Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism. Published by Cow Eye Press

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Rodney Welch


I ask this sincerely and not because I have a sarcastic response up my sleeve: is it possible to appreciate Grass on a purely aesthetic level? I haven't read him in awhile, so I myself don't have a quick answer. I recall much of "The Tin Drum" that is rich and powerful in its nightmarish and metaphoric and chilling beauty -- but I think as a whole (rather than in select parts) he's almost as much ideologue as he is artist. If a man's art and politics are intertwined, then his books stand to suffer -- or at least will be examined in a new way.

I think that's where a lot of the problem lies for his future readership, in Germany or elsewhere. He's always been the great scourge of the German conscience, sort of like Thomas Mann before him, and now he looks like the great hypocritical scourge, the diagnostician who couldn't heal himself.

I can't speak to how it will affect his literary reputation, but I suspect this revelation is going to make him a prime candidate for re-evaluation by a new generation of scholars who feel no emotional debt to him. Biographical critics and Freudians will have quite a wonderful time as well. He has given them all quite a thread to pull. They will go back and re-read, thoroughly, every word he has written, and they will have their highlighters ready for every passage involving guilt and hypocrisy and what have you.

So I guess, in the long run, I don't think the Waffen-SS connection is going to blow over or go away. I think it will be bad for him.

I like to be a purist where a work of art is concerned and focus strictly on the work itself. Real life does have a way of casting a shadow, like it or not. Look at the case of Leni Riefenstahl -- it's hard to merely stand back from "Triumph of the Will" and admire the formal beauty of its images.

Dan Green

I really don't think it's the Waffen-SS connection per se that is at issue. After all, Grass was a 17-year old conscript. If he had acknowledged at the beginning of his career that he had served in the Waffen-SS, would we now think it had compromised his career as an artist?

I do think it's possible to appreciate Grass's novels on a purely aesthetic level. When I read The Tin Drum I knew virtually nothing about his role as "spokesman," and I found it a very aesthetically satisfying work of fiction. Now that I am aware of that role, I still think it is an aesthetically satisfying work of fiction. Is my response invalid?

Rodney Welch

"If he had acknowledged at the beginning of his career that he had served in the Waffen-SS, would we now think it had compromised his career as an artist?"

I wouldn't; after all, he's never lied about having a Nazi upbringing. But the great question is why he's spent the last half-century keeping mum. John Irving said Grass shouldn't be held accountable for a mistake he made at 17, but that isn't the issue either. The issue is not confessing your role when you are urging your country to confess theirs. From the standpoint of his country, I think people are on firm ground saying "Who are you to lecture us on anything?"

Perhaps I make too much of the damage to his reputation as a world artist. Maybe in the end, Grass will be considered a little like Faulkner, who was more honest, brave, forward-thinking and prophetic in novels like "Absalom, Absalom!" than in his public comments to newspapers on integration.

Gerard Beirne

All great writing depends on ambivalence - the two truths - and all great novelists have explored this - Gunther Grass too. His past, despite many misgivings, if anything makes him more complex - much more the human being we all are. We are at a loss to understand ourselves and thus we turn to the written word. Let us not be too hasty to judge.

Rodney Welch

How does it make him more complex? If anything, it makes him simple, crude, base, obvious, shallow. There's no mystery why he kept his mouth shut all these; he had worked too hard erecting the statue called Gunter Grass and he didn't want to pull it down, at least until he entered his declining years.

Gerard Beirne

Up to this point the discussion was informative. I guess now Rodney you have shown your true colours. I bow out...

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