||THE POWER OF "NEGATIVE" THINKING 15 The important point is: the clash between the two destructive systems in Grass's novel illustrates par excellence the makings of the contemporary serious-minded grotesque. Through its artistic and stylistic means it mirrors the very nature of the thing it polemicizes, namely the conspicuous absence of any reliable standards of moral reason. Assuredly, Giinter Grass is not striking a blow for the dubious values of most contemporary forms of terrorism. Our world is beset by all kinds of oppressive codes, political, social, religious, economic, ideological. But "code" does not necessarily mean "ethics." The Mafia has a code, too! The nihilist or anarchist that seemingly lurks in Oskar's soul is in reality a closet moralist. Before the seeds of a new moral sensibility can be sown, one must cut deep, upsetting furrows. Therein lies one of the positive powers of "negative" thinking! (A number of library boards across the country might be well advised to keep that in mind before they remove certain literary works from their shelves! Holding up the proverbial mirror to a grotesque world is not ipso facto a moral offense!) It may well be that even the "punks" that occasionally roam the streets of our cities are not merely promulgating new sartorial and cosmetic fashions. Like Giinter Grass's Oskar, at least a few of them may be closet moralists in gaudy disguise, though I do not wish to acclaim them: they lack taste! For a brief discussion of the second category of the significant contemporary grotesque, namely the studied understatement of horrors, let me first resort to some visual illustrations. Here is a picture painted by the contemporary American painter Nahum Tschacbasov in 1938, one year before the outbreak of the Second World War. Our first reaction is probably a shock of surprise, then maybe a stifled, if not embarrassed, bemusement, depending on the degree of our religious piety. What daring! Is it sheer blasphemy? "Madonna and Child with Gasmasks," it says laconically. Their pose may remind us of the sublimity of a Botticelli painting forever trembling on the verge of Christian mystery. But the modern "cultural overlay" of the gasmasks infuses the aura of the ethereal with an element of the ridiculous and horrific. The imagery obviously serves the purpose of disclosing the stupendous incongruity between a religious concept of mankind and hideous reality: the spirit gassed away, so to speak. Now, as a comparison, a quick flashback to a Griinewald canvas from the sixteenth century, another turbulent period in our history: a decrepit couple, crawling with toads and spiders, vipers twisting out of festering wounds, giant flies feasting on fresh sores.