The Heritage of Günter Grass – a Vision

Uneducated critics who worship only money (or markets) are making fun of Günter Grass‘ latest poem, the one about the EU and Greece, or Germany and Greece, or Merkel and Greece… That’s how an educated critic – a critic who praises the poem – criticized those who criticize the poem, the second one by Grass within weeks. It’s the educated critics who decide who is educated, and who is uneducated, of course.

If Grass continues to churn out poems at his current rate, not only the “uneducated” will lose interest. But a very educated team of class book editors will, years on, sit at a round table full of newspaper clippings, in a conference center, their foreheads furrowed, and curse the old master:

“Fuck – which one shall we take? Why are there no pictures added to the later ones? And when did he challenge himself last time?”

Don’t keep encouraging the old sage. His heritage is going to haunt you.



» What Must be Said, Guardian, April 5, 2012


2 Comments to “The Heritage of Günter Grass – a Vision”

  1. I have been paying some real attention to the situation since following the controversy that erupted with the publication of Guenter Grass’s poem warning of the consequences of an Israeli first strike, here the links to the archive for the


    and to various ensuing discussions

    A compendium of critical opinions

    And of positive takes http://summapolitico.blogspot/05/defense-of-beast-post-mortem-part-ii-of.html



  2. Only a share of the people who resent the message of Grass’ “What must be said” poem seem to suggest that it’s “no poem”. Everyone else, with or without much experience to judge its quality reckons that Grass knows how to write a poem, and has his toolkit ready.

    The reason why I see no political use in his poem about Greece is that it personifies “the market”, rather than its players – and let’s face it, common people and governments, just as big investors or speculators, are players. A poem may hit its limits here – unless it can explain to the people of Slovakia why they should be liable for people with much better incomes.

    A poem contains the unutterable one, Siegfried Lenz (himself no lyricist) once said – his focus on expressionism and nature lyricism, rather than on didactic poetry. That “one” thing about Israel? Convincingly or not, Grass said it, and he wasn’t gagged for it. In fact, his poem has been published and discussed broadly.

    A didactic poem would be about responsibility only – but the latter part of Grass’ “What must be said” is about feelings. Moshe Zuckerman (in German, I take it that you speak German):

    Zum Wesen des Tabus gehört es, dass es ein Stillschweigen über etwas gebietet, was zwar gewusst oder geahnt, aber unausgesprochen bleiben muss. Das „Muss“ ist dabei einer gesellschaftlichen bzw. kulturellen Konvention geschuldet, einer Übereinkunft, der man anthropologisch oder soziologisch verschiedene Funktionen zuschreiben mag, die aber als historisch entstandene keine Absolutheit beanspruchen darf. Die Tabuübertretung ist, so besehen, der Ausbruch aus einer Konvention, der deshalb geahndet wird, weil die schiere Konvention für unantastbar erklärt worden ist. Das Problem mit dem Einhalten des Tabus beginnt indes dort, wo sich die Konvention als in partikularem Sinne interessengeleitet, mithin als im Wesen ideologisch erweist. Ein solcher Tabubruch wirkt sich als narzisstische Kränkung der Konventionsplatzhalter aus, eine aggressionsfördernde Kränkung, die sich ihrerseits dem Ärger über den – dem ideologischen Eigeninteresse der Platzhalter durch besagten Tabubruch –zugefügten Schaden verschwistert weiß.

    There’s a negative kind of romanticism at work, in my view – on both sides. Mortifications rather than facts or responsibilities have caused the stir. If Grass’ two recent poems are in a tradition of didactic poetry, they look rather college-teacher-like to me, both in their idealism and their resentment. Hence my vision above.

    Above all, however, once a poem with a political message becomes a long one – especially these days -, the question seems to arise if an essay wouldn’t do a much better job.

    I’m not a German teacher. In fact, my knowledge of poetry is rather limited. But to suggest that the public should get a sound understanding of Grass’ artistic toolkit before discussing these poems’ content would be no less assumptive than to suggest that Grass didn’t write poems at all.


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