Like Homer's painting, these ceramic works stand on their own visual and tactile qualities: tactile because this is not just ceramics we are talking about, but porcelain--brittle, fragile eternal porcelain--invented in the ancient world of China and reinvented by an kidnapped alchemist held in durance vile
. The alchemist's accidental discovery of the secret of porcelain (he was after gold) becomes emblematic of the Enlightenment's transformation of Europe into ground zero of the modern world.
Proceeding from altar boy to first novelist, it is wonderfully and dreadfully evocative--of malt lozenges and tile stoves; of gold-tipped Egyptian cigarettes and clotted milk with pumpernickel crumbs; of "Fuhrer, Folk, and Fatherland," "mussels and Weltschmerz," hunger, religion, sex, death, refugees, and Dresden's firestorm; of learning to cook in a prison camp, durance vile
in a potash mine, and plaster death masks for a Berlin undertaker; of Heidegger, Sartre, The Three Musketeers, and the night that Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong showed up to hear Grass's student jazz band.
In the morning we departed, but Storace was obliged to tarry in durance vile till further orders.
Storace concluded his letter with a description of the route he intended to take home, merely returning to his incarceration with the comment 'I can hardly refrain from laughing at the Idea of myself in durance vile', a phrase later echoed by Kelly.