Friday, January 28, 2005

Re-thinking Philip Johnson

I regret the imprecision of calling Philip Johnson an American Albert Speer. A youthful Speer wannabe would be more accurate. Let me clarify by reproducing the entry from William Shirer’s Berlin Diary that mentions him – a diary entry from just 2 ½ weeks into World War II:
Zoppot, near Dantzig, September 18, [1939]

Drove all day long from Berlin through Pomerania and the Corridor to here. The roads full of motorized columns of German troops returning from Poland. In the woods in the Corridor the sickening sweet smell of dead horses and the sweeter smell of dead men. Here, the Germans say, a whole division of Polish cavalry charged against hundreds of German tanks and was annihilated. On the pier of this summer resort where just five weeks ago John [Gunther] and I sat far into the peaceful night arguing whether the guns would go off or not in Europe, we watched tonight the battle raging around Gdynia. Far off across the sea you could see the sky light up when the big guns went off.

Dr. Boehmer, press chief of the Propaganda Ministry in charge of this trip, insisted that I share a double room in the hotel here with Phillip[sic] Johnson, an American fascist who says he represents Father Coughlin’s Social Justice. None of us can stand the fellow and suspect he is spying on us for the Nazis. For the last hour in our room here he has been posing as anti-Nazi and trying to pump me for my attitude. I have given him no more than a couple of bored grunts.
The New York Times obituary says of Johnson’s 1930s escapades:
He liked to refer to himself, with only some irony, as a whore. And in the 1930's, this man who believed that art ranked above all else took a bizarre and, he later conceded, deeply mistaken detour into right-wing politics, suspending his career to work on behalf of Gov. Huey P. Long of Louisiana and later the radio priest Father Charles Coughlin, and expressing more than passing admiration for Hitler.
Yet both the Globe and the Times repeatedly refer to Johnson’s fascist period as dabbling in “right wing politics” as if he had joined a particularly conservative chapter of the Young Republicans rather than willingly pawning himself off to the Nazis…or are these two somewhat equivalent in their view?

I don’t mean to deny Johnson forgiveness or speak ill of the dead, but it seems to me that both the Times and Globe have glossed over this.

Finally, a very informative article here on the topic of Johnson and his Nazi sympathies in the 1930s by KAZYS VARNELIS, which was published in the journal Architectural Education.

No comments: