Friday, February 17, 2012

The ethics of book design

I've always been amused by the original cover to the revised edition of Heidegger's Basic Writings:

Not that he was a Nazi, right? " ;) " as they say.

But compare Peter Longerich's Himmler biography (newly translated):

Black and silver are common enough ... but given that the subject is the Reichsführer-SS, must the cover of the book reproduce the favored colors of the SS itself? Put it another way: if Himmler were authorizing his own biography, would he pick a different color scheme?

Consider Sontag's "Fascinating Fascism," which was a review not only of Leni Riefenstahl but of a book on SS Regalia:
the SS was the ideal incarnation of fascism's overt assertion of the righteousness of violence, the right to have total power over others and to treat them as absolutely inferior. It was in the SS that this assertion seemed most complete, because they acted it out in a singularly brutal and efficient manner; and because they dramatized it by linking themselves to certain aesthetic standards. The SS was designed as an elite military community that would be not only supremely violent but also supremely beautiful. (One is not likely to come across a book called "SA Regalia." The SA, whom the SS replaced, were not known for being any less brutal than their successors, but they have gone down in history as beefy, squat, beerhall types; mere brownshirts.)

* * *As the back cover of SS Regalia explains:

The uniform was black, a colour which had important overtones in Germany. On that, the SS wore a vast variety of decorations, symbols, badges to distinguish rank, from the collar runes to the death's-head. The appearance was both dramatic and menacing.
When one puts a black-and-silver cover on Himmler's biography, is one contributing to this SS aesthetic?

The subject bears consideration. Personally, I think blue and white would've made a splendid cover.

... Weird: Longerich's biography is widely praised, but I'm reading it and finding no mention of just when Himmler actually joined the Nazi Party. August 1925, says Höhne in The Order of the Death's Head; his Party number, 14303, certainly doesn't suggest an early start. But unless I've just missed it, what a weird detail for Longerich to overlook.


  1. Interesting post the death's head was a commom symbol in many armies. I think at one time a British regiment used them. I am very interested in the people of German ancestry who Himmler allowed in the SS. At the end of the war they were taking just about anyone but the ones who were not nordic enough were not allowed to wear the SS runes. Can you lend me that book when you are finished?JL

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