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Literature: Günther Grass



     Before I get around to the BUT, let me say that David Crow is admirable in his breadth of interests and enthusiasms. A political scientist specializing in Mexico follows German literature! Incredible in modern academia. I wish we had more people like that at Stanford; I remembering asking a professor of English about a book which appeared in 1870. He replied :"I'm sorry. My period ends in 1866." Here is what David Crow says abut Günther Grass:
     This year's Nobel Prize for Literature, German novelist Günter Grass, was a fantastic choice, in my opinion, and one that should interest our European specialists in WAIS. Interestingly, the Prize's last five winners have all been European --is the Committee too Eurocentric?--, and three (Dario Fo, José Saramago and now Grass) have been known for their leftist politics. I've just finished reading "The Call of the Toad" (1992), which I probably would have put off for another two years had he not won the Prize. The novel combines a moving love story with mordant satire of the excesses of capitalism; it deals with two themes that recur in WAIS members' contributions: 1) German unification and 2) South Asian and Asia Minor immigration to Europe.
     Grass had voiced doubts about unification as early as 1989, contending that German economic dominance posed a threat to its neighbors. The Nobel Prize winner sums up his perspective on immigration to Europe through a sympathetic and enterprising minor character, Chandra Chatterjee: "He [Chatterjee] even tried, by quoting Nietzche, to make the new era and the transvaluation of all values palatable to me. 'Already we are on the way. Only a few hundred thousand to begin with, poor in luggage but rich in ideas. Just as you came to us, to teach us double-entry bookkeeping, we are coming to you, bringing you something in return.'"
     My comment: The Nobel Prize in literature is grotesque. Look back at the laureates since it was created. Most of them were flashes in the pan. The three recent laureates all seem to me rather silly figures. The selection is really made by one or two cognoscenti on the Swedish committee. "Literature" should include all writing, including history, and not be restricted to the archaic forms: novels, theater and poetry. The novel was a 19th-century literary form. As a youth I spent (wasted?) thousands of hours reading them. Later I got to know some novelists, and realized what unbalanced creatures they are. My special dislikes are Hemingway, Pío Baroja, and Valle-Inclán. My slogan now is "Faction, not fiction!" As for Nietzche, he symbolizes the disease of the soul of the old Germany.
     So now, WAISerly, you have heard two conflicting viewpoints.

Ronald Hilton - 10/18/99


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