Academic journal article German Quarterly

Representation, Subversion, and Eugenics in Günter Grass's

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Representation, Subversion, and Eugenics in Günter Grass's

Article excerpt

20th Century Literature and Culture Arnds, Peter. Representation, Subversion, and Eugenics in Günter Grass's The Tin Drum. Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2004. 188 pp. $70.00 hardcover.

Arnds has developed an original and compelling approach to Grass's first novel. This is no small feat, considering the vast scholarly attention Die Bkchtrommel has received since its publication in 1959. This study explores intertextual references to carnivalesque traditions and literature in the representation of the life of a potential candidate for Nazi euthanasia, Oskar Matzerath. Thus, it posits a link between the Nazis' suppression of "degenerate" art and their persecution of those considered unworthy of life. Arnds describes the role of euthanasia in Nazi ideology and practice, highlighting how close Oskar comes to being institutionalized and killed because of his body's deviation from Nazi ideals. Oskar's postwar asylum stay and ongoing exclusion from society suggest continuity between the Adenauer era and the Nazi past.

Even more prominent than the discussion of Nazi eugenics and ideal body types, however, are elaborations on the novel's multi-layered allusions to a carnivalesque European popular culture. With reference to Herder's notion of the Kultur des Volkes, Arnds attributes popular culture to a lower social stratum and asserts that it can both subvert hierarchical structures and provide a safety valve that keeps them in place; but he clearly emphasizes the former function in this study. Building on Mikhail Bakhtin's work, especially Rabelais and His World, Arnds explores similarities among carnival participants, itinerant people, fairy tale heroes (such as Tom Thumb), dwarves, tricksters, picaros, fools, and harlequins, casting the boundaries between these figures and their traditions as somewhat fluid. By examining multiple features of each of these and their manifestations in the character and experiences of Oskar Matzerath, Arnds proposes that Die Bkchtrommel revives traditions that were either expurgated or repressed during the Third Reich. He explores intertextual parallels to Rabelais, Grimmelshausen, the Grimms' and Wilhelm Hauff's literary fairy tales, and Par Lagerkvist's The Dwarf at length.

Numerous studies, and Grass himself, have discussed Die Bkchtrommel as a picaresque parody of the German Bildungsroman. There is nothing new about exploring references to Grimmelshausen or Rabelais in Grass. …

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