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Interdisciplinary studies in the material construction of social worlds

Series Editors: Daniel Miller, Dept of Anthropology, University College

London; Michael Rowlands, Dept of Anthropology, University CollegeLondon; Christopher Tilley, Dept of Anthropology, UniversityCollege London.

MATERIAL CULTURE AND TEXTThe Art of AmbiguityChristopher Tilley

ARCHAEOLOGICAL THEORY IN EUROPEThe Last Three DecadesEdited by Ian Hodder

EXPERIENCING THE PASTOn the Character of ArchaeologyMichael Shanks


TECHNOLOGICAL CHOICESTransformation in Material Cultures since the NeolithicEdited by Pierre Lemonnier

ARCHITECTURE AND ORDERApproaches to Social SpaceEdited by Michael Parker Pearson and Colin Richards

GIFTS AND COMMODITIESExchange and Western Capitalism since 1700James G.Carrier

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Constructing the Symbol

Malcolm Quinn

London and New York

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First published 1994by Routledge

11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE

This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005.

“To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collectionof thousands of eBooks please go to”

Simultaneously published in the USA and Canadaby Routledge

29 West 35th Street, New York, NY 10001

© 1994Malcolm Quinn

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted orreproduced or utilized in any form or by any electronic,

mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafterinvented, including photocopying and recording, or in any

information storage or retrieval system, without permission inwriting from the publishers.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication DataA catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication DataQuinn, Malcolm

The swastika: constructing the symbolp. cm. —(Material cultures)

Includes bibliographical references and index.1. Swastika—History. 2. National socialism—Germany.

3. Symbolism (Psychology) I. Title. II. Series.DD256.5.Q56 1993

ISBN 0-203-99387-X Master e-book ISBN

ISBN 0-415-10095-X (Print Edition)

302.2′22—dc20 94–4683

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When the bones of King Arthur were digged up, the oldRace might think, they beheld therein some Originals ofthemselves; Unto these of our Urnes none here canpretend relation.

(Sir Thomas Browne, Urn Burial, 1658)

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Illustrations viii

Foreword ix

Preface x

Acknowledgements xii



From representation to recognition 25

Ostkolonisation 29

The construction site 32

Quest, fermentation and sublimity 36

The destroyers 40

Artefact signals 44

Seeing the swastika 47

The return of Ulysses 51

Symbol and ornament 56


Expressionism and the ‘race spirit’ 62

Gesture and character 64

Anti-ornament 66

Thelavatorial grotesque 69

Autokinesis and autonomy 73

Thecompulsion to test 76

Gothic man 79

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Romantic rhetoric 102

World domination 107

Context and non-text 111

Mimetic codes 116

The massornament 118

Kinoswastika 122


Swastika and logo 127

Commodity and gift 130

The mission statement 136

Breaking the chain: John Heartfield 140

Apotheosis of the German worker 144

Redesigning the Reich 146

Propaganda continued 151

Notes 155

Select bibliography 183

Index 191


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The following plates appear between pages 80 and 81

1 ‘M.Burnouf on the [swastika]’ 2 Real History of the Swastika 3 Girls’ hockey team, Edmonton, Alberta, circa 1916 4 ‘Map showing distribution of the swastika’ 5 Berlin policemen practise for the 9th Indoor Sports Festival 6 The Mother of the People of the Aryan Family 7 The bricoleur of myths: Heinrich Schliemann 8 The construction site: Troy in 1989 9 ‘Terra-cotta Ball, representing apparently the climates of the globe’ and

‘Fragment of Pottery, with the Svastika’

10 ‘Specimens of whorls, etc. dug up at Troy’ 11 Hittite ritual standard with swastikas 12 Karatay Medrese portal, Konya 13 Swastikas from the Pedagogical Sketchbook of Paul Klee 14 The Day of German Art, 15 October 1933 15 ‘Saarbrücken was a single sea of flags’ 16 Phantasmagoria: stills from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will 17 ‘The first of May then brings the entire German people together’ 18 Site of conflict: swastika graffiti in Berlin, 1993 19 The Old Slogan in the ‘New’ Reich: Blood and Iron 20 ‘Thus the German people can once again celebrate a truly German


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For too long, the archaeology of knowledge about the swastika has been confinedto books and part-works which belong roughly midway between Nazi nostalgiaand the occult. Malcolm Quinn’s well-argued study helps to re-locate theswastika within a variety of fresh contexts: the parallel histories of archaeology,colonisation and design; polemics about the ways in which symbols work;analysis of the rhetoric of the image. The point, as he says, is ‘to break the chainof reference from image to image, the means by which the symbol isconstructed’. So this book is about symbolism, rather than Nazism, and itrepresents an important and even courageous contribution to the study of visualculture since the late nineteenth century.

Christopher FraylingRoyal College of Art

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This book is about the construction of the archaic within the modern, and thefabrication of the swastika as a sign of identity in an era when personal andcollective identities were being rapidly displaced. The construction of theswastika as the icon of a supposedly immemorial and indivisible race identitybegan in the mid-nineteenth century and reached its height in the Nazi period inGermany; its echoes are unfortunately still with us, despite the fact that the gulfbetween the representation of identity and its quotidian social dissolution growsever wider. High on the list of the duplicities attributable to National Socialismwas its use of the swastika as an emblem of the sense of self-definition andcommunity which capitalism was rapidly eroding. In fact Nazism, under the signof the swastika, subsumed the ‘organic’ and historical model of the nation statewithin a totalitarian scheme based on the expansionist and market-led notions ofterritory and social geography which had succeeded the organic model.

This book shows that a similar paradox also informed the construction of theswastika as a sign of the ‘Aryan race’ in the nineteenth century. The myth of anAryan race re-assembled the archaic in the image of the modern, and itsmythology of structure was derived from the study of Indo-Europeancomparative linguistics, which also presaged the ahistoric, structural andmodernist linguistics of Saussure. ‘Aryan man’ was a creature born ofabstraction and deracination; and the swastika, a globally distributed mark withno discernible point of origin, was his heraldic device. In the nineteenth century,the swastika was used as both Aryan sign and Aryan evidence, place and race inone, and was adopted by Nazism in the twentieth century in its violent erasure ofthe historical links between people, place and praxis. From 1889 to the present,the display of the Aryan swastika as a symbolic locus, identifying mark or pointof reference has also signalled dislocation, displacement and at worst, the Naziterror.

It is for these reasons that the modern and Occidental swastika presents aparticular set of problems to the analysis of material culture ‘in context’, since itmust be simultaneously read as contextually placed and displaced, as presentingmeaning and identity and at the same time deferring and postponing it. Insofar asthe term Aryan (where used in an academic sense) has historically represented anunresolved problem of material evidence in the gap between Indo-European

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language theory and archaeology, the swastika as a supposedly ‘Aryan sign’ hasinstead been used as a substitute for and evasion of the archaeological problemsof accurate representation, reference and material evidence. In 1880, the Germanscholar Rudolf Virchow ruled the swastika out of court not simply as evidence ofthe Aryan race but as archaeological evidence per se, suggesting that its widespatial distribution rendered it useless for the determination of time: forVirchow, a liberal politician, a rigorous scientist and sceptic on the Aryan issue,the swastika was trivial, marginal and unreadable. However, the obstacles whichthe swastika presented to an orthodox archaeological reading must be set againstthe construction of the Aryan symbol, with its placement and displacement ofmeaning from sign to identical sign across an immobile space and a frozen time.Nazism, in its turn, employed the swastika as the sign of a race identitylegitimated not in the historical dimension and ‘sense of place’ sought by thenineteenth-century nation state, but through the conquest of new territories. Thisbook begins by looking at the ‘Aryanisation’ of the swastika in the Bismarckianperiod; but it was not until 1933 that this migratory image with no link togeographic place or historical time could be used as the ‘national symbol’ ofGermany.

Whilst I would not deny that this has been a difficult book to write, I do notsee my work on the swastika as part of an heroic discourse of reclamation andsalvage. Instead, I hope to show that philanthropic notions of a ‘change ofmeaning’ for the swastika only serve to divert attention away from the Nazistrategy which used the symbol to demarcate, divide and control social space.Ultimately, however, my concerns are not with Nazism nor, in a sense, with theswastika itself. I believe that the Aryanisation of the swastika provides aparadigmatic example of the attempt to construct, in a secular era, an inviolableand immutable symbolic space between a living tradition on the one hand, andthe constant flux of the market on the other. The end result of this attempt totranscend time was that the Aryan swastika caricatured tradition as an identicalrepetition, and that the Nazi swastika became the commodity sign parexcellence.

April 1994


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My first debt of thanks is to the staff of the Humanities Department at the RoyalCollege of Art, for giving houseroom to such an unlikely project. I am alsoindebted to Daniel Miller at University College London. Without his advice andsupport, my research would never have become a book, and without his criticalacuity it would have been a poorer one. Thanks are also due to AndrewWheatcroft, Heather McCallum and Caroline Cautley at Routledge, for seeingthis book patiently through to completion. I am grateful to Valerie Holman andChristopher Tilley for reading parts of the manuscript, and to Sabina Ubil for herpatience, generosity and help with translations of eccentric texts written in badGerman. Thanks especially to Susan Dinsmore for reading and editing themanuscript, and also for putting up with a year of ‘Daily Life in Swastika City’.

A version of the introduction was presented as a paper to the Material CulturesDiscussion Group in the Department of Anthropology at University CollegeLondon on 6 May 1993.

I would like especially to acknowledge my debt to Jan Murton at the RoyalCollege of Art slide library for the girls’ hockey team photograph. (Plate 3). I amalso grateful to the Süddeutscher Verlag, who gave permission to reproduce andprovided the photograph for Plate 5, and the Hirmer Verlag for permission toreproduce the image shown in Plate 11. Plates 1, 4, 6, 7, 9 and 10 are reproducedby permission of the British Library. Plate 19 is reproduced by permission of theDesigns and Artists Copyright Society.

Every attempt has been made to obtain permission to reproduce copyrightmaterial. If any proper acknowledgement has not been made, we would invitecopyright holders to inform us of the oversight.

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INTRODUCTIONReading the swastika

The swastika…could not be confused with any other symbol.(Paul Virilio, War and Cinema: the Logistics of Perception, 1989)

This book begins with a warning against the consequences of misappropriation.It was a warning which came too late, but which nonetheless is still relevanttoday. This caveat was issued in 1880 by the philologist Max Müller in a letter tothe archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, then known throughout Europe as theexcavator of Troy. In his letter, Müller warned Schliemann that he should bewary of confusing the word ‘swastika’ with an archaeological ‘found image’, andthat to do so would sever the links between the symbol and tradition:

I do not like the use of the word Svastika outside India. It is a word ofIndian origin, and has its history and definite meaning in India. I know thetemptation is great to transfer names, with which we are familiar, to similarobjects which come before us in the course of our researches. But it is atemptation which the true student ought to resist, except, it may be, for thesake of illustration. The mischief arising from the promiscuous use oftechnical terms is very great.1

In one sense, Schliemann had already taken heed of Müller’s warning, bysubstituting images of the left and rightward-turning ‘swastika’ for the word inhis texts (Plate 1). On other occasions, these same images were matched withothers in order to construct plausible theories for the migration and dispersal ofSchliemann’s ‘Aryan’ ancestors. In this book, I have eschewed Schliemann’sexpedient of using drawings, and have instead included the word swastika as a‘flag of convenience’. The word, therefore, does not imply a particular form ofthe image, but should in each case be seen to refer to the specific instance underdiscussion. I stress this in order to avoid the identical repetition of the symboland the iteration of the gesture which have conspired to keep the swastika in thepublic eye. When I began the research for this book, the swastika had alreadyresurfaced as an emblem of the far right in a reunified Germany, and as I wascompleting it, a British national newspaper carried the photograph of a swastika

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daubed onto a postbox in London, following the election of a member of theBritish National Party to a local council seat.2

The BNP had secured this victory using the slogan ‘rights for whites’, and theswastika is again being employed across Europe not simply with reference toNazism, but as an image which unites various groups promoting a racist creed.The ‘lineage’ of the swastika which can be traced from 1880 to 1994 is not atradition, but in the name of race it has appropriated the lineaments of a tradition,one established by the repetition of the sign and a chain of identical images. Fromthe late nineteenth century onwards, there developed a set of practices that soughtto maintain the integrity of the swastika as a symbol of race. This usurped andreversed an order of meaning in which cultural practices are represented by amaterial symbol. An ‘Aryan’ lineage of the swastika was established by referringto the self-identity of its form over time, not by linking the image to a continuityof custom or ritual praxis. This separation of the symbol from tradition and theattempt to construct a ‘tradition of the symbol’ in its stead is the trajectorylinking the Aryanist and swastikaphile Michael Zmigrodski, who organised aswastika exhibition in Paris in 1889, to the anonymous neo-Nazis who sprayedthe swastika on war graves in Nijmegen in Holland on 11 August 1993.3 In bothcases, the preservation of the ‘race’ is expressed by adding yet more images to thechain of identical forms bounding the Aryan corral.

My search for this tradition of self-identity and self-evidence has required anethnography of texts, and the study of the swastika as the site not just forconflicting interpretations, but for different cognitive frameworks and ‘ways ofseeing’. The type of micro-history and close textual analysis employed in thisbook has ruled out the more usual encyclopaedic or ‘travelogue’ approach to theswastika, and in fact I am proposing that the compilation of a list of themeanings attributed to this image in a variety of geographic locations is anexercise which succeeds only in reifying a deracinated ‘tradition of the symbol’and does nothing to draw the sting from Nazism. The exotic locations for theswastika in this text are book covers, terracotta whorls, maps and a set ofdrawings that have been kept in a drawer at the Musée de St Germain-des-Préssince 1889. On the occasions on which I do resort to a broad cross-culturalcomparison, it is to show how the swastika functions spatially and to study thedistribution of the motif over a variety of surfaces, not to compare and contrastone attributed meaning of the image with another.

Nor is the travelogue method appropriate to an understanding of the recenthistory of the swastika. In the popular imagination, the swastika begins withHitler, and this historical paralysis needs to be addressed as a phenomenon in itsown right, rather than simply being dismissed as an aberration. I believe that thebest way to approach the swastika is to show that the atrophy of history and thederacination of tradition has a history and a tradition of its own. Unfortunately,many anti-Nazi and anti-fascist strategies have succeeded only in reinforcing thestasis of the swastika, rather than making it fully historical. This holds true forone of the first pieces of ‘de-Nazification’ legislation passed in the closing


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months of World War II. Early in 1945, after the Allied Expeditionary Force hadcrossed the Rhine and occupied Southern Germany, and before the surrender ofthe Wehrmacht shortly after midnight on 9 May that year, a set of regulationswas issued abrogating Nazi law in the occupied territory. The purpose of theseregulations was to ‘eliminate from German law and administration…the policiesand doctrines of the National Socialist Party’. The first Nazi policy to berepealed was the ‘Law for Protection of National Symbols’ of 19 May 1933.4

This set of regulations, issued on the authority of Josef Goebbels’ PropagandaMinistry, had been concerned with safeguarding the ‘dignity’ of the Naziswastika and preventing its unauthorised commercial use.

That the first ‘de-Nazification’ regulations to be introduced in 1945 revokedlaws specifically protecting the swastika, shows that the Nazi party and itssymbol were seen as indivisible, a recognition which the years since World WarII have done nothing to diminish. The image of the swastika, and the word Nazihave become both interchangeable and, in a sense ‘onomatopoeic’: they arelinked to their referent in a way in which the words National Socialism are not.As the film director Sergei Eisenstein once suggested in an open letter to JosefGoebbels, the words ‘National Socialism’ are a self-cancelling ‘mongrel of lies’of purely rhetorical and propagandist application.5 However, the use of theswastika as a ‘National Symbol’ that also stood as the symbol of a ‘race’aggregated and gave a chilling sense to the contradictory messages, the patched-up ideology and the performative statements of Nazism. The embracing sign ofrace functioned as the symbol of both a ‘national’ boundary and a ‘social’ group,and translated the redundant rhetoric of nineteenth-century nationalism and theradical politics of socialism into a populist language of race consciousness and‘national awakening’.

This discourse of awakening and ‘coming to consciousness’ has led me toinclude the swastika within another tradition, that of the romantic idea of thesymbol. In the writings of Goethe and Schelling, of Coleridge and Novalis, thesymbol is defined not so much as a representation as an event, a suddenrevelation which restores the alienated subject to a richer, fuller existence. Theromantic symbol contains this fullness and plurality within the singularity of thecatalytic and visionary image. J.W.Goethe, in a letter to Schiller in August 1797,had written of symbols as ‘eminent examples, which stand, in characteristicmultiplicity, as representatives for many others, and embrace a certain totality.’6

The Nazi swastika at once completed and extinguished the romantic concept ofthe symbol by presenting it in the form of a monumental and static image of‘awakening’ (Erhebung), and expressing Goethe’s ‘certain totality’ in the formof a signifying field of self-identical imagery. The diachronic ‘lineage’ of theAryan swastika became synchronic in Nazism, as the supposed preservation of aracial essence over time was translated into the conquest of an ‘Aryan’ space inthe project of Lebensraum.

The swastika and the memorials at Dachau, Auschwitz and elsewhere are nowthe most familiar mnemonics of the Nazi regime, and both the swastika and the


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perimeter of the camps define spaces that cannot be rehabilitated and used forother purposes. In 1945, Germany could be de-Nazified by the removal ofswastikas, but the swastika itself could not: the laws which once policed thepublic display of the swastika were abrogated, but that same abrogationrecognised the indivisible links between the swastika and Nazism. I do not wishto claim that these links can be severed in the foreseeable future, but I willsuggest that the historical problem of ‘reading’ the swastika both pre-dates andstructures the totalitarian injunction which now confines this image to a singleinterpretation. This book has evolved from the attempt to resolve the problempresented by the impossibility of an ‘objective’ or completely de-Nazifiedreading of the swastika, a problem I first encountered when I began to study theuses of this image as an ornamental motif in 1989. I soon realised that theswastika had presented difficulties to a rationalist and objective analysis in thenineteenth century, when Max Müller had described the swastika as a‘troublesome puzzle’, and when Count Goblet D’Alviella claimed that ‘there ishardly a symbol which has given rise to more varied interpretations’.7 Whatbegan to interest me was the possibility of a link between this storm in ahermeneutic teacup and what the historian Ian Kershaw has termed the‘intellectual impossibility’ of an adequate explanation of Nazism in the face ofAuschwitz. Kershaw sees this inadequacy as resulting in a polarisation of‘Hitlerist’ and ‘structuralist’ interpretations of the Holocaust, with neither modelproviding a satisfactory explanation. His own suggestion is that the historianshould look to the way in which the Holocaust functioned in ‘sustaining themomentum of escalating radicalisation around “heroic”, chimeric goals’.8 Inother words, we should examine the question of a Nazi ‘self-representation’.What links the image of the swastika directly to the camps is the ‘mission’ andthe goals which Adolf Hitler had outlined in Mein Kampf: ‘In the swastika [wesee] the mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man, and, by the sametoken…the idea of creative work, which as such always has been and alwayswill be anti-Semitic.’9 Hitler’s ‘definition’ of the party emblem shows that it isworth asking exactly how Nazism might be said to be explained or representedby its chosen image of the swastika. In naming the swastika as the symbol of ‘thevictory of the Aryan man’ Hitler described an heraldic device announcing anabsent referent, the signal for an event which had not yet taken place. In a moredirect sense, the swastika ‘stood for’ the Nazi party; but the party also facilitatedthe ‘mission’ of the swastika, which was to unite a racist (anti-Semitic) imagewith an Aryan racial identity. The concentration camps are the monuments tothis attempt to produce a race from the sign of racism, the phantom Aryan fromthe murder of the living Jew. As Ian Kershaw suggests, the accepted frameworksfor a historical exegesis are inadequate to Auschwitz, a word which at onceevokes the stark brutality of recorded facts and lets those facts stand as aninexplicable symbol, a non-negotiable boundary. The swastika is now the visualequivalent of the word Auschwitz, but its institution in Europe as an Aryan andanti-Semitic sign preceded both the concentration camps and Nazism itself. In


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this instance, the problem of a rational and adequate explanation does not beginwith Hitler. Nor was Hitler the point of origin for the discourse which attemptedto establish a referent for the Aryan swastika through a negative definition andrejection of all that the Aryan was not.

The present and long-standing tension between rationalist ‘interpretations of’the swastika and fetishistic ‘reactions to’ the image suggests that a ‘decoding’ ofthe swastika is a partial answer at best. With the swastika, what is particularlynoticeable is the interrelationship of interpretation and response, of the search fora symbolic cause which then becomes part of the swastika’s symbolic effect.Over the past 120 years, this has resulted in a redoubling and accumulation of‘effects’ and the corresponding institution of the swastika as an apotropaic objectrather than a readable sign. The swastika is not so much read as reacted to, andhas assumed a causality in its own right rather than being seen as an imagewhose presence can be accounted for with a viable explanation. This talismanicor apotropaic phenomenology pre-dates Nazism, and therefore throughout thisbook, I have included interpretations of the swastika within the category of ‘usesfor’ the swastika. This reverses the tendency of certain discourses to reduce thestudy of symbols to the interpretation of symbols. Interpretation sees symbols asproduced by a cultural context, but it is also the case that symbols canthemselves be seen to have ‘produced’ the contexts in which they areencountered, as well as catalysing the interpretative project itself. The passiverepresentative role which is given to the symbol in a ‘decoding’ operation shouldalso be seen as an active function which displays, defines and objectifies thatwhich it represents. This is particularly noticeable in those cases where symbolicimages are used to construct identities such as nation, speech and race. Thesymbol ‘identifies’ these identities as incomplete: it represents not what has been,but what must be done. In 1891, when Michael Zmigrodski defined the swastikaas the armorial shield of the Aryan race,10 his heraldic metaphor was apposite inseveral senses: the Aryan swastika was both the precursor heralding an absent ordelayed referent meaning, and also its defensive shield. It was also heraldicinsofar as the ‘tradition of the symbol’ and the repetition of the sign was amimesis of racial lineage and pedigree. In this ‘heraldic’ form, the swastika itselfdoes not ‘mean’, it produces meaning by announcing it on the one hand andobscuring it on the other. Throughout this book, I have chosen to discuss thissimultaneously ‘presentative’ and defensive role for the symbol, rather thanseeing in the swastika a hieroglyph which can be translated into an equivalenttextual interpretation. In this regard, it is significant that whereas the swastikahas historically proven to be intractable to rational analysis and a one-to-onedecoding, subjective explanations of the image are voluminous. I believe thatdefining the swastika as an ‘object for’ discourse rather than as the ‘subject of’an explanation is the only viable way to deal with the problems of an objectivereading whilst not lapsing into an unselfconscious subjectivism.

It must be admitted, however, that anyone who writes a book ‘about’ theswastika finds themselves in disreputable company. Not the company of Adolf


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Hitler, who devotes only a few lines in Mein Kampf to the subject, but that ofwriters such as Edward Butts of Kansas City, Missouri, who in 1908 produced theself-published Statement Number 1: TheSwastika. This book, which wasprovided with Butts’ mailing address and a blank page for the reader’s notes,begins, like many similar texts, with the seductive narrative of a lost origin:

Away back on the horizon of our records, seemingly a little beyond theirlimit, an emblem we recognise as the swastika came into existence. Of thepast history related to this little emblem we desire to know more… To ourminds it appears much like a beautiful cloud that once floated above asetting sun, tinted with brilliant colours—now scattered by the ‘fourcardinal giants’ here and there over the earth.11

Butts’ scene-setting eulogy is then followed by a complex numerological theoryfor which the swastika provides the template and, ultimately, the raison d’être. Thecontemporary writer is confronted not only with a mainly eccentric discourse onthe swastika, but with the sobering realisation that the image has frequentlyprovided otherwise directionless texts with a legitimate goal and object.However, this reifying role does allow for an immediate distinction between thephantom value of what the swastika might ‘mean’ and concrete examples of howthe swastika has been used, since, as Butts himself points out, the image ‘musthave been a more useful device and of very necessary application to have forceditself into the needs of so many widely distributed localities’.

In Butts’ book, the swastika is an object which is used for writing, whilstostensibly acting as the subject of a discourse attempting to decode or dissolve animage into a textual meaning: but a study of the canon also reveals that onlycertain kinds of books are ‘written with’ the swastika. As well as Butts’ text,there are such curios as Swastika: The Symbol ofReligion, Physiology andMedicine Known to Man Some Thousands of YearsAgo (1943) written byN.Ramasvamayya, a retired judge from Madras, who interpreted the swastika asa ‘diaphragmatic’ symbol, and a pamphlet written by the Reverend NormanWalker in 1939 (Plate 2) who asserted that the swastika was a symbol of thesupreme god in ancient India, Anatolia, Europe, China and America,12 as well asnumerous texts published during the Nazi period in Germany which mainlyconsist of outlandish attempts to establish a specifically Germanic racialprovenance for the sign. The bad company I have been keeping over the past fewyears has constantly brought me up against the question: why has the discourseon the swastika been so relentlessly eccentric? Consequent upon this questionwas another: what kind of representational grotesque was the swastika that itcould continue to meet the demands of popular occultism, antiquarianism,p*rnography and racism simultaneously? The concept of the aberration orgrotesque flies in the face of an orthodox structuralist reading of the image ‘incontext’, and deconstruction is also of little help, since the types of scandal itsadherents prefer are dramatic and transgressive, a ‘thinking of the other of Western


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philosophy’, rather than the compromises and counterfeits of representation thatinterested me. Somewhere between absolute knowledge and a postmodernabsolute uncertainty lies the kitsch semiotic of the swastika, a form of ersatz ortabloid transgression whose fitting emblem is the swastika carved into themurderer Charles Manson’s forehead.13 It is also interesting to note that Mansonfigures as the demonic aspect of ‘alternative’ culture in much the same way ash*tler was the figure who transformed romanticism into tawdry and sinisterkitsch. Charles Manson is to the hippie commune as Adolf Hitler is to theVolksgemeinschaft, the ‘national community’. What connects Hitler, Manson andthe consumer of the Nazi ‘sensation’ in its variously mediated forms is the occultdevice of the swastika, which has put in long service as the degree zero of thecheap thrill. In pulp fiction and sensationalist journalism, the swastika is not somuch a p*rnographic image as a device which occupies the place of theobscenity which cannot or should not be represented: the Manson murders,Gestapo cellars, Nazi atrocities.

In theory, the swastika is a moveable grotesque, since it stands not as therepresentation of a particular forbidden act but is instead a substitute for the act ofrepresentation. In practice, of course, all uses of the swastika in Europe post-Nazism, including Manson’s, inevitably refer back to 1933 as their point oforigin. However, within Nazi Germany itself, the swastika was substituted for animage and a definition of the Aryan. It was at once acknowledged as the sign ofrace, and occluded and dissimulated all that was done in the name of racialpurity. It is this ‘occult’ order of reality which connects both Manson and Hitlerwith the swastika-lore of the theosophist Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky,and which links popular occultism with the romantic tradition. This line ofdescent might be termed the history of a misrepresentation, since in occultism,contra Wittgenstein, what cannot be spoken about is not passed over in silence, itis spoken of as the unspeakable and seen as the unseen. The same ‘heraldic’strategy which at once precedes and announces the revelation of meaning andobscures and delays meaning precisely by not revealing it, is used in Aryanism,occultism and Nazism. In Kenneth Anger’s film, Invocation ofMy DemonBrother (USA 1969) the swastika is used as one element of an occult ritualinspired by the ‘Magick’ of Aleister Crowley, but precisely which magicaltransformation the swastika effects is less important than the prior knowledgethat the swastika is symbolically effectual. Anger has commented that theswastika was ‘a psychic power pack’ and claimed that ‘Hitler couldn’t have doneit without the swastika’.14 One is tempted to add that Anger couldn’t have doneit without Hitler. It is this genealogy of uses of the swastika which allows for adefinition of the occult not as a secret doctrine or particular set of practices but asan order of meaning in which the symbol is rationally understood as the barrierto a rational understanding. Occultism does not subvert representation, instead itinstitutes a domain of representation and one of repressed desire, two realmsseparated by the hygienic device of the symbol.


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The occult sign is also the Freudian ‘fetishised object’ and in the first sectionof this book I have referred to Homi Bhabha’s psychoanalysis of Eurocentricthought as one model which can be used to understand how the ‘Oriental’ sign ofthe swastika was fetishised within an Aryanist discourse. The fetishised signsignifies a strict division between the Occident of the known and the Orient ofthe unknown, where the occult symbol functions as the border image whosevisual aspect is material but whose ‘content’ is metaphysical. It dissimulates theanxiety caused by a loss of centre in the form of a fixed point which representsthat loss, rather than allowing the absence of meaning to realise itself as a freeassociative flux. In the case of the Aryan swastika which eventually became theNazi emblem, the response to the loss of a stable tradition and a secure referencewas to develop a strategy of self-reference. In this way a sign of doubt, ofnostalgia and loss was instituted as the certainty of a reference from image toimage. When tradition is lost as a continuity of practice, of custom and culture, itis replaced by the repetition of the sign and the repeated acknowledgement of thesign. Both racism and the racist image or gesture signal the loss of a power to re-enact or recreate a community. Instead, they institute the passivity of a visualacknowledgement, the recognition of a form (whether that form is a shared skincolour or a swastika) which substitutes for the absence of a more tangibleconnection or mutality. In Nazism, communal action was directed towardspreserving the continuity of the representation of tradition, in direct oppositionto the communist ideal of mutually constructive action in response to the declineand sub sequent overthrow of tradition. The hammer and sickle was a devicewhich invited an act of construction both visually, as a dialectical argument, andsocially, as mutual labour. The swastika, on the other hand, invited the passiveacceptance of race identity as a form which had existed over time and which hadto be ‘awakened’, reconstructed and preserved. In MeinKampf, the swastika isidentified as an image of ‘creative work’, which by Hitler’s own definition islabour directed towards the maintenance of a race representation.

Although the Nazi swastika can be seen as one version of the Aryan swastika,its transformation of doubt into certainty, and of a marginalised sign into adominant one, represents a radical shift of emphasis. In the nineteenth century,the swastika served as both an Oriental sign standing at the border and limit of arationalist discourse, and as an ‘orientation’ device, an anchoring object for thewayward, anxious and subjective discourses of occultism and Aryanism on themargins of rationalist thought. If the swastika was an image which hadfunctioned as the mnemonic for a lost object, a lost referent or ancestral ‘ground’then Nazism can be said in one sense to have supplied the answer to thisquestioning and yearning with its discourse of ‘national salvation’. However,Nazism simply extended the ‘tradition of the symbol’ and the fetishisation of theimage spatially and synchronically, by instituting the swastika as the border of anever-expanding Nazi space, threatening a colonisation of the West under the signof the East, and using the image to set limits to the space of a Lebensraum whichwas at once colonially inclusive and racially exclusive. In a contemporary context,


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the swastika now appears as a barrier between democracy and the Nazi terror, inwhich the threat of the fascist space which was once mapped by a swastika on everystreet corner is held in check by constant vigilance. What all these swastika-delimited spaces have in common is not what they contain, but that they all existas notional, projected or ‘metaphysical’ schemes: even Lebensraum, despitebeing dissimulated as a geographic and national boundary, was essentiallyschematic. This contrapuntal relationship between a definite bounding image andan indefinite bounded space has made it impossible to provide any resolution ofthe swastika into the paired values symbol/content or symbol/meaning. My owntask has been to keep discussion of the swastika within this book focused on thequestion of the boundary or limit, thus avoiding the temptation to construct anarchitecture of meanings supposedly contained within the image itself.

That a given image will always mean the same thing or be encoded in thesame way is a simple argument to refute, and in describing the swastika as a‘boundary’ sign I do not intend to succumb to the same fallacy by assuming thatthe swastika has always and everywhere been used for this purpose. The wordboundary instead here defines the symbolic form of the swastika, and therebysuggests a particular model of the symbol which will be used throughout thisbook. I make no claims for the originality or fashionability of this model, onlyfor its applicability in the present instance. Its basis is in a cognitive, spatial andvisual concept of the symbol, as a device for annexing and containing a set ofmeanings, and therefore as a means to organise and control social space. Thiscartographic function of the symbol has been identified by the anthropologistDan Sperber, who in his Rethinking Symbolism suggested replacing a Westernmodel which compares symbols to words, with one in which the symbol can beseen as a landmark or orientation device which ‘serves cognitively to organiseour experience of space’.15 The landmark functions as a kind of lens throughwhich we are directed towards a particular view of the surrounding landscape:the symbolic device, similarly, focuses and channels our construction of senseand meaning without itself being ‘meaningful’. In a more free associative oreccentric vision, the symbol is used as a specular or ‘speculative’ device formagnifying first one set of texts, then another.

An anti-interpretative theory of the symbol might appear to be a contradictionin terms, but I am here suggesting that the symbol functions as a ‘structuringabsence’ whose lack of interpretable meaning is cognitively recognised as theboundary between one set of meanings and another, or as a heraldic device for thepossibility of a meaning which is not known. The boundary-line of the symbolestablishes space by dividing it, including those texts which are its ‘meaning’ andexcluding other texts not proper to that meaning. This is the defensive orshielding aspect of the heraldic device. However, in order to function as arecognisable limit of both this ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ context, and to prevent anytextual miscegenation, the chosen material symbol must be a non-text or non-sense. The relevant question then becomes ‘why is this message symbolicallyconstituted?’ not ‘what does this symbol mean?’ In other words, it is necessary to


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enquire how the symbol foregrounds and magnifies one set of meanings whilstdiverting our attention away from others. In this sense, the symbol directs us tointerpret only within its boundary, but the error is to read the boundary assomething coextensive with the interpretation. This error occurs if it is suggestedthat the swastika means x in context y. Instead, we should rather say that theswastika is used in y as the ‘symbolic vehicle’ or focusing device for encodedmessage x. In this instance the swastika becomes a way of subdividing thecontext, of isolating a particular message from its ambient system of reference.

Whether the swastika is used to divide sub-texts from contexts or subgroupsfrom groups the principle of symbolic difference is constant. Plate 3 shows theEdmonton, Alberta, girls’ ice-hockey team in 1916, wearing identical swastikasweaters. In this instance the sign has been adopted from native Americanculture, and the image of the swastika is used to divide the Edmonton Albertateam from the class of all ice-hockey players. The less the chosen image has todo with ice-hockey, the more clearly will this division be effected. The swastikahere functions as a kind of ‘outline’ which is used to separate off an area ofhom*ogeneous space using a heterogeneous element, in much the same way as alandmark is read against the landscape. In the case of the ice-hockey team, thereis also the construction of a ‘metaphysical’ sub-group using the received wisdomthat the swastika confers good luck on the wearer, a felicity which is notpossessed by the opponent. The ease with which the ‘symbolic vehicle’ of theswastika was shifted from native American culture to ice-hockey bears witness toits symbolic utility and its visual heterogeneity: the swastika is strongly self-identical and not easily confused with anything else. It is therefore not surprisingthat so many examples can be provided of the swastika being used symbolicallyin a variety of cultural contexts from India to the Americas. Aryanism was tocollect these individual instances of symbolic utility and gather them into a granddesign, in which the swastika took on the role of representing its own self-identity as a sign of absolute difference. The morphological cohesion of theswastika was then used to express the survival of a racial essence over space andtime.

My reading of the swastika ‘against’ context denotes a shift of emphasis fromthe more familiar notion of a reading ‘in’ context, whilst preserving thenecessary emphasis which this method places on relative rather than absolutedefinitions. Without context, analysis can become a set of prejudices andopinions, but with it, the tendency is to ‘read off’ symbols simply as the productof a meaning or system of differences, and not as meaning-producing agents intheir own right. A reading of the swastika as a ‘symbol in context’, withreference to the use of the swastika in punk iconography, has been proposed bythe anthropologist and archaeologist Ian Hodder.16 Hodder has argued that punkused the swastika with inevitable reference to Nazism, but in order to effect achange of meaning by placing the image in a new context:


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While the distant origin of a particular trait may be of little significance ina present context, the more immediate history is relevant. The total historyof swastikas is less relevant to the present meaning of this sign than itsmore recent associations. In general, the choice of a symbol as part of apresent strategy must be affected by at least its immediately previous use.But as soon as a symbol is used in a new context its meaning and historyare altered.17

Here Hodder rejects a trivial reading of the swastika as a list of meanings infavour of a more complex structuralist/semiotic one. The approach he criticisesis accurately represented by the ‘Dictionary of Symbols’ genre, which despite thecustomary diligence and accuracy of its research, cannot avoid the temptation toconstruct an interpretative travelogue in which Nazism is the exception whichproves the rule. To quote an example:

Those who know the swastika only as the Nazi Hakenkreuz (Hook Cross)may be surprised to learn that it is one of the oldest, most widelydistributed religious symbols in the world. Swastikas appear onPalaeolithic carvings on mammoth ivory from the Ukraine, dated ca. 10,000 b.c. Swastikas figure on the oldest coinage in India… Sanskrit svastikameant ‘so be it’ or ‘amen.’18

This account of the swastika lists some twenty or more examples in sixty-fourlines of text. Such abundance of meanings serves to distract us from theimpossible goal of an ultimate ‘true meaning’ for the swastika, whilst comfortingus with a diffuse sensation of just how meaningful it seems to be as the sum ofits various parts. Here the swastika is still an alien sign, removed by a ten-thousand-year history and the radioactivity of Nazism from the present tense.

However, Ian Hodder’s contextualism, despite being far removed from anencyclopaedic interpretation, still bases its method on the ascription of meaningto the symbol. Rather than suggesting that the ‘meaning and history’ of thesymbol are altered in a new context, it could rather be argued that in punk atwentieth-century ‘symbolic history’ or genealogy of the swastika is beingpreserved. Punk used the swastika as a term of absolute opposition rather than asthe first stage of a recontextualisation. Nor did punk include the swastika in a‘context within context’ of its own. The swastika did not exist within a punk‘set’ along with the safety-pin and tartan trousers, but instead it functioned as thebarrier between contexts (punk and civilised, rational behaviour) not assomething existing meaningfully within them. The symbol marks the limit ofcontext, and punk did not use the swastika as a way of opening debates on theimage, but instead as a device for slowing down its own assimilation into thewider culture. The anarchic stance of punk may now be an occasion for seventiesnostalgia, but the swastika remains where punk found it and used it in the firstplace: on the outside. As Paul Gilroy suggests ‘Sixteen years after punk, there


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are no residues of art school situationism to make [neo-Nazi] appropriation of theswastika an ambiguous gesture.’19 What remains unanswered, however, isprecisely how the ‘unambiguous gesture’ of the racist swastika was constructedin the first place.

Those who have attempted to justify the use of the swastika in sub-culturalsituations, on the grounds that in this way the sign can be gradually rehabilitatedor its meaning altered, are not allowing for the way in which the swastika hasfunctioned as a portable token of bona fide sub-cultural status, one calculated toput civilisation and decency on the defensive. The swastika does not contain ameaning susceptible to change, instead it arranges meanings, regroups andshapes them into recognisable formations. We ‘draw the line’ at the swastika.That the swastika is still being used as a symbolic boundary rather than as aninterpretable text is the view of

Axel Honneth, Professor of Philosophy at the Free University of Berlin. Whenasked about ‘strong reactionary sentiments’ in a reunified Germany, Honnethsuggested that Nazi symbolism was employed by the skinhead movement inGermany as a token of opposition and aggression:

it has a lot to do with the situation of jobless youth, a generation which hasno other cultural means to find an identity except by using certain symbolicelements of the German past, which they know can produce certainprovocations… Now the members of the youth generation are in a situationin which their opposition to what’s going on in Germany can only bemade…in this way.20

Honneth claims that the simple opposition of fascism to leftism does notadequately account for the new use of the swastika, and suggests that the realdanger occurs when skinhead symbolism comes in contact with right-wingideology: ‘It could happen that the fascist explanations make a more consistent,biographically more convincing, sense of the cultural symbols that the youngerpeople are using.’ However, Honneth’s view of Nazism as a fascist ‘ideology’which could explain the symbol perpetuates the left/right opposition he criticises,and identifies Nazism as Marxism’s ideological ‘other’. Nor does the danger liein convincing explanations. The Roman fasces is certainly an image of thefascist state: the swastika as a racist sign cannot be explained simply in fascistterms. There is not a current use which can be accounted for on the basis of aprevious ideology, but a continuity of forms which ‘acts out’ a racist paradigmby re-inscribing the swastika.

Descriptions of the swastika as fascist, anti-communist, reactionary, militaristand right-wing all dissimulate its racist imperative. Even the term ‘Naziswastika’ to some extent disguises the history of this image. It is therefore in thetrue interest of both sub-culture and mass culture that the swastika should remainNazified: for sub-culture as an image which defines a barrier, and for the massmedia as a shorthand for Nazism. Both these uses avoid the issue of race which


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the Nazi swastika at once proclaimed as its ahistoric ‘mission’ and concealed assymbolic and historical praxis. In neo-Nazism, the interests of sub-culture andthe mass media coincide, since the neo-swastika of a group such as the SouthAfrican AWB is clearly an attempt to annexe the media space and promptrecognition afforded by the Nazi sign. Gestures towards the ‘rehabilitation’ ofthe image are not only futile and nostalgic, they at once imply that the problemof the swastika is one of corrupted content, and also serve to corral Nazismwithin the cordon sanitaire of a linguistic rather than spatial concept of thesymbol. Changes at the level of meaning are overpowered by the ‘higherauthority’ represented by the Nazi swastika, and renaming it will not contain theauthoritarian imperative so much as attempt to replace it with a weaker versionof itself. Even the word swastika, and the word Nazi, carry considerably lessweight than the image, which rather than being a representational sign is anapotropaic and repulsive object. The ‘promise’ of the heraldic device, of anAryan race or a national awakening, is now reflected as the threat of a new ‘riseof fascism’, a phrase which ironically preserves Nazism’s expansionist trajectory.

The Nazi swastika was at once an emblem of expansion and conquest and oneof absolute immobility. The ‘dromological’ and kinetic aspect of Nazism hasbeen described by Paul Virilio, whose description of fascist strategy as beingsymptomatic of the colonialist impulse of Western culture in general accountsfor his lack of interest in the ‘little sadico-museographic or commercial trifles’that remain of Nazi iconography itself.21 Yet in his discussion of the swastika,Virilio is content to rely on the Proustian model of an image which releases‘potent affective associations’ in the viewer, adding ‘Hitler himself is said tohave had a certain power of hypnotic suggestion’.22 In fact, the paralysis of thespectator’s gaze which the Nazi swastika still effects is a paralysis of reading,rather than the hypnotic power to initiate new associations or ‘suggestions’ forreading. It is more pertinent to examine the monopoly the Nazi swastika holdsover the field of vision, and its tendency to interpose its own image between allother forms of the motif.

This paralysis of the gaze is most clearly seen in cross-cultural travelogues ofthe swastika. In an informative article on what he refers to as the ‘Symbol of theCentury’, Steven Heller provides ‘alternative’ examples of the swastika, such asthe diamond-studded swastika lapel pin of the Girls’ Club of Philadelphia, whichwas advertised in the club magazine with the legend ‘what every girl wants—herown swastika’.23 Without the invisible presence of the Nazi sign, this amusingcontrast would be merely mundane, but the ‘innocent’ example only highlightsthe gulf between the Philadelphia maidens circa 1916 and the Gestapo. All thealternative uses of the swastika which Heller cites are seen through the framingdevice of his Nazi ‘Symbol of the Century’, which is both the image whichprecedes all post-war discussions of the swastika, and the ‘after-image’ whichremains disturbingly within view after all other examples have been forgotten.This fixity is its ‘hypnotic’ power. Several authors from Ernst Gombrich toSiegfried Kracauer have attested to the stultifying effect of the swastika on the


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gaze, and it is often included, along with a pair of ‘piercing blue eyes’ in Hitler’spersonal bag of tricks.

To suggest, as Virilio does, that Nazism carries implications for our culturewhich extend beyond the perimeter of the camps is salutary; but on that basis toleave intact those representations which form that perimeter and boundary lineperpetuates the problem. The representations themselves are an embodiment ofthe strategy which spatialises and totalises power rather than containing it in theform of the ‘meaningful’ symbol. In Nazism, power and the image of powercannot be separated. The phenom enological or poetic freedom implied byVirilio’s idea of ‘affective associations’ is replaced in the Nazi swastika by aparodic and deterministic variety of that same romantic plenitude in the form ofan endless repetition. And when Virilio describes the swastika as having an‘arresting power’, this generalisation can be tied to the specific way in which ourgaze is transfixed at the level of the image, restricting a movement forwards intime towards a meaningful dialogue or backwards towards a fixed structural/contextual point of reference.24 In the Nazi swastika, the authority of theprecedent is not implicit, but manifest: the sign is fixed before our very eyes, andfreedom of movement is forestalled. The paralysis of the gaze and theconstriction of free association which the Nazi swastika can still effect also reliesupon the strong self-identity of the image. This has historically resulted in aproliferation of ‘versions’ of the swastika which gravitate towards a recognisabletype of symmetry group: conversely, the meanings attributed to the swastika areso numerous and diverse that they can only be referred back to the image as theirpoint of origin. The Nazi swastika is now a kind of anti-archetype or template forall other swastikas and all other interpretations of the swastika.

If not meaning and interpretation, then what? This book proposes that it ismore pertinent to ask how first the Aryan and then the Nazi swastika gave spaceand definition to a race concept and conceptualised a racist space, which was tobecome the ‘killing zone’ of Lebensraum. It must also be asked how in 1933 thenew national symbol reconceptualised existing national boundaries. InChapter 2, this question is pursued through a definition of the swastika as a pieceof Germanic typography that authenticated and included the text ‘Germany’. Theinclusion of German language within Germanic rhetoric parallels thetransformation of a German Heimat into an Aryo-Germanic Lebensraum.Heimat, a word whose original meaning was that of family home or localcommunity, had already been enlarged to include the concept of the nation-statewhen the Nazis came to power, but the expanded concept of an expanded spacehad retained the definite ‘sense of place’ that the term implied. The German filmdirector Wim Wenders is quoted as saying that ‘In America…mobile is said withpride and means the opposite of bogged down…[whereas] what makes it a homein the German language is the fact that it is fixed somewhere.’25 What Nazismdid was to retain the notion of Heimat as a defensible space, and expand it intothe concept of Lebensraum, a ‘living space’ which put a siege mentality on themove. This is somewhat different from the American ‘mobile home’ whilst


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sharing the colonising intent of a ‘frontier spirit’. The concept of Lebensraumexceeds the geographic boundaries of Germany in a colonisation which proceedsfrom the centre outwards. This logic subsumes a geographic German spacewithin a notional Germanic space whose boundary is theoretically limitless. Asthe larger space of Lebensraum began both to supersede and redefine the previouslimit of the Heimat, so the swastika as the symbol which marked the extent of thenew Germanic boundary began both to include and occlude the text ‘Germany’.

The shadow of this occlusion still persists in the tabloid shorthand whichallows for the reading ‘swastika equals German’ as an unconscious extension ofthe interpretation ‘swastika equals Nazi’. The principle of ‘fixity’ orsteadfastness which Wenders attributes to Heimat was retained in the form of theswastika as an absolute opposition to the non-Aryan and non-Germanic; but thedynamic of Lebensraum instituted an ever-expanding exclusion zone, and a two-front war both within this zone and without. The perfidious logic of Lebensraumproposed a region which was simultaneously inclusive (of new territories) andexclusive (of the ‘non-German’ populations within them). These overlappingprinciples of Lebensraum for the Aryan and an exclusion zone for the non-Aryanform articles three and four of the programme of the National Socialist GermanWorkers’ Party, issued in Munich in February 1920. Article three calls for ‘therequisition of territories…for the resettlement of our surplus population’ andarticle four for the restriction of German citizenship to compatriots(Volksgenossen) and for the exclusion of those of Jewish blood.26

As a globally dispersed image, the swastika is an example of a migratory signwhich Nazism adopted as its own, only to transform it into the signifier of anabsolute national ‘character’. It is also significant that this nomadic andanonymous sign, existing at once everywhere and nowhere, should have becomeinterchangeable with the figure of Hitler, the self-appointed representative of a‘people’ and a ‘race’ with indefinite historical, textual and geographicboundaries. The liminal or marginal image of the swastika effectivelyrepresented the limits of the projected space of an Aryo-Germanic Lebensraumwithout signifying anything material about Germany itself, its history or culture.Heimat as Lebensraum was Wenders’ defensible German space set into motion,the German castle in the form of a Panzer tank. The militarised form of the‘Aryan’ armorial emblem of the swastika was as an apotropaic motif onwarplanes and tanks, whose presence indicated the current limits of the Naziadvance. However, this symbol of limits collapsed a Germanic symbol ofdifference into the German text so that the two became one: Lebensraum thenwas Heimat.

This is also the reason why the swastika has proved so difficult to ‘reassign’since Nazism, since there is no space between image and text into which a newmeaning for the swastika could be inserted. Instead, the logic employed by theAllied Expeditionary Force in 1945 which decreed that to eliminate the swastikawas to eliminate Nazism is still viable today. Attempts to reassign the swastikaalso have a tendency to gravitate towards the discourse of colonisation and


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conquest. In Sam Fuller’s film Verboten (USA 1958), a wounded American GI istended by a young German girl in the ruins of her home. Pointing to the swastikaarmband on a portrait of Adolf Hitler, he says ‘That’s an old American Indiansign that Hitler took from us’. When the girl stares at him, uncomprehending, theGI points to his epaulette and says ‘The 45th Division used to wear the swastikaright here. We had it long before little Adolf got the idea.’27Verboten presents theAmerican de-Nazification programme as victorious over ‘little Adolf’ and theremnants of the old regime, and its self-conscious attempt to reclaim the swastikais part of this project. However, in identifying the swastika as an ‘old AmericanIndian’ sign which had been subsequently adopted and militarised by whitesettlers, Fuller rehearses the colonisation which ‘Aryanised’ the swastika in thefirst place.

In Verboten, Fuller attempted to place the swastika back into its globalcontext, and instead established that the limits of the globe were the limits ofEuropean expansionism. Well before the advent of Nazism, the swastika wasbeing included within an anthropological discourse of diffusionism which, withits model of an origin or single source from which all examples of a particularphenomenon could be derived, followed the imperialist logic of global conquest.Diffusion is the theme which informs the longest text ever written about theimage, The Swastika, the Earliest KnownSymbol and its Migrations, a 250-pageswastika ‘encyclopaedia’, written in 1894 by Thomas Wilson, curator ofprehistoric anthropology at the US National Museum (the Smithsonian).Wilson’s book gathered together illustrations and interpretations of one imagefrom a range of sources including native American designs and the Persian rug inhis bedroom, all of which were presented so that ‘philosophers who propose todeal with the origin, meaning, and cause of migration of the swastika will haveall the evidence before them’.28 The terms ‘symbol’ and ‘migration’ in the titleof Wilson’s book immediately introduced a paradox of which the anthropologistwas only too aware: in his judgement on this image, how could he reconcile asymbolic locus with a migratory movement? Was the swastika the dissemblingwitness of some causal and definite ‘meaning’ or mute material evidence of thepassage of persons and objects? The idea of a cross-culturally recognisablesymbolic image without a congruent identity of meaning was anathema toWilson, since a diffusionist model of the swastika supposed a centre of diffusion,a centre implied an origin, and an origin a meaning. This may account forWilson’s vehement denial that the swastika was an autokinetic ‘moving image’,whilst contradictorily listing it as ‘turning to the left’ and ‘turning to the right’ inhis index, and providing his ‘map showing distribution of the swastika’ whichcharted a supposed migratory curve extending from Murmansk to São Paulo(Plate 4). This map represents the conquest of space over time which was the basisof the diffusionist paradigm, a theory which also proved useful to ‘Aryanist’theories of the swastika. Wilson wished to reverse diffusionism to arrive at oneswastika and its original meaning, but eventually had to resign himself to adecentred field and a missing origin.


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Most revealing of all is Wilson’s description of the swastika as a manifestlypurposeful image, distinct from the ‘more easily made’ straight line, circle andcross, embodying ‘a definite intention and a continuous or consecutivemeaning’.29 Wilson supports his idea of ‘continuous meaning’ as a visual traceacross diverse cultures by the introduction of a theological ‘argument fromdesign’ through which at some point in the remote past, an original andconcealed word became swastika. His encyclopaedia, however, demonstrates theopposite argument, namely that once it is itself identified as a point of origin, theimage of the swastika can generate a surfeit of interpretative speech. And eventhough Wilson allows all parties their say, the parliament or democracy ofexegesis that an encyclopaedia presents only serves to demonstrate theimpossibility of competing interpretations coexisting under its roof. Oneauthority would state that the swastika was ‘solar’, another that it was‘generative’ but the only thing the swastika really seemed to generate was furtherspeculation.

To understand the modern and Occidental swastika we must refer to Wilson’smap, and therefore to the relationship between the single image and the spatialand temporal area which it is intended to ‘symbolise’. This is the cognitive andspatial dimension of symbolism which Wilson could not have reconciled with hisown search for meaning and origin, since it necessarily includes ‘interpretationsof’ the symbol within the category of ‘uses for’ the symbol. At the risk ofattempting long-range psychoanalysis, it could be suggested that Wilson realisedthat the discovery of a definite meaning for the swastika was a closure whichwould have frustrated his true project, which was to use the swastika to marshaland regiment meanings and construct neat divisions within the global space ofanthropology. The map was a side-effect of this regimentation, but the fact that itappears to us now as a grotesque foreshadowing of Hitler’s conquests is noaccident, since it accurately represents the ‘tradition of the symbol’ whichAryanists such as Zmigrodski were building in the nineteenth century. Here theswastika is deracinated and disconnected from tradition, and accorded a lineageand conquests all its own: a totalising scheme which only became possible withthe elevation of the synchronic and global and the corresponding diminution ofthe diachronic and local which characterises the modern era.

Under the conditions set by advanced capitalism, the symbol has only anephemeral and contingent existence. Rather than collective representations, wehave representations which collect meanings, objects or people into groups, oftenin ways which are overlapping, interpenetrative and occasionally self-contradictory. A British National Party member, for example, might dress her/hisfamily in articles of clothing made by Benetton, a company which has advertisedits products under the globalising anti-racist slogan ‘United Colours of Benetton’.The symbol divides, but its divisions are contingent and permeable. The Naziswastika attempted to transcend these economic conditions by constructing asocio-cultural space on the basis of an absolute division and an uncrossable


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boundary. After 1933, the Nazi Gleichschaltung sought to organise all othergroups within society relative to this boundary line.

This attempt to set one sign above all others and to institute a racist ‘sovereignlaw of value’ can be seen in Plate 5. This photograph, taken in Berlin in 1934,shows policemen shouldering arms in the shape of a Nazi swastika. In thisformation, the swastika does not contain the group as in the example of theAlberta ice-hockey team mentioned earlier. Here the human group is containedand marshalled within the form of the swastika. And although this is an exampleof paramilitary regimentation, it is paradigmatic of the way in which the Naziswastika functioned as a racist sign. The recognisable and graphic difference ofthe image, its symbolic utility, was used as a value in its own right to signify therace consciousness preceding and containing all thought and action. Therepresentation thus dissimulates itself as a non-representation, as something non-referable and non-transferable, existing beyond interpretation and preceding use.My own task in this book has been to use a micro-historical discourse and atheory of how symbols are constructed and recognised to refute the ahistoricismand absolutism of the Nazi sign. The Nazi swastika cannot be renamed or‘resymbolised’ in the short term, but it can be ‘desymbolised’ by making ithistorical. The paradigmatic example of this strategy at its most effective is JohnHeartfield’s Blood and Iron photomontage of 1934 (Plate 19). Heartfield’sachievement was to have put a Marxist spanner in the works of the Nazi‘symbolic vehicle’. His four bloodstained axes in the shape of the swastika addedhistory to the ahistoric and reality to the occult illusion. By supplying the Aryansign with its missing referent, Heartfield revealed, by a kind of ‘X-ray’ technique,the machinery of a race representation. The blood shown on his axes can besubstituted for the Aryan blood promoted by Nazi propaganda, suggesting thatracist violence does not guarantee or legitimise the notion of a race. Heartfield’sintentions were specifically pro-communist rather than generally antiracist, buthis iconoclastic strategy carried a wider significance which is, unfortunately, stillrelevant today. If this book can also be said to have ‘X-rayed’ and grounded theNazi swastika (albeit by following a different historical route), it will haveachieved at least one of its aims. Another is to shift the debate on symbolismaway from interpretation and decoding and towards the visual and perceptualconcepts of liminality, repetition and recognition. I am aware that these two aimsmay appear to be mutually opposed, but I am proposing that a desymbolisationand textual examination of the swastika will provide clues as to how symbols areconstructed and how the symbolic mode functions.

This book is divided into three chapters: the first takes archaeology and theconstruction of the Aryan symbol as its theme, beginning with the swastika signsdiscovered by Heinrich Schliemann in his excavations at Troy. It draws adistinction between a cryptological/rationalist approach to the swastika and theAryanist attempt to match form with prehistoric form as the symbol of anancestral speech. The second chapter looks at the legacy of romantic theories ofsymbol and ornament in the Nazi swastika, placing it in the anti-classical


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tradition of a Germanicised and quasi-expressionist ‘Gothic’. My description ofthe swastika in this section as Gothic and Germanic typography is developed inChapter 3 into a comparison of the swastika with the contemporary logo, usingthe image to unravel the paradoxical term ‘corporate identity’. A comparison ofswastika and corporate logo is predicated on their common ambition to institute‘trans-economic’ values. Both swastika and logo are seen as having deliberatelymoved away from the completion or exchange represented by the sign andtowards a ‘first-person’ type of representation, which as well as describing theunbounded geography of the self is now glorified as the apotheosis of the‘corporate personality’.

All three chapters of the book are brought together by the model of a symbolwhich announces and presents a fragmentary or incomplete aspect. In Chapter 1,the swastika is seen as deracinated and rendered incomplete by being set apart asthe sign of the Aryan ancestor. Its missing referent is then established not asinternal and textual but external and somatic: a recognition of race consciousnessheralding a race identity. In Chapter 2 this link between image and identity isexplored through the tropes of romantic aesthetics and the half-life of the‘Gothic’. In Chapter 3, the logo is seen as effecting a pseudo-exchange betweenthe corporeal and the corporate, supporting rather than transcending theexchange of commodities. Like the phrase ‘corporate identity’, the Aryanswastika denotes an exchange which in fact has already taken place, and forwhich the body is merely the conduit and the agent of reinscription. Thiscompletion is the exchange of sign for sign in the ‘tradition of the symbol’. In thevain and empty repetition of racism, the swastika preserves and contains nothing,but the only possible continuity of the ‘race’ lies in the continuity of the image.This race is always a race against time, against the end of the proclamation andthe non-arrival of the Aryan. Like those religious zealots who climb mountains toawait the second coming, the racist lives under the doubly ‘recurrent’ sign of theswastika in the knowledge that although his Sisyphean labour will never berewarded, it may be indefinitely prolonged. The appropriate response to thisindefinite nightmare, as John Heartfield showed, is to break the chain linkingimage to image. Heartfield’s critique, precisely because it was historicallyspecific and anti-iterative, is unrepeatable, but it shows that there is a right and awrong way to approach the Nazi swastika. My own history of the swastikabegins, as Heartfield’s did, with the Bismarckian era, but I have chosen HeinrichSchliemann and not Bismarck himself as its starting point. The historical routefrom Bismarck to Hitler is direct, well-trodden and follows a certain logic: Hitlerhimself laid claim to it in his design of the Nazi flag. The swastika, the symbolof the new Reich which Nazism added to Bismarck’s flag of 1866, named adifferent ancestor: the Aryan, whose lineage was constructed from a set ofabsences concealed by the repetition of a sign.


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This is what we were once ourselves in those immemorial timeswhen Tacitus described us: unique, free of all taint, like only untoitself.

(Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock)

Since we took myths seriously, literally, we found Troy, quite real,under the rubble of history. We have the debris of the history ofHitler, and now we have to seek the myths underneath.

(Hans Jürgen Syberberg, Hitler, a Film from Germany, 1982)

Visitors in search of diversion and instruction at the Paris Exposition of 1889might have been intrigued by an unusual display at the Palais des ArtesLibéraux, where a Polish librarian named Michael Zmigrodski had arrangeddrawings of over 300 objects, each bearing a swastika or, as he put it ‘anornament which I believe to have a swastikal origin’.1 This tableau, in which theswastikas were arranged in groups labelled ‘Prehistoric’, ‘Pagan’ and, unusually,‘Christian’ was afterwards deposited in the St Germain Museum of Prehistory.Over and above Zmigrodski’s sub-classifications stands the embracing taxonomyof ‘objects bearing swastikas’, and it was not simply vulgar showmanship whichled him to direct his audience to a sudden recognition of the swastika as itmagically appeared amongst a group of inscriptions or in an ornamental band. Acontemporary commented that ‘[Zmigrodski] has made it his special study toshow that this cross had everywhere a symbolical, and not merely ornamentalvalue’.2 The expedient of using drawings, rather than providing the objectsthemselves for inspection, turned the swastika into an exhibit whose two-dimensionality in fact negated the principle of an exhibition ‘in the round’, sincethe spectator was not asked to consider and interpret the object from all angles,but simply to recognise a distinctive and repeated sign. However, the donation ofthese drawings to the Musée des Antiquités Nationales reified this pseudo-exhibition as material evidence in its own right. That this was possible indicatesthe overwhelming popularity of ‘Aryan’ theories of ancestry and race in Europeat that time; Zmigrodski the librarian and swastika-hunter was also an anti-

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Semite, whose self-appointed task was to promote the swastika as the heraldicdevice of the Aryo-Germanic family. He compared the swastika to a fly trappedin amber, its unchanging form representing the preservation of a racial essenceover time, and his declared aim was to prove that ‘in a very ancient epoch, ourIndo-European ancestors professed social and religious ideas more noble andelevated than those of other races’.3

In August 1889 Zmigrodski addressed both the first International Congress ofPopular Traditions and the tenth International Congress of Anthropology andPrehistoric Archaeology on the subject of the swastika.4 The committee andcorrespondents of the latter contained a number of Aryanists and swastikaphilesfrom around the globe. Alex Bertrand, the director of the St Germain Museum ofPrehistory who acquired Zmigrodski’s drawings, was vice-president of theCongress. Delegates to the conference included Thomas Wilson, HeinrichSchliemann, and the anti-Semite Emile Burnouf, who in a letter to Schliemann in1872 had noted that ‘the swastika should be regarded as a sign of the Aryan race.It should also be noted that the Jews have completely rejected it.’5 Also presentwas Professor Ludwig Müller of Copenhagen, an advocate of the theory that theswastika was the emblem of the supreme god of the Aryan race. Britain wasrepresented by A.H.Sayce, who had contributed to Schliemann’s dissertation onthe swastika in the archaeologist’s Troja of 1884.

In Zmigrodski’s conference papers, exhibition and published texts,recognising and naming the image of the swastika became a way of claimingkinship and assuming race identity, and the visual discrimination of a ‘sign-object’ was made equivalent to discrimination on the grounds of race. The Aryanis thus provided with a way of seeing and a ‘programme for perception’.6

Zmigrodski’s technique is similar to the racial morphology, the ‘fingering ofskulls’ described by Ernest Renan in 1882,7 since it attempted to define an Aryanaesthetic of forms, which are set apart from those other forms previouslydesignated as undesirable. In Zmigrodski’s exhibition, the swastika wasrecognised and cognitively ‘recovered’ from all that it was not (many-armed,contextually-coded, ornamental, Semitic, etc.), and the chosen emblem, like thechosen race, existed in a condition of ‘negative visibility’. The symbol is madevisible as a symbol by a process of selection and exclusion: it stands alone andrepresents itself. The opportunity which the swastika presented to a racistdiscourse in the nineteenth century, and which was to be seized and fullypoliticised by Nazism in the twentieth, was provided by an image which wasstrongly defined as a self-identical image but which had repeatedly eluded apositive textual identification. A rationalist discourse found itself frustrated by theswastika, the ‘troublesome puzzle’ described by Max Müller and one example ofthe uncanny ‘world of problems’ which Hegel had seen in Indian art.8 Since theswastika could not be satisfactorily and finally decoded within theavailable categories of the meaningful symbol or the meaningless ornament, itcould begin to function only as the image of a negative value and of a purityestablished in opposition to definitions of the unclean. In 1894, Count Goblet


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D’Alviella wrote of the swastika that ‘there is hardly a symbol which has givenrise to more varied interpretations’.9 The swastika thus exposed the fallacy of anattempted closure and final decoding which, as theorists such as Jacques Derridahave suggested, can only indefinitely replicate itself. D’Alviella, however, hadalready solved this problem by naming the image as the sign of its ownunsignability.10 The swastika defied definition, but it was precisely this qualitywhich allowed Zmigrodski to confer on the swastika the status of a pure form,racially apotropaic and repelling all contact: ‘it stands in isolation and is setwithin a frame, in modern terms a votive image.’11 Such an image could berecognised and acknowledged, but it could never satisfactorily be ‘read’ and thentranslated by all races.

Zmigrodski’s interest in the ‘Aryan’ swastika had been prompted by thediscovery of swastika-bearing objects by the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemannat the hill of Hissarlik in Turkey, which Schliemann firmly believed was the siteof Homeric Troy, the realisation of the boyhood dream of discovery described tosentimental effect in the introduction to his book Ilios. Schliemann’s treatment ofthe swastika exemplifies the process by which a symbol can become deracinatedfrom tradition and replaced within a tradition of the symbol. In another sense, itcontinued the discourse on ruins and the narrative elaboration of prehistoricfragments which characterises the Homeric myths themselves.12 However, inemploying the swastika as the device which could include his heroic Trojanthesis within an even grander Aryan scheme, Schliemann disturbed the integrityof the traditions represented by his chosen Homeric and Vedic texts. In definingthe swastika itself as an Aryan ancestral sign, he constructed a lineage precedinghistory and tradition, a continuity of visual forms which were seen as the traceelement of a race.

It should be pointed out that Schliemann’s theories generally presentedAryanism in its broadest, least anti-Semitic and most Asiatically-oriented form:methodologically, however, the archaeologist’s politics of interpretation setprecedents for others and for the future. His expedient of using images of theswastika instead of words, instead of preventing a misrepresentation andsafeguarding a tradition, confirmed the swastika as a self-representation, asymbol referring not to a set of meanings or practices but only to a set ordistributed group of similar signs. This set of swastikas was then constituted as amaterial trace of the Aryan race, as Schliemann attempted to turn Indo-Europeanphonetic comparisons into archaeological evidence. Where phonetic comparisonlooked for constant factors across diverse languages, the swastika came torepresent the undiversified and self-contained system of an Aryan Ursprache(original speech), a unity established by recognising similarity and eliminatingdifference.

Zmigrodski’s exhibition, together with his two books in which the swastika isthe leitmotif, illustrate how two discourses on language were being broughttogether in order to establish the swastika as an image of race purity. These twodiscourses were that of Indo-European language theory and a debate on and


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around the German language itself. What united them was the theme of theoriginal, untainted, self-generating and self-identical unit, represented inZmigrodski’s texts by a swastika ‘of pure form’. This obscure object of desirewas arrived at by a process akin to that used in panning for gold; Zmigrodski’sanalysis of the swastikas excavated by Heinrich Schliemann at Troy siftedthrough the ‘many hundreds’ recognised by the archaeologist to arrive at sixty-five representatives of quintessential Aryanism:

Dr Schliemann’s atlas contains around six hundred objects adorned with aswastika. We find there:

sixty-five swastikas of pure hundred and fourteen crosses with the four points or [nail holes].one hundred and ninety two swastikas with three branches, known as

triquetrums.eighty-six swastikas with four branches.sixty-three with six branches.[total 520]13

This list highlights the similarity and the differences between the methods ofSchliemann and Zmigrodski. While both were keen to identify as many Aryanswastikas as possible, Zmigrodski conducted a purge on Schliemann’s lesscommited and less racially motivated Aryanism, narrowing down the field ofvision and discrimination from the ‘many hundreds’14 of images mentioned bythe archaeologist. Thirty years later, this list was shortened even further byAlbert Krohn and Adolf Hitler, who removed all but one rightward-turning blackswastika ‘set apart’ in its white circle on a red background, an image intended toremain unchanged and self-identical despite its reproduction in all forms of masspropaganda.

In 1886, however, Zmigrodski had to deal with the various forms of ‘swastika-like’ or rotationally symmetrical signs encountered at Hissarlik, and was obligedto construct a theory of sign reproduction for the swastika which explainedvariant or badly-executed forms on the grounds that the ‘pure’ swastika was so wellknown to the inhabitants of Troy that even a bad example would be immediatelyrecognised. Yet even here we can see the beginnings of the ‘sign field’ createdby Hitler, for in Zmigrodski’s Neoplatonic scheme, each visible image isencountered as a more or less effective representation of the ideal swastika formrather than as the representation of some signified meaning. In other words, thereis no positive value for which the image of the swastika is the ersatz or standin:its ‘meaning function’ is to be anti-Semitic, and this is achieved when theswastika is most alike to itself, and purged of a reference or a likeness toanything else.


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This ritual purification of the ‘Aryan’ swastika was conducted within a discourseof Indo-European language theory which was itself methodologically informedby dialogues of recognition, and by the isolation and annexation of elementswhich were then used to construct pure, self-regulating synchronic systems. Thebasic method of cross-linguistic comparison had been available since 1598, whenLipsius listed nearly thirty-six identical words in Persian and German;15

however, Lipsius explained these similarities using the idea of mutually loanedwords, revealing an emphasis on vocabulary which was to be sustainedthroughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Thus, as Foucault haspointed out in The Order of Things, the distinct character of nineteenth-centurylinguistics cannot be accounted for on the grounds of new discoveries such as thesystem of Sanskrit grammar,16 but rather is more accurately explained byemploying the idea of a paradigm shift from diachrony to synchrony throughwhich ‘language began to fold in upon itself, to acquire its own particulardensity, to deploy a history, an objectivity, and laws of its own’.17 Language as aself-consistent abstraction began to replace the word as concrete particular.

The way in which the swastika began to function as an Aryan sign wasdictated by the qualities of the Aryan myth itself, and its strange existence as aduo-temporal ‘mythology of structure’. This meant that the methodologicalapproach of Indo-European linguistics, which looked for synchronic constantsacross different languages such as Latin, Sanskrit, German and Greek,18 waslinked to a diachronic vision of the ancestors. This combination allowed for theconcept of a pure origin, pure because the addition of synchronicity meant thatthe racial/linguistic essence remained constantover time. Other races and otherlanguages suffered entropy and decay; only the Aryan, it was argued, remaineddistinct and unaffected.

It is this theory to which Zmigrodski subscribed when he identified theswastika as a form victorious over the vicissitudes of time, a self-generating‘mother’ image which had survived the maleficent influence of other forms. Itwas also this ideology which contributed to an emphasis upon the recognition ofidentity by the systematic elimination of elements of variation, and the sleight ofhand through which an immeasurably ancient sign can also be seen to herald apresent awakening or renewal.

This Aryanist discourse on the swastika clashed with a cryptological approachto the image, which saw it as the obdurate and frustrating barrier to a rational andtextual explanation. Into this latter camp falls the tragic swastikology of Dr E.Brentano, who in a letter to Heinrich Schliemann attempted to refute thearchaeologist’s ‘Aryan symbol’ explanation of the swastika and supplant it witha theory that the image was a form of writing, and that this swastikal alphabetwas evidence that the artefacts found at Hissarlik were ‘historic’ and notancient.19 Brentano’s letter was only one of the disputes which troubledSchliemann at this time, the most persistent of his detractors being a retired


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German army officer named Ernst Bötticher, who claimed that Hissarlik was notTroy but a necropolis, and a site of ritual immolation.20 Brentano’s morepedantic criticism focused on an illustration in Schliemann’s book Ilios, whichshowed thirteen forms with ‘swastikal’ symmetry in a band around the equatorof a terracotta sphere (Plate 9). This was, Brentano claimed, evidence both of aform of writing and a knowledge on the part of the inhabitants of Hissarlik of‘the globular form of the earth’, a realisation that had only dawned, according toBrentano, around 360BC. He further berated Schliemann for omitting theswastika from the chapter on ‘inscriptions found at Hissarlik’ in Ilios.Schliemann’s reaction to this criticism was characteristically contemptuous: hecalled Brentano’s interpretation of the swastika as an inscription a ‘sufficientreductio ad absurdum’ and cheerfully concluded his reply with an epitaph:

Using, as I needs must, all requisite freedom in refuting the arguments of DrBrentano, the tone of just severity is restrained by his sad end. While thesepages are in the press, he has died by his own hand in a fit of insanity, onthe twenty-fifth of March, 1883.21

The Schliemann of Troja was in a bellicose mood, and his text reaffirms, throughthe testimony of the enlisted authorities A.H.Sayce and R.P.Greg, that theswastika was fingerprint evidence for the passage of the Aryan race.22Troja alsocontains a dissertation by Karl Blind, Schliemann’s emissary in England, on‘The Teutonic Kinship of the Trojans and Thrakians’, which shifted the axis ofthe Aryan myth away from India and towards Germany:

the Trojans…were of the Thrakian race; [that] the Thrakians were ofGetic, Gothic or Germanic stock; hence [that] the Trojans were originally aTeutonic tribe… Can, then, this prima facie, this ‘largest of nations’ be anyother race than that which afterwards pushed forward in the GreatMigrations?23

Schliemann’s indignant reaction to Brentano’s theories suggests that theessential difference between a cryptological and an Aryanist treatment of theswastika is that which stands between the reading or sequential decoding ofwriting on the one hand and the instant recognition of (racial) character in aspecimen of handwriting on the other. For Schliemann, the swastika came torepresent not one part of a language but a whole vanished speech and race, whichformed the bond between the Vedic and Homeric mythologies that he wished tounite.

Foucault’s assertion that the two poles of the nineteenth-century linguisticepisteme were logical algebra and Indo-European language theory may usefullysuggest what place the swastika occupied amongst the corrupted discourseswhich lay between these disciplines, discourses belonging to neither yet co-opting elements of both. Foucault stresses the methodological similarity of


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comparative grammar and symbolic logic, in which representation and the ‘act ofknowing’ found a new and more confined space.24 These two elements of structureand logic are united by the fact that they both exist in their pure form ‘outside’language: meaning becomes constituted in the form, not in the word. Both theseapproaches were to inspire hybrid theories, and hybrid conceptions of meaning:the comparison of kindred structures that established the Indo-Europeanlanguage group was to form the basis for the racial mythology of Aryanism, andthe logic that informed cryptology, with its tendency to attract nonsense answers,contributed its own mythologies and pseudo-solutions, which in the case of theswastika corresponded to the cryptological non-starter of a supposed hiddenmeaning. Unlike Champollion’s decoding of the Rosetta stone, no translation ofthe swastika could be final and irrefutable, thus allowing the process to carry onad infinitum.

As Brentano’s equation of writing with history suggests, the Rosetta stone,with its three equivalent texts of Greek, Demotic Greek and the Hieroglyphicsthat were now accessible to translation, stood at the outer edge of the discipline ofhistory as it was constituted in the nineteenth century. The undecodableswastika, however, was necessarily defined as prehistoric or ahistoric, and beganto be used as the sign of a pre-scriptural Aryan speech. In the Aryan discourse,the swastika became the material symbol of an unwritten law of race identity,and a prehistoric precedent for written languages. Empirical methods that hadrevealed structural links between the Indo-European languages appeared to theAryanists to point to an original, proto-Indo-European language from which theyhad all emerged. Since the methodology was abstract, this structurally derivedproto-language was necessarily invisible, and in reality nothing more than anidea. The attempt to rebuild an invisible language from an immaterial structure wasto be criticised with cogency and wit by Max Müller, who coolly observed: ‘wecannot reconstruct what never existed, and we cannot, therefore, build up auniform Proto-Aryan speech.’25 Recanting his former enthusiasm, Müller wasequally dismissive of the evocation of an Aryan race out of whose mouths theproto-language had issued: this he regarded as ‘downright theft’ on the part ofethnologists from philologists, and consequently as absurd as the notion of abrachycephalic grammar. How ever, Müller was still ready to contradict himselfby referring to an Aryan ‘noble speech’ and to acknowledge the lure of the idyll:

The actual site of the Aryan paradise will probably never be discovered…new theories, however, have their attractions, and I do not wonder that somepatriotic scholars should have been smitten with the idea of a German,Scandanavian, or Siberian cradle for Aryan life.26

In the minds of less clear-headed authorities than Müller, the excavated swastikapossessed all the necessary materiality of the evidence, the ‘hard facts’ that wereneeded to prove the Aryan hypothesis.


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Müller’s identification of an unholy alliance of materialist science andpatriotic speech in the Aryan ‘brachycephalic grammar’ also reveals an absence;the absence of writing. Foucault argues that the comparative grammar of Rask,Grimm and Bopp that cemented Indo-European language theory also shifted thecentral linguistic axis towards the phonetic element of speech and away frominscription and writing:

The whole being of language is now one of sound. This explains the newinterest, shown by Raynouard and the brothers Grimm, in non-writtenliterature, folk tales and spoken dialects… By means of the ephemeral andprofound sound it produces, the spoken word accedes to sovereignty. Andits secret powers, drawing new life from the breath of the prophets, rise upin fundamental opposition…to the esoteric nature of writing, which, on theother hand, presupposes some secret permanently lurking at the centre ofits visible labyrinths.27

Foucault’s ‘on the other hand’ is resolved in the rhetorical figure of the Aryanswastika, a labyrinthine inscription shielding and preserving the secret ‘inneridentity’ of race and an ancestral speech. The primal value of the spoken elementhad been elaborated by Johann Gottlieb Fichte, in the public lectures publishedas his Addresses to the German Nation of 1807–8, which were primarily concernedwith Teutonic ancestry, origins and language.28 Fichte, on whom Goethe andSchiller had pinned the epithet of ‘the Absolute Ego’, delivered his lectureswhilst Prussia was occupied by Napoleon’s armies. He sought to inspire aGermany which was as yet a collection of principalities with a vision of a peopleunited by a superior language, employing the topical and potent idea of a pureand essential speech distorted by miscegenation. Fichte evoked the image of aTeutonic Ursprache through which not men, but Nature had spoken, contrastingthe ancestral with the pernicious influence of a foreign speech: ‘in an organ ofspeech thus affected by the conditions mentioned there necessarily arises, not theone pure German language, but a derivation therefrom’.29 This is the same logicthat Zmigrodski employed in his presentation of a pure and original swastika,freed from any ‘derivation therefrom’. Fichte argued that the German language,with its ancient and essential connection with nature, was superior to thosewhose mechanisms of representation were not equipped to deal with the‘sensuous images’ that it was the privilege of the Teuton to understand andexpress: at one point in his Addresses he compared German speech to the soaringof an eagle in the empyrean, and that of the foreigner to the buzzing of a bee.Fichte also drew parallels between such a ‘sensuous’ language and the capacityfor intellectual development. These comments presage later and more elaboratecomparisons between spoken language and racial characteristics. He alsopresented the paradoxical image of the palaeontology of a ‘living’ language, alanguage living because it is spoken, in which he believed past strata might bemore easily revealed:


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an idea that likewise is not arbitrary, but necessarily proceeds from thewhole previous life of the nation. From the idea and its designation a keeneye, looking back, could not fail to reconstruct the whole history of thenation’s culture.30

Fichte’s concept of a ‘living palaeontology’ clarifies the Germanic culturalsignificance of the swastika: it became the emblem of a lost but still echoingspeech, not the fragment of a dead script. Prehistory in the nineteenth centurythus found itself caught between the desire for an evocation of the past assomething which was still present and potent, still ‘speaking’ (often undertakenin a nationalist spirit) and the first tentative steps towards a systematic andempirical reclamation of vanished and redundant material culture througharchaeology, a rationality attempting to grapple with, and often frustrated by,evidence that was pre-linguistic, and therefore appearing by extension to be pre-rational, primitive and archaic.


The notion of a Germanic Ursprache or original speech does not simply denote aproto-German language, since for several centuries German had been identifiedas the original language per se. In the twelfth century, the mystic Hildegard ofBingen suggested that German was the language of Adam and Eve31 and manyauthorities since had elaborated upon this theme of an Adamic Germanursprünglich Sprache. The notion of a pure origin depends heavily on the modelof a self-sustaining and self-generating form, and both the morphology of theswastika itself and the methods by which it was interpreted found a raison d’êtrein this scheme. Léon Poliakov has pointed out how often the construction‘Abstammung aus sich selbst’32 (self-genesis) has been applied to the Germanlanguage as a way to emphasise its purity, and he goes as far as to suggest thatthis principle continued to manifest itself in the way that loan words such as‘television’ and ‘geography’ are self-consciously Germanised.33 Whilst both thisidea, and Poliakov’s emphasis on furor tutonicus (‘Germans with assertive ormegalomaniac temperaments’) may be over-determined, the geneaology of auto-genesis, and its role in the construction of ‘the Aryan myth’ from Johann JakobGrimmelhausen34 through to Fichte and beyond, is manifest. In interpretations ofthe swastika, this theme manifests itself as the appreciation of the swastika itselfas an autokinetic form (Guido von List35), as the recognition of autokinetic formsin general as specifically Germanic (Wilhelm Worringer36) but also as therecognition of self-identity already referred to (Zmigrodski), which is a closedand self-generative signalling system. In this system, if you are Aryan you willrecognise and name the sign of the swastika: if not, you will see nothing but a‘hasty bit of decorative work with no religious meaning at all’.37 For the Aryan,however, this recognition does not constitute an interpretation or understandingof the swastika, but simply the acknowledgement of its reoccurrence. As a


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method of reading material culture, the search for self-identity leads to a filteringout of inconvenient contextual, visual and ornamental ‘noise’ so that the act ofsymbolic re-cognition or self-identification may take place:

I recognise at the first glance the ‘suastika’ [sic] upon one of the three potbottoms which were discovered on Bishop’s island near Königswalde onthe right bank of the Oder, and have given rise to very many learneddiscussions, while no one recognised the mark as that exceedinglysignificant religious symbol of our remote ancestors.38

This passage appears in Heinrich Schliemann’s Troy and its Remains of 1875,the account of the archaeologists’ initial excavation work at the hill of Hissarlikin the Dardanelles in the years 1871–4. The narrative of these excavations andtheir consequences has been rehearsed elsewhere, resulting in Schliemann beingidentified as a kind of idiot savant, somewhere between the clumsy potato-diggerreviled by Mortimer Wheeler and Hugh Kenner’s cosmos-altering genius.39 Theterms of the debate on the general import of Schliemann’s excavations haveremained largely unchanged for a hundred years. The archaeologist’s ‘Homericfundamentalism’ with regard to the site of Hissarlik was being placed in doubteven by the popular press of his era. A reviewer for the Illustrated London Newsof 5 January 1878, discussing the Trojan finds which were then on display at theSouth Kensington Museum, cautiously commented that:

Dr Schliemann has certainly discovered, by his recent excavations atHissarlik, the remains or traces of several important layers of buildings (soto speak) which may be considered, in his opinion, to show the successiveevidence of four ancient towns, built directly on top of one another.

In contrast to this Victorian circ*mspection, when the London Times of 24February 1993 carried a report on recent excavations at Hissarlik by ManfredKorfmann et al., its author confidently declared: ‘Archaeologists at the modernday Troy, in Turkey, have found remains that indicate that Homer’s Iliad wasless a flight of fiction and more historical fact. The discoveries…indicate that thesite supported a bigger city than supposed.’

The terms of this simmering debate were temporarily changed in 1991. On thisoccasion, The Observer of 24 March that year carried a frontpage tableau inwhich pictures of Hitler and Goebbels were flanked by photographs ofSchliemann and his wife, and some of the ‘treasures’ of Troy. Above thephotographs ran the headline: ‘Nazi art loot discovered in Russia.’ The presenceof the swastika on Hitler’s armband, however, was in this instance an entirelyfortuitous but nonetheless revealing link with those uncovered at Troy. Thistime, the crucial issue was the debate over national rights to the Trojan materialtaken from the Berlin Museum at the end of World War II and newly discoveredin post-Soviet Russia. Significantly, the article discussed competing German and


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Russian claims to the objects, without addressing the claims of Turkey, thecountry from whose territory the objects had been originally excavated.40

The savage irony that the Aryan swastikas which Schliemann soenthusiastically embraced as an ancestral sign at Hissarlik in Turkey should nowbe put to use in Germany in racist attacks against Turkish Gastarbeiter points toa broader definition of what we now know as the ‘Nazi’ swastika. It suggeststhat the language of totalitarianism can be considered in many instances as anaspect of the language of colonialism. This idea has been proposed by writerssuch as Frantz Fanon and Paul Virilio, for whom Nazism and its Blitzkreig is thereturn of the colonial principle to haunt the Europe which exported it: ‘Fascism…in other words the institution of a colonial situation on the European continent.’41

Through the swastika, we can observe the entire trajectory of colonialism fromthe nineteenth-century annexation of the Oriental sign in the first instance,through to the Nazi Ostkolonisation of Germany itself. The first stage ofannexation employs a logic of displacement, the logic through which anamputated sign can subsequently function as the receptacle of nostalgia for lostcontact. In order for the signifying image of the swastika to represent this loss orabsence, it had first to be cut free of its moorings in the ‘native soil’ of a referentsystem of context, object and environment. First it must be colonised (this isZmigrodski’s ‘setting apart’) and only then could it be effectively Germanised.

Setting the Nazi swastika within this wider context avoids the unconsciousconstruction of another spurious ancestry and origin myth, in which Schliemannand Zmigrodski appear in Nazi uniform, and also refutes the single-mindedStalinist orthodoxy of the Lukács of The Destruction ofReason, for whomGerman culture is a series of paths leading directly to Hitler.42 Schliemann’sbiographer, Leo Deuel, has suggested that had the archaeologist completed aseparate volume on the Aryan swastika as he planned, this might have earned him‘honourable citation by the latter day racist apostles of Nordic supremacy’.43 Infact the directness of this criticism may skirt the wider issues: although there islittle evidence to suggest that the swastikas of Troy were the direct antecedentsof those of Nuremberg, (this idea simply reinforces a myth of origin and colludeswith a ‘tradition of the symbol’), Schliemann’s politics of interpretation can inmany ways be seen to set precedents for the Nazi course of action. First amongstthese precedents is the element of ‘recognition’ already remarked upon: in theNazi state, the act of recognising the swastika as a party political sign and as amirror of the ancestral self became one and the same. In a wider context, however,there are also good reasons for suggesting that Schliemann’s attitudes weregenerally colonialist and Eurocentric rather more than specifically anti-Semiticor proto-Nazi. The archaeologist was certainly no model German patriot, and hisattitude towards the land of his birth underwent several transformations in hislifetime. After having been somewhat pro-French during the Franco-Prussianconflict of 1870–1, Schliemann became a late convert to German nationalism,donating many of the excavated artefacts of Troy to the German NationalMuseum in 1881 in exchange for the conspicuous public honours of honorary


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citizenship of Berlin and the Prussian Order of Merit. The following year,writing in response to criticism of his methods of excavation from the Scottishscholar R.C.Jebb (whom he referred to as ‘that raging English slanderer Jebb’),Schliemann declared that his views were ‘those of any German archaeologist’,evidence both of a newly acquired Vaterlandsliebe, and an uncharacteristictolerance for German academic opinion.44 His book Troja, with the Karl Blindessay promoting Germanic autochthony, was published in 1884. Previously, thebusinessman turned archaeologist had felt badly treated by many authorities inGermany, which may account for his desire to confound cautious scholarshipwith a sudden and dramatic embrace of the ancestral swastika.


Schliemann’s freebooting excavation methods unsettled some of hiscontemporaries; similarly, his treatment of classic texts angered eminentVictorians such as Matthew Arnold, who compared him unfavourably to the‘noble’ Homer.45 It is this disrespect for established traditions and correctmethods that identifies Schliemann as the archetypal modern venture capitalist,and Hissarlik as an example of that ‘immense construction site of traces andresidues’ that Gianni Vattimo has described as the true legacy of modernism:

In the process of hom*ologation and contamination, the texts belonging toour tradition, which have always served as the measure of our humanity(the ‘classics’ in the literal sense of the term) progressively lose theircogency as models and become part of the…construction site.46

Hissarlik was as much a construction as an excavation site: Schliemann’sreputation was made there, his personal myth assembled from a bricolage of the‘classical’ myths of Homer and the Vedas. It is significant, however, that thecollage of texts which made up popular Aryanism was regarded by Schliemannin Troy and its Remains as a pure, given and original value, and the swastika asits equally untainted emblem. In other words, the tools and the agents ofassembly are alone regarded as sacred, whereas the Homeric and Vedic‘material’ comprising the Aryan myth is unceremoniously thrown together:

Upon a ball, found at the depth of 8 meters (26 ft) there is a tree…surrounded by stars, opposite a [swastika,] beside which there is a group ofnine little stars. I therefore venture to express the conjecture that this tree isthe tree of life, which is so frequently met with in the Assyrian sculptures,and that it is identical with the holy Sôma tree, which, according to theVêdas…grows in heaven, and is there guarded by the Gandharvas, whobelong to the primeval Aryan period, and subsequently became theCentaurs of the Greeks.47


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Here Schliemann employed the swastika not so much as an Aryan emblem, butas the key device of the ‘Aryan method’ which cuts through textual anddiscursive complexities to arrive at the obvious and immediately recognisablegestalt by which an Indian tree becomes a Greek centaur. The swastika here actsnot as a part of the associative chain of images, but as the image which allowsthe transformation to occur at all, a kind of mythological aggregate. Thearchaeologist Chris Tilley has advanced this model of an ‘aggregation site’ in hisstudy of the prehistoric rock carvings of Namförsen, proposing an interpretationof the carvings in which they act as mediating values between mythical andquotidian worlds, ‘forging social and cosmological cohesion through establishingan ontology of resemblances’, a space in which familiar objects are hom*ogenisedand magically transformed into versions of each other: in the Namförsencarvings, images of elks become boats become people.48 Tilley also notes thatthere are ‘elks with everything’ which suggests that the elk, rather likeSchliemann’s swastika, was working as a key device allowing mythologicaltransformation to occur.49 The alchemy at work at Hissarlik transformedmundane material excavation into the substance of myth, and Aryanism was themodern myth within which this change could be accomplished, with the swastikafunctioning as both Aryan sign and Aryan archaeological evidence. Thisconstruction was not peculiar to Schliemann; writing on the Trojan finds in theArchaeological Journal of 1877, Bertram Hartshorne noted that the presence ofthe swastika ‘would seem to indicate the common Aryan descent of all thesuccessive inhabitants of Hissarlik’.50

Not only Schliemann’s Troy, but Germany itself, was a site for mythicalreconstruction in the 1870s. The new Reich sought historical legitimation for itsnewly acquired statehood, a process described by Eric Hobsbawm as ‘theinvention of tradition’:

Since the ‘German people’ before 1871 had no political definition or unity,and its relation to the new Empire (which excluded large parts of it) wasvague, symbolic or ideological, identification had to be more complex[than the French] and…less precise. Hence the multiplicity of reference,ranging from mythology and folklore (German oaks, the EmperorFrederick Barbarossa) through the shorthand cartoon stereotypes todefinition of the nation in terms of its enemies.51

Hobsbawm has defined ‘the invention of tradition’ as a ritual ‘which seeks toinculcate certain values and norms of behaviour by repetition, whichautomatically implies continuity with the past’, and has suggested that, wherepossible, history is employed in these rituals, but that material from periodspreceding written history may also be used. For Hobsbawm, the growth ofnationalism in Europe in the period 1870–1914 was an entirely new phenomenonwhich had to invent tradition in its own image:


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It is clear that plenty of political institutions…not least in nationalism—were so unprecedented that even a historic continuity had to be invented,for example by creating an ancient past beyond effective historicalcontinuity, either by semi-fiction…or forgery.52

These criteria also applied to the discipline of archaeology in the mid-nineteenthcentury. Linguistic theory had swiftly become grist to the mill of inventedtradition; nineteenth-century Aryanism, however, was encumbered by the factthat the language and material remains of the proposed root-race were absent. Thismay explain why prehistory was so quickly enlisted to the cause: the malleable,compliant and mute prehistoric artefact, with none of the intractability, but all ofthe materiality of the written historical record, was ideally suited to the processthat Hobsbawm defines as ‘identification’. The ‘tradition of the symbol’established in the Aryan swastika also fulfilled the conditions for an ‘automaticcontinuity’ with the past.

Patriotic and opportunistic manipulation of the prehistoric record waseventually to aspire to an elevated status and a systematic methodology: GustavKossinna, in his book German Prehistory, A Pre-eminentlyNational Discipline(1914)53 made scientifically respectable an archaeological approach with adistinctly Germanic bias that sought to link the distribution of remnants ofmaterial culture (particularly the form of pottery known as ‘corded ware’) withthe dispersion of ‘peoples’ and ‘tribes’. Kossinna’s book was reprinted ninetimes, the seventh edition with a foreword by Adolf Hitler, who spoke of theneed for national pride in the fact that ‘the Germans already one thousand yearsbefore the foundation of Rome had experienced a cultural prime’.54

In the mid-nineteenth century, scientific rigour, or the semblance of it, was aless essential component of archaeological endeavour: Schliemann’s approach toarchaeology was neither cautious nor methodical, and his methods ofinterpretation displayed a similar exuberance. And the swastika, although lessaccessible and appropriate to twentieth-century methods of archaeologicalanalysis than Kossinna’s ‘corded ware’, was at once more seductive and moremalleable evidence to the ‘Aryo-Germanic’ apologists of the nineteenth century.The very dullness and prosaic nature of what now constitutes bona fideprehistoric evidence presents the modern archaeologist with a problem: ‘theprehistorian is witness to the sad fact that the ideals perish, and it is the cutleryand chinaware of a society that are imperishable.’55 Glyn Daniel’s statement thatSchliemann had ‘created a fresh chapter in the human past, had himself writtenprehistory’56 is revealing, since it implies that the task of the archaeologist is to‘write the unwritten’ and give names to the nameless. Yet the transformationfrom silence into speech, or from the unwritten to the written, is not strictlyspeaking an encoded translation from one language into another. At Hissarlik,Schliemann was unencumbered by the materialist archaeologist’s hierarchy ofideal and prosaic: he had a tabula rasa on which to inscribe the past as hewished. He was assisted in the invention of his Aryan ancestors by the fact that


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he had a degree of freedom to invent his archaeological approach. The swastika,Schliemann had said, was ‘of the greatest importance’, and in this way the figurewas confirmed as a significant and meaningful symbol.

In Schliemann’s account of the swastika, it is possible to discern a parallelbetween the binary opposition made between instant recognition and labouredscholarly discussion on the one hand, and Homeric poetry and prosaicarchaeology on the other.57 There is an impatience with the thickets ofscholarship, and a preference for the revelation by which one ‘finds things’already referred to. Paradoxically, in Schliemann, this imaginative faculty waslinked to a punctilious taxonomic instinct, which seems less unusual when oneconsiders the average UFO enthusiast’s enthusiasm for the careful cataloguing of‘sightings’ of apparently isomorphic phenomena. The swastikas whichSchliemann had found inscribed on spindle-whorls and terracotta spheres in thethird or ‘burnt’ city of Hissarlik functioned throughout his Trojan campaigns as adevice which sutured together various discourses: Homeric Troy to the ‘Aryan’Vedas, Schliemann’s exiled status to a Germanic ancestry, but most importantly,of material evidence to its textual exposition:

All that can be said of the first settlers [of Hissarlik] is that they belongedto the Aryan race, as is sufficiently proved by the Aryan religious symbolsmet with in the strata of their ruins (among which we find the [image ofswastika]) both upon the pieces of pottery and upon the small curious terra-cottas with a hole in the centre, which have the form of the crater of avolcano or of a carrousel.58

That the swastika performed a vital link (‘These crosses…are of the highestimportance to archaeology’59) between excavated object and explanatory text isdemonstrated by the way in which the image represents itself as interpolated‘evidence’ in Schliemann’s books, not just in illustrations but by replacing theword ‘swastika’ in the body of his texts. The swastika formed the conduitbetween a silent piece of terracotta and a verbose myth of origin, somethingwhich could at once serve as the starting point for a discourse and its reifyingagent. As with Zmigrodski’s drawings, the image is assumed to constitute bothsign and material evidence, which conveniently allows it to function as evidencefor itself. Schliemann was at pains to invest the image with both a ‘symbolic’ anda religious status as one of ‘the most sacred symbols of our Aryan forefathers’,60

a position that was sometimes defended through recourse to minor acts of fakery,such as when an actual leaden ‘goddess’ figure was adorned with a spuriousswastika in Schliemann’s Ilios.61 The catalogue of the Schliemann collection inthe Berlin Museum, compiled in 1902, twelve years after the archaeologist’sdeath, notes that this leaden object was ‘falsely shown with a swastika on the[pubic] triangle’ in Ilios.62 Here an excavated object has been enlisted in supportof a pre-named ‘sign-object’: however, the pre-dominance of the swastika onquotidian material culture such as spindle-whorls suggested an awkward shift


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away from Aryan epiphany and towards functionality, which could moreplausibly be defended as a ‘votive offering’,63 if a sacred context for the imagesuch as the leaden goddess ‘Artemis of Chaldea’ could be established as well.The fairly clear evidence of a spindle-whorl industry at Hissarlik producingmore-or-less identical objects was ignored in favour of the commodifyingidentity of the swastika sign, advertising Aryan ancestry from the Oxon to theRhine. A reviewer for the Illustrated London News, in discussing the exhibitionof 1877, noted that:

One object appears to have been found in all four cities [of Troy]—i.e. theso-called whorls, round pieces, chiefly of terracotta, with a hole throughthe middle. According to Dr Schliemann, these were not used for spinning,hardly any of them showing traces of friction or usage, but were votiveofferings. These are ornamented with suns, stars, altars, animals andvarious unknown symbols. Specimens of these whorls almost fill one case;they are arranged according topatterns [my italics].64

In the following month’s edition of the same periodical, ‘various unknownsymbols’ have become ‘mystic characters and figures’ and the whorls arereferred to as ‘portable tokens or badges…held by privileged lay worshippers fortheir admission to the most solemn religious rites’.65 Schliemann’s display ofthese whorls according to their ‘symbolic’ markings rather than their objectstatus was evidently having the desired effect. Once the religious stamp isidentified, the object appears as merely its vehicle, the whole forming a ‘portabletoken’.


Eric Hobsbawm’s leitmotifs of abstraction, ideology, false continuity and‘negative definition’ all apply to Schliemann’s construction of the swastika.However, what also needs to be examined is the nature of the relationshipbetween India and Germany which allowed this remythologising of the image totake place. Karl Marx, in his letter on ‘The Future Results of the British Rule inIndia’66 of 1853, declared that ‘Indian society has no history at all, at least noknown history’ a phrase that he might have been loath to apply to Germansociety, despite his suggestion that his native land had theorised, rather thanacted, itself into existence.67

In his letter on Britain’s Indian colonies, Marx proposed a theory which hewas later to revise, advocating the Westernisation of India in order that thenecessary conditions for proletarian revolution should come about. The guidingprinciple of Marx’s thought was that ‘History’ in the Hegelian sense is proper toEurope, and that India had not evolved towards dialectical perfection, but was an‘unresisting and unchanging society’ whose fate was to be invaded and ruled,preferably by the Briton rather than the Turk, the Persian or the Russian.68


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Despite this particularly broad and inviting path laid out by Marx, the Britishoften had a problem grasping the sheer ‘otherness’ of Indian culture and itscognitive systems. Whereas Hegel, despite his opinion that Indian culture wasirredeemably static, could find a raison d’être for what he saw as the surplus or‘inadequate’ irrational element in its symbolism, other writers such as GeorgeWaring, in his Ceramic Art in Remote Ages, were frustrated by the perceivedlack of consonance between the image of the Indian swastika and its absentmeaning:

But neither in the hideous jumble of Pantheism—the wild speculativethought, the mystic fables, and perverted philosophy of life among theBuddhists—nor in the equally wild and false philosophy of the Brahmins…do we find any precise explanation of the meaning attached to this symbol,although its allegorical intention is indubitable.69

One of the better known examples of British incomprehension in the face ofIndian art was John Ruskin’s reaction to the Indian Mutiny of 1857. In his TheTwo Paths of 1859, Ruskin proposed a psycho-graphological equation betweenthe abstract quality of Indian ornamental design and the alienated and savagementality of its makers: ‘[Indian art] never represents a natural fact…it will notdraw a man, but an eight armed monster; it will not draw a flower, but only aspiral or a zig-zag.’70 Later in his text Ruskin noted that ‘ornamentation of thatlower kind is pre-eminently the gift of cruel persons’. His opinion was not sharedby design innovators such as Owen Jones and Henry Cole, who saw in Indianornament the ideal opportunity to unite abstract flat pattern with Britishmanufacturing methods. For Ruskin, however, both India and Industryrepresented soulless alienation from the ‘natural fact’, and for him, as ParthaMiller has noted, the self-referential spiral of Indian ornament was equivalent tothe cog-wheels of the machine:

The dire warning given to the manufacturers was that, instead of basingthemselves on a study of nature, if they designed decorative ornament‘either in ignorant play of their own heartless fancy, as the Indian does, oraccording to the received application of heartless laws, as the modernEuropean does…there is but one word for [them]—Death’.71

This equation of abstraction with death recurs as one element of WilhelmWorringer’s hybrid and race-romantic conception of the Gothic, which will beexamined in the following section. But for the present, it is sufficient to note thatRuskin’s analysis of an Indian morphology baulked at the very same element ofabstract ‘meaninglessness’ that George Waring saw in the Indian swastika.Ruskin’s appeal to a reference in an objective natural fact is the same appeal thatWaring makes to an ‘allegorical intention’ hidden by the image.


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In contrast, the German romantic tradition of the symbol celebrated thisautonomy of the signifying image from a direct and definite reference. A readingof Hegel’s Aesthetics and his treatment of the ‘symbolic’ art of the East revealshow a romantic semiotics would possess many of the dialectically remedialcharacteristics which Hegel identifies as proper to the Oriental symbol, namelythe qualities of ‘quest’, ‘fermentation’ ‘mysteriousness’, ‘sublimity’ and whatcan be read as an indefinite (mediating between finite and infinite) temporality.72

Hegel’s own definition of the romantic, it must be noted, did not fall into thiscategory, since its transcendence was not that of the visible/individual to theinvisible/sublime, but as Charles Karelis has noted ‘the unity of the wholeobjective realm with the common factor of individual subjects’.73 However,Hegel saw a surface similarity between the romantic and symbolic realms, withthe essential distinction that ‘in romantic art, the Idea, the deficiency of which inthe symbol brought with it deficiency of shape, now has to be perfected in itselfas spirit and heart’.74 In other words, attempting to visualise the Absolute is afruitless task. The ‘deficiency’ or ‘inadequacy’ of the Oriental symbol to thegoals it has set for itself typifies the nature of the symbolic signifying image ingeneral, which transcends a merely conventional relationship to meaning only tofall short of an essential unity with it. Rather than partaking of the missionaryand Christian Aufhebung of Hegelian philosophy, an ‘overcoming’ in whichsacrifice is eventually turned to the good, the swastika as both a Sanskrit wordand a popular Hindu icon is instead an example of both the Indian aesthetic andthe primitive symbolic form that Hegel had claimed could only offer a mimesis orersatz of his Absolute Idea. In Indian art, he argued, no proper union of theconcrete and the philosophical Absolute could occur, since all energy wastransfixed at the level of an image which was a kind of iconolate heresy,misrepresenting the Absolute in the form of an indefinite visual extension. Theautokinetic illusion of the swastika, in which the image may seem to be engagedin an indefinite but inconsequential motion, would also identify it as an exampleof this heresy.

Tension, anxiety, hybridity, a fruitless striving and a general Sturm undDrangare the hallmarks of Hegel’s symbolic mode of representation, which perfectlyaccomplishes its own defeat. The model he applies to Hindu art perhaps moreaccurately describes a Western cult of self-expression with its roots in theromantic idea of the symbol. Self-expression seeks to contain the subject in theobject, and ontology in the image in the form of a representation of theirrepresentable, which, in Hegel’s terms, is ‘interpreted as if the Idea itself werepresent in them’.75 This ‘giving of the known the dignity of the unknown’ whichthe German poet and novelist Novalis saw as the defining characteristic ofromanticism, indicates the desire for a secular transcendence, the frisson ofexpenditure within the economy of representation. The emphasis in Germanromantic aesthetics on the energetic struggle of becoming over the classicalcomplacency of being exemplifies this attitude; furthermore, Hegel’s views onthe ambiguous relationship between the symbol and its meaning suggests the


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way in which a popular romantic nationalism could construct the symbolahistorically. Since the symbol in this scheme is never either wholly arbitrarynor wholly consonant, its signifying image can occupy or have occupied severalsites of meaning over time: ‘the symbolic shape contains yet other characteristicsof its own utterly independent of that which the symbolic shape signifiedonce.’76 In this way, the image presents itself as the multitude of possible thingsit may have meant and could mean, rather than the rational and historicallysituated value of what it actually does mean at a given moment, either in aconventional or an Absolute sense. Past and future are conflated in an experienceof the sign in the present as a limitless potential: this is the hallmark of the kitschromantic sublime. This ersatz of infinity is achieved, Hegel argues, in themimetic quality of Indian art, in which the attempt is made to represent Absoluteinfinity as an indefinite visual extension: ‘the most obvious way in which Hindooart endeavours to mitigate this distinction [between the naturalistic and theAbsolute] is…by the measureless extension of its images…the measurelessnessof time durations, or the reduplication of particular determinations.’77 This is anexample of ‘the contradiction itself which passes for the true unification’ andwhich mitigates against the possibility of an historical development:

The Indians have proved themselves incapable of an historicalinterpretation of persons and events, because an historical treatmentrequires sang-froid in taking up and understanding the past on its ownaccount in its actual shape with its empirical links, grounds, aims, andcauses.78

Both the India of Hegel and Marx and Hobsbawm’s Germany stand accused of‘ahistoricity’. Schliemann’s Aryan ancestors are not historically or empirically‘traced’, they are ahistorically constructed, like Hobsbawm’s Germannationalism. The swastika magically appears at Hissarlik unencumbered by asignified meaning and therefore free of history, and links are then forgedbetween this image and the new Germany, a country now unified underBismarck, and whose attachment to a centuries-old feudalism and aristocracy hadbeen so strong as to circumvent Marx’s hopes for a bourgeois-inspired revolutionin 1848. At the time of the uprising, Marx commented that The GermanBourgeoisie had developed…so slowly, that it saw itself threateninglyconfronted by the proletariat…at the very moment of its threateningconfrontation with feudalism and absolutism’.79 It is worth comparing thesewords with his vision of a colonised and dialectically perfected India in 1853:‘When a great social revolution shall have mastered the results of the bourgeoisepoch…then only will human progress cease to resemble that hideous pagan idol,who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain.’80

In Marx’s terms, both India and Germany fail to achieve the necessarybourgeois ‘critical mass’ which will propel them into the stream of history. InGermany, the development is perceived as uneven, in India it is seen as completely


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absent. Aryanism made it possible to accommodate both countries under a singlesign of the swastika, a sign which expressed the racial/genetic continuity of arace, rather than the historical/evolutionary development of the revolutionaryproletariat. In Fichte’s Addresses of 1807–8, his dialectic of an ancient TeutonicEurope and ‘ancient Asia’ is synthesised in a vision of the German state as aperpetuum mobile, running on the inexhaustible fuel of Aryan race energy:

Altogether different is the genuine German art of the State…it seeks fromthe very beginning, and as the very first and only element, a firm andcertain spirit. This is for it the mainspring, whose life proceeds from itself,and which has perpetual motion; the mainspring which will regulate, andcontinually keep in motion, the life of society.81

Fichte’s image of the magical and self-generating machine was echoed by AdolfHitler’s declaration that both the principle of race continuity and the principle of‘creative work’ towards maintaining the race idea could be discerned in hisdynamically slanted swastika, an image which combined India with industry inthe mass manufacture of the sign in a way which even Ruskin could not haveforeseen.


In his introduction to the first edition of Schliemann’s Troy and itsRemains,Phillip Smith noted that the hill of Hissarlik ‘answers at once to the primitivetype of a Greek city, and to the present condition of the primaeval capitals of theEast’.82 In one sense this description is no more than the typical Aryanist reflexwith regard to Greek culture that writers such as Martin Bernal have been keen toroot out. However, the swastikas of Hissarlik allow us to examine the route fromthe Indian Vedic myths via Troy to Königswalde, in other words a specificallyGerman rather than a generally pro-Greek and anti-Semitic interpretation. If thisroute is retraced, it becomes clear that Schliemann was rehearsing a narrativewhich had linked Germany to India for centuries, and that in the 1870s thearchaeologist and Germany itself had common cause in their reinvention of thistradition. This Indo-German narrative dates back as far as the twelfth century,when an Annolied in praise of the Archbishop of Cologne declared ‘they say thatin that region [India] there are still people who speak German’.83 Walter Lieferhas noted that this idea persisted throughout the Middle Ages, well before theadvent of modern Aryanism. However, it was nineteenth-century politics andphilosophy of language which enabled such ideas to assume a new importanceand contemporary relevance, and it was Aryanism which mediated between themigrant ‘father ancestor’ of India and the ‘mother ancestor’ of Germanautochthony.84 It was the Rigveda (the ‘Vedas’ that are mentioned above), theSanskrit epic poem of around the third century BC in which the tribe of the‘Aryas’ is first mentioned, that provided Schliemann and his enlisted ‘experts’


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with the mythological mirror-image of the Homeric poetry that had initiallyinspired the archaeologist. In the Rigveda, the Aryas lay siege to and conquer theforts of another tribe, the forts being interpreted as the defences of an indigenouspeople conquered by the chariot-riding Aryas, who had, it was supposed,advanced from their mysterious European Urheimat.85 The attempt to make theprosaic facts of excavation fit the poetry of the Vedas was not Schliemann’sprerogative: in 1947, Mortimer Wheeler, an acerbic critic of Schliemann’smethods, suggested that the Aryas may have been responsible for the suddendisappearance of the Indus valley civilisation.86 Only Schliemann and hiscohorts, however, attempted to link two geographically distant epics to onearchaeological site, although Colin Renfrew has suggested similarities betweenthem:

There is at least one other good example of the production of this kind ofheroic poetry after a system collapse: the poetry of Homer. But Homer waswriting sufficiently soon afterwards to have had some memory of the pre-collapse Mycenean age… The Rigveda could well stand in the sameposition in relation to the Indus valley civilisation, except that, perhapstaking shape rather longer after the collapse, it does not really hark back tothe golden age before it.87

The lynchpin connecting Troy to the Vedas was the swastika: excavated at‘Homeric’ Hissarlik, and first named as ‘swastika’ in the Sanskrit grammar ofPânini on which the language of the Rigveda was based, it appeared to providethe perfect link. It was the ‘third city’ of Hissarlik, where artefacts bearingswastikas ranging from simple spindle-whorls to eight-sectioned terracottaspheres, were first encountered (‘[the swastika]…was evidently brought toHissarlik by the people of the Third City, for it never occurs on objects from thefirst or second city’88), that Schliemann saw as the perfect candidate for exaltedstatus as the site of the Trojan war, on account of clear evidence that the entiresettlement had been destroyed by fire:

As we have seen in the preceding pages, the third city of Hissarlikperfectly agrees with the Homeric indications as to the site of Troy…thethird city has, like the Homeric Ilios, been destroyed by the hand of anenemy in a fearful catastrophe, which fell on it so suddenly that theinhabitants had to leave a large part of their treasures behind.89

The parallel with the Vedic battles of the Aryas should not be ignored, and norshould the linking metaphor of invasion, destruction and genocide, a themewhich Colin Renfrew has identified as that of the ‘destroyers’:

Given that the Indus Valley civilisation came to a rather sudden end, whichextinguished urbanism in India for a millenium, it is not surprising, in the


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migrationist climate of the earlier part of this century that scholars shouldhave thought in terms of ‘destroyers’.90

Half a century before the advent of Nazism, the image of the swastika was beingassociated with narratives of invasion and the sudden disappearance of an entirepopulation. In his preface to Schliemann’s Ilios, Rudolf Virchow wrote that atHissarlik ‘Asia and Europe for the first time encountered a war of extermination(völkerfressendem Kampfe)’.91 This discourse was employed against the Naziterror in the Reverend Norman Walker’s pamphlet of 1939, The Real History ofthe Swastika, in which Schliemann’s speculations were not only questioned butquite deliberately inverted:

In the sixth and seventh cities of Troy very few swastikas were found, butin the third, fourth and fifth cities they were found in hundreds. That is tosay, the swastika came in with the Hittites, and went out with the comingof the Aryans… Wherever the Aryans migrated and destroyed the oldercivilization, the use of the swastika died out—it seems to be speciallyassociated with the pig-tail wearing, hook-nosed and beardless Hittites, theearly Elamites, Manchus, Huns and American Indians.92

It is interesting to note that Walker’s pamphlet, in its attempt to redress thebalance against the bias of Germanic prehistory, employed a similar strategy,that of yoking the swastika to a particular race. In challenging Schliemann’sAryan interpretation of the swastika, Walker neglected to challenge the use ofthe word Aryan as the umbrella racial designation of a language-group, finding ituseful to turn the vision of a powerful and all-conquering tribe to his ownmetaphorical ends. Somewhat more cogent in this regard is another pamphlet,The Swastika, a Study of Nazi Claimsof its Aryan Origin,93 published in 1933 byNorman Brown, Professor of Sanskrit at the University of Pennsylvania. Herethe word ‘Aryan’ is put in quotation marks, and although Brown was prepared toadmit some links between the term and language and culture, he was adamantthat ‘in respect of physical stock it affirms practically nothing’.94 Like Walker,however, Brown was keen to find some way to detach the Aryans from theswastika, asserting that its true home was amongst the pre-Vedic ‘Dravidians’, apeaceful and ‘more advanced’ culture destroyed by the invading Aryan hordes.In this way Brown challenged Schliemann’s interpretation from the Indian side,just as Walker attempted to do with the swastikas of Hissarlik. Ultimately however,these ownership disputes appear to leave the Aryans (and thus the Nazis) moreor less intact, and represent a further example of the academic debate over acontext for the image which does nothing to challenge the successfulconstruction of a ‘sign field’ of immediately recognisable and self-identicalswastikas. The Nazis, however, are given short shrift in Brown’s pamphlet:


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The present Nazi claims are untenable. Just as their theory of Aryan racialpurity is fanciful, so, too, their use of the swastika as an Aryo Christiansymbol, with aspects of anti-Judaism, anti-pacifism and anti-Marxism, isentirely arbitrary.95

Brown’s reference to an ‘Aryo-Christian’ construction of the swastika is a themewhich, like that of the ‘destroyers’, has its roots in the nineteenth century.According to Léon Poliakov,96 it was Fichte, using an interpretation of thegospel of St John, who first proposed the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was not ofJewish descent, ‘thus sweeping aside the greatest obstacle to the quest for anauthentically German religion’. An elaboration of this theory as it was applied tothe swastika can be found in TheScience of Religions97 by Emile burnouf,honorary director of the French archaeological institute in Athens and one ofSchliemann’s closest collaborators. Burnouf worked as a cartographer forSchliemann, and is described by Leo Deuel as a polymath of ‘outstandingcalibre’ who was Schliemann’s teacher rather than his assistant. Such praisenotwithstanding, Burnouf ‘s text constructs a race mythology of the swastika,linking the figure not only to an Aryan thesis (and by extension to Germanicconcerns98) but also to a specific and violent anti-Semitism.

Burnouf espoused a pseudo-scientific, pseudo-evolutionary model of thegrowth of religions, in an effort to prove that Christianity was in fact derivedfrom the Aryan ‘root-religion’ with its origins in the East: ‘Christianity as awhole has an Aryan doctrinal tendency.’99 Judaism, on the other hand, was seenas the aberrant development of a lesser race, whose spiritual, intellectual andcranial inferiority he emphasised in a repellent fashion.100 By applying thisconstruction to the swastika, Burnouf was led to the conclusion that the figurewas the true Aryan cross of Christianity: ‘When Jesus was put to death by theJews, this old Aryan symbol was easily applied to him; and the swastika, aftersuccessive transformations, became the “hastated cross” of the Christianmoderns.’101 This idea is arrived at by a process of syncretic comparison similarto that through which Schliemann had linked the swastika to the ‘Centaurs of theGreeks’. Burnouf began by linking the figure with the Vedic fire god Agni, thenby extension to Prometheus, seeing in the bound Prometheus a personification ofthe crucified Christ. Both schemes ultimately depended on the initial premisethat the swastikas found at Hissarlik were identical to the swastikas of the East,despite Max Müller’s warning to Schliemann that ‘identity of form does as littleprove identity of origin in archaeology as identity of sound proves identity oforigin in etymology’.102

If we return to Schliemann’s text linking the swastikas of Königswalde tothose uncovered at Troy quoted above (p. 131), a similar privileging of signrecognition across space and time over the immediate relationship of theswastika to its context can be noted, and the distinction between simpleidentification and a complex reading is clearly drawn. In the same way in whichSchliemann identified ‘many hundreds’ of swastikas amongst the mass of


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material evidence and variety of marks found at Hissarlik, his textual excavationproceeded by sorting out the symbol ‘recognised at first glance’ from aheterogeneous mass of apparently irrelevant academic dialogue. What is impliedis that there is a right and a wrong way to approach one’s ancestors, and thatothers (the ones who have merely ‘discussed’ the swastika) have hitherto beenblind to the correct method. Not only the swastika itself, but the way in which itis perceived andcomprehended, must be Aryo-Germanic. The culturallyconstructed value is again passed off as the true coin of an immediaterecognition. As Pierre Bourdieu has said of the aesthetic gaze in general: ‘Theencounter…is not “love at first sight” as is generally supposed, and the act ofempathy, Einfühlung…implies the implementation of a cognitive acquirement, acultural code.’103

There is an immediate parallel with the Nazi period, insofar as in the 1930s,the burning of books was simply the first step towards imposing aGleichschaltung, a common framework, for the activity of reading. Here theGermanic text is created and defined by the removal of all that is declared un-Germanic, and a pure form is that which remains when the impure has beenremoved from the field of vision. This is the ‘double-bind’ logic described byJean-François Lyotard in his refutation of the revisionist historian Faurisson, whohad demanded to hear the testament of a deportee who had seen ‘with his owneyes’ a gas chamber.104 Lyotard points out that this demand, in which the onlypossible witness is one who can no longer testify, satisfies the totalitarian logicwhich ‘knows no other reality other than the established one, and…holds themonopoly on procedures for the establishment of reality’. In 1889, thisGleichschaltung was over forty years distant; and yet Schliemann’s commentatorZmigrodski’s criteria of evidence, and his ‘law of the swastika’ whichestablishes the morphology of a symbol of screening out all that this symbol isnot, is the ethnographic archetype of this logic. Lyotard’s assertion is that Nazismrequires nothing from the non-Aryan except that it should cease to exist.Zmigrodski’s construction of a ‘pure’ swastika by subtracting all unwantedelements established the sacred space of Aryan civilisation through the removalof a supposedly primitive Semitic over-growth, a procedure which at oncesequestrated the swastika and prepared it for the new role of an image whosefunction would be racially divisive. At this point Schliemann’s and Zmigrodski’suses for the swastika begin to differ: for the archeologist the removal of contextallows space for nostalgia, and a ‘Broad Aryan’ vision of the ancestral home,whereas the librarian’s action is more prophetic: the deracinated and thus‘purified’ form is redefined as the apotropaic agent of racial hygiene.


Shorn of their links to a mythology of race origins, the debates on Indo-Europeanphilology still persist in a rarefied and highly specialised form today; however,the academic limelight they once enjoyed has been usurped by a structuralist


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socio-linguistics and its many posthumous variants, which, by employing thenotion of a structured set of differences, appear to reject the idea of aphilosophical ‘tracing back’ of diverse language elements to their common roots.For the greater part of our century, the synchrony of structuralism has satisfiedthe radical modernist demand for a functionalist language model which could,like a functionalist aesthetics, act unencumbered by the ornaments of history andtradition. It was for this reason that Saussurean structural linguistics becameintellectually popular in post-revolutionary Russia, via such figures as SergeiKarcevskij, who had worked with Ferdinand de Saussure in Switzerland, andwho returned to Moscow in 1917 to take his part in the ‘Formalist’ school ofRussian linguistics.105 However, many of the central tenets of Formalism were tobe challenged by the publication in 1929 of Marxism and thePhilosophy ofLanguage under the name of Vladimir Nikolaevich Volosinov.106 This text notonly challenged Formalist theories (which it described as ‘abstract objectivism’)but dug deeper in positing a methodological link between Saussurean linguisticsand Indo-European language theory. It is widely believed that this book wasprincipally the work not of Volosinov but of Mikhail Bakhtin; I intend to concurwith that view,107 and also with the opinion of Graham Pechey, for whomBakhtin’s philosophy was ‘a post-structuralism co-inciding with the displacementthat brought about structuralism itself’.108 Bakhtin’s critique of the ‘abstractobjectivist’ and hypostasising tendency in both Saussurean and Indo-Europeanlinguistics, and of their mutual reliance on the technique of recognising an‘artefact signal’109 can be seen to relate to the institution of the swastika bySchliemann and others as the visible mark (artefact) which could serve to reify(using the alliance of a ‘race’ with its ‘trace’) the concept of a structurallyderived proto-Aryan language. For Mikhail Bakhtin, the methods of Indo-European comparative linguistics were the source of Saussure’s emphasis on astatic structure preceding and governing the communicative act. DespiteSaussure’s emphasis on synchronic values, his structures are still conceived asthe precedents for any kind of dialogue. As Robert Stam has suggested in hisconceptual summary of the Bakhtin school, the Russian saw in both Saussureanand Indo-European linguistics ‘a kind of linguistic necrophilia, a nostalgia fordeceased languages’.110 Aryanism should also be included in this necrophiliacdefinition as an ancestor-worship conducted through the medium of the symbol.

I have suggested that the move from Indo-European language theory to anAryan race is a temporal shift from a synchronic comparison across diverselanguages to a diachronically conceived original set of native Aryan speakers,and in this sense, as Max Müller suggested, is as absurd as the notion of a‘brachycephalic grammar’. However, Bakhtin did not allow either philology orstructuralism to escape so lightly: he suggested that both must of methodologicalnecessity work with material which is both ‘dead’ and ‘alien’ to the actualpractice of speech utterances and human dialogue in a living language, and thatsuch an emphasis revealed a hegemonic strategy on the part of a linguistic‘caste’ to translate the meaning of ‘the word’ to the multitude: ‘the first linguists


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and the first philologists were always and everywhere priests.’111 Once linguisticmeaning is perceived as essentially alien to the accidents of dialogue and parole(‘externally changed and removed from the routine of life’), Bakhtin argued thatthe responsibility for language and for the generation of meaning is taken awayfrom those who use it for the purpose of intra-personal communication, andplaced outside their control. It is important to note that Bakhtin identifies this anessentially ‘colonial’ strategy:

The grandiose organising scheme of the alien word, which always eitherentered upon the scene with alien force of arms and organisation or wasfound on the scene by the young conqueror nation of an old and oncemighty culture captivated, from its grave, so to speak, the ideologicalconsciousness of the newcomer-nation—this role of the alien word led toits coalescence in the depths of the historical consciousness of nations withthe idea of authority, the idea of power, the idea of holiness, the idea oftruth, and dictated that notions about the word be pre-eminently orientatedtowards the alien word.112

It could be argued that to apply this critique to the ‘Aryanisation’ of the swastikawould be to confuse Bakhtin’s linguistic ‘word’ with a material image. However,in the passage quoted above, we are already in the realm of the reified andalienated ‘artefact-signal’, the idea of the fixed, secret and monumental signwhich represents the border and the limit of a commonly understandable andmutually communicative language. In Thomas Wilson’s book on the swastika,the anthropologist quoted a report on the reception of the Christian cross bynative Americans: ‘this emblem was generally accepted by the savages as theonly tangible feature of a new system of belief that was filled with subleties tooprofound for their comprehension.’113 In this instance, the symbol is a deviceheralding the unknown, the unphrasable and the incomprehensible. Aryanismboth colonised the Oriental swastika and reconstructed it as an emblem whichwas later used by Nazism to colonise Occidental space, threatening an invasion ofthe West under the sign of the East.

Max Müller’s witty refutation of the Aryanists provided a much-neededdeflation of the myth: yet Bahktin shows how the techniques of Indo-

European philology were already implicated in the myth-making processwhich was to result in the racist excesses of Michael Zmigrodski and EmilBurnouf. And in his emphasis on the deracination of language elements from thecontext of their utterance, Bahktin’s theories have direct bearing onSchliemann’s treatment of the swastika. Wrenched from its stratigraphic context,the swastika became the signal which could be compared with similar signals ina rough imitation of the more complex methods of philological comparison. In thislight, Müller’s professional/philological censoring of the word ‘swastika’ simplyallowed Schliemann to conduct amateur Indo-European comparisons using theimage instead. Edward Said114 has referred to Müller as one of the philological


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‘priests’: it may be that in this instance we are seeing not so much a concern forthe Indian swastika per se as an example of the professional pride that wished tokeep the brachycephalic brigade and the blundering amateurs out of Indo-European philology. Schliemann’s institution of the swastika as the Aryan signpar excellence was a caricature of analytical method, but it was a caricaturewhose material expression in archaeology delineated the essence of an approachin which the ‘philologist-linguist tears the monument out of that real domain andviews it as if it were a self-sufficient, isolated entity’.115


Michael Zmigrodski was keen to subsume a diversity of morphological varietiesand visual ‘expressions’ of the swastika under the rubric of a recognisable ‘pure’symbol. He believed that careless execution of the sign was sufficient proof thatit was universally recognisable to the inhabitants of the third city of Troy:

I propose that all the figures [of the swastika] are religious symbols andnot ornaments, because they are too negligently drawn…proving that itwas so familiar to everyone that even the most cursory execution wassufficient to effect a recognition.116

Zmigrodski adds ‘It is always so with symbols’. Here the notion of acommunicable sign is firmly linked to the idea of a uniform set of similarsignals, and as with Saussure’s parole (‘we cannot put it [speech] into anycategory of human facts, for we cannot discover its unity’117) the manner inwhich a language-form is expressed by a particular person in a particularhistorical context is marginalised. Saussure had spoken of a language which‘governs signs’ and under which, presumably, speech assumes the role of anunruly populace. This is in direct opposition to Bahktin’s model, in which thenormative elements of language are less important than the way in which theseelements are rendered meaningful through dialogic utterance.

The example which Zmigrodski used to illustrate his argument was that of ahastily drawn yet instantly recognisable Christian cross, from which heconcluded that the inhabitants of Hissarlik worshipped a supreme being in theimage of the swastika ‘of pure form’. The method of artefact recognition againimmediately places the meaning of the sign beyond the reach of ordinary mortalsand quotidian realities, and confers visionary status on the one who perceives whatothers cannot.

An earlier text by Zmigrodski, Die Mutter bei den Völkern desArischenStammes118(The Mother of the People of the Aryan Family), publishedin Munich in 1886, was more explicitly racist in its treatment of the swastika(Plate 6). Subtitled ‘an anthropological-historical sketch’ and with its title pageadorned with a single left-handed swastika, the publication of this bookcoincided with the height of ‘Aryan mania’ in Europe. Again the method of


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‘artefact recognition’ is to the fore, and is on this occasion specifically linked toa concept of miscegenation: referring to the discovery by Schliemann of aswastika on a fragment of pottery at a depth of 16 meters (below the stratacontaining the many hundreds of swastikas found in the ‘burnt city’),Zmigrodski concluded that this ‘oldest and purest’119 occurrence of the swastika,found in a discrete form, was dissimulated through time into shapes which weresplit or broken in the upper levels, and whose meaning was eventually lost in adecorative scheme where ‘the original symbol is simply an ornament’.120

Zmigrodski then took his argument further, identifying the dissimulated Aryanswastika in Greek fret patterns, and concluding that all Aryan Volksornamentikconcealed the form of the swastika as its original generative symbol.

Although Zmigrodski’s concept of morphological miscegenation was replacedin his later text with the logic of ‘familiarity’, the common theme of bothpublications was that of a recognised origin and the recovery, through theweeding out of extraneous visual utterances, of the alien word. It is alsosignificant that in his earlier book, the loss for which the swastika is thefetishised substitute is the loss of ‘Die Mutter’ of the Aryan race: Tacitus’Germania is quoted as ‘unmistakable evidence of the Mother epoch’121 of Aryanautochthony. The Germania was one of the key texts of the Aryan myth, and wasused by Fichte to represent the German struggle for self-determination againstthe forces of invasion and miscegenation. Zmigrodski perceived in Tacitus’Roman yoke the forces which would eventually occlude the time of the divinemother: both prostitution and lesbianism are cited as evidence of how far thisspiritual ‘mother’ principle had declined in modern times. The visual analogy forthis fall from grace could be seen, he argued, in the hem of the garment of theVirgin Mary, once adorned with a sacred inscription which had become debasedinto a superficial (inhaltlos) ornament.122

Zmigrodski claimed that this was also the case with the swastika, emblem ofthe Aryan Mutterepoche which he saw, paradoxically, as representing its ownloss of pure symbolic form in the shape of a debased ornamental ‘Hälfe derSwastika’. Here representation is divided in two: the arbitrary or meaninglessornamental sign stands for the absence of its meaningful symbolic former self.This echoes, within the domain of a single sign, the ‘classical semiology’described by Jacques Derrida,123 in which the sign maps onto the loss andalienation incurred by the act of representation itself. Homi Bhabha,124 in hiswritings on the discourses of colonialism, has argued that the fetishisation of theOriental (alien or ‘other’) sign is more than an individual Freudian quirk, and infact effects a splitting of the ‘Western subject’ as a social whole, in which theprimal absence and substitution which troubles Occidental representation istransferred to an Oriental sign whose sole function must be to contain thatabsence, and stand as a landmark for that border beyond which our languageeither cannot, or should not pass: ‘the place of otherness is fixed in the West as asubversion of Western metaphysics and is finally appropriated by the West as itslimit text, the anti-West.’125 In Zmigrodski’s text, the Oriental term ‘swastika’,


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rather than the German Hakenkreuz is used as the sign for an image which standsfor both the nostalgia of a primal loss and the yearning for a return.

This ‘occult of a non-knowledge’ through which the unseen is made visible inthe form of the swastika places us back with the misrepresented andmisrecognised Absolute of Hegel’s Oriental symbol: the iconophile heresy whichattempts a visual mimesis of the infinite. The occult hybrid of the known and theunknown that formed Zmigrodski’s mother image of the swastika is also theFreudian ‘scopophiliac’ device through which forbidden or repressed desiresmay be indulged as an image if not as a reality. The Freudian psychoanalyst KarlAbraham, in his essay on scopophilia126 of 1913, was already drawing parallelsbetween an individual neurotic desire to ‘maintain and cultivate uncertainty’127

and the corresponding monotheistic, logocentric prohibition of all doubt anduncertainty from language. In his essay, Abraham notes that the German wordfor doubt, Zweifel, reveals that all uncertainty is a doubling (zwei=two) and thisdoubling is precisely what a monotheistic faith forbids: ‘The prohibition againstimages [in the Decalogue] immediately follows the commandment to recogniseonly one god, i.e. the commandment designed to eliminate all hesitation (doubt)between father and mother.’128 Thus, argued Abraham, the institution of animage or representation immediately introduces the problematic of division:doubt literally ‘enters the picture’. But since the neurotic is attempting to obeythe law of the father, the forbidden desire to see the mother is replaced by arepresentation of that desire, through which the act of looking can be indefinitelyprolonged: ‘his libido is no longer directed to the forbidden (incestuous) aim, nolonger to that which one must not see, but that which one cannot see.’ It is in thisway that the ‘mysterious symbol’ is instituted as a scopophiliac device, where aforbidden gaze can be indulged in safety. Here the symbol becomes both thelandmark for a forbidden territory and the specular tool for viewing it by proxy.

In his writing on the swastika, Zmigrodski described a prehistoric trajectorythrough which the symbolic value of the image, whose origin lies in theMutterepoche, comes under the law of the father with the advent of Greekculture, and whose symbolic value is consequently masked and censored inornament.129 His self-appointed task was to reinstitute the swastika as the sign ofthe absent mother. There is also the larger question of Zmigrodski’s emphasis onrecognition over meaning, an emphasis which itself prolonged the act of looking(for other examples of the swastika) at the expense of the rationalist ideal of finalclosure and a definitive decoding. Quite often, the late nineteenth and earlytwentieth-century discourse on the swastika indulges in the former whilstadvancing under cover of the latter:

We have given the remarks of various writers on this symbol…and it willbe seen that, although they are more or less vague, uncertain, and confusedin their description…still, with one exception, they all agree that it is amystic symbol, peculiar to some deity or other, bearing a special


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signification, and generally believed to have some connection with one ofthe elements—water.130

George Waring’s statement demonstrates that the swastika could achievedefinition only as the paradoxical sign of uncertainty, whose endlessreinterpretation maintained, rather than escaped from, a fetishising of doubt. Thefetish, however, is a device whose primary ambivalence of presence and absenceis recapitulated in an ambiguous shift between fear and desire. Following Freudin his essay on ‘Fetishism’ of 1927, Homi Bhabha has pointed out that eitheraffection or hostility can gain the upper hand in the construction of the fetishisedobject, reflected in a colonialist discourse as either the projection of a desiredfantasy or as race hatred.131 In Zmigrodski’s text, and in other examples of a‘extreme Aryan’132 discourse on the swastika, we find both a nostalgic evocationof loss (the good and civilised Aryan) and a hostile rejection of an abhorred race(the savage and primitive Semite) bound up in one image which is temporallyand geographically ‘other’. Here the swastika keeps the Aryan within and theSemite without, yet both occupy the same exclusion zone, the alien spacebordered by the image itself.

Bhabha has also argued that for the construction of the fetish/stereotype tooccur, any contextual meanings appropriate to the chosen Oriental object must becensored and expunged: ‘what is denied is any knowledge of cultural othernessas a differential sign, implicated in specific historical and discursiveconditions.’133 This opposition of the stereotypical and static border to a fluiddiscursive exchange recalls Bahktin’s description of how the ‘artefact signal’ isdisplaced from its context, the act of alienating an object of discourse which is then,by a fait accompli, recognised as alien and ‘other’ in an abstract, ahistorical way.As I have suggested, Schliemann’s physical deracination of the swastika from itsstratigraphic context is echoed in the work of his commentators such asZmigrodski, who carry on the work of displacement where the archaeologist leftoff. This is not simply a ‘misinterpretation’ of the swastika: it is the tacticalrefusal to interpret beyond the level of the recognition and naming of a repeatedsignal that enables Zmigrodski, in his text of 1891,134 to identify the swastika asthe sign of an unknown god, a ‘Deus Ignotus’: a clear description of the occultdevice through which the unseen, as a feared or desired object, can be visualisedby proxy in the conjuring-up of a ‘symbol’.

It is on this issue of an ‘unknown God’ that Count Goblet D’Alviellaattempted a critique135 of those authorities who firmly ascribed to the swastika an‘Aryan’ origin. D’Alviella, however, did not assert that the whole notion of anoriginal race equipped with a root language had been insufficiently proved, butthat the links between the Aryans and the swastika were tenuous. Whilst citingthe phonetic evidence of Indo-European language study, and the subsequentassumption of an Ursprache, D’Alviella stated that it was yet another leap offaith from that assumption to symbolism, and from the symbol to the theories ofR.P.Greg and Ludwig Müller, the former proposing that the swastika had been


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the symbol of the supreme god the Aryans had worshipped before their diaspora,and Müller overbidding by claiming that this god had in fact been ‘the divinity whocomprehended all the gods, or, again, the omnipotent God of the universe’,136

thus neatly equipping the root-race with a primal sign for an original deity.D’Alviella dealt firmly with Müller’s ‘generic sign for divinity’, and thereasoning through which a deity of whose name we are ignorant becomes anameless deity. He was also unsure that our ancestors would have been capableof so abstract a concept, concluding:

Upon those who wish to make the gammadion [swastika] a legacy of the‘primitive’ Aryans, it is incumbent to prove that these Aryans practisedsymbolism; that amongst their symbols the gammadion had a place, andthat this gammadion typified the old Dieu Pater, the Heavenly Father ofsubsequent mythologies.137


An alternative to the narrow focus of nineteenth-century Aryanism is to be foundin the panoptic vision of Thomas Wilson’s The Swastika, theEarliest KnownSymbol and its Migrations.138 Despite the startling assurance of his title, Wilsonproposed to gather rather than to apply interpretations, staying true to hisdiffusionist theme by describing his aim as the ‘diffusion of knowledge amongmen’.139 Judicial language also keeps cropping up throughout his text, supportinghis claim to be outside the interpretative fray. Wilson’s table of contents, with itsclassifications of ‘swastikas with four arms crossing at other than right angles,the ends bent ogee and to the left’ followed by ‘swastikas of different kinds onthe same object’140 recalls the minutiae of courtroom evidence, and his carefuldiscrimination of cultural and morphological differences seems opposed to therecognition of the same favoured by Zmigrodski. However, his ‘map showingdistribution of the swastika’ charts a migratory line of identical imagessupporting both Wilson’s diffusionist ethic and his underlying principle of anoriginal ‘intention’ controlling the diversity of swastika forms in a variety oflocations. Wilson could not avoid the lure of the origin presented by the swastika.Unlike the Aryanists, however, he was preoccupied with the diachronicmiscegenation of a purpose and a raison d’être for the image, not simply theevidence of a pure form:

The straight line, the circle, the cross, the triangle, are simple forms, easilymade, and might have been invented and re-invented in every age ofprimitive man and in every quarter of the globe… But the Swastika wasprobably the first to be made with a definite intention and a continuous orconsecutive meaning, the knowledge of which passed from person toperson, from tribe to tribe, from people to people, and from nation to


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nation, until, with possibly changed meanings, it has finally circled theglobe.141

This statement placed Wilson on the opposite side of the diffusionist debate from‘evolutionists’ such as Adolf Bastian, who had argued a form of psychicparallelism whereby mankind everywhere tended to produce similar forms andideas. Wilson instead used those same forms and ideas to support the idea ofprehistoric migrations from a centre or centres of diffusion.142 In the same waythat the similarity of Egyptian and Central American pyramids was perceived bysome as clear evidence of migration from the former to the latter, Wilson at onepoint attempted to argue that the use of the swastika in American Indian culturemight be due to the influence of Buddhism: ‘How did this ancient, curious andwidespread sign, a recognised symbol of religion of the Orient, find its way tothe bottom of one of the mounds of antiquity in the Scioto valley?’143 His idea ofwhat constituted ‘meaning’ was consonant with the ‘definite intention’ hediscerned in the morphology of the image: ‘[the swastika is] an intentional sign,with intentional, though perhaps different, meanings.’144 Wilson also posedseveral rhetorical questions that seem to express the frustration of thecryptologist. As well as demanding ‘By what people were they made? In whatepoch? For what purpose?’ Wilson also asked ‘Why should we feel ourselvescompelled to accept these signs as symbols of a hidden meaning?’ Like Hegel’s‘symbol’ the problem that the swastika presented to the discourse of rationalistanthropology was that of the image as a ‘semi-propositional statement’,145 neitherwholly arbitrary nor wholly consonant, yet one with the history and appearanceof ‘having meant’, or having meant once, in some primal or prehistoric scene.Wilson’s swastika is cast in a heroic role, that of the adventurer, a disguised ordissimulated semiotic Ulysses, unrecognisable after having ‘circled the globe’.

Wilson was not an Aryanist: judgement is once again reserved, since hewished instead to imply a link between the migration of bronze-age cultures anda supposed migration of the swastika. For all his interest in Buddhism, Wilsonwas also convinced that we must drop all pretensions to the view that theswastika is or was fundamentally a sacred sign, ‘that is, holy and sacred in thelight of godliness, piety, or morality’.146 Along with evidence of the use of theswastika on prehistoric household objects, which he believed implied a secularuse as ‘amulet’ or ‘talisman’, he criticised those authorities who found sufficientproof in the fact that the swastika was sometimes to be found in conjunction withrepresentations of deities already labelled as ‘cosmological’ (lunar, solar, etc.),the one interpretation appearing naturally to bear out the other. This definition ofmeaning applied to the swastika, according to Wilson, thus became thesyllogistic interpretation of an interpretation, a method with which he was to takeissue: ‘In forming the foregoing theories…the authors have been largelycontrolled by the alleged fact of the substitution and permutation of the Swastikasign on various objects with recognised symbols of different deities.’147 He alsodeclared that: ‘All pretense of the holy or sacred character of the Swastika should


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be given up, and it should…be considered as a charm, amulet, token of good luckor good fortune.’148

Wilson’s idea of an amulet or talisman pointed the way beyond his ownphilosophical quandary, through which the visually uninterpretable is somethingwhich seems to be controlled by some missing verbal encoding or programming.It could be argued that Wilson was an anthropologist who had fallen into aprimitive trap, his gaze fixed and held by the specular device of the swastika.Alfred Gell, in an essay on the ‘technology of enchantment’ has referred to thedesign volutes on the canoe prow-boards of the Trobriand Islands as weapons ofwar designed to ‘dazzle the beholder and weaken his grip on himself’.149

Certainly Wilson’s compulsive vision of swastikas on the carpets of the NationalMuseum might be regarded as an instance of such a hypnotic effect. But Gellgoes further:

The canoe board is a potent psychological weapon, but not as a directresult of the visual effects it produces. Its efficacy is to be attributed to thefact that these disturbances, mild in themselves, are interpreted as evidenceof the magical power emanating from the board.150

Wilson consciously sought to avoid the visually hypnotic effect of the swastikaby denying that it appeared to move, but he could not avoid the lure of thetalisman. The talisman is a figure which includes both an object and itsrepresentation, a sign whose power is written on its surface rather than being‘written elsewhere’.151 Wilson’s ‘intention’ theory and his identification of theimage as ‘amulet’ recognised this power, but stopped short of the realisation thatthe swastika was not formed and set in motion by words, but had instead movedthrough a series of coded interpretations, both in his own text and in a successionof global contexts, acting as the vehicle of meanings rather than their equivalentimage. It is clearly not the meaning, but the image, that migrates. Wilson’sswastika map shows the ‘heroic’ swastika slipping through successiveinterpretative nets, propelled by its own secret purpose and intention. In myintroduction, I suggested that any resemblance between Wilson’s map and thetrajectory of Nazi conquest is no accident, since Hitler’s use of the image was asa landmark for the successive conquest of space, using the mythology of anAryan conquest over time, and his aim was the application of the swastika to atotality of forms and surfaces. And as with the talisman, the alternatelypromising and threatening message of the Nazi swastika was understood by areading from symbol to symbol and from surface to surface, rather than fromsurface to depth, withholding and delaying the symbolic referent whilst offeringit as the promise of the past to be accomplished in the future. The colonisingtrajectory of Nazism was potentially as global as the network shown in Wilson’smap; but no matter how far the sign field could have extended, the arrival of theAryan referent promised by the Aryan symbol would have been indefinitelydelayed.


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Thomas Wilson could not work beyond the paradigm comparing symbols towords, because of his unsolved paradox of a single intention and multiplemeanings. However, it is precisely this paradigm which has been placed in doubtby anthropologists in the second half of the twentieth century, followedinevitably by critiques of those critiques. Dan Sperber’s polemical andidiosyncratic brand of post-structuralism has given short shrift to cryptology andstructuralism alike. Cryptology is described as content to examine an element inisolation, divorced both from cultural context and a relationship to other symbolsin that culture, and semiology, though ‘culture-specific’, as positing a decodableset of meanings as the basis of symbolic activity. In his Rethinking Symbolism,Sperber’s claim, the basic message of which was elaborated in later texts, wasthat symbols can function as symbols without a hidden or unconscious othermeaning to refer to. ‘Symbolism’ as here defined is a universal cognitivephenomenon, whose essence and application is radically different from alanguage employing words as a currency of representation.152

Sperber’s critique also suggests how in an emphatically rationalist society, anirrational image will be interpreted as ‘archaic’, not because the irrational issomehow logically or sub-cortically ‘pre-rational’ but because in a society whichsees itself as evolving through making more and more sense of the world,irrationality can appear in no other light. In his essay ‘Is Symbolic Thought Pre-Rational?’153 Sperber argues that the opposite is in fact the case, and thatrationality precedes symbolic processing, which is a ‘fail-safe’ system formaterial that will not submit to a rational explanation. His argument is summedup in his description of ‘three principles’ of symbolism:

When some information challenges the basic assumptions of a cognitivesystem, it will be symbolically processed, whatever the degree ofintellectual alertness.

When the degree of intellectual alertness is very low, most informationprocessed tends to overload the rational device and thus to trigger asymbolic evocation.

Mastery of rational, culturally adapted schemata will proportionatelylimit the occasions on which symbolic interpretations must necessarilyoccur.154

Sperber’s text does not give much space to the rhetorical and coercivepossibilities his model suggests, and which I have described as heralding,delimiting and directing the visual movement towards ‘making sense’ of a visualor textual landscape. However, Sperber’s ‘third principle’ of symbolism providesa clue as to how the swastika was given a cognitively prehistoric status in thenineteenth century, as an image resisting a rationalist closure, and therefore asone which was constantly being processed according to a ‘symbolic’ method outof line with a rationalist orthodoxy It could be argued that the swastika wasdefined as a symbol because the only cognitive schemata that yielded results


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with it was the symbolic. Returning to the definition of the swastika as the ‘signof non-signability’, we can see that here the image comes to represent thesymbolic realm or the symbolic process per se, as a meta-symbol or ‘symbol ofsymbolism’, a status which Aryanism reflected by naming the image as the‘symbol of symbols’, set apart from all others and representable only by itself. Inthe modern era, the era of infinite translatability and exchange, this particularrole can only be seen as remedial, reactionary or nostalgic.

This same argument has also been applied to the sociology of memory: ‘thehistory of memory is one of its steady devaluation as a source of knowledge.’155

Memory as the constant, ‘phatic’156 and intra-personal activity of reshaping andre-membering the material of tradition is replaced in the modern era by static andexternal mnemonic systems such as photography and text. In the Aryan myth, theanti-modernist, anti-rationalist values of symbolism and an ancestral and orallytransmitted memory are appealed to through the swastika, as the emblem of anAryan speech. This raises the question of how an image can be effectively boundto an ideology of the phonetic when it so obviously resists being dissolved orobliterated in printed text. Suzanne Küchler and Walter Melion157 havesuggested ways in which a visual, as well as an oral, phatic memory can besocially established, and how the activity of inscribing or representing can beseen to be equivalent to the activity of rehearsing or remembering:

The hand, when it inscribes an image on a material surface, is precipitatingmemory, shaping it and consolidating it. The image documents thiscomplex interplay between recollection and handiwork.158

This particular variety of externalisation differs from photography and theprinted text, since it constitutes a recognisable social signature, not the operationof a disembodied technology. I have already referred to the status conferred onthe swastika as ‘Aryan handwriting’ and it is this construction which maintainsthe sense of a meaning visually written onto the image through its repetition. Theswastika then becomes an expression of a Aryo-Germanic ‘attitude’, the frozengesture which acts as a cultural mirror to those who use it and identify with it,inviting the completion of meaning not within the sign as content but outside ofthe sign in the body, as the pseudo-awakening of race identity. The completevisualisation of the phatic principle, through which memory itself becomes thething which is remembered, occurs in Nazism, which constructed its sign field asthe simulacrum of race memory, a constant rehearsal of the gesture which is bothattractive (the mirror) and to the ‘non-Aryan’ represents a repulsive and coercivethreat.

Once more, the relevant question becomes not ‘what does this symbol mean?’but ‘what does this message achieve by being symbolically constituted?’ InAryanism and, ultimately in Nazism, the visual image of the swastika wasconstructed and put to use, in which case it is worth asking ‘why the swastika?’On the other hand, in Thomas Wilson’s exhaustive taxonomies we see a textual


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deracination of the image without any sub-sequent use for the motif other than asthe object of an indefinite reinterpretation. A fascination with the talisman hasWilson seeing swastikas everywhere by the end of his book, but this repeatedvisual signal is not enough. The rationalist anthropologist could not be contentwith seeing the unseen like Zmigrodski and Blavatsky; his Cartesian textattempts to separate a knowledge of the swastika from that which is visuallyknown, and therefore tries to name the unseen.


It is this transformation of a perceived ‘symbolic use’ into a presumed ‘symbolicessence’ that forms the unacknowledged stimulus for much discussion of theswastika in the nineteenth century. The concept of symbols as being dependenton, rather than the agents of, a unit of meaning frustrated most efforts at areasoned discussion of the swastika. It seemed puzzling that the swastika could beused as a symbol in two disparate places without there being an identity ofmeaning to support the identity of the image. It is also significant that the onlyalternative to the ‘meaningful symbol’ view of the swastika was the contrastingabsolute of the ‘meaningless ornament’. As soon as the idea of meaning wasdisposed of, the symbol was also eclipsed, to be replaced by the notion of theswastika as mere form. The ‘ornamentalist’ faction of this either/or debate iswell represented in Andrew Lang’s Custom and Myth of 1910:

The svastika, as it is called…is found everywhere…as a natural bit ofornament. The allegorising fancy of the Indians gave it a mystic meaning,and the learned have built I know not what worlds of religious theories onthe pre-Christian cross, which is probably a hasty bit of decorative workwith no religious meaning at all.159

Lang’s indignant reaction to the accumulated interpretations of the swastika isunderstandable. But it is based on precisely the same understanding of whatconstitutes a symbol as those authorities with whom he demurs. In this instance,the swastika fails the ‘meaning test’ that others apply and reapply because of thesymbolic history of the image. For Lang, instead, this same symbolic history isan example of how ‘the art of savages’ has misconstrued nonsense as sense, andornament as symbol. Thomas Wilson made this opposition of ornament andsymbol synchronic rather than universal, which allowed him to hold both viewssimultaneously: ‘however many meanings it may have had…it was alwaysornamental as well.’160 However, the split between the ‘meaning function’ of thesymbol and the insignificance of the ornament is retained. Augustus Pugin,however, was prepared to describe the swastika as ‘a mystical ornament’. Citingthe authority of one Augustini Antonii Georgi, Pugin declared that the swastikawas the symbol of a god crucified for the human race: ‘From these accounts itwould appear that the fylfot [swastika] is a mystical ornament, not only adopted


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among Christians in primitive times, but used, as if prophetically, for centuriesbefore the coming of our Lord.’161 Georgi’s text, which was published by theSacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in 1762, was moreconcerned with rooting out Manichaean heresies than with promoting mysticaldoctrine. However, it provides an example of a parallel between the Easternswastika and the Christian cross which extends further back than the date MartinBernal has identified as the beginning of the Aryanist discourse.162

The terms of the ‘ornament or symbol?’ discussion also bore upon the issue ofthe diffusion and migration of the swastika. Goodyear, in his Grammar of theLotus, claimed that the swastika had ‘originally’ been a fragment of the Egyptianmeander, whereas Sir George Birdwood held the contrary view, arguing that theswastika as symbol had preceded its ornamental applications.163 In a typicallyAryanist fashion, R.P.Greg wished to exclude both the ornamental and thesymbolic swastika from Judaism: ‘Both the Greek fret and the fylfot [swastika]appear to have been unknown to the Semitic nations as an ornament or as asymbol… It is, I believe, generally admitted that the fylfot is of early Aryanorigin.’164 Donald A. Mackenzie was a steadfast supporter of the ‘symbolic’faction, echoing Wilson when he argued for an original, true and ‘fundamental’meaning for the swastika, which had become distorted through migration and aspecies of symbolic miscegenation: ‘Although in some areas a symbol may haveacquired new meanings, or vague secondary meanings, certain far-carriedsymbols, as is shown in this volume, have retained much of their originalsignificance in different parts of the world.’165 In view of the absence of thismuch-sought-after value, Mackenzie like others sought safety in numbers, as ifthe dead weight of interpretations constituted some kind of surrogate meaning:‘no symbol has of recent years aroused more interest among students ofantiquities in both hemispheres.’166 What this to and fro debate reveals is howthe symbolic genre was becoming ornamentalised as a supplement and theornamental was correspondingly taking on a ‘purely symbolic’ value. In fact, thephrase ‘purely symbolic’ provides a key to both operations. Sperber identifiessymbolic language as a means of communication in excess of ordinary speechand which essentially speaks ‘only of itself’. However, normally the job of thesymbol is not to draw attention to itself but to the message which it adorns,acting as the beguiling ornamental nonsense on the well-founded and coherentwall of language and sense.

Raymond Firth has discussed the recognition of significant excess withreference to the public rhetoric of the ‘symbolic gesture’ which, he claimed, werecognise as symbolic because it seems surplus to the purely functional.167

Lighting a cigar with a ten-pound note is a symbolic gesture: buying a cigar witha ten-pound note brings us back to the quotidian realities of representation andexchange which are the prerogative of language. The arresting image of theburning currency first of all shows us that we are in the presence of a symbolic,extra-linguistic or extraordinary phenomenon: then encoded ‘contents’ or anintended meaning behind the act may or may not become apparent. Symbolic


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communication also has the advantage of speed over decoding, which requirestime for deliberation: a ‘symbolic significance’ can be instantly recognised morequickly than a message can be interpreted and read.

The Aryanisation of the swastika in the nineteenth century was the most‘purely symbolic’ gesture of all, since its tendency was to expunge and censor allthose factors which were foreign to the ‘pure form’ of the image and thus to apure manifestation of the symbolic phenomenon. If the symbol had becomesupplementary to a textual meaning, it also then followed that meaning was anelement foreign to the symbol qua symbol. As language strove for a pure andunadorned functionality in the modern era, so the symbol achieved its own self-determination as that which language was not, and their alienation from eachother suggests that they could only work together as mutual opposites or sites ofcontestation, despite being constituted within the same methodologicalframework. Just as ornament becomes increasingly distinct and visible when setagainst the sign of pure functionality, so the symbol is ‘set apart’ and achieves itsfullest definition when cast adrift from language. As the image of the swastikawas deracinated, reconstructed and refined by Aryanism into the symbol of theswastika, a morphological hygiene undertaken in the name of race purityprepared the way for an uninterrupted symbolic field, and also for the totalitariandream of a power divorced from reason and a depth psychology, from anexplanation and a raison d’être.

The shift from Aryanism to Nazism is also accompanied by a narrowing of thesymbolic focus of the swastika, and an attempt to relocate the deracinated sign ina specifically Germanic context. After 1933, the Nazi Gleichschaltung set abouthabituating the citizens of Germany to their new ‘national symbol’ using asynchronic field of signs, but up to that point self-identity still had to bearchaeologically inferred along a vertical axis rather than visually presented as atotalising field. However, minor changes in the archaeological ‘placement’ of theswastika chart a progress from diachrony to synchrony. One of thesereorientations can be seen in Otto Grabowski’s Das Geheimnis derHakenkreuzes und die Wiege des Indogermanentums (The Secret of Swastikasand the Cradle of the Indo-Germanic Race), published in Berlin in 1921, just oneyear after the swastika made its first appearance in Munich as the emblem of theNational Socialist German Worker’s Party.168 Grabowski, whilst allowing that thedistinctive form of the swastika might inspire every race, argued that theGermans had a genuine right (echten erben) to use it, since they were closer tothe source of its Indo-Germanic origin. With reference to Schliemann’s Trojanswastikas (which were at that time on display in the Berlin museum), but arguingagainst the archaeologist’s predilection for an Asiatic explanation, Grabowskionce more shifted the axis of the Aryan question towards autochthony and aGermanic homeland for the Aryan race. The importance of this emphasis afterWorld War I is obvious: in his conclusion, Grabowski writes of the winter of theGerman people, soon to be replaced by a ‘morning, which approaches under thelight of the swastika’.169 He begins his text with a discourse on origin and


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archaeological genesis, and ends with the swastika as a herald of revelation andrebirth. The colonised sign was now set to become a colonising sign, in anunprecedented shift of power from the margins to the centre.


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But what, in ordinary daily life, appears to be a playful scribble oflines, assumes a different complexion when considered as the artisticexpression of a whole race.

(Wilhelm Worringer, Form in Gothic, 1927)

As a German, I wish to lodge a complaint against everything that hasbeen abandoned by other peoples only to be proclaimed thereafter asGerman.

(Adolf Loos, Spoken into the Void, 1931)

A visit to the Nuremberg Zeppelin field as it exists today supplies evidence of ahealthy disrespect for the few remaining monuments of National Socialistarchitecture. On Sundays, Turkish Gastarbeiter and their families picnic in theshade of trees flanking Hitler’s ‘Great Road’, the grand thoroughfare which wasintended to link the ancient Nuremberg, the ‘City of Imperial Diets’ with hismodern ‘City of the Rallies’. Tennis is played against the walls of the Zeppelintribune, and teenagers tryst on the steps. However, this reclaiming of Naziarchitecture for leisure activity is frustrated by the neo-Nazi swastika graffitiwhich must constantly be removed from the tribune towers and entranceways.This is also the case at the Olympic stadium in Berlin, where the bronzeswastikas which have been partially erased from the ceremonial bell reappear ingraffiti on the lavatory walls, contesting with the countering phrase ‘Nazi raus’(Plate 18).Nazi architecture can be rehabilitated and used for other purposes; the Naziswastika cannot, and it remains in neo-Nazi iconography as a portablemonument to the regime. And as I mentioned in my introduction, both the racistsign of the swastika and the perimeter of the concentration camps define spaceswhich cannot be reappropriated and reused. The Nazi swastika was the visualperimeter, the linked chain of imagery, with which Hitler sought to encircle firstGermany, then the whole of Europe. Yet this mnemonic of power concealed adifferent loading of memories and desires that had become attached to theswastika when it was chosen as the DAP (Deutsches Arbeiter Partei) emblem in

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1919. The following sec tion traces the genealogy of those desires which wereobliterated in the totalitarian form of the swastika, first as they were representedin the debates of National Socialist ideology, and then in a more general sensethrough a philosophy of ornament in the modern era.


During the time of Hitler’s soi-disant National Socialist ‘revolution’, a periodbeginning with his taking office as chancellor on 30 January 1933 and ending inthe Röhm purge of 30 June 1934, there was heated debate amongst NationalSocialist ideologues about the relative merits of Expressionist or völkisch art as ameans to convey the spirit of the movement.1 The principal adversaries in thisdebate were Josef Goebbels, who had expressed equivocal support for theprinciple of ‘expression’, and Alfred Rosenberg, then head of the Kampfbund fürDeutsche Kultur, who had attacked it. For Rosenberg, all art that deviated fromthe established canon of objective naturalism expressed the deracination of theGermans from their blood and native soil. ‘The German peasant’, he declared, ‘isthe original source of life’2 a statement which affirmed both his belief in theunconscious visual expression of the Volkgeist and his rejection of what he sawas the self-conscious urban intellectualism and subjectivist tendencies of theavant-garde.

It was Goebbels’ position, as the head of the ‘Ministry For PopularEnlightenment and Propaganda’, whose remit overlapped with that of theKampfbund, that caused the clash with Rosenberg, rather than any fervent wishon Goebbels’ part to promote Expressionism. However, Goebbels’ speech at theopening of the Reichskulturkammer on 15 November 1933, in which he providedtacit support for the idea of a National Socialist avant-garde, gave a freshimpetus to the anti-Rosenberg faction and resulted in the establishment of theNational Socialistischer Deutsche Studentbund by a group of young BerlinExpressionists. Expressionism received further support from Professor AloisSchardt,3 who attempted to bridge the ideological divide by suggesting that itwas objective naturalism, and not subjectivism that was un-Germanic, and thatthe Expressionists were the true heirs of the Gothic. In this, and in his belief thatthe grounding principle of German art was its quality of Unendlichkeitsgefühl(endlessness), Schardt echoed the theories espoused by Wilhelm Worringer,whose race-romantic ideas of the Gothic will be examined in depth later in thissection.

However, perhaps the most significant aspect of this debate was the manner inwhich it was concluded. On 5 September 1934, Hitler made a speech in which hecondemned both the ‘danger to the German Nation’ represented by avant-gardismand the ‘romantic illusion’ of Rosenberg’s Volkgeist.4 Hitler’s silencing of bothparties represented more than the application of the principle of divide and rule;his action reaffirmed that the guiding principle of National Socialism was the‘Führer principle’, which united the positions of both the Rosenberg and


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Goebbels factions by the totalitarian logic through which the will of the manywas seen to be expressed in the will of the one. This denied both the individual‘expressive’ subject and the unconscious Volkgeist any autonomous power ofexpression, since both were seen to be subsumed in the person of the Führer. InLeni Riefenstahl’s film Triumph of the Will, Rudolf Hess declares to the massedranks of party members that: ‘Hitler is Germany, Germany is Hitler.’ WhenHitler is absent in Riefenstahl’s film, his place is taken by the swastika, which,like the image of the Führer, becomes a switching station for personal andnational identities.

Each Nazi swastika ‘symbolised’ its ornamental field of signs, and thusvisually re-enacted and illustrated the Führer principle, in which the Germanpeople were constantly encouraged to acknowledge the interpenetration of themany by the one. Yet this visual rehearsal of the cult of individual and collective‘personality’ concealed and repressed the abolition of personal opinion. DonaldKuspit, discussing the ‘Entarte Kunst’ (Degenerate Art) exhibition of 1937, hassuggested that Hitler ‘had a vested interest in repression’ and a correspondingwish to exalt clear and unified images over those requiring debate and textualexegesis, and which therefore introduced the possibility of uncertainty.5 Hitler’sown words on this exhibition reveal a wish to erect a barrier between image andtext: ‘Works of art that cannot be understood but need a swollen set ofinstructions to prove their right to exist…will no longer openly reach the Germannation.’6 When ‘art’ becomes propaganda, then image and text are not requiredto explain each other, but instead to participate in a mutual objectification. Aswastika on a banner and the legend ‘Deutschland Erwache’ beneath it are notthere to account for their coexistence but instead to constitute a rhetorical non-statement as an objective fact. The self-supporting ‘swastika system’ wasparadigmatic of the manner in which image and text, gesture and sign exist in anapparently dialogic relationship which in fact substitutes the rhetoric ofstatement/response for the communicative act.

This cancelling out of values was reflected in the annexation by the Naziswastika of the roles of German symbol and Germanic ornament.7 The self-identical image appeared as a framed and foregrounded sign and as a decorativemotif which implied a previous era and an unconscious, unawakened race energy.The gold-plated and laurel-wreathed swastika which once crowned AlbertSpeer’s Zeppelin tribune represented the apotheosis and fulfilment of theswastikas which are still present, but sublimated in the decorative scheme of thetribune’s interior. Ornament as the unconscious graphology of the Volkgeist wasthus ‘completed’ in the self-conscious presence of the Nazi symbol, and the signof a (Gothic, mediaeval) past is linked to the rhetoric of a glorious future, thusavoiding the displacement of tradition implied by an Enlightenment concept ofprogress. The Tribune swastikas expressed in microcosm Hitler’s aim of unitingthe medieval Nuremberg with the ‘modern’ National Socialist city, giving equalweight to a glorious past and a glorious future, and thereby defining the presentas a moment of transition from one to the other.


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I have shown how the construction of the swastika as a symbol of the Aryan racein the nineteenth century was informed by discourses of the symbol which ranagainst the grain of tendencies towards rationalism and rational explanations, andthe same is also true of certain discourses surrounding ornament in the twentiethcentury. Yet in the same way in which the symbol was defined in opposition to afunctionalist/structuralist concept of language, twentieth-century ornament couldonly appear under the sign of industrial and architectural modernity, in whichconstruction and decoration were separated from each other. In what follows Ihave contrasted the Austrian architect Adolf Loos’ warnings against the false-hood and anachronism of ornament in the modern era with the writings of hisGerman contemporary Wilhelm Worringer, who in his Formprobleme inderGotik (Form in Gothic) of 1912 evoked the vision of an ornamental form whichstood outside the idea of progress or historical development, and whichexpressed the unchanging character of a Germanic racial will. The morphology ofWorringer’s Germanic ornament is thus necessarily autokinetic, repetitious andcircular rather than logical/linear, and in his emphasis on the morbid qualitiesand ‘fruitless striving’ of this race romantic energy, Worringer seemed to beaware of the writing, or Germanic handwriting, on the wall.

In her study of expressionism and expressionist theory in WilhelmineGermany, Helen Boorman cites Wilhelm Worringer as one critic responsible forpackaging Expressionism as ‘an authentically German, geistliche Kultur’ duringthis period.8 She has suggested that the cult of individual autonomy in GermanExpressionism was both facilitated and funded by new democratic freedoms, andparadoxically aligned with the anti-democratic, aristocratic and militaristictendencies of Kulturpolitik:

The promotion of Expressionism as a serious art was, it seems, at onecrucial level a strategy for popularising without trivialising a culture whichcould be seen as vital in contemporary terms as military discourses.9

Boorman quotes Douglas Kellner’s opinion that expressionism ‘retoolsbourgeois ideologies of subjectivity’.10 It is also the case that Nazism in its turnretooled expressionism: not the ‘aesthetic’ (positional, debatable) expressionismof the Deutsche Studentbund, but a militant expressionist politics of individualand national autonomy, and a theory of representation which had its origins inromantic theories of the symbol. Boorman’s view that Expressionism mediatedbetween the discourses of a personal and a national self-representation suggestshow both these positions could become united in the sign of race and the sign ofthe swastika, in which a racist ideology achieves the difficult feat of‘popularising without trivialising’ an expression of autonomy. The introductionby the Nazis of race as the dominant issue effected an illusory solution of thetensions between democracy and aristocracy in German culture, since once


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Nazism became a mass movement, every party member could become a memberof an Aryan aristocracy.11 The radical autonomy and cultivated difference of theexpressionist aesthetic had offered the newly-created and newly-moneyedGerman haute-bourgeoisie a chance to align itself with a mannerist andaristocratic idiom in painting. In order to be recognisably German, democracyhad to pay homage to anti-democratic values. Nazism was to take this trajectoryone step further (and one class lower) in the form of a fullyfledged ideology ofrace and the armorial emblem of the swastika. The swastika and its assertion ofGermanic difference offered the German petitbourgeois the chance to becomemembers of an aristocracy of the masses. Hermann Glaser has identified petit-bourgeois ‘Spiesser’ culture as the ideal audience for National Socialistpropaganda: from this populist base the gap between individual and collectiveautonomy could be closed by bypassing the democratic tradition within whichthe concepts of individual and nation had initially been developed.12 Democracycould then be declared a foreign and un-Germanic import, a logic which Hitlerdeveloped in the turgid rhetoric of Mein Kampf:

A philosophy of life which endeavours to reject the democratic mass ideaand give this earth to the best people—that is, the highest humanity—mustlogically obey the same aristocratic principle within this people… Thus, itbuilds, not upon the idea of the majority, but upon the idea ofpersonality.13

That the reunification of Germany has intensified the need to rebuild the bridgesbetween democracy and Prussianism was emphasised in September 1993 byGeneral Werner von Scheven, commander of the Bundeswehr in East Germany:

There have been two traditions in our country. One, the military tradition,was profoundly anti-democratic. The other, the democratic tradition, wasalways directed towards freedom. We in today’s Bundeswehr believe wehave finally brought the military and democratic traditions together.14

What has made this alliance so difficult to bring about has been the aristocraticdiscourse which defined the Germanic negatively as that which is opposed to thenon-Germanic. Democracy, on the other hand, is necessarily a non-exclusive,trans-national and ‘translatable’ notion. In 1912, Wilhelm Worringer had side-stepped the question of historical beginnings and the question of style and goneout of his way to define the Gothic as a morphology of difference, and differenceas the distinguishing mark of the Germanic. Worringer saw the Gothic as anahistoric racial phenomenon ‘irreconcilably opposed to the classical’ and as anenergy which adopted or ‘assumed’ various forms rather than as an art-historicalstyle established on the basis of formal criteria. His rejection of a classical aestheticin the name of a Germanic anti-aesthetic may seem at odds with Nazi enthusiasmfor overblown neo-classical architecture. However, the swastika demonstrates


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the divide between the signs of imperial power (borrowed at third hand fromItalian fascism), and the sign of race, the self-representation and identifying markwhich distinguished Nazism from its precursor in Italy.

The study of expressionist modes of representation as nationalist or politicalpropaganda reveals the fallacies behind the ontology of knowledge in the ‘self-knowingness’ of race. The attempt to close the gap between individual and massusing the theories of collective Erlebnis and a common will confined thephysical body within a repertoire of ‘expressive’ signs and postures, of which themost grotesque was the sign of the swastika. Worringer, in his attempt to bridgethe gap between the nationalism of the Bismarckian era and the emergence of abourgeois Personlichkeitsrechte (right of personality) in the early twentiethcentury, presages this atrophy in his definition of the Gothic and Germanicornament as a ghostly, morbid imitation of life. What the expressive gesture ofrace ornament revealed it also concealed, since the concept of a Germanicornament linked Volk continuity to a craft tradition in an unholy alliance ofvalues whose rhetorical expression denied their redundancy and superfluity inthe modern era. In a more general sense, all ornament in the twentieth century, inconcealing the gap between the mark of the hand and the mark of the machine,functions as the mere sign of life.


Adolf Loos, in his famous polemic ‘Ornament und Verbrechen’ (Ornament andCrime) of 1908, declared that the greatness of the modern age was that ‘it isincapable of producing new ornament’, a position which he had first worked outin articles published in the Neue Freie Presse a decade earlier.15 As an insightinto the future, this argument appears self-evident, since a century of massproduction, mass consumption and mass culture has nullified the ontologicalgrounding of ornamental art. If, as Hans Georg Gadamer16 has suggested,ornament is the icing on the ontological cake, an ‘accompanying effect’ which re-presents the being of what it adorns, then the self-conscious ornament of massmanufacture achieves precisely the opposite effect. It draws attention to itself asthe sign of a supplement without inner substance, an effect without an ontologicalcause. The ‘being’ of the adorned object here referred to by Gadamer should notbe confused with the object as utility or materiality, since in this scheme,ornament is not excess material but something in excess of materiality and utilitywhich can reveal the ontological truth within gross matter. However, whenornament becomes something applied as an afterthought to the mass-manufactured object, then the necessary links which Gadamer perceives betweenthe ornamental sign, the physical object and the ontological truth of that objectare broken. The sign itself as ornament, trademark and commodifying stamp thenassumes the quality of being, and the physical object is subsumed in a discourseof production and utility. The hysterical ornamentation of Victoriana, anaccompaniment which has lost an anchoring in the manufactured object, is an


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example of this phenomenon. In Victoriana, ornament as the sign of aristocratic,cultural and historical ‘depth’ is freely applied to every available utilitariansurface. In the modern era, the links between ornament and group identity, andornament and a craft tradition were rendered superfluous and meaningless in abroad cultural sense, surviving in the West only as sub-cultural representationsof a difference antagonistic to mass cultural hegemony. This last point AdolfLoos had already grasped in 1908, when he pointed out that the primitive urgetowards ornament now most frequently assailed people in the lavatory.17

Henceforth, he argued, ornament should ideally disappear from the activities oflabour and architectural construction, to appear only under the sign of basesexuality, obscenity and the postures of sub-cultural rebellion.

What Loos had also realised was how quickly this fallen state of ornament hadbeen reintegrated into European visual culture as an idealised symbol of itsformer role, since many mass-produced artefacts still carried the sign of ornamentwhich inevitably evoked an earlier time through its aspect of cultural/historical‘sedimentation’. The ‘style’ of the ornament was immaterial: applied ornamentit*elf was the generic signifier of memory. Writing on the ‘modernity’ of artnouveau ornament in 1898, Loos declared:

These things are modern; that is, they are in the style of the year 1898. Buthow do they relate to the objects that are currently being passed off asmodern? With a heavy heart we must answer that these objects havenothing to do with our time. They are full of references to abstract things,full of symbols and memories. They are medieval.18

This use of ornament as symbol and nostalgic camouflage is contemporaneouswith the advent of modern production techniques and in fact precedes thedevelopment of a modernist aesthetic appropriate to those techniques: however,it is also a quintessentially ‘postmodern’ device. This definition may seemparadoxical, but in this instance the prefix ‘post’ functions in a cosmetic orsupplementary sense, and the modern denotes a means of production rather thanan aesthetic law. Loos directed his polemic against this marriage of modernproduction and nostalgic consumption in Ornament and Crime, supplanting itwith his vision of a future Zion, a holy city of gleaming white concrete.However, his intellectual modernism did not simply contrast the purity ofstructure with the redundancy of ornament, but advocated instead aproportionality in design which looked back to a classical tradition inarchitecture. In fact, to draw the simple antithesis of ‘modern’ structure and‘traditional’ decoration ignores Loos’ message that the crime is perpetrated notby ornament but by its mass-produced simulacrum. As Aldo Rossi has pointedout:

The difference between Loos and the ‘modernist’ architects is so profoundthat there is no communication between them; it is not a question of


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decoration or function, of the classical style or the new styles, but of thedefense of the city of man against any utopia that is a slave to power.19

The ‘decorated sheds’ built by the architect Robert Venturi in the sixties, inwhich an ornamental gloss was applied to modernist concrete façades, affirmedarchitectural modernism in this hypostasised and normative role by using alanguage of fixed signs for both the modern and the ornamental.20 This rhetoricalfaçadism has led Brandon Taylor to suggest that Nazism, with its conflation oftraditionalist, classical and modernist signs, might be seen as an example ofpostmodernism avant la lettre, ‘a heavily militarised form of modernismitself’.21

This is one solution to the problem of defining a Nazi aesthetic, but to focuson the juxtaposition of opposites tends to obscure the way in which Nazism usedthe signs of both past and future in the service of a rhetoric of race progress. Thisphenomenon is most clearly seen in the Nazi swastika, whose modernist dynamicslant quite literally balanced the image on a fulcrum between the myths of a pastand a future race. An autokinetic ‘forward’ and rightward turning motion is fixedwithin a dynamic square, setting up an unresolved tension between stasis andmovement, thus isolating in a symbolic form the possibility of a return. The firstNazi swastikas have been described by Ernst Nolte as a ‘symbol of salvation andhope’,22 a definition for which he provides no further explanation. Nolte’s ownpreferred and contentious ‘phenomenological’ method of reading fascism mightsuggest in this instance that ‘salvation’ meant the deliverance from presentcirc*mstances and ‘hope’ was the illusion of a return of the Aryan past in thenear future via the Nazi movement. In this sense the early swastika, accompaniedby the text ‘Deutschland Erwache’, became the fixed sign through whichGermany would be ‘mobilised’: nostalgic metaphors of awakening blendedeffortlessly into the language of war. Post-1933, however, the potential energy ofthe sign was realised as a totalitarian sign field of identical images, and thegrandiose ideas of Aryanism were replaced by the low church of the Führer cult,whose adherents were the ever-increasing number of party members.

Significantly, the rhetoric of the past and the rhetoric of the future, rather thanfunctioning as opposing elements, can both be seen as a reaction to anxiety anddisorientation in the present tense. The swastika offered the paradoxical solutionof a ‘return to the future’ and a fictitious path through the uneven political terrainof post-1918 Germany. This logic also applies in general to the ornamentalgesture in the modern era, which appears as a reactionary or nostalgic image orsign: reactionary in the deepest sense not to some supposed counter-aesthetic ofmodernism but against its own deracination and redundancy. Ornament as anover-determined ‘accompaniment’ draws attention to itself, a role-reversal whichconceals the absence of its ontological grounding element. Loos’ description ofprimitive graffiti on the modern lavatory wall is one example of this rhetoric, theclassical flourishes on a postmodern concrete façade are another, and the Naziswastika is a third. The effect of the emphatic gesture is to conceal the emptiness


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and futility of its appeal. As was the case within Nazism itself, the centralstruggle of the swastika was not directed against its ostensible counter-signs (theStar of David, the Hammer and Sickle) but against its own paucity of meaningand occultation of absence. In the seventy-four years since the design of the partyemblem, the swastika has occupied positions on both the architectural façade andthe lavatory wall, in both cases apparently serving as a violent challenge to thevalues of Enlightenment modernism. This ‘primitive’ ornament, however, cannow only be seen as a parody or reactionary grotesque, grotesque because theviolent political expression and military/industrial ‘modernisation’ of nostalgiaonly served to widen the distance between Aryo-Germanic fantasies and whatwas being done in their name.


That the Nazi swastika should be seen as a reactionary sign is entirely correct,although not in the sense of a romanticism reactionary to rationality, but in thesame way as Hegel’s symbol, which struggles instead against the inevitablefailure of its declared aims. On the other hand, the sledgehammer tactics ofLukács’ The Destruction of Reason, which, as the title suggests, implied thatNazism was another example of the ‘modern irrationalism…[which] arose andbecame operative in perpetual conflict with materialism and the dialecticalmethod’23 represents an ideologically over-determined simplification. Lukácsinstituted the paradox of a programmatic and consciously oppositional‘irrationality’ and evoked an eternal fight to the death between fascism andcommunism. It could also be argued that the variety of romantic irrationalitywhich bore fruit in Nazism was rather a type of arationality whose agenda wasalready a manifest impossibility, and whose ‘destruction’ was self-accomplishedand programmed in from the start. The lack of substance and meaning whichLukács detected in Germanic ‘irrationalism’ was not opposed to some concretereality of the ‘crucial class struggle’ but instead fixed and hypostasised amoment of loss, and constitutes, like Hegel’s symbol, a mimesis or illustration ofits own internal ‘struggle’. If the early swastika, as Nolte claims, fixed Germanminds on the theme of ‘salvation and hope’ then it also reified and confirmed thefeelings of national despair on which such vain hope grew. A presage of thisemblem is Zmigrodski’s ‘anti-Semitic’ swastika, which ostensibly stood for thestruggle of one race against another, but was in reality the landmark for aprehistoric Mutterepoche so remote that the longing for it could only remainperpetually unsatisfied.

Similarly, the modern ornament is not anti-functional but anti-ornament, aparody of tradition and not its standard-bearer or successor. Its form therefore, isthat of the architectural grotesque, which must be seen not as the deviation froma canon of visual beauty but as a figure which, as the architect Peter Eisenmannhas suggested, represents an impossible relationship: ‘No longer does the objectneed to look ugly or terrifying to provoke an uncertainty; it is now the distance


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between object and subject—the impossibility of possession which provokes thisanxiety.’24 In the Nazi swastika, the binding threads of folk ornament weredistorted into the modern abstraction and lowest common denominator of ‘race’,the wasted labour contained in industrialised ornamental forms25 was representedas an effortless or magical ‘creative work’, and Loos’ notion of primitive sexualdesire was transformed into the auto-erotic space and indefinite time of thespectacle. The critic Matthias Winzen has suggested that the heroic publicstatuary of sculptors such as Arno Brecker, who worked for the Nazi regime,possessed a quality of suppressed and unfulfillable hom*oerotic desire whichrecruited ‘the viewer’s physical body as living raw material for militaryaction’.26 The dynamic yet ‘endless’ form of the Nazi swastika, as well as itslinks with a romantic concept of interminable struggle, fulfil a similar role oftransforming auto-eroticism into military aggression. In this regard it is worthnoting the qualities of visual ‘requisition’ and ‘unnatural satisfaction’ thatWorringer attributes to the endless and self-generative character of Gothicornament. In the Nazi swastika, the cultural trajectory which Loos plotted iscarried to its logical conclusion: modern ornament becomes purely aesthetic,existing only in the image state, and is thus transformed into symbol, a ‘purelysymbolic’ (and so redundant) gesture. This erotic/organic ersatz in the form of animage also explains why the Nazi swastika continues to function as effectivep*rnography, a lineage which can again be traced back to Zmigrodski’sscopophiliac substitution of the fetishised swastika for the absent mother.

Of course, the Nazi sign is not regarded as an aesthetic or idealised image,rather the moral order of civilisation and barbarity that Loos used when hecontrasted modern man with the tattooed savage is recapitulated in the mixtureof right-thinking revulsion and prurient fascination that the sign of the swastikanow provokes. The modern ornament of the swastika once again becomes anobscene scrawl on the toilet wall, the fascist obscenity that Julia Kristeva hasdefined as breaching the rationalist limits set by language, but which mustlogically result in a defensive rationality circ*mscribing itself still further.27 Yeta further obscenity of swastika graffiti lies in the way in which it underlines theviolence and violation perpetrated by the Nazi sign. For Adolf Loos, any attemptto construct a modern ornament would not be a purposeful crime directed againstan emergent modernism but a violation of ornament itself: in other words, a formof tomb-robbery in which an exhumed ‘tradition’ becomes grist to the mill of massconsumption.28 The process of deracination that Adolf Loos saw as unstoppable,and his appeal for a corresponding honesty of attitude towards ornament, wasreversed in Adolf Hitler’s sign. As soon as war was declared against the un-Germanic, the Germanic itself is simultaneously declared null and void, and therhetoric of ornament reveals that ornament is a lie. Hitler’s silencing of theRosenberg vs Goebbels debate represented at once the negation and completionof the nationalist nostalgia implicit in both völkisch thought and ‘aesthetic’Expressionism, a negation that had begun with his initial politicising of theromantic nationalist swastika in 1919.


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The object of nostalgia is by definition unattainable, and the politicisation andmilitarisation of nostalgia can only constitute parody and self-mockery. Thecomparison I propose to draw between the Nazi swastika and the ‘revolvingwheel’ motif described by Wilhelm Worringer is intentionally parodic, but it is aparody which is intended to illustrate the form of the grotesque, the figure whichembodies Eisenmann’s ‘impossibility of possession’. Worringer himselfidentified the grotesque as the intangible ‘form within form’ of the Gothic:‘Behind the visible appearance of a thing lurks its caricature, behind thelifelessness of a thing an uncanny, ghostly life, and so all actual things becomegrotesque.’29 It is also appropriate that this styleless style should be used toilluminate the similar Formprobleme posed by the hybrid nature of Nazi‘aesthetics’. This cannot be accomplished art-historically by comparing, forexample, the style of a Gothic cathedral with that of Albert Speer’s cathedral ofsearchlights, but through an assessment of the character ascribed to a Germanicracial ‘will’, which constitutes above all an emphasis on an exaggeration ofdifferences between the Germanic form and those of other races. Worringerwrote of an ‘elementary Aryan grammar of line’ which developed into a‘specifically Germanic idiom’.30 Adolf Loos threw light on this issue in a forewordto the 1931 edition of his essays. On this occasion Loos’ polemic wasdirected against the German ‘Gothic’ or Fraktur script, and the practice ofcapitalising nouns. Arguing against the way in which enforced habit is dressedup as custom, and the formal repetition of a sign is substituted for a livingtradition, Loos wrote:

Besides having a German god, we also have a German script. And both arefalse… Jacob Grimm says, ‘it is unfortunate that this tasteless anddepraved script [Fraktur] is identified as ‘German’ as if every fashionableabuse of ours ought to be stamped innately ‘German’ and freelycommended’.31

For Loos, Fraktur was an example of a foreign import which had been hallowedby time into one of the ‘sacred artefacts of Germanness’. He also detected atendency for the German to define itself by adopting as its own those formswhich had been rejected or abandoned by other cultures. The Gothic scriptformed a line of defence between the German and the non-German, and itsidiosyncratic form signified ‘Germanness’ only because it proclaimed its radicaldifference from other scripts. As Loos showed, morphological details and thequestion of style became less important than the rhetorical expression of asingular and exceptional character, which had the effect of alienating form frommeaning. He declared that both the Gothic typeface and the capital noun had thesame paralysing effect:

The rigid…practice of capitalising nouns has as its consequence the returnof language to a barbaric state. This derives from the abyss that opens up in


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the German mind between the written and the spoken word. It isimpossible to utter a capital letter.32

The printed Fraktur typeface became the public expression of a national‘character’ which Loos also saw as policing private communication. Thecapitalised noun ensures that even personal handwriting takes on a collectivised,nationalistic aspect: ‘when a German takes pen in hand, he can no longer write ashe thinks, as he speaks.’ Those who write do not simply write in German, theywrite Germany. Discourses on the Aryan swastika in the nineteenth centuryshowed that the image, like Fraktur, had begun to constitute a defensible Germanicspace, a ‘pure form’ recognisably set apart from others. Fraktur has now fallen intodesuetude, but the swastika is still being used as the typographic supplement andauthenticating stamp of ‘Germanness’ on a text.

Wilhelm Worringer’s Formprobleme displayed a range of völkisch, proto-expressionist and romantic nationalist reflexes which were linked to the idea ofthe Gothic as a latent, secret force, a powerful but underground tradition. Inembarking on a close reading of this by now generally ignored and politicallydubious book, I have traced the literary tradition of the romanticised Gothic ofwhich it is a part. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, in his survey of the links betweenAustrian and German occultism and Nazism, has shown how a version of theGothic tradition which had developed in the secret rites of freemasonry becameone of the cultic forms of nationalism in early twentieth-century Germany:

craft traditions became the allegories and symbols of a deistic and fraternaldoctrine… It was in Germany, where the growth of deviant masonic riteswas greatest owing to the profusion of mystical and theosophical sects,that Freemasonry became confused with a Templar heritage.33

The ‘deviant’ nature of the twentieth-century Gothic was revealed inWorringer’s ambivalent morphology. As Paul Frankl has noted, Worringer‘shows no interest in ribs, and indeed, hardly any at all in “morphological”details’ and is instead preoccupied with style as racial volition: ‘the thesis inquestion cannot be Gothic in the narrower historical sense but rather a secret,latent Gothic in the psychological sense.’34 This was the occultation of theGothic, a graphological ‘seeing of the unseen’ and the textual description of atrans-historical inner form within an historically constituted architectural style.Using Worringer’s graphological reading of the Gothic with reference toNazism, I will work in the opposite direction: from the secret tradition and theromantic longing to its realisation in Nazism and beyond as an architectural andlavatorial grotesque.


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Hermann Weyl once described how whilst delivering a lecture on symmetry inVienna in 1937, he spoke of the swastika; discussing its nature as a form whichpresents rotational without bilateral symmetry, and its use (in the form of thethree-armed swastika or triskelion) in Greek art in conjunction with theMedusa’s head.35 Weyl recalled that when he pointed out how during the Naziperiod the swastika had become a symbol far more terrifying than the Medusa’shead, ‘a pandemonium of applause and booing broke loose in the audience’. Heconcluded this anecdote with the observation that ‘it seems that the magic powerascribed to these patterns lies in their startling incomplete symmetry—rotationswithout reflections’.

It is significant that the examples Weyl used to illustrate his lecture were thetriskelion and ‘swastika-like wheel’ patterns on the staircase of the Stefansdom inVienna. According to the Viennese occultist Guido von List, the triskelion,swastika and other Aryan signs could be recognised in the design of the lateGothic tracery and rose windows, and, like Weyl, Guido von List saw the visualautokinesis of the swastika as the source of its power: ‘only there, uniquely andalone, understand the thrice-high-holy secret of constant generation, constant life,the uninterrupted recurrence.’36 And in 1912, Wilhelm Worringer had describedthe same ‘startling incom plete symmetry’ in Gothic ornament as productive ofan impression of violent movement that was non-classical and essentially Aryo-Germanic:

In the North, there are a number of ornamental motives [sic] which have anundoubted centric character, but here too we note a decisive difference if wecompare similar Classical ornament. For example, instead of the regularand invariably geometrical star or rosette or similar restful forms, in theNorth we find the revolving wheel (drehende rad), the turbine or so-calledsun wheel, all designs which express violent movement (eine heftigeBewegung). Moreover, the movement is peripheral and not radial. It is amovement which cannot be arrested or checked.37

Steven Heller has claimed that ‘the swastika [is] also referred to as a sunwheel’,38 whereas in his Book of Signs, the typographer Rudolf Koch shows thesun wheel as a cross within a circle, which is then broken to form the swastika.39

Given that Worringer’s emphasis is on a turbinoform (spiralling or spinning)movement, which he then compares with a ‘so-called sun wheel’ (sogennantesonnenrad) he was clearly describing a set of forms possessing ‘swastikal’symmetry. It is also crucial to note that for Worringer, Gothic motifs were notnamed symbols, but graphological ‘expressions’. In Formprobleme der Gotik,Worringer constructed an entire Aryan race psychology using the linked ideas ofautokinesis and repetition. Whilst it is clear that spinning motifs are not theexclusive property of Gothic ornament, a straightforward refutation of


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Worringer’s claim that autokinetic forms are, in their ‘violent movement’,expressive of the Germanic soul was countered by his emphasis on the way inwhich such motifs are employed. He perceived a difference in method betweenclassical and northern ornament, and claimed that the same motif would beemployed in radically different ways. According to Worringer, the emphasis ofnorthern ornament is on repetition, and that of the south on the hom*ogenisation ofrepetition in balanced mirror symmetry.

Worringer’s graphology of style, which set out the conditions of recognitionfor a Germanic aesthetic, bore a methodological similarity to Zmigrodski’sidentification of the ‘pure’ Aryan swastika. This similarity existed in spite of thefact that Worringer’s divination of the character of the Germanic soul admitted toa morbid anxiety which is repressed in Zmigrodski’s nostalgic evocation of theMutterepoche. Both authors constructed an Aryan morphology which wasdistinct, self-generative and ‘active underground…even where, obstructed bymore powerful external conditions and hindered in its free expression, it assumesa foreign disguise’.40 The ahistoric and disruptive unconscious race energy thatwas Worringer’s ‘Gothic’ allowed him to simultaneously free his discourse fromthe bondage of art-historical facts and construct a psychology of style thatimplied the possibility of recollection, resurgence and renewal: ‘It must at oncebe said that the psychological conception of the Gothic style, as it will berevealed by our investigation, in no way coincides with the historical Gothic.’41

There is an entire phenomenology of style in Worringer’s writing, which is notnecessarily the style of the Gothic cathedral. Nonetheless, this romanticised andGermanic concept of form caught the public imagination, and proved to be intune with the Zeitgeist of Germany in the early twentieth century. According to histranslator, Herbert Read, Worringer ‘gave the Germans what they had longed for—an aesthetic and historical justification for a type of art distinct from classicism,independent of Paris and the Mediterranean tradition’.42 Again, the requirementis for a semiotic of distinction, and Worringer made this plain: his Gothic is‘strength of expression’ opposed to a classical ‘Beauty of expression’.Expressive rhetoric has not simply replaced aesthetics, since Worringer definedit as an anti-aesthetic: ‘the so-called beauty of Gothic is a modernmisunderstanding.’43

Whilst Formprobleme der Gotik described the ‘underground’ Gothic as aninvisible energy which constitutes form, Worringer persisted in describing thisenergy using morphological criteria. Visible ornamental form traces the figures ofthis invisible inner geometry. Whereas for Zmigrodski the debased ornamentalform of the swastika concealed its higher symbolic aspect, Worringer’sgraphology proposed that this same marginality of ornament, like a specimen ofhandwriting, offered the possibility of an unhindered revelation. He declared that‘it is of the essence of ornament that in its products the artistic volition of apeople finds its purest and most unobscured expression’.44 Worringer claimedthat when the Germanic strain was absent, as in the English Gothic for example,


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then ornament did indeed become ‘arbitrary decoration’ and lost its expressivevalue.

In the double repetition of the revolving wheel, which repeats its own formwithin itself and then is itself repeated, the morbid, oppressive, feverish andexalted qualities of the northern psyche were, Worringer claimed, mademanifest. This ornament could in fact be described as fractal: in Worringer’sown words, ‘a world which repeats in miniature, but with the same means, theexpression of the whole’. Worringer wrote of ‘that will to form…which is asstrongly and unmistakably expressed in the smallest crinkle of Gothic drapery asin the great Gothic cathedrals’.45 As well as reading from the ornamental surfaceto the invisible and latent psychological depth, Worringer also saw significancein the way in which his Gothic transfixed and held the viewer’s gaze on itssurface. In this second reading, the race handwriting of the Gothic is endlesslyreproduced as the expression of an inescapable and implacable will:

The expression of Northern ornament does not directly depend upon us; weare met rather with a vitality which appears to be independent of us, whichchallenges us, forcing upon us an activity to which we submit only againstour will. In short, the Northern line does not get its life from any impresswhich we willingly give it, but appears to have an expression of its own,which is stronger than our life.46

Here visual autokinesis is linked to semiotic autonomy: the revolving wheel notonly appears to have independent motion, but that self-willed movement has thehypnotic effect of imposing its secret design on us. We do not ‘decode’ theimage and give it a meaning which we had already possessed: instead, theuncanny vitality which Worringer attributed to the Gothic is a force which itselftakes possession of the mind. The image is not tied to a fixed or consonantmeaning, nor even to a free associative range or ‘band’ of different meanings;instead, the phantasmagoric image itself becomes the fixed point and the focusof our gaze. Worringer wrote of the outright deception perpetrated by Gothicornament, which ‘requisitions’ our vision in the service of its autonomous andunnatural motion. In Guy Debord’s situationist text Society of the Spectacle, asimilar hypnotic power is ascribed to the autonomous image. For Debord, assoon as lived reality becomes a spectacular and commodified representation, itconstitutes a magnet for the collective gaze:

The specialization of images of the world is completed in the world of theautonomous image, where the liar has lied to himself…the spectaclepresents itself simultaneously as all of society, as part of society, and as aninstrument of unification. As a part of society it is specifically the sectorwhich concentrates all gazing and all consciousness.47


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Debord’s spectacle is also ‘the autonomous movement of the non-living’.48 We areheld at the level of the purely visual, transfixed by the form of an image whichappears supernatural only because it has become divorced from reality. WhatWorringer’s ‘eternal’ Gothic described was the spectacular form of ornament inthe twentieth century, whose only function is to create a mirage of times past andto camouflage its means of its production.


E.H.Gombrich has compared Wilhelm Worringer’s opinions on the Gothic tothose of Oswald Spengler, and referred to his ‘vulgarised and sensationalised’writing which made the idea of ‘Gothic man’ popular currency.49 Whether or notone agrees with this assessment, there is no doubt that Worringer’s theoriesproved to be in tune with certain tendencies in early twentieth-century Germanromanticism. In 1908, the same year that Adolf Loos wrote ‘Ornament andCrime’, Worringer achieved unprecedented success with the publication of hisdoctoral dissertation Abstraktion und Einfühlung (Abstraction and Empathy)which, as he reveals in the foreword to the 1948 edition ‘has probably run intomore editions than any doctorate thesis’. There is a certain symmetry betweenthe reasons Worringer gave for the success of Abstraction and Empathy and thesubject of his book, which is particularly concerned with the idea of decorativestyle as the litmus test for the psyche of a period or culture. He also employedthe idea of a Zeitgeist to explain the popularity of the book, describing himself as‘the medium of the necessities of the period’.50 His assessments of psychologicalstates as revealed in ornament are based on the idea of differing propensitiesamongst various cultures and races for the two basic values of Abstraction andEmpathy. Worringer defined the former as anti-material and transcendental, thelatter as relating to a recognition by an organism of the organic, and thesubsequent ability to ‘lose oneself’ in empathy with this likeness. He describesnorthern European ornament in general, and the Gothic style in particular, as ahybrid of Abstraction and Empathy, in which heightened expression and‘livingness’ is lent to abstract and unliving form:

It is not the life of an organism that we see before us, but that of amechanism. No organic harmony surrounds the feeling of reverencetoward the world, but an ever growing and self-intensifying restlessstriving without deliverance sweeps the inwardly inharmonious psycheaway with it…into a fervent excelsior.51

The implied autokinesis in the symmetry of the ‘revolving wheel’ providedWorringer with a concrete example of the ‘animation of the inorganic’ that hedefined as the essential quality of the Gothic. The swastika provides one exampleof such an autokinetic ‘trick’ or deception in which a stationary object is apparentlyin motion. Gombrich discusses this quality of the swastika in The Sense of


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Order, and ascribes it to the phenomenon of ‘visual redundancy’ described byGestalt theory. We look, claims Gombrich, for order and pattern in our visualenvironment; where one kind of order is not present, we will search for others. Inthe swastika what is first of all noticed is the lack of mirror symmetry, which isthe most ‘predictable’ variety of symmetry in our experience. He then describeshow we perform an ‘imaginary rotation’ on the figure of the swastika, in anattempt to establish whether each of the four arms is identical to the others: thisis proved, but the search never stops, and in this way the illusion of perpetualmotion is established: ‘we follow, I believe, not with the eyes but with the mind.’In view of Worringer’s dialectic of Abstraction and Empathy, it is noteworthythat Gombrich equates the absence of mirror symmetry in the swastika with therecognition of an organic type of order: we will ‘empathise’ with mirrorsymmetry in images and objects because it is the symmetry of our own bodies.When we encounter the hybrid of rotational symmetry and bilateral asymmetrythat is present in the swastika, however, a different reaction occurs:

Hence, perhaps, the compulsion to test by mental rotation these puzzlingforms which are both alike and different. Rotational symmetry representsan order which is visually less easy to grasp. I hope it is a pardonableexaggeration to say that it is not the motif which is unbalanced but that itupsets the balance of our mind. Random shapes do not produce this effect,it arises from the clash between our sense of order and a visible regularitywhich eludes the basic laws of simplicity, the first for which we test ourenvironment.52

Gombrich is dismissive of Worringer and what he regards as his ‘marketplace’Gothic: yet in the passage quoted above, a very similar phenomenology isapplied to the swastika as a hybrid form which is ‘both alike and different’.Implied in this description is the idea that the swastika is not ‘animated’ in thesame way that we are, and that its autokinesis is somehow unnatural. CompareGombrich’s ‘compulsion to test’ and ‘upsets the balance of our mind’ withWorringer:

It is impossible to mistake the restless life contained in this tangle of lines.This unrest, this seeking, has no organic life that draws us gently into itsmovement; but there is life there, a tormenting, urgent life that compels usjoylessly to follow its movements. Thus on an inorganic fundament there isheightened movement, heightened expression… The inner need for life andempathy of these inharmonious peoples did not take the nearest-at-handpath to the organic…it needed rather the intensification of a resistance, itneeded that uncanny pathos which attaches to the animation of theinorganic.53


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In this instance, Worringer did not refer to the revolving wheel but to Gothicinterlaced strapwork ornament. And in discussing the swastika, Gombrich doesnot refer to the Gothic. But their descriptions of the effects of hybrid, unnaturaland yet animated forms bear many points of similarity. There is compulsionrather than affirmation, and an ‘inhuman’ order and dynamism. Gombrich, likeMax Müller before him, notes the ‘puzzling’ aspect of the swastika and similarmotifs, Worringer suggested that northern man may have actively sought thedifficulties and the ‘resistance’ to Empathy that hybrid forms present. Gombrich,however, would not claim that a preference for such motifs could be raciallycontingent. But having established the idea that the swastika unbalances themind, it would not be going too much further to say that an unbalanced mindmight be able to share an unnatural ‘empathy’ with it. Worringer describedGothic man experiencing ‘the same logical frenzy, the same methodicalmadness’54 that Gombrich sees in the endless mental chase around the form ofthe swastika.

One obvious weakness of such a thesis is that it is at the mercy of absolutes, ofdeclaring that in all circ*mstances, from Buddhism to Nazism, the form of theswastika will be regarded with unease and distress by onlookers. This ismanifestly not the case: Gombrich, in his discussion of the idea of ‘the logic ofsituations’ as applied to ornamental style, has warned that we should be wary ofseeing the choice of styles or motifs as the necessary condition of someembracing Zeitgeist, but that attention should instead be paid to which aspects ofform, whether that be asymmetry, clarity or flatness, are the subject of emphasisin particular instances, and which therefore promote a particular position orconfirm cognitive patterns and habits of thought.55

Thomas Wilson’s view that the swastika was distinct from ‘more easily made’forms confirms Gombrich’s distinction between the uncanny or disturbing orderof the swastika and ‘random shapes’. Despite this similarity, Wilson, unlikeGombrich, denied that the swastika appeared to move, and his refutation of itsautokinesis was underlined by the horizontally placed image which appeared as aheraldic device on the first page of his book, and which emphasised the morestable ‘cross’ and ‘square’ aspect of the swastika rather than the wheel or thevortex. Wilson had rejected Count Goblet D’Alviella’s assertion that theswastika is an ideal representation of the perpetuum mobile and all that ‘movesof itself’:

An objection is made to the theory or hypothesis presented by CountGoblet D’Alviella, that it is not the cross part of the Swastika thatrepresents the sun, but its bent arms, which show the revolving motion…theauthor is more in accord with Dr Brinton and others that the Swastika isderived from the cross and not from the wheel, that the best arms do notrepresent rotary or gyratory motion, and that it had no association with, orrelation to, the circle.56


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This debate might appear as pointless as the search for a perpetuum mobile, butit does indicate that the ‘wheel or square?’ aspect of the swastika’s hybrid formis a riddle that might be visually ‘solved’ by placing emphasis on one aspect orthe other. In the Nazi design, as I have already mentioned, the swastika is placedin a dynamic square which situates it at a point of transition between these twopoles, lending it a transfixed (and perceptually transfixing) quality which coercesand paralyses the gaze more effectively than the spiralling or wheel-like motionwhich Worringer describes. Roland Barthes has likened the spiral to a poeticphrase, ‘a return in difference, not a repetition in identity’.57 The endless‘displacement’ of meaning to which Barthes refers also characterises the poeticambition of romanticism, but in Worringer’s text, we see romanticism decayinginto atrophy: his ‘revolving wheel’ still has a morbid half-life, but his emphasison identical repetition replaces an organism with a mechanism. In Nazism, theatrophy is complete: in its swastika, the image of an arrested motion and a stillbornromanticism was offered as the emblem of ‘national awakening’.


Whether it was Worringer’s intention to popularise his ideas is debatable, but thebasis of his argument, if not its dialectic of Abstraction and Empathy, had beenacademic and literary currency for over a century. What Worringer had done wasto apply the old idea of a causal link between the Germanic race and the Gothicto the more recent ideas of Theodor Lipps and Alois Riegl. From Lipps came theidea of ‘empathy’ as a phenomenological reaction to style, and from Riegl theKunstwollen, or ‘will to art’.58 Worringer moved the emphasis of Riegl’s theoryaway from the aesthetic expression of individual will, towards the notion of styleas the unconscious graph of the collective or racial will. Worringer’s hybridtheory united elements from Riegl’s thought with those of Gottfried Semper,whom Riegl’s ideas had in fact been developed to challenge: ‘Semper believedthat artistic activity is determined, like the mechanics of heavenly bodies. Rieglrecognised the element of free will. Artistic volition means no compulsion(Kunstwollen is not Kunstmüssen.)’59 Worringer’s new emphasis united thedeterminism of Semper’s ‘technological causation’ of styles with Riegl’s ‘willingorganism’ in a theory of racially determined will that drew from the long historyof German thought on the subject of ‘Gothic man’. As early as 1502, in JacobWhimpheling’s Epitome RerumGermanicum, references can be found to theGothic architecture of Strasbourg cathedral as a symbol of Germanic excellence.But it is Goethe’s essay on Strasbourg Cathedral, written in 1772,60 that initiateda debate that was to transform ‘the Gothic’ into a concept independent of art-historical facts. Goethe’s youthful enthusiasm for the Gothic excitedcontemporary comment and had lasting effects: Herder used the essay in hiscollection Von deutscher Art und Kunst of 1773, and considered what aspect of


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1 ‘M.Burnouf on the [swastika]’ H.Schliemann, Ilios, London, 1880, p. 351.


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2 Cover of the pamphlet Real History of the Swastika by Norman Walker, London, 1939.


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3 Outlining the text. Girls’ hockey team Edmonton, Alberta, circa 1916.


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6 Fetishisation and scopophilia: Michael Zmigrodski, The Mother of the Peopleof theAryan Family, Munich, 1886.


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7 The bricoleur of myths: Heinrich Schliemann as a Russian merchant, aged 40.


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8 The construction site: Troy in 1989.


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9 Symbol or ‘writing’? ‘Terra-cotta Ball, representing apparently the climates of theglobe’ and ‘Fragment of Pottery, with the Svastika’. H.Schliemann, Ilios, London, 1880,figs 245, 246 and 247.


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10 ‘Specimens of whorls, etc. dug up at Troy.’ H.Schliemann, Ilios, London, 1880, figs1849–55.


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11 Hittite ritual standard with swastikas. Bronze, height 34cm. From Alaça Hüyük, GraveB, 2300–2100BC.


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12 Karatay Medrese portal, Konya 1251.


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13 Versions of the swastika from the Pedagogical Sketchbook of Paul Klee.


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14 The Day of German Art, 15 October 1933. Wulf Bley, Das Jahr 1, Berlin, 1934.


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15 ‘Saarbrücken was a single sea of flags.’ Wulf Bley, Das Jahr2, Berlin, 1935.


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16 Phantasmagoria: stills from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (Germany 1935).


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17 ‘The first of May then brings the entire German people together.’ Wulf Bley, Das Jahr1, Berlin, 1934.


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18 Site of conflict: swastika graffiti in Berlin, 1993.


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19The Old Slogan in the ‘New’ Reich: Blood and Iron. John Heartfield, AIZ, March 1934.


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20 ‘Thus the German people can once again celebrate a truly German Christmas.’ WulfBley, Das Jahr 1, Berlin, 1934.


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the Gothic answered to ‘a nordic urge and is an exception to the rule of greaterbeauty, or is even perhaps a greater plan for a new kind of beauty’.61 Here we seethe clash between Classical and romantic aesthetics that Worringer was torecapitulate: Herder saw the Gothic as an aberrant yet powerful manifestation ofthe ‘nordic urge’. Goethe, however, was later to have second thoughts:

I, too, was once interested in these matters, and likewise practised a kind ofidolatry with Strasbourg Cathedral… To me, the strangest part of all of thisis the German patriotism that would like to represent this obviouslySaracenic plant as having sprung from its soil.62

In 1820, Christian Ludwig Steiglitz contrasted the ‘plastic’ virtues of Greek artwith the ‘romantic’ appeal of the Gothic: ‘the one appeals to reason (Verstand)the other ‘excites, with the mysterious meaning, the emotions (Gemüt).’63 Thisdialectic had been discussed by Schopenhauer a year earlier, but despite his ownoverwhelming emphasis on ‘will’ it is significant that he regarded the romanticphenomenological ‘affect’ of the Gothic as being based in its nationalistic‘effect’: ‘Our pleasure in Gothic works is quite certainly based in a large part onassociations of ideas and on historical memories, thus on an emotion foreign toart.’64 Here the same distinction between expression and aesthetics thatWorringer was later to employ, was used in a critique which revealed that thetrue issue at stake in the nationalist Gothic was a problem not of form but ofidentity. In view of what Worringer was to say about ‘requisition’, it issignificant that Schopenhauer referred to ‘fiction and delusion’ in the Gothicidea, which he traced to a misplaced nationalist feeling applied to irrational andambiguous forms:

Everyone will easily be able to realise how from the fundamental idea…ofGothic architecture here indicated there results the mysterious andhyperphysical character it is acknowledged to have. It arises chiefly…because of the fact that here the purely rational has been replaced…by thearbitrary. So much that is really purposeless…arouses the supposition ofunknown…purposes, that is, the mysterious appearance.65

What Schopenhauer is discussing here is the psychological conception of afictional idea of visual style rather than style itself. But such criticism did notarrest the progress of ‘Gothic man’: ‘Gothic had become the symbol of an attitudetowards life, and its rebirth was to be the symbol of the recognition of thisWeltanschauung.’66 The fictions founded in the apprehension of mysteryexpressed the nationalistic emotional investment that had been placed in them:Schlegel likened the Gothic to the trees under which the ancient Germans hadworshipped, Schelling saw in it the symbol of the infinite and an essentiallyOriental extravagance and excess. In this way an ahistoric and ‘lndo-European’heritage for ‘Gothic Culture’ was established, a heritage which Hippolyte Taine


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had identified as the agent of strange side-effects at the time the GothicCathedrals were built: ‘by its universality it testifies to the great moral crisis, atonce morbid and sublime, which during the entire middle ages exalted andderanged the human spirit.’67 Here, some forty years before Worringer, is theidea of ‘morbid differentiation’ and the dead brought to an exalted life. PaulFrankl draws particular attention to this divorce of the Gothic idea from itsostensible subject in Worringer’s writing. Techniques of description and analysisapplied to styles, Frankl argues, are subsumed in Worringer’s ideas of‘uncanniness, ghostliness, spectralness, unnaturalness…such is the deepestmeaning of the Nordic or Germanic spirit’.68

And just as Worringer was indebted to other German writers for his ideas,others were to borrow from him. The idea of the Gothic as a ‘secret, latent’ forceis taken to absurd heights in Der Geist der Gotik (The Spirit of Gothic) by KarlScheffler (1917), who felt free to abandon the mere ‘academic’ or art-historicalconcept of the Gothic. His substitute was a free-floating phenomenology offorms expressive of ‘will’: thus we are able to have ‘the Gothic’ in Negro, Eskimoand South American art forms. Scheffler also treated chronology with the samerespect he had for geographic boundaries: ‘the American quality of Romanarchitecture is a manifestation of the Gothic spirit because it is an expression of aviolent will.’69 It is easy to ridicule Scheffler’s prose whilst ignoring the popularappeal of his ideas; as Frankl points out, such authors ‘have an appallingly largepublic’:

[Scheffler]…is concerned…with the myth of eternal and secret Gothic.The book should be regarded as an expression of the ‘feuilletonistic age’indeed as indicative of what the half-educated public around 1917 wantedto hear about Gothic; at the same time it is characteristic…of thenationalistic trend that postulated a Nordic or Germanic or German ‘racial’admixture as the necessary condition of Gothic.70

Scheffler went further than Worringer in proposing the complete abandonmentof the term ‘Gothic’ as being too narrow and time-bound a concept to describethe potency of the ageless force which gives rise to its forms: ‘From the point ofview of stylistic history, the new will look all the less Gothic the more Gothic [isits] innermost nature.’71 Oswald Spengler also included a phenomenonology ofthe Gothic in his Der Untergang desAbendlandes (The Decline of the West), firstpublished in 1926. Like Worringer, Spengler’s first concern was the innermorphology which dictates things and events, the cyclic geometry which can beread off from a multitude of phenomena: ‘there is found nothing, however small,that does not embody in itself the entire sum of fundamental tendencies.’72

Unlike Worringer, however, he stressed that ornament operated at one removefrom the spirit of a race, whose purest expression was in spontaneous andephemeral phenomena such as songs, parade marches and dances. Ornament forSpengler was a public langue, whose fixed signs did not carry the same


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expressive power as a racial parole. However, the Gothic, as a form which wasmorphologically defined as becoming, as movement rather than fixity, provideda bridge between form-language and expressive speech. Gothic ornament wasthe rhetoric of ornament. Spengler used many of the stock romantic metaphorsand images of the Gothic in his description, referring to forest groves and theNordic world-ash, to Vikings and to Faust. But at the centre of his argument wasa phenomenology of will, and anthropomorphism:

This first person towers up in Gothic architecture; the spire is an “I” theflying buttress is an “I” and therefore the entire Faustian ethic, from ThomasAquinas to Kant, is an excelsior.73

Here morphological syntax precedes semantics: how the form is expressed ismore important than which forms are used; but the Gothic for Spengler is formas expression: ‘a distinctly characterised form of “people”’74 When he wrote thatthe Gothic ‘transcends the possibilities of the Apollonian’ he iterated the themeof an anti-aesthetic. Towards the end of Declineof the West, however, there is apassage which suggests that this supposedly unconscious, innate and pre-ordained recognition of the form within form is in fact a culturally acquired andcognitively rehearsed judgement of taste: ‘strategic and business flair, thecollector’s eye for precious things, and the subtle insight of the judge of men—and generally all that which one has and does not learn…which as “form” directsthe course of events.’75 Yet the ‘Gothic’ as identified by Spengler and Worringerstands or falls by its inevitability, its fatedness, its lack of contrivance andconscious aesthetic design. The dominant sign of ‘race’ despite the efforts ofboth these authors to employ this word in a qualified sense,76 requires thathistory, chronology and habitus should be taboo. The Gothic is unconsciouslywilled or it is nothing, and Spengler does not acknowledge the literary/historicalgenealogy of the romantic nationalism of which he is the successor. This samepreference for an ahistoric explanation emerges in Nazism, even in criticism ofthe regime. In 1930 Karl Radek77 defined the Nazis as ‘a party without a history’that had appeared like a volcanic island in German political life; the samephenomenology of ‘manifestation’ attaches to the swastika, which isquintessentially ‘Gothic’ in its apparently prehistoric or ahistoric assertion of thewill of the collective ‘I’.


If Paul Frankl is correct in seeing Goethe’s essay of 1772 as the germ of a discoursethat accorded a symbolic nationalist value to the Gothic, a discourse whichreached its limits in the writings of Worringer, Scheffler and Spengler, then it isalso possible to see in Goethe’s theories of the symbol the mirror image of thisprocess, in which representation is accorded an aesthetic value. In the romantictradition, as I have already suggested, ornament becomes a symbol of national


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identity and the symbol is aestheticised and removed from the labour ofrepresentation. Both strategies represent a means of achieving autonomy andself-determination, in both the collective (ornamental) and the individual(symbolic) sense. Consequently both appear as the visible consequences or resultof their meanings, rather than conventional signs with no ontological relationshipto what they represent. In the Nazi swastika, both these discourses converge inthe form of a ‘National Symbol’ of the party and its leader, a symbol which is theornamental flourish, the stamp of Germanic authenticity, on the text‘Deutschland Erwache’. However, again it is important to distinguish betweensome supposed ‘Path to Hitler’ and a ‘Path for Hitler’, and to focus on theradical shift of values which occurred in a heavily politicised romanticism in thecontext of the twentieth century. It is also important to ask what crisis inromanticism resulted in such an explicit politicisation. As Ernest A.Menze hascommented: ‘Hitler’s rise to power did not initiate the crisis; it made itapparent.’78

Hans Georg Gadamer has identified romanticism itself as responsible for anabstract contrast between myth and reason, which had become an impassablegulf by the twentieth century. The romantic desire for autonomy above alltransforms a system of differences into a conflict of opposites, leading inevitablyto the cult of the individual and the nation. In order to understand the way thatthe romantic nationalist swastika signified, it is important to note how Gadamersees this contrast between romantic myth and enlightened reason as restaged inthe opposition between the symbol and allegory:

The symbol, as what can be expressed inexhaustibly, because it isindefinite, is opposed to allegory, understood as standing in a more exactrelation to meaning and exhausted by it…the very indefiniteness of itsmeaning is what gave the victory to the word and the concept of thesymbolic, when the rationalist aesthetic of the age of enlightenmentsuccumbed to the critical philosophy and the aesthetics of genius.79

What began as a relation between the two figures or devices of allegory andsymbol had become an absolute contrast and contest of values, each expressingan entire philosophy. The idea of the symbol becomes individualised to the pointof anthropomorphism, and allegory becomes increasingly identified asdisembodied rhetoric. Gadamer notes that in the eighteenth century, the modesof poetry and rhetoric could coexist, but that a romantic emphasis on individualexpression resulted in the poetic/ symbolic becoming something set apart. Hetraces the origins of this schism to the correspondence between Schiller andGoethe.80 Where Kant had spoken of the ‘merely symbolic’, implying the idea ofan ersatz or substitute, Goethe wrote of the ‘properly symbolic’ which embodiedthe idea, whereas allegories ‘employed’ their signifiers at one remove toillustrate or exemplify the idea: ‘Allegories employ the particular as an exampleof the general, symbols embody the general in the particular.’81 The contrast here


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is between the lived experience, the individual Erlebnis obtainable in the symboland the dead codes of allegory and rhetoric. However, this could also beinterpreted as the generalisation of a type of personal experience thenceforwardlabelled as symbolic, an idea not without rhetorical and dogmatic possibilities ofits own. This becomes evident when we realise that Goethe does not simplyeulogise a single and personal ‘pregnant moment’ but a generic faculty or type ofexperience: ‘Everything that takes place is a symbol, and, in fully representingitself, it points toward everything else…the true relationship expresses at the sametime the meaning.’82 The symbol as substitute is here replaced by the symbol assubstance. As a self-sustaining entity, it gains autonomy from the slavish role of‘standing for’ a meaning, and appropriates meaning to itself. The signifier of theGoethean symbol asserts itself without the controlling ‘other’ of meaning presentin the encoded allos, the ‘speaking otherwise’ of allegory. This quality was alsostressed by Schelling, who referred to the German translation of the word‘symbol’ as Sinnbild, or ‘meaning image’ ‘as concrete, resembling only itself,like an image, and yet as universal and full of meaning as a concept’.83 Thisindividual communion with the symbol and the national consciousnessrepresented by Strasbourg cathedral are the poles that Worringer’s discourse waslater to unite, but in a way which subsumed an individual ‘self-willed’ autonomyinto the inescapable movement of a collective will.

The aestheticisation of the symbol which takes place when it is freed from thelabour of representation and the formalities of rhetoric carries the seeds of itsfuture incarnation in a new, ‘expressive’ rhetorical form. A potential for thecollectivisation of the personal Erlebnis of the symbol is present in Goethe, andresurfaces in Carl Gustav Jung’s notion of the ‘archetypes’. Jung’s points ofreference were German idealist philosophy and Goethe, and an emphasis on theidea of invisible spirit animating material presence (hence his interest in alchemy).The archetypes were for Jung the ‘ideas that have always existed’84 which alsolinks them to the ‘ahistoric’ element in romanticism. These were thepredilections that enabled him to express hope for ‘a New Enlightenment, inwhich rejuvenating symbols arise, carrying us forward into a epoch morewonderful than we can imagine’.85

The links between Jungianism and Nazism should not be over-stressed: Jung’smodel of the archetype was fundamentally egalitarian, reminiscent of AdolfBastian’s Elementargedanken (elementary ideas) which manifested themselvesin Volksgedanken (ethnic ideas). Yet both Jungianism and Nazism shared acommon concern with the prehistoric or ancient as an ‘ahistoric’ unchangeablevalue. Race theorists such as the Comte de Gobineau had identified an entropicforce in history, and named Judaism as the source of the malaise. For Jung,decline was caused by an ever-increasing materialism and lack of spirituality.However, whilst he claimed that the archetypes could put us in touch with theunchanging fundamentals of our humanity, Jung was wont to confuse the imageand the content value of archetypes, sometimes defining them as ‘the unconsciousimages of the instincts themselves’ and on other occasions denying their


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substance even as images: ‘the archetype as such is a hypothetical andirrepresentable model.’86 What was not at issue, however, was the status of thearchetype as ancestral memory: ‘All those factors…that were essential to ournear and remote ancestors will also be essential to us, for they are embedded inour inherited organic system.’87 This recalls Schliemann’s references to ‘remoteancestors’, and the buried, unrecognised but potent value that the archaeologisthad seen in the swastikas of Königswalde. In March 1936, Jung discussed the‘German faith’ outlined by Wilhelm Hauer’s DeutscheGottschau: Grundzügeeines Deutschen Glaubens, in which Hauer had proposed a new ‘lndo-Germanic’religion to replace Christianity. J.P.Stern has claimed that Jung took Hauer’sclaims seriously, regarding them as ‘the psychic donnée of contemporaryGermany’.88 Rather than interpreting National Socialist culture (as Jung did) as amanifestation of the Wotan archetype, it is more fruitful to concentrate on theways in which it politicised romanticism, shifting the sign of autonomy frompersonal to collective experience. Alfred Bauemler, one of the more partisanacademic philosophers of the Third Reich, made his distinction plain in an essayon ‘Nietzsche and National Socialism’, in which he exalted the values ofromanticism over those of the Enlightenment:

[in the Enlightenment]… Man was viewed as a wholly individual entity,cut off from all original orders and relations, a fictitious person responsibleonly to himself. In contrast, Romanticism saw man again in the light of hisnatural and historical ties. Romanticism opened our eyes to the night, thepast, our ancestors, to the mythos and the Volk.89

Here individual autonomy is construed as alienation, and a Goethean wish for theunity of the particular and the general is used to reunite the deracinated individualwith the racial group.

That Jung’s theories were recognised as essentially Germanic and opposed tothe Jewish, materialist and ‘Marxist’ psychoanalysis of Freud was made evidentin the polemics of the psychotherapist and Nazi propagandist Kurt Gauger. ForGauger, ‘Freudian psychology incorporates all the advantages and dangers of theJewish spirit, Jungian psychology all those of the Germanic soul’.90 Jung’spredilection for the potent force of ahistoric and racially contingent energies isclear even in his later writing, where he describes the swastika as arepresentation of the archetype that held the German people in its sway:

There is no lunacy people under the domination of an archetype will notfall prey to. If thirty years ago, anyone had dared to predict… that insteadof the Christian cross, an archaic swastika would lure on millions of warriorsready for death—why, that man would have been hooted at as a mysticalfool.91


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Leaving aside what Terry Smith has referred to in another context as the ‘we wuzbrainwashed’92 apologetics of this statement, Jung’s central theme is that our agehas witnessed a move from the privacy of a shared but unspoken ‘collectiveunconscious’ into a primitive and regressive era of ‘collective representations’ inthe conscious realm. In fact, he found the strident voices and ‘high-flownlanguage’ of contemporary archetypes rather embarrassing: ‘Archetypes speakthe language of rhetoric, even of bombast.’93

Jung’s view was shared by Jolande Jacobi, for whom the swastika was an‘authentic symbol’ which had fallen victim to Nazism, an archetype displacedfrom the depths of the collective unconscious to become a token of the mass.94

Like Wilhelm Reich, Jacobi was concerned with the ‘content’ of the swastika,which she saw as abused or perverted in the Nazi image, while the neo-FreudianReich argued that it was repressed or concealed. In Jacobi’s view, the swastikahad fallen from grace by the exhibitionist simulation of its essential content: theinternally implicit had become the externally imposed. It is with the publicbroadcast of a shared but unspoken secret that Jacobi appears to take issue, andshe draws a clear distinction between the authentic archetype and its ‘pale copy’,the collective sign which had been employed to manipulate and deceive: ‘Whenthe content of a symbol is exhausted, when the secret contained within it is…made entirely accessible to consciousness and rationalized…all that remainsbehind is the husk of the symbol, which forms part of the collectiveconsciousness.’ Jacobi regarded the action of the mass emblem as ‘quasi-archetypal’, its propaganda value drawing on stolen energy. However, anotherway of reading her ‘implicit’ sign is as a potentially meaningful image whoseexplicit and public form negates this potential energy and reveals it as animaginative projection. This is how the Nazi swastika both completes and endsromanticism, insofar as it abolishes the distance between the fullness of the signand the emptiness of quotidian reality that had been carefully cultivated as thespace for romantic yearning. ‘Content’ in the abstract is a chimera; a vague‘meaningfulness’ which is discerned in the image simply signifies the wish foranother order of meaning.

This notion of a secret and secreted content for the swastika also occurs intheosophical and occult texts. In her Relation of the Seen and theUnseen, MadameBlavatsky had said that ‘few world symbols are more pregnant with real occultmeaning than the swastika’ which had, she claimed, ‘seven keys’ to its innermeaning.95 These keys appear to have been mislaid, but the alluring title ofBlavatsky’s text made the nature of the seduction quite explicit. Once the unseencontent was itself ‘seen’ by naming (conjuring up) ‘the symbol’, then theindividual frisson or sensation of meaningfulness could become a moregeneralised ‘sensationalism’. This precisely defines the appeal of populistTheosophy and occultism in Austria and Germany during the early years of thetwentieth century. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke has said in this regard that:‘fantasies can achieve a causal status once they have been institutionalized inbeliefs, values and social groups’,96 but the Nazi party under Hitler was to reject


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Theosophy and its leftward-turning swastika as being too esoteric. In Nazism thesymbol was made a figure of rhetoric again, as it had been before romanticism:such esotericism may account for Jung’s embarrassment at the archetype’sproletarian accent, and its noisy bombast.

Wilhelm Worringer’s own attempt to develop a theory of ahistoric andarchetypal forms negotiated the rocky shores of romanticism with some degreeof difficulty. Whilst expounding the idea of ‘the will to form’ as applied to race,Worringer distanced himself from the ‘race romanticism’ of writers such asHouston Stewart Chamberlain. Towards the end of Formprobleme in der GotikWorringer rejected the idea of ‘race in the narrow sense of racial purity’ infavour of the idea that the stylistic force of the Gothic succeeded in establishingitself ‘in spite of racial differences in the ordinary sense’. Yet in the samepassage he states that the ‘Germanic strain is probably the conditio sine qua nonof the Gothic’.97 Implied in this partial qualification is a paradox that celebratedthe Gothic as spectacle, whilst warning that this same potency might exert adeleterious effect on those exposed to its morbid exaltation. Worringer did notabandon what he saw as the necessary connection between the Germanic raceand the Gothic style, but he did comment that wherever this element was present,it introduced ‘among self-confident peoples that germ of sensuous uncertaintyand spiritual distractedness’.98 Gothic had become not so much a style as a force,a hybrid which disrupted the naturally ordered dialectic of Abstraction andEmpathy:

Gothic was the name we gave to that great phenomenon irreconcilablyopposed to the classical, a phenomenon not bound to any single period ofstyle, but revealing itself continuously through all the centuries in ever newdisguises: a phenomenon not belonging to any age but rather in its deepestfoundations an ageless racial phenomenon, deeply rooted in the innermostconstitution of Northern man.99

The etymology of the word ‘archetype’ as an innate or inherited ‘first pattern’links Worringer to Jung, as does Jung’s prevarication on the issue of whether thearchetype was itself a form or simply a way of conceptualising phenomena.Worringer’s ‘Gothic’ was also sometimes employed as the sign of a latent raceenergy and, less frequently, as a term of classification. It is this distinction thatseparates the ‘Gothic’ from the ‘English Gothic’ in his texts.


In Abstraction and Empathy Worringer had contrasted ‘the symbolic value of themotif’ with the demands of the ‘will to form’.100 In this instance the word‘symbol’ did not refer to the romantic tradition but was instead used to indicate arationally understood and encoded message. What Worringer had in fact donewas to contrast a linguistic definition of the symbol with a romantic one (‘will to


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form’), in which the symbol is freed from the task of representation to become theautonomous signifier of a national/ racial selfhood. It is significant thatWorringer used this distinction in the context of debates surrounding therecurrence of the same motif in different cultural contexts. If the motif wasregarded as isomorphic with a symbolic (definite) meaning, Worringer argued,then ‘the world domination of certain motifs would be inexplicable’. The ‘worlddomination’ of the swastika which Thomas Wilson had mapped out in 1894 hadprovided the anthropologist with a similar conundrum, but both Wilson’s andWorringer’s definitions of the symbol as a single locus of meaning tended toobscure the relationship of motif to overall field which their own cartographicvision had created.

The issue of ‘the constraints of signification’ placed by a single meaning onthe decorative motif has also been addressed by Gombrich. He implies thatpatterning tends to work against signification, describing how repetition willcamouflage the symbolic meaning of the motif, and stating that we ‘havepurchased this order at the expense of meaning’.101 However, what theornamentalised sign loses in depth of meaning it gains in rhetorical emphasis.Gombrich does not address the question of whether all decorative schemes tendto negate ‘meaning’ in the same way, and whether the repetition of a figurativemotif (which constitutes a semiotic law unto itself) would have the same effectas the repetition of an abstract one whose individual geometric order could beeasily adapted to suit the requirements of an overall grid. In Worringer’sFormprobleme, this issue of the antagonistic relationship of motif to overall fieldfinds a solution in the fractal ornament of the revolving wheel, in which themorphology of the part ‘symbolises’ the morphology of the whole whilst stillfunctioning as an integral part of the scheme. This preserved the romantic fusionof subject and object, and saved the signifying image from the ignoble fate of anersatz or mere representation. One form of servitude, however, was then replacedby another in which both part and whole traced the inner geometry of raceenergy, which they unconsciously and helplessly ‘express’. Both Worringer andGombrich rely on the isomorphic or ‘one-to-one’ model of the symbol, and thecorresponding notion that to understand symbolism is to decode a language.Worringer did not describe the ‘revolving wheel’ as a symbol, since it lacked theisomorphism or correspondence that was necessary to fulfil his definition. Heinstead describes it as a ‘northern ornament’: northern because it possessed therequisite aspect of violent, mechanical movement through which the Aryo-Germanic soul could be recognised. Rather than seeing in the image a referenceto or representation of something else, ‘Gothic man’ could instead refer to theracial mirror of the ornament, and see himself reflected.

All ornament must be seen to signify: the true issue at stake will be in whatway it signifies and to whom. The Nazi swastika, as the frozen image of a dynamicmotion, lay somewhere between the static typographic Germanism of Frakturand the ornamental race signature of the nationalist Gothic, a morphology ofrelentless progress. Yet both Gothic script and Gothic ornament signified within


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the scheme of radical autonomy and the assertion of difference that was thelegacy of romanticism. They were not ‘German’ in form, but in expression andrhetorical force; form was placed in the service of a semiotic of excess, whosecollectivised representation became confrontational and aggressive. The swastikawas ‘expressive’ in a rhetorically Germanic sense which depended on the Nazis’own version of romanticism transfigured and transfixed for the collective. gaze.It is this configuring theme of race romanticism which dispenses with the‘ornament or symbol?’ question as an a priori of discussion, since both wereinterpenetrative tropes of the same pseudo-aristocratic and nationalist project.

Taken out of context, Walter Benjamin’s often-quoted assessment that Nazismwas ‘an aestheticisation of political life’102 tends to confuse the role of theaesthetic with that of the visual. Instead, the phrase ‘visualisation of politics’might usefully separate the ‘distancing’ semiotics of art from those of politicaldesign. And the nature of the political message dictated the morphology ofsymbolic forms: an aggressive nationalism adapted signs that, as Brandon Taylorhas suggested, were imbued with the values of ‘the harsh, the expressive and thecoercive’.103 Yet this negatively aesthetic and aggressive morphology wasimmediately recognised as the essence of all that was authentically German. In1912, Worringer wrote that when confronted with the Gothic, ‘we have animpression that we are being coerced by some alien, imperious will’.104

Arising directly from this definition is the question of whether the use of theswastika as the signifier of difference and an anti-aesthetic could be included inthe total history of uses of this image, and whether such an inclusion, if possible,would be defensible as cultural anthropology. Can a cultural context for coerciveform constitute the basis for a cross-cultural comparison? To effectively definecultural use, it is not sufficient simply to ask ‘why this motif?’; it is necessary tolook at the problem from the other side, and ask ‘which features or aspects ofthis motif work within or against the context in which it is placed?’ Themigration or otherwise of ‘meanings’ is irrelevant to everyone except theencyclopaedist. A more interesting question is why some forms are retained andothers never adopted in a particular context. Adolf Loos’ suggestion in 1931 that‘everything that has been abandoned by other peoples’ is ‘proclaimed thereafteras German’105 implies that a particular form of colonisation, rather than agradual assimilation was at work. Neglected or anachronistic forms are employedbecause they have a distinct and recognisable character; they are both ‘foreign’and alien to their context, yet on that same basis are recognisable as trulyGerman. This paradoxical logic, which worked well with the swastika, causeddifficulties for the Nazi regime when it attempted to employ Fraktur as theuniversal script of National Socialism. Fraktur could not be easily read; itshallowed and Germanic distinctness was revealed as useless in a modernsemiotic environment and its disuetude entirely justified. The swastika workedbetter because it did not require a supplementary reading, it needed only auniversal recognition. An effective communication circuit was thus completed:everyone in Europe could recognise the swastika, but it was simultaneously


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recognised as a signifier of the German. In the swastika, the degree zero ofrhetoric, form as pure ‘expression’ could signify on both levels simultaneously,appearing as an unequivocal challenge to and declaration of war on the ‘un-Germanic’.

This conflation of a universal and a nationalist/racist message is one reasonwhy the Nazi swastika cannot be rehabilitated in a European context, since itssignifying form and its ‘meaning’ have become interchangeable: there is nospace between a signifier and its signified into which a new meaning could beinserted. If the image cannot be reassigned, could it be replaced within the globaldiaspora of similar signifying forms? The paradoxical status of the Germanicswastika, which was adopted only in order that it could signify something distinct,pure and ‘set apart’, would seem to suggest that orthodox models of cross-cultural comparison are inapplicable. Throughout this book, however, I amproposing that in the case of a form ‘like unto itself’ the ideas of context andcomparison should be used literally: that is, context (from contexere, to weavetogether) should be used to indicate a patterned or ornamental scheme, andcomparison should consist of the relationship of motifs within this scheme. Forthe swastika, the largest of these schemes is the world map drawn by ThomasWilson; yet the example of Nazism, a local race politics with global ambitions,indicates how the particular relates to the general in a way which Wilsonoverlooked. Diffusionism, an idea which fed on metaphors of expansionism,colonisation and war, provided a precedent for the Nazi Blitzkrieg.

The fact that Fraktur was unreadable and the swastika could commandimmediate recognition also suggests how diffusion and ‘migration’ arefacilitated. In the swastika, the typographic or graphological ‘symbolic’ elementexists in its own right; in Fraktur, the symbolic (Germanic) and the linguistic(German) elements are inextricably linked. But as Loos had pointed out, theGermanic element of the equation was not linked to the language in any essentialway, and constituted a detachable, portable and therefore transmissible elementthat was adopted at some point in the past. Dan Sperber has argued that this isthe reason why ‘symbols’ can migrate, and languages tend to stay within well-defined limits:

The fact that a datum participates in the symbolism of one culture does notprevent its symbolic processing in a second culture… In the case oflanguage, the set of data is defined by a state of the language at a given timeand place, and no fact foreign to this state will be processed. But thecorresponding notion of a state of symbolism for a given culture at a givenmoment does not imply any strict criteria of inclusion or exclusion.106

Here the structural consistency of language is contrasted with the symbol, whichis either a heterogeneous ‘landmark’ which draws together particular elements ofthe existing context into a recognisable cultural pattern, or a floating valuearound which new cultural paradigms can form. Although Sperber’s ideas do not


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rule out the possibility of independent invention, they show how migration mightoccur, insofar as the symbol in this model is not supplementary to a particularlanguage, but to established language per se. This might provide a partial answerto the question that Thomas Wilson had posed when he asked ‘whether it was bymigration and contact or independent invention’ that the swastika had come to beglobally dispersed. By separating the creation of the swastika and its culturalinstitution as symbol into two distinct acts, it is possible to explain what mighthave befallen the mysterious ‘original meaning’. Images or objects, onceemployed as symbols or used in ritual, can be used elsewhere for the samepurpose without their attached meanings being employed as well, but they mustbe reinstituted as symbols in each new situation. The swastikas whichSchliemann found at Troy and the swastikas of the Nazi party rallies are unitedby the fact that Schliemann is at the beginning and Hitler is at the end of a singleprocess in which a ‘found image’ has begun to function symbolically within aparticular culture. This cultural invention of the symbol is the act of ‘settingapart’ an image from existing texts, and the construction of a new set of textsaround it. This suggests that rather than invariably reading symbols as the‘products’ of a cultural context, they may also be seen as deliberately sited ‘non-texts’ (Sperber’s ‘nonsense’) to be read against, rather than with the grain. Thisis not meant to imply that cultural context is irrelevant, because the nature of thecontext dictates the nature of its subversion: new myths are spun from existingmaterial, using symbols which facilitate both the unpicking and the rebinding oftextual threads. The power of the symbol ‘in its own right’ is to imply thepossibility of such a transformation. In the case of the Nazi swastika, the alreadyunstable context was Weimar Germany, and the objectification and‘enlargement’ of the nostalgic and reactionary fantasies that the Aryan swastikahad come to represent occurred in a situation in which these fragmentary textscould be effectively politicised. In this instance, the symbol acts as foreign orirritant matter to the existing context, and becomes the nodal point around whichother discourses can reify and establish themselves.


‘Context’ has become one of the shibboleths of recent anthropology andarchaeology. Marxist notions of economy and structuralist ideas of a system ofdifferences are applied on a micro-level to place material symbols within their‘context’. Ian Hodder has suggested that without context, archaeology becomesmere antiquarianism, and claims that:

An object out of context is not readable; and a symbol painted on a cavewall when there are no deposits in the cave, when there are no deposits inthe region that contain other depictions of the symbol on other objects, andwhen there are no graves containing the symbol, is scarcely more readable.107


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The symbol ‘out of context’ is readable; here it is ‘read’ as a contradiction interms, the collision of context and non-context. The image on the wall can standeither as the barrier to an interpretation within the existing context, or as thegateway to an alternative interpretation and the possibility of an entirely differentcontext within which it would make perfect sense. As a ‘barrier’ the imagewould tend to emphasise rather than invalidate the self-consistency of theestablished context, yet as ‘gateway’ the symbol in the cave could also be seen asthe sign at the birth of a new regime of meaning and a refutation of the old. Onthe other hand, like Loos’ grafitti on the toilet wall, such a sign might alsoconstitute an empty and redundant gesture of defiance around which no newstructures could form: but the lack of a sociological background or history for theauthor of the gesture does not make the sign any less readable against itsimmediate surroundings. A consideration of how material symbols as a ‘figure’are enmeshed in their contextual ‘ground’ must be augmented by recognising thepossibility that they are placed in tension with it.

The cross-cultural study of the swastika which follows is based neither on theself-defeating practice of comparing one meaning to another, nor on the idea thatthe image simply reflects a structured set of relationships, but instead examinesthe tensions that are set up between one structure and another: between a self-identical ‘swastika structure’ and one in which the symbolic motif is sublimatedwithin a system of differences. It is intended to constitute a visual and scalar,rather than an absolute, basis for a distinction between the modes of ‘symbol’and ‘ornament’ and to suggest that in order to develop a visual construction ofthe symbolic marker, it is necessary to heighten the disjunction between localityand field.

Henrietta Moore, in her study of Ricoeur’s hermeneutic philosophy as appliedto material culture, has proposed a model for placing the material figure withinits contextual ground:

We could take, for example, the problem of decorative designs on a pot.On the ‘first’ level we have the individual motif (word), on a ‘second’level we can identify design sequences (sentences) and on a ‘third’ levelwe should consider the decorated pot as a whole (text).108

In this instance, a linguistic metaphor is used to imply that signification can onlyoccur within a structuring system in which all the parts stand in a coherentrelationship to the whole. Moore has also noted that in the model she outlinesabove, any ‘polysemic’ vagueness of meaning in the motif is screened out by itsbeing included in the ‘sentence’ of the design sequence, so that it is limited to asingle (‘monosemic’) meaning. The polysemy of the individual unit in isolationcorresponds to Ian Hodder’s symbol in the cave, which can only be understoodas potentially meaningful, insofar as it suggests alternative ‘sentences’ andultimately alternative texts.


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Yet within this model, there also remains the possibility of employing themotif in such a way as to suppress the existing structure of meaning, withoutthereby instituting an alternative monosemy or reinstituting a previouspolysemy. This would occur were we to isolate the motif from the syntacticalsystem of the ‘sentence’ and replace it with simple repetition or multiplication.Such a substitution would have the effect of replacing both the ‘polysemic’overflow of the disembodied motif and the ‘monosemic’ limitations of the designsequence with a system in which meaning would exist in the relationship of theindividual motif to a multiplied field of similar motifs, an interrelationship whichwould consequently be vying with the larger field or area represented by theobject/text. Rather than functioning as a landmark, each individual symbol thenconfigures an alternative ‘landscape’ of signs. In this instance the polysemic or‘poetic’ symbol has been rhetoricised, and its potential for alternative meaningcan be used as a method of simultaneously controlling the space of the object andsubduing existing ‘readings’. The symbol as the imaginative catalyst for a newcontext has been transformed into a totalising framework for the control of theexisting one. This is the model I am proposing for the Nazi swastika, one inwhich Nolte’s symbol of ‘salvation and hope’ becomes a totalitarian sign field.The following examples propose that the swastika as it occurs in the micro-environment of an ornamental scheme can be employed as a model for theinstitution of the symbol as a method of asserting control over social space.

The first two examples are related geographically but not temporally, thesecond two belong to the same time and the same culture but were produced forentirely different reasons. Plate 11 shows a Hattian (pre-Hittite) ‘ritual standard’made around 2300–2100BC, with swastikas arranged in a scheme of squares.109

It is in the collection of the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations, Ankara, and isone of the many funerary objects excavated from the graves of Alaca Hüyuk innorthern Turkey. Plate 12 shows the carved stone doorway of the KaratayMedrese (Islamic school) in Konya, about fifty miles distant from the graves ofAlaca Hüyuk, and completed around 1252.110 Chronologically distant, yetgeographically close, the bronze ornament and the carved doorway exhibit roughlythe same scheme of swastikas ‘turning’ alternately to the left and the right.However, they differ fundamentally in their approaches to the motif: in theHattian ornament the swastika is ‘rhetorical’, in the Seljuk doorway‘syntactical’. In the Hattian device, the structural hierarchy of the ‘decoratedobject’ is displaced, since the object is simply a vehicle or frame for therepetition of the motif. This repetition of the symbol in the funeral object (furtheremphasised by the discrete swastikas dangling from the corners) becomes in theKaratay façade a process of dissolution through interconnection andinterrelationship. In this doorway we can see, for example, either a patterncomposed of swastikas or one made up of ‘stepped’ rhomboids. The ‘word’ ofthe individual swastika motif is still present, but subsumed in the dynamics ofpattern: it is not singled out for attention, but instead has a role to play in thetotal geometric scheme. In Islamic art, the lack of a system of symbolism based


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on the one-to-one relationship between signifier and signified has puzzled someart historians, and has been attributed to a reluctance to adopt a Christian style oficonography.111 Other authorities, however, view in a more positive light theIslamic emphasis on the symbolism of the whole decorative scheme rather thanthe isolated motif. Titus Burckhardt refers to a process of ‘levelling out’, inwhich ancient symbols are adopted and transformed:

It levels them out in a certain sense, and thereby eliminates any magicalqualities they may have possessed… Islam assimilates these archaicelements and reduces them to their most abstract and generalisedformations…in return, it endows them with a fresh intellectual lucidity,one might say—with spiritual elegance.112

The swastika was one such ‘archaic element’ absorbed by Islam in its progressand conquests, although the appearance of the swastika in early Islamic pattern isprimarily ascribed to Graeco-Roman and Byzantine influence, suggesting that acertain amount of ‘levelling out’ had already taken place.

There is a parallel here with the distinction that Worringer drew between thetreatment of the individual motif in Gothic and Classical ornament. When hediscusses the ‘revolving wheel’ in Formprobleme der Gotik, Worringer hadalready established a contrast between the overall symmetry of Classicalornament and the repetition of asymmetrical motifs in northern styles. Where therepetition of a motif occurs in Classical ornament, Worringer argued, it isresolved into harmony within a greater scheme of balanced mirror symmetry:

It is true that the repetition of a single motif plays its part inClassical ornament also: but…is of an entirely different nature. InClassical ornament, there is a general inclination towards repetition of theselected motive [sic] the opposite way round, as in a mirror, therebyavoiding the appearance of endless progression produced by repetition…By this repetition in reverse order…the hurrying, mechanical activity is, asit were, bridled… On the other hand, in Northern ornament repetition doesnot bear this restful character of addition, but has, so to speak, thecharacter of multiplication.113

Worringer located the wheel motif in the northern tradition despite its element ofsymmetry, claiming that the difference between radial symmetry in the antiqueand rotational symmetry in the north was similar to that which exists between thebalanced repetition of a motif and its mechanical or ‘simple’ repetition. ForWorringer the ‘rotation without reflection’ of this form embodied the principleof simple repetition that governs all northern ornament in microcosm: ‘in the onecase there is quiet, measured, organic movement, in the other, the uninterrupted,accelerating, mechanical movement.’114 In Henrietta Moore’s terms, the ‘word’of the self-signifying motif here constructs not a meaningful sentence but a


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repetitious sequence, which imposes its own order on the architectural andenvironmental text. Every architectural surface and every gaze is controlled bythe imposition of an identical design.

The third example I have chosen is a sheet of drawings from the PedagogicalSketchbook of the artist Paul Klee (Plate 13).115 A single swastika had in factbeen used as part of the emblem of the first Bauhaus at Weimar, but in thisanalysis of ‘dynamics based on the square and the triangle, in part related to thecircle’, Klee developed the image of the swastika as a visual ‘theme’ with fifteenvariations. He begins with the horizontally grounded four-armed swastika, andproceeds to an image resembling the Nazi ‘slanted’ variety (Klee noted that thisis the ‘best position of the swastika from the dynamic point of view’).116 Thedirection of apparent rotation is then reversed, and in drawing number ten thethree-armed triskelion makes an appearance, and is explored along similar lines.For a full critical understanding of these images, it is not sufficient simply torefer to Klee’s description, and say that in this sheet of drawings he sees theswastika as a ‘form’ and not as a symbol. What requires elucidation is the waythat this approach to form differs from the ‘abstract and generalised formations’of Islamic pattern that Titus Burckhardt has described. Referring again toHenrietta Moore’s model, we can see in Paul Klee’s drawings a visual equivalentto the polysemic ‘overflow’ of the individual motif. Freed from both thelimitations placed on it in the syntax of the design ‘sentence’ and the repetitionof the identical in rhetoric, the swastika is shown in fifteen ludic transformations.

In contrast to the images of play, différance and transformation inKlee’s sketchbook, my fourth example is of the swastika as it was used in theNazi spectacle. Plate 14 is a photograph of the ‘Day of German Art’ in Munichon 15 October 1933. The original caption read: ‘On the Day of German Art,streets everywhere are full of happy and ceremonial decorative flags(Fahnenschmuckes).’117 The use of the word ‘decorative’ in connection with theNazi emblem here implies something given, the natural or logical supplement ofobject and context. It is such an interpretation that allows for an eventualstructuralist reading in the reverse direction, from the motif to the context which‘produced’ it.

I am suggesting a more critical look at the relationship between thisphotograph and its accompanying text. The words ‘happy’, ‘ceremonial’ and‘decorative’ are there to sugar the pill of the totalitarian Gleichschaltung of1933, and to naturalise the imposition of a geometry of the swastika on thegeometry of the streets. I would again argue that this ‘decoration’, this rhetoricof ornament, is here being used to screen out the existing ontology of object,context and environment and suppress any other texts which might havesupplemented them. The functionality of objects and the negotiability of spacesremains unaffected: even under Nazism, a pot is a pot. But the contextualmeaning of the object is disturbed by the overstamping of the Germanic swastika.Henceforth all objects must question their identity relative to this overallscheme: Germanic art, Germanic cars, Germanic clothes. The supplementary and


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connotative roles of ornament and symbol are brought together in one imagewhich functions as a single commodifying stamp:

it was repeated constantly in an astonishing variety of forms: the swastikaas flag, bunting, armband as expected but also as altar cloth, silverpaperweight, fan decoration, cover of sheet music for the Horst Wessellsong, on goblets, cutlery, children’s swapcards and books, a toy to beassembled in the kindergarten, embroidered pillows, toys, mantelpiece andwall decorations, wallpaper and decals—these are just some of the uses ofthe swastika.118

The image reinforcement achieved by the kindergarten toy is at work in anotherphotograph from the annual Das Jahr, bearing the caption ‘Saarbrücken was asingle sea of flags’.119 It shows a group of young children giving the Hitler salutebeneath a canopy of hundreds of swastikas printed on flags and bunting(Plate 15). This photograph shows the completion of the circuit between theimage of the swastika and an appropriately Germanic response to it, a circuitwhich was being constructed as far back as 1871. The ‘over-stamping’ of theswastika is as much a mental as a physical phenomenon, but the response is herebeing instituted as a physical reflex. The swastika that was transformingarchitecture and objects into Germanic commodities also appears in the form ofthe body. The recognition of the image is coupled with a set of learnedacknowledgements and gestures which, far from acting as a ‘context’ for theswastika, simply redouble the image’s own self-reflexivity. The swastika as thevisual rehearsal of the interpenetration of Führer and Volk is the key element in aset of collectively rehearsed gestural representations and their spoken equivalent(‘Heil Hitler’) which all form part of the same circuit.


The repetition of the swastika to form a field of images was not simply a way toreinforce the potency of the image, since the ‘motif’ of the swastika should berecognised instead as one part of a strategy of gestural repetition and self-signification. The swastika is the key symbol which represents whilst‘expressing’ this set of signs and gestures. In her essay ‘Fascinating Fascism’,120

Susan Sontag claims that this strategy required the ‘multiplication or replicationof things… Its choreography alternates between ceaseless motion and acongealed, static, “virile” posing’. Sontag sees this excessive yet regular,grandiose yet geometric spectacle as an end in itself, extending to all citizens ofthe Nazi state: ‘the masses are made to take form, to be design.’ To return toGombrich’s description of the way in which order and meaning in ornament aremutually exclusive, the Nazis may have ‘purchased this order at the expense ofmeaning’ but the system of differences within which meaning operates isreplaced by what Terry Smith has describes as a ‘State of Seeing’ in which the


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citizens of Germany see themselves constantly reflected as the Volk.121 LikeWorringer’s ‘Northern ornament’ the indefinitely reproduced Nazi swastika wasa part in which the ‘expression’ of the whole could be recognised, the gesture ofrace identity in which others are reflected. For Worringer, the coercive aspect ofthe northern ornament lay in its ability to involve the spectator in mimesis: therepetition of movement in his revolving wheel ‘compels us joylessly to follow itsmovements’.122 This phenomenon links the kindergarten toy in the form of aswastika with the children of Saarbrücken, whom we see in the photograph in theprocess of acquiring a set of images, gestures and responses which areparadoxically construed as innate, given and racially determined. This type ofreinforcement has been described by Ilse McKee in her eye-witness descriptionof a National Socialist gymnastic display:

While the bands played [‘an uncanny sound, hollow and threatening’] thegymnasts marched in. The boys, who were dressed in black P.T.kit, formedthemselves into the shape of a giant swastika on the arena floor; then thegirls, in white P.T.kit, formed a circle around the swastika of boys. Nextthe gymnasts started to perform, accompanied by appropriate music blaringfrom the various loudspeakers, and all the while they kept their formationas a gigantic black swastika in a white circle.123

This demonstrates another aspect of the process of counterfeiting the enculturedgesture as a Germanic racial ‘nature’, a naturalisation which is underlined byreinforcing existing gender roles within this embracing scheme. Contemporaryadvertising employs gender images in a similar fashion, presenting them as thenatural or innate value to which stereotyped images of male and female rolessupposedly conform. Kate Linker, writing on the work of the artist BarbaraKruger,124 has suggested that Kruger’s photomontages expose the relationshipsbetween the body and its image stereotypes, relationships which result in imagesor poses becoming ‘written onto the body’. This inscription is effected throughimitations which are then themselves imitated. In this way all social space andevery body becomes an advertising screen for a culture which has become‘second nature’: the constant rehearsal of the gesture results in a transformationof reality, and imposes the form of the image on that of the physical object.Power is not contained and centralised in the form of the symbolic image, but inthe way in which the image suppresses other systems of relationships andcontextual meanings. As McKee’s ‘human swastika’ shows, some existingsystems, such as the roles assigned to male and female, are accommodatedwithin the new patterns of power, and others are profoundly altered, yet theoriesof race allow the new order to appear as something expressed rather thanenforced. Jean Baudrillard, in his essay ‘Symbolic Exchange and Death’125 hasdistinguished between the ‘commodity law’ and ‘centralist injunction’ oftotalitarianism, which imposes a form of general equivalence, and thedecentralised power of the simulation, which appeals and does not directly


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command. This is an over-generalisation on the basis of the already abstract term‘totalitarianism’. Baudrillard’s simulation is also his ‘genetic code’ in which theresponse is programmed into the structure of the sign. In Nazism, the sign of racefunctions through the swastika as the image in which, as in Baudrillard’s modelof the simulation, ‘mandatory passivity evolves into models constructed directlyfrom the “active responses” of the subject’.126 In this regard, Alfred Rosenberg’sMythos des 20. Jahrhunderts (The Mythos of the Twentieth Century) isilluminating: ‘This message is addressed to no-one who does not already possessit as his own life or at least as a yearning of his heart.’127 Rosenberg’s statement,which echoes Hitler’s preface to Mein Kampf, reveals how an ideology of racedissimulates command and control as the fulfilment of and appeal to a pre-existing desire. The distinction between ‘mandatory passivity’ and ‘activeresponse’ is blurred in the swastika, which is recognised rather than read.

The dances, parades and sporting events which Oswald Spengler saw as thevisible expression of an organic racial will indicate a desire on Spengler’s part toshow that present conformity is in fact the expression of an organic and ahistoricform. ‘Race’, like gender, provides a pseudo-ontological justification forstereotypical behaviour, which may then appear to be natural rather thansomething artificially imposed. Spengler’s discourse places the body somewherebetween the immaterial energy of race and the atrophied language ofornamentation, which had, he claimed, duration but no organic life. Acompromise is effected in his concept of the Gothic, a form which is pureexpression, a frozen gesture rather than a coded ornamental language. Thisconflation of the metaphysical, the ontological and the representational in bothSpengler and Worringer provides the justification for an ornament which iswritten into the body like a genetic code, and which will be responded to, like theswastika, with an acknowledging and reflecting gesture. The Gothic stylebecomes Worringer’s ‘Gothic man’, an abstract category and the sign of aninvoluntary group conformity to an invisible morphological law.


Between 1926 and 1928 Spengler was writing enthusiastically about ‘inspiredmass units’ and in June 1927 the German critic Siegfried Kracauer contributedan essay on ‘The Mass Ornament’ to the literary section of the FrankfurterZeitung.128 There was a fascination in Weimar culture with synchroniseddisplays of every type from sporting events to night-club revues, but Kracauerand Spengler’s interpretations of group morphology diverge in many respects.Uniting them, however, is a concern with the ‘form within form’ which results inKracauer describing the Tiller Girls, an American dance troupe who performedBusby Berkeley-style routines, as ‘swallowed up by the physical nature of theevent’. This is a similar assessment, from a very different theoretical standpoint,to Spengler’s description of ‘bands that feel themselves in the common wave-beat of their being’.129


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Andrew McNamara has perceived a ‘myopic determinism’ in Kracauer’snotion of the body as ‘swallowed up’ by the mass ornament, and his extension ofthis idea to the group displays of the Nazi rallies.130 Whilst the links whichKracauer sees between the high kicks of the Tiller Girls and the rhythms ofFordist production may be over-determined, I would also argue that in hisdistinction between the ‘folk ornament’ which emerges from within thecommunity and the constructed, modern mass ornament ‘which seems to hoverin mid-air’, Kracauer identified an aporia or fissure in which the Nazi sign of‘race’ could be inserted:

The bearers of the ornaments are the masses. This is not the same as thepeople, for wherever the people form patterns, these patterns do not hoverin mid-air but emerge from the community. A current of organic life flowsfrom these groups, whose shared identity connects them with theirornaments.131

Kracauer then proceeds to contrast the ontological fullness of the folk ornamentwith the deracinated and alienated quality of the mass ornament of modern sportsstadiums and cabarets, which rather than being organically grounded ‘is an endin itself’. The mass ornament foreshadows Guy Debord’s ‘spectacle’, as aphantasmagoric and purely visual phenomenon which is formed both in and forthe collective gaze. Folk ornament is produced from the body; the regimentedgeometry of the mass ornament imposes itself on the body and suppresses itsautonomous system of gestures and codes. Kracauer claims that the Tiller Girlsform ‘a closed ornament, whose life components have been drained of theirsubstance’.132 This recalls Gramsci’s statement that industrial methods ofproduction have eroded the ‘animality’ of man:

an uninterrupted, often painful and bloody process of subjugating natural(i.e. animal and primitive) instincts to new, more complex and rigid normsand habits of order, exactitude and precision which can make possible theincreasingly complex forms of collective life which are the necessaryconsequence of industrial development. This struggle is imposed from theoutside, and the results to date…have not yet become ‘second nature.’133

Hitler’s Nazism, unlike its fascist precursor in Gramsci’s Italy, advanced underthe banner of race, a sign which functioned to make the imposition of a ‘rigidnorm’ in every sphere of life appear as the return to some pre-industrial andorganic Aryan paradise. The swastika was the sign in which a modern mass wasencouraged to see itself as an ancient community, a Volksgemeinschaft. Arepresentational gesture towards the folk ornament was reproduced in the formof a symbol which was displayed in parades, rallies and in the mass medium ofthe propaganda film. At the parade inaugurating the Day of German Art inMunich in 1939, which was filmed for national release, German citizens dressed


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in ‘folk’ and medieval costume carried ornamental swastika banners, andheraldic swastikas emblazoned on the shields of knights. As Hitler watched theparade, the military/ industrial complex of the Nazi Blitzkrieg was already poisedto invade Poland. This constructed display of völkisch spontaneity coheres withWalter Benjamin’s assessment of Nazism as an intensification of the power ofcapital and industry masquerading as communal expression:

Fascism saw its salvation (‘Heil’) in allowing masses to obtain self-expression (certainly not to attain their rights). The masses have a right tochange the relations of ownership; fascism seeks to give them a means ofself-expression within the preservation of these relations.134

The granting of supposedly inherited ‘rights’ to an expression of nationalselfhood is used to conceal both existing injustices and the forfeiting of any claimto civil rights and personal freedoms.

Kracauer defined the mass ornament as ‘ambivalent’ insofar as its suppressionof organic nature turned nature into an abstract and potentially threatening value.The imposition of a controlling grid on modern communal existence set up apolarisation and oscillation between the absolutes of a ‘for its own sake’ rigidityand an equally blind and unreasoning energy:

Nature can no longer covert itself into patterns which are powerful assymbols, as was possible during the times of primitive peoples andreligious cults… So in the end nature is all that remains, nature whichresists even the statement and the formulation of its own meaning. In themass ornament we see the rational, empty form of the cult stripped of anyexpress meaning.135

For Kracauer, the romantic desire for transcendence led through the regimentedidentity of the mass ornament, but this resulted in a stasis that prohibited thepossibility of any real change of state. The spectacle is born: ‘abstract signs…portray life itself’.136 The deracination of ornament from folk or artisanproduction and its realisation as a purely visual and immaterial phenomenonreplaces ontology with ersatz.

Kracauer also claimed that: ‘nobody would notice the pattern if the crowd ofspectators, who have an aesthetic relationship to it and do not represent anyone,were not sitting in front of it.’137 The form of his mass ornament illustrates thegulf that mechanical production had opened up between ornament and the humanbody, since individuals no longer constructed ornament; instead they wereconstructed by it into mass formations: individual action is subordinated to avision of order. The swastika, however, was the sign which cruciallydistinguished the Tiller Girls from the Nuremberg rallies, insofar as itrepresented the promise of a bridge between an alienated mass audience and themythical hom*ogeneous Volk, in the form of an image which linked together the


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physical (performing) and visible (observed) body, in the form of a recognisedgesture. The difference between a disinterested and a völkisch spectatorship isthat which exists between seeing oneself as part of a mass, in which the act ofvision does not imply any further level of relationship, and seeing oneself asoneself, in which case vision is returned as an ontological connection, arecognition. This is similar to Gadamer’s definition of the symbol as that whichpresents in the form of an image that which is already present as an ontologicalreality. Yet in the case of the swastika as both ornament and symbol, we have anontological rhetoric whose gestural and expressive force conceals its lack ofsubstance. To the spectating eye, the Nuremberg rallies are just another modernsports event or military display whose mass ornaments ‘hover in mid air’, but theswastika provides these displays with a symbol, a self-presentation which seeksto justify the presence of the mass as the self-presence of a race.

In his unpublished essay on ‘Mass and Propaganda’, written in exile in Paris in1936,138 Kracauer developed a variation on the theme which he had explored adecade earlier. His discussion of Nazism, as McNamara implies, does seem tosuggest a logical progression from the Tiller Girls to Hitler in which Nazism, andnot consumerism, would constitute the true apotheosis of mass production: ‘Allmythical powers which the masses are capable of developing are exploited forthe purpose of underscoring the significance of the masses as a mass. To many itthen appears that they were elevated in the masses above themselves.’139 In thisscenario racism is the wild card, since its reactionary tendencies would tend toimpede rather than to assist in the formation of such a ‘mass religion’. The ‘massreligion’ thesis is supported by Karsten Witte, who in his commentary onKracauer suggests that Nazism turned the passive visual consumption ofornamental figures into a situation in which the masses experienced ‘their owntriumph of the will’.140 The notion that Nazism was capitalism in extremis is acliché, but reading Kracauer’s 1927 text against his later work suggests adifferent interpretation. The overwhelming emphasis placed by Nazism on racewas the one element that could transform the disinterested spectators of 1927into the Nazified masses who ‘see themselves [author’s italics] everywhere…arealways aware of themselves in…an ornament or an effective image’141 inKracauer’s later essay. Such a transition from alienation to self-knowledge is notpossible without an ‘effective image’ such as the swastika, which appears tomediate between mass culture and the ground of being, between ornament and thebody. Without its swastika, Nazism does indeed become equivalent to the TillerGirls, a fact which Mel Brooks has used in good effect in parodies such as thefictional revue ‘Springtime for Hitler’ in his film The Producers (USA 1968).The ironic intent of the Mel Brooks’ film is to reconstruct Nazism as aphenomenon for disinterested and ironic spectatorship, a cabaret in which therepertoire of Nazi signs and gestures becomes a robotic farce; but racism is stillthe skeleton at this visual feast. This is why I have suggested that the swastika isthe only image which remains of Nazism qua Nazism, the one sign whichdistinguishes farce from terror.


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The polar opposite of Mel Brooks’ Broadway revue Nazism is to be found inTriumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will), Leni Riefenstahl’s film of the 1934National Socialist Reichspartei congress at Nuremberg,142 in which the twoleading actors are Hitler and the swastika. Both of these filmic signifiersalternately assume the role of the dominant screen icon, and around them theconcept of the mass transformed into a Volk is visually constructed (Plate 16).Triumph of the Will opens with a shot of Hitler’s plane, its tailfin adorned withan image of the swastika as it descends towards Nuremberg, and ends withmassed ranks of soldiers marching into a swastika which fills the entirescreen.143 Throughout the film, the image of the swastika is used to establish asense of national autonomy and self-celebration, subsuming all existing codingswithin this scheme. Women, children, soldiers, animals and architecture are allover-stamped by the identifying typography of the swastika, the filmic‘Frakturisation’ of a familiar and universally accessible visual language. This israther different than simply ‘foregrounding the signifier’, since here a signifyingsystem is being included within a self-signifying one, rather as in Ilse McKee’s‘human swastika’, the gender difference girl/boy is included within the form ofthe swastika, which contains and suppresses differences within a totalitarianculture of Germanic self-identity.

Significantly, the estrangement effect described by Loos which divides the‘German’ from the ‘human’ still obstructs a Brooksian ‘de-Nazified’ reading ofTriumph of the Will as kitsch or mass media schmaltz. However, this sameVerfremdungseffekt through which a quotidian decoding of filmic language istypographically elevated by the imposition of a sign field, may account for thefact that after its release, Triumph of the Will failed to achieve mass appealwithin Germany itself.144 ‘Frakturisation’ via the swastika meant thatcommunicative language was simultaneously ennobled and obscured. However,this made the sign field of the swastika itself more, not less, readable outside thecountry as the assertion of a self-justifying and confrontational ‘Germanness’.

Triumph of the Will is the film which Kracauer saw as effecting thetransfiguration of reality into a National Socialist ‘swastika world’, a judgementpartly based on the mistaken assumption that the rally was staged for the benefitof the film.145 In Kracauer’s book From Caligari to Hitler, Riefenstahl’s film isplaced at the end of a line of development stretching back to Wiene’s Cabinet ofDr Caligari (Germany, 1919), a film which Kracauer claimed crystallised themood of morbid introspection characteristic of the Weimar years, a mood leadingeventually to the complete estrangement from reality as inaugurated by Hitler.Kracauer’s comparison of the hypnotist Caligari with Hitler is typical of theassertions which, as D.N.Rodowick has suggested, have led to this book being‘often and unfairly maligned’.146 The book and its often profound insights areperhaps best read as a case study in cognition and perception, rather than in thespirit of its sub-title, A Psychological History of the German Film. The motifs


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which Kracauers employs have a lineage of their own, and his analysis ofCaligari as a Gothic, morbid and deranged world bears striking similarities to themorphological tropes employed by Wilhelm Worringer:

Significantly, most fair scenes of Caligari open with a small iris-in exhibiting an organ grinder whose arm constantly rotates, and, behindhim, the top of a merry go-round which never ceases its circularmovement. The circle here becomes a symbol of chaos. While freedomresembles a river, chaos resembles a whirlpool. Forgetful of self, one mayplunge into chaos; one cannot move on in it.147

The Gothic urgency and hypnotic qualities of Worringer’s ‘revolving wheel’ arerevived in the form of a motif of chaotic and meaningless motion. Kracaueridentified this motif in several films of the Weimar period, noting gradualchanges in successive films until the hypnotic wheel of Caligari has beentransformed into ‘repeated close-ups of waving swastika banners, which servethe additional purpose of hypnotising audiences’.148 The swastika, claimsKracauer, is used in film for its ‘stimulative power’ welded to ‘totalmobilisation’.149

Rather than simply adding the lineage ‘Worringer to Caligari’ onto the oneestablished ‘From Caligari to Hitler’ it is worth noting how Kracauer’s analysisof the revolving wheel motif evolves from an insignificant, individual andintrospective signifier of doubt and chaos into the oppressive uniformity ofidentical swastikas occupying the entire field of vision in Riefenstahl’s film.Kracauer notes this progress from question to assertion in the films of a singledirector, Fritz Lang, who was asked to make a Nazi propaganda film byGoebbels after he and Hitler had seen Lang’s Metropolis (Germany 1926).Kracauer argues that the primitive ornaments ‘rich in meaning’ which adornLang’s Niebelungen (Germany 1924) had become an ‘all-devouring decorativescheme’ in Metropolis, whose only purpose is to demonstrate control over bodiesand the spaces they occupy.150 Similarly, in Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin,Symphony of a GreatCity (Germany 1927), the chaotic and hypnotic motifs ofCaligari are present in the form of a rotating spiral seen in a shop window, but,claims Kracauer, ‘what once denoted chaos is now simply part of the record—afact amongst facts’.151 Chaos is recast in the form of order, and doubt ascertainty, but the prevailing conditions have not altered: instead, representationshave replaced reality.

Kracauer’s analysis of ‘Propaganda and the Nazi War Film’ in Caligarioffered a model for the Nazi colonisation of the visual field which made sense ofhis more speculative analyses of the progress from chaos to totalitarian order.Quoting Hans Speier’s essay on ‘Magical Geography’,152 Kracauer suggests thatNazi film motifs and cinematography conspire to demonstrate cartographically atotal victory over spaces and surfaces. This is the colonisation of spaceundertaken by the swastika as the symbol of the new regime, and the corrosion


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of materiality and ontology which it initiates is manifest in Riefenstahl’s film.Triumph of the Will is a film in which we follow the progress of the swastika inits journey back into itself, having swallowed up a culture in the process:‘movement around and above a field implies control of that field.’153 HereThomas Wilson’s notion of a ‘continuous and consecutive’ meaning for theswastika is realised, since the Nazi swastika now represents its temporalcontinuity as a self-identical emblem of race ‘progress’ and spatiallly embodiesits own consecutiveness as a visual environment.

Kracauer also identified the separation of image from text, and the subsequentrule of image over text, as ‘an important and extensively used device’ in Nazifilm:

The use of visuals in connection with verbal statements is determined bythe fact that many propaganda ideas are expressed through pictures alone.The pictures do not confine themselves to illustrating a commentary, but,on the contrary, tend to assume an independent life which…sometimespursues a course of its own… The Nazis knew…that the contrapuntalrelation of image to verbal statement is likely to increase the weight of theimage.154

This contrapuntal relationship is most clearly seen in the swastika, the free-floating Germanic typography which could be applied to any visual or materialtext. But in order to function effectively in this role, the swastika had to operatewithin its own self-identical system, one which confirmed its status as theemblem of race purity whilst achieving autonomy from and suppression of thesystem of textual differences at work within the wider culture. The logic ofautonomy inherent in the German romantic concept of the symbol is pushed toits very limits in the Nazi swastika, since oblique expression had replaced directrepresentation. But the morbid romanticism of Worringer and Caligari has beentransformed in a situation where the autonomy of alienated introspection isreplaced by autonomy as violent self-assertion. However, the divorce of imagefrom text meant that the ‘swastika system’ instituted not revolution but inertia.Within this system, texts and contexts could be suppressed, books could beburnt, Triumph of the Will could overstamp a cinematic Germany with theswastika. But the possibility of writing a new text around the swastika had been anostalgic fantasy in 1886: all that remained was to transform anxiety and wishfulfilment into anti-Semitic antagonism, and romantic autonomy into the rhetoricof race. The obscene grotesque of the Nazi swastika was and still remains aviolent but hopeless gesture. The image can be reinscribed, as it has been on postboxes in London, toilet walls in Berlin and war graves in Holland, but this self-presence of an image at the expense of its context remains the only possible wayin which the Nazi swastika can be read.


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The fact that the logo exists…is itself a form of communication.(Wally Olins, Corporate Identity: Making

Business Strategies Visible Through Design, 1989)

In his report to the fourth communications conference of the Art Directors’ Clubof New York in 1958, Dr Felix Marti-Ibanez spoke on the subject ‘Symbologyand Medicine’. In an extended comparison of corporeal disease with symbolicphenomena, Dr Ibanez described the swastika as a symbol that had been ‘strickenwith a mortal infection’ by Nazism:

a paranoid schizophrenic Viennese house painter succeeded, using all theresources of modern propaganda, including mass hypnosis and — whyshould we not say so—collective symbolism, in dominating almost allEurope on his way to mastering the whole world. The swastika, which hadbeen a symbol of well-being and enlightenment, then became a symbol ofchaos, sadism, oppression and tyranny. Infection of its original meaningcondemned this symbol to fall victim to a chronic infection, which willtake centuries to heal.1

Leaving aside the mistaken description of Hitler as a ‘house painter’, it is worthnoting how the metaphors that Dr Ibanez employed reveal as much about asubjectivist model of symbolism and its relationship to corporate identityprogrammes as they do about the history of the swastika. The intimate linkestablished in his address between the image of the swastika and its ‘originalmeaning’ typified the essentialist and anthropomorphic discourse on corporatesymbolism developed by designers and advertisers in the post-war era. DrIbanez’ naming of the swastika as a sign for the universal and sublime (‘well-being and enlightenment’) also parodies the romantic idea of the symbol. Hisanthropomorphic model of the swastika echoes the romantic concept that thesymbolic ‘event-image’ is the self-expression of its content, and his ‘chronicinfection’ sets in when the visual image has been divorced from the state ofnature represented by its ‘original meaning’.

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This romantic and subjectivist theme has been maintained in current writing oncorporate design. According to the corporate identity designer Wally Olins, thesymbol or logo should embody the universal and timeless, rather than signify theephemeral qualities of the product or the floating and quantitative values ofcommercial exchange: ‘The symbol designer should…introduce concepts thatboth represent the particular organisation and are directly accessible to peoplethrough the visual representation of universal human values.’2 Olins argues thatthe combined effects of an increasingly competitive commercial environmentand changing labour patterns are now producing a situation in which brandidentity is eclipsed by corporate identity. Increased competition, he claims, ismaking products more and more similar, and as a result companies must nowdifferentiate themselves from each other to attract both potential employees andcustomers. This necessitates a symbolic reunification of image and identity, ofsymbol and meaning, that had previously been prevented by the ‘soulless’ aspectof the manufactured object. The logo or logotype is now seen as the point oforigin for rhetorical statements on corporate goals and missions as much as aguarantee of the reproducibility and quality of manufactured goods.

This shift towards the universal and the ahistoric in corporate design has ahistory all of its own. The ‘trademark’, a sign which once indicated a distinctgrouping of manufactured objects, was eventually superseded by the logo or‘corporate identity’ in which emphasis was placed on the continuity of thecompany as an origin or source guaranteeing the reproduction of an identicaltype or quality of goods. More recently, corporate design discourse has travelledaway from the productivist idea, in which the logo functioned as a manufacturingarchetype or ‘gene’, and has substituted psychoanalytic metaphors for thecorporeal images of sickness and infection employed in Dr Ibanez’ address. In thisdiscourse, the ‘corporation’ as a producing and issuing body becomes anorganising and intuitive mind. Designers now speak of the ‘corporate psyche’and ‘corporate personality’ which the logo is intended to articulate and reveal,and insofar as the logo as a psychological self-image ‘gives the company away’it represents a different relationship to the consumer than that established by thecommodity which must be bought and sold.

The following section of this book develops a comparison of the Nazi swastikaand the corporate logo, a comparison predicated on a common ‘trans-economic’ambition to supersede both the commercial and the communicative act ofexchange. As the emblems of this supersedence, both swastika and logo havefollowed similar paths in the twentieth century, but to a radically differentpurpose, since what the logo now establishes as a ‘free gift’ and supplement tocommodity laws of value, the Nazi swastika instituted as an injunction and a lawin its own right, in the form of a ‘national awakening’ in which the individualsubject was returned to himself as a member of the Aryan aristocracy. It mightalso be argued that the logo is an aristocratic sign; not because it seeks to elevateits products above others, but because it establishes a lineage of identity andquality of which the manufactured object is merely an example. In the Nazi


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swastika, however, the object is superfluous, and a lineage is established not onlywithout recourse to exchange, but in the attempt to transcend it. The appeal to‘race’ through the swastika was at once eternal and non-negotiable, establishedby communal and supposedly pre-existing rights of ‘blood’, not by the rights ofprivate ownership. This transcendence was of course dependent on what itavowed to transcend, and the race distinction of the swastika was no less ephemeralthan the contingent human groups established by commodity signs. However,what both the Nazi swastika and the logo have in common is theirphantasmagoric ability to conjure up the image of a frozen time, a time beyond,before or outside the quotidian. In the swastika, this is currently expressednegatively in the form of a signal which refuses to disappear, a mnemonic whichwe could well do without. In the logo, it has been the guarantee of satisfaction,of a governing and controlling source. More recently, corporate design has begunto focus on the future tense, since the era of the corporate merger has eroded thestatus of the logo as a ‘genetic’ guarantee of similar object forms. The discourseof the logo is now about objectives, missions and goals, rather than traditions andcontinuities.


A comparison between swastika and logo can only be sustained at the point atwhich ‘product marketing’ is separated from ‘corporate marketing’, a point atwhich the company as a ‘psyche’ purports to establish a self-conscious identityand a certain distance from its manufactured products. Logos have become signsof the first person, signs in which a visual address and a correspondingrecognition by the viewer takes precedence over the communication ofinformation or the sale of a product. As Wally Olins has pointed out, ‘the factthat the logo exists at all is itself a form of communication’.3 In stating thisprecedent, this ‘existence for itself’, the logo appears as the ‘human’ or ‘natural’point of origin for the dehumanised or denatured commodity. The logo suggeststhat commodities are produced magically, ex nihilo, which may explain thehistorical cult of mystery and opacity in the design of these images.4 Byrevealing the company as the source of production, the logo simultaneouslyconceals the economic conditions of production. The logic of the logo’s ‘freegift’ is that no strings are attached, and all signs of labour (which always carriesits price) have been erased. It is a ‘purely symbolic’ gesture, and its lack ofnecessity immediately refers us to a world where things are magically begotten,not physically made.

However, the more recent ‘psychologising’ of the logo has attached this muteimage of origin and primal innocence to a discourse of sophisticated self-awareness. The free space which was at one time simply indicated or suggestedby the discreet presence of the logo in the corner of an advertisem*nt now fills theentire surface in the paradigmatic and notorious example of the Benettoncampaign, a myth told in advertising hoardings which manages to be both


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commercially innocent and worldly-wise. The self-revelatory ‘flash’ of the logois here obscured and overwhelmed by a confessional baring of the corporatesoul. Here the first person is not simply represented, it has become the startingpoint of a psychoanalytic discourse in which companies ‘give of themselves’,rather than turning the more familiar trick of mythologising their products.

That subjective signs have only a provisional autonomy, and that the‘corporate image’ which the logo represents is merely an epiphenomenon ofexchange, lessens neither the rhetorical force nor the appeal of these symbols. Inthe modern era, the nostalgic notion of a ding an sich of the object ‘as such’outside commodity laws has been replaced by the image qua image of the symbol,of which the corporate logo is a contemporary form. The optimistic fiction of thelogo is that the subject need not continually defend her/himself against beingbought and sold. In fact, the logo seems to reassure us that subjectivity and ahuman essence still exist somewhere beyond production and consumption: ‘Thelogo—unlike almost all the other incentives to communication to which man isexposed—does not demand anything in return from its viewer, not even attention.It reaches out to him.’5

Between 1921 and 1933 the Nazi swastika proclaimed this appeal tocommonly held rather than economically differentiated values as a policy in itsown right. The fact that the organic community promised by such ‘commonlyheld’ values could only be established within a discourse of race revealed thefalse basis for such an appeal, and disclosed the proximity of the Nazi swastikato a commodity type of distinction. The swastika made German nobodies intoAryo-Germanic somebodies in much the same way as the commodity signcontinues to set standards for judgements of value, class and gender.6 However,part of the appeal of the swastika lay in its ability to cut across socialstratification by commodity and wealth with its single division of race, whilst atthe same time leaving those distinctions intact, distinctions which a Marxist formof the state would immediately have erased. In the Nazi state, Jewish propertycould be confiscated, but the notion of property itself was not disturbed.7 Likethe logo, the promise of the swastika was trans-economic, not post-economic,just as the promise of the romantic symbol had been to make the ordinaryextraordinary without thereby cancelling out quotidian space with its elevation of‘experience’ to a higher power.

Designers and design historians have lately become aware that the visual imageof the logo can easily become a crude device which tries and fails to conjure up a‘false consciousness’ of economic and productive realities. However, rather thanabandoning the aesthetics of the logo altogether and thus presenting productivistethics in the raw state, corporate image programmes have instead begun toactualise as a set of goals what the logo once represented, statically, as a simpledeclaration of identity. As occurred in the nineteenth-century institution of theswastika as an Aryan symbol, in the logo we can perceive the shift from thesymbol of a set of (productive) practices to the institution of a set of practices whichwill ‘produce’ the corporate mission or goal embodied in the symbol. In tracing


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the history of this development in the form of the logo, the writer Rose de Nevehas remarked that in a contemporary context, the terms ‘corporate identity’ (thecompany logo) and ‘corporate image’ (how the company is perceived) representa puzzling transposition of values. She argues that the word ‘identity’ suggests anessence or ontology:

Identity…has nothing to do with a designed logotype and the attached‘bug’ [logo]—that is with a visible object—so much as with a condition orstate of being and the awareness of that state. ‘Corporate image’ mighthave been a better way to describe a visual signifier.8

De Neve suggests that the reason that the corporate logo is not referred to as animage is because the word ‘image’ has connotations of falsehood or unreality.Her argument implies a cosmeticising of the cosmetic, but a more radical way tolook at this issue is to suggest that the transposition has not been cosmetic butactual, and that the visual image has in fact taken on the ontological qualitieswhich were once seen as proper to identity.

This transformation of image into identity has been a gradual process, and themediating role of the manufactured object different at every stage. At one time asign or signature on the object stood simply as a maker’s mark, and the‘trademark’ was a device through which faulty or substandard goods could betraced back to the work of a particular craftsman. The split between the objectand its maker, between ‘brand identity’ and ‘corporate identity’ begins whenseveral products are issued by a single manufacturer: the trademark then refers tothe maker not via the materiality of the object but through an abstract set ofvalues or some psychological trait such as ‘decency’ or ‘integrity’. The phantomimage takes one step further away from the manufactured object with the adventof the professional trademark design company, a division of labour whichfollows the split between designing and making in Fordist methods of production.After World War II, Rose de Neve identifies a crisis in corporate image, whichhad become a universal abstract token applied ‘after the fact’ by designers tocompanies which were now themselves split into several corporate divisions. Shesuggests that the answer to this crisis of identity has been on the one hand thedivision of product marketing from corporate marketing, and also aforegrounding of the logo as a unifying and ‘expressive’ image: ‘The majordifference between “then” [the 1960s] and “now” is that the new corporateidentity begins with the need to delineate the fundamental nature of thecorporation—to formulate a statement forthe corporate mission [my italics].’9

Here the corporate image, instead of being something which is applied to thecompany as an afterthought or cosmetic illusion, takes on a strange ontology ofits own, as a projected ‘state of being’ towards which the company is supposedlymoving. The shift in values is then complete: the trademark which was once apostscript, signature or maker’s mark applied ‘after the fact’ to the object hasgrown in stature to become an image which precedes both the manufactured


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object and the company itself. The alienating gap between identity and image hasbeen removed by collapsing the former into the latter, in the form of a visualsymbol which is then given the paradoxical title ‘corporate identity’.

This trajectory of the corporate image as something ‘moving towards’ a stateof being rather than representing a ready-made object had already beencompleted by the Nazi swastika in 1920. The total conversion of the swastikainto a sign of race and the final abandonment of associated ‘meanings’ andexplanations of the sign accomplished the same insinuation of an ontologicalvalue into a representative one. Hitler’s description in 1925 of the swastika asrepresenting the ‘mission of the struggle for the victory of the Aryan man’ alsoemphasised the goal and the mission which the symbol supposedly embodied.The referent of the swastika was now placed in the future, in a notional Aryanbody and a race consciousness: the image of the swastika would be completed bya race identity. The interim solution was to continue the ‘tradition of the symbol’spatially and synchronically as its own self-identical referent, since the Aryanhad failed to make an appearance. However, the years after 1933 saw the attemptto realise the Nazi racial ‘mission’ which culminated in the Wannsee conferenceand the Holocaust.10 The fact that in 1993 the racist swastika still requires avisual iteration and that its ‘mission’ could never have been accomplished,shows that Nazism was following the obscene logic of its self-representation.Only in the name of swastika, the sign of race, could Nazism identify anddistinguish itself.


In the 1920s, the Nazi party and its swastika could have been seen as yet anotherexample of reactionary nostalgia and a ‘false consciousness’ of the economic andpolitical realities of that time, to be set alongside völkisch groups and the cult ofMazdaznan and colonic irrigation which Johannes Itten promoted at the WeimarBauhaus. However, when Hitler became chancellor on 30 January 1933, anynotion of a ‘false consciousness’ was replaced by an ‘interpolation’ of theAlthusserian variety, in which the masses were included in the racist ideology ofthe swastika (and in the ‘mission’ of the sign) as the subjects of a mythical‘Aryan aristocracy’. Althusser’s famous dictum was that ideology ‘represents theimaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence’,implying a privileging of ideology over reality, achieved by an ‘interpolation’which addresses the masses as the subjects of that ideology.11 The distinctionbetween a ‘true’ and a ‘false’ consciousness then becomes problematic. Thisphenomenon was at work both in the armorial emblem of the swastika and inHitler’s typically eschatological proclamation, on 1 February 1933, of ‘nationalawakening’, a phantom coming to consciousness in which representations ofracism took on the mantle of a revealed truth and a higher reality.12

In comparing the ‘mission’ of the Nazi swastika with the corporate missionsymbolised in the contemporary logo, I am describing the logic of self-


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representation developing at different rates and in different circ*mstances, butwhich in the end both attempt to supply an ontological referent (‘identity’) tocomplete the visible image. And in both cases, the goal which is sought iscollapsed into the image which ostensibly ‘represents’ it. The image is thenmaintained and displayed as the goal, which therefore remains phantasmagoricand unattainable. It should be noted, however, that when the Nazi swastika wasthe dominant icon in Germany, the corporate logo was still enmeshed in aproductivist rather than subjective/psychological sign language. At this stage thelogo was still a manufacturing template or archetype, rather than the sign of adirect and unmediated ‘public address’ from the corporate psyche to acommunity of consumers. In his guide to corporate identity, Wally Olinsdescribes a pre-conscious state of capitalism outside the sphere of publicconcerns, citing as evidence the fact that companies such as Ford Motors kept upproduction in both America and Germany during World War II:

Ford, Unilever, General Motors and others traded right through the ThirdReich, working with even-handed willingness for both Allies and Nazis.Today such a situation would be unacceptable. Society does not reject thecorporation; on the contrary, increasingly it welcomes it into its bosom. Butit demands from it what it regards as socially acceptable behaviour.13

What Olins sees as an ethical question can more accurately be read as an issue ofrepresentation, and of the distinction separating the subjective signs of Nazismfrom the commodity and trademark signs of commerce. It is not that theconsumer now asks more of the corporation, but that the corporation no longercommunicates only via the object (brand identity) but instead speaks directly,‘person to person’ using the corporate identity of the logo or logotype. Ethicalissues such as ecology or racism that abound in contemporary advertising simplynarrativise and extend this ‘first-person’ address: they give the corporation ahuman face. In 1942, when Ford was making trucks for both the Americanpublic and the Wehrmacht, the situation was somewhat different, insofar aspolitics and commerce had realised a ‘non-aggression’ pact, and their systems ofrepresentation did not as yet coincide. In the Nazi state, commodity distinctionssuch as company trademarks were allowed to exist alongside the totalitarian signof race, but what the party did prohibit in its ‘Laws for the Protection of NationalSymbols’ of May 1933 was the use of the swastika as a commodity sign whichcould increase the value of mass-produced objects.

Because of this historical difference, many comparisons which have beenmade between the Nazi swastika and modern corporate identity are superficial.Such comparisons are made by designers in order to invest the modern logo witha borrowed potency, and simultaneously to ‘tame’ the Nazi image by aretrospective and patronising comparison. The truth is that the Nazi swastika wasnot ‘just like’ a corporate logo; it might be more accurate to say that the logo isan etiolated swastika. Corporate wars parallel the semiotic contest between


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swastika and hammer and sickle that took place in the Weimar republic, but nocorporate identity has yet succeeded in moving beyond this system of differencesand into the totalitarian environment which existed in Germany after 1933,where both ideological contest and electoral appeal were superfluous and onlyone sign was required, which therefore could no longer be read as a sign in theaccepted sense of this term. A passive rather than dialogic ‘reading’ of the signrequires that it be placed within a structured set of differences, and it is such areading which allows for and directs the pseudo-activity of ‘consumer choice’between one product or service and another. With the Nazi swastika, this alreadyillusory commercial ‘choice’ in which one element presents itself as a singular,rather than as a constitutive value, is replaced by what might be termed theradical singularity and enhanced passivity of race consciousness. The battlefieldof contesting signs familiar from the marketplace is replaced by the corrallingeffect of the identical sign field of the swastika, which substituted siege warfare(Aryans within, non-Aryans without) for the ritualised engagements ofcommerce.

The rules of commercial engagement and the links between a particularcompany, its competitors and the economic sub-structure work to ensure that theassertion of autonomy and a projected ‘state of being’ in the corporate image orlogo is provisional and rhetorical. The gravitational force exerted by an economyalso ensures that the ‘brand loyalty’ promoted by the logo is normally seen asdistinct from the ‘company loyalty’ which it also effects. The latter is somethingwhich normally only company employees have been persuaded to have, and thepublic or community created by the product has traditionally been seen as abeneficial side-effect rather than an end in itself. However, recent developmentsin advertising, such as the Benetton campaign, in which the product disappearsand is replaced by ‘event-images’ bearing the company logotype, places the‘corporate personality’ squarely in the midst of the public sphere and politicalconcerns. What is on sale is the Benetton Weltanschauung, and the commodity(clothing) is hidden within the ultimate ‘free gift’ of charitable humanism:‘advertising in its new dimension invades everything, as public space…disappears.’14

It is when this trans-economic ambition can be recognised that a comparisonbetween the Nazi swastika and contemporary corporate identity becomespossible. In 1933, however, the image of the swastika was the site of a strugglebetween the commercial and commodifying values of mass production and theNazi project of a Gleichschaltung, a public ‘co-ordination’ around the newnational symbol. Goebbels’ regulations of 19 May that year were intended tostop the wholesale application of the Nazi swastika to all manner ofmanufactured objects from paperweights to blackboard dusters as a salesgimmick. Paragraph one of the regulations states that ‘it is forbidden to use thesymbols of Germany history, of the German state and the National awakening inpublic in such a way that the dignity of these symbols is seen to be lessened’.15

Couched in the tortuous rhetoric of National Socialism, these regulations


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instituted a system for policing uses of the swastika which provided for theimmediate confiscation of unsuitable objects without compensation and thefining or jailing of anyone selling them. Supplementary regulations distinguishedbetween mass-produced and ‘art or applied art and craft’ objects bearing theswastika, and thus become ‘anti-commodity’ laws, since factory-made objectswere likely to have the swastika applied simply ‘to adorn the object, or make itmore saleable (Absatszfähigkeit)’. No restrictions were placed on craft objectswhose form was that of the symbol itself, for example stickpins and badges:

If the symbol is used on an object or in connection with it, it may only be usedwhen the object itself has an inner relation (innereBeziehung) to thesymbol… The use of symbols for publicity purposes is in any caseforbidden.16

These regulations imply a distinction between the elevation of the object as acommodity form and the elevation of the individual subject to raceconsciousness. Items such as flags and lapel badges were deemed to ennoble theperson, whereas in the specifically forbidden instance of a children’s ball, theaddition of a swastika would increase the purchase price of an object only then tobe unceremoniously kicked around the streets.17 These laws insisted that the‘national awakening’ of 1933 should be an experience collectively shared ratherthan an object privately possessed. The trans economic is the realm not of havingbut of being, a domain which commerce was at that time imperfectly equipped tocolonise.

Goebbels’ laws against public display of the swastika, however, did notexplicitly prohibit the commodification of the swastika in the form of a ready-mixed literary exegesis. After 1933, books on the origin and meaning of theswastika were legion, including pamphlets such as 5000 Year Swastika by DrFritz Geschwendt, who set out to explain to German youth ‘the history of theswastika and its meaning, in particular swastikas as the symbols of theGermans’.18 Ulrich Hunger has noted that in the swastika literature of thisperiod, the Germanic fantasies which filled the tantalising gap between imageand meaning knew no bounds.19 This is certainly true of Dr Geschwendt’s book,which sought to satisfy childish curiosity as to why the swastika in particularshould be the sign under which ‘the new Germany marches’. He began byquoting Hitler’s words on the swastika in Mein Kampf, in which the symbol isreferred to as an anti-Semitic sign. Geschwendt then attempted to supply aGermanic history and meaning which could explain the position Hitler hadadopted, and he was probably fully aware that only a child would have acceptedthe history of the swastika he presented. His account includes a description ofSchliemann, the ‘German explorer’ who discovered swastikas at Troy, and theTrojan whorls are introduced to account for the 5000-year Germanic prehistoryproclaimed in Geschwendt’s title, a prehistory which is mapped onto anindefinite future.


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Geschwendt’s ‘educational’ material on the swastika appears to bear outUlrich Veit’s claim that: ‘[The Nazis]…integrated history at all levels, to theextent that even minor local periodicals of historical societies were turned intopamphlets of National Socialism.’20 However, the party itself did not bother toquestion that the swastika was Germanic because it was anti-Semitic, withoutfurther evidence being necessary. Hitler’s contempt for myths of origin andpatched-up prehistory is a matter of record, and his view of the swastika wasprimarily architectural, a matter of Aryan form and Aryan space, with the word‘Aryan’ being accorded its narrowest and least ‘archaeological’ or textuallyexact definition as the Germanic. Even the verbose and obfuscatory Rosenberg inhis Mythos referred not to a prehistoric dispersal or an ancient meaning (theendless Ursprungs and Bedeutungs of Germanic swasticology) but instead placedhis emphasis on the swastika as ‘a new symbol’ for a renewed existence, in theprocess demonstrating how the swastika neatly aggregated the texts of NationalSocialism. The swastika, said Rosenberg, was ‘in accord with our new Mythos…Folk-honour, living space, national freedom, social equality, racial purity and alife-renewing fertility.’21 Here yet again the swastika was used as the devicewhich could draw together a set of disparate and inconsistent meanings in orderto make them self-evidently and symbolically meaningful. This ‘drawingtogether’ via the swastika is simultaneously a process of drawing racialdistinctions. Rosenberg’s emphasis on renewal also shows that the Nazi Party didnot intend the gap between image and meaning in the swastika to be filled by anexplanatory text, but rather by a sudden revelation of race consciousness. It isthis tradition of ‘self-evidence’ and an emotional recognition of and somaticinvolvement with the image which links Schliemann to Rosenberg, rather thanthe attempt to gather historical proofs for a racist ideology.

The official Nazi line on the swastika was national renewal through racialpurge. Meaning, explanation and attribution were unnecessary, since anexplanation of the swastika would have immediately introduced the ambiguityand interpretative freedom which accompanies texts. Goebbels’ laws of 1933existed to police the uses of a form, not to control the interpretations of that use.These laws might appear to be an example of ordinary copyright legislationenforced by extraordinary methods, but in the context of the Enabling Bill passedtwo months earlier on 23 March 1933, they can more accurately be seen as partof the attempt to Nazify all aspects of life in Germany. The passage of theEnabling Bill (The National Emergency Termination Bill), which gave the Nazigovernment the power to act without parliamentary sanction, ended the illusorypromise of a bourgeois nationalist regime which might have replaced the weakdemocracy of Weimar, an illusion which the Nazi party had sought to foster. Theclash between the purveyors of swastika cuff-links and party officialdomhighlights the conflict between a bourgeois economy of difference and theimposition of unswerving totalitarian identity, since those selling Nazi kitschwere merely attempting to gain a competitive edge, whilst the party itselfattempted to subsume the individual entrepreneurial instinct into the determinism


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of race. In May 1933, the Berliner IllustrierteZeitung commented that sinceHitler’s assumption of the Chancellorship on 30 January that year, an ‘entireindustry’ had set to work cashing in on the popular appeal of Nazism, aphenomenon which was ‘more damaging to the community than it was helpful tothe economy’.22 This statement places race and commerce on opposite sides of adivide which ostensibly separated an elevated national interest from a lowcommercial self-interest. What was in fact happening was a struggle for theswastika between two systems, both attempting to absorb the other. WhereNazism tried to commodify the German subject as a member of the Germanicrace, commerce carried on relentlessly with its traditional practice ofcommodifying the object.

The ultimate victor in this battle of wills has of course been commerce, in theform of those pulp publishers who still live by the dictum that ‘nothing sells likesex and swastikas’ on a book cover. In this economy-driven system, signs areinterchangeable, and if they carry the same commercial value, it is immaterialwhether they are swastikas or women’s breasts. The pulp publishers of todayfollow in the footsteps of those purveyors of ‘Nazi kitsch’ who first saw thecommercial potential of the swastika in 1933.

It is the unique characteristic of kitsch that it makes public, vulgarises orcheapens private experiences, usually of a transcendental, religious or sexualnature. Those who manufacture kitsch often find themselves in conflict withthose organisations which have traditionally mediated between the private andthe public realm, such as the Church. On the one hand these organisations seekitsch as a challenge to their authority; on the other they may realise that theirown sacred symbols of communal transcendence stand a hairsbreadth away fromvulgarity and profanity. This was certainly true of Nazism, since as Gillo Dorfleshas pointed out, ‘what could be more…kitsch than… Nazi myths?’23 Dorfles hasdistinguished between what he terms the mythagogic or ersatz ‘revelation’ ofNazism and the mythopoetic character of literature and art. His notion of aKitschanschauung, a ‘kitsch consciousness’ is persuasive, but there remains thequestion of precisely how this is effected. The kitsch object uses the emotionallycatalytic symbol as a sales gimmick, a means to elicit a recognised andpredictable ‘effect’ for which commercial gain is the underlying cause andthrough which consumer consciousness travels on a closed loop. In order for theconsumer to personalise the emotion which the kitsch object has made public,she or he must make that same emotion a private possession once more throughthe act of purchasing the object. Nazism, to the contrary, was more concerned tomaintain an elevated experience at the level of a public and communalparticipation, rather than returning it ‘home’ in the form of a sentimentalisedobject. The ‘Laws for the Protection of National Symbols’ specificallycondemned ‘pictures of artistically low value, with self-illuminating swastikas’whilst condoning images of the leading personalities of the new regime.24 Thesepictures, when displayed in the home, had the effect of transforming the Germanliving room into a public, rather than a private space, and were sanctioned by the


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anti-kitsch regulations under the heading of ‘the object which is itself thesymbol’. Nazism was concerned to protect the integrity of its self-representationsat all costs. It saw its swastika as defensible völkisch space, a ‘national symbol’which defined the Germanic ghetto, and which could not be allowed to fall intothe wrong hands. Goebbels’ regulations represent one step on the road to 14 July1933, when German bourgeois democracy finally voted itself out of existence, theNazi party was declared the only political party in Germany, and the swastikawas established as the single dominant sign. In another sense, this curbing ofcommercialism had simply raised kitsch consciousness to a higher power. InNazi race ideology, the signs of distinction, elevation and fulfilment did not haveto be purchased, they were freely given to all ‘Aryans’. The short cut to bliss thatkitsch represented became shorter still, and the sign of distinction did not have tobe mediated by a mass-produced object, since it could be possessed by all Aryo-Germans as their spurious ‘birthright’.


This hypertrophied singularity in which the subjective sign becomes an all-encompassing national symbol is absent from the corporate identity, the gesturesof which towards subjectivity and ontology are provisional, positional and moreeasily referred to economic factors. The corporate mission is in one sense amarket-driven goal; but in another sense the company is also driven by the logicof its own self-representation. It may then become difficult to sort outeconomically pragmatic from ‘symbolic’ gestures. On 21 March 1991, an articlein The Guardian described a redesigned logo for British Telecom, ‘part of thecompany’s plans to redefine itself for the 1990s’. This was accompanied by thenews that Telecom was to cut 40,000 jobs. In one sense, the new logo was beingread as a piece of cosmetic surgery, a fragment of ‘false consciousness’concealing harsh economic realities. This is the interpretation suggested by theheadline ‘BT unveils four million pound facelift and cuts 40,000 jobs’. However,these same job cuts are then described as one part of a redefinition for which thenew logo is the material expression, the embracing and coordinating symbol. Inan interview about the controversial new logo, its designer Wally Olins claimedthat the debate provoked by the image had confirmed his intuition that‘symbolism is emotional and causes people to get worked up’.25 Channellingemotions through the symbol in this way could also serve as a way of divertingattention from economic issues, both in the marketplace and within the companyitself. However, Olins also revealed that his intention had been to create a cross-culturally recognisable image drawing on the classical symbolism of Mercuryand Hermes: ‘something…immediately recognisable, in any culture, as a symbolof communication’.26 This double colonisation of Classical symbolism and theglobal market, and the emphasis on subjective factors such as ‘emotion’ and thecorporate psyche, typify the trans-economic and supra-material aspirations of thecorporate identity.


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The question of the cross-culturally identifiable image is particularly relevantto Nazism, which took the globally dispersed sign of the swastika, a sign whichNorman Brown27 had described in 1933 as ‘common human property’ andrenamed it as a ‘national symbol’. This annexing or copyright of a universal signparallels the process described by Olins in which an ‘internationally understood’symbol is simultaneously recognised as the property of a particular company.The global market is implicit in the selection of the symbol, whose sphere ofsemiotic influence defines the propositional space which will eventually becolonised. In this respect, the Germanically exclusive and globally inclusive signof the swastika differed sharply from the communist hammer and sickle, whichin global terms was the symbol of an ‘export drive’ on behalf of Marxistideology. The hammer and sickle attempted to export a Western philosophy ofproductivity and labour as an international language of revolution. This attemptwas criticised by Jean Baudrillard in The Mirror of Production, which suggestedthat both capitalism and Marxism were in the thrall of the same productivistethic: ‘When Marxism speaks of the mode of production of primitive societies,we ask to what extent this concept fails to account even for our own historicalsocieties (the reason it is exported).’28 When he wrote The Mirror of Production,Baudrillard was still preoccupied with the vision of a primitive ‘symbolicexchange’ which with its prodigality, waste and sacrifice could challenge bothpolitical economy and the economy of the code. In his later text on ‘SymbolicExchange and Death’ this concept of a meaningless dépense (taken from thework of Marcel Mauss and Georges Bataille), was seen as haunting Westernsociety in the form of ‘an obsessive memory, a demand ceaselessly repressed bythe law of value’.29 It might seem plausible to suggest that Nazism, which in thename of representations of racial purity murdered human beings en masse, insecret and with no political, electoral or economic end in view, was participatingin just such a ‘symbolic exchange’ which cancelled and negated all the laws ofexchange and every human value. It could also be argued that the death camps ofthe Nazi Holocaust were only ‘factories’ insofar as this obscene realisation of aproductivist concept was linked to the uneconomic and impossible project of a‘final solution’. This argument might be sustained were it linked to thedisjunction between symbol and reality, the gulf between an anti-Semitic imageand its phantom reference to an Aryan identity. It cannot, on the other hand,sustain any idea of an ‘ecstasy of sacrifice’.30

The term ‘final solution’ (Endlosung) as employed by Reinhard Heydrich atthe Wannsee conference on 20 January 1942 stands as a bland euphemism for anunspeakable act. The term also carries the connotations of a paradox or logicaldifficulty, a squaring of the circle in which all other realities and all previousstandards of judgement were abandoned to maintain the economy andequilibrium of a racial representation, the one factor by which Nazism could nameand distinguish itself. The ‘sacrifice’ here is of the possibility of an alternativeview, and of a different logic than the logic of mass murder. According to thetestimony of one member of the SS killing squads, ‘the Jews were killed because


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they were Jews’.31 This is not a tautology but a statement with its own pitilessinternal logic, a sentence which is a killing machine in its own right: humanbeings at one end, and representations at the other.

Reality was sacrificed to racist logic in successive stages. In Mein KampfHitler had already subordinated the economic principle of labour to the trans-economic principle of race. In defining the swastika as the sign of ‘creativework’ he adds that creative work ‘has been and always will be anti-Semitic’. Inan earlier passage, Hitler had already established that ‘work’ should be done inthe ‘interests of the community’, but this gesture towards a socialist ideal isundermined by his declaration that only the Aryan is capable of such selflessness.32

All labour in the Aryan state, as Hitler makes clear in his statement on theswastika, is only a means towards a racial end. Even military goals wereeventually sacrificed to Hitler’s racial project: as J.P.Stern has pointed out, themurder of Jewish prisoners was carried out ‘at considerable cost to the Germanwar effort’.33 In his identification of anti-Semitism as the guiding principle ofNazi policy from first to last, Stern has criticised the revisionist tone employedby Ernst Nolte, who whilst not denying the reality of the Holocaust, hasinterpreted it as a reaction to what he terms the ‘annihilation’ occasioned by theRussian revolution and a ‘copy’ of similar atrocities throughout history, thusmaking racism a peripheral rather than the central determinant of Nazi policy.34

Nolte’s attempt to ‘level out’ Nazism relative to other forms of oppression ismanifest in his Three Faces of Fascism, a book which compares ActionFrançaise, Italian fascism and Nazism.35 In his adoption of a‘phenomenological’ method of analysis for fascism, Nolte reifies an abstraction,since the differences between movements labelled generically as fascist outweighthe similarities which might reasonably be said to constitute a ‘phenomenon’.However, his comparison of the Nazi swastika with the Italian fasces allowed fora radical difference in the ‘extremity’ of the visual rhetoric employed:

What was genuinely new and typically transformed was the party flag. Theswastika did not, like the lictors’ bundle, recall a remote but neverthelessstill tangible historical era: as an ancient and prehistoric symbol ofsalvation, it was supposed to proclaim the future victory of ‘Aryan man.’Just as Mussolini’s oratorical style, even in its worst outbursts, seemedcontrolled and moderate compared to Hitler’s, so the recalling by theFascists of the Roman Imperial tradition seemed…concrete and historicallyvalid when compared with this appeal to the prehistoric and the archaic.Not only in ideas; in sight and sound, too, the extreme nature of the youngmovement…is easily recognizable.36

This passage is worth quoting at length as an example of an analysis of theswastika which does not accept its own implications. Nolte allows his generalfascist comparison to repress an investigation of the ‘phenomenon’ of Nazidifference qua difference. Nazism was not fascism in extremis, it was the


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institution of racist extremism in the form of a fascist political programme. Inother words, Nazism was fascism plus the swastika. Nolte is correct inidentifying the Nazi swastika as ahistoric and archaic, but he shies away fromidentifying race as the ideology within which these elements functioned and forwhich the swastika was the emblem. The swastika differs from the fasces preciselyin its explicit racism, not in its degree of fascism. Both the swastika and thelictor’s bundle express the basic fascist equation of the many contained withinthe one, but the swastika accomplishes this in a more literal and less literarysense as a signifying surface of identical images, in which each singularityrepresents the whole as one uniform represents an army. However, in Nazism,this fascist principle is used to construct not a form of the state but a form of theperson, or of the state founded on the principle of racial purity. This is why theswastika should be compared not to the lictor’s bundle, but to Fichte’sautokinetic state machine of 1807, whose motive power was derived from Aryanrace energy. Nazism, the historian George L.Mosse has claimed, ‘expressly reject[s] the Roman-law concept of the state as a separate corporate identity’.37

Georges Bataille also offered radically divergent interpretations of Italian andGerman fascism in his ‘The Psychological Structure of Fascism’, an essay whichfirst appeared in the journal Critique Sociale on 10 November 1933.38 Whilstsuggesting that the principle of an aristocratic ‘sovereign form of value’ wascommon to both political movements, Bataille implied that Italian fascism hadidentified the state itself as the symbol of this highest value, whereas Nazism,with its exaltation of race above all else, had given the state only a secondary andcontingent role. Bataille’s central concept of fascist sovereignty as ‘an existencefor itself’ was an elaboration of his theory of symbolic exchange that Baudrillardand Jacques Derrida were later to seize upon. Bataille himself had developed histheory as a reworking of Marcel Mauss’ concepts of the gift and of ‘Mana’, theforce in which Polynesian mythology unites the community represented in thesymbol or totem. In Maussian anthropology, both the expenditure of the gift andthe mysterious force of Mana work to stabilise a primitive social structure, butBataille saw in Mana a potentially destructive and violent force. In his essay,Bataille claimed that the ‘affective’ symbols of fascism, like primitive totems, atonce constitute and represent the community, and that like Mana, the realitycreated by fascism ‘is that of a force or shock’ which transcends the quotidianreality of the economy and the object.39 At the centre of Bataille’s argument isthe opposition of a heterogeneous and fascist ‘being for itself’ to thehom*ogeneous and relative ‘having to be’ of the bourgeois capitalist economy.

Written in 1933, at the moment of the Nazi victory, Bataille’s essay seemsboth to anticipate and to defer the possibility of Auschwitz, since although heplaces race at the centre of the Nazi programme, Bataille’s Marxism lights uponthe proletarian soldier as the intended sacrificial victim. What has become clearsince 1933 is that it was the repressive reality of Nazism that sustained the racialmyth of an Aryan community, and not vice versa. The oppression and murder of‘the Jews’ was the only means by which Nazism could constitute the ‘sovereign


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form of value’ called the Aryan. Within the terms of reference set by moral,ethical, military/industrial and political economies, what occurred in theconcentration camps was indeed an ‘unexplainable difference’ and a one-way‘symbolic exchange’. However, this annihilating impulse was framed by aneconomy of logic, a logic which committed murder to maintain the structure ofrepresentations and the racial mission of the swastika.


Bataille’s essay accurately describes the political utility of a racist appeal to the‘sovereign law of value’ which, as I showed in my introduction, had a particularapplicability in Germany.40 However, what he could not show in 1933 was theNazi attempt to convert the seizure of power under the sign of race into a form ofthe state founded on exactly the same sign. The coming to consciousness andaristocratic ‘being for itself’ promised by the swastika was a representationwhich could only be sustained by the negative action involved in boycottingJewish shops, burning books, imprisoning and murdering opponents and finallydeclaring war. Although Nazi ideology privileged the Volk over the state, thissame notional Volk could only be supported by state repression. Only a year afterBataille wrote his essay, this point was made clearly and forcibly by JohnHeartfield in one of his anti-Nazi photomontages, The Old Slogan in the ‘New’Reich: Bloodand Iron of 8 March 1934 (Plate 19). Heartfield’s image, whichstrips away the autokinetic rhetoric of race to reveal the repressive politicalmachinery that supported it, shows four axe blades bound crudely together in theshape of a swastika. This photomontage had appeared in the exiled Communistnewspaper AIZ (Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung or Workers’ Illustrated Paper), andHeartfield introduced a double historical reference, relating the recent beheadingof four Communists by the Nazis to Bismarck’s declaration of 1862 that ‘Bloodand Iron’ were the means to German unity. Douglas Kahn has suggested that thisphotomontage was ‘generalised to mean that nothing had changed sinceBismarck, the stability of the nationcommunity was being gained only throughbarbarism’.41 Heartfield meant this and much more, since he had succeeded inmaking the swastika historical and historically specific, thus annihilating theahistoric illusion of Aryanism.

In examination of the semiotic potency of this photomontage, it is worthnoting the distinctions that George L.Mosse has drawn between BismarckianRealpolitik and Nazism. For Mosse, the message of Bismarck’s ‘Blood and Iron’bluntly asserted the power of the state in contrast to the more abstract andspiritual unity of the Volk sought by romantic nationalism.42 In this respect,Heartfield’s image functioned as an X-ray that revealed the apparatus of stateterror supporting ‘the struggle for the…victory of the Aryan man’. And insuccessfully subverting these illusions, Heartfield’s image of protest co-opted themeans and the scale of their dissemination. AIZ had the third largest circulation ofany illustrated magazine in the Weimar republic and continued to publish from


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exile in Prague until Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia. In this way Nazi mass-media propaganda encountered anti-Nazi mass-media polemic. Heartfield waslater to say that:

My montage ‘Blood and Iron’ showing four bloody hatchets boundtogether in the form of a swastika, was one of the montages which becamefamous because of the little A-I-Z booklet and appeared as graffiti on stonewalls and was reproduced on mimeographed pamphlets.43

The image ‘caught on’ in a wider sense, since Resistance movements inGermany began to deface Nazi swastikas by adding curved lines for the axeblades and jagged lines for the blood. The Nazi swastikas that had ‘appeared onwalls and bridges everywhere’ had now met their match in the ‘graffiti on stonewalls’ which became icons of anger and resistance.

Heartfield’s image scored against Nazism on a number of counts, the mostimportant of which is its visual rather than verbal iconoclasm. Heartfield was notinterested in the issue of verbal content and cultural context for the swastika,since that would have left the visible image intact. Earlier in 1934, in the 25 Januaryissue of AIZ, an article had appeared with the title ‘A German Symbol?’ showingthe swastika on a Buddha, a Javanese Puppet and a Russian banknote: thisrepresented a laudable attempt to replace the swastika within a structuralsignifying system, but it is a Marxist critique which might have been betteraddressed to Heinrich Schliemann, since by 1934 the swastika had become itsown autonomous signifying system. The repression and dictatorship whichsupported the symbol of the swastika instituted a situation where bothideological and semiotic difference was superfluous and only one sign wasrequired. In terms of visual politics at least, Bataille’s ‘sovereign law of value’had now been instituted in the structure of the sign, a ‘being for itself’ which wasto be referred only to itself and not to its place (‘having to be’) in a signifyingsystem. Goebbels’ laws of 1933 were designed to shore up the self-referentialityof the swastika, and to protect the totalising ‘National Symbol’ from theeconomic relativism of the commercial sign and the commodity law of value. Inthese regulations, the connection between repression and racism is made explicit:the supersession of relative differences, whether economic, political or semiotic,introduced the rule of the singular and exclusive difference which is the illusionthat racism requires.

To subvert Nazism required not the ascription of a different meaning to someideal and non-Nazi swastika but a ‘disfiguring’ of the visual chain which linkedimage to image. The swastika would have to be made non-uniform and ‘unlikeitself’. This was precisely what was accomplished by the graffiti which followedthe publication of the Blood and Iron photomontage. Heartfield not onlyintroduced historical and representational codes into the self-identity of the Naziswastika, he thereby reintroduced the proscribed politics of communism intoNazi Germany. The four axes became a reactionary, parodic and distorted


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version of the ideology of productive labour represented in the hammer andsickle. The labour of Nazism as shown in Blood and Iron is meaningless,destructive and unproductive: its sole function is to support the race ‘idea’. Theprimitive machinery of the four axes prefigures the machinery of the deathcamps, and the blood on the axes becomes the blood of the victims of the Naziterror rather than the Aryan blood promoted by National Socialist propaganda.

The polar opposite of John Heartfield’s reworking of the Nazi swastika isprovided by the chapter devoted to the swastika by the psychoanalyst WilhelmReich in The Mass Psychology of Fascism. Reich felt free to begin again with theswastika at the point where Schliemann started, using the image as a point oforigin and the palimpsest for a self-interested interpretation and neo-Freudian‘free association’. Predictably, Reich’s exegesis of the swastika devolved uponthe question of sexuality, and the repression of sexual energies in the form of‘reactionary mysticism’. He claimed that the Nazis were aware of the lure of thesecrecy in mysticism and religion, and that they knew how to manipulate it: ‘anunderstanding of fascist ideology’, he claimed, ‘is not possible without a study ofthe psychological effect of mysticism in general.’44 Reich argued that Nazimanipulation had amplified the potential ‘Fascist psychology’ of the individualinto a mass movement. He referred to the deliberate use of ambiguity andobfuscation in National Socialist phraseology, the purpose of which was the‘management of the mystical feeling of the masses’.45

This theory was the starting point for Reich’s discussion of the swastika,provoked by the question: ‘why does the symbol lend itself so well to theprovocation of mystical feelings?’46 He attempted to answer this question byusing the familiar idea of an ‘original meaning’ for the swastika, and in doing somerely reified the mystical secrecy he had wished to dispel. Again the swastikawas described as an image with a hidden identity, and a secret purpose orintention. This identity, Reich claimed, was wholly sexual, a fact of which Hitlerwas unaware when he chose the image. By a circuitous route that recallsSchliemann’s elaborate explanations, Reich’s argument leads us from the originalmeaning to Hitler’s ‘victory of the idea of creative work’:

The swastika, then, was originally a sexual symbol. In the course of time, ittook on diverse meanings, among others that of a mill-wheel, that is ofwork. The original emotional identity of work and sexuality explains afinding of Bilmans and Pengerots on the mitre of St Thomas à Becket. It isa swastika with the following inscription, ‘hail earth, mother of man. Growgreat in the embrace of God, fruitful to nourish mankind’.47

This was a rather different interpretation of the ‘machinery’ of the Nazi swastikathan that suggested by John Heartfield, although both Heartfield and Reich founda use for the autokinetic aspect of the image. Reich’s analysis rapidly becamemore specific; he saw in the swastika not just a nexus of sexuality/work in


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general but the particular and ‘unmistakable’ representation of a copulatingcouple:

A look at the swastikas on page eighty-six will show them to be aschematic but unmistakable presentation of two intertwined human bodies.The swastika at left represents the sexual act in the recumbent position, theone at right in the standing position.48

This apotheosis of absurd interpretations of the swastika was an attempt toexpose the ‘mass psychological problem’ of mysticism as repressed sexuality, byexposing the true sexual meaning beneath the mystical allure. In theeffectiveness of the image of the swastika, Reich saw a substratum at work;specifically sexual, but dependent on the model of a definite yet invisible‘symbolic content’ completing the visible image. His theory does not encounterthe possibility of a fetishistic and displaced eroticism of the surface rather than a‘symbolically’ encoded depth. Reich also offered experimental evidence tosupport the theory that the swastika ‘represents the sexual act’:

This effect of the swastika on unconscious emotional life is, of course, notthe reason for the success of fascist mass propaganda: but it is a potentstimulant. Random tests with people of either sex and of various ages andsocial positions showed that only very few people failed to recognise themeaning of the swastika: most people recognised it sooner or later.49

Reich was prepared to go halfway with the swastika, recognising the role ofmysticism, but as the censor of true meaning, not as a mystique of significance.He concluded by saying that he had no wish to broadcast his discovery of theswastika’s sexual secret identity, since ‘the moral disguise would act as adefence against our attempt’. Elsewhere in his text, Reich does provide adescription of the mechanics of mystical feeling which could be applied to theNazi swastika, when he claims that we experience the same psychic reaction togrotesque fairy tales, mystery thrillers, Church services and nationalisticdisplay.50 That his own interpretation of the swastika could be seen as thefetishisation of the ‘mystery thriller’ of unmanifest content, of an apparentlyabsent meaningful identity, is unfortunately not discussed. The lie perpetrated bythe Nazi swastika was that there existed an identity to be recovered and ameaning to be found, and the fetishisation of the image as a totalitarian ‘signfield’ postponed that moment of completion indefinitely. The fact that acompletion is required already signals its impossibility: Nazism’s answer was tocontinue to reproduce the sign and to extend the territorial boundary which itdemarcated.


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Reich’s analysis of the swastika does raise the pertinent question of the role ofreligious or pseudo-religious mysticism in the Nazi swastika. One way toapproach this issue is to ask whether the Nazi swastika was intended to supplantthe Christian cross. In one sense, the idea of a perverted content in the Naziswastika, whether this was the archetypal meaning espoused by Jolande Jacobior the sexual sub-text proposed by Wilhelm Reich, is challenged by the notionthat the swastika was itself a perverted image, an abominable cross. Once again,this morphological and visual rather than literary approach to the swastikacharacterises Heartfield’s attack on the Nazi Gleichschaltung. On 15 June 1933,AIZ carried an image showing an SA stormtrooper fixing extensions onto thecross of Thorwaldsen’s Christ to turn it into a swastika, and on 27 December1934, another of a Christmas tree twisted cruelly into the shape of a swastika,with the caption ‘O little German Christmas tree, how bent your branches seemto be’. This image also shows the ‘swasticised’ tree standing on a swastika-shaped Christmas-tree base, one of the types of object cited in Rolf Steinberg’slist of popular Nazi kitsch.51

To attack Nazi incursions into religious life by depicting the party as theviolators of the cross was a powerful propaganda weapon, powerful because ithad a basis in truth: Nazism was keen to annexe and surpass the influence of theChurch with its own racist doctrine. A caption to Heartfield’s Tannenbaummontage noted that the reproduction of the Christian version of the seasonal treehad been forbidden in 1934: one year earlier, the railway workers of Berlin hadcelebrated Christmas by gathering around a gigantic Christmas tree topped by anequally massive swastika (Plate 20). The caption that accompanied thisphotograph in the propaganda yearbook Das Jahr was ‘Thus the German peoplecan once again celebrate a truly German Christmas’.52 However, if this image isseen alongside others in the book, the clear message is that the swastika wasbeing insinuated into all existing social praxis in Germany, whether secular orsacred. In the photograph of the railwaymen’s Christmas, the Christian cross stillappears, but in a subsidiary role: Christianity has not been done away with, it hassimply been made ‘truly German’. Again, the strategy employed is that of atypographic over-stamping of the cross with the ‘truly German’ swastika. Thistactic was prefigured in the attempts of nineteenth-century authors such as EmileBurnouf to ‘Aryanise’ Christianity. Das Jahr promoted the single ‘swastikasystem’ within which all other social relations are included and against whichthey are judged. This was made clear by party satrap Martin Boorman in 1942:

Only the Reich leadership, together with the party and the organs andassociations connected with it, has a right to lead the people. Just as theharmful influence of astrologists, soothsayers and other swindlers has beensuppressed by the state, so it must be made absolutely impossible for the


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Church to exercise its old influence… Only then will the future of Reichand the Volk be secured for all time.53

Boorman’s denunciation of ‘astrologists and soothsayers’ in the same breath as acondemnation of the Church borrows its tone from Hitler’s railing against‘deutschvölkisch wandering scholars’ in Mein Kampf.54 And in both cases, thedenunciation stems from the need to eliminate rivals for the space of nationalenErhebungd. The militarised and explicitly politicised form of the swastika as theemblem of the ‘nationalisation of the masses’ contrasts sharply with the use of theswastika as a token of völkisch nostalgia in the Wilhelmine and Weimar years.Despite Hitler’s attempts to assert a Nazi hegemony over other groups which hadlaid claim to the Aryan high ground, the same swastika which was at the centre ofhis ideological programme had been one of the key devices of völkisch sub-culture in Austria and Germany since 1875, when the ‘runologist’ and occultistGuido von List celebrated the summer solstice of that year by burying eight winebottles in the shape of a swastika in the ruins of the Roman city of Carnuntum inAustria.55 In the 1920s Hitler is said to have expressed an interest in excavatingList’s bottles as a precedent for his ambition to annexe Austria.56 But what thisanecdote also shows is that from the very first Hitler’s concept of the swastikawas spatial, and that his preference was for the rhetoric of conquest rather thanfor mystical or religious dogma. He conceived the search for an Aryan identityas a progress outwards, using the swastika as a landmark, rather than inwardstowards an hermeneutic or interpretative depth.

Hitler’s erasure of the last signs of romantic/nostalgic völkisch ideas from theswastika can be traced back to his intervention in and control over the politicaland propaganda programme of the DAP (Deutsches Arbeiter Partei) anorganisation to which he had been sent as a military spy on 2 September 1919,and which was soon to become the National Socialist German Worker’s Party.The DAP had been founded on 5 January 1919 as a working-class splinter groupfrom the ‘Thule Society’, a völkisch organisation which had established itself inMunich the previous summer. The Thule Society was itself but one branch of theesoteric and neo masonic Germanenorden (Germanic Orders), a secret lodgewhich had founded itself on the principle that ‘only at least third generation pureblooded Germans are eligible for membership…the principles of the“Altdeutsche” are to be extended to the entire German race’.57

At this time, völkisch groups were beginning to realise the possibilities for abroad-based anti-Semitism following the humiliation of the Versailles treaty, andthey contributed to the spread of the fiction of Der Dolchstoss (the stab in theback) which hinted that Germany could have won the war if its fighting spirithad not been sapped by ‘Jewish-Bolshevik’ subversive elements. The Russianrevolution and the Bavarian communist uprising also fanned the flames of ageneral anxiety which could be readily channelled into anti-Semitic feelings. Thedanger that a working-class revolution presented was effectively neutralised bypropaganda which recognised only two class distinctions, the Aryan and the Jew.


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Nazism was to gather workers and bourgeoisie behind the swastika flag,hom*ogenising class divisions in the ‘sovereign law of value’ of race.

The political impetus behind the foundation of the DAP was the desire for avölkisch doctrine which could appeal to the German worker; the difficulty was totranslate the existing discourse of esoteric and exclusive racism into a movementwith a generalised mass appeal. Obviously, all workers could not be screened forthe presence of ‘third-generation Germanic blood’. The ‘nationalisation of themasses’ could therefore only be accomplished ideologically, as a ‘coming toconsciousness’ by the worker of his inner Aryanism. This populism was not to beachieved by the DAP until the unwonted intervention of Hitler in 1919, whochanged the arcane language of initiation inherited from the Germanic Ordersinto one of militant action. The swastika then became a sign which was not readas an occult signifier promising an ‘educated’ depth of meaning but as anheraldic emblem, ‘a symbol of our own struggle’ and ‘the outward sign of…[a]common bond’.58 Taking up position ‘behind’ the swastika in this way bothimmediately included the worker in the Aryan corral and precluded the need fora pseudo-theological, occult or (as with Marxism) complex ideological initiation.


Before Hitler first joined and then assumed control of the DAP, the image of theswastika had been introduced to the party in 1919 by Friedrich Krohn, ‘a dentistfrom Starnberg’.59 Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, in TheOccult Roots of Nazism,claims that Krohn had proposed that the party adopt a leftward-turning swastikawith curved arms as used by both theosophist groups and the Germanenorden.60

Theosophy had adapted this leftward form of the swastika from Buddhism, butGoodrick-Clarke suggests that after joining and assuming control of the party,Hitler preferred and eventually insisted in committee discussions on a straight-armed, right-ward-turning swastika. In Mein Kampf, Hitler notes only that ‘theone fault’ of Krohn’s version was ‘that a swastika with curved legs wascomposed into a white disc’, a design he eventually replaced with his own. Hisaccount of the design of the swastika is careful to place his own contributioncentre-stage.61

The final form of the Nazi swastika severed the connections between the DAPand its ‘occult roots’, whilst retaining the swastika as the signifier of race per se.This last act of deracination marks the culmination of the morphological purgethat began with Zmigrodski’s isolation of the ‘pure form’ of the swastika in 1886.What is retained from Zmigrodski to Hitler is the status of the swastika as thesymbol of anti-Semitism and therefore of the Aryan: what was expunged werethe romantic Aryo-Germanic narratives that had sought to bridge the gapbetween image and identity, and to weave a new set of meanings around theimage. The way in which Hitler finally made the swastika his own was byplacing it within the white, red and black colours of the flag of the old Reich, ascheme which Bismarck had personally decided upon in 1866. This was no


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‘recontextualisation’ of the swastika, but rather a montage in which the newmovement and its symbol of an Aryan mission was seen to both renew and tochallenge ‘the old Reich that perished through its own errors’.62 The falserhetoric of this aim was to be exposed in Heartfield’s Blood and Iron counter-montage, which showed the ‘new Reich’ of Nazism supported by Bismarckian-style repression. This reversed the logic of Hitler’s design by collapsing the oldflag into the new swastika: as soon as the racist symbol of the swastika wasrendered historical, the idea of race became meaningless.

In 1919, however, the first Nazi Gleichschaltung, the first ‘co-ordination’ ofracism into an existing German order of meaning, was Hitler’s incorporation ofthe swastika image within Bismarck’s flag:

I myself, after innumerable attempts, had laid down a final form; a flagwith a red background, a white disk and a black swastika in the middle.After long trials I also found a definite proportion between the size of theflag and the size of the white disk, as well as the shape and thickness of theswastika.63

In adopting this colour scheme in preference to the red, black and gold of the‘November criminals’ of the Weimar republic, Hitler had stressed that the flag ofthe old Reich could not simply be resurrected. What was needed was ‘anexpressive symbol of our own activity’ which could distinguish Nazism from anout-of-date German nationalism: ‘The movement which today fights Marxismwith this aim [“to build a new state”] must therefore bear the symbol of the newstate in its very flag.’64 The swastika was from the very first the soledistinguishing mark of National Socialism and its ambition to set up a state basedon an ideology of racial purity. Hitler also saw design advantages in the swastikaas well, as a distinctive device which would be self-identical and clearly andequally recognisable as poster, insignia, armband and flag: ‘an effective insigniacan in hundreds and thousands of cases give the first impetus towards interest ina movement.’

The most obvious and superficial comparison between Hitler’s swastika andthe contemporary corporate logo can be made at the ‘design stage’ in 1919. Theway in which the final scheme of the Nazi flag was thrashed out in committeediscussion and by sifting through various drafts recalls the process by which thecontemporary corporate identity is designed, as does Hitler’s expressed wish tofind a sign which could be used to compete with the ‘market share’ gained bycommunism in Germany. Wally Olins has laid emphasis on the work of trial anderror which links the first sketch for a corporate identity to the final form of thelogo: ‘a complex series of discussions, carried out through a mixture of talk anddrawing… working on a design which will be seen by millions’.65 The initialaudience for the completed version of the Nazi sign was not so large; the newinsignia and flag made its first appearance on the banners of a Nazi rally inMunich in May 1920, and at this time the party was all but indistinguishable from


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the various right-wing and völkisch groups which plied their political trade inMunich in the aftermath of World War I. Anton Memminger, who in 1922 wrotea short comparative study of the swastika and the star of David, described theNazi ‘political children’ who were at that time using the swastika as their‘talisman’.66 Memminger’s intention was to prove that the swastika, rather thanbeing an anti-Semitic sign, was well known amongst Semitic nations. However,his familiar ‘cross-cultural’ argument against Nazi appropriation of the sign wasbeing rapidly undermined by political and topographic realities. Memmingermentions that the swastika was at that time being applied to housefronts, doorsand toilet walls, which reflects Hitler’s references to the work of ‘spreading thenew symbol of the movement’ after 1920, and shows that from the first thesymbol was used territorially.67 The strong self-identity of the swastika, and thefact that it could not be easily confused with any other symbol, made it an idealdevice for mapping out the growing public space of Nazism between 1921 andthe Kapp Putsch of 8–9 November 1923. After 1933, when the symbol of theparty became the symbol of the nation, this expansionist trajectory was repeatedon a European-wide scale.

When Hitler wrote of ‘spreading the new symbol’ he was in fact referring tohis redesigned flag as a whole, but the swastika, as the one element of the flagwhich differentiated Nazism from a generalised nationalism, could be detachedfrom the scheme without thereby losing its significance. This significance didnot depend on a decoding of the historical reference of the black, white and red,but rather upon a cognitive and emotional Gestalt. The ‘conditions ofrecognition’ for this revelation can be found in the discourse of Germanicdifference and self-identity which I have traced in the writings of Zmigrodski,Worringer and others, and which by 1920 had established a cognitive frameworkwithin which Hitler’s swastika could be seen as both disturbingly new,‘revolutionary’ and yet authentically Germanic in the context of the flag of theold Reich. The swastika is at the centre of the propaganda discourse of re-cognition, of ‘national awakening’ in which the symbol is first of all seen as a‘foreign’ and distinctive object, a challenge and a threat to the existing order, andthen accepted as a revelation of the Germanic race consciousness within aGerman political context. Nazism posited the ‘personality’ of the Germansubject as the missing link between Bismarck’s flag and Hitler’s swastika,between nation and race. The hammer and sickle had to be learned as anideological ‘object lesson’: the swastika, instead, was intended to be seen andmeaningfully completed in the sudden Erlebnis in which, through the agency ofa visionary image, the German citizen recognised what she or he was ‘in truth’.

That Nazism wished to present itself as a discourse of political revelation isevident in Hitler’s idealised references to sudden conversions on the part ofcommunist agitators sent to break up Nazi meetings. This, coupled with hisexpressed contempt for the masses as stupid, easily led and ‘feminine’ explainsh*tler’s preference for the political ‘short-cut’ which the adoption of the swastikaeffected.68 The swastika also facilitated the double-coding through which the


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red, white and black of the old Reich flag was ‘revolutionised’ into the red ofsocialism, and the white of nationalism using the black swastika of racism. As Imentioned in my introduction, the swastika was the device which madeantagonistic sense of the equivocal and bethedging legend ‘National Socialism’,insofar as a difficult and radical ideological concept and a redundant nineteenth-century nationalism could be represented as a ‘social’ Volk community and aracial rather than geographic ‘national’ boundary. The Nazi ‘revolution’ waspresented both as a home-coming and as the preservation of German identity interms of Germanic racial difference. This appeal to a supposedly pre-existing butburied race consciousness made an effective contrast to the internationalist andhom*ogenising ambitions of Marxism.

The ‘coming to consciousness’ effected by the swastika might appear in thelight of a religious conversion to the Nazi racial ‘mission’. However, if Nazismwas a religion, it was a religion which offered no ‘other place’ to go to. In Nazipropaganda, the racial purge through which the German becomes the Germanicis ideologically accomplished in a ‘future state’ which is constructed,paradoxically, as a return to a pre-existing truth. The Nazi idea was not simplymetaphysical, but ontological, which may account for Ernst Nolte’s descriptivesummary of Nazism as the practical and violent ‘resistance to transcendence’.69

Through this definition Nolte contrasts Hitler’s idea or ideal of the materialmanifestation of an overwhelming will to the ideologies of monotheism andcommunism. According to Nolte, Nazism was not an ideology in the traditionalsense, since it made no appeal to the supra-material or personal transcendence,the greater good, of God or state. It desired itself:

Its Weltanschauung…is in a very primitive way a mere ‘legend’ whichseeks, by alluding to better blood [my italics], not so much to legitimize asto establish the rule of the rulers in the eyes of the subjugated.

It is at this point, when Nolte moves away from his bogus comparative methodand places the issue of race at the centre of his argument that his analysisbecomes convincing. J.P.Stern has reached the opposite conclusion, since for him,Nolte’s ‘anti-transcendental’ theory applied to the fascist phenomenon is ‘adisappointing conclusion to a remarkable book’.70 For Stern, Nazi racial theorieswere conducted ‘under the image and in the language of transcendence’ but inthe absence of the moral and social prohibitions which would normally forestallthe attempt to realise a heaven on earth. However, Nolte’s analysis, in whichracism does not ‘legitimise’ power so much as ‘establish’ it, has the benefit ofshowing how Stern’s ‘moral and political safeguards’ could be so easily waived.The rights of ‘better blood’ rendered civil rights null and void. The danger of theNazi ‘revelation’ was that it alluded to an immanent or latent power, not to atranscendent one. This immediately abolished the traditional division betweenthe secular and the sacred, and replaced the ‘otherworldly’ vision of religion witha heightened perception of an existing reality through communal experience. In


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this way, ‘crowd behaviour’ could be transformed into ‘race consciousness’through the addition of the symbolic Gestalt of swastika or Führer.

The concept of an ‘affective’ and revelatory, rather than merelyrepresentational, symbol is discussed in Daniel J.Boorstin’s The Image, a bookwhich in 1961 proposed a psychoactive model of corporate identity, in which thepreceptual event takes precedence over the transmission of meaning. Boorstinsuggested that the visual ‘triggers’ that identify us with the corporate persona donot so much convey information as catalyse an experience that lies somewherebetween somatic sensation and the imagination: ‘The graphic revolution hadmade the hypnotic appeal of the image take the place of the persuasive appeal ofthe argument…in a flash the entire corporate image is etched in the mind.’71 InBoorstin’s model, the reflective quality and semiotic complexities of symbolicinterpretation are dispensed with. Contemporary explanations for suchschematisation and simplification in corporate identity programmes often refer tothe need for easily assimilated units of significance; in the flood of information,the argument goes, the image that requires reflection or interpretation will belost. However, Boorstin argued that this kind of immediacy (‘a new iconographyof speed’) had become the desired end, not simply the means; what was on salewas the corporate personality itself, and not its products. Boorstin also discussedthe relationship between the visual hook of the ‘identity’ and the miasmiccorporate image or ‘persona’. He identified the importance of the factors ofownership and of conscious design in the modern logo, which is ‘produced byspecialists’, and which therefore is not simply the traditional or historicallysanctioned property of a guild.

Boorstin’s concomitant appeal to the traditional ‘ideals’ which have beensuppressed by the hypnotic and synthetic modern image was to be criticised byGuy Debord in 1967. He accused Boorstin of avoiding the logic of alienationimplicit in his own argument, by attempting to isolate the ‘pure commodity’ orauthentic private experience from the public representation of the spectacle:‘Boorstin describes the excesses of a world which has become foreign to us as ifthey were excesses foreign to our world.’72 However, the manner in whichBoorstin accords an ‘affective’ rather than merely representative status to thecorporate logo corresponds closely to Debord’s identification of the ‘autonomousmovement of the non-living’. Debord’s more radical analysis showed how thelaw of the commodity first of all creates an artificial distinction between thepublic and the private (a world of work opposed to one of leisure, or the factoryto the home), and subsequently employs the private sphere as the domain inwhich public representations are avidly consumed as authentically ‘personal’experiences. It is a commonplace of contemporary life that the commodityinjunction operates through advertising, and that we are encouraged to identifywith images of personality and ‘individuality’ via the purchase of products: suchblatant appeals to ‘buy into’ a lifestyle may appear harmless and naive.However, in case of the corporate logo, no purchase is necessary, andontological rather than commercial ambitions reveal themselves. Like Kracauer’s


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‘mass ornament’, the logo ‘hovers in mid-air’, a phantasmagoric miracle with novisible means of support and no commercial strings attached. In the context ofeconomic exchange, the trans-economic logo can only appear as a miraculousvisitation from another world, the world of the ‘free gift’.

Boorstin’s account of the affective rather than representative qualities of thelogo described the victory of its instantaneous event-image over the sequentialcharacter of language, economy and of the ‘persuasive appeal of the argument’used by advertising. Linking Boorstin, Debord and Jean Baudrillard is a sharedphenomenology of what is respectively termed the image, the spectacle and thesimulation. In each case, the phenomenon is autonomous, unsupported by andunaccounted for within systems of exchange. Michael Schirner, in an essay onthe logos and logotypes of the Franco-American designer Raymond Loewy, hasclaimed that the logo does not so much demand a decoding from the viewer asoffer a visual supplement or gift in excess of commodity values and theideological texts of advertising. The logo for Schirner is an instant tautology, ‘thefastest form of communication we know’,73 a revelation which reveals itself. Inthis way the logo succeeds in distancing itself as a gift from the ideological andmaterial purchase. Schirner claims that the consumer is being told ‘the world asyou know it still exists’ in a kind of acknowledgement without reserve:

Logos appear so far outside the context of products, and by communicatingin seconds they seem so close to the most everyday experience that theirpurpose is clearly to take responsibility for the whole world, or at leastclaim a copyright in what they show us.74

Here Schirner identifies the ontological gap which the logo opens up, a spacewhich current corporate advertising seems determined to colonise. In the future,we can anticipate more advertising in the ‘papal’ and philanthropic style of theBenetton campaign, and more largesse with no purchase necessary. It is moredisturbing to consider that these gifts may be free from commercial taint butsymbolically poisoned, than to assume that old-fashioned deception and themanipulation of sales figures will be the determining factor in every case. In asituation in which existing ideological positions are being compromised on everyside, these corporate goals may become more explicitly political. Schirner’s‘taking responsibility for the whole world’ might appear as the summit ofaltruism when contrasted with a post-1989 scenario in which orthodox politicalpractice has become increasingly factionalised and localised.


Like the contemporary logo, the Nazi swastika had ambitions which were ‘trans-economic’ rather than transcendental. For the majority of those who votedNazism into power and democracy out of existence in 1933, to escape the socialand economic instability of the Weimar years was salvation and transcendence


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enough: heaven could wait. And despite being enthusiastically supported byindustrialists, Hitler managed to make his ideological pitch outside theproductivist language of capitalism and Marxism. The largesse which Nazismoffered via the swastika was that of ‘being’, ‘will’ and the return of Germany toitself. The pure and economically ‘innocent’ salutation of the logo was precededby the swastika, in which an ontological ‘coming to consciousness’ effectedthrough the symbol is both the substance and the supplement of the message‘Germany awake’.

In Mein Kampf, Hitler appeared to reject the idea of social distinction basedentirely on ‘excessive wage differentials’ and the commodity sign.75 Thissuperficially ‘socialist’ position was underpinned by his substitution of the singleand dominant sign of race (the swastika) which was trans economic rather thansocialist, bringing about not equality, but merely a different kind of hierarchy.Hitler’s answer to the substitution of signs of community for commodity signswas, in effect, to commodify the vision of a Volk community. He wrote of the statewhich would one day represent ‘not an alien mechanism of economic concernsand interests, but a national organism: a Germanic state of the German nation’.76

The final part of this sentence rhetorically returns Germany to ‘itself’ but does sousing a single sign set above all others. Verbally this is accomplished by thesubstitution of the Germanic for the German: visually the transforming sign wasthe swastika. That an industrialised and urbanised mass could only bedistinguished as a ‘folk community’ in representation and not in fact posed aproblem which was solved, as it is in Michael Schirner’s model of the logo, byNazism’s institution of tautology as the dominant cognitive principle: ‘The firsttask of propaganda is to win people for subsequent organisation; the first task oforganisation is to win men for the continuation of propaganda.’77 Here all humanenergy is directed towards maintaining the status of the sign as a sign, which isalso the point at which the word ‘sign’ in fact becomes inapplicable. Instead, thesign as exchange value aspires to the condition of the symbol: the image of limit,demarcation, territoriality. The tautology is a way of transforming arepresentation into a pseudo-absolute or pseudo-object by forcing it to exchangeitself for itself. In a potentially infinite system of economy and exchange,tautology remains one of the few ways of exhausting sign-exchange and markingout its symbolic limit. As Peter Viereck suggested in Metapolitics, tautology isthe dominant trope of Nazi propaganda: ‘nothing is being said except that life islife, and nation is nation.’78 Wilhelm Reich also noted that National Socialisttexts ‘seem to disclose no meaning’ and J.P.Stern, employing a slightly differentinterpretation, has defined Nazi propaganda as ‘a perlocutionary act…through itsvery act of affirmation the claim is made good’.79 Yet the tautology is productive,not of meaning, but of a self-representation.

As I noted in the previous section of this book, there is a form of exchange atwork in Nazi propaganda which simulates the communicative and dialogic act,through the exchange of salutations: swastika, salute, ‘Heil Hitler’ et al. Butthese salutations merely establish their own existence through repetition: they


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acknowledge themselves as themselves. The perception of difference within asystem of exchange is surpassed by an attempt to found an absolute ‘differencefrom’ dividing the Aryan from the Semite. The symbol is absolute, self-identicaland above all non-exchangeable, which is why Goebbels’ laws for the protectionof the swastika were introduced to prevent the Nazi ‘national symbol’ becominga sign which could be used to increase the value of a mass-produced object suchas a hairbrush or a pair of cuff-links. Yet Nazism, for its part, used the swastikato place a higher ‘value’ on being, and on being German. In this sense, the Aryanis the commodity form of the German, and the swastika remains a commoditysign, just as the freely given saluation of the corporate logo is trans-economic,not post-economic. The logo, precisely, designates ‘being for itself’ as a value: itsells the consumer back to her/himself as an ‘identity’ without money everchanging hands. Nazism, similarly, sold the German back to her/himself as anAryan, which is why Hitler described propaganda as both the means and the endof his ‘movement’. The results of this tautology are inevitably destructive, sincein the ‘tautological state’ all the resources of representation and economy areturned against themselves, in the attempt to realise the representation as a self-evident reality: ‘the Jews were killed because they were Jews.’ As I havesuggested, this is no ‘symbolic exchange’ but an obscene economy of logic. TheNazi swastika, as a sign of distinction underwritten and guaranteed not byrelative values but by the tautological ‘fact’ of being a Aryo-German, was,despite this difference, only the image of the symbol, only half of the symbolumwhose two parts must be brought together. The fantasy of an undying race and anabsolute value which the autokinesis of the Nazi swastika visually described wassimply the kitsch solution of a self-representation, an indefinite and tautologicalloop travelling nowhere.

Tautology, which frames the infinite in an indefinite form, returns us toHegel’s definition of the symbol as the linear mimesis of an illimitable space. InHegelian philosophy, the symbol cannot escape representation and substitution,because as it tries to abolish the distance between form and meaning, the symbol‘acts out’ the Absolute which it purports to embody, and in so doing vulgarisesitself, promising a dramatic revelation which ends in a melodramatic farce. Thishas been the trajectory of Nazism itself, from Triumph of the Will to TheProducers. What has hitherto prevented the Nazi swastika from also becomingan object of ridicule is the history of its institution as symbol of race, and thecrimes which Hitler commited to ensure the continuity of that representation.The danger of our current situation is that individual memories of Nazi terrorwill fade, but the swastika will continue to be used as a racist symbol uniting far-right groups across Europe. This is an unpleasant scenario, but at present itunfortunately appears a more realistic possibility than the naive optimism ofthose who believe in the gradual rehabilitation of the swastika as a ‘symbol ofpeace’.

The Nazi swastika is a monument both to the immoral and violent actionswhich accompany racist thought and also to the corruption of meaning in an act


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of collective self-representation. That it is still being used as a racist symbol in1994 is testimony to the desire that a racist way of thinking appears to fulfil.Racism creates community without responsibility: it is a magical representationwhich allows people to believe that they share a fellowship of ‘blood’ withoutthe burden of social or civic obligations. It is therefore no accident that racistideology often finds itself sharing a political platform with the prophets of free-market economics, since the sense of civic responsibility which unfetteredcapitalism erodes can then be retooled in the form of easily digestiblerepresentations of race or nation, which establish ‘birthrights’ rather than duties.Racism also accomplishes the same feat with language, privileging a ‘common’speech over the act of communication; meaning then becomes something whichis simply recognised, which need not be articulated or explained. It is this logic ofthe racist tautology, of the ‘we are what we are’, that accounts for the persistenceof the swastika, which historically has represented not just the ‘final solution’ ofNazism but the solution to the problem of the sign of an imagined community, ofa representation which must be seen to exist in spite of evidence to the contrary.From Michael Zmigrodski’s heraldic swastika, through Nazism and on to theactivities of the far-right in contemporary Europe, the attempt has been made toinstitute the swastika as a visual ‘fact’, an absolute and mutually recognisedsymbol which establishes the value of ‘we are what we are’ as a thing in theworld. In this sense, the swastika is totemic, since it creates the group which itsymbolises, a transforming power which it shares with the corporate identity. Inanother sense, both swastika and logo are fictions, which simply succeed infrustrating or short-circuiting language, and which then pass off their anti-representations as being ‘beyond representation’. In Nazism, the symbol isconstructed as an arrested and static sign: the death of representation artificiallymaintained by the exertion of totalitarian force.

Throughout this book, I have focused on the issue of the morphologicalcohesion and self-identity of a signifying form, not on the relationship betweenthat form and a set of decodable references. In the modern and Occidentalswastika, the notion of a form which is ‘handed down’ as an heirloom from thepast to the present was used to construct the symbol of race, but insofar as theidea of race required a representation in the nineteenth century, it revealed onlynostalgia, absence and lack. An unbroken continuity could be displayed bymimesis, through the elaboration and repetition of images, but this mimesispreserved only a sequence of signs, not a set of inherited characteristics or acommon tradition. The ‘tradition of the symbol’ of the Aryan swastika can onlycontinue to produce itself by reproducing the sign. Those racist groups who in1994 are still attempting to add yet one more swastika to the Aryan corral arekept busy delimiting and fencing off a void.


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1 Letter from Max Müller to Heinrich Schliemann, quoted in Schliemann, Ilios,London, 1880, p. 346.

2 The Guardian, London, 18 September 1993. The photograph was accompanied bythe caption ‘signs of the times…a postbox on the isle of Dogs’. The BNP had wonits first council seat in Tower Hamlets on 16 September 1993.

3 Chris White in The Guardian, London, 12 August 1993: ‘Bunches of flowerssteadily submerged the “Heil Hitler” at the entrance to Nijmegen’s Allied Warcemetery yesterday…in one dark night the cemetery where 1,674 Second WorldWar soldiers were laid to rest had been vandalised… Nazi slogans, swastikas andneo-Nazi symbols were daubed and sprayed on 150 gravestones.’

4 See Beate Ruhm von Oppen, (ed.) Documents on Germany Under Occupation,Oxford, 1955, p. 9. This set of undated regulations was issued on the authority ofthe Allied Supreme Command. As well as abrogating the Law for the Protection ofNational Symbols, this order revoked the Reich Flag Law and the Law for theProtection of German Blood and Honour, both issued on 15 September 1935. Anabstract of Goebbels’ ‘swastika laws’ and their supplementary regulations isreproduced in Rolf Steinberg, Nazi Kitsch, Darmstadt, 1975.

5 Sergei Eisenstein, ‘Open Letter to the German Minister of Propaganda, DrGoebbels’ (9 March 1934) in S.M.Eisenstein: Selected Works, vol. 1, ed. and trans.Richard Taylor, London, 1988, pp. 281 and 283: referring to Goebbels’ praise forthe ‘realism’ of his film Battleship Potemkin, Eisenstein had said that: ‘truth andNational Socialism are incompatible… However hard you try, you cannot create a‘National Socialist realism. In this mongrel of lies there would be as much genuinetruth and realism as there is socialism in National Socialism.’

6 J.W.Goethe, quoted in Hans Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. WilliamGlen-Doepel, London, 1975, p. 68.

7 See Müller’s letter to Schliemann, Schliemann, 1880, op. cit., p. 351 and CountGoblet D’Alviella, The Migration of Symbols, Westminster, 1892, p. 45.

8 Ian Kershaw, The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation,London, 1989, pp. 4 and 106: ‘Arguably, an adequate explanation is an intellectualimpossibility…faced with Auschwitz, the explanatory powers of the historian seempuny indeed.’

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9 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. Ralph Mannheim, with an introduction by D.C.Watt, London, 1992, p. 452.

10 ‘Our race is a family of the highest nobility, and has for its armorial shield theswastika’, Michael Zmigrodski, Histoire du Svastika, Paris, 1891, p. 18. Namingthe swastika as an ‘armorial’ device also employed the etymology of ‘Aryan’ fromthe Sanskrit aryas meaning ‘noble’.

11 Edward Butts, Statement Number 1: The Swastika, Kansas City, Mo., 1908, p. 9. Itis worth comparing Butts’ visionary discourse with a more recent piece of NorthAmerican swasticology, by the self-styled ‘Man-Woman’ which appeared in Re-Search no. 12 (1989), San Francisco, p. 41. In an interview for the magazine, Man-Woman revealed that the swastika had appeared to him in a dream:

It was a dream in which a very beautiful, spiritual holy man was showingme a glowing symbol which he said was a symbol of god’s love. It was apure white swastika radiating light… Then I had many more dreams aboutswastikas…dreams where Florence Nightingale had swastikas on heruniform while the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra was applauding.

12 Ramasvamayya’s booklet links Scandinavian, American Indian and Greekmythology using the concept of the diaphragm and the symbol of the swastika. Theinterpetation of Nazism in Walker’s text (Real History of the Swastika, London,1939) is discussed on p. 44.

13 See Christopher Hitchens, ‘City of Cults’, The Guardian, London, 19 August 1993:‘At his last parole hearing, Manson turned up with a freshly-cut swastika carvedinto his forehead and advised the parole board to keep him inside.’

14 Jane Pilling and Mike O’Pray (eds) Into the Pleasure Dome: The Films ofKennethAnger, London, 1989, p. 16.

15 Dan Sperber, Rethinking Symbolism Cambridge, 1975, p. 33:

to take the view suggested here is merely to follow the metaphoricalexpression that the Ndembu use to designate symbols… ‘a landmark’. Alandmark is not a sign but an index which serves cognitively to organise ourexperience of space. This…metaphor…seems much more apposite andsubtle to me than the Western metaphore which compares symbols to words.

See also Pascal Boyer (ed.), Cognitive Aspects of Religious Symbolism,Cambridge, 1993. In his introduction, Boyer cites Sperber’s cognitiveapproach as differing from the Durkheimian position which seespsychological factors as trivial, and a rationalist interpretation orexplanation of the symbol as paramount.

16 Ian Hodder, The Present Past: An Introduction to Anthropology forArchaeologists, London, 1982, pp. 204–7:

The Nazi symbols were used [by punk] as being appropriately aggressive,but certain aspects of their meaning changed by being placed in a new


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context… The meaning of the symbol is immediately altered by being placedin a new set.

17 Ibid., p. 213.18 Barbara G.Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets, Harper and

Row, London, 1983, p. 964.19 Paul Gilroy, ‘Mixing It’, Sight and Sound, September 1993, p. 24.20 ‘Critical Theory in Germany Today: An Interview with Axel Honneth’, Radical

Philosophy, Autumn 1993, p. 40.21 Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics, trans. Mark Polizotti, New York, 1986, p. 117:

‘Since fascism never died, it doesn’t need to be reborn.’ 22 Paul Virilio, War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception, trans. Patrick Camiller,

London, 1989, p. 54.23 Steven Heller, ‘Symbol of the Century’, Print, vol. 46, January/February 1992, pp.

39–49. ‘Girls Club’ was a magazine published by Curtis in Philadelphia between1914 and 1918, using the swastika as its emblem.

24 Virilio, 1989, op. cit., p. 54: ‘The swastika, for example, releasing potent affectiveassociations, could not be confused with any other symbol—its stark simplicitystill has an arresting power, as so much graffiti continues to prove.’

25 Wim Wenders, quoted in Jeffrey M. Peck, ‘Rac(e)ing the Nation: Is there a German“home”?’, New Formations 17, Summer 1992, p. 81.

26 Extract from the programme of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Worker’sParty) February 1920, quoted in Barbara Distel and Ruth Jakusch (eds),Concentration Camp Dachau 1933–45, trans. Jennifer Vernon, Munich, 1978, p.20. See also Hitler, op. cit., p. 596: ‘Just as Germany’s frontiers are fortuitousfrontiers, momentary frontiers in the current political struggle of any period, so arethe boundaries of other nations’ living space.’

27 During World War I an orange swastika on a red field was the shoulder patch of theAmerican 45th Division.

28 Thomas Wilson, The Swastika, the Earliest Known Symbol and its Migrations,Washington, 1896, p. 764. Wilson’s publication was an extract from the report ofthe US National Museum for 1894, pp. 757–1011.

29 Ibid., p. 794.


1 Michael Zmigrodski, Histoire du Svastika, Paris, 1891, p. 3.2 Count Goblet D’Alviella, The Migration of Symbols, Westminster, 1892, p. 44, n. 3:

‘Mr Michael Smigrodski [sic] who in his essay ‘Zur Geshichte der Svastika’(Branscwig, 1890, extracted from the Archiv für Anthropologie) has classified,chronologically a considerable number of gammadions [swastikas] belonging tomonuments of the most different periods and nations.’

3 Zmigrodski, op. cit., p. 16: with reference to the archaeological import of theswastikas which Schliemann had discovered at Hissarlik, Zmigrodski writes ‘Is notan insect trapped in amber which has remained there for millions of years adocument for etymology?’


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4 See Congrés International des Traditions Populaires, Première Session Paris1889,Paris, 1891. See also Thomas Wilson, The Swastika, the Earliest KnownSymboland its Migrations, Washington, 1896, p. 792: ‘I met Mr Zmigrodski at the tenthInternational Congress of Anthropology and Prehistoric Archaeology in Paris, andheard him present the results of his investigations on the swastika.’

5 Letter to H.Schliemann from Emil Burnouf, 29 January 1872, in HeinrichSchliemann, Briefwechsel, vol. 1, Ernst Meyer, Berlin, 1953, p. 201. In his letter,Burnouf goes on to say that the Jews may have adopted the swastika from Aryanraces and used it for mystical purposes, but this concurs with the ‘refutation ofJudaic originality’ in his vehemently anti-Semitic The Science ofReligions of 1874.

6 See Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction, trans. Richard Nice, London, 1992, p. 2: ‘thecapacity to see (voir) is a function of the knowledge (savoir), or concepts, that is,the words, that are available to name visible things, and which are, as it were,programmes for perception.’

7 Renan had said that ‘one does not have the right to go through the world fingeringpeople’s skulls, and taking them by the throat saying “You are of our blood; youbelong to us!”’ The quotation is from Renan’s lecture ‘Qu’est-ce qu’un nation?’delivered at the Sorbonne on 11 March 1882, trans. Martin Thom in Nation andNarration, ed. Homi K.Bhabha, London, 1990, p. 15. In this lecture, Renan warnedof the dangers of politicising race: however, Thom (‘Tribes Within Nations’, p. 23)sees in this speech a specifically anti-German rather than a generally enlightened oranti-racist sentiment.

8 See Müller’s letter to Heinrich Schliemann, Schliemann, Ilios, London, 1880, p.351. Also G.F.W.Hegel, Aesthetics, vol. 1, trans. T.M.Knox, Oxford, 1975, p. 308:‘when we first enter the world of the old-Persian, Indian, Egyptian shapes andproductions, our footing is not really secure; we feel that we are wandering amongstproblems.’

9 D’Alviella, opcit., p. 45.10 ‘Closure is the circular limit within which the repetition of difference infinitely

repeats itself. That is to say, closure is its playing space…in its closure,representation continues.’ Jacques Derrida, ‘The Theatre of Cruelty and the Closureof Representation’ in Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass, Chicago, 1978, p.250.

11 Michael Zmigrodski, Die Mutter bei den Völkern des Arischen Stammes, Munich,1886, p. 406. Zmigrodski was referring to the discovery by Schliemann of a singleswastika on a fragment of pottery found at a depth of 16 metres at the Hissarliksite, ‘a pure and religious Symbol’. See Heinrich Schliemann, Troyand itsRemains, London, 1875, p. 157:

I must also draw attention to the fact that I have found the [image ofswastika] twice on fragments of pottery, one of which was discovered at adepth of 16 meters (52½ft) and the other at a depth of 14 meters (46ft). Theprimitive Trojans, therefore, belonged to the Aryan race, which is furthersufficiently proved by the symbols [swastikas] on the round terracottas.

This same fragment is repositioned in his Ilios, op.cit., p. 350, n. 1:


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This potsherd as well as another one with a [swastika] having been pickedup in 1872 at a much greater depth in my excavations, I held them to belongto the first city. But after carefully examining the clay and fabric of thesefragments, I feel convinced that they belong to the third or burnt city.

Schliemann’s eventual conviction that the swastika was the sign of the‘third city’ above all may have led Zmigrodski to change his idea of ‘pureswastika’ in his later text from an image which was physically, to onewhich was perceptually, ‘framed’.

12 See Peter Levi, Atlas of the Greek World, Oxford, 1980, p. 54: ‘Suppose that thestories from which the Iliad grew had their roots not only in other stories and inexperience, as all stories do, but also in ruins and beliefs about ruins.’

13 Zmigrodski, 1891, op. cit., p. 5. See also Wilson, op.cit., p. 809. Wilson’smisreading of this list gives a total of 420, omitting ten ‘pure’ swastikas and ninety‘three-branched’ ones.

14 Schliemann, 1880, op. cit., p. 350, n. 1.15 See Maurice Pope, Decipherment, London, 1975, p. 103.16 Michel Foucault, The Order of Things, London, 1989, p. 252.17 Ibid., p. 296.18 Saussure’s critique of Indo-European language theory itself was that it employed a

synchronic method as ‘but a means of reconstructing the past’. See Ferdinand deSaussure, Course in General Linguistics, trans. Wade Baskin, New York, 1966, p.82.

19 Quoted in Heinrich Schliemann, Troja: the Results of the Latest Discoveries ontheSite of Homer’s Troy, London, 1884, p. 128.

20 See Leo Deuel, Memoirs of Heinrich Schliemann, London, 1978, p. 309. Deuelclaims that Bötticher and his ‘deadly necropolis theory’ represented a serious threatto the archaeologist’s peace of mind.

21 Schliemann, 1884, op. cit., p. 129.22 Ibid., p. 125: ‘Mr Greg has since informed me that he has found a [swastika] on a

Hittite cylinder, which, in his belief, shows probably that the Hittites had an Aryanorigin or cult.’ On p. xxi, Sayce is quoted as saying that the swastika ‘must…haveoriginated in Europe and spread eastward through Asia Minor, or have beendisseminated westward from the primitive home of the Hittites’.

23 Ibid., pp. 357–8.24 Foucault, op. cit., p. 297:

Since language was becoming an object of science, a language had to beinvented that…would for that reason be transparent to thought in the verymovement that permits it to know. One might say in one sense that logicalalgebra and the Indo-European languages are two products of thedissociation of general grammar: the Indo-European languages expressingthe shift of language in the direction of the known object, logical algebra themovement that makes it swing towards the act of knowing, stripping it in theprocess of its already constituted form.


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25 Max Müller, Biographies of Words and the Home of the Aryas, London, 1888, p.82. Müller’s attack on ‘brachycephalic grammar’ echoes a phrase from Renan’sspeech of 1882 (see Renan, op. cit., p. 14): ‘Words such as Brachycephalic orDolichocephalic have no place in either history or philology.’

26 Ibid., p. 127.27 Foucault, op.cit., p. 286.28 Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation, 1806, trans. with an

introduction by R.F.Jones and G.H.Turnbull, London, 1922.29 Ibid., p. 56.30 Ibid., p. 68.31 Léon Poliakov, The Aryan Myth: A History of Racist and Nationalist Ideas

inEurope, trans. Edmund Howard, London, 1974, p. 76. He quotes Hildegard ofBingen as having written that Adam and Eve ‘teutonica lingua Loquebantur, quae,in diversa non dividitur ut Romana’.

32 Ibid., p. 85.33 Ibid., p. 91.34 Ibid., p. 91. Poliakov notes that Grimmelhausens’ German Heldensprache (heroic

speech) was distinguished from the collaged or ‘patched-up’ (zusammengeflickt)quality of other languages.

35 Guido von List (b. 1848) was a Viennese occultist and runologist whose texts onGermanic ancestral speech and Germanic signs exemplified the hybrid ofTheosophical mysticism and Pan-Germanism which became popular in Austria andGermany in the early twentieth century. In his Geheiminis der Runen, 1907, Listidentified the swastika as the ‘mysterious eighteenth rune’ and said ‘only there,uniquely and alone, understand the thrice-high-holy secret of constant generation,constant life, and uninterrupted recurrence’. See Stephen E. Flowers’ translation ofthis text as The Secret of the Runes, Rochester, VT, 1988, p. 63.

36 See p. 75.37 Andrew Lang, writing about the swastika in his Custom and Myth, 1910, quoted in

Donald A.Mackenzie, The Migration of Symbols, and their Relationto Beliefs andCustoms, London, 1926, p. 53.

38 Schliemann, 1875, op. cit., p. 102.39 Glyn Daniel and Colin Renfrew, The Idea of Prehistory, Edinburgh, 1988, p. 67,

and Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era, London, 1972, p. 42: ‘Schliemann had been toTroy, and a cosmos had been altered.’

40 Accounts of the current excavations at Troy may be found in Studia Troica (vonZabein, Mainz).

41 Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics, trans. Mark Polizotti, New York, 1986, p. 106.42 Georg Lukács, The Destruction of Reason, trans. Peter Palmer, London, 1980, p.

12: ‘the line of development from Schelling to Hitler.’ Palmer concedes that thisbook is ‘by general consensus his worst, and by far his silliest, Stalinist tract’.

43 Deuel, op. cit., p. 168.44 Ibid., p. 309.45 Ibid., p. 9. Arnold had said: ‘Homer was eminently rapid, eminently plain and

direct, and eminently noble, and Schliemann was the contrary of all of these—aslow, cautious, complex, devious man, often pompous and ill-tempered, with nonatural nobility in him.’


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46 Gianni Vattimo, The End of Modernity: Nihilism and Hermeneutics in Post-modernCulture, trans. Jon R.Snyder, London, 1988, p. 161.

47 Schliemann, 1875, op. cit., pp. 119–20.48 Chris Tilley, Material Culture and Text, London, 1991, p. 154.49 See also James Fentress and Chris Wickham, Social Memory, Oxford, 1992, pp. 70–

1: referring to the image of the magic tree in the folk-tale of ‘The Juniper Tree’they claim that the tree is

less of a symbol than a connecting thread in a series of metamorphoses…All that is necessary is that the audience grasps that the tree is a magic tree…it no longer matters exactly how the tree does what it does—it simply does itby magic.

50 Bertram Fulke Hartshorne, ‘Dr Schliemann’s Trojan Collection’, The ArcheologicalJournal, vol. XXXIV, London, 1877, p. 269.

51 Eric Hobsbawm, ‘Mass Producing Traditions: Europe 1870–1914’ in EricHobsbawm and Terence Ranger, The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge, 1983, p.278.

52 Ibid., p. 7.53 Kossinna (b. 1858) was trained as a philologist, but turned eventually to the study

of prehistoric ‘Germanic’ material culture. See Ulrich Veit, ‘Ethnic Concepts inGerman Prehistory: a Case Study on the Relationship between Cultural Identity andArchaeological Objectivity’ in Stephen Shennan (ed.), Archaeological Approachesto Cultural Identity, London, 1989, p. 37. In his introduction (p. 2), Shennansuggests that

as far as reconstructing and explaining the past is concerned, traditionalorigin myths are as good as archaeology, which is, in fact, simply a way ofproducing origin myths which are congenial to the way of thinking of aparticular kind of society.

54 Ibid., p. 61.55 Daniel and Renfrew, op.cit., p. 120. 56 Ibid., p. 45.57 In Black Athena, Martin Bernal describes the construction of Homer as an oral poet

in the eighteenth century, offering as an example Robert Wood, whose Essay onthe Original Genius and Writings of Homer of 1775 ‘Stressed Homer’s oral statusand made him “A primitive and almost Northern bard”’. Bernal, Black Athena: TheAfroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, vol. 1, London, 1991, p. 210.

58 Schliemann, 1875, op. cit., p. 16.59 Ibid., p. 101.60 Ibid., p. 105.61 Schliemann, 1880, op. cit., fig. 226 and pp. 337–8:

I now pass to the description of the very remarkable figure no 226, whichis of lead, and was found in the burnt city at a depth of twenty-three feet…The two hands touch the breasts, probably as a symbol of generative power.


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The navel is also well indicated. The vulva is represented by a large triangle,in the upper side of which we see three globular dots; we also see two linesof dots to the left and right of the vulva. The most curious ornament of thefigure is a [image of swastika] which we see in the middle of the vulva.

See also p. 353, where Schliemann quotes A.H.Sayce as claiming: ‘the factthat it [the swastika] is drawn within the vulva of the leaden image of theAsiatic goddess seems to show that it was a symbol of generation.’

62 Herbert Schmidt, Heinrich Schliemann’s Sammlung Trojanischer Altertürmer,Berlin, 1902, p. 255 and Fig. 6446. Schmidt says of this figure: ‘Gefunden nachSchl. in der “verbrannten” Stadt. Abg. Schl. Ilios S.380 No.226, hier fälschlicherWeise mit Hakenkreuz im Dreieck und ringsum gesetzen Buckeln.’

63 See Phillip Smith’s introduction to Schliemann, 1875, op. cit., p. xix:

It seems quite natural for a simple and religious race, such as the earlyAryans certainly were, to stamp religious emblems and sentences on objectsin daily use, and then to consecrate them as ex voto offerings, according to DrSchliemann’s suggestion.

See also Hartshorne, op.cit., p. 296: ‘the actual purpose served by thespindle whorls is not very clear, unless they were used, as Dr. Schliemannsuggests, as ex voto offerings; this explanation, however, does not seem tobe founded on anything but supposition.’

64 Illustrated London News, 29 December 1877.65 Illustrated London News, 5 January 1878.66 Karl Marx, Surveys From Exile; Political Writings Vol.2, ed. David Fernbach,

London, 1973, p. 319.67 Karl Marx, Surveys From Exile; Political Writings Vol. 1, ed. David Fernbach,

London, 1973, p. 10: ‘Marx claimed that Germany had to “think what others haddone”.’ See also Edward W. Said, Orientalism, London, 1978, p. 19: ‘WhatGerman Oriental scholarship did was to refine and elaborate techniques whoseapplication was to texts, myths, ideas and languages almost literally gathered fromthe Orient by imperial Britain and France.’ Said thus concludes that GermanOrientalism was academic rather than nationalist in intent until the late nineteenthcentury. Said’s argument does not take account of how this German version ofIndia ‘at one remove’ allowed greater scope for a romantic/ nationalist‘ancestralisation’ of the East, of a kind which would have seemed implausible inBritain or France.

68 Marx, vol.2,op. cit., p. 320.69 George Waring, Ceramic Art in Remote Ages, quoted in op. cit., Wilson, p. 776.70 John Ruskin, The Two Paths, 1859, quoted in Partha Miller, Much

MalignedMonsters: A History of European Reactions to Indian Art, Oxford, 1977,p. 245.

71 Ibid., p. 246.


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72 Hegel, op. cit., p. 77: ‘This may be taken to be the first form of art, the symbolicform with its quest, its fermentation, its mysteriousness, and its sublimity.’

73 Charles Karelis, ‘Interpretative Essay’ in Hegel’s Introduction to Aesthetics, trans.T.M.Knox, Oxford, 1979, p. xiv.

74 Hegel, op. cit., p. 81.75 Ibid., p. 76: In discussing ‘the symbolic form of art’ Hegel declares that

Perceived natural objects are, on the one hand, primarily left as they are,yet at the same time the substantial Idea is imposed on them as theirmeaning…and so are to be interpreted as if the Idea itself were present inthem.

76 Ibid., p. 305, see also p. 308.77 Hegel, quoted in Miller, op. cit., p. 215.78 Hegel, op. cit., p. 334.79 Marx, vol. 1, op. cit., p. 46.80 Marx, vol.2,op. cit., p. 325.81 Fichte, op. cit., p. 166.82 Schliemann, 1875, op. cit., p. xv.83 Walter Liefer, India and the Germans: 500 Years of Indo-German Contacts,

Bombay, 1977, p. 1.84 See Poliakov, op. cit., p. 100: ‘The contradiction [between an old Aryan race and

an eternally young one] was reflected, from about 1870 onwards, in polemicsbetween upholders of the “aryan immigration” theory and the partisans of the newtheory of autochthonism.’

85 Colin Renfrew, Archaeology and Language: The Puzzle of Indo-EuropeanOrigins,Harmondsworth, 1987, pp. 178–90.

86 Ibid., p. 187.87 Ibid., p. 189.88 Schliemann, 1880, op. cit., p. 346.89 Ibid., p. 516. On p. 517, Schliemann writes ‘I wish I could have proved Homer to

have been an eye-witness to the Trojan war! Alas, I cannot do it!’90 Renfrew, op. cit., p. 187.91 Rudolf Virchow, preface to Schliemann, 1880, op. cit., p. xv.92 Revd Norman Walker, The Real History of The Swastika, London, 1939.93 Norman Brown, The Swastika, A Study of Nazi Claims of its Aryan Origin, New

York, 1933.

Adolph Hitler [sic] and the Nazis use the swastika as their emblem. Theyclaim that it is a pure ‘Aryan’ symbol, that it originated in Europe amongstthe ‘Aryans,’ that it is a special characteristic of the ‘Aryan’ peoples as awhole and the Germanic people in particular.

94 Ibid., p. 8.95 Ibid., p. 30.96 Poliakov, op. cit., p. 100.


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97 Emile Burnouf, The Science of Religions, trans. Julie Liebe, with a preface byE.J.Rapson, London, 1888. In his preface (p. v) Rapson writes: ‘The present workof Burnouf…was written with the object of proving that Christianity is essentiallyan Aryan religion… That it is possible at the present day is due almost entirely tothe revelations of comparative philology.’

98 Ibid., p. 111: ‘The reader must also bear in mind this fact: that the more we learnabout the old Germanic and Scandanavian religions…the plainer we see their bondof unity with Asia.’

99 Ibid., p. 76.100 Ibid., p. 243: ‘We must ever bear in mind that the operations of the intellect, which

are the theme of philosophers, wholly and solely apply to the Aryan—to the adult,perfected and civilised Aryan.’

101 Ibid., p. 153.102 Max Müller in Schliemann, 1880, op. cit., p. 348.103 Bourdieu, op. cit., p. 3.104 Jean-François Lyotard, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, trans. Georges van den

Abbeele, Manchester, 1988, p. 4.105 See Michael Holquist, Dialogism: Bakhtin and his World, London, 1990, p. 43.106 V.N. Volosinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, trans. Ladislav

Matejka and I.R. Titunik, London, 1977.107 See Holquist, op. cit., p. 8: ‘[Bakhtin] would later claim that he published some

work…under the names of his friends Mendevev… Volosinov (‘Freudianism, aCritical Sketch’ 1927, ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ 1929).’ For amore detailed exegesis of this claim, see Tzvetan Tordorov, MichaelBakhtin, theDialogical Principle, trans. Wlad Godzich, Minneapolis, 1984.

108 Graham Pechey, ‘Bakhtin, Marxism and Post-Structuralism’ in Francis Barker et. al.(eds), The Politics of Theory, Essex, 1983, p. 234. However, where Bakhtin’s ‘post-structuralism’ differs from contemporary varieties is in its neo-Kantian anddevelopmental model of the social self as zadnie, a given element (dan) whose taskis to conceive (zadan) itself as a social and discursive being. For Bakhtin, the self islike an egg, inert in itself but which when fertilised by language, can fulfil itsdestiny as a social ‘dialogic’ entity. In contrast, later critiques of structuralism havepresented a ‘chicken-and-egg’ paradox of the relationship between self and societywhich in its fastidious rejection of origins excludes the temporal sequence impliedby zadnie, in favour of the post-Saussurean synchrony of différance. See Holquist,op. cit., p. 23, and also Pechey, p. 238, who suggests a closer affinity betweenBakhtinian and Derridean deconstruction.

109 Volosinov, op. cit., p. 73.110 Robert Stam in Robert Stam, Robert Burgoyne and Sandy Flitterman-Lewis, New

Vocabularies in Film Semiotics, London, 1992, p. 13.111 Volosinov, op. cit., p. 74. See also Dan Sperber, Rethinking Symbolism, Cambridge,

1975, p. 22: ‘many societies have a symbolism but not a known key to it. Amongthose that have a key, many reserve it to a minority, while the majority arewitnesses of and even actors in the symbolic activity.’

112 Volosinov, op. cit., p. 75.113 Wilson, op. cit., p. 443. The quotation is attributed to one Professor Holmes, in the

Second Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology.


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114 Said, op.cit., p. 246. Describing the change from an academic to an ‘instrumental’attitude, through which Orientalism was transformed into a set of Western reflexes,Said says that ‘[The Orientalist] need no longer see himself—as Lane, Sacy,Renan, Caussin, Müller, and others did—as belonging to a sort of guild communitywith its own internal traditions and rituals.’ However, this does not obviate the roleof the guild member as the mediator or ‘translator’ described by Bakhtin.

115 Volosinov, op. cit., p. 73.116 Zmigrodski, 1891, op. cit., p. 5.117 Saussure, op. cit., p. 9.118 See note 11.119 Zmigrodski, 1886, op. cit., p. 242.120 Ibid., p. 406.121 Ibid., p. 316: ‘In der Germania…finden wir unverkennbare Spuren der

Mutterepoche bei den Germanen, doch müssen wir gleich bemerken, dass es schonein Ubergangsperiode zur neueren, zur Vaterepoche ist.’ Zmigrodski cites chapter40 of the ‘Germania’, where Tacitus states that: ‘There is nothing noteworthy aboutthese tribes individually, but they all share a common worship of Nerthus, orMother Earth.’ Tacitus, The Agricola and the Germania, trans. H.Mattingley andS.A.Handford, London, 1970.

122 Zmigrodski, 1886, op. cit., p. 406.123 Jacques Derrida, ‘Différance’ in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass, Chicago,

1982, p. 9:

According to this classical semiology, the substitution of the sign for thething itself is both secondary and provisional: secondary due to an originaland lost presence from which the sign thus derives; provisional as concernsthis final and missing presence towards which the sign in this sense is amovement of mediation.

124 Homi K.Bhabha, ‘Difference, Discrimination and the Discourse of Colonialism’ inBarker, op. cit.

125 Ibid., p. 195.126 Karl Abraham, ‘Restrictions and Transformations of Scopophilia in

PsychoNeurotics’, 1913, in Selected Papers of Karl Abraham, trans. DouglasBryan and Alex Strachey, London, 1979.

127 Ibid., p. 213.128 Ibid., p. 223.129 Zmigrodski, 1891, op. cit., p. 17: ‘Il y a dans ces ornaments un sentiment

inconscient de leur origine.’130 G.B.Waring, Ceramic Art in Remote Ages, quoted in Wilson, op. cit., p. 780.131 Sigmund Freud, ‘Fetishism’, 1927, quoted in Bhabha, op. cit., p. 205: ‘affection or

hostility in the treatment of the fetish…are mixed in unequal proportions indifferent cases, so that the one or the other is more clearly recognisable.’

132 Martin Bernal (op. cit., p. 1) divides Aryanism into two phases, an early nineteenth-century ‘Broad’ Aryanism, and an ‘Extreme’ Aryanism ‘which flourished duringthe twin peaks of anti-semitism in the 1890’s and again in the 20’s and 30’s’.

133 Bhabha, op. cit., p. 195.


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134 Zmigrodski, 1891, op. cit., p. 11: Zmigrodski refers to the ‘Deus Ignotus’ of StPaul the Areopagite.

135 D’Alviella, op. cit., pp. 72–83.136 Ibid., p. 74.137 Ibid., p. 75.138 Wilson, op. cit. See also Sir E.A.Wallis Budge, Amulets and Superstitions, Oxford,

1930, p. 335. ‘Thomas Wilson, who…seems to have collected all the availableinformation about the sign [of the swastika].’

139 Ibid., p. 763.140 Ibid., p. 759.141 Ibid., p. 764. 142 See Daniel and Renfrew, op.cit., pp. 82 and 90. ‘[Bastian] argued that by a general

law the psychical unity of man everywhere produced similar ideas.’143 Ibid., p. 893.144 Ibid., p. 820.145 See Dan Sperber, On Anthropological Knowledge, Cambridge, 1985, p. 53:

Human beings…rather than reject information which they cannot representpropositionally, they try to salvage it by using semi-propositionalrepresentations. These play a role not only as temporary steps towards fullpropositionality, but also as [a] source of suggestion in creative thinking.

146 Wilson, op. cit., p. 951.147 Ibid., p. 771.148 Ibid., p. 952.149 Alfred Gell, ‘The Technology of Enchantment and the Enchantment of Technology’

in I.Coote and A.Shelton (eds), Anthropology, Art and Aesthetics, Oxford, 1992, p.44.

150 Ibid., p. 46.151 See A.David Napier, Masks, Transformation and Paradox, Berkeley, Ca., 1986, p.

216. Referring to the magic ‘Semut sadular’ writing on the Balinese Barong mask,Napier comments:

The semut sadular is, like the ongkara, or word of words, a sign that is atleast as old as the philosophy of Brahminism…a sign, that is in its own righta source of power… The mangala symbols are, therefore, not onlyauspicious signs, but signs that ‘promote the preservation of the contents.’

The notion of at once ‘promoting’ and ‘preserving’ meaning content iscommon to the talismanic, the occult and the heraldic device.

152 Sperber, 1975, op. cit., p. 7: ‘It is hard to see what symbolic discourse adds—veryexpensively—to that which any speaker already knows and can explain much moresimply; or else symbolic categories constitute a proper language and this languageonly speaks of itself.’

153 Dan Sperber, ‘Is Symbolic Thought Pre-Rational?’ in Mary LeCron Foster andStanley H.Brandes (eds), Symbol as Sense, London, 1980.


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154 Ibid., p. 39.155 Fentress and Wickham, op. cit., p. 8.156 ‘The Phatic Function corresponds to the contact or the channel; it is specifically

geared to establishing an initial connection and ensuring a continuous and attentivereception. In short, it keeps the channels open.’ Stam, Burgoyne and FlittermanLewis, op. cit., p. 16.

157 Susanne Küchler and Walter Melion (eds), Images of Memory: On Rememberingand Representation, Washington, 1991.

158 Ibid., p. 7.159 Andrew Lang, Custom and Myth, 1910, quoted in A.Mackenzie, op. cit., p. 53.160 Wilson, op. cit., p. 771.161 Augustus Pugin, Glossary of Ornament, quoted in Wilson, op. cit., p. 776. The

work that Pugin cited was the Alphabetum Tibetarium of Augustini AntoniiGeorgi, Rome, 1762, pp. 211, 460 and 275.

162 Bernal (op. cit., p. 220) says that the term ‘Aryan’ was being used from the 1790sonwards.

163 Wilson, op. cit., p. 784: Goodyear claimed that ‘There is no propositionin archaeology which can be so easily demonstrated as the assertion that theswastika was originally a fragment of the Egyptian meander, provided Greekgeometric vases are called in evidence.’ However, Wilson also cites Sir GeorgeBirdwood’s claim in his Industrial Arts of India that the swastika was ‘the origin ofthe key pattern ornament of Greek and Chinese decorative art’.

164 Robert Phillips Greg, quoted in Wilson, op. cit., p. 796. The reference was takenfrom Greg’s ‘Fret or Key Ornamentation in Mexico and Peru’, Archaeologia,XLVII, pt 1, p. 159.

165 Mackenzie, op. cit., p. x.166 Ibid., p. xvi.167 Raymond Firth, Symbols Public and Private, London, 1973, p. 22. See also

Umberto Eco, Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, Basingstoke and London,1984, p. 132: ‘In his exhaustive survey of all the possible uses of symbol, Firthremarks that this term is used in place of sign when there is a certain ineffectuality:“a symbolic gesture does not attempt to get immediate concrete effects.”’ I wouldargue that Eco here places too much emphasis on the negative aspect of‘ineffectuality’ and too little on the positive ‘excess’ value of the rhetorical gestureas described by Firth.

168 Otto Grabowski, Das Geheimnis der Hakenkreuzes und die Wiege desIndogermanentums, Berlin, 1921. Grabowski began his text (p. 4) with a four-pointprogramme for a reading of the swastika:

inasmuch as the attempt is made here to trace the original of the swastikaand its true meaning, we become aware that we are also confronted with thegreat question of the Indo-Germanic people, and that we are also not spareda few ethnological excursions. The issue separates into four topics. We lookat the swastika: 1: In terms of its distribution and its prehistoric age. 2: Inrelation to the theory of Indo-Germanic colonisation. 3: In relation to the


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symbols and symbolism of prehistory. 4: to question its origins and originalmeaning.

169 Ibid., p. 132.


1 Robert A. Pois, ‘German Expressionism in the Plastic Arts and Nazism: AConfrontation of Idealists’, German Life and Letters, vol. XXI, no. 3 (April 1968),pp. 205–6: ‘it was the youthful Expressionist artists of the 1930s who reacted to theNazi revolution rather than vice versa…the vicissitudes of this relationship…manifested the unsettled character of intraparty relations during the years of 1933–4.’

2 ‘Der Deutsche Bauer ist der Urquell alles Lebens.’ Rosenberg writing in ‘DerWeltkampf’ (November 1923), quoted in Pois, op. cit., p. 207.

3 Ibid., p. 210: ‘[Schardt was] a defender of the Expressionists…with its roots in thebronze works and religious woodcuts of pre-15th century German mediaeval art[Expressionism] represented for him a synthesis in the dialectical development ofGerman national art.’ For a case study of Nazi attitudes to the Expressionist/medievalist aesthetic of one artist, see Elizabeth Tumasonis, ‘Bernard Hoetger’sTree of Life’ in the Oxford Art Journal, vol. 51, no 1, Spring 1992, pp. 81–91.Tumasonis shows how Hitler’s primary motivation in such disputes over aestheticpropriety was to turn the situation to his political and financial advantage, in thisinstance the alternate intimidation and placation of the industralist LudwigRoselius, whose ‘Haus Atlantis’, built by the Expressionist Hoetger, had beendeemed inadmissible on ‘cultural political grounds’ by the regime.

4 The Rosenberg vs Goebbels debate is echoed in the internecine warfare in 1933–7between the Rosenberg Office and Heinrich Himmler’s Ahnenerbe over Germanicprehistory. And the outcome was similar: both parties were ridiculed by Hitler as‘crack pot otherworldly apostles’ peddling ‘home made Germanic myths’. SeeBettina Arnold, ‘The Past as Propaganda: Totalitarian Archaeology in NaziGermany’, Antiquity, vol. 64, no. 224, September 1990, p. 469.

5 Donald Kuspit, ‘Diagnostic Malpractice: the Nazis on Modern Art’, Artforum, vol.25, November 1986, pp. 90–8. Kuspit’s thesis is that Nazism sought to repress thealienation and anxiety revealed in modern art, and substitute ‘archaic symbols ofpower and unity’. See also Matthias Winzen, ‘The Need for Public Representationand the Burden of the German Past’, New York Art Journal, vol. 48, no. 4, Winter1989, p. 310: ‘Between 1933 and 1945 the Nazis managed to exploit the fear ofchaos many Germans had built up during the economically unstable WeimarPeriod. In the eyes of many, the products of avant-garde art embodied this chaos.’

6 Adolf Hitler, 18 July 1937, quoted in Kuspit, op. cit., p. 98.7 Steven Heller has pointed out that in the 1930s the swastika ‘was as common as a

graphic design motif as the lozenge, leader dot, and sawtooth rule are incontemporary postmodern design’. Steven Heller, ‘Symbol of the Century’, Print,vol. 46, Janaury/February 1992, p. 41.


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8 Helen Boorman, ‘Rethinking the Expressionist Era: Wilhelmine Cultural Debatesand Prussian Elements in German Expressionism’, Oxford Art Journal, vol. 9, no.2, 1986, pp. 3–15.

9 Ibid., p. 12. ‘The expressionist social utopia remained, one might conclude, onewhich was envisaged within the emotional and ideological constraints of malemartial codes.’

10 Douglas Kellner, ‘Expressionism and Rebellion’ in Passion and Rebellion, quotedin Boorman, op. cit., p. 13.

11 In their brief polemical history of Nazi Germany, Hermann Mau and HelmutKrausnik suggest that Hitler ‘divined the tactical advantages of a potential anti-Semitic bias in a movement setting out to appeal to sections of the populationwhich had been forced down the social scale by inflation and economic crisis’.H.Mau and H.Krausnik, German History 1933–45, London, 1978, p. 69.

12 See Hermann Glaser, The Cultural Roots of National Socialism, trans. with anintroduction and notes by Ernest A.Menze, London, 1978, p. 236:

[Nazism] served the purpose because its collectivist view of life releasedthe individual from responsibility and thereby seemed to safeguardbourgeois quiet and self-satisfaction… The apolitical subject of the SecondEmpire and the unpolitical ‘citizen’ of the Weimar republic representedstages in the development of the apolitical Volksgenosse.

13 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. Ralph Mannheim with an introduction by D.C.Watt, London, 1992, p. 403.

14 ‘German Army Confronts its Dark Past’, The Guardian, London 3 September 1993.General von Scheven was speaking at the inauguration of the new German defenceministry at the ‘Bendler-Block’ in Berlin on 2 September 1993.

15 Adolf Loos, ‘Ornament and Crime’, 1908, in The Architecture of Adolf Loos,London, 1986, pp. 100–3. In his notes to the 1931 edition of his essays, Loosremarked that ‘the first battle cry against ornament’ was delivered in his article on‘The Luxury Vehicle’ in the Neue Freie Presse of 3 July 1898: ‘to seek beauty inform and not in ornament is the goal towards which all humanity is striving.’ SeeLoos, Spoken Into the Void: Collected Essays 1897–1900, Cambridge, Ma., 1982,p. 40.

16 Hans Georg Gadamer, ‘The Ontological Foundation of the Occasional and theDecorative’ in Truth and Method, trans. William Glen-Doepel, London, 1975, p.141: ‘Ornament is not primarily something by itself that is then applied tosomething else, but belongs to the self-presentation of its wearer. Ornament is partof the presentation. But presentation is an ontological event: it is a representation.’

17 Loos, 1986, op. cit., p. 100: ‘the man of our time who daubs the walls with eroticsymbols to satisfy an inner urge is a criminal or a degenerate…such symptoms ofdegeneration most forcefully express themseves in public conveniences.’

18 Adolf Loos, ‘Review of the Arts and Crafts’, Die Wage, 1 October 1898, in Loos,1982, op. cit., p. 104.

19 Ibid., p. xi.20 See Hal Foster’s definition of a ‘postmodernism of reaction’ in his introduction to

Hal Foster (ed.), Postmodern Culture, London, 1985, p. x. See also Peter


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Eisenmann, quoted in Andreas Papadakis, Catherine Cooke and Andrew Benjamin,Deconstruction, London, 1989, p. 150: ‘What has been called Post-Modernism inArchitecture, a blatant nostalgia for the lost aura of the authentic, the true and theoriginal.’

21 Brandon Taylor, ‘Nazism and Post-Modernism’ in Brandon Taylor and Wilfred vander Will (eds), The Nazification of Art, Design, Music, Architecture andFilm in theThird Reich, Winchester, 1990, pp. 128–93: ‘The art of the third Reich in its“mature” form of 1936 and 1937 came to employ a host of formal and aestheticdevices which Modernism itself had invented.’

22 Ernest Nolte, Three Faces of Fascism, trans. Leila Vennewitz, London, 1965, p.368: ‘Although the [Nazi] flag was blood-red, that alarming expanse of a singlecolour was now embellished with a symbol (albeit strange) of salvation and hope inthe middle… Great swastikas appeared on house walls and bridges everywhere.’Nolte has been criticised by historians such as J.P.Stern for expounding a quasi-revisionist view of Nazism and the Holocaust which, whilst not denying theexistence of the camps, interprets Nazi anti-Semitism as a ‘reaction, born of fear, tothe process of annihilation of the Russian revolution’. (Nolte quoted in J.P.Stern,Hitler, the Führer and the People, London, 1990, p. 186.)

23 Lukács, The Destruction of Reason, trans. Peter Palmer, London, 1980, p. 6.24 Eisenmann, ‘En Terra Firma: In Trails of Grotextes’, in Papadakis, Cooke and

Benjamin, op. cit., p. 153. In this essay, Eisenmann defines the grotesque as aninappropriate relationship, ‘the manifestation of the uncertain in the physical’which is nonetheless indefinable as a concrete form: ‘whilst the concept of thegrotesque or the uncanny can be conceptualised and imagined, it cannot bedesigned.’ This echoes Wilhelm Worringer’s invisible force of the Gothic, which ismanifest in architectural morphology whilst itself being indefinable either as formor historically situated ‘style’.

25 See Loos, 1986, op. cit., pp. 102–3. In ‘Ornament and Crime’ Loos contrasts themass-produced ornament which is ‘no longer organically related to our culture’with folk ornament: ‘I suffer the ornament of the Kaffir, that of the Persian, that ofthe Slovak farmer’s wife…because they all have no other means of expressing theirfull potential.’ What Loos stressed was the abscence in the modern era of anontological link between human beings and their ornaments.

26 Winzen, op. cit., p. 311.27 Julia Kristeva, Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, ed.

Leon S. Roudiez, Oxford, 1980, p. 143: ‘the obscene word, lacking an objectivereferent…mobilizes the signifying resources of the subject, permitting it to crossthrough the membrane of meaning where consciousness holds it, connecting it togesturality, kinaesthesia.’

28 Loos, 1986, op. cit., p. 102: ‘the tortured, laboriously extracted and pathologicalnature of modern ornament’. This colonisation and profitable exploitation oftradition characterises National Socialist attitudes towards the past. See Arnold, op.cit., p. 469: ‘there was no real respect for the past or its remains…while partyhistorians…distorted the facts, the SS destroyed archaeological sites like Biskupinin Poland.’

29 Wilhelm Worringer, Form in Gothic (Formprobleme der Gotik) trans. with anintroduction by Herbert Read, London, 1927, p. 76.

30 Ibid., p. 41.


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31 Loos, 1982, op. cit., p. 2. Jacob Grimm (1785–1863), as well as collecting fairytales with his brother Wilhelm, was the author of works on German grammar and adefinitive dictionary of the German language. In his dictionary, the initials of non-proper nouns are the lower case, even those beginning sentences.

32 Ibid., p. 3.33 Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots of Nazism: the Ariosophists ofAustria

and Germany 1840–1935, Wellingborough, 1985, pp. 60–1.34 Paul Frankl, The Gothic: Literary Sources and Interpretations Through

EightCenturies, Princeton, 1960, pp. 669–79. Frankl notes that a year after thepublication of Formprobleme, an essay on German late Gothic appeared by KurtGerstenberg who claimed that

every style, considered as to its expressive content, poses a problem notmerely of history but also of race…the irrationality of the sudden explosionof pent-up force is German, also its desultory (sprunghafte) manner. TheGermanic spirit is characterised by mood.

In his comprehensive survey of interpretations of the Gothic, Frankl has shown thatthe notion of the style as specifically Germanic is an old one: what his work alsoreveals is the extent to which this view was championed by German romanticism.

35 Herman Weyl, Symmetry, Princeton, 1952, p. 67.36 See Chapter 1, note 35.37 Worringer, op. cit., p. 54.38 Heller, op. cit., p. 34.39 Rudolf Koch, The Book of Signs, London, 1930, p. 18: ‘the swastika, or fylfot

cross, derived from the sun wheel by breaking the circumference of the circle’.Koch also describes the triquetrum or triskelion as a ‘revolving wheel’.

40 Worringer, op. cit., p. 38.41 Ibid., p. 38.42 Herbert Read, A Concise History of Modern Painting, London, 1980, p. 218.43 Worringer, op. cit., p. 11.44 Wilhelm Worringer, Abstraction and Empathy: A Contribution to the Psychology of

Style, trans. Michael Bullock, New York, 1980, p. 51.45 Worringer, 1927, op. cit., p. 7.46 Ibid., p. 42. Referring back to Weyl’s ‘Medusa’s head’ motif, we here have another

example of ‘swastikal’ symmetry being associated with the freezing or holding ofthe gaze.

47 Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, Exeter, 1987, theses 2 and 3.48 Ibid., thesis 2.49 E.H.Gombrich, The Sense of Order: A Study in the Psychology of DecorativeArt,

New York, 1984, p. 202.50 See Worringer, 1980, op. cit., p. vii.51 Ibid., pp. 114–15. See also his ‘Foreword to the New Impression’, pp. vii-viii.52 Gombrich, op. cit., p. 138. See also Dorothy Washburn and Donald Crowe,

Symmetries of Culture: Theory and Practice of Plane Pattern Analysis, Seattle andLondon, 1988, p. 20: ‘Individuals assign a “top” and “bottom” and “sides” tofigures in their environmental contexts. Shifts in position of the objects of 45 or 90


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degrees makes recognition more difficult…these results confirm the primaryimportance of bilateral symmetry.’

53 Worringer, 1980, op. cit., p. 109.54 Worringer, 1927, op. cit., p. 105.55 Gombrich, op. cit., p. 213:

Thus, while we must give up the search for the laws of history whichcould explain every stylistic change, we are still entitled to watch out forsequences and episodes which we can hope to explain in terms of the logicof situations… A configuration can be clear and asymmetrical, indistinct butflat… What remains true is that any one of these features can becomedominant, a focus of interest and competition.

56 Thomas Wilson, The Swastika, the Earliest Known Symbol and its Migrations,Washington, 1986, p. 785.

57 Roland Barthes, ‘Réquichot and His Body’ in The Responsibility of Forms:CriticalEssays in Music, Art and Representation, trans. Richard Howard, Oxford, 1986, p.218:

The symbolism of the spiral is the opposite of that of the circle: the circleis religious, theological; the spiral, a kind of circle distended to infinity, isdialectical; on the spiral, things recur, but at another level; there is a return indifference, not a repetition in identity.

58 See Frankl, op. cit., p. 669. Frankl notes the difficulty of translating Kunstwollenand suggests the alternatives of ‘art-will, artistic volition, artistic intention, artisticaim’. Of Lipps, he says ‘through him, empathy became, at the beginning of thetwentieth century, the ruling concept of all psychologically orientated aesthetics’.

59 Ibid., p. 630. See also p. 634: ‘It is everywhere a matter of the relation betweenindividual and collective unity.’

60 Ibid., pp. 417–18. Frankl calls Goethe’s essay ‘a masterpiece of the highestrhetoric. Even one who does not entirely understand it on a first reading isnevertheless carried away by enthusiasm.’

61 Ibid., p. 418.62 Ibid., p. 469. Goethe had expressed these sentiments in a letter to C.E.von

Reinhard, dated 14 May 1810.63 Ibid., p. 465. Christian Ludwig Steiglitz, Von altdeutsche Baukunst, Leipzig, 1820.64 Ibid., p. 472.65 Ibid., p. 472.66 Ibid., p. 450. 67 Ibid., p. 595. Hippolyte Adolphe Taine, Philosophie de l’Art, Paris, 1865. Frankl

says that ‘what he [Taine] says is absolutely unoriginal, and shockingly superficial…according to Taine, Gothic is bound up with race, milieu and historical moment.’

68 Ibid., p. 674.69 Ibid., p. 737.70 Ibid., pp. 735–8. ‘Freely copying Worringer, Schelfler jettisons the “academic”

concept of Gothic.’


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71 Ibid., p. 738.72 Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West, London, 1959, p. 58.73 Ibid., p. 167.74 Ibid., p. 261.75 Ibid., pp. 342–3.76 Ibid., p. 261. ‘In race there is nothing material…but the metaphysical force and

power of the ideal.’77 Karl Radek, October 1930, quoted in Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology

ofFascism, trans. Theodor P.Wolfe, New York, 1946, pp. 9–10.78 Ernest A.Menze, introduction to Hermann Glaser, op. cit., p. 14. See also p. 9:

‘German culture, regardless of the period in question…cannot be made responsiblefor the year 1933… The concluding phase of the Romantic age actually paralleledthe rise of its earliest unimaginative imitators.’

79 Gadamer, op. cit., p. 67. See also p. 64: ‘It is not the genuineness of the experienceor of the intensity of the expression, but the ingenious manipulation of fixed formsand modes of statement which makes its work of art a work of art…as late as theeighteenth century, we find poetry and rhetoric side by side in a way that issurprising to modern consciousness.’

80 Ibid., p. 68: ‘It is only in the correspondence between Schiller and Goethe, that wehave the beginnings of the new form of the concept of the symbol. Goethe’s letterof 17 August 1797 speaks of the “properly symbolic” as “eminent examples whichstand, in characteristic multiplicity, as representative for many others, and embracea certain totality”.’

81 Umberto Eco, Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, London, 1984, p. 142.82 J.W.Goethe, quoted in Gadamer, op. cit., pp. 60–9.83 Ibid., p. 69.84 C.G.Jung, quoted in Anthony Stevens, Archetype: a Natural History of theSelf,

London, 1982, p. 43: ‘The revival of the possibilities of ideas that have alwaysexisted, that can be found in the most diverse minds and in all epochs, and aretherefore not to be mistaken for invented ideas.’

85 Ibid., p. 35.86 Ibid., pp. 52 and 46.87 Ibid., p. 29.88 J.P.Stern, Hitler, the Führer and the People, London, 1990, p. 92. ‘This claim

Jung’s essay takes entirely seriously and enjoins its readers to accept as sincere andvalid. The religious dimension of National Socialism is for Jung not a matter ofpropaganda, but the psychic donnée of contemporary Germany.’ See alsoG.L.Mosse, Nazi Culutre: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in theThird Reich,trans. Salvator Attenasio et al., London, 1966, p. xxxi.

89 Alfred Bauemler, ‘Nietszche and National Socialism’ in George L. Mosse,NaziCulture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich, trans.Salvator Attenasio et al., London, 1966, p. 97. See also p. 93: ‘As Professor at theUniversity of Berlin, he [Bauemler] became the chief liaison man between theGerman Universities and Alfred Rosenberg’s office, which was charged with theideological education of the Nazi party.’

90 Kurt Gauger, ‘Psychotherapy and Political World View: Extracts from a Lecturegiven at the Medical Congress for Psychotherapy, Bad Nauheim’, 1934, quoted in


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Mosse, op. cit., p. 224. As well as his role as a psychotherapist, Gauger workedwith a government office in charge of educational films.

91 C.G.Jung, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, trans. R.F.C.Hull,London, 1959, pp. 47–8.

92 Terry Smith, ‘A State of Seeing, Unsighted: Notes on the Visual in Nazi WarCulture’, Block 12, London, 1986/7, p. 51: ‘The danger with this sort of analysis is,of course, that it attributes responsibility to a cause beyond the control and even theperception of most people (“we wuz brainwashed”).’

93 C.G.Jung in Memories, Dreams, Reflections, recorded and edited by Aniela Jaffé,trans. Richard and Clara Winston, London, 1983, p. 202: ‘First I formulated thethings as I had observed them, usually in “high-flown language” for thatcorresponds to the style of the archetypes. Archetypes speak the language ofrhetoric, even of bombast.’

94 Jolande Jacobi, Complex, Archetype, Symbol in the Psychology ofC.G.Jung,London, 1959, p. 112.

95 Mme Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, ‘The Relation of the Seen and the Unseen’,1888, quoted in Fred Gettings, A Dictionary of Occult, Hermetic andAlchemicalSigns, London, 1981, p. 257. Blavatsky was a Russian occultist whowas one of the founders of the Theosophical movement: ‘her work comprises asustained and frequent plagiarism of about one hundred contemporary texts, chieflyrelating to ancient and exotic religions, demonology, Freemasonry and the case forspiritualism’ (Goodrick-Clarke, op. cit., p. 18).

96 Goodrick-Clarke, op. cit., p. 1. Citing George L. Mosse, ‘The mystical origins ofNational Socialism’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 22, 1961, pp. 81–96,Goodrick-Clarke notes that ‘theosophy typified the wave of anti-positivismsweeping Europe at the end of the century, and…its outré notions made a deeperimpression in Germany than in other European countries’.

97 Worringer, 1927, op.cit., p. 40: ‘On the other hand, to thus cite the Germanicpeoples in particular is in any case in accordance with our view that a disposition toGothic is only found where Germanic blood has mingled with that of the otherraces.’

98 Ibid., p. 181.99 Ibid., p. 180.

100 Worringer, 1980, op. cit., p. 59: ‘The symbolic value of the motif vanishes beneaththe higher will to form.’

101 Gombrich, op. cit., pp. 151 and 217–50.102 Walter Benjamin, afterword to the Frankfurt 1961 edition of Illuminations, quoted

in Karsten Witte, ‘Introduction to Siegfried Kracauer’s “The Mass Ornament”, NewGerman Critique, no. 5, Spring 1975, p. 62.

103 Taylor, op. cit., p. 136: ‘Over and above the correspondence of Nazi Classicism tothe Classicism of Imperial Rome, it must be clear that the very forms and angles ofNational Socialist architecture were imbued with the values of the harsh, theexpressive and the coercive.’

104 Worringer, 1927, op. cit., p. 43.105 Loos, 1982, op. cit., p. 2.106 Dan Sperber, Rethinking Symbolism, Cambridge, 1975, pp. 86–7.107 Ian Hodder, Reading the Past: Current Approaches to Interpretation

inArchaeology, Cambridge, 1986, p. 141. It should be noted that Hodder (p.


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151) stresses that ‘context’ can be seen as a langue of fixed meanings whichattempts to suppress the parole of individuals creating ‘their own, shifting, foot-looseschemes’. But this does not suggest how an authoritarian structure of contextualdifferences might itself become destabilised.

108 Henrietta Moore, ‘Ricoeur: Action, Meaning and Text’ in Christopher Tilley (ed.),Reading Material Culture, London, 1990, p. 113.

109 See Ekrem Akurgal, The Art of the Hittites, trans. Constance McNab, London,1962, plate 7:

We cannot be sure whether the swastikas in a lozenge shaped standard,revolving partly to the right and partly to the left, should be interpreted asthe rising and setting sun; but the total aspect of these standards permits us toassume that it somehow represents the universe.

110 The Karatay Medrese is a Seljuk monument. Derek Hill, in his Islamic Architectureand its Decoration AD 800–1500, London, 1969, writes that: ‘The Seljuks hadalready accepted the Muslim religion in the tenth century, but had certainly felt theinfluence of Christian Armenian architecture…the Armenians in their turn beingequally influenced by Byzantium.’

111 See Oleg Grabar, The Formation of Islamic Art, New Haven and London, 1973, p.131:

Early Islam seems on the whole to have avoided visual symbols…Whether this was a negative result of the power of symbols in Christian art,or whether some internal Islamic reason brought it about, the new culture didnot endow its novel forms with liturgical and symbolic meanings.

See also p. 179:

On the visual level, the difference can be defined as a modification in thesignifying value of forms; this is easiest to observe in architecturaldecorations, where the majority of themes do not have a meaningindependent of the monument itself.

112 Titus Burckhardt, Sacred Art in East and West, London, 1967, p. 110.113 Worringer, 1927, op. cit., p. 53: ‘When comparing the two styles [northern and

Classical] of ornament, the first point that strikes one is that Northern ornamentlacks the concept of symmetry, which from the beginning was so characteristic of allClassical ornament.’

114 Worringer, 1927, op. cit., p. 55.115 Paul Klee, Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch (Pedagogical Sketchbooks): ‘Dynamisches

auf Grund der Quadrat—Dreiecksschemata, zum Teil auf den Kreis bezogen’(Dynamics Based on the Square and the Triangle, in part Related to the Circle) inHeinz Schutz, ‘Transformation und Wiederkehr: Zur Kunstlerisches Rezeptionnationalsozialistische Symbole und Asthetik’, Kunstforum International, no. 95,June-July 1988, pp. 70–1.


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116 Ibid., p. 71.117 Wulf Bley, Das Jahr 1, Berlin, 1934, p. 70.118 Smith, op. cit., p. 55.119 Wulf Bley, Das Jahr2, Berlin, 1935, p. 112.120 Susan Sontag, ‘Fascinating Fascism’ in A Susan Sontag Reader, Harmondsworth,

1982, p. 316.121 See Smith, op. cit.122 Worringer, 1980, op. cit., p. 109. 123 Ilse McKee, ‘Skepticism and Participation’ in George L. Mosse, op.cit., p. 279.124 Kate Linker, Love For Sale: the Words and Pictures of Barbara Kruger, New

York, 1990, p. 27: ‘for Kruger, power implements its impositions through theimagistic stereotype, the pose.’

125 Jean Baudrillard, ‘Symbolic Exchange and Death’ [L’Echange symbolique et lamort, 1976] in Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster, Cambridge, 1988, p. 144: ‘Thecode’s disjunction supplants the centralist injunction. Solicitation is substituted forthe ultimatum [and evolves into] a total, environmental model made up of incessantspontaneous responses, joyful feedback and irradiated contact.’

126 Ibid., p. 144.127 Alfred Rosenberg, Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts, Munich, 1938, pp. 111 and 252–

9.128 Siegfried Kracauer, ‘Der Ornament der Masse’, 1927, translated as ‘The Mass

Ornament’, New German Critique, no. 5, Spring 1975, pp. 67–76.129 Spengler, op. cit., p. 340: ‘there are streams of being which are “in form” in the

same sense in which the term is used in sports.’130 Andrew McNamara, ‘Between Flux and Certitude: The Grid in Avant-Garde

Utopian Thought’, Art History, vol. 15, no. 1, March 1992, n. 73:

This is a very similar judgement to that Kracauer made of the ‘officiallyfabricated mass ornaments’ of the Nuremberg rallies. In a retrospectivedetermination, he too readily equates these forms as one (or as one leading tothe other), a resolution which his initial analysis tends to work against.

131 Kracauer, 1975, op.cit., p. 68.132 Ibid., p. 68.133 Antonio Gramsci, ‘“Animality” and Industrialism’ in Antonio Gramsci, Selections

from Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. Geoffrey Nowell Smith and Quintin Hoare,London, 1971, p. 298. See also D.N.Rodowick, ‘The Last Things Before the Last:Kracauer and History’, New German Critique, no. 41, (Spring-Summer 1987), p.115:

If there is a fundamental idealism which pervades Kracauer’s thought, itresides…in the equation of humanity with nature and a lost organicpresence…the problem of ‘nature’ must be understood in relation to Lukács’ideas concerning ‘second-nature’ as the false, mythical reality created byman though not understood by him because he has lost sight of his historicalorigins.


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134 Benjamin, quoted in Witte, op. cit., p. 62.135 Kracauer, 1975, op. cit., p. 75.136 Ibid., p. 74.137 Ibid., p. 64.138 Siegfried Kracauer, ‘Masse und Propaganda: Eine Untersuchung über die

fascistische Propaganda’, Paris, 1936, quoted in Witte, op. cit. This essay waswritten by Kracauer for the Frankfurt Institute of Social Research, but neverpublished.

139 Ibid., p. 62.140 Ibid., p. 66.141 Ibid., p. 62.142 Triumph des Willens was financed by Riefenstahl’s own company and filmed

between 4 and 10 September 1934. After painstaking editing by Riefenstahl, thefilm received its première on 28 March 1935 at the Ufa-Palast-am-Zoo, Berlin’slargest theatre. Its propaganda purpose from Hitler’s point of view was to presentthe image of a unified party after the Röhm purge.

143 See Richard Meran Barsam, Filmguide to Triumph of the Will, Bloomington, 1975,p. 65. Writing of the final scene of the film, Barstam notes that

the sequence closes with a long shot of the entire hall, followed by amedium shot of the swastika which dissolves to a close-up of the swastikawhich then dissolves to the final shot [also of a swastika into which theranks are marching].

144 Barsam, op. cit., p. 26: ‘Hitler liked the film… While Ufa had good success withthe film in the larger cities of Germany, it was not successful with the generalpublic and was not widely used as propaganda.’

145 Siegfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler: a Psychological History oftheGerman Film, Princeton, 1947, p. 301: ‘the convention was planned not only asa spectacular mass meeting, but also as spectacular film propaganda.’ Kracauer’sclaim is refuted by Barsam, op. cit., p. 4: ‘The 1934 meeting was not staged solelyfor Riefenstahl’s cameras. Since the rally was an annual event, it was staged for thecameras only to the extent that political conventions in the US are staged for the tvcameras.’

146 Rodowick, op. cit., p. 112.147 Kracauer, 1947, op.cit., p. 73.148 Ibid., p. 287.149 Ibid., p. 300.150 Ibid., p. 149: ‘In Nibelungen, [Lang’s] decorative scheme was rich in meaning; in

Metropolis, the decorative not only appears as an end in itself, but even beliescertain points made throughout the plot.’ Here Kracauer describes the way in whichan ornamental order and narrative meanings can pull in different directions.

151 Ibid., caption to Figure 38.152 Prof. Hans Speier, ‘Magic Geography’, Social Research, September 1941, quoted

in Kracauer, ibid., p. 279: ‘maps…resemble graphs of physical processes, theyshow how all known materials are broken up, penetrated, pushed back and eatenaway by the new one.’


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153 Ibid., p. 279.154 Ibid., p. 279.


1 Dr Felix Marti-Ibanez, ‘Symbology and Medicine’ in Elwood Whitney (ed.),Symbology: the Use of Symbols in Visual Communication, New York, 1960, p.161.

2 Wally Olins, Corporate Identity: Making Business Strategies VisibleThroughDesign, London, 1989, p. 186.

3 Ibid., p. 29.4 See Judith Williamson’s discussion of ‘Magic’ in Decoding

Advertisem*nts:Ideology and Meaning in Advertising, London, 1978, p. 143.According to Williamson, magic is a ‘pre-scientific ordering of nature, not by anactual organisation of the elements of nature but by an assumption that someorganisation does exist, some inherent causality.’ Williamson also describes magicas ‘a point of translation and exchange’ (p. 144) which ‘draws us into its non-being’.

5 Michael Schirner, ‘Loewy and the Logo’ in Angela Schönberger (ed.),RaymondLoewy: Pioneer of American Industrial Design, Munich, 1990, p. 183.

6 See J.P.Stern, Hitler, the Führer and the People, London, 1990, p. 176: ‘Hitlerdiscovered that he was not a Jew… Not being a Jew meant that he was not, afterall, nothing, a Nobody, and that his “race” was, or could become, everything.’

7 On 3 December 1938, as the climax to an increasingly repressive regime of anti-Semitic legislation, an ordnance was passed pertaining to the forced sale of Jewishbusinesses. The proceeds of these sales were kept in frozen accounts andconfiscated during the war.

8 Rose de Neve, ‘Whatever Happened to Corporate Identity?’, Print 43, May/ June1989, p. 92.

9 Ibid., p. 96.10 The Wannsee conference was held on 20 January 1942 at the villa Am Großen

Wannsee, Berlin. At the conference, Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of Security Police,announced ‘the final solution (Endlosung) of the Jewish question’.

11 Louis Althusser, ‘ldeology and Ideological State Apparatuses (Notes Toward anInvestigation)’ in Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans. Ben Brewster,New York, 1971, p. 162.

12 Hitler’s ‘Proclamation to the German People’ of 1 February 1933, when the phrase‘national awakening’ (nationalen Erhebung) was first used, followed hisassumption of the chancelllorship on 30 January that year. This was followed by a‘day of national awakening’ on 21 March, inaugurated at the tomb of Frederick theGreat in the Garrison Church at Potsdam. The swastika is described as a symbol ofthe ‘national awakening’ in Goebbels’ swastika laws of 19 May 1933. See RolfSteinberg, Nazi Kitsch, Darmstadt, 1975, p. 80.

13 Olins, op. cit., p. 204: ‘nobody, not even the most radical anti-Nazi, even hinted thatthe major multinationals should withdraw from Hitler’s Germany. The thoughtsimply never occurred to anybody’


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14 Jean Baudrillard, ‘The Ecstasy of Communication’ in Hal Foster (ed.), PostmodernCulture, London, 1983, p. 129.

15 Steinberg, op. cit., p. 80: ‘Es ist verboten, die Symbole der Deutschen Geschichte,des Deutschen Staates und der nationalen Erhebung in Deutschland öffen-tlich ineiner Weiss zu verwenden, die geeignet ist, das Empfinden von der Würde dieserSymbole zu verletzen.’

16 Ibid., p. 81.17 Also specifically forbidden were moneyboxes, paper, cuff-links, chocolate and

tobacco packaging bearing the swastika.18 Fritz Geschwendt, 5000 Jahre Hakenkreuz, Breslau, circa 1933.19 Ulrich Hunger, Die Runenkunde im Dritten Reich, Frankfurt, 1984, p. 98: ‘Ab 1933

erseichen eine zahlenmäßig unübersehbare Konjunturliteratur über das Hakenkreuz.’20 Ulrich Veit, ‘Ethnic Concepts in German Prehistory: A Case Study on the

Relationship between Cultural Identity and Archaeological Objectivity’, quoted inStephen Shennan (ed.), Archaeological Approaches to Cultural Identity, London,1989, p. 61.

21 Hunger, op. cit., p. 98.22 Steinberg, op. cit., p. 5.23 Gillo Dorfles (ed.), Kitsch: An Anthology of Bad Taste, London, 1968, p. 37.

Dorfles traces the etymology of the word ‘kitsch’ in the German verbetwasverkitschen, to ‘knock off cheaply’.

24 Steinberg, op. cit., p. 81.25 Wally Olins, quoted in ‘The BT affair: Wally Olins Talks to Deyan Sudjic’, Design

Review 1, Spring 1991, p. 36. 26 Ibid., p. 41.27 Norman Brown, The Swastika, A Study of Nazi Claims of its Aryan Origin, New

York, 1937, p. 30.28 Jean Baudrillard, ‘The Mirror of Production’, 1973, in Selected Writings, ed. M.

Poster, Cambridge, 1988, p. 115.29 Ibid., p. 119. ‘L’Echange symbolique et la mort’ was published in 1976.30 See Jean-François Lyotard, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, trans. Georges van

den Abbeele, Manchester, 1988, p. 142. Referring to Bataille, Lyotard says: ‘anintellectual [as distinct from a philosopher] is someone who helps forgetdifferends, by advocating a given genre, whichever it may be (including the ecstasyof sacrifice) for the sake of political hegemony.’

31 This statement of one of the Einsatzkommandos is taken from a review byD.H.Goldhagen in The New Republic, 17 April 1979, p. 43, quoted in Stern, op.cit., p.187.

32 Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, trans. Ralph Mannheim, with an introduction byD.C.Watt, London, 1992, p. 270:

The Aryan is not greatest in his mental abilities as such, but in the extentof his willingness to put all his abilities in the service of the community…The most wonderful elucidation of this attitude is provided by his word‘work’ by which he does not mean an activity for maintaining life in itself,


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but exclusively a creative effort which does not conflict with the interests ofthe community.

33 Stern, op. cit., p. 198.34 Ibid., p. 186. Against Nolte’s thesis, Stern says ‘“The Jews” were Hitler’s political

and ideological target at all times… The regime itself could not have existedwithout the Jews as its adversarial rallying point.’

35 Ernst Nolte, Three Faces of Fascism, trans. Leila Vennewitz, London, 1965.36 Ibid., p. 370.37 G.L.Mosse, Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the ThirdReich,

trans. Salvator Attenasio et al., London, 1966, p. 321.38 Georges Bataille, ‘The Psychological Structure of Fascism’, 1933, in Visions

ofExcess: Selected Writings 1927–39, ed. Allan Stoeckl, Manchester, 1985.39 Ibid., p. 143. Bataille argued that the ‘heterogeneous reality’ of fascism displaced

power from the object to the image: ‘the symbols charged with affective value thushave the same importance as the fundamental elements, and the part can have thesame value as the whole.’

40 Ibid., p. 155:

The mystical idea of race immediately affirmed itself as the imperative ofthe new fascist society…the necessity of maintaining a racial value above allothers obviated the need for a theory that made the State the principle of allvalue.

41 Douglas Kahn, John Heartfield: Art and the Mass Media, New York, 1985, p. 91.42 George L. Mosse, The Nationalisation of the Masses, New York, 1975, p. 18.43 John Heartfield, quoted in Kahn, op. cit., p. 91.44 Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, trans. Theodore P.Woolfe, New

York, 1946, p. 98.45 Ibid., p. 83.46 Ibid., p. 85. See also p. 83: ‘We must turn our attention to the symbolism which the

Fascists use in putting the revolutionary structures of the masses into reactionaryfetters.’

47 Ibid., p. 86.48 Ibid., p. 87.49 Ibid., p. 87.50 Ibid., p. 117.51 Steinberg, op. cit., p. 84, no. 67.52 Wulf Bley Das Jahr 1, Berlin, 1934, p. 78.53 M.Boorman, ‘Kirchliches Jahrbuch für die evangelische Kirche in Deutschland’,

quoted in Mosse, 1966, op. cit., p. 247.54 Hitler, op. cit., p. 326–7: ‘If anything is unfolkish, it is this tossing around of old

Germanic expressions… I had to warn again and again against thosedeutschvölkisch wandering scholars whose positive accomplishment is alwayspractically nil, but whose conceit can scarcely be excelled.’

55 Guido von List, ‘Das Geheimnis der Runen’, 1907, trans. and ed. with anintroduction by Stephen E.Flowers, as The Secret of the Runes, Rochester, Vt,


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1988, p. 4. List, who was born in Vienna in 1848, was a journalist and occultist,who throughout his long career produced articles and books on ‘the runes’ andother esoteric topics.

56 Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Occult Roots of Nazism: The Ariosophists ofAustriaand Germany, 1840–1935, Wellingborough, 1985, p. 199. Goodrick-Clarkeattributes this anecdote to Elsa Schmidt-Falk, who was in charge of a genealogicalresearch group in Munich during the 1920s. ‘Hitler was so intrigued by List’sburial of the wine bottles…that he wanted to exhume this “first swastika” once hehad annexed Austria.’

57 Barbara Distel and Ruth Jakusch (eds), Concentration Camp Dachau 1933–45,trans. Jennifer Vernon, Munich, 1978, p. 18. ‘Julius Streicher, Rudolf Hess, AlfredRosenberg, Gottfried Feder, Dietrich Eckhardt and Hans Frank belonged to this“Thule Society” circle.’

58 Hitler, op.cit., pp. 450 and 448.59 Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke (op. cit., p. 151) dates Khron’s intervention to May

1919, in the form of a memorandum entitled ‘Ist das Hakenkreuz als Symbolnationalsozialistischer Partei geeignet?’ (Is the swastika a suitable symbol for theNational Socialist Party?). In a note to his translation of Mein Kampf (op.cit., p.451, n. 1) Ralph Mannheim places this introduction of the swastika in August thesame year. Both of these datings precede Hitler’s arrival on 12 September 1919.

60 Goodrick-Clarke, op. cit., p. 151.61 Hitler, op. cit., p. 451.62 Ibid., p. 450: ‘we do not desire to awaken from death the old Reich that perished

through its own errors, but to build a new state.’63 Ibid., p. 451–2.64 Ibid., p. 450.65 Olins interviewed in Design Review, 1991, op. cit., p. 37.66 Anton Memminger, Hakenkreuz und Davidstern, Wurzburg, 1922, p. 1.67 Hitler, op. cit., p. 452.68 Ibid., p. 39: ‘Like the woman whose psychic state is determined less by grounds of

abstract reason that by an indefinable emotional longing…the masses love acommander more than a petitioner.’

69 Nolte, op. cit., pp. 429 and 422.70 Stern, op. cit., p. 80.71 Daniel J.Boorstin, The Image, or What Happened to the American Dream,

Harmondsworth, 1961, pp. 197–8: ‘An image is ambiguous. It floats somewherebetween imagination and the senses, between expectation and reality.’

72 Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, Exeter, 1987, thesis 199.73 Schirner, op. cit., p. 183.74 Ibid., p. 185.75 Hitler, op. cit., p. 403.76 Ibid., p. 299.77 Ibid., p. 530.78 Peter Viereck, Metapolitics: From the Romantics to Hitler, New York, 1941, p. 26.79 Stern, op. cit., p. 26–7. Discussing Hitler’s speeches before and after 1933, Stern

notes that one characteristic is constant: ‘Solidarity and agreement areexpressedand thus achieved even before it has become quite clear what precisely


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the agreement is about. The audience is not being informed, it is made to perform;and its performance “makes history”.’


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Abraham, K. 48AIZ 139–5Althusser, L. 130amulet see swastika as talismanAnger, K. 7anti-Semitism 15, 21, 137, 138, 139, 145;

and the swastika 3–4, 21, 23–6, 43, 49,133, 146

archaeology see swastika as archaeologicalevidence;

material culturearchetype:

manufacturing 125, 126;and swastika 103–7

Aryans 3, 21, 53, 73, 139;ancestral signs of xii, 1, 18, 19, 54–8,104;and swastika xii, 1, 6, 18, 19, 54–9,110, 154see also swastika and Aryan speech;and Vedas 40–4

Auschwitz 3, 139AWB 12

Bakhtin, M. 44–9, 49Barthes, R. 78Bastian, A. 51, 103Bataille, G. 137, 139–4, 140Baudrillard, J. 117, 137, 150Bauemler, A. 104Benetton 16, 127, 132, 151Benjamin, W. 108, 118Berlin 59Bernal, M. 40, 56Betrand, A. 21

Bhabha, H. 7, 48, 49Birdwood, Sir G. 56Bismarck, O.von 18–1, 39, 139, 146, 148Blavatsky, H.P. 6, 55, 105Blind, K. 25, 31Boorman, H. 63–6Boorman, M. 144Boorstin, D.J. 149–5Bourdieu, P. 43Brentano, Dr. E. 25–8Brecker, A. 69British National Party 1, 16British Telecom 136Brooks, M. 121Brown, N.W. 42–5, 136Buddhism:

and the swastika 36, 51, 145Burckhardt, T. 113, 114Burnouf, E. 21, 43, 46, 144Butts, E. 5

Chamberlain, H.S. 106Champollion J.F. 26Christian iconography 45–9, 113;

cross, comparison with swastika 56,143–9;and kitsch 135

Coleridge, S.T. 2colonialism 58;

linked to fascism 13, 30communism 148;

anti-communism 12, 139;Bavarian uprising 145;iconography of 7–8, 68

corporate identity 18, 149–5


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see also British Telecom;and corporate mission 125, 128, 129;evolution of 125;as gift 125, 126, 127see also Benetton;and romantic theory of symbol 124–9;trademark 125, 128;and the trans-economic 18, 125, 127,132–17, 151

Crowley, A. 7cryptology 25, 51

Daniel, G. 34de-Nazification 16;

legislation 2Debord, G. 75, 118, 150Derrida, J. 22, 48, 139Deuel, L. 31Deutsches Arbeiter Partei (DAP) 59, 144–

30see also National Socialism

Deutsches Studentbund 62, 63diffusionism 15–16, 50–5, 109Dorfles, G. 135

Eisenmann, P. 69, 70Eisenstein, S. 2Enabling Bill 134Erlebnis 65, 148Eurocentrism 7expressionism 18, 62–7

Fanon, F. 30fasces 12, 138fascism 12, 13;

and colonialism 13, 30;fascist ‘psychology’ 141;relationship to Nazism 12, 118, 138–3,149

fetishism 7, 48–2Fichte, J.G. 27–28, 39–2, 43, 47, 139Firth, R. 57Fordism 118, 128, 130–15Foucault, M. 24, 26, 27Fraktur script 71, 108–2, 121Frankl, P. 72, 100–4freemasonry 72

Freud, S. 7, 48, 49, 104, 141Führer principle 62, 68, 121–5Fuller, S. 15–16

Gadamer, H.G. 65–8, 102, 119gammadion see swastikaGauger, K. 104Gell, A. 52Georgi, Fr A.A. 56German language 27–28German nationalism 27–28, 29, 31, 33, 43,

146Germanic Orders 144, 145Geschwendt, Dr. F. 133Gilroy, P. 11Glaser, H. 64Gobineau, Compte de 103Goblet, Count D’Alviella, 3, 22, 50Goebbels, J. 2, 30, 62–4, 70, 132–17, 140,

152Goethe, J.W. 2, 27;

on Gothic 79;on the symbol 102–6

Gombrich, E. 13, 75–78, 116Goodrick-Clarke, N. 71–4, 105, 145Goodyear, G. 56Gothic 18, 37, 121;

English 74;and expressionism 62;and Fraktur script 71, 108;as Germanic 18, 65, 106;Gothic man 75, 77, 79–4, 107–1, 118;opposed to classical 65, 73–6, 106, 113–7

Grabowski, O. 58graffiti 59;

and ornament 66, 70Gramsci, A. 118Greg, R.P. 25, 50, 56Grimm, J. 71grotesque 65, 69, 72

Hardenberg, F.L.von 2, 38Hartshorne, B.F. 33Heartfield, J. 17, 18, 139–6, 146Hegel, G.W.F. 21, 36, 37–39, 48, 51, 68,



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Heimat:related to Lebensraum 14–15

Heller, S. 13Herder, J.G. 79Hess, R. 62Hindu iconography 38

see also swastika, IndianHissarlik see Homeric TroyHitler, A. 1, 5, 7, 13, 19, 23, 30, 53, 70,

110, 117, 118, 124, 148, 151–7, 153;on the avant-garde 62–4;as chancellor 129;condemnation of occultism 144;and design of Nazi swastika 145–2;Hitler salute 115–9, 152;proclaims ‘national awakening’ 130;on race 137–2;as screen icon 121–5;on swastika 3, 8, 40, 147

Hobsbawm, E. 33, 36, 39Hodder, I. 10, 111, 112Holocaust 3–4, 129, 137, 138Homeric Troy 22, 25, 29, 32, 35, 40

see also Schliemann;disputes over 29–2

Honneth, A. 12Hunger, U. 133

India 36–40see also Hindu iconography

Indo-European language 22, 24, 26, 44–9,50;

see also AryanIslamic ornament 113

Jacobi, J. 105Jung, C.G. 103–8

Kahn, D. 139Kellner, D. 63Kenner, H. 29Kershaw, I. 3, 4kitsch, Nazi 135Klee, P. 114–8Koch, R. 73Korfmann, M. 30Kossinna, G. 33–6

Kracauer, S. 13, 118–7, 150Kristeva, J. 70Krohn, F. 23, 145Kruger, B. 117Küchler, S. 54Kuspit, D. 62

Lang, A. 56Lang, F. 122Lebensraum 8, 14–15Liefer, W. 40Linker, K. 117Lipps, T. 79List, G.von 29, 72, 144Loewy, R. 150logo:

compared with swastika 131, 147, 154;and psychoanalysis 125, 127;as tautological communication 150–6,152–9;see also corporate identity

Loos, A. 63, 65–71, 75, 108Lukács, G. 31, 68Lyotard, J.F. 43

McKee, I. 116–117, 121Mackenzie, D.A. 57McNamara, A. 118, 121Manson, C. 6marketing:

corporate 126, 129;product 126, 129

Marti-Ibanez, Dr F. 124Marx, K. 36, 39material culture 33–6, 35–8Mauss, M. 137, 139Melion, W. 54Memminger, A. 147Menze, E. 102Miller, P. 37mnemonic device 54–8Moore, H. 111–5, 114Mosse, G.L. 139, 139Müller, F.M. 26–9, 43, 45;

on swastika xii, 3, 21, 45–9, 77Müller, L. 21, 50Munich, Nazi Party rally at 147


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National Socialism 2, 15see also Nazism

nationalism see German nationalismnative American culture 45;

and swastika 10, 16, 51Nazi:

kitsch 135;‘Nazi aesthetic’ 70–3;swastika, design of 145–2

Nazism 21;as anti-democractic ideology 64–7;anti-Jewish legislation 127;and anti-Semitism 15, 138, 139;and aristocracy 64–7, 125–10, 130;and Aryanism 3, 6–8, 31, 41–4, 53, 58;Hitler salute 115–9, 152;and Holocaust 3;and irrationalism 68–1;and Lebensraum 3, 8;party rallies see Nuremberg, Munich;policy on swastika 2, 131, 132–19,140;and postmodernism 67;relationship to fascism 12, 118, 138–3,149;and representation 3;and romanticism 6, 68–2, 101

neo-Nazis 1, 11, 12, 13, 59, 123, 153–9Neve, R. de 128Nolte, E. 67, 69, 112, 138, 148–4Novalis see Hardenberg, F.L.vonNuremberg:

rallies at 119,(of 1934) 121–5;Zeppelin field, 59, 62–5

occultism 6–7Olins, W. 125, 126, 130, 136, 147orientalism 7, 8, 30ornament 18, 47, 48

see also Gothic;and craft tradition 65–9;and graffiti 66;as graphology of race 73–6, 76, 100–4,106, 107;Indian 37;Islamic 113;

mass ornament 118–4;modernity and postmodernity 65–68;ontology of 65–8;and symbol 55–58, 62, 101–5, 109,111–7

Poliakov, L. 28, 43Pugin, A. 56

racism 1, 6, 7, 12, 30, 130;and capitalism 153–9;and signification 16–17

Radek, K. 101rallies, Nazi Party see Nuremberg, MunichRamasvamayya, N. 6Read, H. 74Reich, W. 141–8, 152Renan, E. 21Renfrew, C. 41Ricoeur, P. 111Riefenstahl, L. 62;

Triumph of the Will 121–7Riegl, A. 79Rodowick, D.N. 121romanticism 78;

and Nazism 6, 68–2, 101;romantic theory of the symbol 2–3, 18,37–38, 69, 101–6, 106–107, 123, 124,127

Rosenberg, A. 62–4, 70, 117, 133Rossi, A. 67Ruskin, J. 37Ruttmann, W. 122

Said, E. 46Sanskrit, 24, 38, 40, 41Saussure, F. de 44, 46Sayce, A.H. 21, 25Schardt, A. 62Scheffler, K. 100–4Schelling, F.W. 2, 103Schiller, J.C.F. von 2, 27, 102Schirner, M. 150–6, 152Schlegel, A.W.von 100Schliemann, H. 18, 21, 23, 25–8, 33, 40,

43, 58, 140, 141;and Aryanism 22, 39;


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and German nationalism 29, 31, 43;and Homeric myth 22, 32, 41;on swastika 29, 34, 35, 41, 45–9, 50,110, 133–18;treasures of Troy 30;use of swastika images with text xii

Schopenhauer A. 79–2scopophilia 48–2, 69, 119Semper, G. 79Smith, P. 40Smith, T. 104, 116social space 9, 11, 16–17, 53, 112, 114,

115–118, 122–7, 136, 147Sontag, S. 116Speier, H. 122Spengler, O. 75, 100–4, 117–1Sperber, D. 9, 53–7, 57, 109–3Spiesser culture 64Star of David 68Steiglitz, C.L. 79Stern J.P. 104, 138, 149, 152swastika: as ancestral sign xii, 1, 18, 19,

54–8, 104, 154;and anti-Semitism 3–4, 23–6, 43, 49,133, 146;as archaeological evidence xii, 1, 19,22, 23, 25, 32–6, 35;as archetype 105;as Aryan heraldic device 3, 4–5, 15,64;and Aryan speech 23, 27, 54–8;and Auschwitz 3;as autokinetic form 28, 38, 72–5, 76–78, 121–6, 153;and Buddhism 36, 51, 145;comparison with Christian cross 56,143–9;and concept of mission 3, 128, 129,146–33;confusion of word and image xii, 25;cross-cultural comparison of 1, 140;and definition of the Aryan 6, 7, 54,110;and design of Nazi emblem 145–2;and diffusion 15–16;and eccentricity 6;encyclopaedia of 16–16, 50–8;exhibition of 1, 19, 35;

and fasces 12;and fetishism 7;first appearance at Nazi Party rally146;and Führer principle 62, 121–5;as graffiti 59;and Hitler salute 115–9;Hitler’s definition of 3, 8;Indian 36;and Lebensraum 8, 14;and logo, comparison with 125–13,131, 147, 154;morphological purity of 21, 23, 46–47,73, 146;and native American culture 10, 16;Nazi regulations concerning 2, 131,132–19, 140;and occultism 6–7, 144;and paralysis of gaze 13, 52, 122;problem of decoding 4, 5, 8, 17;punk use of 10, 11;as purposeful image 16, 51–5;and romanticism 2–3, 18, 68–2, 78,101;and self-identity 10, 14, 21, 28;and sensationalism 6, 134;as sexual symbol 141–7;and social space 9, 11, 13, 14, 53, 112,115–118, 122–7, 143, 147;and Star of David 68, 147;as talisman 52–6

symbol:cognitive theory of 9, 53–7;and context 4, 10–11, 109, 111–6;dictionaries of 10;and modernity 54–8, 57–1;ontology of 119;and ornament 55–58, 62, 101–5, 109,111–7;related to words 9;romantic theory of 2–3, 18, 37–38, 69,101–6, 106–107, 123, 124, 127;and social space 9, 16–17, 53, 114, 122–7, 136

Tacitus 47Taine, H. 100


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talisman see swastika as talismanTaylor, B. 67, 108theosophy 6, 55, 105, 145Thule Society 144Tiller Girls 118–4Tilley, C. 32trademark see corporate identitytriskelion see swastikaTroy see Homeric TroyTurkey 30, 59;

Alaca Hüyuk 112–6;Karatay Medrese, Konya 112–6

Vattimo, G. 32Vedas 22, 32, 40–3Veit, U. 133Venturi, R. 67Versailles, treaty of 145Viereck, P. 152Virchow, R. 42Virilio, P. 13, 14, 30Volosinov, V.N. see Bakhtin

Walker, Rev. N. 6, 41–4Wannsee conference 129, 137Waring, G. 36, 49Wenders, W. 14Weyl, H. 72Wheeler, M. 29Wiene, R. 121Wilson, T. 16–16, 21, 45, 51–9, 78, 107,

109, 110, 123Winzen, M. 69Witte, K. 121Worringer, W. 29, 62, 63, 65, 70, 72–101,

103, 106–108, 113–7, 116, 117, 121–7,148

Zmigrodski, M. 16, 21–9, 29, 47, 49–4, 55,73, 146, 148, 154;

and anti- Semitism 21, 43, 46–49, 69;and swastika exhibition 1, 19, 35


Swastika (symbool)Swastika (symbool) 1 Swastika (symbool) Een decoratieve swastika uit het hindoeïsme De swastika, ook wel bekend als hakenkruis, is een symbool in devorm van een

Hotel Swastika - The Matchcover Vault Swastika.pdf· 2020-03-04· Hotel Swastika There were actually a number of „Swastika‟-named hotels, lodges, etc. around the country at

Swastika the nazi_terror-james_waterman_wise-1933-125pgs-pol

· The swastika is actually an ancient symbol. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's webpage, History of the Swastika, the word comes from the Sanskrit 'Swastika,"

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Swastika - Vinyasi· 2015-06-22· Swastika seals from the Indus Valley Civilization preserved at the British Museum 13 Bibliography 14 External links Names The word swastika has

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Meaning of the Swastika Swastika: The Jewish Perspective· 2018. 12. 19.· fish, bird or animal; and as living in hell. Meaning of the Swastika Symbols, by definition, have power

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What does swastika mean in Japan? ›

While adoption of the pagoda icon might have alleviated our traveler's concerns that Kamakura is a Nazi stronghold, the fact remains that the swastika has represented benevolence and good fortune for perhaps 99 percent of its long existence, and will always be a part of Asia's cultural, historic, and religious heritage ...

Do Buddhists still use the swastika? ›

Even today, the swastika is a common symbol across Asia, used by Hindus, Buddhists, and adherents of other religions, where it is often associated with good fortune.

What's the difference between swastika and hakenkreuz? ›

Accurate language helps build understanding. While the hooked cross image is commonly referred to as a 'swastika,' the actual Nazi and Neo-Nazi symbol is correctly labeled as a 'hakenkreuz', the German word for 'hooked cross'. Connect the dots through education and clarification about the terminology.

What was the original meaning of swastika? ›

Information about the Swastika Symbol

Scholars generally agree it originated in India. With the emergence of the Sanskrit language came the term 'swastika', a combination of 'su', or good, and 'asti', to be; in other words, well-being."

Why are there swastikas in Korea? ›

In Buddhism, and Korean Buddhism in particular, the swastika, which is known in Korean as "manja," is meant to symbolize good fortune and auspiciousness. As a result, the meanings behind the usages by the German Nazis and Buddhists are a head-spinning world of difference.

What is the Japanese death symbol? ›

死 (shi) means “death,” and consists of two parts. The top and left line represents a bone and the left side represents a person who is upside down in the ground. It indicates death of the person. Many of us may not want to think about death.

Is tattoo a sin in Buddhism? ›


Because they are viewed as temporary, getting tattoos doesn't violate any Buddhist doctrines or beliefs. Some Buddhists say that tattoos are an unhealthy attachment to the body. However, even monks can have tattoos and some sects actually encourage them as a way to remember Buddhist teachings.

Which religion uses swastika? ›

In the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit, swastika means "well-being". The symbol has been used by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains for millennia and is commonly assumed to be an Indian sign. Early Western travellers to Asia were inspired by its positive and ancient associations and started using it back home.

When was Buddhism banned? ›

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), all religion was banned, including all branches of Buddhism. Today, the Chinese government enforces a policy of “Sinicization” – which, among other things, requires foreign religions to adapt to Chinese culture and traditions.

Which God is Swastik? ›

In Hinduism, the Swastik is associated with Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, and is considered an embodiment of prosperity and good fortune. The symbol signifies well-being and encapsulates the divine vibrations of Aum.

What does the swastika mean in Vietnam? ›

The swastika (chu van in Vietnamese) is a good luck symbol from Hinduism and Buddhism, which is why it commonly adorns Vietnamese temples and many Vietnamese, both male and female, were a gold swastika on a necklace.

What is the Sanskrit word for swastika? ›

The swastika as a symbol of prosperity and good fortune is widely distributed throughout the ancient and modern world. The word is derived from the Sanskrit svastika, meaning “conducive to well-being.” It was a favourite symbol on ancient Mesopotamian coinage.

What is the science behind swastik? ›

Science is not far behind in this symbol. The famous mathematics concept of Fibonacci and golden ratio are inbuilt in swastika. Keep the swastika symbol in your home, office and personal belongings for good life and luck.

What is the spiritual meaning of swastik? ›

The word Swastika means pure and auspicious according to the Sanskrit translation. Thus, a person who regularly makes use of this symbol during daily puja rituals or who worships this symbol is said to invite good luck, well-being, and positivity.

What is the sacred symbol of the Navajo? ›

Whirling Logs - Navajo Sacred Symbol.

What does the swastika kanji mean? ›

The swastika, in the Japanese sense, can mean a number of positive things from strength to compassion. The bottom line is that when you see a swastika in Japan, it's not some anti-Semitic symbol; it's usually used as a positive symbol of Buddhism.

What does the triangle symbol mean in Japan? ›

A bullseye "◎" (nijūmaru; 二重丸) is often used for "excellent", the circle is a plain affirmation, the triangle "△" (sankaku; 三角) means "so-so" or "partially applicable", and the "×" expresses disagreement. This system is widely known in Japan, and thus often used without explanation.

What is the swastika on the Japanese map? ›

On maps of Japan, swastikas mark the locations of Buddhist temples. The angled ends of the Buddhist swastikas point to the left or to the right. There is no rotation. There is no tie between Japanese Buddhism and Nazism.

What is the symbol of peace for Japan? ›

Heiwa – Japanese Symbol for Peace Heiwa is the Japanese symbol commonly used to express the idea of peace, harmony, and tranquility. It bears a close resemblance to the Chinese symbol 'heping,' which also has a similar meaning.

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