melting & burning

some favorite passages from Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum
March 10, 2014, 9:11 pm
Filed under: quote

“…I am at home in neither the sacred nor the profane, and in consequence am housed on the fringes, in a mental institution.”


“Dost thou renounce Satan? And all his works? And all his pomp?”

Before I could shake my head—for I had no intention of rejecting anything—Jan answered in my stead, saying three times, “I do renounce.”

Without my having said anything to spoil my relations with Satan, Father Wiehnke anointed me on the breast and between my shoulder blades. Another Apostles’ Creed before the baptismal font, then finally water three times, anointing of the scalp with chrism, a white garment to stain, the candle for days of darkness, the dismissal—Matzerath paid—and as Jan carried me outside the doors of the Church of the Sacred Heart to where the taxi stood waiting in clear to partly cloudy weather, I asked Satan within me, “Did you make it through?”


“Mama could be very cheerful. Mama could be very timid. Mama forgot things quickly. Mama nonetheless had a good memory. Mama threw me out with the bathwater yet sat in the tub with me. Mama was sometimes lost, but I always found her. When I sangshattered glass, Mama sold lots of putty. She sometimes put her foot in it when she could have put her foot down elsewhere. Even when Mama buttoned up, she stayed an open book to me. Mama feared drafts but generated storms. She lived on what she charged but hated paying taxes. I was the flip side of her top card. When Mama played a heart hand, she always won. When Mama died, the red flames on my drum turned pale; but the white lacquer grew whiter, so dazzling that, blinded even Oskar had to shut his eyes.”


“Raguna, however, lay with me and was frightened. Oskar, though not frightened, lay with Raguna. Her fear and my courage brought our hands together. I explored her fear, she explored my courage. Toward the end I became slightly frightened, but she gained courage”


“I have always been attracted to cemeteries. They are well kept, straightforward, logical, manly, full of life. You can summon up courage and reach decisions in cemeteries, life takes on clear contours—and I’m not referring to burial plots—in cemeteries, and, if you will, a meaning.”


“I deny myself nothing and hardly need anything”


“And didn’t the lack of any trace of the doctor prove that the relationship between doctor and nurse was confined to the hospital and thus purely professional, or if not professional, then at least unilateral in nature?”


“I couldn’t help hearing that the coconut fibers were giving Sister Dorothea a feeling much like the feeling fizz powder had given my beloved Maria all those years ago, except that the fizz powder allowed me to hold up my end fully and triumphantly, while here on the coco mat I was a total and humiliating flop. I just couldn’t cast anchor. What had been stiff and purposeful in those fizz-powder days, and often enough thereafter, hung its head under the sign of the coco fibers, remained listless, puny, with no goal in mind, responding neither to my purely cerebral persuasive skills nor to the sighs of Sister Dorothea, who whispered, moaned, and whimpered, “Come, Satan, come!” as I tried to calm and comfort her: “Satan’s coming, Satan’s almost there,” I murmured in my most satanic tone, all the while conversing with the Satan who had dwelt within me since baptism—and was still lodged there—growled at him: Don’t be a killjoy, Satan! Pleaded: Please, spare me this disgrace. Cajoled: This is not at all like you, Satan, remember Maria, or better yet the widow Greff, or how we made merry with lovely Roswitha in gay Paree. But he replied morosely, without worrying about repeating himself: I’m not in the mood, Oskar. When Satan’s not in the mood, virtue triumphs. Even Satan has the right not to be in the mood every now and then.”


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