Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Goose Step

Even for the London Sunday Times (which for mine is little more than a tabloid in tights with its legs spread), the report on German poet/novelist/activist Gunter Grass' confession to being a member of the SS in the dying days of WW2 struck this blogger as a little shrill in both tone and take. I have managed to leave the article in question on a peace bus somewhere, but if memory serves me the word "hypocrite" cropped up a number of times. As did the phrase "bleeding heart" once or twice.

I, too, am disappointed to witness an ageing public figure turn on a penny like this, but then once I had clambered out of the spiritual mire otherwise known as the 1980's (and my 20's), I realised I was also greatly disappointed by one of Grass's last great testaments, The Rat. It is a polemic in the worst sense. I flicked through it recently and felt a blush of shame and wry nostalgia, a bit like flicking through an old stack of Playboy magazines.

I agree with the (anonymous) Sunday Times journalist that the crime here is not the renowned author's membership of what was by 1944 a mere shadow of the SS that held all of Europe in thrall for 44 long months, but that Gunter Grass saw fit to become the conscience of post-war Germany without coming clean about his part in the war until he had reached an age (octogenarian) and time (the world has moved on from the suffocating paradigm that drove his writing) where it seemed the only "senisble" thing to do. Once again I sniff book sales and a cynical manipulation of the media by people whose closest brush with a book was their last drink driving charge.

If you live long enough you will be shown up for the joke we all are. That was the central message I took from much of German post-war literature, Tin Drum included. The world was born yesterday, just a little older than our dreams. It is we who are old, because it is we who measure time, who sort the good from the bad, the dead from the dying. Perhaps we are too ready to forget what it must have been like for those born in the time just before us, or perhaps we are tired of hearing about it while the petty criminals of our own time are left to run riot. Whatever the case may be, it is certainly still the case that the noble often die unnoticed while the craven die with an audience.

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