26 July 2014

Beach Books: Martin Gumpert and Andre Malraux

“Is there anything sadder than a provincial American Main Street?  Everywhere there are the same shops, the same products, the same posters, everywhere the same uninspired architecture – the undertaker, the grocer, the movie house, the community center. “

“This is the way it is – and yet again, that is not the way it is.  For this dreariness that so frightens us existed over there too.  There were the tenements in the north of Berlin, the worker’s quarters in Essen…slums in Britain and slums in Vienna, there were small towns in Brandenburg that left nothing to be desired in dreariness… But we never thought that we should be at the mercy of this backwater of culture that exists everywhere in the world.  There are no longer situations against which we are protected, agonies against which we are proof.”

“Where did our arrogance get us?  We were suddenly face to face with the silently grown masses of the European continent – an anonymous assemblage of creatures without historical memory, without a traditional picture, for whom the scenery and the way of life of the old continent merely serve as a costume and a backdrop.  To gratify their rightful claim to existence, they had to be educated, fed, clothed.  We thought we were speaking in their name.  But we did not understand them, nor did they understand us.  All that took place in politics, in public life, in the spiritual or religious sphere, was clothed in an unworldly jargon that had meaning for us, but meant only nonsense to them.”

excerpts from in Heil Hunger! Health Under Hitler by Martin Gumpert, New York, Alliance Book Corporation: 1940.

Martin Gumpert (1897-1955) was a German Jewish physician who became an early refugee from Nazi Germany, arriving in New York in 1936. He is remembered today, if at all, as a footnote to the literary career of Thomas Mann with whom he shared information on the course of syphilis that Mann used in writing his novel Doctor Faustus (1947). 
Gumpert's book  Heil Hunger! Health Under Hitler, published in 1940, was an early explication of what a reviewer in New Masses called "the farrago of 'Arayan' science."  In it, Gumpert systematically dismantled Nazi claims to improved public health for the German public under its regimen. Embedded in the text was a message, imperfectly understood at the time, that is still resonant.  Even if you do not agree with Karl Marx that the material conditions of existence determine consciousness, there is reason to be uneasy at the withdrawal of the meritocracy from the rest of us. 
In his woefully under-appreciated volumes The Psychology of Art (1947-49), the French writer Andre Malraux wrestled with the same implied question: is culture a means to transcendence or is it divisive?  (The Twilight of the Absolute by Andre Malraux, translated by Stuart Gilbert, Pantheon Books : 1950).

“We speak of the past as though we planted it in our culture, like an ancient monument in a modern city;…. For a small minority, keenly interested in history, it is fraught with meaning, and its elucidation means a gradually won victory over chaos.  For the vast majority it comes to life only in some large legend…” – excerpt from  The Metamorphism of the Gods by Andre Malraux translated by Stuart Gilbert, Doubleday, New York: 1960.

It seems to me that one thing that happens when we erase certain writers or artists is that their ideas are reused without the gift of remembrance.  How this can happen in a sea of endlessly chaining academic footnotes is hard to understand.  But when Andre Malraux began disappearing from the library shelves I decided I'd better get reading.

1. Kate Traumann Steinitz - Berlin, 1909, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Note:   Kate Traumann Steinitz(1899-1975)  was a German-born artist who was associated with the Bauhaus and worked on various projects with Kurt Schwitters before being banned from working by the National Socialist government in 1936.   She moved to first to New York City and died in Los Angeles.


Gerrie said...

What a great early and unique print you've showed. A bend in the river Spree in Berlin. This artist as a printmaker was completely new to me although being a student of Lovis Corinth in Berlin. She has a great entry in the internet but wasn't mentioned in any of the "Verein der Berliner Künstlerinnen" references. I'm currently working on the biographies of some 150 German woman artists born before 1900 who pioneered with color woodblock printmaking. Thank you.

Jane said...

Gerrie,thanks. When I found this on the LACMA website last year, I saved it, knowing that someday there'd be a spot here for it. Please kept me posted on your big project. it sounds voluminous.

Gerrie said...

Jane, I've used this woodblock print to create a posting on her in my Blog "the Linosaurus". See:http://gerrie-thefriendlyghost.blogspot.nl.
The German Pioneering Women Woodblock Printmakers Project and research is ongoing and I sincerely hope finally will result in a book. I've already composed some 150 short biographies but some of these women are very obscured and often totally unknown or known by just one single print.

Jane said...

gerrie, again thank you the info.

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Jane said...

Adelbert, you are so kind and I am happy that you find something here to enjoy. Iam no genius but I will keep trying.