Tuesday, August 15, 2006

In defense of Gunter Grass

Gunter Grass, the Nobel prize-winning German novelist, recently revealed that despite everything he had said in the past about being in an auxiliary unit of the German army, during the last years of WWII (1944-45), he served in the Waffen SS.

When I initially read this, I filed it away under "Hmm...interesting." Now, seeing the backlash against him, I feel compelled to stand up for Gunter Grass.

Whatever Gunter Grass may have done as a 17 year old boy, his Danzig trilogy stands as one of the most sensitive and honest literary takes on WWII Germany.

In the Tin Drum in particular, Grass brought a level of honesty and openness in dealing with the German experience in WWII that psychologically may have greatly helped Germany move forwards. Reading the Tin Drum today, it is hard to believe that it was published in 1959, only 14 years after the end of the war, since its characters and thematic issues cut right to the heart of the questions of culpability and participation, particularly in the problematic Danzig/Gdansk where Grass was born and raised.

I was not shocked by Gunter Grass' recent revelation. The self-awareness present in the Danzig trilogy comes from experience, and I doubt he would have had the ability to write it as he did were he not suffused with a certain degree of guilt. I am more shocked that so many people are shocked.

Grass was 17 years old when he was recruited for the Waffen SS. He is now 78 years old. 61 long years have passed, and the passage of the years has not diminished the impact nor the strange lyricism of the Danzig Trilogy. Great writers are great because of the effect their words have on others, NOT because of what they have done.

Wagner was an anti-Semite and a misogynist. Byron, Vivaldi and Liszt (to mention only a few) fucked anything that moved. Baudelaire did too many drugs.

Those calling for Grass to return his Nobel prize are wrong. The Nobel prize in literature is awarded not for what an author has done, but for what he has written. The power and impact of the Danzig Trilogy are in no way mitigated by Grass' revelation, and the words stand as strong today as ever.

Who better to serve as the conscience of Germany than someone who was a part of its darkest days? Is not social conscience in many ways a product of experience? As to why Grass lied all these years - given the current backlash, I'm not particularly surprised. I would have lied too.

Greatness lies in what you make of yourself. I strongly believe in redemption - and if ever a work can redeem its creator, that work is the Danzig Trilogy.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Too much of Holocaust misremembering is self-righteousd political witchhunting. In Grass and Pope Ratzo we have a good illustration of how futile it is to play this stupid game of "fearless Nazi hunter." Neither can be seriously argued to have willingly joined the Nazis. They were already desperate at the time, and shortly after Grass's forced enlistment, the Nazis would be fielding pre-pubescent boys. What is far more telling, as well as usable, is what these men did with their lives after leaving their unfortunate earlier employer. Grass, the German Vonnegut, has unquestionable devoted his life to what can fairly be called fighting the great evils. If Nazism had continued to exist he certainly would've opposed it, given what we know. Pope Ratzo, long after being forced to join the Hitleryouth (and there are questions about this), was a force for capital, cruelty, hatred, patriarchy and reaction within the Vatican. Long before becoming Pope he helped lead the crusade against Liberation Theology, which until JPII squashed it was the closest the church has been to morality in centuries. The Nazis forced Grass to enlist, and there his possible evil ends -- what injured wachtmeister forced Ratzo to condemn contraception and anticorruption?

4:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chavez lauded here.
When a powerful man is perfectly evil, every accusation is swept away as conspiracy theory, and when a less powerful man is less than perfectly good, every shortcoming is tut-tutted over as disqualifying.

2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nothing to do with Grass but possibly very evil: google Denver Airport (or Denver Airport Murals) and read about the extraordinarily inappropriate wierdness. Imagine seeing a massive landscape of desolation and human sufffering bounded by a line of greiving mothers cradling dead babies (and a rainbow[?!!]), dominated in the center by a figure summarized variously as Green Darth Vader or General Skeletor. Imagine seeing (this is in an airport) a huge painting of a dead Jewish girl clutching a bible. Imagine building a massive five billion dollar boondoggle in a city that already had a superior airport, then closing the superior one to prevent competition. Imagine building a complicated state-of-the-art structure, announcing it was built in the wrong place and so instead of moving or destroying it you would bury it intact underground, and give it ducts to the surface (with fences around them!), --and then making the same extraordinarily expensive mistake four more times. Of course you have to ignore the implanted crazy defenses you'll come across -- this stuff about aliens and the Queen of England being the most powerful person on earth -- but you'll find that that cosmic humor was the lightest nonsense, and that you'll be left with stuff far more distressing than any stupid alien autopsy. I stumbled onto this and now I'm hooked, there is so much here that not only makes no sense but smells all wrong, sticking just to the most solid and reasonable stuff.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Be afraid! Arabs have been seen working in the cell phone business! The local Drexall's might be the next target!
Belgian Gladio analog:

Lekeau said "the guns they were using were coming from far away and that's exactly what we had planned, to organize gangs and groups like that and let them go by themselves, but make sure they will survive and make sure to supply them and you know just to create a climate of terror in the country - [a] so-called 'Left movement" who will do a terrorist attempt just to make-believe, make the population believe that these terrorist attempts were done by the left."

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Did Gorbachev return his peace Nobel after fucking up the Baltic states?

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the question of redemption legitimate? I wouldn't let Roman Polanski near my hypothetical kids but then I adore his directing and I really don't see what one has to do with the other. Goering, who was caught because he wouldn't give up his art, proved that all the culture in the West will not save you from immorality; and before him every noble in Europe, Byron to Bathory, had already. In fact as we go back everybody gets worse, accepting rape as an overlappng category with sex (in fact only recently has patriarchy recognized that they aren't the same thing), owning slaves, believing scientific racism and so forth. None of Woodrow Wilson's serious modern defenders have much good to say about his stunning-for-its-time racism.
There is this pacifying delusion on the part of many American liberals that "art can change the world," be just as good as activism, or serve as a get out of jail free card later. Biographies of activists who were secondarily artists routinely omit "political details," leaving the impression that a painting or song accomplished some social coup. There is a character in Robert Jordan's "Thanksgiving," who cannot contribute meanigfully to the terrorist group, and when confronted by anything retreats to his precious Dylan on somebody else's stereo. That character was a perfect caricature of many "liberals."

8:50 PM  

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