Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus

Thomas Mann, Doctor Fausus, tr. John E. Woods, Vintage NY 1997

…and if his excellence as a student did not carry with it the tender affection of his teachers (and it did not, as I often observed; instead there was evidence of a certain irritability, indeed of a desire to arrange minor defeats), that was not so much because he might have been considered arrogant—or wait, he was considered that, but not because one had the impression he took excessive pride in his achievements; on the contrary, he was not proud enough of them, and that was the source of his condescension, for it was palpably directed at everything he accomplished with such effortlessness, at the curriculum itself at its various branches of study, the transmittal of which constituted the dignity and livelihood of the faculty, who therefore did not wish to see them polished off with over-talented indolence. (48-9)

…combine that sense of fun with the rest of his character. I do not want to say “his sense of humor”; to my ears that would sound too cozy and moderate to fit him. His love of laughter seemed instead a kid of refuge, a mildly orgiastic release (of which I was not fond and that always left me feeling uneasy) from the rigors of life that resulted from extraordinary talent… what could prompt his laughing binges. Often their object was much vaguer, some bit of pure foolishness, and I admit I always had some difficulty seconding him. I am not so very fond of laughter; and whenever he indulged in it, I was always forced to think of a story that I knew only from his having told it to me. It came from Augustine’s De Civitate Dei and was about how Ham, the son of Noah and father of Zoroaster the Magician, had been the only man ever to laugh upon being born, which could have happened only with the help of the Devil. (94)

…it was impressive how what is beautiful, exact, and moral had solemly merged here into the idea of authority animating the Pythagorean order… (102)

…even the cherub gazing into God’s deepest depths cannot measure the abyss of His eternal resolve. Adrian had chosen the dreadfully harsh sequence of verses that speak of the damnation of the innocent and unknowing and question the inscrutable justice that delivers over to hell those who are good and pure, but unbaptized or as yet unreached by the faith. He had found it in himself to put music to the thundering reply proclaiming the good creature’s powerlessness before the Good, which as the source of all justice cannot forsake itself for anything our reason is tempted to call unjust. I was outraged by this denial of the humane in favor of an unapproachable, absolute predestination—just as, in general, I acknowledge Dante’s poetical greatness, but have always been put off by his penchant for cruelty and scenes of torture—and I recall that I scolded Adrian for having decided to compose music for this almost unbearable episode. It was on this same occasion that I met a look in his eyes that I had not known before and of which I was thinking when I asked myself whether it would be quite correct to claim that I had found him unaltered after our year of separation. That glance—which would remain unique to him, though one was not subjected to it frequently, but only now and then, and sometimes for no apparent reason—was indeed something new: mute, veiled so aloof as to be almost offensive, and yet musing and cold with sadness, always ending in a not unfriendly, yet mocking smile with closed lips and in that gesture of turning away, which, however, was an old, familiar one. (172-3)

[Madness] … That wild intoxication—for constantly yearning to be intoxicated, we drank freely, and under the illusory euphoria we have for years committed a plethora of disgraceful deeds—must now be paid for. And with what? I have already supplied the word, in conjunction with “despair”. I will not repeat it. One does not prevail a second time over the horror I felt as I wrote it before, the very letters skittering sadly out of control. (186)

…the conservatism of his mode of life, which often looked like rigidity and could appear somewhat oppressive to me. It was not for nothing that in his letter he had expressed sympathy for Chopin’s not-wanting-to-know, his underadventuresomeness. He too, wanted to know nothing, see nothing, indeed experience nothing, at least not in the manifest, external sense of the word; he was not interested in variety, new sense impressions, amusement, relaxation—and particularly when it came to getting tanned and strong, though no one know for what. “Relaxation,” he said, “is for people for whom it does no good.” He had little use for travelling in order to see something, absorb a new experience, “educate” himself. He disdained pleasures of the eye, and as sensitive as his hearing was, he had always had almost no desire to school his eye to forms in the visual arts. (188)

I: “Further, because your every other word lays bare your nothingness. You say only such things as are in me and come out of me, but not out of you. (241)

I: (flying into a rage) “Now hold your filthy tongue! I forbid you to speak of my father!”
He: “Oh, your father is not at all misplaced on my tongue.” (250)

He: “True, but impertinent.” …
I: (very ironical) “Touching, touching. The Devil waxes pathetical. The woeful Devil moralizes. Human suffering goes to his heart. To his greater glory, he beshits his way into art. You would have done better not to mention your antipathy to works—not if you did not want me to discern your deductions to be but vain Devil’s farts to abuse and injure the work.”
He: (without annoyance) “So far, so good. Surely you are in fundamental agreement with me that… (256)

He: “…You behold me: Therefore am I here for you. Does it pay to ask whether I really am? Is ‘really’ not what works, and truth not experience and feeling?” (Cf Magus Tabor) (258)

He: “But I would not refuse you the intelligence and need not dress it prettily, for how can you be fretted seriously by a things still so far off? Except it is not easy to speak of it actually—which is to say: Actually one cannot speak of it in any manner whatsoever, because the actuality is not congruous with the words; one may use and fashion a great many words, yet all of them are but representative, stand for names that do not exist, can make no claim to designate that which can never be designated and denounced in words. That is the secret delight and security of hell, that it cannot be denounced, that it lies hidden from language, that it simply is, but cannot appear in a newspaper, be made public, be brought to critical notice by words—which is why the words ‘subterranean’, ‘cellar’, ‘thick walls’, ‘soundlessness,’ ‘oblivion’, ‘hopelessness,’ are but weak symbols. One must my good man, be entirely content with symbolis when one speaks of hell, for there all things cease—not only the signifying word, but everything altogether—that is, indeed, its principal characteristic, and at the same time just to say something of it very generally, that is what the newcomer first experiences and what he at first cannot grasp with his, so to speak, healthy senses and will not understand because reason, or whatever limitation of the understanding it may be, prevents him from doing so, in short, because it is unbelievable, so unbelievable that it turns a man chalk-white, unbelievable, although in the very greeting upon arrival it is revealed in a concise and most forcible form that ‘here all things cease’, every mercy, every grace, every forbearance, every last trace of consideration for the beseeching, unbelieving objection: ‘You cannot, you really cannot do that with a soul’—but it is done, it happens, and without a word of accountability, in the sound-tight cellar, deep below God’s hearing, and indeed for all eternity. (261)
I really must beg to be permitted to insert a word about the treatment of the chorus in my friend’s work, this never previously attempted dispersal of vocal forces into disjointed and interwoven antiphonal groupings, into dramatic dialogues and isolated cries, which, to be sure, take as their distant classical model the shouted answer of “Barabbas!” from the St Matthew Passion. The Apocalypse abandons orchestral interludes, with the result that at more than one point the chorus takes on an amazingly explicit orchestral character—as in the choral variations that represent the hymn of the 144,000 redeemed who fill the heavens, where the nature of the chorale is preserved simply by having all four voices moving constantly to the same rhythm, while the orchestra accompanies or opposes them in the most richly contrasted rhythms. The extreme polyphonic harshness of this work (and not just this work) has been the cause of much scorn and hatred. But that is how it is, one must accept it; I at least accept it with ungrudging amazement, for the entire work is governed by the paradox (if it is a paradox) that its dissonance is the expression of everything that is lofty, serious, devout, and spiritual, while the harmonic and tonal elements are restricted to the world of hell or, in this context, to a world of banality and platitudes. (394)

“A noble thought,” Adrian replied. “One should let it echo for a while before raising the least objection to it.” (434)

The monarchical form of life, however—sovereign, enveloped by devotion, far removed from criticism and accountability, and licensed by its dignity to displays of style denied even the wealthiest private citizen—allowed its representatives… (451)


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home