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The 'audio-visual juxtaposition in Günter Grass’s Die Blechtrommel (1959)

The 'audio-visual juxtaposition in Günter Grass’s Die Blechtrommel (1959)

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Laura Sinnott. Originally submitted for Kulturwissenschaften/Cultural Studies at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Dr Clemens Ruthner/Dr Peter Arnds in the category of Languages & Linguistics
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Laura Sinnott. Originally submitted for Kulturwissenschaften/Cultural Studies at Trinity College, Dublin, with lecturer Dr Clemens Ruthner/Dr Peter Arnds in the category of Languages & Linguistics

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
The ‘audio-visual juxtaposition’ in Günter Grass’
 Die Blechtrommel 
 
“The eye becomes the depositary and the source of clarity; it has the power to bring a truth to light thatit receives only to the extent that it is brought to light; as it opens, the eye first opens the truth: a flexionthat marks the transition from the world of classical clarity – from the ‘enlightenment’ to the nineteenthcentury.” 
1
Michel Foucault
In the introduction to
The Auditory Culture Reader 
, Michael Bull and Les Back discuss the “historical ascendancy of 
visual 
epistemologies in Western culture” andthe affect this had on this culture’s treatment of sound.
2
Michel Foucault examinessuch an ascendancy during ‘The Enlightenment’, demonstrating how truth wasdeemed accessible first, and perhaps only through such epistemologies. During the period that Günter Grass wrote
 Die Blechtrommel 
(1959), triggered by the response to National Socialism’s programme of genocide, an attack was unleashed uponenlightenment rationality, led in Germany most notably by thinkers of the
 Frankfurter Schule
.
3
Leading on from this, a number of theoretical works on listening, sound andmusic in numerous disciplinary fields appeared from the late 1960s onwards, whichchallenged visually biased, modern apparatuses of power and the cultures which theyinfluenced or produced.
4
 The conflict between vision and audition, sight and sound, is captured in Grass’s
 Die Blechtrommel 
through the conflict between on one hand, the medical gaze, to use theterm coined by Foucault, and the watchful, controlling eye of educational authoritiesand on the other hand, the voice of the quasi-delinquent protagonist Oskar Matzerath.
5 
This essay will explore whether Oskar’s voice and his tin drum function to expose andundermine such visual epistemologies as discussed by Bull, Back, Foucault and otherswithin the context of a wider critique of enlightenment rationality.The ‘audio-visual juxtaposition’, from which this study takes its title,
 
entails theassumption that vision is inherently rational, objectifying, spatial and dominating,
1
Michel Foucault, A.M. Sheridan (trans),
The Birth of the Clinic. An Archaeology of Medical  Perception
(Francis-Taylor e-library 2003), p.xiii
2
Michael Bull and Les Back (eds),
The Auditory Culture Reader 
(Oxford 2003), p.4, emphasis added
3
Especially:Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer,
 Dialektik der Aufklärung 
(Frankfurt/Main 1981)
4
For example, Joachim Berendt’s work,
The Third Ear: On Listening to the World 
(
 Das Dritte Ohr 
,1985),
 
appeals polemically for the reassertion of the ear’s prominent role in society, culture and politics, equating occularcentrism with ‘The Occidental’, sexism, imperialism and ethnocentrism.Joachim-Ernst Berendt,
The Third Ear 
, Tim Nevill (trans) (Dorset 1988)
5
Günter Grass,
 Die Blechtrommel 
(Darmstadt 1979), p.169
1
 
while audition is irrational, subjective, denotes weakness or inferiority etc.
6
Ininvestigating such assumptions within the medico-clinical context, this study will takeas its theoretical point of departure Michel Foucault’s ‘archaeology’ of the modernclinic in both
The Birth of the Clinic. An Archaeology of Medical Perception
(1963)and the transcribed lecture “
 Message or Noise?
” (1966).
7
Within the context of education, recourse will be taken to both
 Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison
(1975) and Foucault’s later work on “the art of living”.
8
With the latter, particular attention will be paid to the role of the voice in ‘
 paideia
’, or culturaleducation during the Epicurean epoch, as Foucault explores it.
9
Lauri Siisiäinen hasdone a lot of research on these aspects of Foucault’s work in recent years, which aredrawn upon in the starting points here. Siisiäinen reveals how Foucault has beencharged with neglecting the role of audition in the formation of the modern clinic andsuggesting its essential inferiority to vision.
 Meanwhile he posits that in “
 Messageor Noise?
”, Foucault shows that listening did in fact play an important role in moderntechnologies of power and therefore cannot merely be dismissed as the irrational‘other’ of vision. In delineating Foucault’s work on the role of the voice in
 paideia
, heconsiders the relationship between “sonorous art” and terror.
Such theories may beilluminating when studying
 Die Blechtrommel 
, considering Oskar is a sonorous artistand his encounters with terror in the specific institutions mentioned.
 Of course, hisincarceration in a mental asylum and subjection to the eye of his carer Bruno is also of critical importance with reference to the hegenomy of vision in modern technologiesof power. There are many aspects of the lengthy novel to which one could apply
6
Laurii Siisiäinen, “From the Empire of Gaze to Noisy Bodies: Foucault, Audition and Medical Power”in
 Project Muse
,
 
 
7
Michel Foucault, « Message ou bruit ? », in Michel Foucault,
 Dits et Ecrits I 
, Daniel Defert et al (eds)(Paris 2001), pp.585-588
 
8
 
Laurii Siisiäinen, “Terrorized by Sound? Foucault on Terror, Resistance, and Sonorous Art”, in MattiHyvärinen and Lisa Muszynski (eds),
Terror and the Arts: Artistic, Literary, and Political  Interpretations of Violence from Dostoyevksy to Abu Ghraib
(London 2008), pp.225-240, p.225
9
Michel Foucault,
 Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison
, (London 1979), and idem.,
The Hermeneutics of the Subject. Lectures at the College de France
1981-1982 Graham Burchell (trans.),(New York 2005), p.239
10
Siisiäinen, “From the Empire of Gaze to Noisy Bodies”. He also references the criticisms levelled atFoucault for perpetuating the occularcentricism that characterised the ethnocentric and patriarchal oder of modern Western society that was being called into question during the time that Foucault waswriting The Birth of the Clinic.
11
Siisiäinen, “Terrorized by Sound?”, p.223. Though Foucault does not give a clear explanation of what he means exactly by sonority of voice or sound, Siisiäinen takes it to mean the qualities of soundsuch as “volume, timbre, pitch, inflection, melody. Rhythm, resonance, attack and so on. In this sense,what Foucault calls the art of sonority approximates music, and vocal music in particular”: p.225
12
For example when he joins Bebra’s
 Fronttheater 
, p.261, or forms the jazz band and performs in theZwiebelkeller, p. 432, and earlier when he describes his
Glaszersingen
as being “
l’art pour l‘art 
”, p.57
2
 
Foucault’s theories, among others the role of the voice in Catholic confession, buthere the focus will be on two main episodes, namely Oskar’s visits to Dr Hollatz andhis first day at school.
In
The Birth of the Clinic
, Foucault describes a sensorial triangulation, which addssound and touch to the anatomo-clinician’s gaze, allowing it to invest meaning intowhat it sees. Yet he maintains that the other senses “remain under the dominant signof the visual”.
During the Rennaissance and Early Modern period, sounds omitted by the body were considered an obstruction to consultations, which then consisted of a patient’s account of the symptoms and a doctor’s visual examination.
It was at theend of the eighteenth and during the nineteenth century that accoustic methods of diagnosis became more rationalised, with the invention of the stethoscope and RenéLaennec’s tract (1830) that accompanied it. The most crucial point to note here is thatthe voice of the patient simply became a sound among many others, and their ownnarrative accounts were no longer of any significance in consultations.
Methods proposed by physicians before René Laennec’s tract was written were notappropriated immediately, because they lacked the visual information required tomake such sounds meaningful.
This mirrors Foucault’s thought, where the auditoryis ulitmately subbordinated under the dominant sign of the visual.In
 Die Blechtrommel 
, Oskar’s visits to Dr Hollatz’s clinic demonstrate the role of themedical gaze in the clinical examination. Dr Hollatz conducts examinations based onvisual observation of the diseased patient’s body, the knowledge of which seems primarliy to be drawn from anatomical dissection, hence the jars of various parts of the animal anatomy displayed in his office. The glass in Dr Hollatz’s office isdesigned to magnify or display the object of study for the doctor’s gaze:
13
Siisiäinen, “From the Empire of Gaze to Noisy Bodies”: this author has also outlined his plans tofurther investigate the role of the voice and sound in Foucault’s work on the Catholic church andconfession.
14
Foucault,
 Birth of the Clinic
, p.163 and p.165
15
Jonathan Sterne, “Medicine’s Accoustic Culture: Mediate Auscultation, the Stethoscope and the‘Autopsy of the Living’”, in
The Auditory Culture Reader 
(as previously), pp.191-222, p.200
16
Ibid., p.201
17
Ibid., pp.207-208
3

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