Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Speak with Forked Tongue, Memory: A Unified Theory of Gunter Grass

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Speak with Forked Tongue, Memory: A Unified Theory of Gunter Grass

Article excerpt

Journalists, politicians, and literati in Germany and elsewhere piled on gleefully when the famed novelist and national moralist Gunter Grass admitted this summer that he, so insistent that others be completely honest about their pasts, had concealed his youthful service in the Nazis' elite combat unit, the Waffen SS. His detractors might have spied the snake in the grass sooner if they'd simply kept up their subscriptions to the academic journal German Life and Letters, which prophetically explained the whole thing (albeit in rather murky language) in April.

Its scholarly authors report on the "frenzied memory work" that Germans have been doing since reunification, when different groups found themselves saddled with wildly conflicting versions of recent German history. To the East-West divide soon were added left-right and generational spats, as younger Germans tired of their elders' obsessive Vergangenheitsbewaltigung, or striving to come to terms with the past. Seeking to make sense of the racket, the editors argue that Germans today are embroiled in "memory contests," an inevitability since any memory is by nature uncertain and incomplete. …

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