Friday, August 18, 2006

Snake in the Grass

If there's one thing that makes me sick
It's when someone tries to hide behind politics

The Ramones: "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg"

Nice post on Grass' recent revelation here. I couldn't finish "The Tin Drum" or "The Flounder," but I enjoy Grass' more recent work, especially "My Century" and "Crabwalk." I'm thinking if there's a place to dig for clues it's in the chapters of "My Century" where the aging German journalists gather and reminisce about what they did during the war.

The Germans have their own take on this, their own grappling to do, but the point of much of the criticism from the U.S. seems to be Grass' commentary on Reagan's 1985 trip to Bitburg cemetery.

One of my walk-on extra parts in the stage of Cold War history was to have been in the room at the White House when Reagan made that ill-received remark about some young SS soldiers being victims of Naziism. I thought he was right then and I still think so. But really the whole flap was about American politics, not German history.

Look at a German literary intellectual like Brecht, who reacted to the Nazis in the absolutely correct way yet still behaved like an asshole for the rest of his career. He'd have cut a far more insulting figure than Grass to Americans had Brecht been around in the 1980s. At least Brecht's comments about America can be mitigated by the excuse of his having been hauled before HUAC. Frankly, you'd be hard-pressed to find any German intellectuals anywhere in that era who had good things to say about the U.S. or Reagan. Believe me, I was there.

Anyone who expects writers to be personally heroic just because they're writers is making a big mistake. Lord Byrons are far between. And even he made a hash of his personal reputation and rewrote his past to his advantage. Lord knows what all was in the autobiography manuscript that Murray burned.

Fiction writers don't get to hector their contemporaries because they're perfect. Fact is, they're all more or less amoral vampires who sell out every emotional connection they make by mining it for fresh paragraphs for the publisher. Fiction writers lie for a living. They turn reality into something else.

No, they get that privilege for something else. Maybe it's because if they're good enough to read, they've been rooting down in the foul stuff inside themselves for so long they can smell it on other people. I suspect the whiff of it makes them physically ill. They fancy they are smelling it even when they're not, but they get it right often enough to be worth listening to.