I found myself collecting all the little fascisms I could. Isidore Heath Hitler is some guy from New Jersey who recently changed his name to Hitler—the initials stand for “I hail Hitler.”
He had also named his son Adolf Hitler. In 2008, Hitler tried to get a birthday cake with his young son’s name on it, but the cake writer at ShopRite refused. A Walmart in Pennsylvania obliged. A year later, the state took his kids away, citing abuse and neglect by Hitler and his wife Deborah Campbell. During an appeal hearing to get back the children, who are all named after Third Reich characters and white nationalist groups, Hitler was told he needed to seek psychological counseling, but he said he wouldn’t because his psychologist was Jewish.
Denying custody, the court citied unspecified “physical and psychological disabilities,” including the fact that the parents themselves were victims of childhood abuse.
I read about the story on major news outlets and local New Jersey websites. My eyes hungrily scanned the paragraphs, which were interspersed with ads oddly related to my email correspondence. The macabre humor of it was titillating at first, but when I think about it now, a guilty sorrow washes over me, a pity for Hitler, but mostly for those who must suffer their relations. Then comes vermilion anger.
Today politics seems fully pathologized: Adhere to the status quo? Desire radical change? Reignite an old order? Healthy politics don’t exist. Everyone is sick, but especially “me.”
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is a labyrinthine, sloping field of stelae. Arranged in an elegant, softly undulating grid, they don’t seem very tall from outside the memorial, but as you descend within, an unsettling quiet fills the air. The rectangular stones are clean and simple, and start to grow taller and taller. Everyone who enters is quickly set along their own path. Visitors cut corners in mischievous delight or solemn repose. Everywhere you look—despite all the possible turns one could take—it’s a straight line. Peter Eisenman said his design is all about the “enormity of the banal,” and from the outside, the memorial seems logical, systematic, punctilious. But as you move through it, your confusion deepens, and we become strangers. Is this what we call history?
published in e-flux journal, september 2017