How Art Can Reveal Dark Impulses Under the Veneer of Civilized Behavior

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One way that people respond to power and unspeakable cruelty is through art. German and Japanese artists such as Max Beckmann, George Grosz, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Mishima Yukio, and Yokoo Tadanori, as well as to filmmakers such as Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Kurosawa Kiyoshi, and Hans-Jürgen Syberberg were all affected by fascism and its terrible consequences. Ian Buruma explains why he’s interested in art that reveals the dark impulses beneath the veneer of civilized behavior. In his book Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film, and the Shadows of War, Buruma looks back at World War II to explore how people respond to the horrors of history—to the Nazi occupation of Paris, the Allied bombing of German cities, the international controversies over Anne Frank’s diaries, Japan’s militarist intellectuals and its kamikaze pilots.