Thursday, July 21, 2011

Questions from my German Prof

I'm still friends with my favorite Professor from college.  We've been chatting, and she said I could share:

She's DL; I'm DB, unless it's a blank paragraph, then I think it's her.  This is a couple message after the conversation got started.

Part 1:

DL: I realized that the Desert Peach must receive a brief discussion in my current book project in the representation of the Nazi.

DB: I'm not really interested in the NSDAP.  Party members only show in my books to be made fun of or compared to the idiots we have today (my readers in Germany started asking me if we were crazy or stupid after 9/11).  My READERS knew what was coming, but what was the use of warning anybody else?  And here we are, in the very mess everybody else ignored.  The Desert Peach is actually about surviving in a lethal situation, especially when you don't fit in, and helping other people who might otherwise die survive.

DB: A new story starts tomorrow, at  "Beautiful" -- Rommel served in Transylvania in WWI, which makes for a chance to write fun weirdness and spooky stories. 

DL: The main topic is German lit, but I di make reference to some films and illustrated books e.g. Memelmann's illustrated memoir of his mother and Mouse, which I don't like because of the projection of human stereotypes unto animals, making mice the Nazis.j

DB: Yes, besides, Germans are not cats.  They're horses.  :)  In "Maus" the mice are the Jews (a portrayal they often use themselves).  I kinda agree -- when the horses stampede, the mice get run over.  Again with the :)

(The British are dogs.  The Japanese are cats.  I think Americans are razorback hogs.)

Part 2:

(After some remarks about the subversive quality of my work)

DB: I dunno if my stuff is that "subversive."  As I've told readers repeatedly, I base my stories on real things.  "Germans" (does that include the black North African "honorary Aryans" of the Afrika Korps? Or the Jewish soldiers (fathered by Jews = officially German) allowed to visit their relatives (Jewish mothers = officially Jews) in concentration camps until the panic of the Wannsee conference?) ended up in camps (Dachau was originally a "re-education" camp, with all its brutal connotations), kept up fashion and commercial links across and around borders, overloaded a postal box that was supposed to catch spies just to talk to their relatives and friends among the Allies, drafted confused Tibetans, and the first German soldier to die in WWII died defending Chinese refugees crowded into a German diplomatic building in China.  WWII in Germany wasn't so much history as a box of dice.

So I don't even know how any views of Germans can be subversive, when they were all over the map anyway; no people is easily put into a single box, this one included. In fact, common the media representation may be the more subversive of the reality, especially the odd American view that "Nazi" meant a form of fashion and they seemed to have no childhoods and to come from the moon.   Or they were robots.  Or something. 

Oh, God, I've written about this for years.  Don't get me started; I can bore for England.

Part 3: 

Well, Germans. Germans are fiction, the home-spun myths of origin, Nibelungen, racial science, etc. is the stuff of the fantastic. The entire Nazi get up, banners, skull rings, uniforms, (Hugo Boss fashioned the SS uniforms by the way),the gleaming cars and boots, what theatrical staffage, all of which became the stuff of fiction and fantasy. Recently there has been an increasing literary interest in North Africa, i.e. Vertlib's Am Morgen des 12. Tages. Good book. historical characters mix with invented ones (not in the fantastic mode, though).

D:  For a lot of Americans, Germans are our relatives. You want to see a book will make a German-American (I got those in my ancestry) howl, get "German Humor -- On The Fritz."  It's about German Americans, not native Germans, but still.... It even shows you how to NOT make a peanut-butter sandwich, according to a German American ("See if I care.").

D:  There's something going on I've called (tongue-in-cheek) "KrautGrrls."  Girls mad about the uniforms and blonds, who slowly begin to be led into the actual history.  They're very self-aware about their likes and why.  I was one of those as a child, but it made me study the real history.  A German girl, one of my loyal readers, went to North Africa just to see, and married a Moroccan.  And thanked me for it.  So we authors have to be careful what we write.... :P

Just a few thoughts
Spiegelmann: unkind to cats, he unfortunately represented Germans as cats.

D:  Well, he was only reporting his dad's experiences.  I'm sorry, girl, but I've dealt with Germans AND horses, and YOU PEOPLE ARE HORSES.  Same sense of humor, posture and hiearchy.  Gods help you if a horse or a German finds out what bugs you and starts to tease you about it.

The creation of the exceptional unit led by Manfred R., great idea, undermines the notion of Nazi order and organization.

D:  It's what happened after Poland; bits and pieces thrown together to make patchwork units.  I didn't make it up, or the gold-rush (for the Indians) atmosphere of the regime.  If you get into the later part of the series, you'll find that what Pfirsich's up to is trying to rescue people, but, as he said, "THEY've got guns, WE've got paper, how is this fair?"  He gets awfully exasperated sometimes.

Part 4 (I think):
Things were rather chaotic in remote areas.

D:  "Catch 22" is more real than most people know.

Also excellent the notions of the corpse management by oddballs and misfits--"Germans" who did not quite fit the mold were usually not just done away with but relegated to low profile thankless jobs.

D:  Yes, it's NOT QUITE a punishment battalion, but if it were ever really examined, it could become one.  They're lucky the Nazis are running around with their heads up their asses.

And the gay and transsexual theme--it permeates NS history: Roehm, Goering in drag, and the homophobia that made it necessary to hide this "deviation from the norm."

D:  Goering did that to piss off Hitler.  Junker vs. middle class.  It must have been like the Bush whitehouse in there...  "Queer" as a slur was the excuse for the Night of the Long Knives.  The German army was a good place to hide, be you gay or the wrong blood or religion.  "Hogan's Heroes" got it weirdly right when the doctor sarcastically told Klink, "You can breathe and stand up for 5 seconds -- you've passed the physical for the German army."  (What the Germans did in that show was based on 150 years of German military humor.  But who am I telling this?  My old lit teacher!  I'm preaching to the chorus).

At any rate, it's the images that make the characters and the plot subversive. There is humor in the clothes and gestures (Red Baron), and in the creatures (face horse) that are on a level playing field with the Nazi characters. Most of all, the language and the use of German on different levels, vocabulary, accent mixed with English.

D:  Oh, me and my "Barrdeutsch."  It's almost its own language.... spoken by one person.  That's partially your fault, you know...

the annotation for unfamiliar terms as in a Sachbuch, the prim and proper Peach in sexy modified outfits reminiscent of the sexy outfit of young NS adjutants.

D:  Actually, the role Pfirsich is playing at the time is "fop" -- a very masculine role in the German and English armies.  In American, that would be "fairy."  In the military of the time in Europe, waving a handkerchief was the performance of an 18th-century gentleman's personality. It worked as a disguise. I had more and more fun screwing around with what things were supposed to be and what they really were (whatever real means).  But I'm lucky -- I have clever readers who GET it.

  The characters blend some expected accessories of the Germanic type embraced by the NS, but otherwise deviate from the established stereotypes (see movies like Jud Suess), notably in terms of sexuality: according to racial "science" and propaganda,  the Nordic type was chaste critter, a late bloomer, and pure in every way. The Peach has such features but the feminization take him beyond the norm. Immediately oppositional authors created anti-NS types that were grimy, generally unappetizing, and corrupt (e.g. Brecht, Fr. Wolf, Bruno Apitz). You feature examples of those types.

D:  Those aren't types.  Those are people I've seen (I've known too many weirdoes). Most soldiers are grimy and unappetizing all the time.  Most people have to be corrupt in a dying empire (do tell!) to survive. 

Your work is subversive in that it evokes and erodes expectations, stereotypes, and applies humor and the grotesque in an unlikely environment. Undoubtedly it is a very uncomfortable text for neo-Nazis as well as for the sanctimonious.

D:  I'm very proud that the American Nazi Party (at least according to the child of one of the members) declared me an "Antichrist."  I wish I could prove that. I think I converted one of them with the Peach (not in sexuality, but tolerance).  I know I've helped homophobes examine their fears and turn around, helped homosexuals come out and accept themselves and even helped Jews stop blaming themselves. My Jewish readers say that they're constantly taught about the abuses without seeing how it built -- or even that all they were were an excuse for so many things, including economic grab -- and they end up doing what victims with no reasons do; they ask, "What did WE do wrong?"  When they get to see the stupidity and greed of the structure they can lay it back where it belongs.  It's not so much the horses were hunting down the mice as mice, but that the barn was burning the horses started to run, and the mice got trampled.  The war made it impossible for anyone to examine the building process, and as usual when it's all guys, Ejaculation Thinking won out over Pregnancy Thinking (I don't think I gotta explain THAT!"

D:  I'm really disgusted that we've used Nazism to ignore what the Germans went through, and take it as a warning. Or maybe that's just us being our usual stupid City On The Hill Selves ("God loves us so we get to kill everybody and everything and own and steal everything.").  It's fun watching the First Nations begin to use the international laws that came into being after 1945 and were first applied to Germans to come after us.  I'm enjoying it.  Americans are finally beginning to realize that, compared to us and our history, youse guys were amateurs.  We did it longer, worse, to more people and land, with more legal intent, and got away with it.  And provided the studies of race (as an excuse for slavery and manifest destiny) that would poison the future.  "Pioneer" is not so much a term we want to brag about any more.  The Indians are coming out of hiding and using the laws.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha. 

DL:  Be that as it may, I am sitting in the sun room with a lightly snoring geriatric cat next to me who will need her milk to improve den Stoffwechsel.

DB:  Well, you can't ask for better than that.

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