Politics of Localization: Mein Kampf

I have been participating in a weekly trivia for a few weeks now. It meets on Wednesdays at a local Pub/Pizzeria place in downtown Knoxville, and has been intriguing to highlight what I don’t know anything at all about (sports, celebrities, brands, and my geography is rusty).  Last night my team (The Royale Court, in reference to our love of Latrice Royale) looked up ‘this day in history,’ as some event is always referenced. Yesterday just so happened to be the anniversary of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

Except, the question that was asked was what the English translation of the title is. I somewhat squirreled my eyebrows (they dance, it’s lively, but they don’t eat nuts), before telling my team to write down My Battle, though I was fairly certain the most common translation is My Struggle. Now, for many people, I am sure the differences between Fight, Struggle, and Battle may not seem huge, but I have a degree in English, so the question of connotation does concern me. Also, as someone who was raised bilingual (but is no longer perfectly fluent in German), I am very intrigued by localization.

What is the goal in translating Mein Kampf? The book has been mired in controversy, rightfully so, for decades. There are varying translations that are abridged, a recently discovered Nazi-authorized translation, and the question of what the goal of the translator was.

If I were to be true to the words, to get across Hitler’s meaning as closely as possible, I imagine I would likely translate the title as My Struggle, as it portrays a more sympathetic light. We struggle against something, and there is a certain connotation that this is a hardship on us. My sympathies as a gay German-American citizen do not at all lie in Hitler’s direction, hence my immediate response of My Battle.

To my ears, battles are something we are more often said to ‘choose,’ or enter into with premeditation. It is our choice, whether right or wrong, to engage in battles. It is not sympathetic, and is fairly neutral. Fight, in this instance, seems far too weak a noun, though still having that air of somewhat neutrality.

Of course, if I am basing my argument on connotation, this depends on which connotations, which change as language adapts and shifts. I am not necessarily right, and there are more ways to translate Kampf (though those are the three most common for this particular instance), but these are the thoughts I had about the entire affair.

Thankfully, the trivia host accepted any of those three (with a somewhat begrudged note in his voice, which made me think someone had addressed this concern to him). Of course, as I mentioned, this book is full of controversy, as are the translations that have been offered over the years.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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