Monday, July 30, 2012
The Turnip Flag / The Tin Drum
The Turnip Flag: Selections from The Ceramic Hobs Magazine 1986-1988
I was trying to find some kind of clever link to bridge Gunter Grass’s book The Tin Drum and this here Ceramic Hobs fanzine; in the former a mentally unstable Danzig dwarf decides upon birth that he’ll stop growing at age three because he doesn’t care much for the adult world or his fathers offer of running the family vegetable shop. Covering thirty odd years of the protagonists life [from the 1920’s to the 1950’s - as recounted from the bed of his mental institution] Oskar Matzerath describes, in many picaresque scenes, the death of his mother and two fathers [one presumptive] the attack by the German army upon the Danzig Post Office, his love affairs, his attempts at religion and his joining of a dwarf troop of Nazis entertainers. The latter is the cut and paste jejune outpourings of three members of the Ceramic Hobs. They couldn’t be any further apart.
Grass’s book is a classic of modern literature and one of the most important books written in the German language. The Turnip Flag contains interviews with G.G. Allin and Steve Stapelton, has articles on Peter Sutcliffe, The Butthole Surfers and Dada. Gunter Grass writes in a style that's been compared to James Joyce. Turnip Flag say that if you don’t like Psychic TV then you can fuck off.
I first read The Tin Drum when I was 18 and it gripped me like no other. Whilst my friends were reading Stephen King [and I have to admit that his books went through my hands too] I found the world created by Gunter Grass far more absorbing and edifying. As luck would have it Volker Schlöndorff’s film adaptation of the book came out at the same time and I felt duty bound to drag two friends along with me to a screening at Bradford’s Odeon cinema. In 2009 a new translation of the Tin Drum appeared and I made a promise to myself to reread it.
I’m glad I did. Breon Mitchell’s translation freshens up the 50 year old manuscript no end and makes it a far more approachable and easier to read text than the previous Ralph Manheim translation. The text flows splendidly and once again I found myself in Oskars very strange world.
Grass has since been taken to task for upsetting the Israeli’s in a poem which wonders if its such a good idea for them to have nuclear weapons. He’s also admitted to being conscripted in to the Waffen SS at age 14. Hey ho.
I’ve no idea how many Turnip Flags appeared. I was never aware of its presence until this selection landed on the mat. Hopefully more of these buried nuggets await discovery. They need to be for these youthful cut and paste diatribes are as entertaining as Mr Grass’s. At least to me they are. Worth getting for the Steve Stapelton interview alone.
Simon Morris Ceramic Hobs