For some reason, people still care about what Günter Grass, German author and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, has to say about things. He wrote some novels more than fifty years ago that he somehow was able to convince people were good, even if they were just overwrought and overhyped piles of nothingness. Germany thinks of Grass as its own Philip Roth, even if he is in reality just a second-rate copy of Thomas Mann, with cookie-cutter grotesqueness instead of stiff philistine blathering.
Even worse are his late poems, which are basically all about how awesome it is that he can still get it up and bonk. (In contrast to Roth, who seems to be denied that grace.) “We licked ourselves like animals and then talked about Beethoven” surely must be one of the most disgusting things ever written about sex, in itself not a disgusting endeavour.
Grass likes to think himself as the moral conscience of post-WWII Germany. For a long time Germany seemed to agree. Then, a couple of years ago, a revelation only shocking to those unable to count came to light: Grass had been a member of the Waffen-SS as a teenager. That should have been enough to shut him up and send him into retirement, but suddenly this man of the left became very appealing to his former enemies on the right who never pass up an opportunity to celebrate a “conflicted German,” which is code for Nazi.
Grass fit right into his new role and gave an interview in which he alleged that the Red Army liquidated six Million German soldiers. The actual number was 1.1 Million, but whatever: The equation was clear, six million Jews against six million Germans.
Yesterday, Grass published a poem called “What needs to be said” in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, El Pais and La Repubblica. It is about Israel, Iran and the danger of a nuclear conflict, at least on the surface. Actually, it is about a cranky and dirty old German who is so sick of being constantly reminded of the Holocaust by the world and his own guilt that he constructs the possibility of another Holocaust—this time, perpetrated by the former victims—just so he can feel better and righteous once again.
Or that’s one possible interpretation. In any event, it’s a laughably bad “poem” that’s almost totally unreadable and basically appears to be an op-ed piece with line breaks. Why everybody acts all shocked that a former SS-member would have problems with Jews I don’t know.
The real crime is the huffy, smug and incredibly self-satisfied tone with which Grass talks about politics—“I have been silent for too long”, as if the world was only waiting for the opinion of this alte-kacker. (Also: Uncomfortable echoes of “When they came for me, there was nobody left to protest.”)
Anyway. At least he isn’t writing about fucking.
Excerpts from “What needs to be said” translated by Fabian Wolff:
But why do I forbid myself to
call this other county by its name,
in which for years—as a secret—
a growing nuclear potential is available
but out of control, because inaccessible
to any inquiry?
The general concealment of this fact
that my silence has subjugated itself to
is a burdensome lie to me
and a bondage, with punishment in sight
the verdict “antisemitism” is familiar.
Why have I been silent all along?
Because I thought my origin,
tainted by an unredeemable stain,
forbids me to expect Israel,
to whom I feel connected
and want to continue to be,
to put up with this fact uttered as truth.
Why do I only now say
old and with my last ink:
The nuclear power Israel threatens
world peace, fragile as it is already?
Because it needs to be said
and it could be too late already tomorrow;
also because we—burdened enough as Germans—
could become suppliers to a crime,
that is foreseeable, which makes our complicity
unredeemable by none
of the usual excuses.