The heavy cap glowed blue. It was exciting. She could feel the mare pulse under her, bringing and bringing her to the man. Then she had arrived. Stilled, she pressed into a stirrup and lifted, caressing the horse’s fragrant body as she descended its flank. Then she bent to the man on the ground, lifted him into the bed she had carried, and held him in her arms.
Motor ambulancemen John Dos Passos, Malcolm Cowley, E. E. Cummings, Harry Crosby, Ernest Hemingway
For coloring in your own emotions, you might try this tool. It was made in a factory under the auspices of Strength through Joy (Kraft durchFreude), the Third Reich’s recreational and community-building arm. Under what auspices, do you think, could one of these black-and-white faces be retooled into yours?
Transliterated into German, the caption within this image reads, Er versorgt sie mit allem — “He provides them with everything.” The verb versorgt communicates connotations of cares and cares for, and the recipients of the gifts and the care, they, would be Jews fighting for America in the Great War. But the key transactional word in the sentence is alles. Within the image frame alles defines visual allness metonymically, piling example upon example. When you began wearing a uniform like mine, say the provider’s Jewish body language and Yiddish words, you lost some memory of what you are. But your words are still understood, have been understood all along. And now I bring you a cargo of word-things that will make your memory whole again.
Rolled up in its mantle and held tight and alone under the provider’s left arm is the primary thing: a Sefer Torah, the unabridged text of the definition of Jew. But just below it, dangling from the provider’s left hand, is a string-wrapped bundle of other texts cheerfully inviting untying. These are books to be read on the six other days of the Jewish week. Their language is not Hebrew, the language of the synagogue, but Yiddish, the language of the home, and the authors’ names on their spines — Sholem Aleichem, Sholem Asch, I. L. Peretz — are contemporaneous with the clean-shaven, secular young Jew who is cheerfully hefting their supplementary weight. One more of the authors on the spines, a reminder that as of the date of this composition Yiddish was the living language of heym for the great majority of American Jews, is the now all but forgotten Avrom Reisen, who wrote a short story a week, year after year, for the Forverts. Then here before your eyes, say imaged names like Reisen’s, is what we mean when we say alles. To be comprehended, the words of All’s language require only to be read once again as they were read in your home the day you put on your uniform and left. They are still there, waiting only for you to return and speak them once more. Through the coming years of silence, they will not change. They will always be there to be understood and to understand you. The moment you reopen their books, they will rise from their pages and meet you. You will not have been forgotten.
And carried into the image frame on the welfare man’s right shoulder comes still more. For Jews to read there is a newspaper, presumably a Yiddish one. There are some round orange things which I’d guess may be dried fruit — comforting to have on hand when the meat in the mess hall is tref, and carrying connotations as well of Jewish tenderheartedness and Jewish mother love. And there is — oi, yes! — a violin.
Well, fund appeals during America’s participation in the Great War were coordinated across many cultural dialects. The blog cited below includes reproductions of posters in Polish and Chinese, not to mention one in English that demands, “Are you 100% American? Prove it!” The poster we’ve been looking at is a product of that coordinated effort: not a work of art but a work of war art. It is intended to evoke only clear and unmixed feelings. The emotional provisions that it delivers have been massed in the image frame only for the straightforward purpose of increasing military efficiency by strengthening morale. So it isn’t necessary to play that Jewish violin in a high theoretical register with a word like metonymy. Stereotype will work just as well.
But we want the Jew to play his violin, don’t we?
If we do, since we do, let’s thank our brown-booted provider for his welfare. Whatever the military intent of the Jewish Welfare Board may have been, a violin can at least remind us that the they in their image won’t always be in uniform. And the date preprinted on the poster happens to be Armistice Day.
The headline reads, “Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. Workers of the world, unite. Day of Soviet Propaganda.” The caption reads, “Knowledge for all!” The four books behind the librarian’s peasant-booted right heel are titled History of Bondage (or History of Serfdom), Socialism, Capital, and Class Conflict, and the book behind his left elbow is titled History. The names on the pediments of the buildings are University, Academy, and Library.
But no, she isn’t a teacher. The large imperative painted on the foundation of her blocky columnar image translates as “Serve the people!” and the title of the document in her hand is “Deputy’s Report.”
American reader, you probably had two reasons for your vocational mistake. The obvious one was the image’s heavy didactic freight: its books, its colored pencil, its wall poster in simple educational colors. A more specifically American reason may have to do with the woman’s peach-tinted blouse and mannish little bow tie. It evokes apple-for-the-disciplinarian motifs from folk memory. And of course this disciplinarian is a woman, like most American teachers in 1950, when this poster was published.
But in Russian the peach is heavily overlaid with gray. In the gray, shoulder pads are dominant. It is only down beneath the thick layer pad that the peach-tinted body gestures toward something aspirational off to the right. In another art domain, that unseen ideal could conceivably be a body consisting only of flesh or an image consisting only of cloth covered by paint. The peach-colored Russian woman was painted long after Duchamp’s French woman descended her staircase. But unlike Duchamp’s lithe nude, this gray-swaddled body fills the image from side to side, hugely. Crushed to the margin, nothing unpadded could survive that mass. Its report will be an onslaught. Outside the image frame, the unseen idea of an image consisting only of form will shrivel and vanish. Its unseenness will take on the final trait of inconceivability.