Mein Kampf

MEIN KAMPF is written in the style of a self-educated mod- em South German with a gift for oratory. Of course this picture does not begin to characterize Hitler the man, but it does, I think, account for the elements of his style.

Beginning in his Vienna period, Hitler was a voracious news- paper reader. The style of the Austrian press, as Karl Kraus never wearied of pointing out, was slovenly, illogical, pretentious. Even the grammar, doubtless because of the large number of Czechs, Hungarians, and other foreigners in the trade, was uncommonly bad. Hitler inveighed against the Viennese melting pot, but was unconsciously influenced by its literary style.

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He must also have read popular pamphlets on history, psychology, racist biology, and political subjects. He never at- tempted to systematize his knowledge; he retained, for the most part, disjointed facts that met some personal need, and phrases that appealed to his oratorical sense. But the main source of his pet phrases was the theater and the opera. He is full of popular quotations from Goethe and Schiller, and largely unintelligible flights of Wagnerian terminology. There is no indication that he ever read any of the German, let alone foreign classics, from which he might have gathered some feeling for stylistic principles.

Hitler has been called a paranoiac; at all events, his view of the world is highly personal. Even where he is discussing theoretical matters like’ the state,’ race,’ etc., he seldom pursues any logic inherent in the subject matter. He makes the most extraordinary allegations without so much as an attempt to prove them. Often there is no connection between one paragraph and the next. The logic is purely psychological: Hitler is fighting his persecutors, magnifying his person, creating a dream world in which he can be an important figure. In more concrete passages he is combating political adversaries in his own movement, but even here the continuity is mystifying, because he never tells us whom he is arguing against, but sets up every political expedient as a universal principle.

This personalization makes Hitler a poor observer. His style is without color and movement. Images are rare, and when they do appear, they tend to be purely verbal and impossible to visualize, like the’ cornerstone for the end of German domination in the monarchy ” or forcing’ the less strong and less healthy back into the womb of the eternal unknown.’ The mixed metaphor is almost a specialty of modern German journalism, but Hitler, with his eyes closed to the visual world, was an expert in his own right. Pohner, for example, was’ a thorn in the eyes of venal officials.’
A non-German of Hitler’s intellectual level would in some ways write quite differently. Germany was a land of high general culture, with the largest reading public of any country in the world. In the lower middle class, there was a tremendous educational urge. People who in other countries would read light novels and popular magazines devoured works on art, science, history, and above all philosophy. Certain philosophical phrases became journalistic cliches. Hitler is forever speaking of’ concepts,’ of things’ as such’ (an sick). Moreover, he is constantly at pains to show that he, too, is cultured. Hence the long, intricate sentences in which he frequently gets lost; hence such sententious bombast as the opening lines of Chapter Ten.

The absence of movement and development in Mein Kampf is surely connected with Hitler’s lack of concern for the objective world. But his stylistic expression, the militaristic command over verbs, again shows the influence of German journalism. Many German writers, including some academicians, seem to feel that the substantive is the strongest and most impressive part of speech. This tendency is found even in German police.

Here and there, amid his ponderous reflections, Hitler is suddenly shaken with rage. He casts off his intellectual baggage and writes a speech, eloquent and vulgar. Instead of saying that a man was arrested, they will say that his arrest took place. This predilection for substantives is a salient feature of Hitler’s style.

Most of Hitler’s stylistic peculiarities represent no problem for the translator. The mixed metaphors are just as mixed in one language as in the other. A lapse of grammatical logic can occur in any language. An English-language Hitler might be just as redundant as the German one; a half-educated writer, without clear ideas, generally feels that to say a thing only once is rather slight.

There are, however, certain traits of Hitler’s style that are peculiarly German and do present a problem in translation. Chief among these would be the length of the sentences, and the German particles.

A translation must not necessarily be good English, but it must be English such as some sort of English author -in this case, let us say, a poor one -might write. On the other hand, it would be wrong to make Hitler an English-speaking rabble- rouser, because his very style is necessarily German.

No non-German would write such labyrinthine sentences. The translator’s task -often feet of tightrope-walking -is to render the ponderousness and even convey a German flavor, without writing German-American. In general I have cut down the sentences only when the length made them unintelligible in English. (The German language with its cases and genders does enable the reader to find his way through tangles which in a non-inflected language would be inextricable.) Contrary to the general opinion, the German text contains only one or two sentences that make no sense at first reading.


Bibliography:
America and is a member of the Advisory Board of the Children’s Health Fund. In January of 1997, President Clinton named him to be the General Chairman of the Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future, to be held in Philadelphia on April 27-29, 1997.

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