Grass is important to the German public — I would go so far as to say “necessary” — because he has accepted being the emblem of the “German problem.” For instance, in his play, Grass is trying to force his countrymen, on both sides of the Wall, to admit the truth about at least one incontrovertible fact in German history: that the June, 1953, manifestation, which the East Germans describe, in Grass’s words, “as the work of Nazis sent in by the West” and which the West Germans call a heroic “uprising of the people,” was, in fact, “neither one nor the other, but a simple workers’ demonstration. The intellectuals, the church, the bourgeoisie abstained completely,” Grass said to me (slipping, for the only time in our talk, into real bitterness). “It was neither the Nazis, nor was it the whole German people. That would be too easy. I subtitle my play ‘A German Tragedy’ because, by telling a few lies, everyone got off the hook.”
Naturally enough, I asked Grass what he would have done in the circumstances. He would not, he said with some anger, have told the German people, as the Adenauer Government implied in 1953, that keeping peace and quiet was the citizen’s first duty: “Rühe ist die erster Bürgerpflicht.” For Grass, the horror of this attitude was its calculating hypocrisy, which he finds everywhere in West German society.
The judge, to Ammon Hennacy, who had just pled “anarchism” to the charge of illegal demonstration, in Salt Lake City – “Mister Hennacy, what is an anarchist?” Hennacy – “Judge, an anarchist is a fellow who don’t need a cop to tell him what to do!”
One of my earliest memories, when I was not yet three years old, in Ohio. A neighbor had a reflecting telescope and we were observing the full moon with it. The adults were, anyway. When I was hoisted up and looked into the eyepiece, I was convinced there was a pancake – yellow, with bubbles – at the bottom of this tube and I was baffled by why we would be looking at it through a tube and not taking it out and eating it. Clearly, a hungry child.
An early experience that reinforced my distrust of grownups.
Photo of moon by flickr user coniferconifer
When I worked at the outsourcing company, in the call center, for quite a while I was the only one on the night shift. So I was always happy to see people in the morning, and was usually quite chatty.
The company hired a service to take care of their plants. They’d moved twice in the short time I’d been with them, each time to a larger space. Early one morning, I was chatting with the fellow who came around to trim and water the plants. Remarking on the size of the new space and the size of his job, he told me “I remember when you were a three-plant company!”
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighboring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.
This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel,
Which in your case you have not got. The branches
Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures,
Which in our case we have not got.
This is the safetycatch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.
And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers:
They call it easing the Spring.
They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cockingpiece, and the point of balance,
Which in our case we have not got; and the almondblossom
Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards,
For today we have naming of parts.
Photo of Japonica (Japanese Quince) by Bonita de Boer; adapted.