K, the Beetle

Günter Grass

K, the Beetle
K, the Beetle
6.2 x 6.7 in. / 16 x 17.2 cm


»K, the beetle, lies on the back« is the first line of the poem »K, the Beetle« in Günter Grass's lyric volume The Advantages of Windfowl (1956). It is repeated like a refrain in each verse, giving the poem a staccato-like rhythm. The text pays tribute to Franz Kafka and his nightmarish and labyrinthine novella, which has left a significant mark on modern literature. A delicate pen drawing comes with the poem, of the beetle K and the letter K, which is likewise on its back. From a formal point of view, Grass's pen drawing reflects influences of Cubism as pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque at the beginning of the 20th century. The insect's outline is fragmented, creating the impression of looking through a kaleidoscope that breaks down the beetle's form into different perspectives. 

In line with the visual realization, the poem also describes the beetle in ever changing views: From line to line, new literary images arise without apparent connection. Other drawings in the volume, for example »Frauenakt mit Mücke« (»Female Nude with Mosquito«), »Unfall« (»Accident«), or »Schule der Tenöre« (»School of Tenors«), were similarly combined of symbolic elements removed from their original context and reassembled here. Grass adopted this artistic method from Surrealism and Dadaism. Due to their symbolism and abstraction from reality, his works are also typical of art in the first years shortly after World War II. Many artists during this time return to the creative elements of classical modernism, which had been suppressed in the Nazi period. In West Germany, however, the tendencies toward abstraction soon advance and supersede representationalism, bringing forth stylistic movements such as informalism and conceptualism. Grass no longer wishes to pursue this development from the 1960s on.