A few days after September 11 I saw a quote from Gunter Grass on a Manhattan lamppost. In those dark days, the lampposts and walls that weren't covered in missing persons posters were decorated with the hysterical pamphleteering of the left urging us to blame ourselves for the attacks. The quote has long since been lost to memory, buried under smoke and ash, a green parrot perched on an empty staircase and crowds thronging on foot across the bridge.
As a writer, Gunter Grass is a blacksmith, hammering together graceless and shapeless lumps that aren't good for much except hitting people over the head. Take his latest masterpiece which has for a brief shining moment gotten people outside Germany and Sweden to mention his name in conversation. You don't have to know German to recognize that, "Es ist das behauptete Recht auf den Erstschlag der das von einem Maulhelden unterjochte" is not exactly Die Lorelei. In a fitting irony the author of the Tin Drum has a tin ear.
Like Die Lorelei's protagonist, Gunter Grass writes about being filled with unnameable emotions, but instead of seeing water nymphs combing their hair while ship captains ram their boats into the rocks, Grass is attempting to impress audiences with his bold struggle against Jewish accusations of bigotry to forewarn us about the threat of the Jewish state.
Netanyahu does not look much like a Rhine Maiden, but there is something about the Jewish state that drives European leftists to crash their ships against the rocks more reliably than any water nymph. No sooner does Israel buy a German submarine, than Gunter Grass leaves off staring at the Rhine Maidens to write a screed denouncing the Jews and their submarines.
Grass is a worse poet than Hitler was a painter and in an asymmetrical competition, the Fuhrer would have to edge out Gunter. But as writers they are both equally bad. "Was Gesagt Werden Muss" is a sort of compressed Mein Kampf, chronicling Gunter Grass' own Kampf in a more concise form. It reeks of the same stylistic inadequacies, the stench of self-righteousness mingled with self-pity. Like Hitler's postcard paintings, it is exactly the sort of tacky art that a Nazi would make.
Like that Austrian scribbling furiously in Landsberg Castle, Grass is all too eager to remind us that this is about him, his sacrifice and his determination to bring the problem to our attention. There is indeed less in "What Must Be Said" about Israel and more about a certain former SS Panzer Division member and his courageous denunciation of hypocrisy, submarines and other world problems. Unlike Hitler, Gunter Grass has not managed to put himself in the title, but he is everywhere else in his poem, and its reception has achieved his goal. Once again everyone is talking about Gunter Grass.
The original title of Hitler's magnum opus was "Viereinhalb Jahre des Kampfes gegen Lüge, Dummheit und Feigheit",
which you don't need to know German to understand was much too long and
self-promoting. Unlike Hitler, Grass doesn't seem to have an editor, which is the only way that you can explain a graceless title like,
"Was Gesagt Werden Muss" or the entire horrid structure of tedious line
after tedious line, as a man who has received too many literary awards
without learning to write, bores you with his angst and self-involvement.
Being a bad artist or writer, a shameless egotist who hammers his own pedestal and waits for the adoring crowds to gather, does not make one a Nazi. But it doesn't help either. Neither does the resentment over the war poorly fitted into a pacifist t-shirt which hangs over the paunches of the German and Japanese left. That adds a vindictive tone to their denunciation of American, British and Israeli warmongering. Beneath the pious self-righteousness is the spite of a Villefort who imagines himself a Dantes, a wrongly condemned man who finally has the chance to expose his tormentors as liars and criminals.
Grass, like so much of the German left, sees Nazis everywhere but in the mirror. The only lesson that he and his comrades have drawn is that they were wrong to march right, when they should have marched left. It does not occur to them that they should not have been marching at all and that the marching under red banners was the whole problem to begin with.
On the thirty-first anniversary of Kristallnacht, the progressives of the German terrorist left plotted to bomb a Berlin synagogue where a Kristallnacht commemoration was taking place. They didn't succeed, but their colleagues on Air France Flight 139 did, staging their own Aktzion, separating the Israelis from the non-Israelis and deciding who would go to the left or to the right.
Bose, the leader of the German Entebbe hijackers, who had told the hostages that he was not a Nazi, just an idealist, had proposed assassinating Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. That plot, like bombing a synagogue's Kristallnacht commemoration, seemed more like it might be up a Nazi's alley. Another symptom of how the German left could not help goosestepping right.
Dieter Kunzelmann, who while sipping coffee with Muslim terrorists in Jordan, wrote home that, "The German left must overcome its Judenknacks" or hangups about Jews. By this little Dieter did not mean that the German left should stop hating Jews, he meant that it should learn to feel good about hating Jews.
Bombing the synagogue on Kristallnacht would help Germany get rid of its "Vorherrschaft des Judenkomplexes“, he wrote, which means something like the Supremacy of the Jewish Neurosis, Bombing a synagogue would help Germans break through their feelings of guilt and emancipate the German left from feeling any hesitation about killing Jews. The provocateurs of the left who had dedicated themselves to the war against bourgeois hangups about orgies and communal property would help break one more wrongheaded bourgeois taboo. Much like an icon of the German left confessing to having served in the SS and writing a poem that features him working out his own "Judenknacks" right on the page.
Gunter Grass is more of a moderate than Dieter Kunzelmann. Rather than tackling the Judenknacks head on by bombing a synagogue on Kristallnacht or shooting Simon Wiesenthal in the head, he takes the hack's route by treading the well worn ground of spinning the wheel of history until the Jews become the new Nazis. They have uniforms don't they, and an army and bombs. Such an observation wouldn't have been all that novel in the seventies, for Grass to pretend that his cowardly whispered take on it is something daring and shocking brands him as a true hack.
Grass volunteered to serve during the war to escape his bourgeois middle-class home like a Peter Pan flying away to a Nazi Neverland. At the age of 85 he is still running away from the bourgeois taboos, whispering headily about his willingness to challenge orthodoxy on that Israel question, like a child mouthing obscenities to awed schoolmates.
But Grass isn't really writing about Israel or about Iran and nuclear submarines. He's writing about his own Kampf against the Judenknacks of the left, it is a self-congratulatory epistle from Gunter to his adoring fans. The Israelis may be offended by it, but it wasn't really meant for them. It was only meant as another display of political courage from Germany's foremost writer, artist, sculptor and housepainter.
You do not come away from "Was Gesagt Werden Muss" having learned anything more about Israel or Iran than you did going in, but you learn something about what a fine fellow that Gunter Grass is, why he dares to say what no one else dares to say as he reclines on his own therapist's couch and achieves a breakthrough in tackling the Vorherrschaft des Judenkomplexes that plagues the left.
Mein Kampf wasn't about the Jews or England and France, it was about what a great man that Adolf is and why you should consider him for dictator for life. The European left's Anti-American and Anti-Semitic hiccups have little to do with the red, white and blue or the blue and white. They have to do with how impressive all the speakers are in taking on the Great Satan and the Little Satan. Down with General Electric, down with the A-Bomb, down with the Synagogue. Up with whoever is shouting through a megaphone about boycotting Israeli walnuts or American rockets.
The current shouter through the megaphone isn't just Grass, it's Sigmar Gabriel, the head of Germany' Social Democratic Party, a party that Grass has more than a passing affinity for. The elections scheduled for next year will determine a great deal and the attacks on the sale of submarines to Israel are aimed at Chancellor Merkel. Attacking Merkel for pandering to the Jews is a bit of 1930's politics, but that's just part of getting over the Judenknacks.
It's not about the left being Anti-Semitic, it's about it being socially acceptable for the left to be Anti-Semitic. And it's about the "courage" of leftists who dare to take on the bourgeois post-Holocaust hangups and switch them around so that the Jews become the Nazis, the Nazis become the Jews and the Mullahs become the Uberjews. The Jews are irrelevant except as a means for the left to rid itself of all rules and morals on the path to total revolutionary commitment.
In Cologne, Muslims want to distribute a Koran to every household
country. But too many are still reading from Das Kapital and Mein
Kampf. Like the boat captain in Die Lorelei, they can't see the cliff, they are too enraptured by the revolutionary songs of the red Lorelei. The Wagnerian thunder of all the old revolutions reborn again out of the dead earth, spotted with the blood of martyrs, the sharp uncompromising red of revolution.
It's all the same in the end. Red faces hiding behind red flags. Red Gunter mixing his poison with sugar, closing the circle of his life even as the international left goes back to smashing Jewish windows and crowds gather with megaphones outside Jewish stores. It's not really about the Jews, it's about the men and women with megaphones who have spent too long looking in mirrors and waiting for the applause to begin.
They are cheering Gunter in Berlin, in Moscow and Tehran, not to mention London, Paris and Boston. Not because he has said anything terribly daring, but because he has thrown a stone at a window. And it isn't the size of the stone, it's the breaking of taboos. And when enough taboos have been broken, then the red flags will freely wave again.