a grand spectacle

Via Wikipedia

Co-leader of the German militant group Red Army Faction, or the eponymous Baader-Meinhof Gang, Andreas Baader once tripped on four hits of LSD.

“You are only meant to take one,” said former girlfriend Ello Michel in an interview with BBC. “His mother was visiting by chance and she had made this dish—pork in aspic. He stared at this thing for a whole day, and thought it was moving. Everything was ‘pigs.’ It was like that all day long; full of hate against the whole society.”

Hate, indeed: fueled with drugs, charged by sex and communist ideas, Baader and his compatriots—a group of young, middle-class West Germans that never totaled more than 50—sought to destroy the democratic, capitalist society they felt were latter-day extensions of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

They wielded Kalashnikovs, robbed banks, set-off homemade bombs, slept in communes, smoked pot, listened to angry rock music, extolled China’s Chairman Mao, and flew BMWs down autobahns all in the name of reckless, arguably purposeless terror.

the grand artists of our time

Chang-rae Lee, professor and author of The Surrendered, spoke of helplessness as a bi-product of fear following his reading of Don DeLillo’s “Baader-Meinhof:” a story of a chance encounter axised around, as it were, photographic depictions of Baader, Michel, and company.

Via baader-meinhof.com

“Terrorists are the grand artists of our time,” explained Lee. “They can reach into us with imagery and action in a manner that any [artist] would love to be able to do.”

Baader presumably operated under this grandiose thinking. After a young activist was killed by police in 1967 at a demonstration in Berlin against a visit by the Shah of Iran, he vowed violence and noise against the fascist ideals venerated by his parents’ generation.

Baader kicked things off with a proverbial bang. One year after this demonstration, he detonated two timed bombs in Frankfurt’s Kaufhaus Schneider department store that ultimately caused $200,000 worth of damage.

Though arrested and imprisoned in 1970, he escaped with the help of DeLillo’s female antagonist—real-life leftist journalist Ulrike Meinhof, the woman who eventually died with “her neck rope-scorched” (DeLillo, 2002, p. 78).

Writes BBC’s Clare Murphy of Baader and Meinhof’s newly-formed union, “The Baader-Meinhof Gang [then became] firmly established in the public mind.”

Rallied, trained at a Palestinian Liberation Organization weaponry camp, the duo relentlessly pillaged their country through 1972 when Baader (with bleached hair) and comrades Jan-Carl Raspe and Holger Meins were arrested following a lengthy shootout with Frankfurt artillery.

Meinhof, alongside Baader’s then-girlfriend Gudrun Esslin, was captured a couple of weeks later.

a cross in the background

Re-enter DeLillo, and Gerhard Richter: the German visual artist known for his photorealistic collection October 18, 1977 now stationed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Richter’s “Erschossener 2,” via baader-meinhof.com

While not explicitly written, DeLillo enthusiasts like Lee agree this to be the centerpiece for “Baader-Meinhof” and the story’s central character. The unnamed female is gripped or, as Lee argues, obsessed by Richter’s 15-painting work fuzzing the grisly, in-prison suicides of Baader, Meinhof, Raspe, and Esslin.

She views Richter’s “Beerdigung,” the so-called giant funeral of Baader, Raspe, and Esslin:

“It was a cross. She saw it as a cross, and it made her feel, right or wrong, that there was an element of forgiveness in the picture, that the two men and the woman, terrorists, like Ulrike before them, terrorist, were not beyond forgiveness” (DeLillo, 2002, p. 80).

In this way, DeLillo and Richter offer readers/viewers a chance at finality; or, at least, the opportunity to pass through a decades-long, ill-linear saga. Likely changed by Baader and Meinhof, but perhaps transfixed.

Richter’s “Beerdigung,” via baader-meinhof.com

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3 Responses to “a grand spectacle”
  1. I’m totally impressed. Nicely done!

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  1. […] her post, a grand spectacle, not only doe Jessica suggest Richter’s paintings are the story’s central character but she […]



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