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Günter Grass and His Critics

Günter Grass and His Critics: From The Tin Drum to Crabwalk

Siegfried Mews
Volume: 18
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 434
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt81z13
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  • Book Info
    Günter Grass and His Critics
    Book Description:

    When the Swedish Academy announced that Günter Grass had been awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize for Literature, it singled out his first novel The Tin Drum (1959, English translation 1963) as a seminal work that had signaled thepostwar rebirth of German letter

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-796-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    Although GÜnter Grass (b. 1927) was not an entirely unknown entity in the postwar literary scene of the mid-1950s, in which the influential Gruppe 47 played a significant role, it was the publication of his sensational Die Blechtrommel in 1959 (The Tin Drum, 1963; see ch. 1) that made him a household name in his native country as well as among literati abroad. The novel was both praised and reviled and has remained his best-known work; it was ultimately Die Blechtrommel for which Grass was awarded the 1999 Nobel Prize (Grass’s numerous other prizes are listed in Mertens, Hermes, and...

  5. Part 1: Danzig, Center of the Universe

    • 1: Die Blechtrommel / The Tin Drum
      (pp. 15-59)

      Attraktion und Ärgernis (attractiveness and nuisance), the subtitle of Franz Josef Görtz’s 1984 anthology of reviews of Die Blechtrommel, which appeared on occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of its publication, aptly summarizes the wide divergence and contradictory nature of critical opinion that Grass’s first novel elicited. Although Die Blechtrommel is today acknowledged as the major work of postwar German literature, its present-day canonical status tends to obscure the decidedly mixed reactions it initially received. True, Gruppe 47, that most influential gathering of postwar West German literati, awarded Grass their prepublication prize for reading two chapters from the manuscript of the novel...

    • 2: Katz und Maus / Cat and Mouse
      (pp. 60-76)

      In his compilation and summary evaluation of Grass criticism, Heinz Ludwig Arnold (1997) devotes just over five pages to Katz und Maus, which was first published in 1961, whereas Die Blechtrommel merits fourteen and a half pages. While such quantitative measurements do not provide a firm basis for the comparison in aesthetic terms of the two works in question, they do allow us to draw conclusions as to the scope and the intensity of their reception, inasmuch as reviewers understandably tended to refer to Grass’ first monumental success when discussing its much slimmer sequel. Arnold’s summary is somewhat misleading in...

    • 3: Hundejahre / Dog Years
      (pp. 77-91)

      The publication of Grass’s second novel, Hundejahre, which appeared in September 1963, was preceded by advance publicity: prior to its availability in bookstores excerpts were published, and Grass read from his manuscript in a TV broadcast — a distinctly uncommon practice at the time. If the novel did not, perhaps, become quite the “literary sensation” that at least one reviewer predicted (Ungureit 1963), the resonance it achieved in terms of both critical acclaim and sales figures — three hundred thousand copies were sold within three months, owing in part to the skillful publicity campaign on the part of Grass’s publisher, Luchterhand — was...

    • 4: Danziger Trilogie / The Danzig Trilogy
      (pp. 92-100)

      Although comparisons between Grass’s first three major narratives had been made before, John Reddick (1975), taking a cue from the author, who supposedly complained about the lack of critics’ recognition of the interrelation of the three works (see Reddick 1971), was the first to state explicitly that Die Blechtrommel, Katz und Maus, and Hundejahre belong “together as a kind of trilogy” (xi), show a “genetic relationship” (xii), and “amount to a distinctive complex” (xiii). He based this claim on the virtually simultaneous origin of concepts, drafts, and plans that then evolved into the three related yet separate texts, which he...

  6. Part 2: From Danzig to the Global Stage:: Grass’s Fiction of the 1970s and 1980s

    • 5: Örtlich betäubt / Local Anaesthetic
      (pp. 103-119)

      The Publication Of Örtlich betäubt in the summer of 1969 was preceded by the (West) Berlin premiere of Grass’s play Davor (WA 8:479–555; translated as Max, 1972) in February of the same year. Davor essentially corresponds to the second part of the novel, in which the secondary-school teacher Eberhard Starusch — nicknamed “Old Hardy” by his students — seeks to dissuade his favorite student Philipp Scherbaum from going through with his planned protest, which consists of dousing his beloved dog Max with gasoline for the purpose of a public immolation. Scherbaum’s drastic and cruel measure is intended to sharpen dog-loving (West)...

    • 6: Aus dem Tagebuch einer Schnecke / From the Diary of a Snail
      (pp. 120-136)

      Like that of Örtlich betäubt, the publication of Aus dem Tagebuch einer Schnecke (Tagebuch) in the fall of 1972 elicited a response that emphasized Grass’s political commitment and activities. Such a response was not without justification inasmuch as the “semi-fictive” prose text (Moser 2000, 97) is in part a somewhat fictionalized account of the author’s engagement in the campaign of 1969 on behalf of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), an engagement that resulted in that party’s strong showing (Grass cites the “figures on our close victory” in DS, 5). As a consequence, the so-called grand coalition then in power, a...

    • 7: Der Butt / The Flounder
      (pp. 137-168)

      Nearly five years after the publication of Aus dem Tagebuch einer Schnecke, a period that Grass mostly spent working assiduously on his new novel, Der Butt appeared in August 1977. Its publication was preceded by extraordinarily intense media interest, which was in part fuelled by critics’ expectations that after Tagebuch, which had been less than enthusiastically received (see ch. 6), Grass would redeem himself by presenting a “genuine” novel in the manner of Die Blechtrommel: that is, without straying too far into the realm of contemporaneous politics. In addition, the reading public’s curiosity about Der Butt was aroused by a...

    • 8: Das Treffen in Telgte / The Meeting at Telgte
      (pp. 169-187)

      Approximately a year and a half after the publication of the vast and controversial novel Der Butt, the much less voluminous “Erzählung” or prose narrative Das Treffen in Telgte (Treffen) appeared in the spring of 1979; rather surprisingly in view of Grass’s political and aesthetic stance, which contravened official GDR doctrine (see A. Weber 1995, 149 n. 66), an edition became available a few years later, in 1984, in that part of Germany. The volume is dedicated to Hans Werner Richter (1908–93) on the occasion of his seventieth birthday; Richter was the guiding light, chief organizer/coordinator, and chronicler (see...

    • 9: Kopfgeburten oder Die Deutschen sterben aus / Headbirths or The Germans Are Dying Out
      (pp. 188-203)

      In June 1980, less than a year after the publication of Das Treffen in Telgte and shortly after Grass’s return from his second extensive journey to Southeast and East Asia in the fall of 1979, on which he was accompanied by Ute Grunert, his second wife, Kopfgeburten (Headbirths or The Germans Are Dying Out, 1982) appeared on the book market. The weekly Die Zeit published the entire eighth chapter in May of the same year, accompanied by a laudatory introductory note by Fritz J. Raddatz (1980), one of the few major critics who fairly consistently took Grass’s side and who...

    • 10: Die Rättin / The Rat
      (pp. 204-234)

      In November/December 1985 Die Zeit published the first and fourth chapters of Die Rättin, Grass’s new prose narrative of indeterminate genre (the author deliberately omits any classification), and the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel serialized it (see H. L. Arnold 1997, 160). The printing of the first chapter in Die Zeit was accompanied by a brief but highly laudatory review from the pen of Fritz Raddatz (1985) who praised the book as a work of fiction of extraordinary power and unfettered imagination that presents a prophecy of doom of global dimensions and still manages to create suspense despite its complicated structure....

    • 11: Zunge zeigen / Show Your Tongue
      (pp. 235-246)

      Zunge zeigen, which was published in the fall of 1988, is the result of Grass and his wife Ute’s extended sojourn in India from August 1986 to January 1987. They stayed predominantly in Calcutta (Kolkata), capital of British India from 1772 to 1912 and today’s capital of the state of West Bengal, a city that also plays a prominent role in the subchapter on Vasco da Gama in Der Butt (see ch. 7). Even more so than Die Rättin, Zunge zeigen is of indeterminate genre, inasmuch as it encompasses, in the German original, a prose text of approximately ninety pages,...

  7. Part 3: After Reunification:: Old Problems and New Beginnings

    • 12: Unkenrufe / The Call of the Toad
      (pp. 249-263)

      A little over a year after the publication of Zunge zeigen (1988), momentous historical events took place in Germany: the opening of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, subsequent German (re)unification in October 1990, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. Grass, who since the 1960s had addressed various aspects of the “German question” in speeches, essays, and public debates, emerged — in contrast, for example, to his friend and mentor Willy Brandt (1913–1992), former Chancellor of the Federal Republic — as a prominent intellectual opponent of reunification and vigorous advocate of a confederation of the two...

    • 13: Ein weites Feld / Too Far Afield
      (pp. 264-299)

      The cover of Der Spiegel (21 August 1995) shows critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki literally tearing apart a copy of Grass’s Ein weites Feld, and the condescendingly rather than cordially phrased caption reads, “Mein lieber Günter Grass.…” In what amounts to a review of the novel in the form of a purportedly open letter in the same journal, Reich-Ranicki proceeds to assure Grass that he esteems him as an extraordinary writer, but, at the same time, he professes to be unable to hide the fact that he considers Ein weites Feld an utter failure, because Grass has tackled a highly charged political...

    • 14: Mein Jahrhundert / My Century
      (pp. 300-313)

      As happened in the case of Ein weites Feld four years earlier, the official publication on 7 July 1999 of Mein Jahrhundert, in both a text version and an edition with watercolors, was accompanied and preceded by Grass’s readings from his new work (Schade 2004 provides an account of one Grass’s performances; see below), radio and TV broadcasts, interviews, exhibits, an advance publication in the weekly Die Zeit (1 July 1999), and a meeting of translators in Göttingen as early as April 1999 during which Grass sought to explain difficult passages and terms in this specifically “German” work (H. Zimmermann...

    • 15: Im Krebsgang / Crabwalk
      (pp. 314-333)

      Shortly before the publication of Im Krebsgang, the influential news magazine Der Spiegel published a laudatory cover story-cumreview by Volker Hage (2002a), which featured this new book by Grass. Hage’s extensive, favorable essay constitutes a somewhat startling reversal, inasmuch as star critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki had mercilessly panned Grass’s novel Ein weites Feld in another Spiegel cover story several years earlier (1995; see ch. 13). Yet in 2002, the same critic extravagantly praised Im Krebsgang in his Solo TV show (Fries 2002), and he celebrated its canonization (H. L. Arnold 2002, 38). Rudolf Augstein (1923–2002), the founder of Der Spiegel...

  8. Epilogue
    (pp. 334-342)

    Preceding the release of Grass’s memoirs Beim Häuten der Zwiebel, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (12 August 2006) published an interview, conducted by Frank Schirrmacher and Hubert Spiegel, in which the author for the first time publicly admitted to having been a member of the Waffen SS in the waning months of the Second World War. This statement caught the media and public by surprise and caused a sensation, because it radically changed what had been considered common knowledge about the author’s military service. While Grass had never tried to hide his youthful belief in and commitment to Nazi doctrine until...

  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 343-406)
  10. Index
    (pp. 407-426)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. None)