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Gunter Grass

  • German author
  • Born October 16, 1927
  • Died April 13, 2015

Günter Wilhelm Grass (German: [ˈɡʏntɐ ˈɡʁas]; 16 October 1927 – 13 April 2015) was a German novelist, poet, playwright, illustrator, graphic artist, sculptor, and recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature.He was born in the Free City of Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland). As a teenager, he served as a drafted soldier from late 1944 in the Waffen-SS and was taken prisoner of war by US forces at the end of the war in May 1945. He was released in April 1946. Trained as a stonemason and sculptor, Grass began writing in the 1950s.


For me, writing, drawing, and political activism are three separate pursuits; each has its own intensity. I happen to be especially attuned to and engaged with the society in which I live. Both my writing and my drawing are invariably mixed up with politics, whether I want them to be or not.




As a child I was a great liar. Fortunately my mother liked my lies. I promised her marvelous things.




I belonged to the generation that grew up under National Socialism, and was blinded and led astray - and allowed itself to be led astray.




My relationship with Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm reaches far back into my childhood. I grew up with Grimm's fairy tales. I even saw a theater production of 'Tom Thumb' during Advent at the State Theater in Danzig, which my mother took me to see.




I had an uncle who was a postal official at the Polish post office in Gdansk. He was one of the defenders of the Polish postal service and, after it capitulated, was shot by the Germans under the provisions of martial law. Suddenly he was no longer a member of the family, and we were no longer allowed to play with his children.




Information networks straddle the world. Nothing remains concealed. But the sheer volume of information dissolves the information. We are unable to take it all in.




We already have the statistics for the future: the growth percentages of pollution, overpopulation, desertification. The future is already in place.




Homeland is something one becomes aware of only through its loss.

Homeland is something one becomes aware of only through its loss.




Memory likes to play hide-and-seek, to crawl away. It tends to hold forth, to dress up, often needlessly. Memory contradicts itself; pedant that it is, it will have its way.




People change with time. There are things that happened to a person in his childhood and years later they seem to him alien and strange. I am trying to decipher that child. Sometimes he is a stranger to me. When you think about when you were 14, don't you feel a certain alienation?




We cannot get by Auschwitz. We should not even try, as great as the temptation is, because Auschwitz belongs to us, is branded into our history, and - to our benefit! - has made possible an insight that could be summarized as, 'Now we finally know ourselves.'




How do we prevent Iran developing an atomic bomb, when, on the American side, dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is not recognised as a war crime?




I have heard my fill of hurtful words. I think it's especially egregious when citizens like me, who point out abuses in their country, are referred to as 'do-gooders.' This is how a phrase that can be used to stop an argument dead becomes part of common usage.




I'm always astonished by a forest. It makes me realise that the fantasy of nature is much larger than my own fantasy. I still have things to learn.




If work and leisure are soon to be subordinated to this one utopian principle - absolute busyness - then utopia and melancholy will come to coincide: an age without conflict will dawn, perpetually busy - and without consciousness.




I have found that words that are loaded with pathos and create a seductive euphoria are apt to promote nonsense.




I catch myself judging myself as that 13-year-old boy, who, of course, rightfully points out that he is only a child. And my membership - well, I was drafted into the Waffen-SS and didn't exactly volunteer, which was just as idiotic. I wanted to be on the submarines and then ended up with the Waffen-SS.




Auschwitz speaks against even a right to self-determination that is enjoyed by all other peoples because one of the preconditions for the horror, besides other, older urges, was a strong and united Germany.




I can only write a book like 'The Tin Drum' or 'From the Diary of a Snail' at a special period of my life. The books came about because of how I felt and thought at the time.




Art is uncompromising and life is full of compromises.

Art is uncompromising and life is full of compromises.




The European Union arose on an economic foundation, and it turns out that even this is not a solid base. Cultural identity has been neglected.

The European Union arose on an economic foundation, and it turns out that even this is not a solid base. Cultural identity has been neglected.




Everyone is born into a certain era. I wouldn't want to see anyone faced with the circumstances that prevailed at the time, when there were few or no alternatives.




Writers know that sometimes things are there in the drawer for decades before they finally come out and you are capable of writing about them.




How did it happen that an enlightened country like Germany was pulled into Nazism? That question has occupied me since 'The Tin Drum,' my first book. The story also shows that we can never know how a person's life will unfold; there is no guarantee that a person will do what is right and avoid what is not right.




I did not volunteer for the Waffen SS, but was, as were thousands of my year group, conscripted. I did not then know as a 17-year-old that it was a criminal unit. I thought it was an elite unit.




Melancholy has ceased to be an individual phenomenon, an exception. It has become the class privilege of the wage earner, a mass state of mind that finds its cause wherever life is governed by production quotas.




Art is so wonderfully irrational, exuberantly pointless, but necessary all the same. Pointless and yet necessary, that's hard for a puritan to understand.




In general, I agree with Jacob Grimm and feel that we ought to permit changes and uncontrolled growth in language. Even though that also allows potentially threatening new words to develop, language needs the chance to constantly renew itself.




What I do is sometimes - at least in Germany - met with wounding campaigns. I always face the question: should I grow myself a thick skin and ignore it, or should I let myself be wounded? I've decided to be wounded, since, if I grew a thick skin, there are other things I wouldn't feel any more.




I have seen and drawn dying, poisoned worlds. I published a book of drawings called 'Death of Wood' about one such world, on the border between the Federal Republic of Germany and what was then still the German Democratic Republic.




I've always been surrounded by children - never bothered by their noise.




Prose, poetry, and drawings stand side by side in a very democratic way in my work.




It is a wonderful thing in the process of writing when such paper characters are first sketched, and, when one is doing good work, from a certain point in time they come alive and start contradicting the author as well.




I was brought up Catholic and know the stench of the Catholic Church. I moved away from religion early, but the impression remains.




Art is accusation, expression, passion. Art is a fight to the finish between black charcoal and white paper.




Everybody knows how fallible memory can sometimes be. You remember certain fragments precisely, but as soon as you try to join the fragments together, for a story, there is a certain - not falsification, but a shifting.



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