Reading Mein Kampf: Adolf Hitler And Me
This afternoon I’m at a Starbucks in Chula Vista where I drink four or five or maybe six double shots of espresso to wake myself up and I get so high that in a fit of raging enthusiasm and self-confidence I decide I will write a book about Adolf Hitler. For the first time in my life I have swallowed enough espresso to get the real affect. Seventy-five years old and I’m flying. Thought is all over the place. The book won’t be entirely about Adolf Hitler, but about me too. Wonderful! I will read Hitler’s autobiography, Mein Kampf, and along the way I will write about what comes up in the brain while I read what he says came up in his. I will write autobiography about Hitler’s autobiography. I will focus on his text as he wrote it, not on what he did later, or on what he is accused of having done later.
This is what the lit-crits do. When a professor judges a literary work, she judges the work itself, the text, not the personal life of the writer. Judging the personal life of the author is saved for a different project. Poetry, novels, autobiography are literary works. They need to be judged on their own merits. Hemingway’s work is judged on its own merits. The critical reception to his novels and stories was not based on what a boor and liar he was, but on the texts themselves. Hemingway was a mixed bag. His texts were dazzling.
Who better than a man who writes autobiography to play off the autobiography of another? We’re talking real life here, real blood, real business, down on the ground real stuff. This isn’t a political exercise. My red-diaper friends used to say, “Everything is political.” They also used to say, “The personal is political.” Both these slogans appeal to me, but particularly the latter, that what is personal is political. All thought is personal. Thought cannot be distinguished from behavior, which is action. Thought is personal, is action, is behavior, is political. A straight line.
I don’t know how many of those friends from the 1960s and 70s and even the 1980s are still friends. They were mostly Jews. After I read Faurisson and Butz on the gas chambers, my Jewish friends and I, we drifted apart. I suppose I can put it that way. There’s not one among them who I would not want for a friend today.
When we speak of Hitler’s book, we use the German—Mein Kampf. Maybe it’s because My Struggle suggests something human and admirable—to struggle is regarded as being admirable on its own—while Mein Kampf, as we all know because the intellectuals never stop pounding the drums for it, is an exercise in madness, bestiality, inhumanity, and nothing more. It’s the “nothing more” that gives away their game. I’m willing to go that far out on a limb without having read the book.
It’s expected that those of us who believe that the gas-chamber stories are a lot a baloney, that we have all read Hitler’s My Struggle. A lot of us have. I know some of us have. I took a run at it myself ten, maybe fifteen years ago. I was very busy at the time trying to promote an open debate for revisionist arguments on college campuses. The professors hated that, and what with trying to handle all their protests and their endless whining I didn’t have much time to read. I didn’t finish reading the first chapter. What I remember now is that there didn’t appear to be much energy in the language. Maybe I was too distracted. Maybe it was something else. In any event I let it go, and I never got back to it.
Here is what I have just realized. Adolf Hitler and I have certain things in common. With regard to our autobiographies specifically, we are simple writers. Hitler’s My Struggle—I am writing this on the basis of what I have heard for the last half century—is not a purely subjective text, but is full of politics and political speculation. So is my autobiography. In this respect then, Adolf and me, we have a lot in common. It’s all about us, our lives, our feelings, our observations and opinions about this and that. In that way, Adolf and me—we’re like everyone else. We are two expressions of the oneness of all humankind.
Okay. But what happened in Starbucks today that brought me to this wonderful project? The idea didn’t come out of thin air. It didn’t come from ground coffee beans. Like every idea, it came from a mix of memory playing off the event of a moment.
I was in Chula Vista with my wife. We’d had to drive north across the border from Baja so that I could make a bank deposit. We had some errands to do, and when we finished she wanted to shop. She loves to shop. I hardly ever buy anything, and I don’t like looking at merchandise. So we made our usual deal. She would leave me alone to go shopping by herself, and I would take a siesta in the front seat of the car. When I woke up I would walk across the asphalt to the Starbucks there, drink coffee and read.
This week I’m reading Julian Beck’s The Life of the Theater. It’s a beautiful book. Beck is a hopeless romantic, a commie who believes in “the people,” the “revolution,” the viciousness of the ruling classes, and the possibility of street theater to change human life. He is unique, brave, intelligent, imaginative, full of energy, and hopelessly optimistic.
It occurs to me that Hitler may have suffered from the malady of romanticism much as Julian Beck did. Street theater and political theater are both—theater. I disagree with romantic ideals of “change” that leaders and those who follow leaders indulge themselves with. I don’t believe very much is going to change. That’s not pessimism as opposed to optimism, but the acceptance of what we are, which is what we have always been, unfortunately.
Anyhow, this afternoon when I woke up in the front seat of the car, I discovered that I had forgotten Beck’s book. I would have to play it by ear. Whatever Starbucks had available. I got out of the car and took the time I needed to stand up straight. I don’t unfold as well as I used to, and I don’t like to start walking someplace all bent over. I remembered to lock the car, then I walked across the asphalt to the Starbucks. Inside I found Starbucks sells the national edition of the New York Times. This Starbucks guy, he’s a genius.
When I ordered my first coffee with the double shot of espresso I discovered that I had no dollars. Only pesos. Starbucks doesn’t take pesos. Not yet. I explained to the young lady behind the counter that my wife would be along in a bit and that she would pay for me. She said that was fine. Really? I took the coffee and the New York Times to a small table by a window. The room was filed with the sound of 1960s and 70s elevator rock. It was just right.
Among the many interesting stories in the Times, there was an article about a meeting, I imagine something of a theatrical get-together, of old time Bob Dylan fans. These are guys who believe Dylan is one of the great figures in American music. Especially as a lyricist and spokesman for progressive political ideals. They are like sixty-year-old Dylan groupies. Their back and forth was interesting in the moment. But, as is the case with me, memory interfered with what I was reading, erupting up into the brain.
Thought recalled that a couple years ago I was very surprised to read that a respected English academic and literary critic had written a 550-page book on the lyrics of Bob Dylan. At the time I thought, “Five hundred fifty pages? What the hell is that?” This British lit crit was comparing Bob Dylan to the most important poets of the 20th century. I hadn’t read Dylan’s lyrics. Over the years I was always aware that he was around, but I never paid any attention to him. That someone had, and in such a serious way, was quite a surprise.
I still remember the morning I first heard Bob Dylan sing. I was in the kitchen in our little second-floor apartment in Hollywood. It must have been 1963. It had to have been then because that was when I was finished with the Henry Miller trial and had closed down the bookstore. If I had still had the bookstore I would have been at work that morning. And it had to be before 1964 because I left Hollywood in 1964 for the casino world at Lake Tahoe.
That was the apartment where I saw the fox with the glass eyes the size of tennis balls race through our bedroom and leap out the window. Where I saw myself naked under the waterfall in ancient Greece. And where I saw the giant lizard explode out of a forest well, embrace me, and fall over backward to the bottom of the ocean, clawing out my guts and balls on the way down. That was one hell of an apartment.
Anyhow, I was in the apartment that morning, the radio was on, and I heard it announced that the next record to be played would be something by Bob Dylan. My ears perked up. I had been hearing about him, but had never heard him sing. I was interested. And then, there he was. I was surprised to discover that the guy couldn’t sing a lick. He had no ear, and no voice. It wasn’t that he was bad. It was something deeper.
More than 40 years later in Starbucks, the heart and mind (for how can I separate them?) swimming in double shots of espresso, the ears caressed by Starbuck’s elevator rock, reading an article by grey-beard, Bob-Dylan groupies, it comes to me. Not for the first time, but again. The idea of writing a book about what comes up in the brain while I read a book. I could do Bob Dylan. Buy his lyrics, read them, and try to stay aware of what thought is producing while I go through the exercise. I am terribly excited by the idea. I understand that part of it is the espresso. I’m high on the bean. Thought is beginning to fly. It likes the idea of writing a book about what thought produces while I read a book. But Bob Dylan?
And then a different book appears before my mind’s eye. I have never understood what that expression means, exactly. Still, we all use it. We know roughly what it means. I recognize the book the moment I see the cover. Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. But why did I write “in my mind’s eye”? That suggests that thought pictured an image before it recognized a text. Is that possible? Did I see an image at all? I do now, but in the moment?
Adolf Hitler! The most famous, the most controversial man of the 20th century. Maybe the most controversial man since Genghis Khan. Or Jesus. Mein Kampf. The most controversial book in centuries. The swastika! The most controversial symbol in Western culture. If I’m going to start a new book at this point in my life, why not go with something that has some size to it? Not a Bob Dylan. Hitler and his book are matters that interest revisionists, that interest all those who want to destroy revisionism, and interests all those folk who watch PBS and the Network News. A book with a potential market? Am I at the point of making a professional business decision here?
Back in Baja, at the house, I go through the library but can’t find my copy of Mein Kampf. I have the standard edition translated by Ralph Manheim. I’ve had it for twenty years. Longer. Sixteen years ago we moved from Hollywood to Visalia and I had it then. Eight years ago we moved from Visalia down here to Baja and I had it then. The Book is here somewhere but I don’t know where. So I get myself up on the Internet, to Amazon.com, and order the James Murphy translation. I’ll have it in a few days.
Once I’ve ordered the book, I have my first doubts. I email a friend in Virginia and ask if he thinks I can reasonably insist on calling Hitler’s My Struggle “autobiography.” He replies immediately.
“I guess so–although the autobiographical stuff is molded and subordinated to political/ideological aims. But you could say the same of the Confessions of St. Augustine.”
It’s the perfect response for me. Not only does it answer my question, reassuring me, but reminds me that I have a story I like to tell about reading St. Augustine myself one humid afternoon on the South China Sea when I was working on a tramp steamer. Back in the 1960s. Maybe I’ve already told it. I’ll look around.
I decide to get back on the Internet and google Mein Kampf. There are 1,650,000 references to The Book on the Google search engine. The entire manuscript is there on line. Not certain which translation. On one site, a National Socialist page called The New Order, Hitler is quoted as having written:
“The prerequisite for action is the will and the courage to be truthful.”
It’s an interesting observation. It does not appear to me to be the raging of a madman or bestial personality. I would only suggest that being truthful is, in itself, action—not a prerequisite for it. We are all of a piece.