The Collapse of Human Existential Intelligence In the Pre-fascist periods

A Madcap Retreat from Reality
While most Berliners in the 20s scrambled just to stay alive amid street fighting and food shortages, a lucky few who had managed to hold onto something – or to cash in on the wild currency fluctuations – found the postwar ferment a seductive invitation to live a little. These adroit survivalists joined with adventurous tourists and a coterie of bohemian artists to turn Berlin into the hottest pleasure town this side of ancient Rome… All over the city, nudity flourished: in nightclubs, on the stage and screen, at private parties where waitresses in filmy panties were paid to be fondled… Prostitutes paraded the streets by the thousands, some of them with boots and whips. Perversion prospered. According to Stefan Zweig, “powdered and rouged young men sauntered, and in the dimly lit bars one might see men of the world of finance courting drunken sailors.” At transvestite balls, Zweig noticed, “hundreds of men costumed as women and hundreds of women as men danced under the benevolent eyes of the police.”

Robert T. Elson, “Prelude to War”, Time-Life Books Inc., 1977, p. 74

When human self-expressiveness in intimate situations and relationships becomes reduced to basic reactions: mutual calculation, camaraderie/identification by commonality, totalitarian dissolution of personalities in symbiotic similarity, vulgar self-centeredness and naïve self-aggrandizement – when couple uses togetherness to self-assert against the world

Otto Dix
Otto Dix

Calculating mutual pact

Otto Dix, “French Couple”, 1925
Otto Dix, “French Couple”, 1925

Here, we observe a mutual decision of the protagonists to use each other – sex as a social cathartic ritual, not as a bio-psychological release or passion overflowing the margins of the bodily vessels. Dix’ title “French Couple” is very exact if we compare the mental sparkle between man and woman, lightening up their gazes and faces, with couples in following Dix’s paintings. What a rich man gets through wife and mistress, the poor man gets through a prostitute. In this painting we can recognize the humanity of both players – his offer is friendly, and she likes the fact that she is liked, not only picked up (for the protagonists of the following paintings to be chosen is enough for joy and for getting a proud feeling, like for many businessmen to find clients for their products). He, as if, confidently unzipped his pipe, and she by tightening her lips, as if, takes it and promptly turns moving him to the room.

Primordial brothel camaraderie

Otto Dix, “Sailor and Girl”, 1925
Otto Dix, “Sailor and Girl”, 1925

If the French couple (in the previous painting) has an emotional “game” going on between man and woman, this couple doesn’t have and doesn’t need that kind of playful embellishment of the deal. Instead we see in customer and provider here the basic joy of finding one another, recognizing each other’s existence for one another rather than feeling the joy of coming together. This couple doesn’t need eroticism between participants. The physical proximity is enough for their pleasure. We feel in these people supported by their standardized commonality in a world difficult for survival, a kind of a shadow of recognition in one another their belonging to the same specie – the feeling of human smell and warmth and foretasting the sweet sweat of the common sin.

Couple in a mirror box

Otto Dix, “Remembering the Halls of Mirrors in Brussels”, 1920
Otto Dix, “Remembering the Halls of Mirrors in Brussels”, 1920

The expressiveness of this couple, in comparison with the protagonists of previous works, are completely brothel-ritualistic – artificial and at the same time elementary. He looks at her like at his sunny and breezy environment, and she is full of warming and cooling abilities for compassionate stimulation. They don’t have expressiveness – only masks, be it that of care or joy. Sexual freedom from inhibitions, as Slavoj Zizek insists, is a strategy of super-ego, not of ego, of alienated business logic, not of “liberal permissiveness”. Basic human drives are welcomed as soon as they are enveloped in small change. In this sense a sexual couple pursuing the business of joy is a repressive configuration. Dix’s aggressively humorous composition also will work as a metaphor of the pompous marriage ritual of a new wed’s first night. Like in Disney-land for adults prepared satisfaction is reflected in the pluralistic multiplicity of mirrors repeating and perpetuating human nature, human past and future and the human incorrigible essence.

Globalist (worldly) couples

Otto Dix, “Exotic Brothel”, 1922
Otto Dix, “Exotic Brothel”, 1922

Enjoy a world of sexual globalism – Dix’s caricature on the availability of “democratic” choices in universal salesmanship and economic universalism of consumerism, of plenitude and satisfaction, of unity between plenitude of pleasures and wisdom and humanism of working for people’s satisfaction. Brothel can be as entertaining as a fairground or Hollywood or pop-music stars (in this case sexual seduction would be artistically sublimated into innocent sexual appeal, sex into sexiness).

Future adultss

Otto Dix, “Children at Play”, 1929
Otto Dix, “Children at Play”, 1929

How the adults we observed in the previous Dix’s paintings reproduced here, started up? What was the childhood of those who ended up as brothel patrons and salesgirls? It’s incredibly courageous for Dix to use in “Children at Play” his own daughter and son in order to understand better the psychological future of the human generations trapped in pre-fascist historical epochs. The girl dreams about a doll-like perfection of her appearance, like today’s girls dreaming to become super-models and super-stars, and the boy is playing with the handle of a jump rope – with one of the phallic objects available to children often before plastic soldiers and toy-guns. These children are not in any way “retarded” – they are “retards” in their very normalcy. It is their normalcy itself is retarded. It is very significant that the gesture of Dix’s daughter worshipping the doll personifying for her the ideal of feminine beauty, is exactly similar (as if, borrowed directly from Dix’s “Children at Play”) in the film of Joseph Mankiewitz “Suddenly, Last Summer” (1957), where the director characterizes with this gesture a deeply psychologically regressed patient at a ward of a psychiatric hospital as a candidate for lobotomy operation.

Who “pimps” and “girls” are in today’s culture?

Otto Dix, “Pimp and Girl” (1923)
O. Dix, “Pimp and Girl” (1923)

Dix’s “Pimp and Girl” helps us understand the symbolic functioning of the terms “pimp” and “girl” in modern culture. “Girl” in this sense is not necessarily a brothel or a street girl, and the “pimp” not always the one who “promotes” and “protects” her and makes on her profit. “Pimp” can be a necktie politician, a bowtie businessman or a neatly unshaved entertainer with long hair, while the girl a Hollywood superstar, male pop-singer and TV news anchor of either gender. “Pimp” is who produces and pushes his/her goods to the consumers regardless of their use value, and a “good girl” is who tries to be attractive and a seductive merchandise to be purchased (be it a human being, cell-phone, sitcom or drone missile).

Otto Dix
Otto Dix stares at us and plans to place us into his next paintings.