Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
The German writer and artist Günter Grass (1927-2015) was among Germany’s most gifted and celebrated figures, selling hundreds of thousands of books and winning some of the literary world’s most coveted prizes, including the Nobel Prize in Literature. Part of Grass’s success as a writer and public intellectual stemmed from his deft ability to weave personal biographical and public political concerns together through writing, poetry, and drawing. This work seeks to demonstrate Grass’s importance not only as a writer, but as a political thinker deeply relevant to contemporary global concerns like neoliberalism, antifascism, and “memory politics.” In it, I apply an historical phenomenological lens to Grass’s writings, especially his novels, which “retraces” his development as a writer and thinker. Through this phenomenological approach, I find that Grass’s work can be categorized into three “phases” – class, politics, and memory. His class work reconceptualizes his childhood in petit bourgeois Danzig (Gdańsk, Poland) during the rise of Nazism. These recollections, in turn, led Grass to political action – he delivers 52 speeches across Germany during the 1969 election for Willy Brandt and the Social Democratic Party. However, Grass and Brandt’s friendship soured over the former’s controversial stance opposing German Reunification in the late 1980s. Following the end of the Cold War, Grass again returned his own recollective writings, refiguring them through the guise of memory – recontextualizing even his own celebrity. This phase reaches its apotheosis in Grass’s revelation that he was a member of the Waffen-SS as a teenager. Taken together, these three phases reveal a sense of writing’s importance as a record of humanity’s bleakest and most atrocious moments – as well as its highest hopes and aims. I conclude this work by arguing that while Grass’s social democratic ambitions failed, his reconceptualization of time and memory serve as important concepts in resisting a politics of resentment.
Cole, Alex, "Günter Grass: Class, Politics, and Memory" (2020). LSU Doctoral Dissertations. 5383.
Available for download on Friday, October 20, 2023