The ideology of Die Schönheit obviously acknowledged Nacktkultur as an expression of eroticism, but it presented eroticism in terms of an idealized code of beauty that filtered out "dark," highly enigmatic, or melancholy relations between desire and nudity. The Parthenon publishing house in Leipzig was perhaps the most daring and erotically conscious promoter of Nacktkultur until 1933. The controlling personality at Parthenon was Ernst Schertel (1884–1956), one of the really fascinating figures of Weimar cultural history. Nacktkultur interested the Parthenon cult insofar as nudism was an aspect of its central obsession, the exposure of erotic desire and pleasure. Schertel gathered photo images of the nude body from a wide array of
sources: the nature worshippers, the dance world, the sport and gymnastic cults, sexual medicine, the Mensendieck movement, the film industry, and the theatrical milieu of the art photography studios. The complicated book series issued by the publishing house thematized the imagery in relation to various social, historical, religious, aesthetic, and, above all, psychological issues raised by nudity. But, unlike other Nacktkultur propagandists, the Parthenon cult seemed to accept that nudity could never transcend its association with "unnatural" desires, perverse pleasures, and secret activities. Thus, a number of books in the various series purported to show relations between particular images of the nude body and distinctly "demonic" desires and "strange" drives.
Psychoanalytic theory made a deep impression on Schertel, and he more than any other Nacktkultur theorist accommodated nudity as an expression of perversion and deviancy. Nakedness for him was neither a natural nor an unnatural condition but a projection of fantasy with a great power to surprise regardless of its context. But this power of surprise depended on the perception that nudity was the revelation of something more than a consciously formed ideal—it was the revelation of unconscious desires that were hidden from the body that felt them. Schertel understood nudity as the exposure of a complex, primal exchange of power between seen and seeing bodies. Nudity was not will formation, as Giese proposed, but a mode of communicating deeply ingrained structures of domination that manifested themselves through comparative pleasure relations between bodies. In the journals Skarabäus, Pelagius, Sonnige Welt , and Soma and in the Asa albums, Schertel published, in addition to erotic drawings by artists such as Rudolf Schlichter, Christian Schad, and Helga Bode, nude photographs by, among others, Frantisek Drtikol, Rolf and Lotte Herrlich, W. Kernspecht, Trude Fleischmann, Kitty Hoffmann, Wolf Haarhaus, Madame D'Ora, Manasse, Hilde Kupfer-Meyer, Edith Barakovic, Richard Giesecke, and Marta
Vietz, whose bizarre imagery of dancers has only recently been rediscovered. The stress on the revelation of unconscious (fantasy) significations meant that nudity blurred distinctions between fictive, or imaginary, signs and verifiable signs; thus, the journal Asa published novels as well as "scientific" works, and Parthenon as a whole appropriated imagery of nudity from an enormous range of sources, including artworks that depicted bodies in ways that photography could not or dared not.
The success of Parthenon was such that the firm pursued a project far larger in scale than anything attempted by its numerous book series or by any of the encyclopedic luxury editions of eroticism introduced by other Weimar-era publishers: Schertel's gigantic, four-volume Der Flagellantismus als literarishes Motiv (1929–1932) and its equally vast supplemental volumes, Der erotische Komplex (1932). Ostensibly an analysis of sadomasochism in literature, these volumes actually constituted a colossal obsession with articulating the history and aesthetics of relations between pleasure and domination originating in infantile "complexes." The volumes contained a vast number of photos and paintings by male and female artists, and many of these still retain considerable power to shock (Figure 16). For Schertel, the sight of nudity penetrated deeply into the psyche and incited a dark urge to transgress a limit on pleasure imposed by some assertion of otherness. Transgression invariably entailed violence, or, more precisely, manifestations and magnitudes of pleasure that always surprised the body that experienced or witnessed them. The sadomasochistic activities performed by nude bodies did not verify any ideal; rather, they were symbolic enactments or models of a power dynamic, an inescapable cognitive reality that unconsciously controlled all difference between bodies and thus constructed identity itself. From this perspective, nude dance was always a sublimation or fetishizing of a repressed power-pleasure relation—which can achieve ever more naked and dominant forms of expression—between seen and seeing bodies. Schertel made this point somewhat more overtly in Tanz, Erotik und Bessessenheit (1928).
In a sense, then, Schertel's project signified a profound disillusionment with Nacktkultur as it was pervasively and diversely represented to the late 1920s. Only immense, relentless, and luxurious documentation of the sadomasochistic basis of pleasure and identity could penetrate the illusion that nudity was a sign in tension with repression rather than a melancholy sign of it and of a largely tragic struggle to see what the mask of nakedness hides: the "complex" of desires (to dominate, to submit) that begins the formation of power and identity. Of course, a society on the verge of embracing Nazi fantasies of utopia would hardly find such an intense, sobering view of the body helpful in recovering a long-absent sense of innocence and certainty about the nature of otherness and difference. But what other society has even produced, let alone tolerated, such a monumentally serious
exploration of why the naked body can never escape provoking a highly ambivalent emotional response?