Context: As I was finishing this, a huge box of Christmas goodies was on its way to us from friends in Korea. Thanks guys!
Another constipation-inducing Thomas Mann digested. This was even harder to get through than The Magic Mountain but at least it was half the length. If you’re into the philosophy of musical theory, this is the book for you. I can’t think it’s the book for many though. Granted, Mann has pulled of an astonishing achievement here with his research, his attention to detail and his command of metaphor and allegory. But people in comas are more interesting than long stretches of this.
First of all, it helps to be familiar with the Faust legend. I’m not. Then it helps to be familiar with musical theory. I’m not. Failing that, it helps to have an appreciation of classical music at some level. I don’t. At the very least, you should have some interest in the demise of Nazi Germany. Aha! A hit, a palpable hit.
If it wasn’t for the occasional section that had Mann writing his own feelings of watching his nation be pounded into humiliation by the Allies, I would have rated this book way further down the scale. I found it fascinating that, as the novel was written while the war was ending, I was able to get a rare glimpse into the contemporary German mind.
There is a fictional biography in there too which, like Mountain, is littered with all sorts of characters who make up for their astonishing individual diversity with a common desire to go on picnics and have densely intellectual debates on metaphysics. At least if I’d really accompanied them I could have fallen asleep on the grass and woken up when they were ready to leave. As it is, my eyes kept going while my mind slumbered.
A few interesting things happen to Adrian along the way. There is an encounter with a devil-like figure which is the only place where Mann really lets himself go style-wise. That was worth reading. But on the whole, I found it hard to pick up and easy to put down.
That this book was influential is clear. That this book was a masterpiece is clear. However, you might, like me, come to realise this from reading Wikipedia rather than the book itself.
I wish to state quite definitely that it is by no means out of any wish to bring my own personality into the foreground that I preface with a few words about myself and my own affairs this report on the life of the departed Adrian Leverkuhn.
99th PAGE QUOTE
But I must devote a few words to another figure among our teachers; the equivocal nature of this man intrigued me, so that I remember him better than all the rest. He was Privat-docent Eberhard Schleppfuss, who for two semesters at this time lectured at the Halle among the venia legendi and then disappeared from the scene, I know not whither. Schelppfuss was a creature of hardly average height, puny in figure, wrapped in a black cape or mantle instead of an overcoat, which closed at the throat with a little metal chain. With it he wore a sort of soft hat with the brim turned up at the sides, rather like a Jesuit’s. When we students greeted him on the street he would take it off with a very sweeping bow and say: “Your humble servant!” It seemed to me that he really did drag one foot, but people disputed it; I could not always be sure of it when I saw him walk, and would rather ascribe my impression to a subconscious association with his name. It was in any case so far-fetched, considering the nature of his two-hour lectures on the psychology of religion – and very probably were. The material was “exclusives” in its nature, not important for examinations, and only a handful of intellectual and more or less revolutionary-minded students, ten or twelve, attended it. I wondered, indeed, that there were no more, for Schleppfuss’s offering was interesting enough to arouse a more extended curiosity. But the occasion went to prove that even the piquant forfeits its popularity when accompanied by demands on the intellect.
it was interesting to see how man can use words and what he can get out of them
We drank – for we Germans perennially yearn for intoxication – and under its spell, through years of deluded high living, we committed a superfluity of shameful deeds, which must now be paid for.
A lonely man folds his hands ands peak: “God be merciful to thy poor soul, my friend, my Fatherland!”