IntroductionMy fascination with Nazism began with when learning about Nazism when learning the history of World War II. While I was going through the reading list, I came across a novel by Laurent Binet called, “HHhH”. The intriguing title sparked an interest of what it could stand for, hence this investigation started. What was prominent was that “HHhH” stood for.
This German acronym also translated into “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.” The title provides us with the historical context and setting of this novel. What struck me as the most interesting aspect was how Nazism was portrayed. After researching more about the author and the book, I learnt that the author was French. Then, I realised that the narrative was from the perspective of the Czechs not the Nazis.
This twist in the conventional narrative perspective further heightened my interest. This challenged my already preconceived notion of Nazism and gave me a completely different perspective. The choice to use “HHhH” and “Time’s Arrow” as a point of comparison was due to the different narrative perspective and portrayals of Nazism. To further challenge my preconceived notions on Nazism, I intend to investigate the question: “How does the characterisation of the narrator influence the distancing from the reader and our perception of Nazism?”. In my exploration, I found more differences than similarities. This essay was thus not to compare the similarities of both novels, but to use them as the key frameworks to help answer the question raised in the preceding sentence in a critical and deeper light.
Portrayal of Nazism…………”HHhH” and “Time’s arrow” (portrays Nazism in two different ways. )One way is through…. another way is through…
Binet incorporates a mixture of narrative perspective while focusing on one aspect of the character, thus reduces the proximity between the author and the reader. HHhH recounts the true story of the Operation Anthropoid in the form of a research as a writing process strengthens the author’s emotional ties to the novel. This further allows the author to become devotedly engaged with his story’s characters, setting, themes and plot. HHhH is Reinhard Heydrich, the “butcher of Prague”, a man who (physically and ideologically embodied the Nazi regime)—-elaborate. Reinhard Heydrich was known as the Blond Beast, the Butcher of Prague, and Heinrich Himmler’s right-hand Nazi. Laurent Binet’s HHhH—Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich (Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich)—is at once an exhaustive historical novel on the rise and fall of a fundamental figure of the Nazi Party during the Holocaust and a reflection on the efforts involved in writing such a compelling and significant historical tale.
The narrative both fascinates and disgusts; Heydrich’s career in the Third Reich was overwhelmingly “successful.” Once he joined the SS as a foot soldier, he rose startlingly quickly through the ranks, and went on to hold many powerful office positions where his actions greatly enhanced the control and reach of the Nazi government. In many situations, his ruthlessness was unsurpassed; on occasion, no mercy was given to Aryan citizens who disobeyed the government.The book traces the planning, execution and aftermath of Operation Anthropoid, the resistance’s successful plot to assassinate Heydrich in Prague, the city he commanded as Reichsprotektor of Bohemia and Moravia. The two heroes of the novel are Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, the almost unbearably brave assassins, but Heydrich, in all his horror, is the central character. While Binet chronicles Heydrich’s unstoppable military progress, he also includes anecdotes involving his personal life that contrast with his professional façade.
Binet’s portrayal of Heydrich also shows him as an easy target, a man who took himself too seriously. These two men, who are profiled as the real heroes of the book, assassinated Heydrich in broad daylight in front of dozens of witnesses in June 1942. The assassination attempt reads like an absurd thriller: A tram car pulls in front of one parachutist, a gun jams, an explosion erupts, the car driver attacks, and witnesses become involved. Despite this mayhem, the parachutists succeeded, and Heydrich died from his wounds. The retribution was brutal. Despite the horrible aftermath, Heydrich’s death was not only a great accomplishment for the Czech Resistance and the Allies but hope for the end of the occupation and the war.Binet chronicles his obsession with Heydrich and the events surrounding his assassination, but he also includes chapters about researching and writing the book (he calls it an “infranovel,” a book inside his book).
In the chapters where he reflects on historical writing, Binet wonders to what extent his occasional fictionalization of actual events is correct. Binet allows this barely believable story to carry him and us along with it. In fear of portraying a particular version of events, he revels in the details he can lay claim to, with an almost stately detachment; it’s as if he is giving the barest stage directions to history. Martin Amis is a postmodern writer who deals with the history and its storytelling. This conception of the Holocaust informs the postmodern style and the subject matter of Time’s Arrow, manifesting in the ruptured temporality of the narrative and the ruptured subjectivity of its main character, both of which hinge on the narrator/protagonist’s participation in the Nazi genocide.
Time’s Arrow gives us an account of the unending offensive torture faced by Jews who put to death in the concentration camps. The novel relates the story of a Nazi doctor, Odilo Unverdorben, working backward from the end of his life through his time serving at Auschwitz, right back to his birth in the years between the First and Second World Wars. Odilo’s experience before, after, and particularly during World War Two turns him into a ruptured subject. As a doctor, he is both a healer and a killer, a family man turned solitary war criminal who changes his name and flees to the United States. When Time’s Arrow begins, the character has become so alienated from his own body and identity that the first-person narrator only partially recognizes himself in/as the body he occupies. Healing becomes violence, the Holocaust unfolds as the creation of a people rather than their destruction, and the war haunting Odilo’s past becomes the narrator’s future.
War is always looming but has also already happened, and the entire world of the novel appears trapped in a perpetual state of crisis. Inconceivable disaster lays both ahead and behind, and Odilo’s life-line cuts history and future possibility short. The Holocaust represents a major cultural crisis in Time’s Arrow, but Nazi genocide is not the only source of catastrophic trauma. The shadow of nuclear war also falls across the narrative.
Amis alludes to a continuity between this ever-present nuclear threat and World War Two when he inserts a reference to the Holocaust museum in Israel in the midst of an argument against nuclear proliferation (26). Amis’s reflections on war, time, and the nuclear age in this earlier essay prefigure the narrational ruptures in Time’s Arrow and Odilo’s relationship to war, suggesting that the novel is concerned with the effects of the Cold War as well as World War Two. Something certainly has “gone wrong” with the narrator’s experience of time, and his anticipation of massive destruction is perpetual—even in the midst of Odilo’s work at Auschwitz. Linking problems with time to the Holocaust and to the threat of nuclear destruction, Time’s Arrow implicates both in apocalyptic rupture and the continuity between apocalypse, Holocaust and nuclear annihilation in Time’s Arrow is most explicit when Odilo is in Portugal; for the protagonist the war has already happened, but the narrator imagines that Odilo’s mind and body are “preparing for war” and implies the revelation of the doctor’s role in the atrocities at Auschwitz (Amis 106). Here, the narrator reflects on the bombing of Japan and its implications, suggesting that the use of the atom bomb marks, or may bring on, “the end of the world” (106).
This passage brings the war, the Nazi genocide, the beginning of the nuclear threat, and the possibility of nuclear holocaust together in apocalyptic terms. Later the text imagines the Nazi Holocaust more directly, alluding to what apocalypse might look like: Narrator-Odilo arrives at Auschwitz to find that “human life was all ripped and torn” (116); he sees the “nearest ruins” “fuming” and “glowing” and “ordure everywhere” (116-17), and the devastation within this “fiercely corecentric” universe is so great that it seems to exceed human 5 control (123). In fact, as the novel suggests, such devastation reaches far beyond the historical context of the death camps. He sees the Nazis, in contrast, as ‘creators’ engaged in “dreaming rather than destroying a race” (Amis 120). In the novel’s reversed temporality, creation and destruction are confused and combined.
Through this confusion, the destabilization of time, and the imagery of war and violence, Time’s Arrow entwines postmodernity and genocide as causes and effects of the perpetual apocalyptic condition. -How the narrator increases our appreciation for these two different portrayals.By reducing the proximity between the author and the reader, Binet engages the audience to sympathize with the characters strengthens the audience’s emotional ties as well as increasing our appreciation for portrayals of Nazism. Instead of using concrete and absolutist terms to describe the Nazis, Amis uses the inverted narrative in order to give the opportunity to allow readers the ability to think about the multiple ways in which the catastrophe can be narrated and misinterpreted.
TimingThe book is written chronologically as Binet’s contemporary research feeds into real events. Laurent Binet’s brilliantly translated debut deconstructs the process of fiction writing in the face of the brutal reality. HHhH recounts both the mission undertaken by Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis as they travel from France to Britain and then on to Prague and their fateful encounter with Heydrich, and also the mission undertaken by Binet as he tries to put together an accurate account of two men whom he admires so much but about whom he knows so little. His aim is to produce what he calls an “infranovel”, one that is constantly examining its own particular claim to truth. It achieves a playful lightness with its comic updates on the state of Binet’s relationship and its bruising analysis of other accounts of the period. And it is conventionally successful too, as both a gripping thriller and a moving testament to the heroes of the Czechoslovakian resistance. Their mission reset the path of history.
Binet’s resets the path of the historical novel. In Binet’s post-modernist novel he is also exploring the relationship between fiction and reality. The narrator attempts to understand the protagonist’s life in reverse. These schisms within the narrative parallel and invoke two major historical ruptures of the twentieth century: the Holocaust that happened, and the nuclear holocaust that looked likely to occur. Time’s Arrow, set within the same historical framework, suggests the holocaust jointly destabilized the directionality and flow of time, trapping the post-World War Two generations in a perpetual postmodern apocalyptic condition.
The dangers of nuclear annihilation have influenced his fiction and made him depict three dimensions of time- past present and future in the novel. Amis uses a retrospective tendency to face a violent history by depicting the holocaust in reverse. He thinks that the horror caused by the holocaust could be undone if the corner of the history could be inverted. The novel offers an exploration of both history and chronology, and the continuity of time is shattered.
Throughout the novel, we find the time running backwards and so the phrase the arrow of time is reversed to form the title “Time’s Arrow”. It is the story of a Nazi doctor. Like the reversed title of the novel, it starts from his death and old age in America to wartime work in Auschwitz and of last it moves towards his birth in Solingen, Germany. The novel points out the steps of Tod Friendly’s life and reveals his participation in the horror of Auschwitz. The reader is forced to understand the reversed logic of the novel and its backward process while reading the narrator’s reconstruction of the protagonist’s past. The narrator, in this novel, is not Tod Friendly but his double, his consciousness or soul.
He witnesses Tod’s activities but has no power to influence his decisions. Instead of curing or healing, the present doctor kills the patients. The novel relates the story of a Nazi doctor, Odilo Unverdorben, working backward from the end of his life through his time serving at Auschwitz, right back to the years between the First and Second World Wars. But the device if time is used in Time’s Arrow to an extreme level where dialogue, narrative and explanation are inverted on a large scale. The technique used by the writer is called a inverted time scheme which eventually in turn is a subversion of the emotional effect.
The emotional effect of using an inverted time scheme , an element of comicality into the writing making an eccentric tone The narrator in the novel hear speeches and conversations in a reversed manner beginning with the last uttered words and ending with the first ones. When Time’s Arrow begins, the character has become so alienated from his own body and identity that the first-person narrator only partially recognizes himself in/as the body he occupies. The narrating consciousness in Time’s Arrow has come unstuck in time—but instead of moving around between past and future, the narrator finds himself experiencing Odilo’s life in reverse so that even speech and motion occur backwards to his perception.
The reversed narration upsets the directionality of cause and effect, past and present. Healing becomes violence, the Holocaust unfolds as the creation of a people rather than their destruction, and the war haunting Odilo’s past becomes the narrator’s future. In Time’s Arrow it becomes necessary to approach the core of this crisis from both directions—as experiences in Odilo’s past and in the narrator’s future. For the reader, who understands the reverse trajectory and reconstructs the historical chronology, holocaust must both dwarf the present from behind and loom over it from ahead, suspending conventional temporality. Time’s Arrow combines elements of the conceptual and the postmodern apocalypse.
As the narrator begins experiencing Tod’s life backward, he has “the sense of starting out on a terrible journey, toward a terrible secret.” And, in the curious chronology by which physicians seem to cause affliction because patients are cured before their visit and ill afterward, he has trouble making sense of anything. Seen in reverse, the de-extermination of the Jews, their dispersion out of concentration camps, is perfectly logical. The use of reverse narrator desensitizes the complete severity of the cruelty of Nazis by instead of revealing death the corpse are brought back to life by Tod. Instead of showing the condemnation of Jews, the reverse narrative enables them to blend within the society again and this justifies Nazi’s actions making them seem right. It raises the question of whether us as readers can accept that the action done by Nazis is ethical and not unjust as we have known it to be. The alternative time scheme makes the killing of Jews ironic since it now becomes resurrection. Instead of curing the patients the patient’s’, Tod makes their condition become worse, as seen through the reverse narrative.
Perspectivethe 2 diff narrators and their “character”. How distance is created between them and the reader. -examples-effects of distancingHHhH comes from a perspective of a non-Nazi and increases the proximity between the narrator and the audience whereas Time’s Arrow plays with the idea of the narrator being faceless and nameless because the narrator is able to conceal and therefore losing the identity of the first-person narrative. HHhH is written chronologically as Binet’s contemporary research leads into real events. However, Time’s Arrow offers an exploration of both history and chronology, and the continuity of time is fragmented. As a reader, we feel emotional yet a sense of appreciation of the portrayal of Nazism and how this changes our own initial perception of the Nazi regime being a symbol of Fascism with negative connotations. This technique is used by both authors to distance the reader and further widens our perception that the Nazi regime is not only a symbol of Fascism but was necessary for advancement in Germany’s economy as we are forced to feel connected as well as disconnected with the author at the same time.
By researching and publishing HHhH, Binet reminds the reader that history has myriads of layers, but that they are all relevant in our contemporary world. Binet has admitted that he and the book’s nameless narrator the same. He is obsessive about the event and about the minutiae of its milieu. This story, this history, refuses to be told in cold-headed prose. The traumatic effects of these scenes at Auschwitz echo across space and time so that the narrator identifies similar atrocities in post-War America. The narrator, from his reversed perspective, sees American hospitals as places of pain and death rather than healing. Tod’s naive consciousness is what brings into life the character of Tod in which Tod’s soul has no control over the readers.
One passage, for example, describes two doctors—Odilo (now called John Young) and a colleague—treating patients by recreating their injuries: “We took the stitches out and swabbed the boys with blood. I remember Witney’s skillful insertion of some kind of crossbow bolt; me, I was wedging shards of brown glass into the other boy’s crown” (Amis 83). Caught in crisis brought confusion, the narrator interprets “medicine’s therapeutic role” as “destructive”, and describes New York surgeons in terms that seem better suited to Auschwitz doctors . He sees the Nazis, in contrast, as ‘creators’ engaged in “dreaming rather than destroying a race” (Amis 120). In the novel’s reversed temporality, creation and destruction are confused and combined. Through this confusion, the destabilization of time, and the imagery of war and violence, Time’s Arrow entwines postmodernity and genocide as causes and effects of the perpetual apocalyptic condition.
Time’s Arrow further marks the effects of continual crisis—of the postmodern apocalypse—through its literary style: both character and narration are ruptured. Odilo, as a Nazi doctor, is implicated in the events that brought on this crisis; he is also heavily invested in denying his culpability, thus it is in relation to his character that we see the most severe effects of apocalyptic trauma, including psychological dissociation. The psychological dimension of apocalyptic rupture emerges through the content of the narration, revealing the division of self that separates narrator and protagonist while alluding to post-traumatic stress disorder the narrator attempts to evade guilt (Amis 46), persistently fails to remember Odilo’s past, and disavows Odilo’s body and mind (6-7).
This rupture manifests in the anti-realist temporal and narrational split between the first person narrator and the protagonist whose body he occupies. From present to past the narrator (re-) experiences Odilo’s memories, walking and hearing things backward and having to translate what he hears and sees (Amis 6-7). He is alienated from his own body and memories, and finds himself in a world that does not make sense (82, 149), making him increasingly “tentative about things like cause and effect” (44). For the narrator, this about-face toward history signifies Odilo’s desire to reverse the trajectory of the Holocaust, undoing the atrocities and his own crimes in an effort to evade moral responsibility.
At risk, of course, is turning his helpful actions, such as his attempts to heal, into another source of atrocity and an exposure of his violent past. The disorienting narration, refusing a realist chronology, is the key marker of Time’s Arrow’s postmodern style and its evocation of perpetual crisis. “Confusion” is embedded in the text’s very “structure” , its “chronology” defamiliarizing history and destabilizing the “conventions of mimesis upon which all narrative relies”. This entangling of form and content points to the difficulty of representing the Holocaust, but it also alludes to the impossibility of adequately representing nuclear annihilation; both are unthinkable . Subjective schism and temporal reversal evoke the “gap between knowing and understanding” , and suggest that the twentieth century’s cycle of apocalyptic devastation cannot be contained within conventional narrative or realist conceptualizations of time. Confusion of past, present and future is crucial to the novel’s depiction of the apocalypse that has and has not (yet) happened.
Because the atrocities at Auschwitz form the central initiating events of this postmodern apocalypse, in Time’s Arrow it becomes necessary to approach this crisis from both directions—as experiences in Odilo’s past and in the narrator’s future. For the reader, who understands the reverse trajectory and reconstructs the historical chronology, holocaust must both overshadow the present from behind and suspending conventional temporality. However, Time’s Arrow also goes beyond by directing the reader’s attention to the possibility of moving outside the text and thus potentially to escape the perpetual, paralyzing state of crisis it depicts. Time’s Arrow is strongly intertextual—alluding to Holocaust survival narratives, psychological studies, physics textbooks, and science fiction, among other textual interconnections—and the novel’s temporal and intertextual disruptions resist the narrative closure of the traditional novel and the unitary text. ConclusionBoth books fundamentally tackles the very essence of the theme of Nazism of how it is portrayed in different narrative perspectives, where HHhH comes from a perspective of a non-Nazi and increases the proximity between the narrator and the audience whereas Time’s Arrow plays with the idea of the narrator being faceless and nameless because the narrator is able to conceal and therefore losing the identity of the first-person narrative. HHhH is written chronologically as Binet’s contemporary research leads into real events. However, Time’s Arrow offers an exploration of both history and chronology, and the continuity of time is fragmented. As a reader, we feel emotional yet a sense of appreciation of the portrayal of Nazism and how this changes our own initial perception of the Nazi regime being a symbol of Fascism with negative connotations.
This technique is used by both authors to distance the reader and further widens our perception that the Nazi regime is not only a symbol of Fascism but was necessary for advancement in Germany’s economy as we are forced to feel connected as well as disconnected with the author at the same time.