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May 12, 2005

Shifting Points of Reference?

Over at a Fistful of Euros, Tobias Schwartz has a very nicely-argued piece about Guenter Grass:

A Fistful of Euros: Shifting points of reference?: [DeLong's] reading of the article was most certainly influenced by the date on which it appeared. Of course it is almost natural to believe that a German author... on May 7, would be mainly concerned with the era that ended on VE-day, not the one that began.... [H]ad Grass been predominantly concerned with the Nazi dictatorship, not explicitly referring to the Holocaust would have mattered a lot more than it does with respect to the time thereafter. But Grass was mainly concerned with the latter....

Brad probably made the same mistake the NYT editors made: They haven’t realized to which extent the current economic problems, and political narratives, are influencing the way Germany is remembering its past. For the first time that I can remember, Germany is not only looking back to the before 1945, not only comparing its presence to the Nazi-era, but also comparing it to misty-eyed memories times of the economic miracle, “les trentes glorieuses”, the “Modell Deutschland”....

May 8 is a complicated and important watershed for Germany in so many ways that it can easily be applied in a number of discourses. What Günter Grass did - and what Brad Delong probably could not see - was using the date to reflect about the time thereafter.

Of course, there will always be occasions and dates that will remain less ambiguous - as yesterday’s official opening of Peter Eisenman’s Holocaust memorial in Berlin. And I bet Grass was there, too.

Very nicely argued...

But doesn't Grass write on May 8 for a reason--he wants to get his electrical juice and power from the horror of the era that ended in May 1945? To call the "power of capital" a "new totalitarianism" and described it as "backed... by the world's last remaining ideology"--the equivalences are implicit, but they are very clear and very disturbing.

And there are the claims that "Parliament is no longer sovereign in its decisions. It is steered by the banks and multinational corporations.... Lately, perhaps too late, we have come to recognize that... Public Enemy No. 1, comes not from right-wing radicalism but rather, from the impotence of politics, which leaves citizens exposed and unprotected." The claim is not that the Social Democratic Party has made a mistake in pushing Harz IV--that the neoliberal approach to economic reform is wrong, and that the analyses of people like me and my friends are flawed. The claim is that the duly-elected representatives of the people do not represent the people, and are in fact "Public Enemy No. 1."

These rhetorical moves by Grass strike me as (a) very false, and (b) very ugly--especially because the historical memory of May 8 is not a taxicab that takes you whereever you want to go: it is much more powerful than that.

Posted by DeLong at May 12, 2005 12:44 PM