"Getting back to the umbilical cord": Psychoanalysis, feminism and The Tin Drum (2008)

Author(s): Ludden T

    Abstract: Theories of subjectivity (Freud, Lacan and Irigaray) are used to examine the representation of the central protagonist’s existential crisis in Gunter Grass’s novel ‘The Tin Drum’ (1959). I trace the theme of anxiety surrounding origins and the motif of returning to the umbilical cord. I concentrate on the complex way that imagery works in Grass’s text. In 'The Tin Drum' images do not often correspond to just one idea but resonate with multiple meanings, and often a motif can mean two opposing things at the same time. This is true of the motif of returning to the umbilical cord, which at first appears to allude to escapism, and is then associated with an intense mode of remembering. “Getting back to the umbilical cord” thus means both escape from history (not facing reality) and getting back to history (remembering the details of the past that we have repressed or forgotten). The complex character of Oskar alludes to the dangers of both engaging and not engaging with the world and society. In both narrating birth and avoiding thinking it fully, the text suggests Oskar’s reluctance to think origins, change and relationality, which is symptomatic of his desire to ‘escape’ from history. But the text simultaneously emphasizes that this escape is impossible. The motif of escaping/remembering history resonates on other levels of time--such as West Germany in 1959--and can highlight complexities of specific historical moments: the general reluctance to engage with German history during the 1950s, together with the growing realization of the impossibility of avoiding this activity and articulations from some quarters of the critical need to think through the German past.

      • Book Title: Approaches to Teaching Grass's The Tin Drum
      • Volume: 100
      • Pages: 185-197
      • Publisher: Modern Language Association of America
      • Publication type: Book chapter
      • Bibliographic status: Published

        Dr Teresa Ludden
        Lecturer in German