So what about Günter Grass?

Lots of comments on Günter Grass and his “poem” on Israel and Iran. Actually more comments on the comments than on the piece itself. Which should not be surprising. Since last week all over the German press, where the interview with Marcel Reich-Ranicki in this Sunday’s FAS is especially remarkable for all sorts of reasons. And now we have the Economist chiming in, with a very welcome and thoughtful analysis.

My problems with the whole thing are elsewhere, though:

Regardless of whether you have a Nobel prize for literature or not, anybody and especially Günter Grass is more than welcome to comment on politics, domestic and abroad. If you use a poem, however, you are in fact claiming the authority of the artist and the prize winner. That is a whole different ballgame. Where you should be prepared for more-than-average reactions from the masses and where you will need to be thick-skinned enough to deal with it.

As a poem, or frankly as any kind of literature, the piece fails completely. The choice of format is particularly unfortunate as it allows the author to throw down some incomplete and incoherent statements and to skip reflection and explanation. A long-form piece of prose forces the writer to explain a position coherently and, more importantly, to consider and discuss alternative points of view. Even a letter to the editor would have had more merit than these fragments.

More important than the stylistic failure is the author’s complete failure to acknowledge that the current threat emanates from Iran and needs to be dealt with in some shape or form, preferably by peaceful means of course. To negate this fact is ludicrous and plays into the arms of Ahmadinejad. Which Netanyahu and company then exploit for domestic gain, resulting in the equally ludicrous travel ban.

So we have an incomplete and fragmented discussion that reinforces stereotypes and that is exploited by propagandists on all sides. Not helpful.

For a more balanced and more informed viewpoint I would recommend David Sanger’s recent interview on NPR.

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