The Lies of Günter Grass

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It’s a curious fact that the reputation of many contemporary novelists of popular distinction rests on a single book. Think, for example, of Umberto Eco. Had he not written The Name of the Rose, he would be better known today as an essayist and semiotician who had also published some interesting if not particularly memorable fiction. (The one exception to the rule might be Foucault’s Pendulum.) This is even truer of Norwegian antisemite, Jostein Gaarder, whose Sophie’s World catapulted him to international acclaim. The works that followed might best be portrayed as competent-to-forgettable. Ditto the anti-Zionist Louis De Bernière whose Captain Corelli’s Mandolin was his one resonant success, and Portuguese antisemite and Nobel Laureate José Saramago, whose only readable book was The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis.

As for Germany’s most famous living novelist, Günter Grass pretty well consorts with the paradigm, The Tin Drum having established him as a major literary and political voice of the twentieth century. Admittedly, subsequent books like Dog Years and The Flounder were notable achievements. But absent the beating of The Tin Drum, the callithumpian parade of Grass’ works in the public arena would have been far less spectacular. He cannot be dismissed as a one-shot Johnny, but his oeuvre arguably does not justify his inflated réclame. Indeed, for some time now, he has been living off the interest from the capital he invested in his heyday. Sadly, Grass lost it long ago.

This has not prevented him from generating considerable controversy with the publication in the German daily Süddeutschen Zeitung of an anti-Israeli poem titled What Must Be Said (Was gesagt werden muss). As Sebastian Hammelehle informs us in Der Spiegal Online, the German expression “what must be said” connotes the conversational cliché “There’s no law against saying that…”, which would appear to carry the same smarmy patina in our culture as “Some of my best friends are Jews.” Thus Grass does not hesitate to assert in the poem that Israel is a country “to which I am bound.” The lie is so palpable as to be embarrassing.

Similarly, Frank Schirrmacher, an editor at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, points out that Grass’ use of the word Überlebende (survivor) “to describe his situation and the plight of Germans in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran,” is disingenuous. “Traditionally, the word “survivor” is associated—in a German-language context—with Jewish survivors of the Shoah.” Schirrmacher believes that Grass, who in his youth was a member of the Nazi Waffen SS, is engaged in a duplicitous attempt to “make peace with his own biography.”

It must be said that, whatever his motives and talents may be, Grass is obviously not a poet and What Must Be Said is demonstrably not a poem. The language of the piece is scarcely even workmanlike, fishtailing between the unctuously pulpiteering and the colorlessly prosaic. There is nothing about this dismal effort that says “I have to be a poem.” Had it been written as a short prose essay with a heavily propagandistic slant, there would have been no detectable difference. The thing has no literary merit whatsoever; to put it bluntly, it is an execrable piece of fustian.

The same must be said of the sentiment the “poem” expresses, which, as Hammelehle puts it, constitutes a “lyrical first strike” against the Jewish state. Except that there is nothing lyrical about a flat and pompous verbal eructation riddled with lies, false assumptions, evasions and catarrhal flecks of disinformation.

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  • Anthony

    Excellent article. Your analysis of Grass hits on a very important point. Israel’s nuclear deterrent is essential to its survival, and would never be used except in an existential crisis. The leaders of Israel are responsible, duly elected representatives of the only sane and democratic country in the entire region. Israel respects and cares for human rights and has demonstrated the character of the Jewish people by giving away so much , in return for the empty promises of Arab and Moslem negotiation partners who rely on demonization and guilt and lies to slowly destroy Israel.

    Yet Gunther Grass worries about Israel and ignores North Korea, Pakistan, Red China, etc.

    Yup. Sounds like a clear cut case of Israeliphobia.

    • Irshad Ali PS

      I feel pity on you for your parochial views.Israel can have nuclear weapon for its protection.But Iran cannot.How nonsensical it's? How could you justify the leaders of Israel who are so intolerable that hey cant tolerate even a literary peace against them.The civilized world knows very well about the responsible ways of Israeli leaders and how they had been handling the Palestine issue for the last few decades,the whole world has a great understanding about the brutal and murderous ways of Israel mercilessly wiping out hundreds of thousands of Poor Palestinians.Only with the inhuman backing of America you can survive.But you understand one fact all these brutalities will come to an halt one day.The whole world is eagerly waiting for that moment.The glory and shameful tactics of Americans will see an end and with that the obnoxious ways of Israel also will be terminated by the peace-loving masses…It'll happen in a not so distant future…wait and watch…

      • AJ – Raalte

        You cannot count: less than 50,000 Arabs in total have died in their wars of agression and terrorism against Israel, over 64 years of trying to destroy the nation state of the Jewish people and drive all the Jews into the sea.

  • digdigby

    His argument for Iran is as authentic as the crappy and embarrassing dye job on his eighty-something hair.

    • LibertyBelle

      That's a whoopie toupée.

      • digdigby

        Oh, I'm sorry…. he's wearing a 'real toupee'. I didn't know. I thought he was trying to fool us by dyeing his hair.

  • Imran

    I was about to write a comment that in this poem, Günter Grass breaks a long standing German taboo and publicly criticises Israel for aggressive warmongering against Iran, identifies the Jewish state as a threat to world peace, accuses "the West" of hypocrisy and denounces his own government for providing nuclear submarines to Israel, but I guess its ok to point everywhere but at the elephant in the room.

    • ziontruth

      Islam is imperialist aggression, Islam is the threat to world peace, Islam is the culprit, Islam is the elephant in the room.

      • Tim

        Oh dear. To me, this sounds very fundamentalistic. Just like a muslim extremist would sound. Indestinguishable.

  • dysgenic

    Israel is a pathological entity and Zionism is an incendiary ideology that threatens us all.

    • stern

      And once again, the worms come out of the woodwork.

  • Imran

    Given the history that culminated in the Jewish Holocaust, Jews around the globe, including Israel, have every right to get agitated with a prominent German public intellectual lecturing them about violence. But Zionism is chiefly responsible for having wasted the moral authority of the Jewish Holocaust – through what Norman Finkelstein has aptly called "the Holocaust Industry"

    • reader

      Zionism is the claim for a Jewish state. There's nothing immoral about it. The nonsensical lie about Zionism as racism is the KGB line for mindless parrots.

    • stern

      Finkelstein's horrendous slander of people who had everything taken from them is grist for the mill when it comes to useful idiots and Jew-haters like you. Better to keep your mouth (and your keyboard) silent than display your ignorant hatred.

    • ziontruth

      "But Zionism is chiefly responsible for having wasted the moral authority of the Jewish Holocaust"

      Zionism, even in its renewed, 19th-century form, not to mention its Biblical one, predates the Holocaust. Zionism is not about redress for past wrongs committed on the Jewish people, but about the rightful claim of the Jewish nation to political sovereignty and unlimited inhabitation of the Land of Israel a.k.a. Palestine by virtue of the Jews being the one and only nation truly connected to this land.

      Zionism is righteous; Arab/Islamic and Marxist opposition to the Jewish nation's rights in the Land of Israel is wicked imperialist aggression and will one day be punished.

  • wctaqiyya

    There's some good meat on this bone. Great article and comments. And only seven so far, which leaves me some room to maneuver. First, Gunter can certainly write and speak as he wishes and he has talent. However, I think David is correct to point out the flaws in Gunter's argument. First, to say or imply that Israeli nuclear capability is or has been a threat to regional stability is complete nonsense because there is zero evidence for this proposition. Never, to my knowledge, has Israel ever promised to eradicate any of her neighbors. Iran, on the other hand, has done that many times. But this Waffen SS thing has me intrigued. Does anyone know what SS division Gunter served in? I am skeptical of Gunter's 'conscript' claim. The SS maintained 'high' standards for membership through the end of the war. Those units, to my knowledge, were exclusively composed of volunteers. Further, the regular army panzer crews were considered elite through the end of the war and the SS panzer crews even more so. As with the parachute regiments, the SS panzer troops were composed of the highest caliber qualified volunteers. In short, I do not believe Gunter was a conscript.

    • tarleton

      He was, according to him , conscripted in sept 44 …by that stage in the war there WAS conscription in the SS…..but Grass is still a creep

      • wctaqiyya

        Yes, 10th SS Panzer Division. Conscripted. Thank you for clarification tarleton. Seems he was Hitler youth from 10 till about 16 years old. Involved somehow with the Luftwaffe and wanted to join the submarine service? Conscripted to SS panzer at 16 or 17. Busy boy. Hitler youth was pretty much mandatory. And conscripted is conscripted. Fair enough. Is any of this information independently confirmed? It seems he volunteered the information about the 10th SS panzer division on or around 2006. U.S. Army records should be able to confirm. It looks like Gunter was in the SS for just a few months. Was there no training period? Gunter Grass kind of reminds me of Jerzy Kosinski and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Very talented and controversial fellows. No wonder he sells books, he's like Dr. Frankenstein, an emotionally damaged and overly dramatic mad genius. Great subject matter.
        No matter how hard I try not to, I learn something every day. Darn…

  • LibertyBelle

    David Solway adroitly mowed down Günter's Grass.

    • fightwarnotwars

      I'm sure Grass gives a crap about what a few "bloggers" and commentators think.

      • stern

        Thought you had a job that kept you too busy to post nonsense here. Explain to me why you're back.

    • wctaqiyya

      Oh my, David choked out Gunter before the first bell even dinged. A fact based argument can do that. But, like a dog with a bone, I still wonder what 'conscript' means for Gunter after 6 years of Hitler Youth training and volunteering for the dangerous submarine service? It seems he wasn't going to sit in the cheering section, no matter what. Cheers.

  • g_jochnowitz

    The Left licks Islamic ass.

  • fightwarnotwars

    This is idiotic, if we all really took a look at the personal feelings and even some of the lesser known works of most writers/composers/artists we'd have to really thin out our books/music collections. How many historical american figures, entrepreneurs, authors, artists were anti-Semites? How many singers/composers have you enjoyed listening to that probably had some pretty offensive politics or ideas about other people?

    So the guy wrote one poem that attacks Israeli foreign policy, big f'ckn deal. Most of you had never even heard of him until you read this post. I don't recall having to read any of his books in schools (college neither) and although the Tin Drum (the movie is probably far more popular than the book) is a cult-art house film at best which most people have never seen.

    The fact that the Israeli government is making such a big deal out of this, to the point of banning the guy from ever entering Israel just shows how small-minded and hysterical the Likud government is.

    • wctaqiyya

      Your point is taken. However, Israel is in the middle of a war for survival and nations have a habit of getting overly protective when those stakes are on the table. Japanese internment camps….. you know.

  • fightwarnotwars

    and I have to wonder… did the author of this blog post read the poem in German? or just a literal English translation? That makes a really big difference on if it reads as a poem or not.

    • stern

      Explain to me why you're wasting your time here.

  • Ghostwriter

    If I were German,I'd be embarrased by Gunter Grass. He's an idiot who embarrassed his country in the eyes of the world. Also,people like Imran and dysengic are anti-semitic creeps who despise Jews simply for living on this planet.

  • Schlomotion

    "One might feel sorry for Günter Grass were he not so dangerous…"

    Yes. Dangerous, dangerous thought criminal. Thinking illegal dangerous thoughts that defame nation states as if they were individuals. Good thing Israel closed its border to him before his dangerous thought crimes could enter the country. Good thing several Zionists immediately shredded his poem by putting it in scare quotes, so that no one outside Israel would dare to like it.

    • stern

      Let's all give schlockmeister exactly the reaction it deserves. Let's all ignore this Jew-hating trash-talking piece of garbage.

      • Schlomotion

        Don't you think BDS is a little childish? Or is it OK to do to thought criminals who like poetry that the Israeli government thinks is too much of a national security risk to have heard?

        • stern

          What BDS? Nobody says you can't come here and say whatever you want. I simply suggest that your garbage isn't worth reacting to.

          • Schlomotion

            In a coordinated fashion, apparently.

    • Touchstone

      You're obtuse and on a crusade, so you always miss the point. That's why you have to insert your own point and then respond to it. It's as if you're always talking to yourself, because your posts relate so distantly to what it is you'd have us believe you're responding to.

      Obviously, Grass is "dangerous" (in the sense of shaping public sentiment) because he's a Nobel-winning author whose opinions have influence. He's not some nobody; he's considered the preeminent living writer in Germany, so he's an authority figure with the power to persuade. Persuasive, Jew-baiting authority figures have a particularly bad history in Germany. Ask Germans themselves why they've passed laws against what you would call the "thought crime" of denying the Holocaust. Perhaps it's not just Zionists who recognize the danger posed by certain thoughts.

      Your posts wouldn't be complete without a hysterical exaggeration of some kind, and you didn't disappoint. It's no longer a personal, private "thought crime" when that thought is widely publicized in print, persuading people and inciting them.

  • issac brott

    why let someone who doesn't know how to use a toilet come into your house and defecate on the floor?

    • Schlomotion

      If the sign on the door says "Occupied," it's not a house.

  • Irshad Ali PS

    Gunter Grass has every right to respond against the brutal,iniquitous acts of Israel against the innocent Arabs.Being a luminary literary figure the whole world respects and revers it's his moral responsibility to voice against the aggressive ways of Israel.He has shown enough courage to speak out against Israel as a major threat for world peace.He should be extolled for his bold stand against the western hypocrisy in protesting against the unjust and inhuman deeds of Israel against the native people of Palestine.His poem,I do believe that,will act as an eyeopener for all those intellectuals and authors who are still favoring Israel…

    • AJ – Raalte

      Yeah, yeah, Israeli "agression" = breathing while Jewish.

      Can't have that, now can ye?!

  • Rector

    Saramago novels “unreadable “? I have enjoyed reading them .I can believe the truth is in the art .

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