- Approaches to Teaching Grass's The Tin Drum
The venerable MLA series Approaches to Teaching World Literature, which began in 1980 with a volume on teaching Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, by now, almost three decades later, contains more than one hundred volumes. Each volume is divided into two parts, the first providing the instructor with bibliographic information on the text under consideration, relevant critical studies, and audiovisual and web resources, the second containing essays exploring the pedagogical possibilities of various critical approaches to the text. Monika Shafi's excellent volume on The Tin Drum offers eighteen essays on teaching Grass's novel in a North American university setting. Topics covered range from the historical context of Nazism and the Holocaust to the central unreliability of Oskar as narrator and the ways in which Grass's critical treatment of the Germany of the first half of the twentieth century speaks to North American readers in the first half of the twenty-first.
The story of the drumming dwarf, Oskar Matzerath, as Shafi puts it in her preface to the volume, "is widely regarded as the foundational text of contemporary German literature" (xi). Oskar's ostentatiously unbelievable account of his life and times hinges throughout on flauntedly obvious contrasts of memory and amnesia, revelation and concealment, guilt and innocence, confession and silence – a series of often highly comic presentational combinations that acquired a startling new and by no means comic biographical relevance with Grass's long-delayed admission in 2006 that as a seventeen-year-old he had been a member of the Waffen-SS. Momentarily undecided by this revelation – stunning for many – whether she should even continue with the volume, Shafi eventually and wisely decided that "Grass's confession raises many moral, political, and historical issues, but it does not diminish his literary accomplishments. [...] The work of rereading Grass, of comparing his fictional and autobiographical accounts of Danzig and adolescence under Nazism, should provide exciting new scholarship for years to come" (xv–xvi).
Part One of the resulting volume, "Materials," offers a briskly informative nine-page introduction to German editions and the only available English translation of Grass's novel, a selection of suggested further readings for students, and an "Instructor's Library" of biographical, background, and critical studies as well as concise information on film, audiovisual, and electronic resources for "time-strapped teachers" (5). Part Two, "Approaches," begins with a group of four essays on "Historical Contexts" (15–66), with Julian Preece writing on modes of history, Todd Kontje on Grass's novel as historical fiction, Patricia Pollock Brodsky on Grass's treatment of outsiders and opposition, and Timothy Malchow on the presentation of personal and public memory. The largest group of essays consists, appropriately, of seven pieces on "Narrative and Reading Strategies" (67–149), with Irene Kacandes writing on basic narrative semiotics, Sabine Gross on narrative presentation, Alfred White on Oskar as primary narrator, Katharina Hall on the role of secondary narrators, Richard Schade on the role of Grass's extravagant imagery, Jane Curran on the estranging and complicating role of humour, fairy tale, and myth, and Elizabeth Hamilton on the novel's employment of theatrical and musical performances. A section on "Teaching Issues of Race and Gender" (150–97) contains essays by Dagmar Lorenz, Peter Arnds, Barbara Becker-Cantarino, and Teresa Ludden, who variously explore pedagogical aspects of Jewish and Holocaust studies, gender and sexuality, feminism, and psychoanalytic theory as they relate to Oskar's narrative. A final section on "Teaching the Film Die Blechtrommel" (198–232) includes essays by Stephen Brockmann, Margaret Setje-Eilers, and Susan Anderson that focus on a variety of aspects of Volker Schlöndorff's abbreviated 1979 film adaptation of the novel. [End Page 425]
As with all the volumes in this series, the focus throughout is on the pedagogical mediation of the text under consideration rather than on original scholarly or critical work. Shafi's well...