Monday, January 12, 2009
Fun with Nazis
Being a defiant capitalist and an elitist it goes without saying that I am also a man of the right. I tend to place myself more on the libertarian Proudhon-Popper-Friedman axis, rather than the jackbooted Mussolini-Hitler-Franco Axis. On the Facebook political compass, which uses a succession of anodyne political quandaries to shine a light into the recesses of your very soul and then compare its dingy hue with your friends, I was relieved to discover that I was slightly less right-wing than Rory Sutherland.
While I recognise that this is barely permissible even in this country, my South American friends are baffled as to why anyone would admit to not being a socialist. But for them the right has less to do with ending trade protectionism and narcotics legislation (both, incidentally, would benefit their continent immensely) and more to do with unmarked police cars turning up outside your house at night and disappearing you for a two month torture-holiday followed by parachuteless sky dive into the Rio del Plata. In fact, the only things that the Argentines can realistically claim to have invented, besides the biro and the art of nicking ideas from YouTube, are several peculiarly unpleasant kinds of torture. One of them “el submarino” has been recently reincarnated as “waterboarding” – credit where credit is due. (Although thinking about it last night, I realised perhaps this merely showed the latex-gloved hand of the CIA at work in both instances).
If you find torture interesting you’re basically sick and I pity you, but I can recommend Elaine Scarry’s “The Body in Pain” – it makes the perfect bedside companion.
The other thing on my bedside table, besides a selection of pliers, is Roberto Bolaño’s “Nazi Literature in the Americas.” Bolaño was a Chilean who died of Hep C in 2003. I admit, he partly rings my cherries because he spent a great deal of his life as a destitute heroin addict only achieving recognition just as he was about to die. He was also a socialist, a poet and a novelist who wrote mysterious books about Chilean poets and novelists. “Nazi Literature in the Americas” is written as series of short biographies, like encyclopaedia entries, of fictional authors of variously fascistic tendencies, from simple bigotry to all-out death-worship and sadism. He writes sympathetically about their lives, which are by-and-large failures, producing unknown books for tiny audiences in unseen right-wing South American imprints. The glossary form treats all equally, if modern fame magnifies then this is the opposite, and it makes you wonder about the point of any ideology, right or left, when time is all-effacing. Reading about the obscure lives of forgotten people becomes a kind of proof of the doctrine of equality – it did not convert me, but it is a beautiful thing.
The LRB ran an excellent essay about Bolaño last year, which you can read here.
Nazism is around in the world-hum in a big way at the moment. As a brand it's still so powerful that even the tube posters for Tom Cruise's film Valekyrie have to have the Swastikas on the SS uniforms obscured. The otherwise mild-mannered Scamp habitually calls Dave Trott one (for the right wing nutjob stats no doubt) and whenever there's renewal in the fighting in the Middle East the term gets thrown around with gay abandon by every luvvy with a conscience to rent. It's all obscene and unhelpful and it strikes me that what we are in need of here is a kind of brand management - in fact, an independent and board of voluntary Nazi brand managers, who would fiercely protect their brand from infringement using every legal device available. They wouldn't have to be card-carrying Nazis, in fact it might be better if they weren't - they could just be ordinary brand managers who'd volunteer their time at weekends for the sake of semantic clarity and the good of society. That way at least, we could try and work out what's actually going on.
In the past there were two career options for failed artists, fascism or advertising, but I'm quite sure some people could manage both.