Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Banality of Evil...

I am now selling books in Germany. I've only been doing it for a fortnight, but I think I've already spotted a trend:

Week One: Mein Kampf

Week Two: Mein Kampf

Sadly, my research can't continue as we only had two copies in stock.

When I worked at Waterstone's, I received regular complaints from customers who felt that we shouldn't stock the English translation of Mein Kampf. I remember saying to one man that it was 'quite a complicated issue', but he wasn't interested in having a debate with a young bookseller and replied 'No it isn't', before storming off.

I haven't read Mein Kampf from cover to cover. I tried, because I wanted to gain an insight into the origins of Naziism, but it was dull to the point of being unreadable. Reading Hitler's views on history was like being stuck with a ranting, drunken loon at a bus stop on a quiet Thursday evening in February, or reading the Daily Mail. It was boring nonsense.

Ban Mein Kampf and it will acquire the kudos of forbidden fruit. It is banned in Germany, which is understandable, but wrong. I would like to do the opposite: make everyone read Mein Kampf and marvel at how such a banal, boring book managed to be so influencial.


Resolute Reader said...

Ooooh. Hot potato of an issue this one. I recently was in an second hand bookshop run by Oxfam. They had a copy of MK in their history section. I asked that they removed it. For two reasons. The most important of which is that it is a justification for genocide and has no place in an Oxfam shop.

The second is that more complex. I don't believe that bans stop anything. Banning MK in Germany hasn't stopped the rise of neo-fascism again. Fascism has it's root in economic chaos, social decay, individuals alienated by society etc etc. But I do believe that collective censorship, by which I mean ordinary people standing up to Fascism, discrediting it, stopping it and exposing it makes a difference.

So I think arguing that the book should be not be sold, and then explaining to the bookseller why it wasn't a history book about the war in the same way as (to quote him) Band of Brothers, was an important part of that process.

Also, I frankly am against seeing it on bookshelves - that happened a few weeks after Griffin gets elected in the NW. Frightening times.

Mrs Jones said...

Isn't banning books (and other 'degenerate' material) what the Nazis did? I don't think anyone should have the right to determine what I can or cannot read - I'm perfectly capable of working that out for myself, thank you.

I'm with you on this one, Mr/Ms Uncertainty. I have considered reading it myself for the very same reasons you espouse but am worried about the boredom -v- money spent factor.

Steerforth said...

I suppose the ideal way of publishing books of this kind is to treat the text as a source material, with a critical introduction.

Rudolf Hoess's memoirs of his life as a camp commandant are repellent and Primo Levi, more than most people, could have wanted the book suppressed, but he ended up writing the introduction.

In the age of the internet, we can't ban texts, but we can at least try and place them in a context that denudes them of their power and mystique.

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

One thing many people don't know is that contemporary English translations of MK were edited for content, toned down essentially, to make them more acceptable at the time. Much of the anti-Jewish rehetoric was removed. Only recently has an "unexpergated" English version become available in the United States.

I'm not sure I'm with you on censoring the book. In my view all book sellers practice one form of censorship or another. Most of them "censor" based on how well they think a book will sell and on whether or not a book is outright pornography.

I also believe it is a mistake to practice tolerance to the point of allowing intolerance. Intolerance will not return the favor. I do think everyone should be allowed to express their opinion. But if your opinion is that I should shut up, or that I should be killed, then you'll have to find some way to express that particular view without my help.

Stephan Scharnberg said...

No one will tell me what I can and can not read; no one should tell anyone else either (exception: obviously-adult books are NOT for children under the age of consent).

If society starts banning books, we ARE doing what the Nazis did. I have heard it from my ancestors who were on both sides of life in Nazi Germany--a few ardent pro-Nazi, others defiantly anti-Nazi (and they were killed for it--not Jewish--including two mentally handicapped great aunts who were exterminated shortly before the war as they too were considered to be sub-human).

So, I alone will decide what I read.

Otherwise, any nation, any people, can start the slippery slope to what happened in Germany. Fascism is NOT isolated to germany. It can happen anywhere under certain conditions--even here in Vancouver (on the somewhat naive West Coast of Canada).

And, I have read "Mein Kampf" both in German and English. It is utterly boring and confusing--a dangerous work by a real amateur, a terrible writer, but nonetheless important to be read and even studied.

Brett said...

It is problematic, from a librarian's point of view, because "forbidden" books like Mein Kampf, The Turner Diaries, or the current high-demand conspiracy book, Behold, A Pale Horse, are predictably checked out and not returned, or are stolen.

How much should library spend to continually replace these books? If they are not replaced, requests for them, like all requests for materials the library does not own, will go to interlibrary loan, and the library will pay dearly for the loss of other libraries' copies.

In my corner of the United States, Mein Kampf is not as sought after as it once was. It presupposes an understanding of The European political situation in the 1920's that is beyond the scope of the average skinhead. We currently have two copies at branch libraries, but none at the main library, where the risk of simple theft is greatest.

We gave up on the really more incendiary Turner Diaries after buying a couple of copies, and we don't get interlibrary loan requests for it, probably because readers don't want to generate a record of their having asked for it.

Behold, A Pale Horse, on the other hand, isn't a dangerous book, but merely High Weirdness. We decided to keep a copy on reserve at the reference desk, available for in-library use in exchange for a driver's license.

Steerforth said...

To my shame, I'd never heard of the Turner Diaries, so I looked up the Wikipedia entry. Scary stuff. I don't think public libraries should feel under any obligation to keep them in stock.

The Wikipedia article claimed that 500,000 copies had been sold, and whilst that figure represents less than 0.5% of the US population, it's still a pretty big print run!