Vol. 4 No. 1 2020

Modernity @ Zero Hour: Three Women (Lee Miller, Hannah Höch, Anonyma)
Author:Barrett Watten    Time:2020-07-06    Click:

Abstract: This essay is a part of a longer work on literary and visual modernism at the “moment” of destruction in 1945: Stunde Null or Zero Hour. Here, I focus on the “constructedness” of universals via the material, psychological, and political destruction in Germany at war’s end. At this moment, destruction and universals interconnect in three temporal modes: anticipatory, punctual, and retrospective. For “punctual” universals, I read Lee Miller’s war journalism, published in Vogue, in relation to her war and Holocaust photography, as uniting modernist aesthetic values and the “event” of destruction. For the construction of “anticipatory” universals, I discuss the work of Hannah Höch, dada painter and collagist, who emerged from internal exile in Berlin to participate in the first modernist exhibitions in the destroyed city after Stunde Null. Finally, the anonymously authored A Woman in Berlin, documenting the survival strategies to mass sexual predation by Soviet troops immediately at and after Stunde Null, extends from punctual accounts of destruction to a retrospective narration. In each case, modernist visual and verbal forms—and an ethical imperative to keep interpretive horizons open—negotiates between the “radical particularity” of the lived experience of destruction and universal values. The constructedness of universals in modernist works anticipates the construction of political, ethical, and aesthetic universals in the global order after 1945.

Keywords: modernism, World War II, feminism, art history, destruction, universals

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