Author and Nobel Laureate Gunter Grass died at the age of 87 today. We were lucky enough to publish a preview of his groundbreaking “The Flounder” in the December, 1978 issue of Playboy Magazine, accompanied with two of Gunter’s original sketches. Here it is, republished in full.
In our early myths, there was no fire. Lightning struck, moors burst into flame of their own accord, but we never succeeded in holding on to the fire; it always died out. And so we ate our badger, elk cow and grouse raw or dried on stones. And we huddled shivering in the darkness.
Then the dry wood said to us, “Someone whose flesh is also a pouch must climb up to the Sky Wolf. He is the keeper of the primal fire, whence comes all other fire, including the lightning”. It had to be a woman, because the male has no pouch in his flesh So a woman climbed up by the rainbow and found the Sky Wolf lying beside the primal fire. He had just been eating a crispy brown roast and he gave the woman what was left of it. Before she had finished chewing, he said sadly, “I know you’ve come for fire, but have you a pouch?”
When the woman showed him her pouch, he said, “I’m old, I cant see anymore Lie down with me and let me test you.”
The woman lay down with him, and he tested her pouch with his wolf’s member until he was all worn out and fell asleep on her flesh. After waiting a little while and another little while, she let his tester slip out of her pouch, tipped him remember, he was lying on top of her off to one side, sprang to her feet and shook herself a little. Then she took three glowing bits of charcoal from the primal fire and hid them in her pouch, where they instantly seized on the wolf sperm and made it his.
Thereupon the wolf woke up, for he must have heard or sensed that the fire was consuming his seed in the woman’s pouch “I’m too exhausted,” he said, “to take back what you’ve stolen but let me tell you this: The primal fire will make its mark at the opening of your pouch, and the mark will leave a scar. Your scar will itch and itch. And because it itches, you will wish for someone to come and lake the itch away. And when it doesn’t itch, you will wish for someone to come and make it itch.”
The woman laughed, for her pouch was still moist and the glowing charcoal hadn’t yet started to burn her. She laughed so hard she had to hold herself in. And, laughing, she said to the exhausted wolf, “You old wreck, don’t make up stories about my pouch Ill show you what else I can do. You’ll be amazed.”
At that, she spread her legs and stood over the primal fire. Holding two fingers under her pouch to make sure nothing would fall out of it, she pissed into the primal fire until it went out. And the old Sky Wolf wept, for that spelled the end of crispy brown roasts, he’d just have to gulp everything down raw. That, it seems, is what made earthly wolves murderous and misanthropic.
Just in time, the woman climbed back down to earth over the paling rainbow. She returned to her horde, screaming, because her pouch was dry by then and the glowing charcoal was burning her.
“Awa! Awa!” she screamed, and those primordial sounds became her name In a later day, the scar at the entrance to her pouch, which the Sky Wolf had prophesied, came to be known as the clitoris or tickler, but it remains an object of controversy among scientists investigating the origin of the orgasm.
From then on, we had fire. It never died out. Where there were people, there was always a wisp of smoke. But because a woman had brought us fire, the woman kept us pouchless men in a state of dependency. We were no longer allowed to sacrifice to the Sky Wolf, but only to the Heavenly Elk.
For many, many years, the origin and function of the itching scar were unknown to us. For when the returning Awa had finished screaming, she told us ever so casually that the old wolf had been kind to her, that he had roasted a hare for her over the primal fire, that roast hare is perfectly delicious and that she now knew how to cook. She further told us that she had complained to the wolf about how cold and dark it was down here, that of all sacrifices in his honor he preferred elk calves, that she had washed his left hind paw which was infected and dressed it with the medicinal herbs she never went anywhere without, that he, poor fellow, had been so grateful to her for curing his limp that he had given her three glowing coals out of the primal fire; and she ended up by telling us that male superstition to the contrary notwithstanding the Sky Wolf was a female.
That was all Awa told us. And I myself wouldn’t have known a thing if I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to that teensy-weensy scar and examined Ilsebill tickler in the light of other myths. I told the Flounder, but he wouldn’t believe it. He believed only in his reason.
So help me, Ilsebill, she had three. Nature can do anything. Honest to goodness, three of them. And if my memory doesn’t deceive me, all women had that name in the Stone Age, Awa Awa Awa. And we men were all called Edek. We were all alike in every way. And so were the Awas. One, two, three. At first we couldn’t count any higher. No, not below, not above; in between. The plural begins with three. Three is the beginning of multiplicity, the series, the chain, and of myth. But don’t let it tie you up in complexes. We acquired some later on In our region, to the east of the river, Potrimpos, who became a god of the Prussians along with Pikollos and Perkunos, was said to have had three testicles. Yes, you’re right. Three breasts are more, or at least they look it; they look like more and more; they suggest superabundance, advertise generosity, give eternal assurance of a full belly. Still, when you come right down to it, they are abnormal though not inconceivable. Naturally. A projection of male desires I knew you’d say that. Maybe they are anatomically impossible. But in those days, when myths still cast their shadows, Awa had three. And its true that today the third is often wanting I mean, something is wanting. Well, the third of the three. Don’t be so quick on the trigger. No, of course not. Of course I wont make a cult of it. Of course two are plenty. You can take my word for it, Ilsebill, basically I’m satisfied with two, I’m not a fool I don’t go chasing after a number. Now that, thanks to your fish soup and no pill, it must have come off, now that you’re pregnant and your two will soon weigh more than Awas three, I’m perfectly, blissfully contented.
The third was always an extra. Essentially a caprice of capricious nature. As useless as the appendix. Altogether, I cant help wondering Why this breast fixation? This typically male tittomania? This cry for the primal mother, the super wet nurse? Anyway, Awa became a goddess later on and had her three tits certified in hand-sized clay idols. Other goddesses the Indian Kali, for instance had four or more arms. But these may have served some practical purpose. The Greek mother goddesses Demeter, Hera on the other hand, were normally outfitted and managed to stay in business for thousands of years even so I’ve also seen gods represented with a third eye in their forehead I wouldn’t want one of those if you paid me.
All in all, the number three promises more than it can deliver. Awa overdid it with her three boobies as much as the Amazons underdid it with their one breast. That’s why our latter-day feminists always go to extremes. Get that sulky look off your face. I’m all in favor of the libbers. And I assure you, Ilsebill, two are plenty. And doctor will tell you so. And if our child doesn’t turn out to be a boy, she’ll certainly have enough with two. What do you mean, aha? Men just happen to be crazy, always have this yen for bigger and bigger bosoms.
There must be reasons why we men are so hipped on breasts, as if wed all been weaned too soon. It must be you women’s fault. It could be your fault. Because you attach so much, too much importance to whether or not they sag a little more, each day a little more. Let them sag, to hell with them.
NUNS AND CARROTS
In troubled times everywhere monks and nuns were escaping from their cloisters to risk the perils of secular life— it was often difficult to hold pious girls to their vows. They fidgeted, they wanted out, they wanted a man in breeches, 1 wanted to be married, to bear children by the dozen, to walk in silk and satin and try to keep up with the town fashions.
And so, while the sweet millet porridge diminished on the long table, the abbess told her little nuns, whose asses were itching for life, what life is and how quickly it crumbles away. She listed the freedoms of the nunnery and, in the debit column, the arduous duties of the married woman. While buckwheat piroshki filled with bacon and spinach were being enjoyed on both sides of the long table, the abbess explained to her man-crazy women the male build, using the vegetable course, buttered (and paralyzed) carrots, which with their varied shapes provided a graphic illustration of what a man is good for. How deeply penetrating he can be and how knobby. How soon he gives out and starts drooping pathetically. How brutal he becomes when he cant get it up. How unprofitable this quick fucking is to women. How all he wants is children, especially sons. How soon he looks for variety in other beds. But how his spouse must never wander, never lust for other carrots. How hard his hand strikes. How suddenly he withdraws his favor and gets his carrot cooked soft away from home.
But when the nuns, and especially the novices, kept squirming on their stools and persisted in seeing harder and more lasting promise in their buttered carrots, the abbess gave them permission to receive visitors through the back door of the convent, and also to range freely outside the cloister, thus acquainting them with the pleasures of the flesh and making them better able to resist the seductions of married life. Before saying grace and dismissing her charges, the abbess gave them further bits of advice. Let no quarrel over a codpiece ever disturb their monastic tranquility. Let them always remain good sisters to one another. Let them not content themselves with holding still, but ride with and against. A man’s thanks should always be weighable in silver And never, never, never, must they succumb to weepy, gushy love.
GRET’S DOUBLE TREASURE
Fat Gret’s ass was as big as two collective farms. And if you sexual sociologists, deep in worry blubber from counting flies legs, had been asked in as witnesses when, as she liked me to do on Wednesdays, I came at her from behind but first, to make it all soft and as wet as wept on, licked her asshole and environs like a goat (hungry for salt), which was easy to do when Fat Gret offered her double treasure for worship, you would have seen the archetype of Christian charity, our partner-oriented fervor; but my used bill who is sometimes adventurous on Thursdays has never, no matter how devoutly I get down on my knees to her, licked my ass, because she’s afraid her tongue would drop off with her last shred of modesty.
Yet Ilsebill reads books of all sizes in which the overcoming of inhibitions is said to be the first requirement for a free society. Never fear, Ill knock or teach these late-bourgeois refusal mechanisms— “Somehow,” she says, "I don’t dare I still don’t dare"— out of her, and Ill do it the way it says in her women’s lib books, witli partner-oriented conflicting-roles games, until on one of these Catholic Fridays believe me, holy father she and her little tongue will see how nice it is. For it can’t be bought and paid for Its within reach of all It has nothing to do with class Old man Marx didn’t know anything about it. Its a foretaste of beauty. As every dog knows Oh, to sniff at, lick, taste and smell one!
But when I say to my Ilsebill, "Tomorrow is Saturday I’ll take a thorough bath, I’ll smell of lavender all over,” she says, “So what?” Because we’ve lost the habit because we only read about it, because if we mention it at all, we mean it symbolically. Because we’ve discussed it, chewed the whole thing over too often. Because we don’t suspect what expectant rosebud lips an asshole is always making—all week long.
For our playing fields—yours, Ilsebill, and mine have just the right proportions; no speculator, no concrete-crazed developer can divide up your meadow, no flaming-red party boss can grab my ass away from you (or yours from me). The ass is one thing that ideology is afraid to touch. Cant get its claws on it. Can’t read any idea into it. Therefore disparages it. Only gays are supposed to make use of it. A kick in the ass is nevertheless permissible, linguistically speaking. And with deplorable bad taste the asshole has been transformed into a term of opprobrium. Ass licking is looked down on, though the capitalist developer and the flaming-red party boss lick each others asses, but without pleasure, for whether officially or unofficially they do it in trousers, their taste running to flannel, 50 percent worsted and 50 percent synthetic fiber.
No, Ilsebill Its got to be bare. My meadows, your rolling hills. Our fields I worship it, Gods rounded idea. Yes, yes, ever since the partly cloudy Neolithic, when Awas dimples were still unnumbered, the heavens for me have been festooned with asses. And when Margarete Ruscli, the cooking nun, first let her sun rise for the runaway Franciscan—monk for me, in other words— I achieved an unveiled understanding of Saint Francis hymn: devotion, jubilation, industry. Forget no dimple. Stop to rest beside country lanes. The hills ask to be gently grazed. Deep in dialog. Entrance and exit exchange greetings. Where does the food go? Who’s kissing whom? Insight gained. Soon I will know every bit of you. When Fat Gret let out a fart because I’d been licking her too meticulously, we both relished the breeze. After all, as usual on Wednesday, we had eaten beans with turnips and peppered pork chops; and anyone who is repelled by his sweetheart’s farts has no business talking about love. All right, laugh. Get that stuffy look off your face. Have a heart.
INSPECTION OF FECES
In the fourth month of her pregnancy (and therefore suddenly wild about hazelnuts), Ilsebill lost an upper-right molar made valuable by a gold crown and, taking fright as if a male toad were creeping up on her, swallowed it. All she spat out was the shell of the hazelnut, which, irony of ironies, had been empty.
“Well?” I said next morning “Did you look for it? Its gold, after all.”
But she refused to inspect her morning stools, let alone prod them with a washable fork. And I was forbidden to root around in her “excrement,” as she contemptuously called it.
“That’s because you were brought up unwisely and too well,” I said. For our fecal matter should be important to us and not repel us. Its not a foreign body It has our warmth. Nowadays its being described again in books, shown in films and painted in still life’s. It had been forgotten, that’s all. Because as far as I can think back and look behind me, all the cooks (inside me) have inspected their feces and in all my time phases mine as well I was always under strict supervision.
During her years as an abbess, for instance, Fat Gret made all the novices bring her their chamber pots, and every kitchen boy who came to her for employment had first to demonstrate his fitness by showing healthy stools.
And even when, as Albrecht the swordmaker, I was plagued with daily Lenten fare, I was subjected to ex posteriori inspections. So unyieldingly fanatical was my wife and meatless cook, Dorothea, about her ascetic way of life that, not content with setting a meatless and fatless table, she checked on my intake at other peoples tables by poking through my feces for undigested bits of sinew or traces of bacon rind or tripe fiber, and compared my deposit with her own High Gothic and penitential stools, which were always dry and transcendental in their pallor, whereas I had sinned—at guild banquets, when suckling pigs stuffed with milky millet were carved for the smiths and swordmakers; or when, sometimes in the woods and sometimes at the lodge of the stonemasons then working on Saint Peters in the Outer City, I cooked in secret witli my friend Lud the wood carver sheeps kidneys and fat sheeps tails grilled over an open fire. Nothing could be concealed from Dorothea Many a time I gave myself away by swallowing cartilage or small bones, which came out the other end intact.
And when I was General Rapp, Napoleons governor of the Republic of Danzig, it was the cook Sophie Rotzoll who, because I had disparaged her mushroom dishes as indigestible, spread my shit on a silver platter and served it up to me. I had a soldiers sense of humor; I put up with her impudence And she was right not a shred of mushroom skin, not a single mushroom worm to be seen. My palate grew keener and keener, and soon I was calling morels, milk caps and egg mushrooms delicate. My taste developed to the point where I wouldn’t even forgo the tasty though sandy Polish green agaric, though the sand would have shown up in my gubernatorial stools.
All my cooks, I say, have inspected feces, read the future in feces and, in prehistoric times, even carried on a pagan dialog with fecal matter. Wigga, for instance, examining the still-steaming sharpie of a Gothic captain who had been so ill-mannered as to relieve himself in the immediate vicinity of our Wicker Bastion settlement, read the inexorable destiny of the Goths, who were soon to embark on their migration. In our Old Pomorshian tongue (the precursor of present-day Kasubian), she oracled their division into Ostrogoths and Visigoths, into luminous Goths and sublime Goths Ermanaric and the Huns, Alaric in Rome How Belisarius would take King Vitiges prisoner The Battle of Chalons And so on and so on… In the Neolithic, on the other hand, when my primordial cook ruled, the inspection of feces was a feature of the cult. We Neolithic folk had entirely different customs, and not just in regard to eating. Each of us ate singly, with his back to the horde, not shamed but silent and introverted, immersed in mastication, eyeless. But we shat together, squatting in a circle and exchanging shouts of encouragement. After the horde shit-together, we felt collectively relieved and chatted happily, showing one another our finished products, drawing pithy comparisons with past performances or teasing our constipated comrades, who were still squatting in vain.
Needless to say, the farting incidental to the rite was also a social at Tair. What today is said to stink and is crudely amalgamated with latrines and slit trenches. “It stinks like an army camp around here!"—was natural to us, because we identified with our feces In smelling our turds, we smell ourselves. These were no foreign bodies. If we needed food and enjoyed the taste, how could we fail to take pleasure in evacuating what remained of it? We looked upon each departing turd with gratitude, and with a certain sadness as well. Consequently, the horde shit-together, for which we assembled, nay, were obliged to assemble twice daily, was followed bv a paean, a formula ol’ thanksgiving, a hosanna or last tribute.
Because she was the horde cook, our priestess, Awa, inspected our feces, which had cooled in the meantime. Although she never established a fixed order of sequence, she strode around the circle, finding an exegetic word for each of us, even the most meager shitter, for which reason tins most human of institutions must be recognized as primordially democratic. All squatted in equality, none exalted a hove his fellows, for we were all tier children. Anyone who had squatted unsuccessfully was reprimanded, and if lie remained constipated over a period of days, he was punished as is still customary by being made to shit alone. And if even then lie tailed to squeeze out so much as a hard and undersized sausage, loads eggs were funneled into him Awa wielded the Neolithic spoon, the ladlelike shoulder blade of an elk cow. That helped!
In our humanistic modern age, political criminals, or "enemies of the people,” are sometimes punished or tortured by being made to eat their own fascist Communist, anarchist, or even liberal shit. We would not have felt humiliated by such treatment, because our attitude toward fecal matter was not only religious but practical as well In times of famine, we ate it, without pleasure but also without disgust. Today only babies have this natural attitude toward the end products of their digestion and toward the pleasurable process of metabolism, for which adults have devised such coy euphemisms number two Big business. To go where even the Kaiser must go on fool. To disappear for a moment.
“You barbarians,” cried the Flounder when, more or less in passing, I told him about our maternally approved shit together. “Pigs” he screamed, “When in King Minos palace they’ve already got Hush toilets.” He tried to talk me into a sense of shame. Ami soon, only 2000 years later, I developed one and shat alone like everyone else. The Flounder lectured me on culture and civilization. I listened, though I really never understood whether the individualization of the bowel movement was a cultural development or an advance in civilization. In the Neolithic, in any case, when we knew only the horde shit-together and our Awa twice daily struck up her vowel rich paean, we were no strangers to hygiene coltsfoot leaves. Never been beaten (Ah, if only we had a collective toilet, a two-seat at least, if not the big family size). Tell me the truth Ilsebill even if you didn’t want to fish your gold tooth out ol your excrement, and (like most people) you use the word shit exclusively and quiet unjustifiably as an expletive Admit it Ilsebill don’t use your pregnancy as an excuse, admit that you look, look behind you, though differently and much too genteelly. You like to smell yourself as much as I do myself. And I would gladly smell you and gladly be smelled by you Love? That’s it. And so the kitchen maid Agues Kurbiella who cooked diet fare for painter Moller and poet Opiiz, inspected her lovers leces each day and honored them in verses. Salutary words always came to her. And when the Black Death struck Opitz, Agues recognized by the shit in his breeches that he was doomed to die and lamented softly:
The lord hath meant to give me the alarm:
Where shytte is black,
beset with many a many a worm,
my shytter soon must come to grievous our warm.
I’ll tell you a story to put you to sleep.
A story about prehistoric times when all the women had three tits. Or something else. The story of the Flounder, for instance… .
“There was once a butterball. Her name was–hey, what was her name?– Ilsebill. She had a man, and his name was Max. She sat home all the time, painting her nails with green polish. He always went fishing on weekends, off the harbor breakwater. And while Max fished and fished, his butterball wife would paint her fingernails green, and then she’d lie all alone in her piss pot, wishing this, that and some other guy into her bed.
"So one afternoon, when Max was fishing off the breakwater, a Flounder bit. That’s a flatfish. His popeyes are out of line with his blubbery mouth. He occurs in a fairy tale, so naturally he could talk, and he said to Max, ‘Set me free and you can make a wish.’
"So Max took the Flounder off the hook, threw him back into the sea with a splash and said, 'Oh, Flounder. My Ilsebill is just a cuddly little wife; all she wants to do is kiss and cuddle, fuck and be fucked, by this one and that one and that one and this one. With me she’s never satisfied. She always wants to be banged by some guy that’s not me. She thinks my stinkhorn stinks. What should I do, oh, what should I do?’
'So what kind of guy does she want to do it with?’ asked the Flounder, giving him a crooked look from the water. ”'Well, with a fire chief in uniform, for instance,’ said the fisherman, looking out over the smooth sea, 'cause he was fishing in the Baltic.
'You’re a fire chief already, with braid and buttons,’ said the Flounder, and he dove under. “So Max in uniform climbed into bed with his Ilsebill and fucked her so hard that his buttons popped. And he kept it up until Ilsebill had enough of the fire chief and her legs went stiff and she started to fidget and moan, 'Oh, if only I could have a judge in there.’
"So then Max called the Flounder out of the slightly ruffled sea, and the Flounder turned Max into a judge in robes and horn-rimmed glasses and a black barret. And when Ilsebill was fed up with his stinkhorn and wanted an extraneurotic anarchist between the sheets, the Flounder put Max the Terrorist into her bed with a stocking mask, ticking bomb and all. By that time, the Baltic was making little short-winded waves.
"That was a big success for a whole week, because Ilsebill found this character 'terribly interesting.’ But when she finally realized that even anarchists have only two balls, she said, 'What’s so remarkable about him, I’d like to know? Right in the middle, he starts thinking about something else and shoots his mouth off about politics. What I want now is a stinking-rich bank president, just to tide me over while I’m shaking off the habit.’
"So with the wind blowing at gale force five to six, Max called the Flounder, and the Flounder made him president of the Bundesbank, and he pulled up at Ilsebill’s in a silver-blue Mercedes. This bank president’s hair was graying all over, even around his cock. So when Ilsebill, in her cuddlesome way, had finished off capitalism, she wanted, after only a brief interlude, to be screwed by a beer-assed trade-union functionary and then–by this time squalls were making the Baltic dangerous–at last, at long last, by a wiry movie star, and, what’s more, she wanted the cameras shooting and bright lights.”
“When he heard that–the wind was blowing at gale force ten–the Flounder cried, 'Looks to me like your Ilsebill will never get her hole full. It’s always more! More and more!’ All the same, though without much enthusiasm, he turned the trade-union boss into a regular Belmondo, who, while the camera hummed, leaped (from the wardrobe) into our Ilsebill’s bed, where he immediately performed terrific disrobe-bite-fuck scenes with fade-ins of similar scenes from other films.
"But when Ilsebill had milked him so dry he was really comical, she wanted still more and cried out, 'Now I want an orchestra conductor with his baton in there!’ And she trumpeted the destiny motif.”
“So, leaning against the hurricane, Max called the Flounder, who heaved a sigh but turned him one-two-three into a topflight maestro who could conduct anything under the sun without a score.”
But when, after three encores, Ilsebill had finished him off, too, our butterball wept several big tears and moaned, 'Always interpreters. Never an original creator. Everything secondhand. Now I want ol’ Beethoven to fiddle me front and back.’
But when the exhausted Max reported to the Flounder, the flatfish cried from out of his unleashed element, 'Enough is enough. Now she’s going too far. Hands off our classics! From now on and for evermore, like it or not, she’ll have to make do with her Max. Every Saturday after fishing.’
“Then and there, the storm stopped. In half a second, the sea lay smooth and calm. And big feather-bed clouds went sailing across the sky.
"So Ilsebill had to content herself with Max. From then on, she lived entirely on memories. But they were pleasant… .” “If he failed to squeeze out so much as an undersized sausage, toads’ eggs were funneled into him.”