This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
From card catalog: Gunter Grass, novelist, talks about writing. Questions and answers.
Introduction: I think he is a German Joyce, but if he is, I hope he doesn't write anything as incomprehensible as Finnegan's Wake. (Grass is 37 at this time.)
Grass talks briefly about other German writers, writing after the war. Talks about boxing (Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston). Beautifully describes the fight.
Questions: Literature in Eastern Germany? Lists several writers, young and old. Poets only known in Germany. How was the Tin Drum received? It's forbidden in East. Which writers influenced him? It's a long list! The power of interpretation? ... Reaction to critics? Treatment of Hitler in German literature? No author in German literature can work without this period.
Host introduces important guests. Questions continue. Right wing novelists in Germany? None exist. More influenced by poets? Protests against the press in Germany? His predictions on elections (Willie Brown?)? What will he do at Columbia (as the writer in residence)?
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 5778
Municipal archives id: T682
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
Ladies and gentlemen understand wish guests. On behalf of Mr Muller president who was away covering a story I wish to welcome the war here today and indeed honored to have the pleasure of introducing to this club and also to introduce him. To. Our country as being the first major German novelist or German writer for that matter who's ever been asked to take the writer in residence post at Columbia University and he tells me he's taking that job in February I think we're all to. Feel very greatly honored that such a. Giant in contemporary literature has been asked to join that university. It would be ridiculous I think for me to try and tell you anything but to try and analyze what Gunter Grass really is it is always slightly fatuous it seems to me for any man or woman for that matter to try and synthesize or analyze what a novelist really is a novelist is like that road a novelist is a novelist is a novelist Gunter Grass has not been defined by the critics and I'm very thankful for that I think that the expressions that have been used about him run the gamut from explosively inventive. To monstrously of sense of to a demi god imagery. And the truth of the matter is he is nothing more than grass I asked him here a few moments ago I said of all these appellate lives that been heaped on the old since you wrote The Tin Drum and the cat and the mouse has anyone asked you what you are yourself and I think it is the mark of a novelist when he finds himself tongue tied when he cannot analyze and so. He's thirty seven he was born in Danzig and some people say. There's a touch of Faulkner about him his writings I am inclined to believe that maybe he is a German JOYCE But if he is I hope that he doesn't write anything quite as incomprehensible as Finnegan's Wake. I think he is dissecting the so of Germany. Sometimes with satire sometimes with scalpel child cruelty. Sometimes with rebel gray of the highest order and sometimes with a very cold blow on the face as though he's hit the German with a wet towel but out of it all comes a great canvas a great portray a fantasy perhaps at times of people caught up in terms of stress or caught up by their very environment he's particularly keen on the Bush was in Danzig he's placed two of his books there and. I think it is safe to say. It's far better to let the man speak for himself and for me to bore you here by talking as well so I give you Gunter Grass. Recent gentleman this is my first speech in English language I tried to do. And. The last days between all of this interview was I had to do it. I was thinking about what to speak about and. For me it's a little bit difficult it seems to me that people are trying to make of me. A symbol of German literature and I will try to explain YOUR that I am. Not standing here only for my person. There are a lot of German right just the don't write novels or write poems that I thought stores a place only known and. By some people because a play didn't but your corner of Broadway and for this right does there's no possibility perhaps to stay here and Overseas Press Club and I know so well that it wasn't but most impossible to write this books I have written was I would say help of all of this also is to get up just after the war because language was really destroyed and. And I have to remember on this group forty seven we haven't Germany as I started just after the war talk put the gas as the rest of possibility and language and I met this group in fifty five with some poets but some poems. And it was for me every year I helped to meet as a right just to speak with them and I like the atmosphere we have there because there are no stars if somebody is reading there for a manuscript because it's not allowed to read from the book The critic is hard for me and hard to a beginner to everybody. On the other side I'm glad that. Success of. The books of some German writers like Hoover yawns and hope made. Are helping. To. See my rich. And crazy and I'm happy to land. A little bit more than only by clich├⌐s. And I think that's a possibility for little Ray should throw the show sayings Politiken be political people cannot show or historian people cannot show but. All this things am now telling. Because I tried to speak about this and I had not a good feeling about the speak because to write the book and to speak as a or so it's quite different and that's not that's not not not my profession to speak in this way and yes the lens or even ing or my sinking about what I have to speak here I was pushed away because I was. In the astore dance ballet or Oprah place was it wasn't on the fall of one of the model for a room was nice pictures of all the goats from anywhere and looking nineteenth century and they are sort television show perhaps a last. Fight box fight. Was possible for the next years it was very short you remember. And that was the first time I had to touch was a slant I'm not a sort of the second time here and I'm always feeling. Now a little bit less than last year like a tourist but with this box fired I am now feel a little bit like an American. The first sing was the atmosphere I like and then when a nice guy sings and that's another Him name. Everybody rises up smoke a cigarette laughing drinking's and I like this atmosphere too because I remember when we sing in Germany and that's you know him that's a little bit like church and a little bit like got a demo room together. And then to fight begin know you know if I didn't begin first this bow this boy straight because just play and less than they met and looked. Perhaps three seconds but for me it was a long time if you are a writer you are able to make of a short time a long distance time and that was for me a bit like a mixture of Grik grotesque demonic dance and the American way of life. Everything was clear Clay was anger and listening was a devil and then yes it was he was fighting his and it was him very open he said afterwards like a butterfly. And he defeated him in a small distance I Sing Sing six inches. Punch nobody could believe but I see the feet that him by by this by this trick of tragedy to make somebody the devil and playing the engine there was only one way one possibility for this to go to the ground. And then another saying that that's it that's all it that's always was for me in the state exciting to look to assess what's going on there but then after a fight people speak about it and then out from one point to another political things came in people I ask questions about what's going on there and what do I have I thought was so short and what's going on was is a sport box champion you know and people tell me you see it play he is from the Black Muslims and perhaps that's the reason and the mystification of this very short fight begin just after the fight. And I think from here let's appoint a writer can say something about this conclusion of this meeting of people not directly by television broken by television the newspapers are not out I have seen the faces of the newspaper men just after the fight it's a very very unlucky what I have to write things have was too short and I'm glad that. Listen and play give me the possibility to see something you know to have the touch of this land on one side and to have something to speak about today and Overseas Press Club. And was this both fellows. I sank your for the honor to be your guest. Become really a question and answer period member of our club and the lingo would you tell us something about literature and eastern Germany in eastern Germany zero. One again aeration is old again aeration purpose of going to ration of Thomas Mann I'm not strike. And I'm as a guess they are still alive so write books but just books that the rest right now they are no more alive yes perhaps on as a guest she is known and famous still famous and. Also known by the US as a books she has written before the war and the time of immigration perhaps the seem to Crites and after a war or resist or says. It's a trouble I have to say this fellow just said a line of support to you but now. It's a lost to history yes some young or says unknown by novelists like crystal waters perhaps and this book's out that's the first time the books of East Germany are influenced one side by. The director coming from the West and also interest but over Jones and he's also coming from here from there and he's writing. In a modern Marxist textile I would say but to write in this way that's not possible in these Dramamine that was a reason he moved to the west what's more interesting is out some poets perhaps two hundred spoke brusquely paid to who will make you ill. Who nets Kahlo but they are only known in West Germany in East Germany and West Germany and some of them are only in interesting because they changed the style I can say that now is ours our great poets that's different than parties that was before morrow perhaps like that Russia and Poland and Hungary and Czechoslovakia is now. What humanity I was the drum accepted Western hegemony Yes there's a difference because that's not possible to solve the ten running these Dramamine it's far better. But the tender on existent is Germany on the black market. And. Last autumn I was in a white mark that was a first invitation I got after the war and I took with me for two copies in one box and another box I had other interesting things I showed this a policeman and to get a lot a lot of time to look towards the sayings and so it but this was a scope is. He had a lot of foreign money and he had to write down all the sayings and it was a good trick. And then I gave all those copies and a famous hotel elephant known by good to and Thomas Mann to the kitchen and there's a way does and one also officials there. Asked for it to but no way to arrived nobody said what's going on here as a subset is this camp of peace and he went. And the kitchen and he saw as a cook's readings attend around. This is the one side. And the West it's quite different there just from the beginning there were two camps. And. As a critic who was for for me as much. Less literary and too much and spoke this book that's a pornographic book or that's a brass famous book or the other side said that's not the graphic but that's not the black famous book and you need to have stopped place of the critic for this stupid sayings and the last place for us of civility. But now it's going on and coming in other going to ration and for me it's far away. It's been with a writer you know in German with a writer who made the most lasting impression that's a long list you know. If you speak about poetry or about not perhaps about novels I can begin with Graham and Sauza and that's the rock novel jumbled up novel then John Paul or I must say. To survive on trust and the like and dubbed a brain only as written until much none some trot prose expressionistic short prose and and poetry I can only speak about drama literature perhaps appalling there was a very important for me to ring and that's through and from America Ward Whitman when I was twenty three I had to really work with men per year old they were terrible poems I wrote because I didn't have there's this wonderful background of Ward Whitman he had and this background of a young democracy. And last weekend I was in Long Island Montauk Point and my friends were very astonished I had a copy of what Whitman my property and I read this short Montauk poem to them and I think that American literature need a new but in a way. Also as a background for this. I wonder if you can largely on the background for this how would you produce and what that ground would you use for this. I think less establishment and Democrats see more as a possibility not as a matter of fact and that was all of this. That and hard the living. Only form of sayings and I think Kennedy was a beginning to bring vexes Singh's whens old world Whitman time with him to Delhi or the works of George Soros well known in West Germany. Yes I was first as I scroll and there was a sculpture and I know it was a rock of course about it and I saw him. Some weeks before he died you were you came over from from New York. In the best sense just the dies there and he's well known and it's a great artist Yes Yes And this group of six perhaps and yes from there from the from the express train listening to those are exactly just. How. Do you would evaluate the powers interpretation observation those who would read so many things in what you would read. When I got tickets. When cat and mouse came out in Germany and. There was one interpretation by young men working in them in a prison camp for young for boys for and seeing him has as a. Shot them and he wrote about cat and mouse for a drawn out of four for last. About. Motif dystrophic thousand you. One hundred dinner Vellacott So most. And this was written. Was out any literary M B C own. And very clear and I liked very well I'm still reading it. And there are also some literary critics on their way towards this man of second Hein but to most critic I have forgotten I read on and there's things that then another saying is of critic is buried just just because I'm sure that doesn't and there are more you see the critics they have to have a drug wrong that's changing from Rand to land but does a more rich individual I don't say anything against your profession but that's a big big big. I wonder if Mr Gratz would follow up what he just said no and would he undertake to give us his evaluation of the critics who have just been commenting on his last book. I got just critics two days ago and I didn't have the time to read all of it just but I'm sure now I GOT IT WAS LOST got a line up and so I wouldn't have time and the first thing I would have a nice drink and lay down and perhaps critical of Mr Prescott. And that's why it. Doesn't take too long that you well just a couple of minutes give a general idea of the treatment of. Period the Second World War period in German literature just impresses you. I think no our set was written after the walk can work out just. But that's not the matter of fact if there is a real description that's possible in the novel and it's a novelist as I'm an open society but as yet but they are also novelists more interested in their own personal reflections of their own person and just case they are less facts about this time insects and on and on the other side poets like poet sale and perhaps a living and pursed his poems and he is not known here in a single greatest poet we have and Drummond are very strange and it's difficult to do need time to live as poems. But I sing also and just poems are this period of Nazi time and this German period is in. Was outnumbering affects and there are lots of ways to be a member or it was a sings and the novel I know and I have to see here is the most successful way to shows the sings but that's not so that's that's as in. That's a question of liberation that's a question that it's easy to get to sell novels and to sell poems but more important for the language and for literature as a poems and I think we must take care that we don't forget the poets in this week's. Your. I think we're there the turn of your. Arm. First I'd like to. Introduce some. Guests that we. Have in the audience. Misandrist Hemingway Mary not a seal here. And from the German Information Center we have a high C. guy. Who is also a member that's right and. Golden Schwager And I think that's what I pronounce are correct. And then at the head table here we have our good and true friend our board member James Sheldon and. Joe Newman who is the man responsible for the program. That the gentleman on my left is Gunter Grass and. Let's go ahead. Is there a resurgence of rightwing novelists and Germany today. It was a don't exist. Nothing are they are as they can develop the rush up perhaps a soldier saying send and. Biography about two hundred perhaps or something that's but there's just too can't tell that you can say that's a novel and the third trials out there are still perhaps you know he has a life but he's old man and I'm sure his Hours us thought but they're not important as a young writer us are. You cannot say them right left right of a right wing or left wing as a liberal you know way left or right I don't know what some not such as. Any other question I've. Seen. On the other hand go ahead. Go ahead Adele. Just. Like. Most. Yes. Have you been more influenced by poets than anything else. Of letting me start with that. I started as a sculptor and a poet and. Every time I finish a novel I take a boss and poetry. Because I need this I feel dirty after the novel. Would you come in on lovely protests that you are connected with a protest against the press and would you comment on the press in Germany. There's a reason it was we haven't been burning best burn we have. Sixty percent of the population of voting that's our Democratic Party but seventy percent of the newspapers are spring oppressive and ignore very brown perhaps and there we have only one small newspaper court. And I like it. And I had a paper came out of this nice Spandau ghetto you seem to be Seldon's of course First them thought and that was in a way it was successful but I don't I'm sure as a spring don't take care of this. May I follow and ask if you could give us an unbiased judgement of what you think Brent's chances are in the next election. Yes I'm sure he River because of and I have to be sure because when I go back to drum and you know I go to action and I am try to help them and I have. To go along the way just from Munich all around to the doona versity places and anywhere and. But there I don't speak as a right only as a right guys because a citizen and. I see why you think. So I think all because I don't think that people are so stupid in West Germany that they don't see that this period of just finished where we finish there is nothing coming out of this nice for him and. He sees. Since mine since months nothing is happening in this case the only sings are well done we are coming from West brought in from very blunt what he has done. Between East and West Germany there's a little little steps he's calling this and that's the only possibility of a can do just now but is also things and he is not able he has he had he had a wonderful place when he was he was about enough in his period for economics sings if he was well enough but. I would give him a scholarship trauma. Unit versity or anywhere but I think this period must finish Why not be kind of up I would like to have together with him. And I said yes. I would maybe invite you next class would you tell us a little bit about what you plan to do in Columbus. I said I will have a small seminar with students and speak about so conclusions of possibilities of touching each as of literature and history in the modern German literature because some or such like vials or Kluger or hope and me we are working with the commands and with his story because I think he will have the same meaning that. There's a big hole between literature and history and we need. That we are not specialized only the one saying and perhaps like Tolstoy war and peace that's not only a novel that's also his story and that's things that's. Interesting for the students and also interesting for me I hope around something. Yes it's just group forty seven I was told before so it's coming from the year forty seven we're meeting every year there's one manhunts runner reach them. It was inviting all those people and this is the reason why is this group is still alive is. It's changing every year every year coming new young writers other writers don't come more and from my first readings there from fifty five just to. The group has changed very much and very often and from the other side just like I speak like a go it's that's wonderful to see all of the writers or the correlates once a year for four days we have them are together. And the rest of the you don't have the feeling you must see is them again. I think we've come to the one last question yet. Your opinion of course and the deputy. Literature and is there and it's a political. I think the important thing is that whole who has written this play that you did this step and. You took this piece of history in most parts of this play I sing well written as a one month think it's not possible for me to understand that he's making office hero a hero like. Don't Carlos from Shayla and that's the reason this hero is not a counter he's not the life for me is to much less taken away I don't understand more and so as a saying This play is much stronger it's a book and so he is every producer can take what he wants perhaps I have seen the first performance and Burnell my piece can't draw and he has given this play just from the first performance. The wrong direction that's not only a play about suppose that's also a play about. And drum and go straight and sinks and that's perhaps the reason why. In America and you are. Saying hope will give us a feeling the Germans are not good these a pope is going to fail but if you read the whole play in the book that's quite different it's only mystic hope that was that he. Didn't give as a producer. As a last form of us play he had to make a charter that's a producer.