Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Morgan Meis on Gunter Grass

(Boy, that makes for a very odd-sounding post title, don't you think? I thought about A study in Glass Houses, but I figured it might be harder to pull up later if I ever get around to indexing this pile of stuff I am blogging. Blogging sounds like logging. Maybe we should organize the data base into cords. Piled up to be burned later, you know, but very organized in the meantime.)

Excuse the diversion.

I have not read Grass, and I may not get around to it. But if I do, I will start with The Tin Drum. This little post made me think more openly about something. This paragraph jumped out at me.

The brilliant philosopher Bernard Williams once coined the term Moral Luck. With it, he meant to pound a little contingency into the universalist and absolute moral philosophies of the Kantians and Utilitarians. We are not judged, Williams meant to say, in the pure realm of our actions and intentions, but within the decidedly contingent realm of the outcomes of those actions and intentions. What happens matters. The way things turn out, which is effectively impossible to foretell, has a lot to do with how we judge and understand the initial behavior. Williams was famously fond of his Gauguin example. It was, by any standard, a rather reprehensible set of actions that led Gauguin to abandon his wife and child and take off to Tahiti where he could behave scandalously with very young girls. It was a shitty thing to do. But, Gauguin also managed to accomplish something else. He painted brilliant paintings there. He painted paintings that were a revelation, that blew painting open and revealed new worlds of possibility to the art of his time. That is an accomplishment that cannot be ignored in the attempt to take account of Gauguin's awful behavior to the people who needed him most. We judge Gauguin differently in the light of his accomplishment. That isn't even to say that we let him off the hook, but that we simply cannot see his actions as unrelated to his accomplishments when those accomplishments are so meaningful to the world we all share.

He's right, you know. Grass was not only a child of the Third Reich and all the evil it represents, but even today apparently remains an insufferable blowhard. Hitchens calls him a fool, and Meis uses even harsher terms (complete ass and piece of shit). But through it all, the man apparently redeems himself as a writer. The comment thread continues the theme. The image of glass houses and stones is the best I could come up with as I read. (No puns come to mind with Grass/glass... Too bad,)

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