Saturday, October 24, 2020

“They are not subversives, they are mass murderers! We are the subversives”

"Dear Mrs Wolford, Dear Mrs Burton, Dear Birkmeyer, Dear colleagues, and fellow students. All narrative art, and until recently, even portraiture, still life, genre, and landscape, were rarely free from narrative elements, presupposes the artist's familiarity with a textual source. A painter foreign to the Christian tradition, based upon the gospels, could never have produced Leonardo's Last Supper, and a beholder, foreign to this tradition, could never be able to interpret it correctly. He may easily believe to witness a dinner party, interrupted by some apparently painful event, which to judge from the conspicuous presence of a purse, seems to have something to do with the payment of the bill." 

"The Value of Error in the History of Art." The lecture is very good, and very funny, especially the story of the apocryphal Saint Wilgefortis,  the Bearded Virgin, willed into being because the Eastern-style crucified Christ in a tunic didn't make sense to the Western imagination.  The first of 3 lectures available on youtube. Panofsky died 4 months later, March 14, 1968.

Panofsky, the Cold War and the FBI.

John Archibald Wheeler 

Yes, many of my colleagues did not understand why I joined the H-bomb project. That was sad but I can’t recall getting into big political discussions because you could not change anybody’s mind. Next door to us at Princeton lived the art historian, Erwin Panofsky, who had two sons, very promising ones; one of them was known as the dumb Panofsky and the other as the bright Panofsky. The bright Panofsky was No.1 in his class and the dumb Panofsky was No.2. We knew that Panofsky did not approve. The FBI men, who have come around to check up on our reliability by asking questions of neighbors, came to the Panofskys and asked them. Panofsky told them, “They are not subversives, they are mass murderers! We are the subversives”.  After he died there was a little meeting and I remember one person saying about him: “He hated children, grass and birds, he loved all dogs, a few friends, and words.”

You wrote in your hook that Edward Teller was a good friend of yours. He was especially strongly criticized for his actions. There were several other famous scientists who participated. Why was he considered to he the villain alone?  
It was a break in the solidarity in the community of Jewish businesses. Alvarez was not Jewish, Lawrence was not Jewish but Teller was. This is like being a traitor to your country, a traitor to a group of people. That is a theory; I’d like to see that theory examined for or against it. I did not testify at the Oppenheimer hearing. On the day before Teller’s congressional hearing he and I happened to stay at the same hotel in Washington. We talked about this long into the night and he was agonizing about what he should do.  He asked my advice and I told him, you should tell it the way you see it. 
Teller is a temperamental person. During the war and later, during the H-bomb project, he made many enemies with his impatience and arrogant behavior. His campaigning for the new weapons laboratory did not help either. By the time he testified at the Oppenheimer hearings, almost all scientists disliked him. I felt differently. In my opinion he fought obstinately for what he believed in. I may have disagreed with his tactics but never with his goals. 
This business about being divided on the H-bomb was similar to the division you see today on Star Wars. There is something very puzzling to me about the way communities stick together and people are opposed to Star Wars. The intellectual side of it has been spelled out many times but what’s the emotional side of it, I do not know.   
I think that in the first part of the next century we are going to have an enormous war bigger than any war we’ve ever had. I do not know how it is going to develop. 

John Archibald Wheeler, in  Magdolna Hargittai, Istvan Hargittai, Candid Science IV: Conversations with Famous Physicists, pp. 428-9 Magdolna and Istvan Hargittai, parents of Eszter Hargittai; varieties of political obscenity. 

Wheeler misremembers the quote. It's the epitaph Panofsky had chosen for himself. It came to him in a dream in 1945. He hated babies, gardening, and birds; But loved a few adults, all dogs, and words. Others who were there got it right, and they laughed. 

All in all another argument against STEM, and Sputnik banality.

Panofsky was friends with Einstein and with him a defender of Oppenheimer. His sons were friends of von Neumann, but I'm thinking he was with those who opposed him, those Freeman Dyson called "the snobs". 

Who Got Einstein's Office? Eccentricity and Genius at the Institute for Advanced Study.
The author treats von Neumann as the unqualified hero of the piece. 

Panofsky: "If the anthropocratic civilization of the Renaissance is headed, as it seems to be, for a 'Middle Ages in reverse'... " 

von Neumann: "If you say why not bomb them tomorrow, I say why not today? If you say today at 5 o'clock, I say why not one o'clock?" 

Panofsky in America
Even for those whose adaptation to the new life was successful, the psychic wounds inflicted on the refugees by the National Socialist persecution went deep, although it rarely showed openly. The typical reaction to anti-Semitism was to assume a superior, stoic stance, born of a continued belief in human dignity and humanistic values. This attitude was expressed most markedly in a heightened sensitivity to manifestations of anti-Semitism and to the McCarthyism of the late 1940s and 1950s, as numerous letters and statements show. The anti-Jewish prejudice in America in various areas of life, such as the universities, had quickly become evident to the émigrés. Conservative East Coast society above all clung to a clear distinction between Jew and non-Jew.  As early as 1936 a disillusioned Panofsky wrote to Fritz Saxl in London that he was reckoning on “a reunion of our whole circle of friends in Honduras or Liberia, probably in 1940. By then things will have gone so far here too that Jews and Liberals will no longer be welcome.” In 1944 he reported to his friend and colleague Walter Friedlaender from Kennebunkport, where he was vacationing, that it was proving somewhat difficult to organize accommodations for Friedlaender’s visit since “the situation is that all the hotels here don’t want a Jew . . . with the exception of the real greats.”
Karen Michels "Art History, German Jewish Identity, and the Emigration of Iconology" in Jewish Identity in Modern Art History, ed Catherine M. Soussloff, University of California Press, 1999 

“a reunion of our whole circle of friends in Honduras or Liberia", not in Palestine.

Emily Levine on Erwin and Dora Panofsky.  Like Carolyn A Jones on Greenberg, she addresses Panofsky, the male, in the informal, with the diminutive used by friends, as if she were one of them, or like a girl condescending to a troublesome boy. It's a silly affectation used as revenge for sexism, and whatever other sin. She quotes Panofsky's letter to Saxl, without admitting what it means about his relation to Zionism. And like Jason Stanley writing about his father, she doesn't understand the reasons for German humanists' opposition to naturwissenschaften.  On that note: a book now in the mailThe Emergence of the American University, might explain this. 

Dora Panofsky  "Narcissus and Echo; Notes on Poussin's Birth of Bacchus in the Fogg Museum of Art" More at JSTOR. The best revenge is to read her. 
added Dec 31/2022

Ed Regis, Who Got Einstein's Office?  p.99

The guilty party on that occasion was John von Neumann. Here, in this most celestial of all ivory-tower environments, Where the heaviest piece of equipment is a piece of chalk, Where the loudest noise is that of a few papers rustling in the library, von Neumann went ahead and constructed a new species of electronic computer. No imaginary abstraction, this was the real thing, a nuts-and-bolts, angle-iron-and-sheet-metal machine. It had a stack at the top, a flue, an exhaust pipe up which the heat of all the glowing filaments and vacuum tubes inside could escape. Just like a steam engine.

To the Institute regulars this stuff was unthinkable. These Monster Minds had come to Princeton specifically to get away from the crass world of noise and machines, to a place where they could think their deep thoughts in peace and quiet . . . and here was Johnny von Neumann turning their unworldly paradise into . . . a shop! Using their monastic Institute facilities to build . . . an appliance!  

This was no way to behave at the Institute, the One True Platonic Heaven. It was unworthy. It was heretical. It would have to be stopped, and ultimately the Institute regulars got rid of the thing. But that was after von Neumann had died. Although they hated and had no use for his ugly electronic contraption, nobody could stay mad at von Neumann for very long. He was too likeable. He gave these immense parties, the best ones in Princeton. He loved women and fast cars. He loved jokes, limericks, and off-color stories. He loved noise, Mexican food, fine wines, and money. You just couldn’t hate a man like that, and so the Institute regulars made allowances and exceptions for von Neumann that they would not have considered for anyone else. For all his dirty-handed messing with computers, he was still one of the high-minded luminaries, one of the immnortals, one of the gods that trod upon Earth. ”The story used to be told about him in Princeton," Herman Goldstine has written, “that while he was indeed a demi-god, he had made a detailed study of humans and could imitate te them perfectly. ” 

Indeed, von neuumann’s work on computers and cellular automata wasn't even half of his life’s work; it was more like a fifth, or even less. He had talent for creating whole new branches of mathematics, like game theory for example. To von Neumann, proving the ergodic theorem was not inherently more more worthy activity than predicting the weather, building a computer, or teaching the titans of commerce how to take advantage of game theory the better to position themselves in the dog-eat-dog business world. At Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project, Enrico Fermi used to taunt Edward Teller: ”Edward-a how come-a the Hungarians have not-a invented anything?” But von Neumann, who was Hungarian himself helped invent the implosion mechanism for the first atom bomb and then: along with Teller, Stanislaw Ulam, and others, went on to invent the H-bomb. It wasn’t quite right—indeed it was horrible, truly dismaying—to see this Institute professor building computers and making bombs as happily as he invented mathematical disciplines and raked in money from his various consulting jobs. But who could hold it against Johnny? Nobody. He was just too much of a good-time boy.

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