The Tin Drum. At first sight this monstrous book looks as thought it might be a satire on the life of Germany during the Hitler era, the war, and the postwar boom. Its hero has a German name and thinks in German. He is born just about the time that Hitler was released from prison and refounded the Nazi party. He disrupts its demonstrations with impunity; takes a cynically passive part in the first combat of the war; entertains the garrison of the Atlantic Wall on the eve of the Overlord invasion; is the inspiration, and indeed the deity, of a gang of young hooligans who outdo and intimidate the Hitler Youth; falls into squalor with the defeat of the Third Reich, and rises again as part of what they call the “Economic Miracle.” True enough as far as that goes.
This is a modern perversion of Simplicissimus ( 1669) , the German satiric romance about the orphan brought up by a hermit, who strays into the horrors of the Thirty Years’ War and views them with the amazed eyes of an innocent.
Some European critics , working a little closer to the bull, declared that the Tin Drum is a satire on the German national character as a whole. Little Oskar has no proper education, and could not attend the most demanding and rewarding of German schools, the Gymnasium; in fact, he read only two or three books. Yet his literary style is versatile and elegant: powerful in rhetoric , seductive in description. He can even imitate James Joyce. Symbolic, of course; it means that the Germans are highly intelligent people who have always lacked a real education, does it not? Or that they are intellectual giants and moral dwarfs?
But Tin Drum is less than that, and more. Some of the more important aspects of Hitler’s Germany are underemphasized or omitted. The regimentation of life; the mass slaughter of the concentration camps; the relentless activity of the Gestapo: these are scarcely mentioned and little satirized. The long effort of the war years, 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, passes by in a few dozen pages. Besides, a great deal of the book’s national feeling is not German but Slavic. Oskar, like his creator Gunter Grass was born in the frontier city then called Danzig, later known as Gdansk; and he is at least part Slav. His maternal grandmother, the first person we meet, is a kashube, one of a small group of coastal Slavs allied to but not identical with the Poles; so is her husband, Joseph Koljaiczek; and naturally, Oskar’s mother. His legal father is Alfred Matzerath, a Rhenish German; but Oskar, with some reason, suspects his mother of having conceived him by her cousin Jan Bronski, which would make him wholly non-German in blood. And he has something of an obsession, not with Germany, but with Poland. Almost the only truly romantic dream-figures in his mind, doomed though they may be, are the Polish cavalrymen. “Deautschland uber alles” and the Horst-Wessel song are scarcely heard, even in parody; but at least twice we hear Oskar wildly drumming “Jeszcze Polska Nie Zginela” , the Polish national anthem, “While still we live, Poland is not lost!”
From this point of view then, The Tin Drum is a bitter fantasy on the life of the hybrid, who belongs to two different cultures and feels at home in neither. Like James Joyce, caught between Saxon England and Celtic Ireland. It is easy to see why, by a purposeful understanding, Oskar betrayed his putative father the German to the Russian invaders and, with Joycean selfishness, betrayed his real father the Pole to the German Home Guard. So, the book touched a nerve, inaugurating a style of the crossing and intermingling of races and cultures .
The gigantic conceit of Günter Grass, that he took such a courageous step by daring to tell it like it is — that Israel threatens to annihilate the Iranian people — is an echo of Europe’s clown jester/philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s gigantic conceit that the greatest danger today is anti-Antisemitism because it muzzles criticism of Zionism and the perfidious actions of the Jewish state. The forces of Jewish power are amassed against the consciences of Europe’s deep thinkers and something had to be said to prevent the Iranian holocaust. If only Grass had published his poem during Purim, what a field day the topsy-turvies would have had with that.
Moral inversions abound and are described brilliantly by Sarah Honig in Another Tack: The German Robbed Cossack. They have had a long history of preparing the ground leading to Ahmedinejad’s calls for Israel’s extinction. She presents, for example, Leo Tolstoy’s response to various entreaties by Jews to speak out against the Russian pogroms. Tolstoy was annoyed; the Jews have brought it upon themselves and must behave better. “The Jews must, for their own good, conduct themselves by the universal principle of ‘do onto others as you would have them do to you.’ They must
st the government nonviolently…by living lives of grace, which precludes not only violence against others, but also the partaking in acts of violence.” Read More:http://mideastparalleluniverse.blogspot.ca/2012/04/moral-inversions-of-gunter-grass.html