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Thalidomide as Spectacle and Capital

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 March 2023

Eleoma Joshua
Affiliation:
University of Edinburgh
Michael Schillmeier
Affiliation:
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
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Summary

The Pannwitz Gaze and Staring Back

IN IF THIS IS A MAN (Se questo è un uomo) Primo Levi describes an encounter in Auschwitz with a German chemical engineer, Dr. Pannwitz:

When he finished writing he raised his eyes and looked at me. [That] look was not one between two men; and if I had known how completely to explain the nature of that look, which came as if across the glass window of an aquarium between two beings who live in different worlds, I would also have explained the essence of the great insanity of the third Germany.

Didi Danquart's documentary film Der Pannwitzblick (The Pannwitz Gaze, 1991), a study of ways in which society objectifies and de-humanizes disabled people, traces the history of the “Pannwitz gaze” from the Third Reich to the present; as Danquart's collaborator Udo Sierck puts it, “Der Pannwitzblick, der ist immer da. Man kann ihn täglich spüren.”

In Staring: How We Look, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson distinguishes between the stare, a “generative” form of intense looking that can be “a conduit for knowledge,” and the gaze, “an oppressive act of disciplinary looking that subordinates its victim.” She defines the gaze of Josef Mengele on his victims in Auschwitz as eugenic, “a perverse form of recognizing human particularity in order to extirpate it” (178). Danquart's documentary includes footage from Wolfgang Liebeneiner's eugenicist feature film Ich klage an (I Accuse, 1941), and of a thalidomide child fitted with prosthetic arms. According to the Medienwerkstatt Freiburg, which produced Der Pannwitzblick:

Der Blick der Nichtbehinderten auf die Behinderung hat oft etwas mit Fremdheit und dadurch mit Angst zu tun, die umschlägt in Abwehr. Dies wird sichtbar in Bildern und in menschlichem Verhalten.

Der Pannwitzblick ist ein analytischer Montagefilm über Blicke, Kameraeinstellungen und das Verhältnis der Macht des Abbildenden gegenüber dem Abgebildeten: vor der Kamera und dem Auge.

The film envisions and embodies an alternative, democratic gaze in which disabled people are given the space and time not only to speak for themselves, but also to “stare back.”

Type
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Edinburgh German Yearbook 4
Disability in German Literature, Film, and Theater
, pp. 215 - 239
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2010

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