Friday, June 22, 2012

Min Kamp

Photo: Kjetll Ree
The Times’ Larry Rohter reported on the Norwegian author Karl Owe Knausgaard’s 3600 page memoir, My Struggle which naturally cites the kahuna of infamous memoirs, Mein Kampf  (“He Says a Lot, for a Norwegian," NYT, 6/18/12). Since Mein Kampf is still illegal in some countries, Min Kamp (in Norwegian) has appeared under aliases. “In Germany, the first two volumes of Mr. Knausgaard’s ‘My Struggle’ have sold well, but under the titles ‘To Die’ and ‘To Love,'
” Rohter remarked. Actually the notoriety of Knaugaard’s memoir seems to derive not from the association to Hitler, but due to the frankness with which he talks about things like his father’s alcoholism and his wife’s “bipolar condition.” However ultimately the question comes up why would anyone want their life story to be compared to Hitler’s? Most writers and people not only dislike being compared to Hitler, but usually go overboard to dissociate themselves from his memory. No matter how candid and confessional one is being, ultimately only a self-mutilator would want to say about Mein Kampf what Flaubert famously said about Madame Bovary, “Madame Bovary, c’est moi.” Rohter's Times piece did little to throw light on the reason for Knausgaard choice of title beyond quoting the author as saying that both Mein Kampf and Min Kamp are “about the construction of self.” One might have imagined the choice of Mein Kampf as a title from a shock jock like Sacha Baron Cohen whose most recent movie The Dictator turns Osama bin Laden into a subject of satire. But Min Kampf, whose sixth volume, according to Rohter, does include the author’s own essay comparing the eponymous Mein Kampf to his own, is as deadly serious in its subject matter as was Hitler’s. Imagine how history would have been changed if Hitler hadn’t taken himself so seriously. What if Hitler had turned his ideas into the subject of a standup act—something along the lines of a Sacha Baron Cohen routine— that played in Weimar Germany? Would Knausgaard still have expropriated the title 86 years later?

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