Nihilism and anarchism? If, as you read a book, you feel that the author hates you and all the fabric of your life, that his chief purposes in writing are to communicate to you his loathing and his scorn, and to shock you so radically that you will never fully recover or wholly forget, then he is a literary anarchist.
In Henry Miller’s two Tropics, between passages in which he uses terms of rancid vulgarity to describe the degraded practices of himself and his friends, he breaks into savage, almost incoherent monologues like the curses of Timon, calling down destruction upon humankind. Oaths and obscenities scattered throughout ordinary prose narrative are intended, just as a foul word scrawled on a wall, as a verbal blow aimed at all who read it.
Gunter Grass’s Tin Drum was an important novel in this new mood. The sweet old optimistic anarchism of Peter Kropotkin and his followers will never die as long as there are kind hearts and simple minds. Tin Drum was part of this inexorable march towards more and more purely destructive anarchism. Something destructive not unlike Marcel Duchamp and the Ready-Made; ready made misanthropy. Grass grew up in a generation that was utterly disgusted with all ideologies; political, religious, moral: in fact he is far more bitter about Catholic Christianity than he is about the Nazis.
In addition, there are many sensitive spirits who feel that organization is too much with us; that the state, the law, and systematic interference with individual life are becoming tyrannies, even if their rule is gentle in method and is intended to be beneficial in result. Some of these enter the escapist nihilism of drug addiction and rootless bohemian living. But some, from that era, like a Louis Bunuel with his filmed images of cruelty and degradation, and like Oskar with his relentless drum and his resistless scream, become true nihilists with a single aim, of which in Grass’s case, he is probably not even fully conscious; and that is the undercurrent of the “will to power” ; the annihilation of humanity.
( The Tin Drum) …There was once a watchmaker who could not look on with indifference while something was moving ina garbage can. He left his flat on the second floor, went down into the court, lifted up the lid of the garbage can,opened the sack, took the four badly damaged but still living tomcats home with him, and cared for them. Butthey died the following night under his watchmaker’s fingers. This left him no other course than to enter acomplaint with the SPCA, of which he was a member, and to inform the local party headquarters of a case of cruelty to animals which could only impair the party’s reputation.There was once an SA man who did four cats in with a poker. But because the cats were not all-the-waydead, they gave him away and a watchmaker reported him. The case came up for trial and the SA man had topay a fine. But the matter was also discussed in the SA and the SA man was expelled from the SA for conductunbecoming a storm trooper. Even his conspicuous bravery on the night of November 8, which later becameknown as Crystal Night, when he helped set fire to the Langfuhr synagogue in Michaelisweg, even hismeritorious activity the following morning when a number of stores, carefully designated in advance, wereclosed down for the good of the nation, could not halt his expulsion from the Mounted SA. For inhuman crueltyto animals he was stricken from the membership list. It was not until a year later that he gained admittance tothe Home Guard, which was later incorporated in the Waffen SS.There was once a grocer who closed his store one day in November, because something was doing intown; taking his son Oskar by the hand, he boarded a Number 5 streetcar and rode to the Langasser Gate,because there as in Zoppot and Langfuhr the synagogue was on fire. The synagogue had almost burned downand the firemen were looking on, taking care that the flames should not spread to other buildings. Outside thewrecked synagogue, men in uniform and others in civilian clothes piled up books, ritual objects, and strangekinds of cloth. The mound was set on fire and the grocer took advantage of the opportunity to warm his fingersand his feelings over the public blaze. But his son Oskar, seeing his father so occupied and inflamed, slippedaway unobserved and hurried off in the direction of Arsenal Passage, because he was worried about his tindrums with their red and white lacquer.There was once a toystore owner; his name was Sigismund Markus and among other things he sold tindrums lacquered red and white. Oskar, above-mentioned, was the principal taker of these drums, because hewas a drummer by profession and was neither able nor willing to live without a drum. For this reason he hurriedaway from the burning synagogue in the direction of Arsenal Passage, for there dwelt the keeper of his drums;but he found him in a state which forever after made it impossible for him to sell tin drums in this world.They, the same firemen whom I, Oskar, thought I had escaped, had visited Markus before me; dipping abrush in paint, they had written “Jewish Sow” obliquely across his window in Sütterlin script; then, perhapsdisgusted with their own handwriting, they had kicked in the window with the heels of their boots, so that theepithet they had fastened on Markus could only be guessed at. Scorning the door, they had entered the shopthrough the broken window and there, in their characteristic way, they were playing with the toys…
… They all looked like Meyn the musician, they wore Meyn’s SA uniform,but Meyn was not there; just as the ones who were there were not somewhere else. One had drawn his dagger.He was cutting dolls open and he seemed disappointed each time that nothing but sawdust flowed from their limbs and bodies… ( The Tin Drum)