Tuesday, September 29, 2015


DS 270 is B.’s response to G√ľnther Grass’s novel, The Tin Drum. I read it long ago, in college, and only have selective snapshots left from its bizarre and complicated story. The story is narrated in the first person from an insane asylum by Oskar, regarded as a dwarf by society but in the story he had actually made a decision when he was three to not grow up, so he stayed a child all his life. He had been born, though, with fully developed mental capacities. (Obviously the narrator is at least unreliable, and probably really insane.) Oskar is capable of a weaponized shriek that can shatter glass or even kill someone, and he owns a series of toy drums through his life that he never stops playing. I think toward the end of the story he becomes part of a jazz band and their career takes off, but he quits that too and holes up in the asylum to write his memoirs. I remember about The Tin Drum that it’s violent (set before during and after WWII) and there’s a lot of weird, and weirdly comic sex in it. Oskar’s father marries a woman whom Oskar had slept with before his father met her. Her child might actually have been Oskar’s, so the baby is both his son and his brother. That’s typical of the kind of stuff going on in this novel. I read it back then partly because it had gained acceptance as a post-war classic with the kind of in-your-face notoriety earned by Gravity’s Rainbow, and also because one of my creative writing professors talked about it in class once, claiming that it was about post-war Germany beginning to come to terms with itself. That was intriguing, especially since I had just read Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus, another incredible novel about post-war Germany coming to terms with itself. I used to be a voracious reader, much less than I am now. I fit The Tin Drum in between all the other stuff I was reading as an English major—Mark Twain, Shakespeare, John Stuart Mill, Chaucer, The Faerie Queene, Ranier Maria Rilke, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, John Updike, Milton, J.D. Salinger, Dante, Hemingway, Baudelaire, D.H. Lawrence, et al. I was very happy about it all, having finally found myself in books after some years of near-disastrous circling and confusion. Classwork reading wasn’t enough. I often took on the recommendations English professors sometimes toss off in class.
There appears to be some comparison here of Henry with Oskar, and a violent incident toward the end that must be from the novel, but I’d have to read it again to be sure. (I intend to reread The Tin Drum now.) The “oo” sounds stand out in the poem, including the rhyme of “womb” and “tomb,” which is weird and evocative enough that B. runs with it, but I find the whole connection a bit tedious today. Look, there is real inspiration in art, and sure it can get weird sometimes, it should on occasion, and then there’s mere talent faked to look like weird inspiration, which is my dimly respectful euphemism for phony. The Tin Drum and Gravity’s Rainbow, at least, are both the real deal. I’m feeling a bit less charitable about weirdness coming from that other source.

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