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The final work of the Nobel Prize winner Günter Grass—a witty and elegiac series of meditations on writing, growing old, the world In spite of the trials of old age, and with the end in sight, suddenly everything seems possible again: love letters, soliloquies, scenes of jealousy, swan songs, social satire, and moments of happiness crowd onto the page.
Only an aging artist who has once more cheated death can set to work with such wisdom, defiance, and wit. A wealth of touching stories is condensed into artful miniatures. In a striking interplay of poetry, lyric prose, and drawings, the Nobel Prize-winning author creates his final major work of art. A moving farewell gift, a sensual, melancholy summation of a life fully lived.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
GÜNTER GRASS (1927–2015), Germany's most celebrated contemporary writer, attained worldwide renown with the publication of his novel The Tin Drum in 1959. A man of remarkable versatility, Grass was a poet, playwright, social critic, graphic artist, and novelist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1999.
BREON MITCHELL is Professor of Germanic Studies and Comparative Literature at Indiana University, where he is also Director of the Lilly Library. A Rhodes Scholar, he received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Oxford University. His areas of specialization include literary translation, Anglo-German literary relations, literature and the visual arts, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, and Samuel Beckett.
Read an Excerpt
FREE AS A BIRD
When the pipe smoker's heart, lung, and kidneys sent him to the workshop for yet another stay, hooked him up to an intravenous drip, a wretched fellow, and forced him to swallow a growing pile of pills — round, oblong, brightly colored — all whispering warnings on their side effects; when grumpy old age kept asking peevishly "How much longer?" and "What's the point?" and neither lines of ink nor strings of words flowed from his hand; when the world with its wars and collateral damage slipped away, and he sought only sleep, a sleep torn to rags, and estranged from himself he began to lick his wounds in self-pity; when the last fountain had run dry, I was revived, as if mouth-to-mouth resuscitation were still in use, by the moist kiss of a part-time muse on call, and images and words came crowding in; paper, pencil, brush lay close at hand, autumnal Nature made its frail offering, watercolors began to flow; I delighted in scribbling and, fearing a relapse, began eagerly to live again.
To feel myself. Light as a feather free as a bird, though long since fit to be shot down. Unleash the dog with no sense of shame. Become this or that. Awaken the dead. Wear my pal Baldanders' rags for a change. Lose my way on a single-minded quest. Seek refuge among ink-lined shadows. Say: Now!
It seemed as if I could change skins, grasp the thread, cut the knot, as if this rediscovered happiness had a name I could say again.
ON EACH NEW LEAF
With red chalk, lead, graphite,
SEPIA AU NATUREL
Again and again the dream where I milk a midsize squid. It's easy underwater, like making love to a daring mermaid strayed from her flock.
You swim up from behind, quite innocently, stay patient, and when the moment is right, attach the pump to the muscular opening of the gland and activate it by pressing a small button. Soon, half forced, half willingly, the squid expels what's normally released as a dark cloud to befog a nearby enemy.
That happened a lot at first, when I was in too great a hurry to harvest the inky brew. Time would go by and still nothing. I would run out of breath. Surface, then try again. Milking squids, like pleasuring mermaids, takes practice.
Since then black milk stands stored in canning jars, a borrowed metaphor. A soupy extract used for pen and brittle brush drawings alike. Washed they reveal streaks of a slimy substance.
The drawings retain the smell long after, at first fresh, then increasingly pungent; especially on days of high humidity, the squid-ink ink recalls its origin.
IN AN ENDLESS LINE
that rises from the bottom left,
Swoon, an old-fashioned word: in ages past, when tiny flasks of smelling-salts were held beneath the noses of powdered ladies to revive them, swooning was socially acceptable. It offered a ready excuse for failing to take action against some power or other. But now it has ruffled up its feathers to cover us all.
While bankrupts are sheltered by emergency loans or hope to hibernate through winter in failing banks, and the entire world argues that things will turn around, perhaps even head upward, if not now then soon, and while the responsible parties postpone action from congress to congress as if time were no object, the rest of us are willing to be linked totally and forever by the Internet.
Available around the clock. Never beyond reach. Trapped by a mouse click. Data registered back to our baby powder. Nothing omitted. Daily visits to the thrift store, to the movies, to the toilet — immortalized. The long, drawn-out course of our love life stored on a chip the size of a fingernail. Nowhere to hide. Always in sight. Watched over in our sleep. Never again alone.
What to do? In a powerless swoon I abstain, reject what's on offer. No cell phone among my glasses, tobacco, and pipe. No pointers allowed on how to surf, to Google, to Twitter. No Facebook counts my friends and enemies. When no one is looking I use a goose quill. Murmured soliloquies at most, on cow pats, Cartesian devils, and the ants' notion of progress; and yet a power has seized me by the collar too, a power that goes under various names, but remains nameless.
No signal gives advance warning. It feeds on overqualified stupidity. What once was an omnipresence with religious trimmings now presents itself as soberly rational and proof of a civil society.
No! It renders all things transparent, dispenses with memory. Removes responsiblity. Erases doubt. Simulates freedom. Declared incompetent, we find ourselves flopping in the net.
As a child,
How simple must we become to see in all its diversity what autumn now sheds, first fruit, then foliage. Piles of leaves. A single leaf. Drying it twists and turns, spreads, rolls its edges, stiffens in ecstasy. Each brittle fissure, each panicle, clearly traced. Sharp edges cast soft shadows. Forgetful green blushes into red, merges with rotting apples, pears, worm-eaten plums. And leaves keep falling, though there is no wind.
They fall dizzily, not knowing where they're headed, hesitate, find their way to their own kind, or stray to others, till tree and bush, stripped bare alike, await the first frost. Now only still lifes remain. I bend over, learn to read. No leaf without its inscription. Eichendorff left a poem on chestnut leaves, one I could recite as a schoolboy. And heart-shaped leaves bear traces of Trakl, leading letter by letter to solemn gardens where he, the stranger, saw Sebastian in a dream.
Mysteries are cheap these days. No more embarrassing questions. When the maple disrobed, love started stammering. There's a clearance sale on metaphors. Openings of novels, final lines, a manifesto cries out in vain. Prayers of a babbling child. Summary conclusions. Broken off in midsentence. Letters that remain unfinished. Curses and canticles of hate. Long-sought rhymes stamped in birch leaves. A plot scurries off: a pile of fallen poplar leaves leads to a crime story whose ending is still unclear. And over all wafts the decaying breath of fall.
Write long letters to dead friends,
MY OWN SOUNDS
What am I talking about? With whom? Who says do or don't? Footsteps from one standing desk to another. Things begin but don't want to end. What's ended only seems so. Threadbare words. Try keeping quiet.
Who's that coughing, spitting out the lungs' debris? At times an angel drifts through the slightly-open door, whispering politely, kindly, trying to palm off assurances on me. About everything and nothing.
Now quiet is decreed — by whom? Only my own sounds linger. Something hard falls from the table, the scissors this time. Yesterday it was my eraser, bouncing three times after it hit. And tomorrow?
A slim book, wedged firmly between broad-backed volumes, lures me with poems of rustling autumn leaves. And before that a visitor came, but left no trace. That tickling on my left ear is one of the last flies at the window. Or am I the one who can't keep still?
Again and again re-counting what got lost along the way. Pinning plans to the wall, noting losses, adding profits, staining ink-addicted paper, wadding it up. My breath rasps as I reheat some old battle, but can't recall what it was about.
Now a throat is cleared, announcing a presence. Then someone approaches, but doesn't appear. Now I hum a pop tune where "raindrops" rhymes with "train stops." Then that whistling sound from my willful hearing aid. Now there's something in the attic. That's not me. It's the marten who lives up there.
Alone with words,
WITH STAYING POWER
Rereading books that were my lifelong companions: time, that voracious shredder, has not subdued the flood of words, the biting scorn of François Rabelais. And so I never had my fill of him, not when I was young in Paris, where Paul Celan, in a passing remark, recommended the Regis translation; nor in midlife when, with the swelling flesh of The Flounder in my suitcase, I sought refuge as I moved from one bed and desk to another; nor now, restless in sedentary rural peace, where I still can't get enough of a work that always seems new, hot off the press, its pots and pans constantly full, authored by a man who was plagued by the censor, who feared the Inquisition all his life, yet never ceased to be a thorn in their side, on his way with or without baggage, with me right behind him.
For the pressures and fears that once forced Rabelais to flee his native land remain unchanged, though disguised by the Zeitgeist. All that's changed are the instruments and methods of torture, in spite of which writing still satisfies an itch.
But anyone who pulls the thread "To be continued" from the spool better have some staying power and an arrogant certainty: the book will outlive you all, all you cartoon hangmen and thumbscrewers, you well-mannered hypocrites and hired choristers, you cowards yapping from the back of the pack, you overly clever, educated illiterates and telegenic executioners; you will never — and you know it — have the last word.
I LACK THE STRENGTH
to split the rough block with a rough wedge,
ON THE INNER LIFE
When, some fifty years ago, I first composed a work in still-hesitant prose, and then, with the certainty of a prophet, a multi-stanza poem on the egg-an-sich, both manuscripts bore the title In the Egg. After all, I was convinced that the human race lives in the interior of that immutable Ur-form, interminably scribbling, on what is therefore the inner surface of the egg, our various speculations on the question "Who's sitting on us?," in light of which, at the end of the poem, I maintained that one sunny-to-partly-cloudy day, the power holding sway outside our shell, which goes by various names, would literally chuck us into the pan and sprinkle us with salt.
But since in recent years we've managed to find one or two clever ways of our own to break the shell, all sorts of weeds of doubt have sprung up in my little garden: no wanton supernatural act — or even divinely inspired appetite — is needed to turn us into scrambled eggs.
Even if we were smart enough to streamline egg production someday by breeding cubic chickens to lay cubic eggs, we would soon tire of them, however much they increased sales, and destroy what might otherwise have offered us a little security in the form of thin-walled cubes.
Excerpted from "Of All That Ends"
Copyright © 2015 Steidl Verlag, Goettingen, Germany.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Free as a Bird,
On Each New Leaf,
Sepia au Naturel,
In an Endless Line,
My Own Sounds,
With Staying Power,
I Lack the Strength,
On the Inner Life,
Which Came First,
Farewell to What Teeth Remain,
Over the Abyss,
The Last One,
Standing Singly and in Fairy Rings,
Complaints of a Traveler Grown Sedentary,
In Frankfurt am Main,
What Bird Was Brooding Here?,
Libu?e My Love,
Where His Humor Fled,
In the Rollwenzelei Inn,
A Late-Night Visit,
After Endless Torment,
And Then Came Xaver,
According to the Weather Report,
A Lingering Aftertaste,
When My Sense of Taste and Smell Deserted Me,
Farewell to the Flesh,
How and Where We Will Be Laid to Rest,
To Pass the Time,
That's by Me?,
Farewell to Franz Witte,
Light at the End of the Tunnel,
When, as Required by Law,
These Are Facts,
Before It's Too Late,
A Winter Too Mild,
The Owl's Stare,
Rising to Heavenly Heights,
Yours and Mine,
When the Monster's Eyes Turn Green,
Fear of Loss,
Gone Gone Gone,
In the Greenhouse,
What the Beachcomber Finds,
So They Can Converse,
Nail and Rope,
Suggestion for a Souvenir,
Twisting a Rope,
Stared Right Through Me,
On the First Sunday,
On the Back Pew,
He Called Three Times,
In What's Left of the Altstadt,
Dances of Death,
Stared Right Through,
Summing Things Up,
Balancing the Books,
In This Summer Filled with Hate,
Herr Kurbjuhn's Question,
Of All That Ends,
Sample Chapter from THE TIN DRUM,
Buy the Book,
About the Author and Translator,
Connect with HMH,