Lisbeth

Günter Grass

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Lisbeth
1972
Ink
8 x 20.9 in. / 20.5 x 53.1 cm

Description

A slug crawls across the profile of a Greek-looking face. The eyes, nose, and mouth are rendered in an unusual, slightly warped perspective. Rather than being at the side, the eye is in the front, with a somewhat forlorn look at the observer. The face's front view and profile view merge in a manner evocative of the portraits by Pablo Picasso of his lover Marie-Thérèse Walter. The Catalan dedicates numerous portraits to the distinct features of the young woman, who looks frontally at the observer despite the profile view of the eyes.

In the middle ground, another slug moves in the opposite direction along the horizon. Both snails have their heads with the antennae extended turned toward the picture center. The draft for the cover of the prose volume From the Diary of a Snail (1972) connects various elements symbolizing the contents. The snail, which Grass calls the »animal in his escutcheon«, stands for the insight: »Progress is a snail«. Fundamental and enduring innovations are accordingly not brought about by revolutions, but rather by gradual and persisting change. Grass sees this principle personified in Willy Brandt's politics. The snail is a leitmotif for the book in which Grass reflects World War II as well as his election campaign experiences. The German guilt – the expulsion of the Jews from Gdansk and the Holocaust – is what motivates the writer/narrator to become politically involved.

In addition, the principal character »Zweifel«, which means »doubt«, collects snails and places them on the body of his lover Lisbeth to heal her melancholy. This is also the theme of the essay on Albrecht Dürer's copperplate engraving »Melencolia I« (1514), which forms the conclusion to Grass's autobiographical narrative.