grass and the secret


Günter Grass belonged to that generation. He was an enthusiastic member of the Hitler Youth and probably internalized its maxims. In other words, his silence about being in the Waffen-SS was not due to a sense of guilt or implication in Nazi crimes. He was too young, his service too brief. Instead, he probably kept this secret as a kind of wellspring: an impetus for his creativity, a goad for the imagination, a source of diabolical energy that nurtured his books and drove him to write. The secret was his magic flute. This is also why now, near the end of his life, the secret can be disclosed. This is why his revelation does not come as a remorseful confession, but is embedded in the edifice of his achievement. He has taken a kind of vain retrospective glance at a distant errant youth that harbors an element of the strange and offensive.

Despite all rhetoric then, Grass’s revelation is not primarily about guilt. Here is a self-confident writer who, even after the revelation, had no compunctions about involving himself in an election campaign in Berlin, as if nothing had happened. That is comprehensible only by the logic of the secret, a logic that turns into a zest for confession: “I knew something you didn’t.”

more from Dissent here.