Master of Arts
Theory and Criticism
This thesis project examines the interrelationships of Weimar Körperkultur (“body culture”), interwar photographic practices broadly known as “Neues Sehen,” and Verist “Neue Sachlichkeit” painting to interrogate visual representations of bodily difference in Weimar media and art. Through close analysis of select case studies in Weimar film, photography, and painting, I argue that the lines between aesthetic, sociopolitical, and bodily deviance are blurred by many artists of the period. Such focus on the body as the site of an intermedial, interdisciplinary debate about aesthetic, social, political, and national “values” has historically been overlooked by scholars. I ultimately argue that certain “reactionary” figures (namely Franz Roh, Christian Schad, Otto Dix, and others associated with "mimetic" forms of interwar art) used non-normate embodiments to radically contest Körperkultur norms, the visual language of physiognomy, and the proto-Fascist eugenic legacies from which they emerged.
Summary for Lay Audience
This thesis approaches German visual culture produced between World War I and World War II from the perspective of three different critical terms: degeneration, the concept that society as a whole “organism” becomes ill through the social deviance of criminals, disabled persons, and other socially undesirable bodies; distortion, a practice of image-making that does not intend to “realistically” represent its object but rather contort it and make it unrecognizable; and disability, the social construction of bodily difference in relation to a conventional “norm.” These three terms organize the analysis of film, photography, and painting, respectively, throughout the project. Through utilizing case studies of specific works from the period alongside relevant political thought, media theory, and cultural history, I hope to reveal the unique significance of the body (particularly bodies that deviate from the “norm”) in early twentieth-century German art, politics, and science. I subsequently argue that the non-normate body is not only central to these interdisciplinary discourses but that its specific position in interwar German culture has also historically been overlooked in the relevant art-historical and theoretical scholarship. I believe that the study of this topic can help us better understand the foundations of Third Reich rhetoric and culture (1933-1945) and shed new light on the rich visual culture of the Weimar period (1918-1933).
Carney, Kathryn, "Encountering Others: Degeneration, Distortion, and Disability in Interwar German Visual Culture, 1918-1933" (2020). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7035.
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