Monday, August 13, 2007

Hitler's Record Collection

If you click on this link, you will read a very silly article about the recent coming-to-light of Hitler's record library, saved by Russian officers at the end of World War II. The main contention of the article is this:

The pillaged recordings, taken by a Red Army officer after Berlin fell in May 1945, show that Hitler was a hypocrite as well as a monster.

This rests on the following contradiction:
1) Hitler forbade his followers to listen to anything other than German composers. Even jazz was banned as "negro swamp music" and orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic were forbidden from playing anything other than Teutonic classics. The rest Hitler labelled "sub-human music."
2) But the discovery of the recordings of Russians and Jews show that Hitler did not practice what he preached to his people.

In the most obvious way, Hitler does not need this very mild character assassination. Moreover, I don't even see the apparent contradiction.

1) In Nazi ideology, "Russians and Jews" is hardly an umbrella category as used in this article.
2) Thus, we see Tchaikovsky (Russian) but NOT Mendelssohn or Mahler (Jews).
3) There is no demonstration in the article that Hitler was even being hypocritical (its main claim): he only (informally?) prohibited "his followers" (what category is that??) from listening to Jewish and Russian music. And when? During the non-aggression pact with Russia? The article's main point about Jews is that these records had Jewish soloists playing on them--- ought he to have exhaustively researched this before having his secretary buy his albums? I hardly see how this qualifies as hypocrisy (a charge we hardly need lay at Hitler's door).
4) Hitler's comment on jazz music is a complete non-starter: there is no jazz in his collection. Further, OF COURSE THE BERLIN PHILHARMONIC IS NOT GOING TO PLAY JAZZ MUSIC.

In short, it must have been a slow news day for these items to cause a stir:
  • Hitler owned no music by Jewish composers
  • Hitler listened to Tchaikovsky

I include this here because this is a blog about taste, under which "record collections" certainly fall, but clearly I intend something else here as well (as perhaps indicated in the last post, about race and taste). What impulse is behind the charge of "hypocrisy" in this innocuous and obvious event? I offer the following:
  • A relentless fascination with the unfathomable "personal life" of Adolf Hitler (in which we would trace his dubious lineage, his pathetic artistic aspirations, his perverted love life, and all other character assassination---again, complete overkill that leads to garbage like Norman Mailer's recent novel): the worst kind of historical investigation.
  • A strange desire which apparently cannot be helped to retroactively impose multiculturalism on a cultural climate that would not have comprehended it. Should this backwards, militaristic hick from Austria have listened to jazz music? To satisfy whom??? Surely the wry, misleading journalist of 2007 would not have been satisfied.
  • On the most banal level, a strange project to suggest the irresistible appeal of the censored, the banned, the underground, even when it (Tchaikovsky, banned Jewish composers) is music 90% of Americans would be unable to distinguish from Wagner. That is to say, the most insipid liberal self-congratulation on our openness and belief in the aesthetically subversive.
  • Finally, the bizarre double project of multiculturalism, which comes out in this article in strange ways: 1) to relativize and "tolerate" the culturally other, and 2) to make them "just like ourselves." AND most strangely, to bring HITLER into this project!!! So that he evidently could not resist the cultural products of the racially-other and against his better judgment indulged in these verboten albums. But doesn't this (perversely) make Hitler "human" and "tolerant"? (if we grant, which I don't, the premise of the article). For, if anything, making Hitler into a hypocrite here also makes him out to be lazily tolerant and lax on his dogma of anti-semitism.
In short, this is not just bad writing, boring, and astonishingly stupid, it is also offensively wrong-headed and finally makes of HITLER someone more or less "tolerant" and covertly multiculturalist!!


Seth said...

The NSDAP officially banned jazz from radio play and performance. Adorno [famous jazz hater] has a great piece on the ban called "Farewell to Jazz." It's in the Leppart collection of Adorno's writings on music.

Good post.

Slobodan Burgher said...