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The Echo of Die Blechtrommel in Europe

Studies on the Reception of Günter Grass's The Tin Drum

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Edited by Jos Joosten and Christoph Parry

The Echo of Die Blechtrommel in Europe presents an overview and analysis of the critical reception of Günter Grass’s classic novel throughout Europe. Starting from the reviews on its first publication in Germany in 1959, it follows the reception of its translations in Poland, Italy, the UK, The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Finland and Sweden. Press reviews for the general public form the main object of research in this volume.
The articles reveal the different roles played by religious, political and ideological matters in the reception of the novel in the respective European countries. The articles, written by specialists from the countries under study, also reveal national differences and resemblances in the institutions of literary life in Europe.

Norse Revival

Transformations of Germanic Neopaganism

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Stefanie von Schnurbein

Norse Revival offers a thorough investigation of Germanic Neopaganism (Asatru) through an international and comprehensive historical perspective. It traces Germanic Neopaganism’s genesis in German ultra-nationalist and occultist movements around 1900. Based on ethnographic research of contemporary groups in Germany, Scandinavia and North America, the book examines this alternative Neopagan religion’s transformations towards respectability and mainstream thought after the 1970s. It asks which regressive and progressive elements of a National Romantic discourse on Norse myth have shaped Germanic Neopaganism. It demonstrates how these ambiguous ideas about Nordic myth permeate general discourses on race, religion, gender, sexuality, and aesthetics. Ultimately, Norse Revival raises the question whether Norse mythology can be freed from its reactionary ideological baggage.

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Stefan Neuhaus

Abstract

The values of literary criticism have been developed since the beginning of modern literature and canonization of literary texts is a complex process. The paper aims to explain how this process works, to be able to discuss the development of the reception of Grass’s novel Die Blechtrommel in the German-speaking countries. To be highly valued by experts, literature has to appear new and original; but by creating new and original forms and ideas, literature is often controversial and provocative. Grass was a young and not well-known author, except to a small group of experts, when he presented his novel. By receiving the prize of the Gruppe 47 for reading out one chapter, the path was paved for a positive reception by other experts who valued an original text. Other critics, more in favour of conventional literature, criticized Grass’s novel harshly. A jury nominated the novel to receive the Literary Prize of Bremen (Bremer Lite­raturpreis), but the city’s senate voted against it. This scandal shows the difference be­­tween the expectations of experts on the one hand and a wider public on the other. The further reception is also quite typical for the way literature is processed in modern society. The wider public became acquainted with the novelties and valued the contribution it made to the development of literature. Consequently, Grass became a well-known author and even received the Nobel prize, especially for the Die Blechtrommel, in 1999.


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Liisa Laukkanen

Abstract

This article deals with the brief revival of interest in Grass’s Die Blechtrommel when the second Finnish translation appeared in 2009 to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the novel’s first publication. The new translation was undertaken on the initiative of the translator Oili Suominen who can be considered the Finnish translator of Grass’s works. The translation is accompanied by the translator’s own explanatory notes and an afterword by the writer, critic and poet Jukka Koskelainen. In this paper the role of the translator along with the publisher and the critics as active participants in the public reception process is discussed.


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Edgar Platen

Abstract

The paper starts by looking at the conditions for the reception of post-war German literature in Sweden and seeks to situate both the popular and the academic reception of Die Blechtrommel in this context. This reveals the particularity of the Swedish situation characterised not only by traditional politics of neutrality but also by reservations, even ignorance with respect to what goes on in Europe in general. In Sweden Die Blechtrommel is accorded the status of ,World Literature‘ but it belongs to the books that many have heard of but few have read, let alone understood.


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Veronika Schuchter

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The reception of Günter Grass’s novel The Tin Drum in Germany has been both controversial and dynamic. The analysis of newspaper articles from five decades shows that the process of canonisation is divided in four phases: The initial reception in Germany after the first publishing in 1959 is characterized by controversial debates, moving along moral, not aesthetic lines. The first re-reading of the novel is initiated by Volker Schlöndorf’s screen adaptation in 1979. It shows the advanced stage of canonisation of the text whose literary qualities are no longer questioned. The award of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999 is recognized as success exclusively of The Tin Drum, while Grass’s other literary achievements are diminished. In this third phase of reception the most distinctive characteristic of the reception in Germany becomes apparent: the diametrically opposed development of the author and his work. While The Tin Drum is considered untouchable, it’s author has lost symbolic capital, mostly because of his political activism. In the last phase, on the occasion of the novel’s fiftieth anniversary, The Tin Drum is celebrated as the most important German book in the second half of the 20th century. The accompanying articles are characterized by an almost sentimental tone, showing that the view of literary criticism increasingly narrowed to a few aspects, an almost schematic form of interpretation, repeating the same stereotypes over and over again.


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Mirosław Ossowski

Abstract

The famous novel byGünter Grass, The Tin Drum was translated into Polish in the years of 1968–69, however, its first official edition appeared no sooner than in 1983. Four years earlier the novel had been published by an underground company. This fact shows how serious the obstacles on the road to the novel’s reception were. The article presents the road of the novel to the Polish recipient from 1958 until the 1980s, i.e. from the first trip of the writer to Warsaw and Gdańsk after the war up to the time when the work of the later Nobel Prize winner became the subject of scientific symposiums and monographs. It deals with the Polish connections of the writer which proved to be important for the perception of The Tin Drum as well as the controversy and polemics connected with the novel in the literary press. The article discusses the plans for filming the novel by the Polish director Andrzej Wajda and the reflection of Sławomir Błaut on his work on the translation. The article also discusses the image of Poland and Poles in the novel and how this affected its reception in Poland.


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Eva Banchelli

Abstract

This contribution discusses the historical and cultural context in which the first Italian translation of Die Blechtrommel was published (1962). The relatively late date of publication was due to the political and religious conservatism of the country. Even the left wing cultural scene was marked by a certain dogmatic conformism. This explains the scruples with which Italian publishers read and then rejected Die Blechtrommel. The literary climate only began to change in the beginning of the 1960s with the appearance of journals like Il Verri. The aesthetic programme of the authors and critics who now started to publish had strongly resonated with the transition that was going on in Germany in the same period. The innovations soon had strong repercussions in the publishing sector, especially with regard to the import of foreign works. The change in fortunes for Grass’s novel came when the Feltrinelli publishing house, founded in Milan in 1955, started to take a serious interest in new experimental German literature. This was largely thanks to the enthusiasm and commitment of the young editor Enrico Filippini. The Italian translation finally appeared in the renowned series „I narratori“, which also included other esteemed names from contemporary literature. The novel was presented to the public as a radical representative of experimental iconoclastic literature, an image that was confirmed in the controversial critical reception accorded to the novel.


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Rebecca Braun

Abstract

Dieses Kapitel beschäftigt sich weniger mit der Rezeption des Blechtrommel-Textes als mit der seines Autors. Günter Grass wurde sowohl in englisch- als auch in deutschsprachigen Medien immer wieder als exzentrischer Blechtrommler dargestellt, und dies mehr als 50 Jahre nach dem Erscheinen seines berühmten Romans. Ausgangspunkt sind die unterschiedlichen, erheblich zeitversetzten Rezeptionskontexte der ,Welt­autor­schaft‘, die hier als bewusst performatives Erlebnis innerhalb der von Goethe definierten ,Weltliteratur‘ verstanden und mit Blick auf den amerikanischen und britischen Kontext der Grass-Rezeption erläutert wird. Insbesondere wird auf die britische Rezeption der letzten 25 Jahre seiner Karriere eingegangen, zunächst mit Blick auf die ersten Aneignungs- und Vermittlungsversuche der jüngeren britischen Autoren und Akademiker, die den ,Blechtrommler-Autor‘ in den 90er Jahren einem breiteren Publi­kum vorstellten, und dann mit Blick auf die Kontroverse über das ,Israel-Gedicht‘ (2012). Dabei wird deutlich, dass sich Grass und die zunächst vorwiegend desinteressierte britische Medienlandschaft einander allmählich näher kommen, wenn auch über den Umweg der Metapher der Exzentrizität. Am Ende seines Lebens existiert ein überraschender Grad an Verständnis nicht nur für Grass, sondern auch für den ,public intellectual‘ (öffentlichen Intellektuellen) schlechthin.


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Jos Joosten

Abstract

Die niederländische Rezeption der Blechtrommel verlief nahezu paradox. Als der Roman auf Deutsch veröffentlicht wurde, wurde er in den Niederlanden so gut wie gar nicht rezensiert; doch kurz nachdem er 1959 in Deutschland erschienen war, konnte man bereits die ersten Zeitungsartikel über Günter Grass als (literarisches) Phänomen lesen. In den Jahren danach taucht Grass’ Name als bekanntester Repräsentant der jungen deutschen Literatur regelmäßig in der Presse auf, und wenig später auch mit Bezug auf seine politischen Aktivitäten – immer in Kombination mit dem Titel der Blechtrommel. Der Romantitel ist innerhalb kürzester Zeit nicht viel mehr als eine Erwähnung. Wahrscheinlich aufgrund des finanziellen Risikos sollte es noch fünf Jahre dauern, bis die niederländische Übersetzung des Romans unter dem Titel De blikken trommel veröffentlicht wurde. Diese Übersetzung wurde nur in solchen Zeitungs­meldungen kurz erwähnt, die sich mit Neuerscheinungen befassten. Fast immer standen dort nur wenige Zeilen, die wiederum kaum auf das Buch selbst (oder dessen Übersetzung) Bezug nahmen, sondern insbesondere auf den internationalen Erfolg des Buches verwiesen. Echte Rezensionen bekam Grass’ Debüt also kaum. Die nieder­ländische(n) Übersetzung(en) der Blechtrommel wurde(n) ungefähr dreißig Mal neu gedruckt. Schätzungen zufolge wurden mehrere hunderttausend Exemplare der Übersetzung verkauft. Bis heute tauchen das Buch und/oder sein Titel in der niederländischen Presse auf, und die entsprechenden Artikel bekommen ab und zu neue Impulse, z.B. durch die Verfilmung oder die Verleihung des Nobelpreises an Grass. In den Niederlanden war das Buch selbst jedoch nie Anlass für eine ernsthafte, inhaltliche Debatte über soziale, politische oder gesellschaftliche Fragen.