Fascinating Fascism  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Fascinating Fascism is an essay by Susan Sontag first published on February 6, 1975 in New York Review of Books. It was republished in Under the Sign of Saturn, (New York, 1980). The essay consists of two parts. Part one examines Leni Riefenstahl's The Last of the Nuba; part two examines Jack Pia's SS Regalia, an academic work on the contemporary popularity of Nazi paraphernalia. The essay explores the links between fascist aesthetics and sadomasochism.

From Part I:

[...] Between sadomasochism and fascism there is a natural link. "Fascism is theater," as Genet said. As is sadomasochistic sexuality: to be involved in sadomasochism is to take part in a sexual theater, a staging of sexuality. Regulars of sadomasochistic sex are expert costumers and choreographers as well as performers, in a drama that is all the more exciting because it is forbidden to ordinary people. Sadomasochism is to sex what war is to civil life: the magnificent experience. (Riefenstahl put it: "What is purely realistic, slice of life, what is average, quotidian, doesn't interest me." As the social contract seems tame in comparison with war, so fucking and sucking come to seem merely nice, and therefore unexciting. The end to which all sexual experience tends, as Bataille insisted in a lifetime of writing, is defilement, blasphemy. To be "nice," as to be civilized, means being alienated from this savage experience—which is entirely staged.


From Part II:

If the message of fascism has been neutralized by an aesthetic view of life, its trappings have been sexualized. This eroticization of fascism can be remarked in such enthralling and devout manifestations as Mishima's Confessions of a Mask and Sun and Steel, and in films like Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising and, more recently and far less interestingly, in Visconti's The Damned and Cavani's The Night Porter.

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