Heimrad Backer’s book of concrete poetry transcript (to be published in Patrick Greaney and Vincent Kling’s English translation by Dalkey Archive next March) consists entirely of quotations of material relating to the holocaust seen from the perspective of both its victims and the perpetrators. A few rearrangements using techniques such as repetition (all indicated in the notes at the end) are made to draw out the nature of the language used, particularly as regards documents that demonstrate the bureaucratic obsessions of the Nazi butchers. Nonetheless, rather than resorting to representation, through limited and selected citation transcript confronts the reader with a small portion of the Nazi regime’s bloodbath of mass murder and attempted genocide. While much of the material could be misread as banal if viewed in isolation, the accumulative effect is brutal and chilling. The white space on which sparse lines of text swim in is suffocating. It is one of the most effective condemnations of fascism I’ve read….
While transcript might be seen as an attempt to access ‘reality’, for me it continually called up filmic images. For example, the following brought back scenes from Alain Resnais’s Night and Fog (1955): “i need more freight trains if i’m going to take care of things quickly.” (all of page 27, credited in the notes to: “Ruckerl 116. From a letter of Himmler, dated 23 January 1943 to the State Secretary of the Reich Transportation Ministry and Deputy General Director of the German National Railway, Dr. Ganzenmuller.”) Thus while transcript is extremely effective both as literature and a warning against the horrors of Nazism, it simultaneously leads the reader to question their ability to fully apprehend ‘reality’ because of the ways in which our experience is filtered through prior ‘knowledge’ that may be of either a ‘documentary’ or a ‘fictional’ nature.
I have an ongoing interest in the history of cinema and was particularly disturbed by the way in which transcript brought back visual memories of Nazi-themed exploitation films. Take, for example, page 77 (credited in the notes as: “IMT 25:591-607. Methods of generating warmth after hypothermic experiments at water temperatures of 4-6 degrees Celsius”):
warming by cardiac diathermia
warming by two women
warming by women (coitus performed)
warming by one woman
warming by 2 light boxes with 16 electric bulbs
For me this brought back scenes from Sergio Garonne’s SS Experiment Love Camp (1976). There are a number of softcore sex films set in Nazi concentration camps (a sub-genre of the ‘women in prison’ flick) but I find this particular example by Garonne the most offensive of all those I’ve seen. Women prisoners are subjected to sex experiments by Nazi guards and various medical staff, one victim is heated and then frozen in a tank of water (page 77 of Backer’s text brought these to the forefront of my mind). What makes SS Experiment Love Camp even more obnoxious than titles such as Gestapo’s Last Orgy (Cesare Caneveri 1977) and Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS (Don Edmonds 1975), is its overt racism; at the end of Garonne’s film it is revealed that the doctor in charge of the sex experiments is Jewish (but has taken on the identity of a dead ‘Aryan’ medic), thus the film utilises the classic bigot’s tactic of portraying the victims of racism as the victimisers.
The disjunction between the way transcript conjures up visual memories from my life-long engagement with film and Backer’s apparent desire to get away from narrative in both its documentary and fictional form, is a contradiction from which his poem derives a great deal of strength. The text is both sobering and rich, but much of its effect comes from what we bring to it.
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!
Comment by Zen Master K on 2009-11-27 13:35:03 +0000
Haven’t read any of Backer’s work, I think this is the first one to be translated into English, but while we’re at it let’s have a Bob Cobbing revival too!
Comment by Tim on 2009-11-27 14:09:14 +0000
The whole idea of Nazi porn is disturbing in the extreme. I’ll have to look for the Backer book. I remember reading somewhere that the Nazi doctors (I think less than half were actually trained doctors – and perhaps it wasn’t even that) used to have some bizarro ‘experiments’ where old men would be thrown into baths of ice water then warmed by two naked young women to test their heartrate. Or something. Boy, you really don’t get more scummy than those guys . . .
Comment by Heidegger, King Of The Twats on 2009-11-27 17:59:01 +0000
I’ve seen that movie too ….
Comment by Doris Stokes on 2009-11-27 18:36:41 +0000
And by bringing these movies back from the dead, you naughty naughty boys are clearly engaged in guerilla marketing, even if you haven’t had the nounce to realise it. It’s the same as all those Nazi bands Stewart keeps dragging out of total obscurity to condemn as a means of crowd-pleasing his standard ANL audience.
It’s time to take back the streets!
Comment by john waters on 2009-11-27 19:01:40 +0000
these movies are far from dead..they live on!
2012, thats a dead film..i am wiping it off as i speak
Comment by The Real Tessie on 2009-11-27 19:06:19 +0000
Concrete poetry? I prefer concrete tower blocks myself!
Comment by Mark Nugent on 2009-11-27 19:44:12 +0000
Chilling indeed. The profound anal sadism combined with a rigorously scientific approach make this chapter of human history one of the darkest moments of humanity. To top it off the off hand “all in a days work attitude” The whole steeping of the nazi cult in the dark side of the occult and S&M and D&S makes me think Naziism was in some ways a sex cult so these experiments are very revealing..
Comment by The Ghost of Bob Cobbing on 2009-11-27 20:11:40 +0000
Concrete poetry rocks!
Comment by Décio Pignatari on 2009-11-28 00:04:30 +0000
Concrete conquers steel! Nazi pseudo-poets fuck off!
Comment by Henri Chopin on 2009-11-28 00:58:53 +0000
Comment by François Dufrêne on 2009-11-28 01:47:51 +0000
Comment by Atomic Bumba Clart on 2009-11-28 03:07:18 +0000
Comment by mistertrippy on 2009-11-28 12:29:13 +0000
I use genocide to mean the actual destruction of an entire people, for example, the genocide of the Palawa (Tasmanian Aborigines) by the British. Some people use the term genocide to mean both this and the partial destruction of a people, which if one uses the term in this way would mean both the Nazi holocaust and the black holocaust (associated with the slave trade) can be described as genocide It isn’t clear from your comment whether you have a terminological difference with me over how you’d use the term genocide or whether you’re a historical revisionist who in the face of overwhelming evidence is attempting to maintain the lie that the Nazi holocaust didn’t take place.
Here is the beginning of the Wikipedia article on the Final Solution; you’ll find a lot of other material about this online, in books, archives, films etc.
“The Final Solution (German: Die Endlösung) was Nazi Germany’s plan and execution of the systematic genocide of European Jews during World War II, resulting in the final, most deadly phase of the Holocaust. Heinrich Himmler was the chief architect of the plan, and the German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler termed it: “the final solution of the Jewish question” (“die Endlösung der Judenfrage”).
Mass killings of about one million Jews occurred before the plans of the Final Solution were fully implemented in 1942, but it was only with the decision to eradicate the entire Jewish population that the extermination camps were built and industrialized mass slaughter of Jews began in earnest. This decision to systematically kill the Jews of Europe was made either by the time of or at the Wannsee conference, which took place in Berlin, in the Wannsee Villa on January 20, 1942. The conference was chaired by Reinhard Heydrich. He was acting under the authority given to him by Reichsmarshall Göring in a letter dated July 31, 1941. Göring instructed Heydrich to devise “…the solution of the Jewish problem…” During the conference, there was a discussion held by the group of German Nazi officials how best to handle the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question”. A surviving copy of the minutes of this meeting was found by the Allies in 1947, too late to serve as evidence during the first Nuremberg Trials.
By the summer of 1942, Operation Reinhard began the systematic extermination of the Jews, although hundreds of thousands already had been killed by death squads and in mass pogroms. In Heinrich Himmler’s speech at the Posen Conference of October 6, 1943, Himmler, for the first time, clearly elucidated to all assembled leaders of the Reich to what the “Final Solution” referred.”
“The term “genocide” did not exist before 1944. It is a very specific term, referring to violent crimes committed against groups with the intent to destroy the existence of the group. Human rights, as laid out in the U.S. Bill of Rights or the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, concern the rights of individuals.
In 1944, a Polish-Jewish lawyer named Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) sought to describe Nazi policies of systematic murder, including the destruction of the European Jews. He formed the word “genocide” by combining geno-, from the Greek word for race or tribe, with -cide, from the Latin word for killing. In proposing this new term, Lemkin had in mind “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.” ”
Comment by We Are Not The Barclay Brothers on 2009-11-28 12:48:28 +0000
$ + $ + $ = $$$. SEND CA$H!
Comment by Atomic Bumba Clart on 2009-11-28 16:51:22 +0000
It was terminological, thanks for the explanation.
Comment by Dave Kelso-Mitchell on 2009-12-01 21:35:38 +0000
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