The only surprising thing about the anti-Semitic poem that Günter Grass published last week, and that has created an international firestorm, is that he waited so long to write such a thing. Anti-Semitism, after all, is all the rage these days among left-wing European literary intellectuals (excuse the multiple redundancy), and Grass has always prided himself on being in the forefront of these trends, not being a Johann-come-lately.
Who is Günter Grass, you ask? For decades after the 1959 publication of his first and most famous (and highly overrated) novel, The Tin Drum, he was described by admirers as the conscience of postwar Germany. His detractors had other words for him: smug, arrogant, obnoxious. Even Richard Gilman, a writer for the left-wing The Nation whom one might have expected to celebrate the guy, complained in 1982 about his lofty, hectoring tone, stating:
Today there is no writer more swollen with self-importance than Günter Grass, who has begun to think of himself as identical with the fates of German literature, German politics, and German mores. John Updike, for his part, saw Grass as a cautionary case for politically engaged writers: he can't be bothered to write a novel; he just sends dispatches from the front lines of his engagement.
Or, in other words, "Don't Idle On The Grass" I thought to myself as I wondered what kind of person started communications like this girl did. Australian punk rock girls? Just my luck that she was on the other side of the planet. Okay, I'd give her a shot at sanity.
The following record tracks the well-worn path of most of my ordinary attempts at communication with the generalized world, whether online, in print, or over a beer in the barnyard back in the day. I will attempt to re-create the original form of the communication, in this case, to shine ample light on a very swift but exciting blitz of misunderstandings and its ultimate smiling defeat, by including both sides of the exchange until the point of what was lost in translation is more clear. These amusing messages shot back and forth across the globe from Washington, DC to Australia over a few weeks in May & June, 1998, initiated when a young lady named Olivia Pantelidis found my online bookstore, and filled out the suggestion box form.
At 9:52 PM -0700 5/20/98, WWW-server wrote: mail_dest = storemaster rmailreq = true subject = Suggestion Box name = olivia rmail = okimmikko bookworm = 3-5 books author = grass, i am trying to contact him can you help me title = topic = comments = PLEASE IF YOU CAN HELP ME EMAIL ME AND LET ME KNOW. hE IS MY IDLE
Sorry Olivia. I sell books. I am not a literary agent or detective. You'll need to find Gunter yourself, and do learn to spell your words. I hardly think GG is your "IDLE", but rather like Billy he might be your "IDOL."
Literary folk don't usually cotton to such linguistic haziness. But on the positive side, you are now entered in the Bookskellar Book Giveaway.
Gabriel Thy Graphic Solutions Ink Systems
At 9:16 PM -0700 5/21/98, Olivia Pantelidis wrote: How dare you!!!!!!! I ask you for help and you come back at me like some kind of know it all. Well fuck you!!!!! People like you are so above arrogant it is amazing. Don't flatter yourself either it is quite obvious that you have a high estimation of your own worth well you can shove it up your arse!!!!
Bye for now shithead, and take me out of your stupid contest or whatever it is.
How dare ME??? Get a life Olivia! Do you storm into a bookstore and DEMAND they give you all sorts of information on some author you are asking about? Hell no, they might DIRECT you where to get it, if at first they understand what you are asking (after all, you did say please). I had to take pause at your language because your orthography was a bit out of kilter (and I saw a handful of jokes just waiting to be mined). But you, in turn, decide to drop your pants, aim, and squirt wickedly juicy darts in my direction when I gently point out what was rather obvious in the context of my website. Well BABY (HERE'S WHERE YOU SHOUT BACK, FUCK YOU MAN, I AIN'T YOUR BABY!) you dear Olivia are on record as behaving according to your own nature. Punk THAT little sister! I'm sorry my reply offended you, but I guess YOU know how to take care of YOURSELF. You certainly SHOWED me, didn't you?
I get two or three notes a week similar to your first request from kids obviously wanting me to do homework and all sorts of tasks more suited to themselves, when my site is so obviously a bookstore. Perhaps since I so angered you, I should resort in all these cases to the standard reply most folks would useindifference, simply ignore the letterwriter. Then I guess I could just dance with myself, and nobody would notice. But go ahead and FLATTER yourself all you care to indulge. And are you saying that you don't have a high estimation of your own self-worth? Ummm, that's odd, I would SWEAR that you do.
Nothing I say is ever enough...
"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one."
Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
"A good friend who points out mistakes and imperfections and rebukes evil is to be respected as if he reveals a secret of hidden treasure."
Buddha (B.C. 568-488)
Quite the wit you have there Gabe, I must say i am impressed. Takes a lot for me to get shitty and well hey you did it. I enjoyed your email so thank you for pointing out to me what I so stupidly neglected to see. (I guess it's a chick thing). I was wrong about you I admit it. I was hoping to speak to somone who would be a little more sympathetic and not someone so caught up in my grammar, (who's the one telling WHO to get a life?) I think it is you my friend who requires a little more excitement in your life if when a person comes to you for honest help all you can give them is grammar lessons. So I apologise for the harsh language but I still believe that you were exceptionally rude and should consider apologising to me. If you do not feel you need to apologise that is fine because then my point will be proven. See ya Grammar Geek Olivia ;)
Whew! We made it past the swirling torrents of raw personality nerve and now can smile and laugh like old friends. That was SOME ride, Liv. Now that we're on the same page, I hope you continue to check back at the Bookskellar, but tell me, who is this Calvina you mention? Perhaps you could recommend a few authors to help supplement my online shelves. It takes a lot of work to put an author online, so I AM selective of course, but in turn I'm always looking for new names I might have unintentionally missed, or authors I may not have previously known, but might welcome to the Skellar, if certain criteria according to my secret list of intangibles no one can decipher but myself [inane iconografia], are met. Anywaze, glad to have weathered the storm with you. And by the way, I love your name!
Gabriel Thy Creative Director Graphic Solutions Ink Systems
Thanks so much for your email Gabe it put alot into perspective i Guess you are right in a lot of things and i am sorry i took your humour the wrong way. (This cyber world muddles everything sometimes. I do agree with you my knowledge of grammar and spelling is not the greatest but i have an enormous passion for reading and i know that counts for something, to me anyway and i hope you can understand that. You should read 'the tin drum' it is one of his finest books ever. I have not read them all but a few more and i'm nearly there. I don't contest to being some kind of know it all but i do know that I admire him tremendously and he too would find your wit quite amusing, now that i understand it i find it very funny. If you have any books you could suggest let me know, i am a big fan of European literature. Thomas Mann, Milan Kundera, Calvina etc thanks Liv (my friends call me that) :)
Hi Olivia! I'm not avoiding you. I've been very busy, exhaustingly, work til I drop busy, no damn room at all on my plate for plain restful relaxation or literary chat, but I did appreciate your last letter, and will respond in kind very soon.
Hey Liv. Broadcasting from WASHINGTON, DC. Olivia Pantelidis is the name I immediately loved, and loved with the prattling passion of history. I presumed it to be Greek in nature. Perhaps I am wrong. Yes, Olivia Pantelidis, I just had to write it again, the other names are all so lovely and fine, Liv and Okimikko (Japanese-flavor I note), but it was your whole given name which drew first blood. Thanks for writing back. This has actually come to be much fun playing words like a deck of cards with you. Meanwhile I live in DC, a block away from the stadium where the REDSKINS footballers used to play until moving to a new expensive facility in the suburbs last year. Good riddance I say, but I'd really love to see a baseball team play there for many reasons which I will spare you for now.
Perhaps the title was not indicative of Gunter's other work, but it reminded me of Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, and although I love Pynchon's earlier work, Vineland and this latest book, Mason and Dixon (a much difficult read, and I have read very little of it frankly.) leave a lot to be desired. Vineland sucked as far as I'm concerned, a pale shimmer of past literary glory, this book. Mason and Dixon is something altogether different. Written in Olde Englische, I don't know if it's worth the read or not. But for now it remains on my shelf, a gift from Sue, barely opened, a scholar's maze.
There's also a public hospital, a large highschool, a single small Ma & Pa grocery store, and the National Guard facility in my immediate neigborhood. Nothing else but old rowhouses, many in slum condition, offer my life much urban immediacy. Litter and glass plague these neighborhood streets and alleys. Gunshots are not so rare. Graffitti slang, not EVEN artistic, is sprayed wildcat upon this wall or that building. Wearing my social engineering cap, I lust for new business sections to open up down here, designed heavy commerce worthy of a vibrant city just bursting to emerge from this neighborhood. My property is about half a mile from the River Anacostia flowing just the other side of the stadium. We are prime commercial, but alas, the city suffers and rages and dies, arguing poorly for residential nothingness. There are few wise men here. A city of imposters and ugly metaphors. Fakes and spastic manipulators. Tyrants and suit salad liars. The city is withering on the vine of potential growth. Down here they call it a race issue. It's really an ego issue. Meanwhile we wither.
It's no secret I too curl up among my words and the books that publish them. My own few favorites are scattered around my website. You can visit the Scenewash Project 20003 and click to THE LITERARY CHIP. Still not a whole lot there yet, but I aim to establish a little here, a little there, and take heed that I am slowly bringing it all together. This is practically all I do in my miserable life among the mobs of malcontention, but that might be exaggerating ever slightly, like a whisper among the rapids.
I write many words on many pages and build my websites one page at a time. Desperation is the poet's business. And my poems rot because I haven't put very many online yet, but the space is there, and some poems are there. Check around. Be my Australian friend. I don't have one yet. It seems like we've damned near established some sort of literary correspondence, and while I get really busy sometimes, I do appreciate an interesting correspondence. I freelance, and work several current clients on a sporadic basis. I work and take great peace and ponderance in my garden, and am enlisted in the minds that matter to fight back all the garbage entropy and grime have a way of bringing to my attention . . .
I do all this from home, and in fact, rarely leave the Dollhouse & Grillyard [our pet names for the house & yard], and am somewhat agoraphobic in that way. I live here with two others. Peter and Sue. You can read about them on the website as well. I'm currently trying to finish Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. You really should read this book, without question. It is a rare instant classic, better than Grass's The Rat, which I only mildly found amusing or interesting. In fact I was disappointed, I must say. Perhaps the title was not indicative of Gunter's other work, but it reminded me of Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, and although I love Pynchon's earlier work, Vineland and this latest book, Mason and Dixon (a much difficult read, and I have read very little of it frankly.) leave a lot to be desired. Vineland sucked as far as I'm concerned, a pale shimmer of past literary glory, this book. Mason and Dixon is something altogether different. Written in Olde Englische, I don't know if it's worth the read or not. But for now it remains on my shelf, a gift from Sue, barely opened, a scholar's maze.
Don't use Netscape, eh? Which browser DO you use? Tell me about your computer, if you've a mind to go there. I work from a Power Macintosh, an 8500/120, but I hope to upgrade to a G-3 soon. Anywaze, it's been fun chatting widja . . . keep it cool, and we'll just play this mystery word by word. As some unknown poet wrote some time ago, twig by twig we build a language. That reminds me, my mother wants to discuss a poem I just had published, but one I had written a while ago. She's a 63 year old junior at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, down in the state of Georgia, so go figure. She loves school, and has never been happier in her life! She studied Nietzsche this past quarter and now feels driven to discuss this called poem with me, so I must oblige her. I've got to write her now, so tiddly widdly, until the next time we meet, Olivia, just call me...
Hey GT, Glad you mailed me. i thought you were not talking to me anymore. Well i made a mistake with the authors name (i really should read back over my emails). Anyways his name is Italo Calvino. He wrote 'If on a Winter's night a traveller' it is probably one of the greatest and most frustrating books i have ever read. I have only read three of his books so far but he is a fascinating writer. Very much like Kundera, happy to go off on tangents and take you on that for awhile, i love a writer who can do that. Currently i am reading Grass' 'Dog Years' and it is bloody hard. It requires and inordinate amount of concentration, i haven't had to focus like that since 'the divine comedy' so it's feels good. Hey what did you think of the 'Rat' that is one i am yet to read so let me know what you think, i hear it is quite strange. Unfortunately on this damn computer i have trouble finding anything on the net. Because i do not have netscape it makes things a lot harder. I must learn to download. Can't think of any others at the moment, my reading comes in waves of authors, at the moment it's Grass, but if i think of anymore i will let you know.
Which name are you reffering to? Olivia, Liv or kimmikko? Must say yours is quite cooli as well. By the way i am in Australia, Melbourne. Where are you? See ya GT Liv
And just to put the sharpest point on all this linguistic flummoxing, two other notes found their way into my inbox during my little frackus with my new pal Olivia. Read, and cherish. Remember now, I am an Amazon affiliate, a mere online bookstore, one of the first, by the way, launching the Bookskellar on April 1, 1997, just weeks after Amazon announced its revolutionary program. I certainly did not offer any summaries or Cliff notes on the site, nor did Amazon itself in those first years. I think I ignored their requests. It was obvious that Blondi and Alisa needed to learn that a library was a girl's best friend during these times of dark scholastic horror. But, despite the positive outcome of the Oliva Pantelides, I was hesitant to step into that shark pool again. I had my own work to do, and that didn't include doing homework for young ladies I didn't even know, much less stalk their favorite writers for them. If I had that information, I would share it, but to have to explain that I didn't have it, just didn't make sense to me. Life must not be much more than a sunny easter egg hunt in some parts of this inglorious world.
Date: Mon, 11 May 1998 18:08:19 EDT To: storemaster From: Blondi2927@aol.xxx
PLEASE SEND THE SUMMARY ON THE BOOK "UNCLE TOM'S CHILDREN"
Date: Sun, 31 May 1998 01:56:28 EDT To: storemaster
i need some sort of address to gregory corso, because i'm doing a project for school, for monday june 1st, and if there is any way you could help me, thank you, even a publishers address would be fine, just something....
"Ignorance and virtue suck on the same straw. Souls grow on bones, but die beneath bankers' hours.""