Friday, February 16, 2007

Norman Mailer's Cover-Up for Hitler

Norman Mailer has published a new book - THE CASTLE IN THE FOREST.

The idea behind this novel: an account of the young life of Adolf Hitler, narrated by a devil charged with developing him into a “client”, which is to say one “hell of a monster”.

Here's what one reviewer thought:-

...what we get is a bravely domestic account of the “small events and minor adventures of the Hitler family”. The simple premiss is that Hitler was an “incestuary”, the product of inbreeding in the Austrian backwoods. Mailer has extended the plausible hypothesis that Hitler’s father, Alois, shared a grandfather with Hitler’s mother, Klara, and postulated that Alois was also Klara’s father following a moment of “apocalyptic intercourse”. If it is unclear how this can all be made to relate directly to Hitler’s subsequent career,(*) it does offer justification for what becomes an exhaustive investigation into that otherwise mundane product of the Austrian lower-middle class.

...The Castle in the Forest might be categorized as a “nonfiction fairy tale”: a typically brash piece of Maileresque genre-bending, combining the story of a childhood with the form of a childhood story.

...Such heaped loads of perversity not only allow Mailer to show us how unembarrassed (and therefore embarrassing) he can be, but also represent a too straightforward means of fleshing out his fictional world. The author is guilty of a facile Freudianism, in which sex is used as a shorthand for real life itself...This is also true of the constant references to the “excretory dramas” of young Hitler, which again focus on the tangible aspects of his existence: the “monumental turd . . . dark, doughty, and as forbidding as a primeval club”, etc. Mailer would probably argue that there is some benefit in the fact that the narrator “engages caca itself” in this manner: it reduces the “monster” of history to the common denominator of a physical process; it gives us the anality of evil, as it were. And it may, rather subversively, make us conscious of the “guts and smear” of the man who went on to create what the author has termed the “worldwide sewer of the concentration camps”.

Mailer’s failure comes, then, not necessarily in being potty-mouthed, but being so relentlessly po-faced about it; we cannot take this writing as seriously as it takes itself.

The seriousness of the narrator as he enumerates the Hitler family’s urges and oozings is, we feel, exactly that of the author himself. We come to regret the constant use of exclamation, for example, which pockmarks the narration (as it does Mailer’s non-fiction writing): “let this bastard remain a bastard!”; “too bad!”; “at what length he went on!”, and so on. Exclamation marks are – of course – visible reminders of a writer’s unfunniness, like miniature distress flares sent up to reveal a helplessness in the face of its own humourlessness.

...They form part of the novel’s overall sacrifice of stylishness for substantiality. Whereas Mailer once proclaimed that “style is character”, his notes for the bibliography here reveal an axiomatic shift to “character is sequence”. This swerve is exactly captured in the plot of The Castle in the Forest, which seeks to rely on the studious development of his well-researched characters: Alois Hitler moving from priapic civil servant to brooding, discontented pensioner; Klara Hitler, from impressionable niece to rather magnificent matriarch; young “Adi” from war-gaming infant to awkward teenager. But while Hitler’s mother and father are convincingly imagined in this way, it is the formative child who remains hidden from the reader. Some influences on the future man are swiftly described, but to little purpose: the sign of a swastika on the doorway to his school; the local blacksmith who lectures on the need for a “will of iron”; and (most ridiculously) his sexual arousal over a man’s “small mustache, fixed to his upper lip just below his nostrils, a dark little daub of a mustache”.

...The Castle in the Forest is no “Hitler’s Tale”: we never really learn why he became the man he did. Building up a sequence of events, we learn, is not the equivalent of creating a convincing character.


In other words, Hitler wasn't guilty but a normal product of simple abnormality.


------------

(*)
William Boyd

Mailer has decided to investigate Hitler's immediate family: his father, Alois, his mother, Klara, their relatives and his siblings. The period covered is approximately 1837 to 1903, the lifespan of Hitler's father. When Alois died, Adolf was 14 years old, still a sub-average schoolboy. So far, so straightforward. But Mailer is not content with a third-person, historical account of the antecedents and early life of perhaps the most vicious man who has walked this Earth: He has decided instead to have his novel narrated by a devil. A middle-ranking devil, moreover -- not Satan himself ("The Evil One" or "The Maestro," as he's termed here), but a devil who has the Maestro's ear and whom we know as Dieter.

...Mailer, in a long career full of bravura risk-taking (think Ancient Evenings and Harlot's Ghost), has taken perhaps his biggest risk ever. And yet his intention is not merely to suggest that Hitler is "the spawn of the devil" -- nothing so facile. When we strip away the toe-curling mumbo-jumbo of all this diabolism, a sober and thoroughly researched thesis is being proposed here: Hitler was the product of a fuming stew of routine peasant incest in rural Austria; his mother was at once Alois Hitler's niece and his daughter, the product of a random sex act between Alois and his half-sister Johanna.

2 comments:

beniyyar said...

Hitler was a practicing homosexual who was infected, probably by a Jewish partner, with syphilis during his days in Vienna trying to become an artist. His erratic and inconsistent behavior during the last years of WWII was entirely consistent with the mental and physical deterioration commonly associated with tertiary syphilis. Hitler's hatred of the Jews was thus for really two reasons, for rejecting his really mediocre art work during his time in Vienna (apparently the Jews almost totally controlled the Arts market in Vienna at that time), and the fact that one of his Viennese Jewish lovers gave him syphilis(Berlin and Vienna during the Roaring Twenties were among the most debauched cities in Europe). No I cannot prove any of this, but the fact remains that the one German who was actually acquainted with Adolf Hitler during Hitler's years as a failure in Vienna was murdered on Hitlers orders when he attempted to reveal the sort of lifestyle Hitler had in Vienna.

YMedad said...

If you can't prove, then don't claim. Just voice an opinion.