Markus Proschek
Boris Manner


Persistence in Subversion: Investigations into Forms of Eroticized Fascism

Motifs and tropes of fascist aesthetics still have a vivid afterlife, both in popular culture and visual arts. This continuity can be traced back to the 1960ies and beyond.
1974 the exhibition Dokumente der Unterwerfung - Kunst im 3. Reich, took place in the Frankfurter Kunstverein.This exhibition was the first critical presentation of Nazi-Art following WW2 and therefore instigated a discussion about the evaluation of this art. The artist Gustav Metzger, a vehement critic of the way the artworks were displayed, argued that the artworks have to be viewed and discussed seriously. In reaction to the exhibition he organized his own lectures on nazi-aesthetics.
1974 was also the year the movie The Night Porter by Liliana Cavani was released - a movie which depicts a sadomasochistic relationship between an SS-officer and a Jewish woman, begun in a concentration camp and then resumed in post-war Austria.

“If the message of fascism has been neutralized by an aesthetic view of live, its trappings have been sexualized.” Susan Sonntag states in her Essay Fascinating Fascism first published 1975 in The New York Review of Books.

The creation of tropes of eroticized fascism cannot always be linked to actual events, such as the coincidental appearance of stalag fiction1 in Israel alongside the Eichmann Trial.
Is fascism in itself a particular sexual territory? In Male Fantasies (1977) Klaus Theweleit elaborates on this by means of psychoanalysis in the tradition of Wilhelm Reich2, who regarded fascism as a collective symptom of sexual repression.
Or is its eroticization a consequence of the transference of prohibited desires onto it, a phantasm that takes place in a state of emergency, without the limitations of a civilized, democratic society?

Limits are, in a sense, what fantasy loves most, what it incessantly thematizes and subordinates to its own aims. [T]he very rhetoric by which certain erotic acts or relations are prohibited invariably eroticize this prohibition in the service of fantasy.
Judith Butler (The Force of Fantasy)

In the construction of the Other attributions of deviance from the norm are prevalent in propaganda, associating political aberration with sexual aberration. As Laura Frost writes 2002 in Sex Drives: Fantasies of Fascism in Literary Modernism: “These fictions, I argue, are complex explorations of how political and national identities are constructed around and shored up by particular sexual identities. They are as revealing of the democratic imagination as they are of fascism.”
Although it was a puritanical and sexually repressive system, fascism seems to be a suitable object for this projection. Eroticization is a common trope in the mainstream representation of Nazism3 just as references to fascist imagery are important for parts of queer-aesthetics and the staging of sadomasochistic subcultures. Through this act of appropriation the form migrates into a new representational system, using its “incorrectness” to distinguish itself from the approved heteronormative gaze regime.
“If images of eroticized fascism are continually produced, why is it that they have not yet been treated as an important feature of twentieth century culture? The reason, it seems to me, lies in the critical desire to rehabilitate or reclaim culturally transgressive sexualities and fantasies and to recuperate them for liberal politics. But fictions of eroticized fascism demonstrate that fantasy is not necessarily coherent, politically useful, or instrumental, and it is the very fantasies that express desires inhospitable to progressive politics and reformist discourse that are the most difficult to address”, Laura Frost continues in her book.

Fantasy is not always aligned with political conviction, though the mutual dependencies between individual and collective fantasies are crucial for the social system. Therefore the contextual awareness of these aesthetics is very important for the assessment of its social function. Again Susan Sonntag: “Fascism may be merely fashionable, and perhaps fashion with its irrepressible promiscuity of taste will save us. But the judgments of taste themselves seem less innocent. Art that seemed eminently worth defending ten years ago, as a minority or adversary taste, no longer seems defensible today, because the ethical and cultural issues it raises have become serious, even dangerous, in a way they were not then. The hard truth is that what may be acceptable in elite culture may not be acceptable in mass culture, that tastes which pose only innocuous ethical issues as the property of a minority become corrupting when they become more established. Taste is context, and the context has changed.”
On the one hand totalitarian structures may appear inconsiderate in an anti-fascistic context (e.g. Otto Mühl’s AAO), on the other hand these phantasms have a subversive potential to transgress normative boundaries and to reflect on the complexity of libidinal structures in an adequate form.

My work investigates these persisting forms and their reassessment within shifting contexts, utilising a critical and artistic approach to these complex phenomena in full awareness of their problematic features. Scrutinizing both this imagery and its re-use in contemporary art and visual culture, I create a reference system, which interprets history as a present (if sometimes inconsistent) construction of both collective and individual projections; projections, which are repeatedly staged and allocate their means of representation to continuous and altering motifs. This reference system reflects on the intertwined constitutions of politics, sexuality and gender.
Over recent years I have worked within this subject matter using the imagery of nazi-artworks and restaging their copies in complex installations, whilst partly associating them with other contexts, e.g. the material-mythology of Josef Beuys. The display follows a double strategy: On the one hand it could be read as an analytic approach to history and the relation between arts and politics, on the other hand it captures the observer`s attention, leaving her/him in an aporia between repulsion and attraction. This gives the observer the possibility to reflect on her/his own perception of sexualized representations of power and structural violence. In my approach to this topic the importance lies in retaining its problematic structure and not to defend its destabilizing effect through a moralist attitude. I am aware that through this strategy of deconstructing fascism (and the stereotypes it still supplies to society) by its own means, I run the risk of an imminent affirmation of this same structure. Therefore, it is important to renegotiate this material within the context of discursive art and its critical, deconstructive methods.


1Pornographic pulp-magazines, depicting sexualized female SS-guards tormenting male prisoners

2Reich tried to explain the attraction of fascism to the masses stating its appeal to unconscious sexual desires. E.g. he interpreted the swastika as an abstraction of two people having sex. This sexual interpretation reminds of Adolf Loos’ deduction of the cross as the first ornament, depicting a man (vertical) penetrating a woman (horizontal).

3E.g. the figure of Amon Göth in Schindler’s List, having sex with his lover before he shoots with the rifle from the balcony of his villa  above the concentration camp. The antithetic figure Oskar Schindler is at the beginning also depicted sexually active, the more he is associated with the Jewish victims he loses this sexual attribution.