Grass

Grass

[gras, grahs]
Grass, Günter, 1927-, German novelist, lyricist, artist, and playwright, b. Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland). Writing from his experience in the Hitler Youth, the German army, and as a prisoner of war, Grass deplores fascist militarism. The anguish of war and the social and political problems that West Germany faced before reunification are the principal concerns of his fiction.

His novel Die Blechtrommel (1959; tr. The Tin Drum, 1961), which brought him world renown, reveals his bizarre sense of humor and superb linguistic gifts. Related by Oskar Matzerath, a strange dwarf drummer, it aroused controversy in Germany with its idiosyncratic yet clear-eyed portrayal of recent German history from the prewar period, through the Nazi regime, to the Wirtschaftswunder of the postwar era. His second novel, Hundejahre (1963; tr. Dog Years, 1965), is a monumental work that also aroused considerable controversy. Set in Danzig, it deals, often grotesquely, with the Nazi years as it explores Germany's destiny and conscience and the nature of individual flight from reality. Grass's early poems and plays are marked by a sensitivity for imagery and a tendency toward symbolism and ambiguity (see Selected Poems, tr. 1966; Four Plays, tr. 1967; New Poems, tr. 1968).

His later works mainly reflect a period of intense political activism. Student unrest in Berlin and the political "generation gap" are the themes of his novel Örtlich betäubt (1969; tr. Local Anaesthetic, 1970) and a play adaptation, Davor (1970; tr. Max, 1972). Grass's reflections on his life in Berlin and his political activities are the basis for the novel Aus dem Tagebuch einer Schnecke (1972; tr. From the Diary of a Snail, 1973). His highly acclaimed novel Der Butt (1977; tr. The Flounder, 1978), which contrasts the destructiveness of men with the sanity of women, examines such matters as politics, feminism, and the art of cooking.

Grass's major 1990s work, the novel Ein Weites Feld (1995; tr. A Broad Field, 1995; tr. Too Far Afield, 2000) was widely criticized for rambling plotlessness. It also caused controversy because of its implied condemnation of Germany as an inherently dangerous nation forever inclined to authoritarianism, as well as for its suggested disapproval of reunification. Grass returned to nearly universal praise with Im Krebsgang (2002; tr. Crabwalk, 2002), his first 21st-century novel. Hauntingly descriptive, it centers on a real wartime occurence, the 1945 Soviet torpedoing of the German refugee ship Wilhelm Gustloff that killed more than 9,000. Mingling tragedy with irony, Grass uses this event, mixed with the fictional story of a single German family, to illuminate various phases in 20th-century German history, creating a story that moves, crablike, backward and forward through the detritus of crime and guilt in Germany's recent past.

Grass's other works include a collection of speeches and open letters entitled Speak Out! (tr. 1969) and the novels Mariazuehren (1973; tr. Inmarypraise, 1974) and Unkenrufe (1992; tr. The Call of the Toad, 1992). In 1999, Grass was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his "frolicsome black fables [that] portray the forgotten face of history." Grass's memoir Beim Haüten der Zwiebel [peeling the onion] (2006), which follows his life from childhood to 1959 and the publication of The Tin Drum, is a sensitive examination of his past and a meditation on the nature of memory. In it, Grass, whom many have long considered Germany's moral conscience and who has constantly urged his fellow countrymen to face up to the shame of their Nazi history, shocked many Germans and troubled other admirers with his belated admission that as a youth, late in World War II, he had served in the Nazi Waffen SS.

See J. Preece, The Life and Work of Gunter Grass: Literature, History, Politics (2001); M. Hollington, Gunter Grass: The Writer in a Pluralist Society (1980); R. H. Lawson, Gunter Grass (1984); P. O'Neill, ed., Critical Essays on Gunter Grass (1987); A. Frank, Understanding Gunter Grass (1988).

grass, any plant of the family Gramineae, an important and widely distributed group of vascular plants, having an extraordinary range of adaptation. Numbering approximately 600 genera and 9,000 species, the grasses form the climax vegetation (see ecology) in great areas of low rainfall throughout the world: the prairies and plains of North America, the savannas and pampas of South America, the steppes and plains of Eurasia, and the veldt of Africa.

Most grasses are annual or perennial herbs with fibrous roots and, often, rhizomes. The stems are always noded and are typically hollow and swollen at the nodes, although many genera have solid stems. The leaves have two parts: a sheath surrounding the stem (called the culm in grasses); and a blade, usually flat and linear. The flowers are of a unique form, the inflorescence being subdivided into spikelets each containing one or more tiny florets. (In other flowering plants the inflorescences are clusters of separate flowers, never spikelets.) The dry seedlike fruit is called a caryopsis, or grain.

Economically the grass family is of far greater importance than any other. The cereal grasses, e.g., wheat, rice, corn, oats, barley, and rye, provide the grain that is the staple food of most of mankind and the major type of feed. The grasses also include most of the hay and pasture plants, e.g., sorghum, timothy, bent grass, bluegrass, orchard grass, and fescue. Popularly the word grass is used chiefly for these latter and for the lawn grass types; it is also loosely applied to plants which are not true grasses (e.g., clover and alfalfa) but which are similarly grown.

Molasses and sugar are products of sugarcane and sorghum, both grasses. Many liquors are made from grains and molasses. Plants of the grass family are also a source of industrial ethyl alcohol, corn starch and byproducts, newsprint and other types of paper, and numerous lesser items. Especially in the tropics, species of reed, bamboo (one of the few woody types), and other genera are used for thatching and construction. As food, grasses are as important for wildlife as for domesticated animals. They are able to survive grazing because their intercalary meristems are set back from the apex of the plant. Because of the tenacious nature of their large underground root system, grasses (e.g., beach grass) are often introduced to prevent erosion. Grasses are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Cyperales, family Gramineae.

See U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Grass: The Yearbook of Agriculture (1948); A. S. Hitchcock, A Manual of Grasses of the United States (2 vol., 2d ed. 1971); J. W. Bews, The World's Grasses (1929, repr. 1973).

The grass-warblers are small passerine birds belonging to the genus Locustella. Formerly placed in the paraphyletic "Old World warbler" assemblage, they are now considered the northernmost representatives of a largely Gondwanan family, the Megaluridae.

These are rather drab brownish "warblers" usually associated with fairly open grassland, shrubs or marshes. Some are streaked, others plain, all are difficult to view. They are insectivorous.

The most characteristic feature of this group is that the song of several species is a mechanical insect-like reeling which gives rise to the group's scientific name.

Species breeding in temperate regions are strongly migratory.

The nine species are:

A fossil acrocoracoid from the Late Miocene (about 11 mya) of Rudabánya (NE Hungary) is quite similar to this bone in the present genus (Bernor et al. 2002). Given its rather early age (most Passerida genera are not known until the Pliocene), it is not too certain that it is correctly placed here, but it is highly likely to belong to the Megaluridae at the least. As the grass-warblers are the only known megalurid warblers from Europe, it is still quite likely that the bone piece belongs to a basal Locustella.

References

  • Drovetski, S.V., Zink, R.M., Fadeev, I.V., Nesterov, E.V., Koblik, Ye.A, Red’kin, Ya.A., and Rohwer, S. 2004. Mitochondrial phylogeny of Locustella and related genera. Journal of Avian Biology 35: 105-110 doi:10.1111/j.0908-8857.2004.03217.x
  • Bernor, R.L.; Kordos, L. & Rook, L. (eds): Recent Advances on Multidisciplinary Research at Rudabánya, Late Miocene (MN9), Hungary: A compendium. Paleontographica Italiana 89: 3-36. PDF fulltext
  • Del Hoyo, J.; Elliot, A. & Christie D. (editors). (2006). Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 11: Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions. ISBN 849655306X.

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