Monday, October 20, 2008

Gunter Grass and the past

A brief feature in today's Guardian on Gunter Grass's new volume of memoirs. It concludes with the following point:
His writing is often categorised as part of the Vergangenheitsbewältigung movement, or coming to terms with the past, but Grass said he's never used this word to describe what he does himself. "You can't come to terms with the past," he said. "The word [Vergangenheitsbewältigung] suggests you can come to terms with it, and I'm not of this opinion, l will never be ready for that."

I don't like to argue with the creator of my hero, Oskar, but I take the Nietzschean approach to this. I think it is essential to reconcile oneself with one's past. That doesn't mean accepting it, negating it, justifying it or downplaying it. It simply means understanding, acknowledging and moving on. This is really what Nietzsche was referring to when he talked of eternal return: mankind moving towards a state of grace where one isn't constantly replaying old battles, isn't consumed, like Rousseau, by feelings of ressentiment. Only when we do this can we develop as human beings. I agree with that approach. It's the only way to deal with history. And Oskar, I'm sure, pragmatist that he is, would agree with that, too.

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