The German conscience constantly provocative and contested voice is stilled for good.
Nils Schwartz celebrates Günter Grass as their gateway to literature.
Günter Grass was a one-man institution in the West German cultural life in the second half of the 1900s, an institution that stood on the moral foundation and concrete attached with the Nobel Prize in 1999. The latter came at the eleventh hour, partly because the Grass writings did not reach the same heights in 2000 century, partly because the confession that he was 17 years old at War II served in the Waffen-SS transformed the moral foundation of sand.
Requirements were that he would be deprived of the Nobel Prize, and Lech Walesa wanted to rob him honorary citizenship of the Polish city of Gdansk, called Danzig when Grass was born in the then German Free State in 1927. retaliatory measures was of course most empty threats, and probably it took a great deal of moral courage of Grass to spontaneously self confess his sin youth after 60 years, with the risk of leaving a stain on his legacy.
I have my own reasons to give Grass forgiveness of sins. I was not much older than the young SS soldier when I during the mandatory military service decided to change future career – not seek out at KTH, but start studying the humanities.
The day after I muckat I went to the bookstore and bought Dolphin Edition of “The Tin Drum” (1959). The reading experience confirmed that it was in such strange place I wanted to stay, not in chemistry laboratories. Günter Grass became portal figure to the world I trod and was left in.
But I never dared to read about the book. Volker Schlöndorffs in itself excellent film version of “The Tin Drum” (1979) removed the spell. A spell that still persisted, when I read the sequels in the so-called Danzig Trilogy – “Cat and Mouse” (1961) and “Dog Years” (1963).
But I must also admit that Günter Grass himself is the most active embezzling my early reading experience. He became pratigare and pratigare over the years, perhaps because he increasingly played the role of moral chief justice and political guru.
Where the eternal child Oscar Matzerath with his tin drum and its ability to scream broken glass – the Germans’ reluctance to deal with his past – was an artistic triumph and a relentless pain in the German ass, took the Grass continue all snirkligare roads to get to the crux of the matter.
He had full correct to call his autobiography “When you peel the onion” (2006). His writing became more scalable and less substance the longer he was doing. And that Oscar was resurrected with other previously Grass Characters in the novel “The Rat” (1986), I see as a direct blunders, this institution has become its own echo chamber.
That did not, of course Department Grass from continuing to provoke his contemporaries also in the reunified Germany, both through public statements and in their works. As a social democrat, he praised the snail once as ideals for social development, and would rather see a federation between the two German states than the West’s precipitous engulfment of the East. The evidence suggests that he was not far wrong.
Snails has famously horns. They will not do much to close with, but they are sensitive sensors for what goes on in the environment. Fiction is like a snail horns, overthrowing no communities but feel what is going on. Günter Grass may have built an institution of its snail shell, a durable matter than the bulb’s outermost layer.
But you put your ear to it, with the skin, the risk is that the echo of Oscar Matzeraths screams still splits the eardrums. The risk is worth taking.
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