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Expressionism

EXPRESSIONISM.

Of all the "isms" in the early twentieth century, Expressionism is one of the most elusive and difficult to define. Whereas, on the one hand, Expressionism has been said to reveal its "universal character," abandoning all theories that imply a narrow, exclusive nationalistic attitude, on the other, it has been considered a "specific and familiar constant in German art for hundreds of years" (Vogt, p. 16). Scholarship has attempted to address the problematic range of the term and the contradictory emphases in its historiography. Although Expressionism did not constitute a cohesive movement or homogenous style, attention has been directed to the origins of the word and its meanings in critical discourse as well as to the contingent issues of art, society, and politics framing Expressionist avant-garde culture. Spurred on by an increasing overlap of the humanities with social, cultural, and gender studies, recent investigations reject notions of a transcendent Zeitgeist in focusing on Expressionism's interface with the public sphere.

Expressionism in Germany flourished initially in the visual arts, encompassing the formation of Künstlergruppe Brücke (Artists' Group Bridge) in Dresden in 1905 and the Blaue Reiter in Munich in 1911. The notion of the Doppelbegabung, or double talent, characterized many artists' experimentation in the different art forms, whether lyric poetry, prose, or drama. The notable precedent for this was the music-dramas of Richard Wagner and the attendant concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk, which excited artists' and writers' interests in the union of the arts into a theatrical whole. Performed at the Wiener Kunstschau in 1909, Oskar Kokoschka's (18861980) Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen (Murderer, hope of women) is considered one of the first Expressionist plays to involve a high degree of abstraction in the text, mise en scène, sound effects, and costume. Comparatively speaking, Reinhard Sorge's (18921916) play Der Bettler (The beggar), written in 1910, is more discursive, though no less abstracted in relaying the metaphysical stages (Stationen ) achieved by the chief protagonist, "the Poet" himself (Furness, in Behr and Fanning, p. 163). Hence, by 1914, the concept of Expressionism permeated German metropolitan culture at many levels, gaining momentum during World War I and in the wake of the November Revolution in 1918. However, any attempt to define Expressionism chronologically is as problematic as doing so in terms of style, since its influence was still felt in film after the holding of the first Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) exhibition in Mannheim in 1925.

It is telling that the kernel concept of the "expressive"the primacy of the creative process at the expense of verisimilitudebecame significant in Germany at the height of the Second Empire, corresponding to the reign of the Hohenzollern king of Prussia, Wilhelm II. The period between 1890 and 1914 was characterized by colonial expansion abroad, an unprecedented degree of urbanization and technical transformation at home, and promotion of a hide-bound national public art. Generally speaking, Expressionism grew out of late-nineteenth-century dissatisfaction with academic training and the mass spectacle of state-funded salons, the Munich (1892) and Berlin secessions (1898) withdrawing from such official or professional affiliation. In their exhibitions, the secessions fostered a sense of pluralism and internationalism, maintaining links with the art market and Paris-based Impressionism and Postimpressionism.

Within this shifting ambience between tradition and the modern, the term Expressionisten (Expressionists) was initially applied to a selection of French Fauvist and not German artists in the foreword to the catalog of a Berlin Secession exhibition, held in April 1911. Given the largely Impressionist leanings of the Secession, the collective term was a convenient way of signifying the "newest directions" in French art. Here the art of self-expression, or Ausdruckskunst as it was articulated in German, involved a degree of expressive intensification and distortion that differed from the mimetic impulse of naturalism and the Impressionist mode of capturing the fleeting nuances of the external world. This aesthetic revolt found theoretical justification in the writing of the art historian Wilhelm Worringer (18811965), whose published doctoral thesis Abstraktion und Einfühlung (1908, Abstraction and empathy) proposed that stylization, typical of Egyptian, Gothic, or Primitive art, was not the result of lack of skill (Können ) but was propelled by an insecure psychic relationship with the external world. An impelling "will to form," or Kunstwollen, underscored art historical methodology at the time (Jennings, in Donahue, p. 89).

Evidently, the label Expressionism was not invented by the artists themselves but abounded in the promotional literature and reviews of current exhibitions. The proliferation of specialist journals and technological invention in publishing at the turn of the twentieth century was integral to the avantgarde's dissemination of their ideas in Expressionist literary and artistic journals, such as Der Sturm (Riot) and Die Aktion. Although the milieu encompassed a diverse political and disciplinary spectrum, commentators were united by the historical concept of Neuzeit, or modernity, "embodying a particular experiential pattern, in which it was the future that was the bearer of growing expectations" (Koselleck, p. 243). In their manifesto, members of the Brücke declared their independence from older established forces and called on all youth to look toward the future in searching for authentic expression. Similarly, in Wassily Kandinsky's (18661944) theoretical treatise Über das Geistige in der Kunst (1912, On the spiritual in art), he invoked the principle of "inner necessity" in postulating the evolution of art toward a utopian, transcendent form of creative expression.

Yet Expressionism was marked by a profound ambivalence toward modernity, and subject matter frequently operated between the antimonies of metropolitan alienation and the rural idyll. Both literary and artistic groups who frequented the Café des Westens in Berlin drew on the Nietzschean concept of "pathos" to convey their embrace of the dynamism of contemporary life. In emulation of the Neopathetisches Cabaret that attracted well-known poets, the painter Ludwig Meidner (18841966) adopted the title Die Pathetiker for his major group exhibition that was held in November 1912 at the Sturm Gallery. The city landscape was invested with elements of primal and cosmic destruction, comparable to the Bild, the word picture, which marks the Expressionist poetry of Georg Heym's (18871912) Umbra vitae (1912) or Jacob van Hoddis's (18871942) Weltende (1911, End of the world). Clearly, their utopian assumptions were compromised by a modernizing world, which was perceived as fallen and chaotic.

Kulturkritik (cultural criticism) aimed to heal this tired civilization through the reference to untainted, preindustrialized and autochthonous communal traditions. Viewed through the lens of modern French painting, the Brücke artistsErnst Ludwig Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel, Max Pechsteinlocated authenticity in old German woodcuts, African and Oceanic tribal art, which informed their carved sculpture, graphic techniques, studio interiors, and figural landscapes. In the Blaue Reiter Almanac (1912), the editors, Kandinsky and Franz Marc (18801916), interspersed essays on art, music, poetry, and theater with photographs of Russian and Bavarian folk art, African and Oceanic masks, and child art, seeking to legitimize the technical radicalism of modern painting through resonances with so-called primitive examples. As has been argued, primitivism was a permutation of agrarian romanticism. By the end of the nineteenth century the image of the European peasantry and nature had exhausted itself. "Nostalgia had now to cast its net wider and beyond rural Europe" (Lübbren, pp. 5758).

On the eve of war, in his book Der Expressionismus, the art critic and newspaper feuilletonist Paul Fechter (18801958) invested Expressionism with the connotations of the anti-intellectual, the emotional, and the spiritualthe "metaphysical necessity of the German people" (Fechter, p. 29). Here he drew heavily on Worringer's professorial thesis Formprobleme der Gotik (1911, Form in gothic), which constructed a genealogy for German artistic identity based on the anticlassical features of the Gothic past. By this time, the engendering of Impressionism as feminine, as celebrating sensory, passive experience, was well established in critical debates, and Fechter strove to inculcate a more masculine Ausdrucksgefühl (expressive feeling) in contemporary German art. However, the Teutonic nationalization of Expressionism was inconsistent.

Internationalism was advanced through the agencies of dealership and dispersal. The musician, writer, and dealer Herwarth Walden (18781941), whose Sturm Gallery was established in Berlin in 1912, displayed the works of Expressionists as well as those of Futurists and Cubists. Before and after the outbreak of war, he sent traveling exhibitions to Scandinavia, Holland, Finland, and Tokyo. As a founding member of Zurich dada, the German Poet Hugo Ball (18861927) provided a link between Expressionism and Dada. Ball's preoccupation with mysticism and anarchism led him to Switzerland during the war, and in a key lecture he delivered on Kandinsky (1917), he proclaimed the value of abstraction in painting, poetry, and drama to cultural regeneration.

Even in 1916, in his book Expressionismus, the art critic, novelist, and playwright Hermann Bahr (18631934) remained warmly disposed toward Picasso and French art since Manet. Bahr was writing at a time when Germany had suffered staggering reversals on the battlefield and disillusionment had set in with mechanized warfare of a kind that no one had imagined. Fiercely antitechnological and antibourgeois, he characterized the era as a "battle of the soul with the machine," articulating the desire for a prelapsarian state of innocence (p. 110). In 1917 literary Expressionism came of age with Kasimir Edschmid's (18901966) manifesto Über den Expressionismus in der Literatur und die neue Dichtung, strengthening the emphasis on Schauen, or "visionary experiences," rather than on Sehen ("observation of visual details") (Weisstein, p. 207). Given its emphasis on spiritual values, the literary critic Wolfgang Paulsen would have labeled this genuine Expressionism so as to distinguish it from Activist Expressionism, deriving from the lineage of Karl Marx. However, not all socialism ran counter to the notion of "spiritual revolution" and, according to Rhys Williams, Georg Kaiser's (18781945) play Von morgens bis mitternachts (1916, From morn to midnight) can be read as a "dramatization of [Gustav] Landauer's indictment of capitalism" and the search for the verbindender Geist (unifying spirit) that he advocated (Behr and Fanning, pp. 201207).

With the Revolution of November 1918 and the collapse of the Second Reich, such intellectuals saw the opportunity for the initiation of a new society, and the link between Expressionism and revolutionary theory became more emphatic. A second generation of Expressionists emerged that, although widespread in regional centers throughout Germany, was more cohesively defined by its members' antiwar sentiments. As the son of a working-class family, the artist Conrad Felixmüller (18971977) spearheaded the formation of the Dresden Secession Group in 1919 and was committed to an agenda of proletarian culture.

In Berlin, the organization Novembergruppe was founded. It called on all Expressionists, Futurists, and Cubists to unite under the banner of cultural reform and reconstruction. Although initially attracting dadaists to its ranks, the equation between Expressionism and radicalism became more difficult to sustain within the stabilization of order brought about by the Weimar government. Due to democratization and to pressure exerted by various artists' councils, Expressionism made inroads into the public sphere and was avidly collected by major museums throughout Germany. Moreover, well-known Expressionists such as Kandinsky and Paul Klee (18791940) were approached to teach at the Bauhaus in Weimar, founded in 1919 by the architect Walter Gropius (18831969). This school was based on socialist and utopian principles that placed artists at the center of a new kind of design that served modern society. Though Kandinsky sustained his belief in the expressive and mystical values of art, he abandoned the expressive abstraction of the Munich years and explored geometric formal elements in a more systematic manner.

However, the death knell of Expressionism, according to many commentators, lay in its commercialization and consequent loss of authenticity. It was considered debased in losing its soul to mass culture. In the early twenty-first century, scholars tend to regard the ability of Expressionism to adapt to the demands of technological advancement as a measure of its success. The silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, directed by Robert Wiene (18811938), was released in Berlin in 1920 and achieved resounding international acclaim. Fritz Lang's (18901976) Metropolis (1927) and Josef von Sternberg's (18941969) The Blue Angel (1930) appeared after Expressionism's demise and Georg Wilhelm Pabst's (18851967) Pandora's Box in 1928.

During the 1930s, the polarization in German politics and society led views on the left and the right to target Expressionism. From a position of exile in Moscow, the Marxist theoretician Georg Lukács (18851971) launched an attack in his essay "'Größe und verfall' des Expressionismus" (1934; Expressionism: its significance and decline, Washton-Long, pp. 313-317). Favoring a form of typified realism that was deduced from nineteenth-century literary sources, Lukács considered Expressionism the product of capitalist imperialism. According to this model, its subjectivity and irrationalism would inevitably lead to fascism. Debates ensued in the émigré literary journal Das Wort, the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch (18851977) vigorously defending the role of autonomous experimentation in the visual arts in his essay "Diskyssion über Expressionismus" (1938; Discussing Expressionism, Washton-Long, pp. 323327). In post-1945 historiography, critics tended to lose sight of Bloch's salvaging of the utopian and communal aspirations of Expressionism.

Interestingly, even after the Nazis assumed power in 1933, there was rivalry between the antimodernist Alfred Rosenberg (18931946) and the Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (18971945), who considered Expressionism and the works of Emil Nolde (18671956) to be uniquely German. Indeed, Goebbels's novel Michael adopted the declamatory style and format of the Expressionist stationendrama in tracing the journey of the eponymous hero from soldier to Nazi superman (1929). In 1934, Rosenberg's appointment as spiritual overseer of the National Socialist Party sealed the fate of the avant-garde. Official confiscation of works from public collections accompanied the dismissal of Expressionists, left-wing intellectuals, and Jews from prominent positions in the arts.

In 1937, moreover, the infamous exhibition "Entartete Kunst" (Degenerate art) was inaugurated in Munich, signaling the Third Reich's devastating efforts to expunge Expressionism's claim to cultural status. Expressionism underwent transformation in exile as refugee artists, writers, and filmmakers reexamined their cultural identity in light of the demands of their adoptive countries. Others were not as fortunate. Kirchner resided in Switzerland since 1917, and his frail psychological state was exacerbated by the pillaging of 639 of his works from museums and by the inclusion of thirty-two in the "Entartete Kunst" exhibition. He committed suicide in 1938. The poet Van Hoddis, who was of Jewish origin and suffered mental disorders for many years, was transported to the Sobibor concentration camp in 1942, the exact date of his murder being unrecorded.

See also Avant-Garde ; Dada .

bibliography

PRIMARY SOURCES

Bahr, Hermann. Expressionism. Munich: Delphin, 1916. Translated by R. T. Gribble. London: Frank Henderson, 1925.

Edschmid, Kasimir. Über den Expressionismus in der Literatur und die neue Dichtung. Berlin: Reiß, 1919.

Fechter, Paul. Der Expressionismus. Munich: Piper, 1914.

Goebbels, Joseph. Michael: Ein Deutsches Schiksal in Tagebuchblätten. Munich: Franz Eber, 1929.

Kandinsky, Wassily, and Franz Marc, eds. Blaue Reiter Almanac. Munich: Piper, 1912.

. Complete Writings on Art. Edited by Kenneth Lindsay and Peter Vergo. London: Faber, 1982.

. Über das Geistige in der Kunst. Munich: Piper, 1912.

Miesel, Victor, ed. Voices of German Expressionism. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

Paulsen, Wolfgang. Aktivismus und Expressionismus: Eine typologische Untersuchung. Berne and Leipzig: Gotthelf, 1935.

Raabe, Paul, ed. The Era of German Expressionism. London: Calder and Boyer, 1974.

Washton-Long, Rose-Carol, ed. German Expressionism: Documents from the End of the Wilhelmine Empire to the Rise of National Socialism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Worringer, Wilhelm. Abstraktion und Einfühlung. Munich: Piper, 1908. Translated by Michael Bullock. New York: International Universities Press, 1953.

. Formprobleme der Gotik. Munich: Piper, 1911. Translated by Herbert Read. London: Putnams, 1927.

SECONDARY SOURCES

Barron, Stephanie, ed. Degenerate Art: The Fate of the Avant-garde in Nazi Germany. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1991.

. German Expressionism, 19151925: The Second Generation. Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1988.

Barron, Stephanie, and Wolf-Dieter Dube, eds. German Expressionism: Art and Society. Milan: Bompiani, 1997.

Behr, Shulamith. Expressionism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

. Women Expressionists. New York: Rizzoli, 1988.

Behr, Shulamith, David Fanning, and Douglas Jarman, eds. Expressionism Reassessed. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 1993.

Bridgwater, Patrick. Poet of Expressionist Berlin: The Life and Work of Georg Heym. London: Libris, 1991.

Bushart, Magdalena. "Changing Times, Changing Styles: Wilhelm Worringer and the Art of His Epoch." In Invisible Cathedrals: The Expressionist Art History of Wilhelm Worringer, edited by Neil H. Donahue, 6985. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.

Furness, Raymond. "The Religious Element in Expressionist Theatre." In Expressionism Reassessed, edited by Shulamith Behr and David Fanning, 163173.

Gordon, Donald E. "On the Origin of the Word 'Expressionism.'" Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institute 29 (1966): 368385.

Jennings, Michael. "Against Expressionism: Materialism and Social Theory in Worringer's Abstraction and Empathy. " In Invisible Cathedrals: The Expressionist Art History of Wilhelm Worringer, edited by Neil H. Donahue, 87104. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.

Koselleck, Reinhart. Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time. Translated by Keith Tribe. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985.

Lloyd, Jill. German Expressionism: Primitivism and Modernity. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1991.

Lübbren, Nina. Rural Artists' Colonies in Europe, 18701910. Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2001.

Manheim, Ron. "ExpressionismusZur Enstehung eines Kunsthistorischen Stilund Periodenbegriffes." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 49, no. 1 (1986): 7391.

Perkins, Geoffrey. Contemporary Theory of Expressionism. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1974.

Rumold, Rainer, and O. K. Werckmeister, eds. The Ideological Crisis of Expressionism: The Literary and Artistic War Colony in Belgium, 19141918. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1990.

Vogt, Paul. "Introduction." Expressionism: A German Intuition, 19051920. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 1980.

Weinstein, Joan. The End of Expressionism (Art and the November Revolution in Germany, 191819). Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Weisstein, Ulrich. "Expressionism in Literature." In Dictionary of the History of Ideas, edited by Philip P. Wiener. Vol. 2. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973.

Werenskiold, Marit. The Concept of Expressionism: Origin and Metamorphoses. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1984.

Williams, Rhys. "Culture and Anarchy in Expressionist Drama." In Expressionism Reassessed, edited by Shulamith Behr, David Fanning, and Douglas Jarman, 201212. New York: Manchester University Press.

Shulamith Behr

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expressionism

expressionism, term used to describe works of art and literature in which the representation of reality is distorted to communicate an inner vision. The expressionist transforms nature rather than imitates it.

In Art

In painting and the graphic arts, certain movements such as the Brücke (1905), Blaue Reiter (1911), and new objectivity (1920s) are described as expressionist. In a broader sense the term also applies to certain artists who worked independent of recognized schools or movements, e.g., Rouault, Soutine, and Vlaminck in France and Kokoschka and Schiele in Austria—all of whom made aggressively executed, personal, and often visionary paintings. Gauguin, Ensor, Van Gogh, and Munch were the spiritual fathers of the 20th-century expressionist movements, and certain earlier artists, notably El Greco, Grünewald, and Goya exhibit striking parallels to modern expressionistic sensibility. See articles on individuals, e.g., Ensor.

Bibliography

See C. Zigrosser, The Expressionists (1957); F. Whitford, Expressionism (1970); J. Willett, Expressionism (1970); W. Pehnt, Expressionist Architecture (1973).



In Literature

In literature, expressionism is often considered a revolt against realism and naturalism, seeking to achieve a psychological or spiritual reality rather than record external events in logical sequence. In the novel, the term is closely allied to the writing of Franz Kafka and James Joyce (see stream of consciousness). In the drama, Strindberg is considered the forefather of the expressionists, though the term is specifically applied to a group of early 20th-century German dramatists, including Kaiser, Toller, and Wedekind. Their work was often characterized by a bizarre distortion of reality. Playwrights not closely associated with the expressionists occasionally wrote expressionist drama, e.g., Karel Čapek's R.U.R. (1921) and Eugene O'Neill's The Emperor Jones (1921). The movement, though short-lived, gave impetus to a free form of writing and of production in modern theater.

Bibliography

See E. Krispyn, Style and Society in German Literary Expressionism (1964); P. Vogt et al., Expressionism: A German Intuition, 1905–1920 (1980); P. Rabbe, ed., The Era of German Expresionism (tr. 1986); J. Weinstein, The End of Expressionism (1989).

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Expressionism

Expressionism. Artistic movement in Northern Europe, especially in Germany and The Netherlands, from c.1905 to c.1930, it was concerned in architecture not to emphasize function, but to create free and powerful sculptural forms, often crystalline, sometimes sharply angular, and occasionally stalactitic. In The Netherlands the most important protagonists were members of the Amsterdam School, and the characteristic works housing by Michel de Klerk and the Scheepvaarthuis (Navigation House—1913–17) in Amsterdam. In Denmark the greatest work of Expressionism (with a pronounced Gothic flavour) was the Grundtvig Church, Copenhagen (1913–26), by Jensen-Klint. In Germany, however, there were several outstanding examples: the water-tower and exhibition-hall at Posen (now Poznań) of 1911, with a polygonal steel structure resembling crystalline hexagonal forms, by Poelzig; the glass pavilion, Werkbund Exhibition, Cologne (1914), by Bruno Taut; the Grosses Schauspielhaus (Great Playhouse), Berlin (1918–19— destroyed), with its interior resembling a cave of stalactites, by Poelzig; the Einstein Tower, Potsdam (1919–21), by Mendelsohn; the Chile-Haus, Hamburg (1922–3), by Fritz Höger; the administrative-building of the Hoechst Dyeworks (1920–5), by Behrens; the Liebknecht-Luxemburg Monument, Berlin (1926—destroyed), by Mies van der Rohe; the churches of Bartning; some churches by Dominikus Böhm certain works by Bellot; and the farm buildings, Gut Garkau, by Häring. The Goetheanum, Dornach, Switzerland (1924–8), by Rudolf Steiner, was one of the greatest works of the movement. Some of Gottfried Böhm's architectural language derived from Expressionism.

Bibliography

Chilvers, Osborne, & Farr (eds.) (1988);
Lampugnani (ed.) (1988);
Pehnt (1973);
U. Schneider (1999);
Sharp (1967);
Wit & and Casciato (1986)

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expressionism

expressionism Style of art in which conventional methods of naturalism are replaced by exaggerated images to express intense, subjective emotion. The term is often used in relation to a radical German art movement between the 1880s and c.1905. The inspiration for this new focus came from many different sources, including the work of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Munch and those within symbolism, as well as from folk art. German expressionism reached its apogee in the work of the Blaue Reiter group. The term also applies to performance arts, such as the works of Strindberg and Wedekind.

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expressionism

ex·pres·sion·ism / ikˈspreshəˌnizəm/ • n. a style of painting, music, or drama in which the artist or writer seeks to express emotional experience rather than impressions of the external world. DERIVATIVES: ex·pres·sion·ist n. & adj. ex·pres·sion·is·tic / ikˌspreshəˈnistik/ adj. ex·pres·sion·is·ti·cal·ly / ikˌspreshəˈnistik(ə)lē/ adv.

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expressionism

expressionism. Term borrowed from painting, generally assoc. with work of the early 20th-cent. Ger. artists of the Munich ‘Blaue Reiter’ group led by Kandinsky. Prin. characteristics were avoidance of representational forms and interest in psychological impulses. These were musically reflected in works of Schoenberg, Webern, and Berg. But, like impressionism, the term is vague.

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expressionism

expressionism a style of painting, music, or drama in which the artist or writer seeks to express emotional experience rather than impressions of the external world. Expressionists characteristically reject traditional ideas of beauty or harmony and use distortion, exaggeration, and other non-naturalistic devices in order to emphasize and express the inner world of emotion.

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