Paths to Closure from Günter Grass' Novel Local Anaesthetic
He talked about difficulties in accepting the wrongs German people had done
Günter Grass (October 16, 1927-April 13, 2015) wrote in order to hold on to life.
His last published a novel in 2010, but I imagine he wrote until his death.
He was a Nobel prize laureate German author, his eminent novel is The Tin Drum (1959), the first one in the Danzig trilogy. The film The Tin Drum (1979) was directed by Volker Schlöndorff. It won plenty of the available film industry prizes: The Palm d’Or, The Cannes award and the Oscar for best foreign movie.
Grass was also an illustrator, sculptor, and graphic artist living in troubled times and spaces. He developed into one of the explorers (as Vonnegut or Heller) of the impact of war and politics.
Another recurrent theme in his books is his place of origin. That is Danzig (currently Gdańsk), a port town with an agitated history. Its inhabitants: local Kashubians, Poles, and Germans.
At ten, Grass was a member of The Hitler Youth Movement, at 16 he was a soldier, one year later the war ended. He details this experience later in his life, in Peeling the Onion (2006).
However, although he admitted it later in his life, it was a fact implied in his novels. He states the naïve perceptions of the child and young man he was in those days - that he was doing what was right. Moreover, he talked about difficulties in accepting the wrongs German people had done.
All Grass’ novels are uttering realities and exercising acceptation. His work defined him as the voice of German conscience. For a few, it was difficult to understand that the one denouncing had also been part of Nazism.
The past was dreadful, but it did happen, one can only try to improve one’s future ways
Eberhard Starusch, the novel's main character, is a forty-year-old German and history teacher living in 1967’s West Berlin. As a teenager, in wartime Danzig, he had been the leader of a war gang.
Eberhard Starusch has a resolute point of view on his past. The past was dreadful, but it did happen, one can only try to improve one’s future ways. That is his chosen path.
As a human being, he progresses by helping those within his reach. Steering his smart, but impulsive students in the interest of avoiding violence. Even though one could find violence justified.
He progresses, also, by refusing every other path his contemporaries take. That of his ex-fiancé: one of destruction and self-destruction. The one of a colleague that made the same youth mistake, but lost herself in analyses and depression. The path of lucidity and detachment taken by his dentist. The path of detachment and of enjoyment of life's pleasures practiced by rich contemporaries.
The novel's marrow holds a meditation on the human fate
Local Aneasthetic is Grass' fourth novel, published in 1969. On the surface, the narrative follows Eberhard Starusch undergoing a dental procedure. Also, fulfilling the social role of professor, mentor, and friend. Nevertheless, it has deeper undertones. Its marrow holds a meditation on the human fate and its transformable character.
The current amiable and privy teacher mediates while being operated on, on his dental history. On his first teeth and how they were linked with personal tragedies. On his mandibular protrusion (progenia) and how, as a young man, such a profile gave him an aggressive appearance. So much so that later it created him the image of an imposing person. It is perceivable that this character, up to a certain point, went where life led him. Even in the arms of Nazism.
Local Anesthetic is a difficult book to read. By reason of its subject, its reality, and its contemporaneity. Large portions are a stream of consciousness.
The reader ponders along with Eberhard: What if changing oneself was possible? Would one be less predisposed to aggressions, mistakes? Or thoughts as these are just penitence? “Just”, as if destroying a former self is something minor. Painful ruminations. There are remedies for pain, but only local.
In a strange turn of events, in 1967 at one public reading from Local Anesthetic, a former SS member poisoned himself to death. He stated that he wanted to be provocative. Then, it was once again, another narrative: Diary of a snail (1973), that Grass constructed to make sense of life.