REFLECTIONS OF NAZISM: An Essay on Kitsch and Death by Saul Friedlander

REFLECTIONS OF NAZISM: An Essay on Kitsch and Death

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Friedlander's passionate, compact essay is a not-always-coherent response to what he terms ""the new discourse"" on Nazism--lately assembled in such works as Syberberg's film Our Hitler, Fassbinder's film Lili Marleen, the Joachim Fest biography of Hitler, Michel Tournier's novel The Ogre, and George Steiner's novel The Portage to San Cristobal of A.H. What Friedlander first detects as common to all these disparate works is a ""frisson"": ""an overload of symbols: a baroque setting: an evocation of a mysterious atmosphere, of the myth and of religiosity enveloping a vision of death announced as a revelation opening out into nothing--nothing but frightfulness and the night."" That such lavish aestheticism is expended on these Nazi-concerned works seems to Friedlander a psychological phenomenon that itself unconsciously mirrors the same psychological ""phantasms"" which Nazism itself evoked: ""a deep structure based on the coexistence of the adoration of power with a dream of final explosion . . . a particular kind of bondage nourished by the simultaneous desires for absolute submission and total freedom."" All that ""the new discourse"" effectively does, avers Friedlander, is to invert the symbols; in fact, he says, such writings end up amassing myth, substituting kitsch for death. And, like Elie Wiesel or Lawrence Langer, Friedlander essentially concludes that silence, or at least choked inarticulateness, may be the only proper response to evil on this unimaginable a scale: the baroque energy of ""the new discourse"" makes him suspect it of complacency. Too briefly argued in many spots, sometimes less than lucid, Friedlander's book nonetheless seems functionally important: as a caution against the lush freedom now being felt to exorcise--but perhaps re-mythologize--Nazism on its own subtle terms.

Publisher: Harper & Row