Singshattering, glass and Oskar

Oskar can singshatter glass; he can smash windows and lightshades from a distance, write his name on a bottle, and in his early life builds a career in performance on the destruction of carefully selected vintage glass pieces, shattering them era by era for the delight of the paying public. Such is Gunter Grass's main character in his book, the Tin Drum.

Oskar is a strangely compelling but very disturbing individual who stops growing at three years old and remains that size for a good portion of his life. One of his predilections is to entice the people of wartime Danzig/Gdansk to theft. He uses his voice to cut precisely placed discs out of the plate glass show windows, carefully locating the cut just in front of a coveted object. Oskar isn't looking for the casual shopper, in his search for his victims. Not the bargain hunter, but those who stopped before the shop windows as if, as Oskar says, in answer to a call.

"... with my most silent of screams I cut a circular section from the shop window at the lowest level of the display opposite the desired object, and with a last lift of my voice pushed the glass disc into the interior of the display case, so that a quickly muffled tinkle, which was not however the tinkle of breaking glass, was heard - not by me, Oskar stood too far away; but that young woman with a rabbit-fur collar on her brown winter coat, surely reversed at least once by now, she heard the glass disc…… started off through the snow, but paused, perhaps because it was snowing, and when it's snowing, if it's snowing hard enough, all things are permitted………reached through the circular opening, first pushing aside the glass disc that had fallen on top of what she wanted, pulled first the right and then the left black pump through the hole, without scratching the heels, without cutting her hand on the sharp edges."

One of the powerful things about the Tin Drum is Grass's way of dealing in a backhanded way with the realities of daily life as Nazi power takes hold in Danzig/Gdansk. The horrors of war are increasingly catastrophic and divisive, but they remain the setting for the story only. Grass wraps the rest of his story in a kind of pantomime - a gritty surrealism. It feels dark, repressed, and Oskar's anger with everything - his country, his family, his life, the unfolding war, is dealt with in his destructive ability to drum and to singshatter his way through it.

Oskar knows the tight control of social and political as well as personal boundaries and his life seems to be a rebellion against these. The treasures displayed behind the plate glass are separated from their prospective owners only by a thin transparent wall. Oh so hard to break - not physically, but because it feels just wrong. Oskar opens up that box of treasures and all it takes in a dark night is the elegantly presented opportunity. Oskar opens up the boundary and is delighted if his victim succumbs.

We don't live with the pressures of war or the realities of an insane and oppressive regime just now, but there is something in this sophisticated breaking of the shop window that has a universal appeal.  We do live with shop windows after all; very much so. Despite the surge of internet shopping, the window display is still a huge part of our lives.  We are enticed to buy, not to steal.  In fact we are bombarded with ideas that say that we have problem that can be solved by shopping.

Oskar circumvents the rules - social, political, personal - and I like the elegant way he does it. It makes me reflect on our own rules and pressures. I don't think I've ever been tempted to break a window to get at what's the contents, though I have coveted what's inside.  But really, what does stop us from taking what we want. It's not the window, is it?

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