August 21, 2006

Günter Grass (2) — the anti-bourgeois

Posted in Germany, Guenter Grass at 9:49 pm by billdawson

Wolfgang at Kapitalismus-Magazin:

Aber kann man über dieses Verhalten von Grass wirklich so überrascht sein oder muss nicht vielmehr festgestellt werden, dass es absolut zu dem passt, was Grass in den letzten Jahrzehnten politisch abgesondert hat?

(But can one really be so surprised about Grass’s behavior? Can’t we instead conclude that it is perfectly consistent with the political Günter Grass of recent decades?) [not a perfect translation from me, but I think it matches the sense and meaning of what Wolfgang is saying.]

Bravo. I think (I’ll have to look it up and write more about it later) that somewhere in that FAZ interview that Grass gave — or perhaps in an excerpt from the autobiography — Grass says something like (I think!) that the stifling bourgeois atmosphere of his family home is what interested him in volunteering for the submariners. If I’m right about that, it is, after all, indeed consistent with the anti-bourgeois leftist Grass of later years.

More along these lines… Wolfgang links to an excellent opinion piece by Wolfgang Münchau in the Financial Times Deutschland. Münchau begins by using Wagner (whose Bayreuth festival is going on right now) as a partial metaphor for Grass; one can enjoy the artistic Wagner in spite of Wagner the anti-semite. Regarding Grass, Münchau says that those who are calling for the revocation of his Nobel Prize for literature are being absurd. As for the political Grass:

Grass ist kein Antisemit wie Wagner, kein Nazi, kein alter Kommunist, sondern ein unerträglicher Doppelmoralist und, schlimmer noch, er ist ein Gegner freiheitlich-demokratischer Politik.

(Grass is not an anti-semite like Wagner, not a Nazi, not an old communist, but rather an insufferable double-moralist and, worse yet, an opponent of free, democratic politics.)

Münchau lists some examples, such as Grass pinning blame for 9/11 on the US and, during the recent “capitalism debate” in Germany (touched-off by Franz Müntefering), taking up his pen to argue that the parliament is run by banks and industry associations and that it subverts democracy in the name of global capitalism, which is discredited and “on the run.”

What Münchau finds noteworthy in all this is that the typical German reaction to the Waffen-SS connection is probably one of surprise because Germans are more likely (than Americans) to see the far right and the far left as being, in fact, opposites. Americans, he argues, would more likely see the extremes of the left and the right bending around to meet each other.

Bingo; that’s certainly how I see it. Münchau:

Grass’ Geschichte spiegelt die Lebenslüge der deutschen Linken. Sie glaubten, links sei das Gegenteil von rechts, und linksextrem sei das Gegenteil von rechtsextrem. Sie sahen sich als die wahren Antinazis. Sie betrachteten die bürgerlichen Parteien CDU, CSU und FDP als die Fortsetzung des Faschismus mit anderen Mitteln. Noch absurder ist, dass sie die USA in demselben Licht betrachteten, ungeachtet dessen, dass ohne Eintritt der USA in den Zweiten Weltkrieg der Faschismus gesiegt hätte.

(Grass’s story shows the lifelong lie of the German left. They believed that left is the opposite of right and that the extreme left is the opposite of the extreme right. They saw themselves as the real anti-Nazis. They viewed the bourgeois parties — the CDU, CSU and FDP — as the continuation of fascism by other means. Even more absurd is that they considered the USA in the same light and ignored the fact that without the USA’s entry into World War Two, fascism would have emerged victorious.)

Could the Grass confessions lead to some useful soul-searching by the German left? Certainly not. Could it at least open the eyes of those amongst the normal germans (i.e., the dreaded bourgeois!) who are prone to seeing the left in a favorable light? I hope so, but I wouldn’t count on it.

August 20, 2006

Günter Grass

Posted in Germany, Guenter Grass at 4:42 pm by billdawson

[ed. note: I edited this entry to remove the original german excerpts of the Keese article. The side-by-side german-english didn’t look good. Of course you can see the full german text at the Welt am Sonntag site.]

I have spent an astonishing amount of time over the last few days catching up on the stories about Günter Grass’s admission that he was part of the Waffen-SS during the last months of the second world war. I doubt if there is much coverage of the topic in the States, so if you are interested and you need a backgrounder, the english Wikipedia entry about Grass includes a decent overview of the events of the last week.

My own opinion — should anybody care — is that it certainly diminishes the political Günter Grass and rises to the level of a disgrace for which he should be deeply ashamed and embarrassed.

It was a gigantic mistake to remain silent about this for 60 years. What if he had disclosed this early on? I think that would have definitely impacted his ability to be the explicitly political moralizer that he turned out to be (Bitburg, etc.), but I think he still could have gone on to become the literary moral conscience of the nation that some make him out to be. In other words, I don’t think his admission really impacts his novels (I have read only one, by the way.) Had he admitted from the get-go that he was part of the Waffen-SS, I think his novels still could have had the impact that they did. In fact, perhaps the knowledge that the author was himself, as a teenager, a member of the Waffen-SS, would have made the novels even more compelling to his German audience.

Choosing as he did to be much more than “just” a novelist, to be overtly political and, especially, to be so accusatory towards others whom he deemed to be covering up or minimizing their own or Germany’s guilt, his silence was very shameful indeed.

To make it worse, it seems as though he is not being very forthcoming about it all. Of all the articles I have read on the subject, my favorite to date has been Christoph Keese’s “Was bleibt von Günter Grass?” (“What’s left of Günter Grass?”), available at the website of the German newspaper “Welt am Sonntag.” It is my favorite because Keese manages to be very critical, yet not too emotional or overboard (as opposed to another article which I’ll discuss later). And he gives some good reasons why we might consider Grass’s “confession” as a less than complete account. I’ll translate some of Keese’s most interesting remarks below.

[Note: because this is a rather lengthy post, I’ve split it so that it doesn’t take up such a big piece of the front page. Click the link below to continue reading.]

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