It’s an annotation celebration!

I Took Notes

The Tin Drum Diaries, Part 6

CW for this entry: suicide

I took notes in the margins of The Tin Drum! How do ya like them apple crumbles? I thought for this entry I would show you some of the notes I took and tell you what they’re about. I’ll write my note first and then tell you what the note refers to in the book. You can play along by trying to guess what my note’s about before I reveal the answer. Fun!

Any objections?

Hearing none…..

This is like dreams I have, where I have to “read” something with no letters
I wrote that next to the sentence “Oskar knew the room well, he could have recited the sap-green wallpaper by heart.” That’s cool for Oskar that he was able to recite the wallpaper; in my dreams, it’s usually more like someone makes me “read” a bunch of drawings out loud, and I can’t.

Other dream motifs that maybe Oskar and I have in common: being in Paris and wanting to go to all my favorite places but waking up before I do (often with the added layer of, “Okay, I know this is usually the Paris dream, but this time I’m really really actually here in Paris, not dreaming, so this time I really will go to all my favorite places”); being at camp and having fun but also constantly asking the people around me at camp, “Hey, is it like, weird that I’m 35 and at camp? Am I maybe too old to be at camp?” and people smile at me but don’t ever answer; being in high school and realizing I haven’t used my locker all year and I have stuff in it that I need to get out and don’t remember the combination/need to graduate soon and realizing I haven’t gone to math class or whatever for the entire year/being really certain that I definitely already graduated from high school and confused about having to do that again.

Sometimes/more often he seems unaffected and Now he’s unaffected again
My mom and I talked about this!

Oskar was actually having an emotional reaction to something for a minute — “to this day Oskar feels that same gagging, that same knife thrust, when anyone speaks of hanging in his presence, even of hanging out washing,” since he saw a man he knew hanging; then just one page later, we’re back to his old unaffected self: “In October, ’42, Greff, the green-grocer, hanged himself on a gallows so ingeniously conceived that I, Oskar, have ever since looked upon suicide as one of the noble forms of death.”

I love old song names in books.
Oskar’s sampling of what he says are “the most popular hits of the war years”: “Erika,” “Mamatchi, Give Me a Horse,” “Stars of the Homeland,” and “Jimmy the Tiger.”

This is a sums-up-the-whole-theme sentence!
Can you handle that, Reader? Here it is; it’s actually just the very last part of a very long sentence: “…and then came applause, long and thunderous, mingled with the sounds of a major air raid on the capital.”

I like that he has multiple drums
“From my neck, hung my red and white lacquered drum, serene in the knowledge that there were five more like it in my luggage.”

So which is it? The Tin Drum or Tin Drums? I’m referencing Bicycle Thieves vs. The Bicycle Thief (as if I even needed to tell you that!). But it’s the same deal, I think: what does it mean if it’s just about one? What does it mean if it’s about a whole world of bicycle thieves, a whole world of tin drums?

My interpretation: I think it’s just Oskar poking fun at himself, and at us, again, like, “What, you were getting all wrapped up in this and thinking it was some epic mythology about just one drum? I have a whole closet full of them, like Charlie Brown with his stripey yellow shirt, silly. This is not a big deal, just like war and life and love and death and everything else. Relax.”

This book is so nutty
I’m having a hard time explaining this one. This is in reference to some classic Oskar who’s-the-father discourse. Not only is Oskar not sure who his own father is, he has a little brother parented by one of his possible fathers and the girl he, Oskar, loves and has had sex with (maybe?? because sex in this book is VERY vague and confusing), so Oskar thinks that kid is actually his son, but his maybe-father and maybe-former-lover refer to the kid as his brother. So there you have it. Mom’s favorite book.

This is a whole thing.

This is like Ocean’s 11
Oskar and the Dusters, some boys up to mischief in war-torn Germany, get up to some Grade A mischief with a nativity scene. There’s a Casey Affleck and everything. (“He ordered Narses and Bluebeard to shine their Army flashlights upon me and the Virgin. When the glare blinded me, he told them to use the red beam. Then he summoned the Rennwand brothers and helped a whispered conference with them. They were reluctant to do his bidding; Firestealer stepped over to the group and exhibited his knuckles, all ready for dusting; the brothers gave in and vanished into the sacristy with Firestealer and Mister. Oskar waited calmly, moved his drum into position, and was not even surprised when Mister, who was a tall, gangling fellow, came back attired as a priest, accompanied by the two Rennwand brothers in the red and white raiment of choirboys…..”)

Now this is crazy
What could that possibly be at this point, on page 381 of this almost entirely crazy book?

Oh yeah: the cops catch the Dusters and Oskar, whose whole deal is that he willed himself to stop growing at three years old, instantly pretends he’s actually “a sniveling three-year-old who had been led astray by gangsters,” AND IT WORKS. The policeman picks him up and comforts him.

“Perhaps he, too, could express only by homicide the childlike affection that would seem to be desirable between fathers and sons.” My response, which I stand by: Damn.

This is like Sex & the City (Oskar = Carrie!)
Okay, now this is important.

Hear me out. Oskar, deep in a crush on his neighbor, Sister Dorothea, is talking about what he would name a painting, and how Carrie is this:

“Or it might have been called ‘The Doorknob,’ for if I were asked to think up a new name for temptation, I should recommend the word ‘doorknob,’ because what are these protuberances put on doors for if not to tempt us, because the doorknob on the frosted-glass door of Sister Dorothea’s room was to me temptation itself.”

I couldn’t help but wonder: when it comes to great sex, can a narcissistic German boy who wills himself to stop growing at the age of three and wanders nihilistically through Nazi-occupied Poland constantly communicating through a tin drum strapped to his chest before dictating his life story from his bed in a mental hospital really expect to be fully satisfied? Or is it, like Sister Dorothea behind the door, or a perfect pair of Manolo Blahniks at full price — just out of reach?

Side note: I might do my next “Diaries” project on Sex and the City, which I am watching for the first time, because it is definitely more insane than The Tin Drum and there is at least as much to talk about. Why do we take quizzes to find out which girl we are and we don’t instead try to figure out if we’re a Trey, a Big, or a Steve? One of those people is an exemplary human being made of pure goodness and light and one of them is a legit terrible person — I really do think it would be beneficial to us as a people if an online quiz was like, uh, I’ve got some bad news for you, you’re Mr. Big, you need to reevaluate your whole way of operating in the world. And they’re doing a remake with, excuse me, NO SAMANTHA? What are you, high? How can there be no Samantha, are you fucking serious? She’s literally the entire — okay, yeah, so stay tuned.

(In some ways, Trey is even worse than Big; being a milquetoast tool with no personality is not really a crime, but being one to the extent that you render Kyle MacLachlan, portrayer of one of the most attractive TV characters of all time, entirely unappealing, I would argue absolutely is. And yeah, I know I haven’t even mentioned Aidan; that is intentional. I said what I said.)

(See?? We have so much to talk about.)

Oskar absolves me
“I am ashamed to say that what I read in those days did not become a part of me, but went in one eye and out the other. I have retained a few turns of phrase, an aphorism or two, and that is about all.”

Me too, Oskar. Me too.

I’ll end on this: this is from a little play that comes kind of out of nowhere (yup, that’s right, there’s a play in the middle of this novel), featuring an artist whose theater troupe Oskar travels around with during the war (BEBRA) and Corporal LANKES, who has decorated the front of some pillboxes (which I 100% needed to look up) with his art. BEBRA tells LANKES he should give these works titles.

My note:

I don’t mean this in the millennial way, but “this is everything” — the book, the feeling of being in a global pandemic, making art, making art in a global pandemic.

LANKES: ….This is how I figure it. When this war is over — one way or another, it will be over some day — well, then, when the war is over, the pillboxes will still be here. These things were made to last. And then my time will come. The centuries […] start coming and going, one after another like nothing at all. But the pillboxes stay put just like the Pyramids stay put. And one fine day one of those archaeologist fellows comes along. And he says to himself: what an artistic void there was between the First and Seventh World Wars! Dull drab concrete; here and there, over a pillbox entrance, you find some clumsy amateurish in squiggles in the old-home style. And that’s all. Then he discovers Dora Five, Six, Seven; he sees my Structural Oblique Formations, and he says to himself, Say, take a look at that, Very, very interesting, magic, menacing, and yet shot through with spirituality. In these works a genius, perhaps the only genius of the twentieth century, has expressed himself clearly, resolutely, and for all time. I wonder, says our archaeologist to himself, I wonder if it’s got a name? A signature to tell us who the master was? Well, sir, if you look closely, sir, and hold your head on a slant, you’ll see between those Oblique Formations…

BEBRA: My glasses. Help me, Lankes.

LANKES: All right, here’s what it says: Herbert Lankes, anno nineteen hundred and forty-four. Title: BARBARIC, MYSTICAL, BORED.

BEBRA: You have given our century its name.

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Raphaela Weissman

Raphaela Weissman

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Raphaela is a writer living in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of the novel Monsters: https://unbound.com/books/monsters/