Getting High in the Führerbunker, and Other News


On the Shelf

The official amphetamine of the Third Reich.

  • Let’s start the day by insulting some dead writers, one of the finer pastimes at our disposal. The famed editor Robert Gottlieb’s new memoir, Avid Reader, is chockablock with gossip about deceased luminaries, Alexandra Alter writes: “A highlight reel of Mr. Gottlieb’s juiciest revelations includes swipes at the Nobel laureate V. S. Naipaul (a narcissist and ‘a snob’), the historian Barbara Tuchman (‘her sense of entitlement was sometimes hard to deal with’), William Gaddis (‘unrelentingly disgruntled’), John Updike (‘I was disturbed that he wouldn’t accept advances’) and Roald Dahl (an ‘erratic and churlish’ author who made ‘immoderate and provocative financial demands’ and anti-Semitic remarks).”
  • While we’re at it, I’m always looking for new and novel ways to denigrate the Nazis. Norman Ohler, a German writer, has hit the mother lode—he discovered that they were all hopped up on amphetamines during the war. His book Blitzed tells a deliriously druggy tale of the Third Reich: “The Führer, by Ohler’s account, was an absolute junkie with ruined veins by the time he retreated to the last of his bunkers … At a company called Temmler in Berlin, Dr. Fritz Hauschild, its head chemist, inspired by the successful use of the American amphetamine Benzedrine at the 1936 Olympic Games, began trying to develop his own wonder drug—and a year later, he patented the first German methyl-amphetamine. Pervitin, as it was known, quickly became a sensation, used as a confidence booster and performance enhancer by everyone from secretaries to actors to train drivers … It even made its way into confectionery. ‘Hildebrand chocolates are always a delight,’ went the slogan. Women were recommended to eat two or three, after which they would be able to get through their housework in no time at all.” 

  • But you don’t need amphetamines to keep your edge. You can just do what Eileen Myles does and sleep on the street from time to time. It really gets the blood flowing. She did it last week for a few nights and it sounds fun enough: “I’ve been compelled by the image of the begging monk, the hobo, the traveling anything for as long as I’ve been alive. I wanted to run away when I was a kid. I know we all did. But it’s still a very sweet part inside me. When I tour I love that I’m alone on a strange street, in a train station. So this retreat seemed a way to be out there—with a modicum of safety and to feel that free fall … When I was drinking, because my life was so unmanageable, I was afraid of not having a home. The fear of losing my apartment was visceral and haunting and persuasive. But of course, like when you lose something, there’s a moment when it’s great that it’s gone. You love the hole it left.”
  • Gideon Lewis-Kraus on the central contradiction of travel photography: “We are not much closer to resolving the fundamental paradox of travel, which is just one version of the fundamental paradox of late-­capitalist life. On the one hand, we have been encouraged to believe that we are no longer the sum of our products (as we were when we were still an industrial economy) but the sum of our experiences. On the other, we lack the ritual structures that once served to organize, integrate and preserve the stream of these experiences, so they inevitably feel both scattershot and evanescent. We worry that photographs or journal entries keep us at a remove from life, but we also worry that without an inventory of these documents—a collection of snow globes for the mantel—we’ll disintegrate. Furthermore, that inventory has to fulfill two slightly different functions: It must define us as at once part of a tribe (‘people who go to Paris’) and independent of it (‘people who go to Paris and don’t photograph the Eiffel Tower’).”
  • Admirers of short fiction tend to nod with vague approval at the name John O’Hara, but few go on to read him. Charles McGrath is hoping to change that—O’Hara was, he writes, peerless in the attention he paid to social class: “Because he was Irish and Catholic, O’Hara felt himself to be an outsider, and all his life, even after he had become wealthy and famous, he retained an outsider’s neediness and sullen defensiveness. His face was pressed against a glass that sometimes wasn’t there. But, the way outsiders do, he also became an uncanny observer of the world around him … spending marathon hours in speakeasies and working at a series of small-town newspapers. He became, among other things, one of the great listeners of American fiction, able to write dialogue that sounded the way people really talk, and he also learned the eavesdropper’s secret—how often people leave unsaid what is really on their minds.”