Inclusion · Philosophy

On Grass’s’Tin Drum’ and the paradox of the sacred and the profane when considering Dis/ability

My apologies for the hiatus to this blog, as I’ve been travelling once more. I’m writing this from a very spiritual mountain in India, and it couldn’t help me remembering the old Durkheimian/Skinner distinction between the Sacred and Profane. As I finished a novel which lends itself to the bookshelves of any Inclusion professional, it seemed acceptable to marry the two.

The sacred/Profane distinction, this binary opposition, has been read into many cultures in many different forms. We have a form of reverence for animals such as Cows in Hinduism, or the revealed Christ in the Catholic eucharist. This is then often contrasted to the profane, which is some way ‘unclean’. This creates a clear below and above for a hierarchical system, providing boundaries in which acts of territorialisation can happen. Yet there is, as Deleuze noticed in his last work, a suprising similarity between the sacred and the profane. They are both avoided, with eyes averred or with an absence of touch, they are both not spoken about, as being in some way beyond language. They share in this nature of beyond, as in a real sense they are beyond the cartographic effects of language. But when the similarities are considered, it would appear the binary becomes one in experience, and both in some way are a deeper connection to a profounder reality. However just like the extremes of political poles being more similar to each other than the centre, it would appear in their similarity they are joined and the system of other-ness becomes cyclical in a sense. All thigns other and beyond returning eternally into the sense-making engine of the human experience, to be re-written within the map or pushed once again outside the borders. We begin to see how Deleuze’s ideas were more influenced by Nietzsche than he may have thought.

The Tin Drum is an excellent read by Gunter Grass, where he uses magical realism within a European context (as opposed to its more traditional uses in South America) to integrate details on the Nazi occupation of Poland with the development of a rather fascinating character with did/abilities. My main critique would be the lack of historical detail, as whilst Oskar does indeed grow up in the world and we learn of the world through both his, and his future self’s, reflections, as there are so many things beyond the author the intrepid reader is also left to consult something beyond the text. In a way, this truly shows Derrida’s ideas of Margins, as it would be impossible to read the text without appealing to something beyond the text, not just the context to give a platform for understanding (sorry Barthes) but, most likely, Wikipedia. Oskar doesn’t have learning difficulties, yet he does have a drum, which he likes to beat and through which he understands the world. This serial attachment to a significant object may have many interpretations, but the scene where it appears most key from an Inclusion perspective is where his ability to join a school is stunted by the drumming. The teacher sees a threat to her authority, and as such, banishes Oskar, who wasn’t such a big fan of the idea of learning. Here the narrator (who is an older Oscar), consciously proclaiming his lack of desire as the cause of a difficulty to learn in a school setting. He is the personification of in-schooling. Yet then, as he grows up, he decides he also wants to grow up, so he decides to grow a foot. For a man with dwarfism, this is quite an achievement in his own eyes, although he does at times regret not being able to be his three-year old self some more. We see a conscious ownership of all aspects of his individual needs, and a conscious magical control. He is the most authentic of all beings, as he is able to consciously affirm, just as Nietzsche’s ubermensche must be able to, all of creation for it led to his control over the moment.

The wider society, at times, persecutes Oskar. Prohibiting school and failing to acknowledge his gifts with glass cutting are but some of the ways he is considered profane. However throughout the text, characters worship him as Jesus or Christ. He begets followers, who are willing to sacrifice themselves for his endeavours (to steal a statue of the nativity form the catholic church, to be precise). So whilst I initially thought I’d write on the concept of labelling within Inclusion, I decided instead to address the stigma. Gunter is clear that his is the purpose, if there is a purpose, as amid the narrator’s final words is a firm declaration that he will go out and get more followers. He will become the Christ-figure he is required to be, if he is permitted to leave the mental asylum. So here, in the finale, we see what is most clear in Foucault’s Madness and Civilisation – those who are outside of society are considered insane, but this is an arbitrary ruling by those on the inside. We have Oskar, the religious figure, leaving the profane insane asylum to continue a life of sacredness – but in his shrunken figure, the profane and sacred are inescapably joined. Just as for Mill the genius and the madman are divided only by a line drawn by society, so too are the profane or sacred seen by the observer when they look at Oskar, and whether people see the sacred or the profane is their own interpretation.

So here we can see the import of the ‘Tin Drum’ for Inclusion professionals. It highlights the gifts of the dis/abled, and focuses entirely on making the distinction between acclamation or censure; sacred or profane; purely up to the choice of the observer, and never the intrinsic properties of the person.

So let us choose to see the sacred, and affirm all instances or occurrences of what can be otherness as sacred.



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