitler since the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. He went on to form the SA—the thugs of the National Socialist Party. He had a brief falling out with Hitler, but by 1931, Röhm was back in the saddle as his chief of staff and once again in charge of the SA. By 1933, there were three million SA, and Röhm wanted to further swell its ranks by incorporating the German army under its brownshirted banner. This power-play alarmed Hitler’s main henchmen: Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and Gestapo and mastermind behind the Holocaust; Hermann Goering, head of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s chosen successor; Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propagandist; and Reinhard Heydrich—let’s just call him a mass-murderer. No friend to the ambitious Röhm, this quartet of evil convinced Hitler that Röhm was planning a coup.

One year and five months after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, he embarked on a purge of his own party. On the night of June 29 and into the dawn of June 30, 1934, Hitler’s SS began rounding up perceived enemies in the SA. In total, at least 77 were killed, executed on trumped up charges of treason. Röhm was shot. Others weren’t so lucky. Many were bludgeoned to death. The SA was put under direct control of the army, all of whom had to make an oath of allegiance to the Führer. This marked the ascendancy of Himmler and his SS as the most feared and powerful group in Nazi Germany.

Publicly, the purge heightened Hitler’s popularity. Much was made of Röhm’s homosexuality, and he was reviled for it. It was also perceived as a strong-man move against the excesses of unsavoury elements of the party. Some historians (Eleanor-hancock) have argued that this helped cement Hitler’s image as being above the party—Hitler as saviour/celebrity.

Sound familiar?

(The cartoon, by David Low, was published in the July 3, 1934  issue of The Evening Standard.)

© 2016, Kate Barker. All rights reserved.

Week Four: How women are hated

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Today is December 6.

Two years ago, I posted this on Facebook:

25 years ago I was a 22 year old Queen’s undergrad writing an exam. About the time I got home, 14 women in Montreal were dead. I remember standing in that first freezing cold candlelit vigil the next night, with other women, friends from the local rape crisis centre and Queen’s women’s centre. Madman, the media said. Misogyny in action, we insisted. Don’t politicize this, we were told. Be quiet. Be respectful. Shut up. What has changed in 25 years? The body count keeps rising. We can never shut up.

Six months ago, Jo Cox was murdered by a neo-Nazi, as Soraya Chemaly points out today in a  Salon  piece about misogyny beating at the heart of white supremacist movements.

Two months ago, the story with the recording of Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women broke in the Washington Post.

Four weeks ago, as it became increasingly evident that Clinton was going to lose the election, I tweeted:

electionnight

 

Three days ago,  anti-Syrian refugee former immigration minister Chris Alexander was filmed smirking while a crowd chanted “Lock her up!” in reference to Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

Yesterday, I read in the Toronto Star how  Elana Fric-Shamji, described as a brilliant physician, ended up dead in a suitcase—her surgeon husband arrested as the prime suspect.

We can never shut up.

© 2016, Kate Barker. All rights reserved.