Look Who’s Back
Translated by Jamie Bulloch
London: MacLehose Press, 2014
“Do you admire the achievements of Adolf Hitler?”
“Do you admire [yours]?”
“We’re not getting anywhere, here,” she said indignantly. “Look, I’m not dead, am I?”
“You may be sorry to hear this,” I said, “but nor am I.”
“Harry, he’s funny!” — The Producers
Look Who’s Back translates Er Ist Wieder Da, Timur Vermes’s best-selling novel (over 400,000 copies, and tens of thousands of audiobooks) published (at €19.33) in 2012 by Eichborn Verlag. It’s really quite funny, and will appeal to anyone who isn’t a humorless adherent to the Church of Holocaustianity — which, alas, means almost everyone with a college mis-education these days — but especially to the Counter-Currents crowd; although, as we’ll see, for reasons that go beyond the mere thrill of reading about You Know Who.
The plot, courtesy of Wikipedia:
In 2011, Adolf Hitler wakes up in a vacant lot in Berlin, with no memory of anything that happened after 1945. Homeless and destitute, he interprets everything he sees in 2011 from a Nazi perspective (for instance, he assumes that Turks in Germany are an indicator of Karl Dönitz having persuaded Turkey to join the Axis, and thinks that Wikipedia is named for “Wikinger”) — and although everyone recognizes him, nobody believes that he is Hitler; instead, they think he is either a comedian, or a method actor. As a result, videos of his angry rants become hugely successful on YouTube, and he achieves modern celebrity status as a performer.
Now, the first question we have to ask is, of course, “is this Hitler?” I don’t mean the perhaps metaphysical question — which I’ll address later — but more to the preliminary literary point: does the author, Vermes, really give us the Führer? Do we, the reader, believe that this is Hitler redivivus?
Now, I must confess my German is hardly adequate to make an exhaustive comparison of Vermes’ Hitler and the one so copiously documented, even if I wanted to invest the effort; but I think I can say something useful: namely, that Hitler here, in James Bulluch’s very readable translation, does, in fact, sound exactly like the Hitler I’ve read in other translations of, say, Mein Kampf or selected speeches.
In particular, and established early on, there is that so characteristic garrulous autodidact’s drone, the conviction that one not only knows the truth but has a duty to communicate it, down to the smallest detail, whatever one’s audience thinks. The urge, to cross every ‘T,’ dot every ‘I’, chase down every rabbit, until one has long since lost the point and become buried in increasingly ludicrous minutiae.
For example, from an early chapter, as Hitler meets with a couple media execs, he tells the reader:
I refused to allow myself to be rushed. The true Führer senses at once when others attempt to seize control of a situation. When others say, “Quick, quick,” the true Führer always endeavors to forestall an acceleration of proceedings and avoids being hurried into an error. How does he achieve this? By displaying prudence while others scuttle around like headless chickens. Of course, there are moments in which speed is necessary; for example, when caught inside a blazing house, or when essaying a pincer movement to encircle a large number of English and French divisions and grind them down to the last man. But these situations are rarer than one might imagine, and in everyday life prudence — always closely allied with keen resolve — holds the upper hand in the overwhelming majority of cases, just as in the horror of the trenches the survivor is often the man who strolls along the line with a cool head, puffing away on a pipe, rather than bustling back and forth like a washerwoman, sniveling all the while. Pipe-smoking is naturally no guarantee of survival in a crisis; pipe-smokers have been killed in world wars, too. Only a simpleton might assume that smoking a pipe would offer some sort of protection. On the contrary, survival is perfectly possible without a pipe, even without any tobacco at all. I who have never smoked, am testament to that.
Like one of Plato’s interlocutors, one can only interject from time to time an “Of course, Socrates, no man of sense would dispute that.” Imagine taking dictation like that, in a prison cell, all day. No wonder Hess went nuts.
And, as a side note, adding a little seasoning, we also get the attempts to strike the “common note” with deliberately “down home” metaphors that by their ill-chose oddness bring the reader to a stop:
How can the poor reader, who during the years, nay decades, of my absence has been drowning in the Marxist broth of history from the soup kettle of democracy, be capable of peering over the edge of his own bowl.
Why is this sort of thing funny? I suppose because the urge to cover all the bases brings together such an incongruous groups of items into close proximity — washerwomen, prudence, teetotalism, house fires, headless chickens, Marxist broth — all of God’s plenty; plus, the blithe imperviousness of the speaker to the unintentional effect of his words. Vermes’s Hitler succeeds in reaching almost levels of Shakespearean (Polonius, of course, but most closely Fluellen in Henry V) or at least Beckettian (Godot’s Lucky, Malone’s “sucking stones” speech) tedium.
In any event, Vermes seems able to reel this stuff out at will, and the comic effect more than justifies his edgy decision to write Look Who’s Back in Hitler’s own persona.
But to the civilians, especially the media folk, it’s all an act; after stupefying a general into speechlessness with a harangue that starts with the importance of remembering the Polish-“Roumanian” alliance and ends with Hitler proudly producing a dry cleaning receipt for his old uniform:
“You’ve grilled that hamburger to perfection,” Sensenbrink said. “Classic. Set it all up, then wallop! — out with the punchline. And it comes out über-spontaneous. But you prepared the routine in advance, didn’t you?”
“The Poland routine. You’re not going to tell me you did that off the cuff?”
“Of course not. The Poland routine had been planned down to the finest detail by June ’39.”
In a crazy sort of way, Vermes’s Hitler — perhaps the Hitler as well — instantiates Baron Evola’s idea of the unmoved mover of the elite, hypnotically controlling society without lifting a finger:
The true type of the Nietzschean Übermensch is, rather, Olympian: a calm greatness which expresses an irresistible superiority, something which terrifies and at the same time compels veneration, which prevails and disarms without fighting, establishing suddenly the feeling of a transcendent force, completely under control but totally capable of release, the wonderful and frightening sense which antiquity associated which the concept of the numen.
An American looking for an analogue of Look Who’s Back might immediately think of The Producers, but “Springtime for Hitler” was only a hook to hang the tale of Max and Leo, the eponymous producers; the insolence was not the Hitler musical itself but the self-confident chutzpah of Brooks, demonstrating the cultural power of the Jew by saying, “Yes, we embezzle money and make you pay for crap, what of it?”
Rather, as I listened to Herr Vermes’ ventriloquism, I heard a very different American voice, not Borsht Belt Yiddish but instead,
[A] New Orleans city accent . . . associated with . . . the German and Irish Third ward, that is hard to distinguish from the accent of Hoboken, Jersey City, and Astoria, Long Island, where the Al Smith inflection, extinct in Manhattan, has take refuge.
Yes, the voice of Ignatius P. Reilly, the sad little hero of A Confederacy of Dunces and, as it’s always seemed to me, the doppelganger of the bulk of the members of what passes for “the Right” in America.
As Ignatius wanders New Orleans, ostensibly looking for a job but really selling –though mostly eating — weenies from a tin cart shaped like a hot dog, the unfortunates who encounter him and stay to listen, after an initial horrified fascination, are subjected to endless monologues on the poor state of the modern world, compared to the “geometry and theology” of the Middle Ages, and his cracked-brained plans for fixing it, such as the Crusade for Moorish Dignity among the downtrodden workers of Levy Pants, and the call for a radical new politics among a gathering of French Quarter queens that seems to be the source for Oliver Stone’s fantasies of a gay CIA paramilitary in JFK.
“I am here tonight on a mission of the utmost seriousness. Now turn off that offensive music and quiet these sodomites. We must get down to brass tacks.”
“I thought you were going to be fun. If you’re just going to be tacky and dreary, then you’d better leave.”
“I shall not leave. No one can deter me. Peace! Peace! Peace!”
“Oh, dear, you are serious about this, aren’t you?”
The real difference between Adolf and Ignatius, perhaps, lies in context — post-First World War Germany versus post-Second World War New Orleans; and in Hitler’s ability to actually start off, at least, talking about something people were interested in: unemployment, say, rather than the lack of adequate theology and geometry in the latest Doris Day film.
As Hitler makes his way, from homelessness to the top of the ratings — speechifying to increasing numbers who think they “get the joke” (they dub him “Loony YouTube Hitler”) but whose cluelessness is the real joke — Vermes, who seems to be a typical, goodthinking modern German, gets off a number of good points as he channels Hitler for us. For example, Hitler angrily denounces “reunification” as a trick, focusing attention on the artificial problem of incorporating the bankrupt East while the economic powerhouses of the Greater Reich — including France and Poland — are off the table.
Even more importantly, when Hitler is finally challenged to “confront the Holocaust,” the moment readers have been impatiently waiting for, he delivers another “over their heads” response that could provide a useful template for White Nationalist seeking, deliberately, to “step over” the issue.
“You do think it’s bad, don’t you? What happened? Surely you would want to prevent it . . .”
“We do not think in categories like bad, not bad, and suchlike. Our task is to deal with problems, and to identify, establish and pursue goals. But these questions do not permit of any sentimentality! They are the most important questions for our future. It may sound harsh, but we cannot look back at the past and complain; instead, we must learn from it. What happened has happened. Mistakes are not there to be regretted, they exist so that they are not repeated. In the aftermath of a fire I will never be the man who spends weeks and months crying over an old house! I am the man who builds a new house. A better, a stronger, a more beautiful house.”
“And [we] mustn’t ever forget . . .” Fräulein Kromeier said, wagging her finger. . . . We must never let the German people do anything dreadful again!”
This was the moment when I realized just how much I cherished Fräulein Kromeier. [She] had understood that history is written by the victors. And any positive portrayal of German deeds naturally requires German victories.
Yes, the Holocaust, let us join in the cries of “Never Again!” indeed. Never again must we allow Germany to lose.
Hitler also gives some sound advice on dealing with the groupuscles of the Right:
“So,” I said, “you represent the national cause here, do you?”
“I have to,” he said with a half-smile. “I mean, it’s a long time since you were looking after things.”
“I have to manage my time carefully,” I said brusquely. “The question is: What have you been doing in the interim?”
“Couldn’t we just turn off the cameras for a bit?”
“No,” I said stonily. “You have frittered away too much time already. You are a fraudster trying to cook his soup on the neglected embers of greater German nationalism and love of Heimat, but each word that falls from your inept mouth throws the movement back decades. It would come as no surprise to me if in the end you were nothing more than a hostel for national traitors, infiltrated by Bolshevists.” (pp. 244-45)
I’ve highlighted a few phrases here to show that Vermes is more than just a comic writer but clever one; how appropriate that here, in the confrontation of successful old and hapless new nationalism, the theme of time itself should be repeatedly suggested. Here we get to the most significant aspect of this book for White Nationalists.
As I said at the beginning, Vermes was wise to treat the whole question of how Hitler survives — it’s clearly intended to be Hitler, telling his own story — with insouciant indifference. He does, however, leave, perhaps inadvertently, unconsciously, a few clues.
Hitler awakens — the term, so redolent of the European Revolution of 1932, is deliberately used several times — “lying on an area of undeveloped land.” Later, casual reference is made to his “sleeping like the Kaiser under the hills.” And finally, in the passage I suggested be taken to heart by White Nationalists wanting to “step over” the Holocaust, we read that Hitler himself
“[C]an only play the modest role which Providence has assigned to me. I can only be a small, modest architect for this house. The master builder . . . is, and must always remain, the German Volk. . . . It must never forget [!] the strength that lies dormant within it. The capabilities it has! The German Volk can change the world! . . . That, precisely, must be our goal. And we will obtain it. If the German Volk prevails, then in one hundred, two hundred, in three hundred years you and I shall find only hymns of praise in our history books!”
A faint smile darted across her face. “In two hundred years someone else’ll have to read it? You and I’ll be long gone by then.”
“Well,” I said thoughtfully, “at least that is what we must assume.”
Hitler lives, because he is only the expression of the eternal spirit of the German Volk, a spirit that may sleep, even quite deeply, but never dies. And this is why the revived Hitler, though considered merely an actor, even a YouTube comedian, is able to gradually get his message across. As Vermes says in an interview, “I want to show that Hitler would have a chance to succeed nowadays just as he did back then, just in another way.”
And this is why the Powers that Be are terrified, and always terrified; not just over the reception of this novel, but over White Nationalism in general. It’s always a threat, it’s always 1932 again, there’s always a “new Hitler” to be fought. White Nationalism is the natural expression of the White race, and so must be constantly stamped down, stomped on, and buried. And of course, from our point of view, that’s a good thing, a hopeful thing.
For to paraphrase (or ‘détourn’ as the kids say) the Situationist slogan: beneath the pavement, the Führer.
1. “What is metaphysics? A metaphysician is someone who doesn’t believe you’re dead . . . when you die.” — Mystery Science Theater Episode 603, The Dead Talk Back.
2. Two or three of Hitler’s sustained rants are set out in short lines or verses, like imagist poetry, imitating the famous short pauses in Hitler’s speeches, suggesting that they are closely based on actual speeches, which to a German or a historian would perhaps be as familiar as the Gettysburg Address or “I have a dream” would be to an American.
3. When Tom Servo tries to join in a song devoted to light-hearted Canada bashing, and goes off the rails with lyrics like “Oh, I wish I was blowing up Prince Edward Island / And going on to bomb Ontario, /The destruction of Canada and all of its culture / Is by far my fav-o-rite scenario!” he bemoans his faux pas with a cry of “I have no sense of proportion!” Episode 910, The Final Sacrifice.
4. For a less lofty, but easily accessible example, consider the spring-obsessed protagonist in the misfired physics class short “A Case of Spring Fever” here.
5. See “The Overcoming of the Superman,” reprinted at Counter-Currents here.
6. The “Harry, he’s funny” trope goes back at least to a story told by Diana Mosley in her autobiography, about a French friend, M. de Lasteyrie, who zealously guarded the memory of Marie Antoinette. When he heard of a comedy mocking her, “he bought a ticket and sat in the front row of the stalls. When the rude sketch got underway, he stood up and waved his arms shouting in his quavery voice: “Ce n’est pas vrai! Notre reine Marie Antoinette etait une sainte!” There was a moment of shocked silence and then the whole audience began to laugh. There was a sort of riot of laughter. . . . [A]s dear, brave old M. de Lasteryrie left the theatre someone from the management rushed up to him and asked what he would charge to do the same turn every evening.” A Life of Contrasts (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1977), pp. 233-34.
7. Other than Milan Kundera’s suggestion that Germany be split not East/West but North/South on religious lines, uniting Catholic Austria and Bavaria with, perhaps, some of Poland, I don’t recall any “outside the box” ideas bruited about at the time as alternatives to ‘reunification’ of the artificially created East and West.
8. See Jonathan Bowden, Pulp Fascism (San Francisco: Counter Currents, 2013), and Greg Johnson, New Right vs. Old Right (San Francisco: Counter Currents, 2013).
9. Thomas Mann played with the same mythological trope in Doktor Faustus, having his protagonist be born and raised in Kaiseraschern, whose supposed connection to the Holy Roman Emperor’s ashes gives it an atavistic flavor of simple piety and gross superstition, becoming a “well-known metaphor for Germany.” — Disciplining Germany: Youth, Reeducation, and Reconstruction after the Second World War by Jaime Fisher (Wayne State University Press, 2007), p. 293.
10. Quoted in “Adolf Hitler novel tops German bestseller list but divides critics” in The Guardian, Tuesday 5 February 2013, here.