Tuesday, February 23, 2016

This is Nazi Answer We Were Looking For: Otto Brunner and Where to Draw the Line

Welcome back, History Fans!

We are far too busy to give a solid update on our readings, what with mid-terms creeping up and endless amounts of translations piling up. Instead, we will be kicking around some theoretical questions I have been wrestling with since learning about Otto Brunner.

Otto Brunner was an Austrian historian who wrote a critical book called Land and Lordship, which was one of the earliest and most important breaks from political history and instead focused more on social and cultural history.

He also happened to be a Nazi.

Itty bitty Brunner

For years scholars were unsure what to do with Brunner's work. They couldn't particularly ignore his contribution to the field of medieval studies, especially in the area of the medieval feud. Yet, to acknowledge or use a work produced by a known Nazi in the tense aftermath of World War II surely was not encouraged. In scholarship, and in particular in historical scholarship, to ignore a work completely is a one way ticket to being torn apart by critics and peers. So what the heck do we do with Otto Brunner?

Recently, the book Land and Lordship has been deemed useable by the academic community and Otto Brunner has been given a pass of sorts because of how important his research has been.

The question is: is this acceptable? Where do we draw the line between creator and product? Is accepting Brunner's work now as an important contribution to social history just a small step away from saying that the Nazi scientists were really onto something with their experiments?

This also draws to mind current issues between artists and products. Though, of course, a German historian from the 1930s-40s probably would not consider himself an artist. But, if we can side-step his ideology (more national socialism than anti-Semitism, which I assume leaks through his work, though I have yet to read the book) and appreciate his work, can we do the same with our artists today? Are you able to watch a Bill Cosby stand up special from the 70s or 80s and still enjoy it? Cosby surely was a comedy game-changer, and important person in the evolution of comedy. But when his dirty laundry came out, can we still give him the same credit?

David Bowie, too, was accused of sexual assault on women. This came to light after his death, but the issues were known to many beforehand. An incredible musician who made it cool to be weird--but who also did some not so nice things. Can you separate the creator from the music?

Is there a difference between listening to a band whose message is white supremacy vs. a white supremacist who sings in a band that has no real message at all?

Some of the people to whom I asked this question said that it depended on how bad the things were that the creator did. Cosby raped women, therefore they did not want to support his art. But if an artist was doing drugs or other misdemeanors, it was not that big of a deal. Brunner, though, offers a very different scenario. We have an undoubtedly brilliant man who, on his own, perpetrated no atrocities, but whose political affections are tied to the most infamous case of genocide, hatred, and death.

I heard a band in high school during my Napster phase called A Trunk Full of Dead Bodies. They wrote some really great music, but their lyrics were about kidnapping and killing women. As much as I liked the music, I felt I couldn't support them with those themes. Yet, I am sure the guys behind the music would never have participated in something like that. Is there a difference between practice and preaching in this context? I have always been able to separate the artist from the product, but the lines get a little blurred in these instances. I also don't believe in just writing something off entirely without investigating its value. So, as I move forward to read Otto Brunner's book, I have to keep in mind the context and be on the lookout for the subtleties that may rear their ugly heads throughout the text. But would that be enough to dismiss Brunner's book as not valuable?

My mom loved this band

Man, I just don't know. It's an interesting thing to consider, and it's very interesting to see where people draw the lines in their minds.

That is it for today, History Fans. Power and Law is starting soon and we need all our wits to understand what is going on in there. Keep toeing the line!

Until next time!

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