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Prometheus and the Degenerate: Arno Breker, Hans Bellmer, and Francis Bacon's Extreme Realism


Prometheus and the Degenerate: Arno Breker, Hans Bellmer, and Francis Bacon's Extreme Realism Thumbnail



The author considers the visualisation of the body under conditions of war through a discussion of two artists, the sculptor Arno Breker (1900–1991) and the surrealist Hans Bellmer (1902–1975), who imagined the fate of corporeality in Nazi Germany and beyond. He sets up the idea of National Socialism as an ocularcentric regime obsessed with spectacle and the experience of power where the powerful are seen and the weak, vulnerable, miserable, and centrally degenerate are not seen. It is possible to read Arno Breker’s sculptures that imagine the idealised Aryan body as superhuman as a form of material dissimulation designed to hide or repress the criminal violence of National Socialism. While Breker imagines the ideal Aryan leading humanity into a future characterised by purity (e.g. his 1935 sculpture Prometheus), the other side of this dark utopian fantasy comprises the repression of the crime that the Nazi does not see or want to see. This criminal other side, it is argued, is revealed by the work of the surrealist Hans Bellmer, who famously opposed the Nazi’s corporeal fantasy world through his Dolls project where the body is seen in its tortured, mutilated, violated, and destroyed real form. After exploring the politics of the Breker–Bellmer couple, and particularly the psychoanalytic dimensions of their opposition that may inform our understanding of body politics today, the author then goes on to compare both artists’ works with Francis Bacon’s rendition of ‘humanity-as-meat’ that both underpins and results from the workings of power, authority and neo-liberal capitalism alike.

Acceptance Date Apr 27, 2019
Publication Date Jun 4, 2019
Pages 153-177
Book Title Representing the Experience of War and Atrocity
ISBN 978-3-030-13924-7
Keywords Nazi art, Nazism, Nietzsche, The abject, The real, Bare life
Publisher URL


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