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Fascism and Aesthetics: Joseph Goebbel's Novel Michael: A German Fate Through the Pages of a Diary (1929)

Written by eastern writer on Saturday, May 31, 2008

[Dieter Saalmann. Born 1939. Ph.D., Washington University, St. Louis, U.S.A. Professor of German. Ph.D. dissertation: R. M. Rilke and French Symbolism. Book on R. M. Rilke. Articles on twentieth-century German, Austrian, and Swiss authors, Franco-German and Hispanic-German literary relations, Holocaust literature, Fascism and aesthetics]

This essay attempts to document the relationship between politics and aesthetics in general by using the specific example of Goebbels' prose work, Michael to illustrate the close identity between fascist thinking and aesthetic theories. Even though Goebbels has received ample attention in his capacity as Propagandaminister, Goebbels the artist manqué has been accorded only the scantest of interest. Significantly his Promovierung at the University of Heidelberg in 1921 deals with "Wilhelm Schütz: A Contribution to the History of the Drama of the Romantic School." He wrote a substantial amount of poetry as well as several plays and essays.

Initially, Goebbels attempted to become associated with the Gundolf circle in order to promote his literary efforts, without much success, though. Michael is by no means a work of aesthetic merit. Its sole significance for German intellectual history lies in its ability to demonstrate rather persuasively the fascist credo that the politician engages in a creative act, i.e. as a sculptor who gives form to the masses that constitute his material, and as a painter whose creative endeavor corresponds to the activity of the statesman. The numerous references in Michael to German literature and philosophy provide additional proof of the close affinity between National Socialist ideas in the realm of politics and art. The results of this ästhetisierung der Politik (Benjamin) can be summarized in terms of fascist politics as a Gesamtkunstwerk and the state as a work of art.

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