Friday, December 30, 2011

The Argonauts: Guido Underground

Since 1997 I have been working on a book about my father, a Dutchman, and his life in a group during World War II that was part underground anti-Nazi cell and part cultish circle devoted to the homoerotic pre-war German poet Stefan George.  It was based in Amsterdam, headquartered in a stately old house on the Herengracht, one of the old city’s most elegant canals, where its members distracted themselves from the chaos outside its walls by the diligent study of George’s works and the those of other great canons of European literature. 
The group’s leader was a charismatic gay German writer and self-styled pedagogue named Wolfgang Frommel, who saw himself as the leader of a new Platonic academy based on the Georgean model. (The group he founded has become the "scholars and artists community" called Castrum Peregrini.) In this photo from 1944, Guido is the one on the far right, first row.)

During the War, Frommel became friends with the great German painter Max Beckmann, who had fled to Holland when his work was condemned by the Nazis as "degenerate art." Beckmann's painting, The Argonauts, was said (by Frommel) to have been inspired by a conversation he had with the artist, wherein Frommel's circle was likened to Jason's Argonauts of Greek legend.