John Heartfield’s montage I Only Know Legal Paragraphs appeared on page 103 of the hugely successfully Tucholsky-Heartfield collaboration Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles.
Tucholsky’s picture-survey was a searing critique of Weimar Republic society and politics. Neuer Deutscher Verlag, the publishing house where Wieland Herzfelde handle business and his brother, John Heartfield, provided the graphic designs released the book in 1929.
Germany had suffered economic depression and social unrest due to the one-sided conditions imposed on the country by the treaty (The Treaty Of Versailles) that ended World War I. The authoritarian tone of Adolf Hitler gave them a sense of power and national pride. It’s been a known tactic of dictators throughout history. Our country must always come first! That national pride quickly spun out-of-control.
A good friend of the exhibition, Phil White, made it clear that the twisted head is actually a montage of symbols that appear in legal paragraphs. This gives Heartfield’s collage an entirely different perspective. What is right and wrong in a twisted society is not important. It only matters what is legal. In other words, what are the rules. For example, Donald Trump wants judges to agree that torturing captives and killing women and children civilians is legal. Therefore, it must be right.
The symbolism in this collage reveals both the depth of John Heartfield’s knowledge of imagery and symbolism, as well as his ability to use that knowledge to make a visual statement.