Art is uncompromising and life is full of compromises. – Günter Grass
Yesterday a very sad news shook the world of literature and its lovers. Günter Grass, the great German author who had won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999, passed away at the age of 87. There is no doubt that Grass was a giant of literature and that he will live on forever in the pantheon of immortal classical writers with all his masterpieces, from his magnum opus The Tin Drum to his other great works. But he was more than that. He was a great moral critic of his own country and his own time, a relentless outspoken voice, and a conscience to humanity.
Salman Rushdie, the great British author, has written an obituary for Grass in New Yorker. In this article he expresses how great an author Grass was:
After that meeting, every German journalist I met wanted to ask me what I thought of him, and when I said that I believed him to be one of the two or three greatest living writers in the world some of these journalists looked disappointed, and said, “Well, ‘The Tin Drum,’ yes, but wasn’t that a long time ago?” To which I tried to reply that if Grass had never written that novel, his other books were enough to earn him the accolades I was giving him, and the fact that he had written “The Tin Drum” as well placed him among the immortals.
This obituary in The Guardian is beautifully written. If you want to know better about Grass I strongly recommend it. It touches on all the important points – on Grass’s immense influence on the authors who came after him, on his role in shaping the genre known as magical realism*, how he wrote mostly about Germany’s past and how it still gnawed at its conscience.
Personally speaking, Grass is one of the ideological heroes I had in my mind when I talked about when I wrote in my article:
We need people whose main concern is not activist effectiveness. We need intellectuals whose primary concern is speaking the truth. We need people who push the boundaries of our thinking, who dare think the impossible, we need moral watchdogs saying things they know will be unpopular, we need people who are willing to be polarizing and controversial, we need people who are harsh and blunt. Without them human history would be impoverished, and they have achieved much in other areas of life if not in activism.
What Grass did was to keep reminding Germany of its past, and he was the voice which never let his country remain oblivious to its past. While many may want to heal the wounds and look to a better tomorrow, Grass was the voice which always reminded everyone of the old wounds. And that was a thing well done – we may heal, but never at the expense of forgetting our old wounds. Humanity needs people like Grass.
And he continued to be an ethical voice. Whether you disagree with his many views or not, there is no doubt that he was a courageous man who valued nothing above truth and he continued to speak it.
A great writer and a great man.
* I have personal problems with this moniker but this is not the place to talk about that. Magical realism is fantasy. Literary snobs don’t call it fantasy because they’re bigoted against fantasy but thy like this particular form of it.
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