On Friday the news emerged: At age 78, the most eminent German writer of the age confessed that he served in wartime with the Waffen-SS, the embodiment of Nazi evil. [...]
He occupied a place that has no parallel in Canada, the U.S. or Britain. He was a national moralist-in-chief, often called "the conscience of the postwar generation." He hated the postwar government of Konrad Adenauer, whom he considered a puppet of Washington, and he was appalled by the consumerism that accompanied economic recovery in the 1950s. He thought Germans too eager to forget the crimes of the Nazis, especially the Holocaust. Rightly, he believed that wound should "be kept open," as he said when accepting the Nobel Prize.
Grass was no communist, but he looked benignly on communist East Germany and favoured appeasing the Soviets. He believed the U.S. started the Cold War. He was the kind of Western intellectual Lenin meant when he used the phrase "useful idiots."
His credibility shrank when the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 revealed East Germany as a prison. He was appalled to see East Germans pouring into West Berlin, seeking, of all things, fresh fruit. He was also dismayed by the apparent victory of capitalism: "Capitalism has never been more barbaric, beast-like than after the victory over the communist system." He opposed reunification, suggesting that because of their crimes the Germans didn't deserve to live as one nation.
His self-importance knew no bounds.
I'll be sure to pay even less attention to him and his anti-americanism in the future than I have been, ever since I became aware of him back in the Cold War.
Trivia: The SS Unit he was drafted into was the 10th SS Panzer "Frundsberg" Division. There is a group of World War II re-enactors who have recreated a company from that division, here. Bet their sitemeter's spinnin' this week.
To get temporarily back on schtick, there's actually a couple of tangential First Things tie-ins for Grass. For example:
Modernity has supposed that the world "out there" is such that stories can be told that are true to it. And modernity has supposed that the reason narratives can be true to the world is that the world somehow "has" its own true story, antecedent to, and enabling of, the stories we tell about ourselves in it. [...]
Postmodernism is characterized by the loss of this supposition in all of its aspects. We can see this most vividly in literature. The paradigmatic fictional works of the twentieth century either present accounts that make dramatic sense in themselves, but tell of events or sequences that could not occur in the world outside the storytelling; or they meticulously describe events that could occur or perhaps actually have occurred in "the real world," but in such fashion as to display precisely their lack of dramatic coherence. Gunter Grass' The Tin Drum may serve as an example of the first mode, Sartre's Nausea as an example of the second, and Joyce's Ulysses of both at once.