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Doctor Faustus

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Thomas Mann's last great novel, first published in 1947 and now rendered into English by acclaimed translator John E. Woods, is a modern reworking of the Faust legend, in which Germany sells its soul to the Devil. Mann's protagonist, the composer Adrian Leverkühn, is the flower of German culture, a brilliant, isolated, overreaching figure, his radical new music a breakneck game played by art at the very edge of impossibility. In return for twenty-four years of unparalleled musical accomplishment, he bargains away his soul - and the ability to love his fellow man.

Leverkühn's life story is a brilliant allegory of the rise of the Third Reich, of Germany's renunciation of its own humanity and its embrace of ambition and its nihilism. It is also Mann's most profound meditation on the German genius - both national and individual - and the terrible responsibilities of the truly great artist.

535 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1947

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About the author

Thomas Mann

1,017 books3,930 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name. See this thread for more information.

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Serbian: Tomas Man

Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and Nobel Prize laureate in 1929, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual. His analysis and critique of the European and German soul used modernized German and Biblical stories, as well as the ideas of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer. His older brother was the radical writer Heinrich Mann, and three of his six children, Erika Mann, Klaus Mann and Golo Mann, also became important German writers. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Mann fled to Switzerland. When World War II broke out in 1939, he emigrated to the United States, from where he returned to Switzerland in 1952. Thomas Mann is one of the best-known exponents of the so-called Exilliteratur.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 698 reviews
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,374 reviews3,192 followers
November 20, 2021
Power of darkness… Power of elements…
“…a night, where it doesn’t get dark for the lightnings.”
This was the entire troubled life of the great groundbreaking composer Adrian Leverkühn…
There is the world of man:
All about him was coldness – and how do I feel, using this word, which he himself, in an uncanny connection, once also set down? Life and experience can give to single syllables an accent utterly divorcing them from their common meaning and lending them an aura of horror, which nobody understands who has not learned them in that awful context.

There is the world of music:
…that is the sound, almost lost in space, the cosmic ozone of another poem, wherein spirits in golden barks traverse the heavenly sea and the ringing course of gleaming songs wreathes itself down and wells up again…

Thomas Mann makes these worlds collide so the world of music gets richer and the world of man turns ruined… Setting on music the poem I Saw a Chapel by William Blake, symbolizing the descent of evil unto the earth, is, in a way, a key to the meaning of this allegorical novel. Composing the ominously prophetic music Adrian Leverkühn augurs immersion of the world into the cosmic darkness and the darkness of his music slowly substitutes his inner self, destroying his ego.
This is what I think: that an untruth of a kind that enhances power holds its own against any ineffectively virtuous truth. And I mean too that creative, genius – giving disease, disease that rides on high horse over all hindrances, and springs with drunken daring from peak to peak, is a thousand times dearer to life than plodding healthiness.

No matter what is cause and what is effect, genius comes into this world to create and to leave his creations to the others.
Profile Image for Lisa.
971 reviews3,331 followers
May 6, 2018
"Ode to Despair"

Figuratively or musically speaking, Thomas Mann lets time and culture move backwards, from the emotional bliss and security of Beethoven's 9th symphony expressing hope for humanity, to his 5th symphony symbolising fate knocking at the door, in one German novel of gigantic weight and proportions.

Starting with the 19th century's belief in progress and development, the plot moves us through the delusional madness of the first and second world wars, showing the genius of German culture degenerate into mental disease and the destructive power of Nazi Germany.

We follow a narrator's obsessively close analysis of a childhood friend, a talented and self-important musician with charisma. His path is marked by the historical era and personal setbacks, and his slow physical decline due to the contraction of a sexually transmitted disease is mirrored in the poisoning of German minds during the first half of the 20th century.

The climax of the novel is of mythical power. A young child, a lovely five-year-old boy who goes by the ominous name of Echo, dies in brutal pain of meningitis, and the musician who watches this happen in despair rejects Beethoven's 9th symphony and its joyous message. It is a year of fate, a time of decline, the beginning of the 1930s, and after losing the lovely Echo, the artist is locked in the introspection of a lost Narcissus - unhappily in love with himself and unable to interact constructively with the world. Only an Echo of past times remains...

The Faustian pact with the devil played out on the stage of German 20th century catastrophe, told in the old-fashioned novel language of the erudite 19th century's educational idealism - a heavy diet to digest for sure!

It is the swan song of a novel tradition that Thomas Mann saw as one of the casualties of modern life and warfare.

How to even think or write in German after the Holocaust, he asks himself in the narrator's voice on the last pages, when his hero is dying in a state of idiocy while the masters of the Third Reich kill themselves after having destroyed the culture for which Beethoven - and Thomas Mann - used to be symbols.

Powerfully eloquent, hopelessly sad, surviving despite the odds, this is a true masterpiece in multiple layers, but not for the faint of heart!
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
766 reviews
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September 30, 2019
Spring cleaning my goodreads shelves recently, I noticed the absence of a review for this book.
Truth to tell, I was aware of its absence — the thought of reviewing Doctor Faustus has haunted me since I finished the book two months ago. But spring cleaning is still a useful analogy. When the stronger rays of the sun hit our window panes at this time of the year, they reveal the layers of dust that have built up on the glass over the winter, and which block our view of the outside world. Serenus Zeitblom, the narrator of this book, is such a layer of dust. He is always there, fixed between the reader and the world of the book, and he is less than transparent. I wanted to get a cloth and scrub him away, or better still, open the window and look out upon the world of Doctor Faustus for myself.

Serenus Zeitblom. What a name. It conjures up a peaceful flower-filled time when all dangers and threats are nonexistent. A little joke on Thomas Mann’s part, I think. He likes his jokes, the obvious ones and the more hidden ones — while reading The Magic Mountain and Buddenbrooks, I noticed how carefully he chooses his words, his images and metaphors. This is an author who thinks in layers and he makes us want to access all the layers. But our way is blocked by Serenus.

From the very beginning of this book, I found myself distracted by Serenus’ voice. It prevented me from focusing on the deeper layers of the story itself, the account of the life of the fictional musician and composer, the Doctor Faustus figure of the title, Adrian Leverkühn. Taking his role of narrator über seriously, Serenus tries very hard to build up a relationship with the reader whom he addresses as his ‘potential’ reader in the early stages, always keen to underline the authenticity of his testimony, that this is an account that will take him a long time and much anguish to tell. This underlining of the biographical nature of the account seemed to make it less true for me.

The lengths Serenus goes to in order to explain how he knew exactly what was said in a conversation he wasn’t present at or how he knows what is contained in a letter he never actually saw, interfered with the (moderately) willing suspension of my disbelief and only served to make me excessively suspicious of him. Proust has a narrator who knows far more than anyone could possibly know about the rest of the characters' lives, but apart from creating a few unlikely voyeuristic opportunities for him, Proust doesn’t worry too much about how his narrator acquires his omniscience. He knows we know that he is writing a fictional autobiography. Serenus is trying to pretend that he is writing fact, and Thomas Mann is hiding so well behind his narrator that the dry humour I’d loved in The Magic Mountain doesn’t get past Serenus’ sober facade. It could be argued that this proves how successful Thomas Mann has been in creating his narrator, that the narrator was so real for me that he, and not the story he was telling, became the central point of the book. If that was what he intended, he succeeded very well.

Serenus frequently stresses the haphazard nature of his account, that it has been written at a distance of many years from the events it describes, and during the unprecedented upheaval of WWII. He forecasts a similar upheaval for the reader as his biographical account progresses and he sounds a note of mysterious tragedy from the beginning. I experienced this ominous warning as the narrator seeking to make us, the readers, complicit in something nefarious in which he has been closely involved. We have been warned and read on at our peril:
It is my belief, by the way, not only that those who read me will, in time, come to understand my inner turmoil, but also that in the long run it will not be foreign to them either.

Serenus also emphasises the unplanned nature of what he is writing and how he is organizing it, pointing out how unintentional it is that the thirteenth chapter just happens to be the one that contains some unsettling references to evil* when we know well that everything here is intentional. Equally intentional, and frequently emphasised, is the idea that the dependence of good rests on the existence of evil, and it is left to women to carry the burden of the proof of evil's existence. Women and sex seem to equal evil in his version of events. On that note, I will finish with Serenus - excuse me while I take a moment to defenestrate him - he risked blocking your vision of what this book is about as much as he did mine.

There were many aspects of this book I really enjoyed: the sections on music, especially in the early chapters when I listened to a lot of pieces as I read, The Harmonious Blacksmith, , Beethoven’s Opus III, , and many more.
I was also very struck by the idea that music can be more than an aural experience - there's the visual aspect of the notes on the page and there’s a mathematical angle too. The composer exists as as artist, mathematician and writer. The idea of the composer as a writer is particularly intriguing; Mann reminds us that Beethoven continued to write music long after he became deaf but could experience it by reading the score as we read a book.

I loved the character of Adrian Leverkühn too, there was an honesty about him that seemed to me in total contrast to the narrator’s opacity although the narrator supposedly represented ‘good’ and Adrian ‘evil’. Adrian has an interesting and refreshing take on the world that I really liked: I have been damned from the start with the need to laugh at the most mysterious and impressive spectacles, and I fled from my exaggerated sense of the comic into theology hoping it would soothe the tickle, only to find a lot of things awfully comic there as well. Why must almost everything appear to me as its own parody? Why must it seem as if all the means and contrivances of art nowadays are good only for parody?

Around 1920, Adrian goes off to live in Schweigstill, a village south of Munich in search of the peace and quiet he needs in order to be able to compose music. The village sounds very like the one Kandinsky retreated to around 1910 for much the same reasons. Reading about this episode in Adrian’s life gave me the opportunity to revisit Kandinsky’s art which I love. It is interesting to note that it was while Kandinsky was enjoying the peace in Murnau village that he made the break from representational art to abstract art. This mirrors Leverkühn’s own journey from classical composition to the kind of atonal harmonies associated with Arnold Schoenberg’s music, a transition he made during the period he spent in Schweigstill. .
Another neat coincidence worth mentioning here are the references Thomas Mann makes to Laurence Sterne and Jonathan Swift, both of whom I was reading while I was reading Doctor Faustus.

Speaking of Swift and Sterne reminds me of the aspect of Mann’s writing I admire the most: his quirky characters. I think some of his best writing happens when he describes people and their idiosyncrasies. However, I found myself wondering what the point of the particularly large cast of such characters was, how they could possibly serve the plot and its dénouement, and such thoughts did distract me a little. Being distracted by minor details while major themes were being developed and played out before my eyes was a problem for me all along and brings me to the allegorical aspects of Doctor Faustus which I’ve neatly sidestepped up until now. Mann intended this book to be a comment on Germany’s metamorphosis during the first half of the twentieth century. There are many references to the rise of National Socialism and to the changes which took place under the Nazis:
I do not like it when someone wants to have it all his way, takes the word right out of his opponent's mouth, twists it, and creates a general confusion of concepts. It is being done at present with the greatest brazenness, and that is the chief cause of my living in seclusion.
This echoes the words of Victor Klemperer, another author I’ve been reading recently. In The Language of the Third Reich: LTI -- Lingua Tertii Imperii: A Philologist's Notebook, he analyses the way the Nazis changed the very meaning of words to suit their purposes. If someone replaces the words ‘heroic’ and ‘virtuous' with ‘fanatical’ for long enough, he will come to believe that a fanatic really is a virtuous hero, and that no one can be a hero without fanaticism.
In an odd correspondence, this statement can be applied to Doctor Faustus but in reverse: the hero may well not be the fanatic the virtuous man makes him out to be and the virtuous man may be more of a fanatic than he admits.
Complex.

* .
Profile Image for Kalliope.
682 reviews22 followers
April 9, 2022
THE LAMENTATIONS OF THE HUMANIST NOVEL

Oratorio in Five Parts.

Composer: M.

Conductor’s Edition.

Dynamics and Mood: Melancholia.

Tonality: G** minor.

Venue: Church of St. Thomas, Leipzig.

Date: 23rd May 1943.

Duration: The Hour-Glass will determine its Time.

Première: Serenus Zeitblom as Conductor.

Singers: Tanya Orlanda (a dramatic soprano and a stupendous woman with a heroic voice).

Harald Kjoejelund (as Heldentenor, a quite rotund man with pince-nez and voice of brass. (p. 293)


OVERTURE

I, John Serenus Zeitblom of Patmos, of Kaisersachsen.

Will have to show in this Overture a quick review of what is to come. And I will direct the music of the spheres so that the Audience will know what I surmise, that an Oratorio needs an understanding and reliable Conductor if it is to speak to our rationality. Without me this piece would have no coherence for I am the medium to bring it to life. Music, like novels, needs a narrator.

The violins begin and the fist bars are from Haydn’s Creation. Number One is the creation of prime light out of Chaos followed by the angels playing their harp arpeggios. One angel is out of tune and I signal to him that he has to go.

Now we need the planets, and I summon Holst to show us that Order and Sound are in the Spheres. But he stays on the sides. Waiting.

But as the overture is also a warning, a foretaste of what follows, I will borrow from Verdi and his Macbeth visiting the witches. More bewitching music is needed and I will introduce then some of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltzes in all their sensuality.


FIRST Part: A Trio of Order, Humanity and Love.

Goodness is in nature. And observing nature is how we approach the ultimate morality. The brilliancy of Vivaldi’s seasons lead onto Beethoven’s Largo in the Pastoral but the most mysterious is certainly Mahler’s early bars summoning the Naturlaut, the sounds of nature, from his First Symphony.

So that we do not forget that there is a religiosity in this natural phenomenon, the choir will now intone sections from Hildegard’s Liber Divinorum Operum. Mysticism as another voice. To reinforce her point, Holst now finally comes to the fore with his Neptune, the Mystic planet, and we hear the celestial sounds of his celesta accompanied by the harps of Haydn’s angels.

With the perfect environment now created, the Viola d’Amore comes forth and will play as soloist leading onto the Duet for Adam and Eve from the Third Act of the Schöpfung. They are the first witnesses to the marvels and for this they sing: So Wunderbar. Love in Paradise. Is there a better thing?

Holst again comes to the fore with his Venus of sweet harmonic passions. There is also a planetary dimension to paradisiacal love.

Unexpectedly, some dark tonalities enter in a crescendo, and Haydn warns the pair, through his angel, of the dangers of wishing to go beyond the knowledge that has been given to them.

Humanity is then officially launched and is free to proceed and create its culture, always in the search of greater light.


SECOND Part: Barbarism lurks and Love affected.

Bliss is not just Love, and Mozart takes us to the temple of Wisdom in his Zauberflöte. The Enlightenment posits itself as the apex of Humanism. In his Temple of Ordeal Mozart invokes Lüther’s Hymn Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein (Oh God, look down from heaven) as another Adam and Eve enter the Temple of Light and Wisdom.

For love continued through the ages and it is powerful. In Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust Marguerite sings the beautiful D’Amour l’ardente flame. But dissonance menaces concords as love is threatened by adultery, prostitution, and jealousy. Verdi’s Othello proves how the blessed can be led astray and one harmonic single melody can break apart, Diceste questa sera le vostre preci (Have you said your prayers tonight)?" One could be dammed by the devil with “You may not love. Love is forbidden you insofar as it warms. Your life shall be cold – hence you may love no human. (p. 264). What kind of punishment is this?

Dissonance comes from the narrowing of human mind, and nationalism lurks with its limiting frontiers. Peace has to be international if it is to be at all. If we forget Handel, the great internationalist, born in Germany but who learnt a great deal of his music in the land of the arts, incorporated elements from the land of beauty, and then developed his compositions in yet another court, we could fall and let us be driven by nationalist conjuring in its devilish quest for power. International forces that lead and maintain peace can be forgotten.

Is Stravinsky staging barbarism in the demonic dances of the Earth in his Rite of Spring as he explores nationalistic streaks? Is nationalism ready to do any kind of sacrifice? Has our culture departed in great distance from Vivaldi’s Primavera when it has stopped seeking beauty? Or is it freer from bourgeois clichés?

Ethics, Love, Aesthetics, Peace, Morality, and Creativity... You can’t have them all. Something has to be sacrificed.


THIRD Part: Rebellion against Order – the Devilish.

A series of Diminished Sevenths, which do not lead to a given tonality but which let you halt wherever you choose, introduce this part.

But one may need a Sorcerer to make sense out of these invocations, and we invite Holst again with his Uranus, the Magician. To Holst’s planet we add a choir. A, dancing one with the Witches Sabbath from Arrigo Boito’s Mephistopheles provide the best accompaniment.

For how much freedom is there in artistic creation? Can one deny one’s tradition and preexisting compositions? Aren’t any new creations variations of a given theme? How many times is the Faust legend recreated? What can a conductor do to order the sound of the different instruments and impose some rationality? Is the Conductor a sort of Führer in this chaos? Who said the Author was Dead?

I feel lost in the middle of all my doubts, and I have to hold onto the podium.

Is language eternal? is art eternal? Paul Celan said that after the Holocaust no poetry was possible. Is language international, yes, but which language? What is the reach that a book in German can have when published in a country where that language is not spoken? Can language depict Hell? Dante posited himself as its poet. But Thomas Mann does not think so, even if he quotes Dante in his Title page.

Is there a rebellion against beauty or is just creativity fleeing the commonplace? The golden days of the Novel have past, or may be they just have escaped from the sentimental? May be the emotional harmonic melodies have to stop and we have to go back to the cold and precise counterpoint. Do we have to break from the Circle of Fifths and from closed narratives?

Is Irrationality the way to Freedom?


FOURTH Part: Hell is where the Devilish is. Fallen.

We enter this part with a series of Tritones, the Diabolo in music as perceived in the Middle Ages. It is still jarring to our ears and the Audience is audibly agitated in their seats. It is a warped counterpoint. But we are not alone. Accompanied by Orpheus, we descend into Hell... Gluck, Offenbach, Monteverdi, and others lead us.

But in spite of their help I need throw the Dice and signal to the players. Each time we perform different variations of the past repertory, and the constellation of devilish, Mephistofelian compositions, can be played in succession or in a contrapuntal manner to let all possible dissonances create a new order.

For too much order reminds us of Nationalsozialismus.

Smetana, Gounod, Boito, Berlioz, Mussorgsky, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Mahler, Prokofiev, Bussoni... They are all invoked for all played the Mephisto theme.

But if we fall, then we need Britten’s Requiem. We should not forget that wars also have a tradition and there are some areas in the world that seem to have a Gate to Hades. Just think of the Balkans, or of the islands in the Pacific, or... the Black Sea.

After a cacophony of Mephistoes we can then dive deep into Cage’s 4’33”, in which only time, with its exact and limited duration offers either a renewal or a damnation. What can the conductor do? Keep ticking the bâton? Where are the emotions? Is this taking us back to the Middle Ages?

Who said that Hell was the loss of creativity?


FIFTH Part: On Retribution and Penitence.

We need a warning, a fatal warning and Mozart’s Commendatore is brought back again in all his stoniness. Will he be enough to awaken our expiation, our Contrition?

Are we to finish with a Götterdämmerung, and welcome destruction or do we have hope and can invoke Beethoven’s Ninth?

I choose the latter, and a secondary dominant in A for Art and Amor leads to a cadential G for Grace and Goodness.

Amen.
Profile Image for Fernando.
675 reviews1,042 followers
October 4, 2022
"No he sido yo quien te ha tendido el lazo, tú mismo has caído en la red. ¡Retenga al Diablo quien lo tenga!, que no lo cazará tan pronto por segunda vez." Mephistopheles, 'Fausto', J. W. von Goethe

Thomas Mann, uno de los escritores alemanes más importantes de la historia reversiona la leyenda del Fausto, que mucho antes nos ofrecieran Christopher Marlowe entre 1588 y 1593 y posteriormente en su versión más famosa y duradera, la del enorme Johann Wolfgang von Goethe entre 1808 y 1832.
Con sólo modificar algunos de los aspectos del eterno pacto infernal al que se somete uno de los personajes principales, el incipiente músico Adrian Leverkühn, nos da el puntapié inicial para comenzar a leer esta descomunal novela de más de setecientas páginas y escrita a modo de biografía por el narrador y también personaje indispensable para la historia, el profesor Serenus Zeitblom, quien la escribe mucho tiempo después de la muerte del atormentado músico, situándose en el año 1943, cuando la cruenta Segunda Guerra Mundial iniciada por el nazismo va destrozando Europa a lo ancho y a lo largo del continente.
A diferencia de los otros Faustos, el de Mann ni es invocado como el Dr. Faustus de Marlowe ni se muestra con una propuesta como el Mefistófeles de Goethe. En este caso, el pacto es impuesto por el Diablo a Leverkühn sin tener este la posibilidad de negarse:
"—¿Lo que queréis, pues, es venderme tiempo?
—¿Tiempo? ¿Así, sin más? No, mi querido amigo, esa mercadería no sería digna del diablo. No justificaría que exigiéramos por precio el fin. Lo que importa es la clase de tiempo. Gran tiempo, frenético, diabólico, con todos los goces y placeres imaginables, y también con sus pequeñas miserias, sus pequeñas y sus grandes, lo concedo, y no sólo lo concedo, lo subrayo con orgullo, porque entiendo que es algo conforme a la naturaleza del artista y a su carácter."

La suerte está echada para Leverkühn desde el primer momento en que es visitado por el Ángel Caído y si podemos decir que el lapso de tiempo que le da es el mismo que recibe el Dr. Faustus de Marlowe: 24 años.
"—Y saldré de estas llamas para volver a caer en el hielo. Se diría que me preparáis en la tierra una anticipación del infierno.
—Sólo en una existencia extravagante puede, sin duda, encontrar satisfacción el orgullo. Tu soberbia no te permitirá llevar otra. ¿Cerramos el trato? Gozarás, en la creación, la eternidad de una vida humana. Vacío el reloj de arena, mi hora habrá sonado. Dispondré de ti, pobre y delicada criatura, a mi modo y placer, de tu cuerpo y de tu alma, de tus bienes, de tu carne y de tu sangre por toda la eternidad...

Pero para que lleguemos a este encuentro, deberemos leer en primero veinticuatro capítulos, o sea, 298 páginas de las 710 que trae mi edición. Antes de semejante suceso en la novela, Serenus nos ofrecerá una extensísima novela de formación o bildungsroman sobre la vida de Leverkühn en la que no dejará detalle librado al azar.
Lenta y muy descriptivamente nos aportará cada pequeño dato que tiene que ver con la vida del gran compositor y sí, después de ese extenso documento en el que Leverkühn escribe cómo fue su encuentro (o su alucinación) en el que sella su destino irremediablemente, seremos testigos de la debacle de Leverkühn a punto tal que de que el mismo Satanás se encarga de justificar su condena final: "Calla, por tanto, sufre, soporta y aguanta, no te quejes a nadie de tu suerte, es demasiado tarde para confiar en Dios; tu perdición aquí está para siempre."
Retomando la cuestión de lo que escribe Serenus, trazamos una idéntica línea con la escritura de esta novela a cargo de Thomas Mann, ya que el autor, enemistado con el devenir de lo sucedido en la Primera Guerra Mundial y posteriormente con el nazismo imperante en su querida Alemania, decide emigrar a los Estados Unidos donde culminará esta novela casi al mismo tiempo que el narrador.
Mann la culminó en 1947, cuando la Guerra ya había terminado con el devastador resultado que todos conocemos: más de 60 millones de muertos.
El ascenso y caída de Adrian Leverkühn concuerda con el de Alemania y de su pueblo quienes en cierta manera se dejaron llevar por el ofrecimiento de un dictador feroz y despiadado, tanto como el mismo Satanás, que en sus enormes delirios de locura de conquista y megalomanía enterró el futuro de Alemania en una guerra sin precedentes. Obviamente, me refiero a Adolf Hitler.
Todo este bagaje de amargos sentimientos fueron gestándose en el alma y la mente de Thomas Mann para transformarse en esta apoteótica novela que es "Doktor Faustus", cuyo nombre está tomado de la última obra de Leverkühn, llamada "El lamento del Doktor Faustus", ya cuando este hombre está condenado a su infierno tan temido.
La novela, que por momentos se torna densa y de una lectura extremadamente lenta, da la impresión de oscilar entre el drama propio de lo que narra Zeitblom, los avatares que sufre Leverkühn y toda una serie de disertaciones políticas, humanísticas, teológicas y filosóficas de un hombre culto, sabio y refinado como lo fue Thomas Mann.
Su teoría acerca de lo que el Diablo (o cualquiera de sus formas) puede generar en el ser humano para hacerlo caer es de lo más completo que he podido leer en mi vida y es sobrada muestra de su enorme poder de erudición, algo que ya había puesto de manifiesto en otras novelas suyas como la imponente "La montaña mágica" o la monumental "Los Buddenbrock".
Más allá de la pesadez en la que esta novela cae, no va en detrimento de lo que el autor nos ofrece, ya que "Doktor Faustus" es una novela digna de ser leída y principalmente de ser leída para aprender todo lo que este escritor profundo llamado Thomas Mann nos enseñó.
Su novela es un llamado de advertencia para todos nosotros simples mortales, tan fáciles de ser corrompidos y arrastrados a las zonas más sórdidas y destructivas, por la desdicha de ser débiles de alma y de corazón, tal como le anuncia el Señor de la Oscuridad a Leverkühn:

"Si existo —y supongo que ya no dudas de mi existencia— sólo puedo ser Uno y nadie más. ¿Quién es este Uno y cómo se llama? Tu memoria conserva, desde que empezaste a frecuentar la universidad, antes de que dejaras olvidadas detrás de la puerta y debajo del banco las Sagradas Escrituras, el recuerdo de todos mis nombres y apodos peyorativos. Puedes elegir el que prefieras, uno de los muchos diminutivos que se me aplican amistosamente, como haciéndome cosquillas con los dedos en la sotabarba: eso viene de mi gran popularidad entre los alemanes. La popularidad (¿no es cierto?) uno la acepta con gusto aun sin haberla buscado, aun si se está convencido, en el fondo, de que proviene de una confusión. Es halagadora y benéfica. Si quieres llamarme por mi nombre, aunque esta no sea tu costumbre, olvidadizo como eres de los nombres porque las personas que los llevan no te interesan... si quieres llamarme por mi nombre puedes elegir entre los muchos que, con gran ternura, me da la gente del pueblo, el que más te agrade. Sólo hay uno de estos nombres que no me gusta oír, por maligno y calumnioso, sin relación alguna con mi verdadero carácter. Quien tuvo la ocurrencia de llamarme «el señor que dice y no hace» se equivocó de medio a medio. Aún dicha la cosa con ganas de cosquillearme la barbilla, la calumnia es evidente."
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
785 reviews830 followers
May 11, 2015
Got up before dawn this morning to finish the last two chapters with coffee, knew I wouldn't be able to read the final 17 pages last night -- didn't really want to put the book down over the past few days as it started to take off towards its finale thanks to way more dramatization than in, well, most of it. Like all Mann I've read it requires and it rewards patience. Like in The Magic Mountain, if you make it through the first 250–300 slow, dense pages, things take off at a pretty good upwards clip, plus the long opening semi-slog becomes a super-strong foundation on which Mr. Mann builds his dramatic and thematic pinnacles. I'm glad I read this after Stefan Zweig's Holderlin, Kleist, and Nietzsche: The Struggle with the Daemon, which presents three real case studies of melancholic genius/madness in Germanic artists -- Adrian fits the bill. I streamed F.M. Murnau's 1926 silent film version of "Faust" earlier in the year -- and I really only remember a few images from it: a dark cloud enveloping a city that's also Satan's wing, the ending image of the Christ-like embodiment of Love ("Liebe"). (I've never made it through more than a few pages of Goethe's "Faust," deeming it maybe untranslatable.) In Mann's version, no archangel swoops in to rescue the damned. A divine little boy makes a stand toward the end but not for long, thanks to Adrian's pact, which is sort of the point of the novel's end -- after Nazi horrorshow, the mass destruction and murder but also the eternal damnation in the narrator's eyes of all things German (the land, the people, the language, the culture), redemption/hope for humanity won't come easy. Only after everything is destroyed, including Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," which Adrian's "The Lamentations of Dr. Faustus" reverses, do we have a chance. I found the narrator (the POV/approach) pretty problematic through most (not all) of the novel. I was all like why's Mann mussing his story with this mask? Why not just tell the story of the damned musical genius and parallel it with WWII hell and otherwise get outta the way of its awesomeness? Temporally, Mann probably needed the musical overthrow of polyphony to precede Nazi overthrow of humanity, since it wouldn't have made historical sense if they occurred simultaneously? Maybe Mann also wanted to formally disrupt the story the way Adrian uses dissonance? Regardless, it's hard to believe that the narrator isn't Mann himself. When Zeitblom says oh how badly I'm writing, I think something like oh how badly Mann is trying to express his story through this narrator who of course shouldn't write as well as Thomas Mann but then, well, every once in a while takes on these jags of straight-up towering literary artistry. Four point five stars since I can't shake the sense I had through the first 250 pages that such a lengthy development wasn't totally necessary, that these pages could have been reduced and integrated after Adrian's pact with Satan, although of course that would've been a sensationalist way to start the novel. It helps I guess that we have young Adrian's secret, almost ashamed discovery of the harmonium, the image of his arrogant laughter, the characterizing repetition of that gesture of a sort of absence as he turns away with a slight smile. There's also the foundation of the relationship the narrator has with Adrian, the boyhood chumminess/love complete with use of the informal familiar tense, and then the loss of that and the narrator's jealousy for the friendship, most likely also of the flesh, per Adrian's confession at the end, between Adrian and the flirty violinist. As in a lot of Mann, there's suggested homosexuality -- this time between Adrian and the violinist. There's also maybe the suggestion that Adrian contracted syphilis from "touching" the girl with the flat-nose/mermaid/Esmeralda/muse that leads to migraines and madness? One of the most memorable scenes is when the virtuoso violinist sits in with a little chamber orchestra in a room of a hotel with a glass floor, wows everyone, and then insists on skiing behind the horse-drawn sleigh. He's clearly doomed at that moment -- a superhuman figure, who like little Echo the golden boy, is doomed. Loved the two teachers early on -- the typical proto-Nazi German and the American stutterer who conveys his passion for music to Adrian. The music elements weren't as pronounced as I thought they'd be -- I couldn't quite follow all of it but I got the gist for the most part. At one time I pulled out my guitar to confirm that the notes written out for the refrain that acknowledges Adrian's muse sound like the devil's tritone, which we all know from "Black Sabbath". Loved the few pages where Adrian relays what it's like to journey underwater in a diving bell, passages that extrapolate out to discussion of the infinite cosmos -- reminded me of Hans lost in the snow in "The Magic Mountain" and Joseph in the well in Joseph and His Brothers, still by far my fave of the Mann I've read. Mann excels when he places a sensitive young dude in potentially tragic solitary confinement. In this one, Adrian's confinement is all-encompassing and intellectual rather than physical. In general, after a slow start thanks mostly to long essayistic stretches, the story takes off, addled by cliffhangers and some melodrama, sure, but it's all saved by the heft of the pacts Germany and Adrian have made with evil. Really an amazingly ambitious artistic achievement -- worth re-reading though I doubt I will anytime soon -- 4.5 stars for now although I'll maybe knock it up to five over time as I remember the strong finish/overall sense of it and everything else falls away.

Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,160 followers
May 5, 2016
"No, to the very end, this dark tone poem permits no consolation, reconciliation, transfiguration. But what if the artistic paradox, which says that expression, the expression of lament, is born out of the construct as a whole, corresponds to the religious paradox, which says that out of the profoundest irredeemable despair, if only as the softest of questions, hope may germinate? This would be hope beyond hopelessness, the transcendence of despair - not its betrayal, but the miracle that goes beyond faith. Just listen to the ending, listen with me: One instrumental group after the other steps back, and what remains as the work fades away is the high G of a cello, the final word, the final sound, floating off, slowly vanishing in a pianissimo fermata. Then nothing more. Silence and night. But the tone, which is no more, for which, as it hangs there vibrating in the silence, only the soul still listens, and which was the dying note of sorrow - is no longer that, its meaning changes, it stands as a light in the night.”

~~

Yes, Doctor Faustus is clearly an allegory for the rise of the Third Reich. (And to a certain extent, it can be read as Mann’s moral reckoning with his self-imposed exile from those events. I am ever averse to read biography into fiction, but there are obvious parallels between Mann and Leverkühn and his Boswell Serenus Zeitblom’s world-withdrawal (oh what names in this book! wonderful bizarre naming that even Pynchon would be proud of!)) To me, the disintegration of the German state into barbarism is among the least interesting facets of this tremendously complex work, whose sections discussing music theory and philosophy alone would justify its existence. But of course here we are given so much more : It is a sorrowful and tragic study of the troubling nature of genius, the public’s relation to genius and genius’s own response to the cursed manifold life of the person driven to create; at the same time it is a rather thorough history and critique of Western music, an exhaustive study of its origins and development; it is also a novel full of characters eccentric, doomed, strange, living through a particularly horrible period of history; mostly, it is concerned with elucidating the fate of secular and theological approaches to life and art as civilization careened into the nihilism of the 20th century; it is about the dialectic of history and how resolutions splinter into further antagonisms, in personal and historical circumstances, and how wholeness, which can really only be conceived or achieved through great works of art, often comes at a terrible cost to the ones who have brought it into being. It is a book very much about the limits of human love to influence worldly events. Mann’s intelligence is so thorough and far-reaching that all of this is given in what seems effortless exposition, in lovely prose that is able to elide easily from subjects as disparate as the biblical origins of ethics to the particularities of polyphony in atonal composition, and make them all seem of a piece. It falls on the side of forgiveness and the urge toward love in the face of the baffling incomprehensibility of humanity’s monstrous failings. Here Mann locates art, that which resolves the horrible contradictions, which expresses in ambiguous tones something that, as much as is possible within the limits of our expressive capabilities, names the approach of grace. It is a chorale of poor sinners’ laments, the accumulated wail which is the song of the world, this drop of water spinning in the abyss, which, despite everything, is still a light in the night.
June 30, 2018
*ΜΑΓΕΙΑ➖ΜΟΥΣΙΚΗ ΩΣ ΣΥΝΩΝΥΜΑ*


Το πραγματικά τρομερό τίμημα της μεγαλοφυΐας και του ανυπόφορου πόνου της, ως απάνθρωπη προσβολή.
Ένα έργο δυνατό, δύσκολο και απλό.
Ένας ωκεανός ανθρωπισμού βαθύς, τρομακτικός, ανυπόφορος.
Θλιβερό και κρύο σαν τα μπουντρούμια της κόλασης, παράλληλα εκστατικό και ανίατο σαν πυρετός απο την αρρώστεια της συναισθηματικής στειρότητας.
Σαν την καταραμένη επιβολή του χρόνου που τελειώνει και οδηγεί στην καταδικασμένη σατανική αφοσίωση.

Ο μοναδικός Τόμας Μαν συνδέει την γερμανική παράδοση με την εποχή που λαμβάνει χώρα η ιστορία (1890-1944).
Το σύνολο του σπουδαίου αυτού έργου αποτελείται απο πνευματικές ουσίες βαθύτερης κοσμικής ιστορίας που αναμειγνύουν τον Φάουστ του Γκαίτε και την τρομερή δύναμη του ανθρώπου ως ανταμοιβή, αν απαρνηθεί κάθε είδους αγάπη,που θεωρείται αδυναμία.

Στην ουσία της ιστορία μας πρωταγωνιστούν ο βιογράφος Ζερένους Τσάιτμπλομ κλασικός φιλόλογος, που γράφει μέσα απο την ψυχή του και με βαθιά αγάπη, την βιογραφία του παιδικού του φίλου, του Άντριαν Λεβέρκυν.

Ο Λεβέρκυν, μια παράδοξη ευφυέστατη προσωπικότητα,σπουδάζει θεολογία, φιλοσοφία, μουσική και εξελίσσεται σε μια σπάνια ιδιοφυΐα.

Μπαίνουμε αργά και κουραστικά σε μια εξιστόρηση φορτωμένη με φιλοσοφία, θρησκεία, λογοτεχνία, μυστικισμό, αναφορές και αναλύσεις ιστορικών και λαϊκών αντιλήψεων και γεγονότων, τέχνη σε κάθε της έκφανση, νομοτέλεια της ανθρώπινης φύσης σε μεταφυσικό πλαίσιο και τόννους μουσικών αναφορών.

Πολλές φορές οι μουσικοί όροι είναι περίπλοκοι και δυσνόητοι καθώς η ίδια ιστορία μας είναι ένας παραλληλισμός με τη μουσική.
Σε τέτοιου είδους κολοσσιαία έργα λογοτεχνίας φυσικά και μπορεί ο κάθε αναγνώστης - κι ας μην ειναι γνώστης μουσικής παιδείας- να προσπεράσει τα δύσκολα της λεπτομέρειας και να αφοσιωθεί στην ολότητα του κειμένου, στο σύνολο και στην αξία, που αποδίδεται απο τον συγγραφέα μαζικά, με εγκυρότητα και σημασία.

Το μυθιστόρημα τούτο είναι κάτι περισσότερο απο «μουσική» και Ωδή στη Θλίψη.
Η χρήση της μουσικής τεχνοτροπίας ορίζεται ως ένα μέσο, ένα παράθυρο ανοιχτό στα ευρύτερα σκοτεινά θέματα της ανθρωπότητας.
Η ουσία του βιβλίου έγκειται σε μία διαχρονική συμφωνία -ανάμεσα σε ιδιαίτερα χαρισματικούς ανθρώπους που μπορούν να μεγαλουργήσουν σε όλους τους τομείς της ζωής- με το σατανά.
Η διαβολική παντοδυναμία με αντάλλαγμα την ψυχή τους προσφέρει κάθε δυνατότητα νοητή ή αδιανόητη για την επίτευξη μεγάλων έργων.

Ο βιογράφος παραθέτει τα γεγονότα της ζωής του παιδικού του φίλου σε χρόνο αφήγησης το 1944 ο οποίος σχετίζεται με το χρόνο της ιστορίας μας, λίγο πριν τον ΑΠΠ και κατά τη διάρκεια του.
Η Γερμανία, που χάρισε στην ανθρωπότητα μουσικά έργα ανεκτίμητης αξίας, μετά τον Α’ Παγκόσμιο πόλεμο, ξύνει απεγνωσμένα τις πληγές της και με λίπασμα την απελπισία προετοιμάζεται το πρόσφορο έδαφος για την άνοδο του ναζισμού.

Ο Λεβέρκυν έχοντας πουλήσει την ψυχή του στο διάβολο και πριν χάσει για πάντα ψυχή και μυαλό στο βούρκο της σατανικής παράνοιας συνθέτει την Ωδή στη θλίψη.
Ένας θρήνος θρησκευτικός μα όχι με την συμβατική έννοια.
Το μεγαλειώδες έργο του συνθέτη ολοκληρώνεται το 1930 και ουσιαστικά προβλέπει την ολοκληρωτική καταστροφή της Γερμανίας γράφοντας την καταδίκη της.
Ο απομονωμένος ευφυής συνθέτης είναι ένας απο τους ελάχιστους ανθρώπους της εποχής του που αναγνωρίζει τις δαιμονικές δυνάμεις στην τέχνη και την ανθρώπινη ζωή.
Το πλήθος που αρνείται τις δυνάμεις αυτές γίνεται το πλήρωμα του ναζιστικού έθνους.
Ένας αληθινός ναζί δεν θα αποδεχόταν τις σατανικές δυνάμεις σε καμία περίπτωση.
Οι ναζί είναι όμοιοι με το Θεό και το θεόπνευστο έργο τους είναι το καθήκον που έχουν να εξαγνίσουν την ανθρώπινη φυλή με το αίμα της!

Συμπερασματικά, οι άνθρωποι που αρνούνται τις δαιμονικές δυνάμεις που υπάρχουν μέσα σε όλους, γίνονται ασυναίσθητα τα «μέσα» αυτών των δυνάμεων ( πιθανότατα να υπάρχουν κι άλλες ερμηνείες).

Μνημειώδες έργο. Δεν έχω όμως την παραμικρή ιδέα κατά πόσο ένας δυνητικός αναγνώστης θα απολαύσει το συγκεκριμένο βιβλίο.
Εξακολουθεί για εμένα να κατέχει την πρώτη θέση στην καρδιά μου το « Μαγικό βουνό» απο τα υπόλοιπα έργα του Τόμας Μαν.
Ελπίζω να έδωσα χρήσιμες πληροφορίες και ενδείξεις ώστε να γίνει κατανοητό το είδος της πρόκλησης που ίσως επιθυμείτε ή τολμάτε να αναλάβετε.

ΥΣ. Μέσα στο μυθιστόρημα υπάρχει αυτούσια η ιστορία σε περιληπτική απόδοση ενός άλλου βιβλίου του συγγραφέα με τίτλο «Ο εκλεκτός».

😈➖👿➖😈➖👿➖👿➖😈➖😈➖👿➖😈

Καλή ανάγνωση.
Πολλούς ασπασμούς.
Profile Image for Tony.
885 reviews1,463 followers
December 28, 2014
Is it enough to say I loved it?

No, that won't do. Although, it seems silly to write a proper review. Oh, there are pages of notes stuck in the back: some pretension of understanding. But this is a book you could devote an entire academic life to. Or even be humbled in a group read with readers who know or can track down every clue.

(My thanks to all of you who enriched this read. And for letting me tag along. I don't know if all group reads are like this (I suspect not); but my sincere thanks to everyone who participated, even if by a single post. A gathering of people that wants to love a book, and does love a book, is why we do this here. Never mind the small stuff. It's, you know, small stuff.)

Yes, yes, it's about Germany, and Germany's soul. But that's easy, isn't it? It was the Echo that got to me. And the du. The reverberations. And Mann speaking to me.

It is not always, I assure you, so cinematic: so cold you can see your breath; words that tether; 'Sign here!' We don't need Tim Burton to sell our souls. No. The metaphors can be demonic or Devil may care.

Where were you when you had a choice? Where were you? That fork. And who spoke to you? What shape was the choice, and what shape the advice? Was it a pin-striped suit behind a desk? A rugged jaw? A well-turned ankle? Did a bartender lean over? Or was it the kindest smile ever, the person you trusted the most, the one who would never harm you? Was it maternal advice?

Where were you when you sold your soul?

It looks like, for me anyhow, this novel raised more questions than it gave answers. I like that. Even as I toss and turn. And ask myself: would I have made a different choice?

Du?
Profile Image for Katia N.
568 reviews617 followers
June 9, 2020
“Now we will throw these mediocre kitchmongers into a slavery, and teach them to venerate the German spirit and to worship the German God.”

This was uttered in 1914 at the beginning of the the first World War. By the “kitchmongers” he means the French and their culture. Would you guess who said it? It was not Mann, though he was not far behind in the sentiment at that time. These words belong to Arnold Schoenberg, the avant-garde composer, music genius for some and the scandalous upstart for another “who would be better off in clearing the snow than in composing”, a Jew from Vienna. He would change his views later of course later, as many others like him. But it would be too late for his country, if not for his music.

Schoenberg is not a character in the Mann’s novel. Though he later thought he was. But this “German spirit” is the character indeed. The spirit that has lead the whole nation comprised of many outstanding individuals into a sheer madness and evil.

The novel's full title is “Dr Faustus. The life of the German composer Adrian Leverkuhn as told by a friend”. After reading it, I think a different title would be more suitable even if it is less appealing: “The life of an average German man Serenus Zeitblom, PhD told through his love to his genius friend while everything dear to him goes through annihilating madness.” Though Adrian Leverkuhn plays a huge role in the novel, indeed I think that Serenus is more important. He documents in his sightly awkward, convoluted, but very sincere writing the evolution of a German mind. Serenus is not very distinctive, in fact probably very typical, honest, hard-working and thinking teacher living in the first half of the last century. He possess the strong humanist ideals, he knows and values culture, especially music; he loves his country and the land. And, during the course of his 60 years, all of this is getting destroyed by the people many of them are not unlike him. That leaves him confused, intimidated and lost. And, this biography he writes is his attempt to redeem himself, to explain to himself what happened.

And yes of course there is the genius friend. More than a friend in fact. The man whom Sirenus loves with the quiet devotion. The man whom he would never dare to imagine as a lover, but whom he loves so dearly. The man who Serenus would not be able to safe. Adrian writes music. Adrian is cold and lonely. And any attempt by Adrian to become more human leads to a catastrophe. But Adrian also is vain, or at least sometimes. He thinks he could write the music which would be governed by the principles almost opposite to the all composed before him. At the same time his music would contain all this inheritance but in a way that no-one would see. And he is ready to sacrifice his life to the search for such a music.

Adrian is so symbolic with the vanity and unraveling of the “German spirit”, that initially I thought that he exists only in Serenus imagination. I’ve changed my mind lately though as Adrian obtained more humanity with the novel progressing.

But I have not introduced the main character yet. Because I think the main character of this novel is the music in all its variety. While Adrian is learning and composing his masterpieces, Mann is introducing us to this fascinating and complex subject of the Western music of the last few centuries. The music possess its own language which I do not know unfortunately. That made me struggle with the book and writing this review was a difficult task. I’ve learned a lot, but I would gain much more from the novel if I would know the terms like tonality, chords, harmony, contrapunct and many others. What i felt though it is Mann’s admiration for the subject and his encyclopaedic knowledge. I also know that even Mann has consulted Adorno in writing about the contemporary musical developments. But even with my limited knowledge I understood that the music was in a state of existential crisis at fin de siecle, the crisis probably deeper than any other art. Music is appeared to be closer to mathematics and even physics (the theory of waves). So the laws of these disciplines have affected music more. They said that everything which was there to compose pleasant enough and of any value has been composed. They also were debating whether music needed to please masses or to be destined for the elite. All of these is masterfully entailed in the novel.

Adrian composes the music which has never actually been composed as far as I know. His music supposedly absorbs all the influences and styles in order to destroy them from within. But in one chapter, he explains to Serenus the music based on the atonality which broadly coincides with the system really conceived by our old friend Schoenberg. Schoenberg was not very happy man and made Mann to add an explanatory note to the end of the book that should reappear in all new editions. Coincidently, my edition in English does not have this note while my Russian book does.

The novel also probes how far a genius would go for the sake of his art. And also where is the border between the geniality and madness. That is how Dr Faustus comes to play. Adrian is not Faust from Goethe. Goethe's Faust has been redeemed by God. Adrian is the medieval Dr Faustus from the old initial legend. He is ready to get himself sick for life if it would boost his chance of experiencing inspiration. He is called in the novel “the monk of darkness”. And he would not be forgiven. But his genius supposedly would live in his music. The actual pact with the devil here is ambiguous. We would never know whether he has actually seen the satan or it was the fist sign of his disease. It reminded me a novella by Chekhov The Black Monk where the character finds himself in a very similar situation, but choses the different way out. Adrian keeps composing, Chekhov’s character is getting “cured” but both are powerless over the bigger forces driving them over the cliff. This is the tragedy of course. But not only for Adrian. It is the tragedy for Serenus to know for a long time that he would not be able to safe the person he loves and to stay there until the end.

It is a complex, multilayered novel. There are a lot of ideas to digest. It is not easy to read. However, it is worth persisting. I only wish I knew more about music theory. I did not mention that it is populated by a lot of interesting characters that add to the drama. But it a story for another time.

I’ve started with Schoenberg, so I will finish with him. Leverkuhn is not his alter-ego. I understood that Adrian is a proper fictional character with many features. For example, he receives the financial support from the woman unknown to him like Tchaikovsky did. His general prototype, if any, is Nietzsche. However, Mann has borrowed a few things from Schoenberg as well. Such as for example, Schoenberg went with his students to Graz to listen to performance of Salome by Richard Strauss. Adrian in the book said he would go to listen the same opera at the same place but instead visited a prostitute. The result of this visit was his fate.

In his book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century that is how Alex Ross described the commotion which happened in a supermarket when “Dr Faustus” was published:

“One day in 1948 or 1949 a shopping complex in an upscale neighbourhood of Los Angeles, California, was the scene of a slight disturbance that carried overtones of the most spectacular upheaval in 20th century music. Marta Feuchtwanger, wife of the emigre novelist Lion Feuchtwanger, was examining grapefruit in the produce section when she heard a voice shouting in German from the far end of the aisle. She looked up to see Arnold Schoenberg, the pioneer of atonal music and the codifier of twelve-tone composition, bearing down on her, with his bald pate and burning eyes. Decades later, in conversation with the writer Lawrence Weschler, Marta could still recall every detail of the encounter, including the weight of the grapefruit in her hand. “Lies, Frau Marta, lies!” Schoenberg was yelling. “You have to know, I never had syphilis!”
Profile Image for Elena.
86 reviews38 followers
April 14, 2015
This is not a beach book. The literature on Thomas Mann's "Doktor Faustus" is huge, and I'm glad I didn't try to master it all. I tackled the novel (actually re-reading it after 40 years) with an untutored but relatively open mind. However, I needed a reading group to get through it, and here goodreads really came through for me with an international group of 14 close readers on the same schedule. They helped enormously.

Thomas Mann wrote his fiction in response to a heartbreaking reality: his beloved Germany committed such atrocious crimes in World War II that, from his exile in the US, he felt obligated to broadcast, in German, into Germany. He explained to his compatriots that total defeat was the only honorable way out. Germans who secretly listened to his illegal radio broadcasts, as the bombs were demolishing their homes, say they found his message comforting. I don't know that an American like me can fully understand.

There are a couple naive questions that get asked a lot, and of course don't have answers. One is "How can the culture that produced Bach and Beethoven also produce Auschwitz." A second naive question is "Can there be poetry after Auschwitz." I think about the novel "Doktor Faustus" as a response instead of an answer. For all the unique aspects of this tragedy, there are other cultures with a similar paradox. Japanese artists produced some of the most gentle, peaceful artworks ever created, even as the military of that same culture brutalized their neighbors. I think the shorthand for this is the title "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" used by Ruth Benedict. But Mann himself does not even think of relativizing the catastrophe with comparisons. He confronts the good and the bad sides of German genius as something totally intertwined, without trying to distinguish between "good Germans" and "bad Germans" as some commentators have done. Culture is an interwoven tapestry.

The Faust legend arose when the invention of the printing press was revolutionizing a society that still believed in devils. The sudden access to knowledge was seen as something dangerous. That's pretty much biblical too. Somehow sex inevitably gets into the mix in all these myths. Mann expects his readers to be familiar with Goethe's take on the Faustian pact, but he doesn't reference it directly. Since music has served as a source of great national pride for Germany, starting long before the country actually existed as a unified nation-state, Mann revises the deal with the devil. The brilliant composer Adrian Leverkuehn trades his soul, not for knowledge, not for happiness, but for musical talent, specifically talent for composing modern music. The genius is undeniably powerful, but it destroys his soul. What a metaphor for the political and human disaster. But this theme is also an opening for Mann to introduce a cluster of colorful characters who discuss music in great detail,--all about polyphony and counterpoint and twelve tone composition....These discussions somehow lift the text out of the swamp. Mann's richly detailed story, drenched in quirky irony, becomes oddly comforting. It's pretty much impossible to explain.

The book is long. It is narrated by a fuddy-duddy friend of the composer, with the nutty name of Serenus Zeitblom. Mann has a lot of fun with his long-winded narrator. The chapters shift radically from one mood to another, like movements in a symphonic piece of music. Themes and images, like the butterfly and the little mermaid, are introduced early on, then dropped, only to reappear hundreds of pages later in unexpected variations, a verbal Wagnerian Leitmotiv effect. Adrian's communications with Lucifer are completely logically explained by his medical and psychiatric conditions. But the highly ornate way Mann presents it all--with fleeting images that appear and disappear, and with shifting moods--seduces the readers into his dangerous world. And everyone's soul is in danger. Without the lengthy build up, I don't think the book would work at all.

Adrian comes from a farm, where his life begins and ends. His musical talent comes from his beautiful mother, but she is wise enough not to develop her talent. His other introduction to music comes from the simple milkmaid, who teaches the country children charming folk songs, including a hauntingly beautiful "round." After selling his soul, he finds a refuge on a monastery turned farm estate, where he rents an elegant studio from the generous farmer's wife. And there he writes amazing music that goes out into the world. These two farms are the "real" Germany, the source. When Adrian has his final nervous breakdown in front of a gathering of friends, the noble farmer's wife, Frau Schweigestill, comforts him and sends the guests away, because they (like me) could never understand. Haneke's film "Das weisse Band," addresses the question of collective guilt among the peasantry in a relentlessly depressing way. Mann's take is totally different, and more nuanced. Something indigenous, that is beautiful and magical, has a dangerous internal logic...I don't think Mann asks us to read this as a universal, but that is how I read it. We Americans need to deal with certain aspects of our culture and its internal logic...

The other simplistic question, the one about poetry after Auschwitz, is implicit in these discussions. Mann's close friend and adviser on the book, Adorno, famously examined this issue. I see Mann's response in the poetic passages of his writing. I think poetry may be the only way to come to terms with some aspects of human history, think of Paul Celan or Nelly Sachs. (Myself, I'm not so sure whether other arts like music, painting, or architecture ever recovered from the brutalization of the 20th century.) The poetry in Mann's prose emerges very slowly, in baroque sentences and page long paragraphs. Like an unfolding flower, you just can't rush it. I went to a Buddhist mediation class where we sat on the floor for four hours chanting and visualizing a lotus slowly blossoming. At the end I felt like I was levitating. I asked afterward if there might be a more efficient method that we could do in say 20 minutes. Nope. Mann's way with words gradually lifts off the ground. A more concise reading exercise could not build the same spell. This all by way of partly explaining why a novel about such a horrifying history can be oddly beautiful. I will never really understand, of course, but language can in itself be comforting.


Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,357 reviews2,287 followers
January 19, 2022
There's no question, this is a magisterial book, worthy of a Nobel winner - but my personal reading experience was... challenging. And that's because I don't think this is a book one can just pick up and read casually. As Mann did a huge amount of research in preparation for writing this, so the reader, unless one is on top of sophisticated musicology, ought to do some equivalent research, certainly if you want to stand any chance of following the complex discussions centred on music theory and practice, and its cultural, philosophical and maybe even moral valences.

For, like Mann's other books that I've read, this is a complex 'ideas' novel. Based, of course, on the Faust legend, it considers the life of Adrian Leverkuhn in tandem with what Mann sees as Germany's fatal blood-pact leading to the rise of fascism. It's nowhere near as simple as direct allegory and, in fact, Adrian's life ends in 1940 when the Nazi war machine was in ascendency.

Structured as a biography, the slightly fussy and pompous narrator, Serenus Zeitblom, has known the musical 'genius' Leverkuhn since boyhood, has collaborated with him, writing the libretto to an opera based on Love's Labour's Lost - and figures himself, possessively, as being closer to Leverkuhn than anyone else in his life. But Zeitblom is also writing in his present as Germany is under pressure from encroaching American and Russian armies, her cities being reduced to rubble by aerial bombardments, and her leaders falling away. And this layer as Zeitblom struggles with both love for, and pride in, his country, and horror at her behaviour lead to some of the most potent passages in the book, especially in 1944/5.

Part of the fascination is the way we can't help wondering whether Zeitblom's appalled response to what his country has done and is doing is partially the shame of exposure, of seeing Germany through outside eyes, of losing the war and being morally held up for judgement which is the source of his despair - would he have felt the same way if Germany has proved victorious? It's a complex characterisation and, indeed, ethical position that Mann offers up for our contemplation: at what point does blind patriotism open its eyes to sins (in the parlance of the novel) and crimes committed in the name of 'the people'?

I was particularly struck by the ways in which Mann is striving to come to some kind of accounting for this period in German history - it's so different from the way Britain still, largely, refuses to acknowledge and come to terms with its own shameful history of empire, colonialism and slavery. Mann, as we know, left Germany for America so had, to some extent, an onlooker's view of Nazi-led madness and horrors - all the same, this book, first published in 1947, must have been conceived and executed in a fervour of patriotic love mixed up with an anguished desolation for Germany and her future.

There are some dizzying shifts as we move from, say, Leverkuhn's confession of a pact with a Mephistophelian figure (real or a function of syphilitic insanity?) couched in archaic language to Zeitblom's present in 1944 when the Allied forces are advancing on Germany, with references to the first witnesses to newly liberated concentration and death camps.

So a dense, rich, multilayered novel of towering moral stature and profundity - but one which is difficult to read and understand fully without far more specialist knowledge than I brought to it. Mea culpa!
Profile Image for Nikos Tsentemeidis.
400 reviews199 followers
Read
December 1, 2018
Ο Μαν στο τελευταίο του βιβλίο θέτει πολύ ψηλά τον πήχυ, τόσο που νομίζω χάνει λίγο την ουσία, παράλληλα με τους μουσικούς όρους. Το λεξιλόγιο, της μετάφρασης, είναι όμορφο αλλά δυσκολότερο από την πλειοψηφία των μυθιστορημάτων. Δεν μπορώ να κρίνω αν ήταν καλή η μετάφραση, σίγουρα όμως πρόκειται για ένα κατόρθωμα.

Δεν το θεωρώ εντέλει καλύτερο από το μαγικό βουνό και τους Μπούντενμπροκ, αν και αντιλαμβάνομαι την ποιότητα του έργου, ασχέτως αν δεν κατάφερα να μπω στο κλίμα 100%.
Profile Image for Hakan.
204 reviews152 followers
August 12, 2019
bir büyük romandan beklenebilecek hemen her şeyi veriyor doktor faustus.

-bütünlüklü yapı: kurgusal bir yaşam öyküsünü, bu yaşam öyküsünün yazılma süreciyle birlikte işliyor mann. bu romanı hem doğrusallıktan ve tek boyutlu olmaktan kurtarıyor hem de romana kahramanlarının hikayesiyle bütünleşecek güçlü bir arka plan yaratıyor. romanın en büyük başarısı bu arka planın yaşam öyküsüyle bütünleşmesi.

-geniş zaman: birinci dünya savaşının öncesinden ikinci dünya savaşının sonuna uzanan bir perspektif söz konusu. bu geniş zamanda hem kahramanların gelişimi, hem almanya'nın sanatçı-aydın topluluğunun düşünceleri, tartışmaları izlenebiliyor. sonra büyük yenilgiye götüren bütün bir alman toplumunun dönüşümü. nihayetinde roman, öykü-arka plan bütünleşmesini zirveye çıkararak aynı meselenin hem birey hem toplum bazında sorgulamasını yapıyor: bir birey ya da bir toplum büyük işler yapmak için, büyük olmak için neleri göze alır? neleri, nereye kadar, ne pahasına?..

-temaların çeşitliliği-derinliği:

*müzik: doktor faustus bir müzik romanı-müziğin romanı aynı zamanda. müziğin teorisinden işlevine, anlamından icrasına, özünden geçirdiği değişimlere, kültürle ilişkisinden, kültürlerarası etkileşimine her şey var. bu anlamda doluluğu, doyuruculuğu bir tarafa mann'ın okurun ilgisi-bilgisi ölçüsünde romanındaki müziğin duyulabilir-dinlenebilir olmasını hedeflediği söylenebilir. büyük çaba, büyük bir ustalık var bu noktada.

*yaratıcılık: yaratma süreci, yaratıcılığı baskılayan kurallar. öznellik-nesnellik, akıl-duygu ilişkisi-çelişkisi...

*hastalık: mann'ın büyülü dağ'da harikalar yarattığı hastalık teması bu kez yaratıcılığa etkisiyle ön plana çıkıyor. hastalığın bir yanıyla insandan alırken bir yanıyla vermesi. hastalığın insanı değiştirmesi, geliştirmesi, yönlendirmesi...

*inanç: tanrı inancı, dinler, iyilik-kötülük, cennet-cehennem ve elbette şeytan.

sonuç olarak mann'ın ustalık eseri doktor fausts. eşine az rastlanır romanlardan.
Profile Image for Semjon.
630 reviews312 followers
May 1, 2018
Obwohl ich die frühen Werke von Thomas Mann sehr mag, hatte ich vor diesem Spätwerk einigermaßen Respekt und war auch nur bedingt durch eine Leserunde bereit, mich dem Faust-Stoff auf der Ebene eines Künstlerromans zu widmen. Ein begnadeter Musiker, Sonderling, Freigeist schließt mit dem Teufel einen Pakt und erhält für seinen Entzug der Liebe zu Menschen im Gegenzug die Genialität, um unvergleichliche Musik zu komponieren. Dies alleine wäre eigentlich schon Grundlage genug für einen Roman. Doch wie es oft in Alterswerken von Schriftstellern ist, es wird alles reingepackt, was das Leben so in den letzten Jahren zu bieten hatte. Resultat ist ein an vielen Stellen schwer verdauliches Buch, welches einem schnell die eigenen Grenzen aufzeigt.

Thomas Mann war 68 Jahre als er das Buch im Jahr 1943 anfing zu schreiben. Er war bereits emigriert und konnte das Unheil, welches über Europa zu dieser Zeit hereinbrach aus sicher Entfernung in Kalifornien betrachten. Bedingt durch seine vielfältigen Interessen entstand daraus nach Aufassung vieler Literaturkritiker DER deutsche Gesellschaftsroman, Künstlerroman, der Roman, der die Tragödie des deutschen Volks anhand der Musikgeschichte und der Musiktheorie aufzeigte. Dementsprechend ist das Buch vollgepackt mit philosophischen, theologischen, politischen, soziologischen und ganz besonders musiktheoretischen Abhandlungen und Gedanken. Das muss man Leser haben wollen, denn das Buch fordert bereits den vielfältig Interessierten im hohen Maße. Wenn man keinen Gefallen darin finden kann, wie ein Autor versucht, seitenweise in verschachtelten Sätzen Musik in Sprache zu verwandeln, dann ist man schnell überfordert mit dem Doktor Faustus. Meine Grenzen wurden oft überschritten, und ich musste lange Passagen über mich ergehen lassen, in denen ich nur recht wenig verstand von dem, was der Autor zu erzählen hatte.

Manns Leidenschaft zur Musik war nicht bloß auf das Genießen wunderbarer Kompositionen beschränkt und daher ist es kein poetisches Buch über die Schönheit der Kunst. Thomas Mann als der große, kühle Intellektuelle wählt nicht den Bauch-, sondern den Kopfzugang zur Musik. Unterstützung holte er sich dabei beim ebenfalls in der kalifornischen Nachbarschaft wohnenden Adorno, der nicht nur ein bedeutender Soziologe, sondern auch Musikwissenschaftler war (war mir bis dato unbekannt). Letztlich waren aber für mich die musiktheoretischen Erörterungen im Buch die Höhepunkte. Dagegen störte ich mich vielmehr an den Nebensächlichkeiten in der Rahmenhandlung, an der Erzählweise des Ich-Erzählers als fanatischer Freund des Musikers und an einigen Kapiteln, in denen Thomas Mann meines Empfindens völlig daneben gegriffen hatte (z.B. die schleimige Darstellung des jüdischen Musikagenten). Was ich aber als vermeintlich belanglos einschätze, stellte sich gegen Ende des Buchs als wohlkonstruiert heraus, so dass sich meine zwischenzeitlich Abneigung gegenüber dem Werk am Ende dann doch noch in eine große Faszination umbog. Wie gut, dass mich die Lesegruppe animierte, am Mann zu bleiben. Womöglich hätte ich sonst das Buch abgebrochen nach dem ersten Drittel. Nach Beendigung der Lektüre ist es nun sogar so, dass ich manche Stellen gerade nochmals lesen würde, um sie besser verstehen zu können. Die Idee, anhand des Faust-Mythos über die Musik die Entstehung des Bösen, sprich den Nationalsozialismus, zu erklären, ist auf jeden Fall genial. Das Buch wird mich noch einige Zeit beschäftigen.
Profile Image for Jonathan.
911 reviews924 followers
October 4, 2016

This is my third read of this novel, though my first with this translation. It is a little like that scene in teen movies where the (already beautiful) "awkward girl" descends the stairs post make-over, allowing one to see with glaring clarity the gorgeousness that was always already there.

So, because it amuses me, and in an effort to overdo an already rather rubbish analogy, on the left, ladies and gents, we have H. T. Lowe-Porter's version of the novel, on the right that of Mr Woods. Although, looking at this picture, I personally prefer the pre-makeover look, so should, in fact, delete this whole portion of this meview as being entirely stupid, but frankly, after having to google an appropriate picture to put in here, I can't be bothered. So there.





*****

Perhaps one of my favorite things in this extraordinary novel is the way it, with kindness and subtlety, deals with the gay love triangle at its heart (I call it a triangle though Adri's feelings for both our narrator and Rudolf is hard to ascertain through the jealous fog of the narrator's recounting - he may be closer to asexual than anything else). To have our untrustworthy story-teller be in love with his subject in a manner he can never admit to himself, adds one more fascinating layer to the many many layers of themes at play.

**************

While I have my issues with Adorno, curmudgeony old conservative that he was, he helped Mann produce an extraordinarily complex piece of work. His influence certainly adds a rigour and philosophical depth to the novel that is rare in fiction.

I have just ordered this: Thomas Mann & Theodor W. Adorno An Exchange which looks great, and with a great intro too.

*******

Thomas Mann, from his 1930 speech which was, as one would expect, protested and interrupted by S.A. men sent by Goebbels for precisely that purpose, and which I paste here just because it reminds me why I love the guy, and feel fitting for our current political climate:

Der exzentrischen Seelenlage einer der Idee entlaufenen Menschheit entspricht eine Politik im Groteskstil mit Heilsarmee-Allüren, Massenkrampf, Budengeläut, Halleluja und derwischmäßigem Wiederholen monotoner Schlagworte, bis alles Schaum vor dem Munde hat. Fanatismus wird Heilsprinzip, Begeisterung epileptische Ekstase, Politik wird zum Massenopiat des Dritten Reiches oder einer proletarischen Eschatologie, und die Vernunft verhüllt ihr Antlitz.

(This fantastic state of mind, of a humanity that has outrun its ideas, is matched by a political scene in the grotesque style, with Salvation Army methods, hallelujahs and bell-ringing and dervishlike repetition of monotonous catchwords, until everybody foams at the mouth. Fanaticism turns into a means of salvation, enthusiasm into epileptic ecstasy, politics becomes an opiate for the masses, a proletarian eschatology; and reason veils her face.)


*****

Anyone read a good bio of Mann? Seems like there are a few out there, but I can't seem to find much consensus about which is best...
Profile Image for Nelson Zagalo.
Author 9 books308 followers
February 2, 2019
"Doutor Fausto" (1947) pode ser lido como romance, e foi assim que o li, mas requer todo um enquadramento que deveria preceder qualquer edição do mesmo, para que não se torne em algo completamente incompreensível. Ainda que as obras se devam valer per se, obras com a densidade de "Doutor Fausto" requerem contexto, não apenas sobre o autor, mas especialmente sobre a sua génese. Sem isso, corremos o risco de nos colocar na posição de Italo Calvino aquando da sua leitura: "Eu passo as tardes aqui deitado nas pedras, de barriga ao sol, a ler Thomas Mann, que escreve muito bem sobre muitas coisas que são completamente incompreensíveis para mim” (1950).

Continuar a ler no blog: https://virtual-illusion.blogspot.com...


(As 5 estrelas são para o que obra despertou em mim e me fez ganhar na tentativa de a compreender, não propriamente para a experiência da sua leitura.)
Profile Image for Elina.
478 reviews
January 27, 2016
Μετά από πολύ κόπο, πνευματικό και ψυχολογικό, ολοκλήρωσα το συγκεκριμένο βιβλίο του Τόμας Μάν το οποίο και αποτελεί για εμένα το πρώτο σημείο επαφής με τον συγγραφέα. Ξεκινώντας μετά από σχετικά σχόλια που διάβασα σε μια ομάδα στο facebook, θεώρησα ότι μπορεί να κάνω λάθος τόσο καιρό που δεν διαβάζω κλασσικά και κατά κοινή σχεδόν ρύση αξιόλογα βιβλία. Από τις πρώτες σελίδες προσπαθούσα να εξοικειωθώ με το μέγεθος των προτάσεων αλλά και το πυκνό νόημα αυτών. Ο συγγραφέας στο συγκεκριμένο του βιβλίο, αναλύει την βιογραφία του συνθέτη-πιανίστα Αντριάν Λέβερκυν φτιάχνοντας παράλληλα ένα άρτιο ψυχογράφημα. Πέρα από τα ιστορικά στοιχεία τα οποία άλλοτε παρουσιάζονται άμεσα και άλλοτε έμμεσα (π.χ. μέσα από τη συμφωνία του πιανίστα με το διάβολο, ουσιαστικά κρίνει την Χιτλερική Γερμανία κλπ.) το βιβλίο είναι πλούσιο σε στοιχεία μουσικής, σύνθεσης αλλά κυρίως γλώσσας. Η χρήση της γλώσσας στο βιβλίο είναι καθηλωτική. Υπέροχο λεξιλόγιο με ουσιαστικά νοήματα επί πολλών θεμάτων, όπως επί της θρησκείας, της ύπαρξης του ανθρώπου, των επιλογών του και πολλά πολλά άλλα που φαντάζομαι ο κάθε αναγνώστης μπορεί να τα αναγνωρίσει εξαιτίας των δικών του προσωπικών εμπειριών. Προσωπικά με άγγιξε το γεγονός της διαχρονικότητας πολλών εννοιών που περιγράφονται και το ότι σε τελική ανάλυση, με έκανε να σκεφτώ πολύ και να δω αλλιώς κάποια πράγματα που συμβαίνουν γύρω μου. Για να μην γίνομαι κουραστική, νομίζοντας ότι λέω και τίποτα σπουδαίο, θα πρότεινα ανεπιφύλακτα στους ανήσυχους και "τολμηρούς", να κάνουν τη βουτιά σε βιβλία που μπορεί να φαντάζουν, αλλά και να είναι κουραστικά, όμως στο τέλος σε αποζημιώνουν πραγματικά για το άρωμα και τη γεύση που σου αφήνουν.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
258 reviews
April 24, 2008
It is rare that it takes three months for me to finish a novel, but I have a few theories as to why this was (aside from the rigors of a teaching schedule/adjunct commute).
The novel operates on so many levels it is difficult to read more than a few chapters before you need to stop to digest. Keeping track of the numerous secondary characters is a painstaking, but worthwhile, endeavor. Mann forms his environment with this multitude, presenting a photograph of German bourgeois life in the early 20th century.

The book warrants musicological analysis in its debt to Schoenberg, its continuation of the intimate connection between Faust and music, and its portraiture of Germanic musical existence (for starters). But even outside of musicological inquiry, the book is full of literary paths one can tread should they choose. The relationship between the book's narrator and his forsaken hero, Adrian, dallies in sentiments rarely explored between two male characters. There are some echoes of Herman Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund, except that Adrian Leverkühn's encounter with "love" comes with dire consequences.

I'd like to re-read the novel with a focus on the music only, because what resonated for me most loudly was how the book serves as a treatise on the dangers of blind nationalism. The narrator, Zeitblom, frustrates the reader with his various digressions, until you realize they are not digressions at all but allegories. His reflections about wartime Germany telescope into Adrian's own struggles. There were moments that made me stop and put the book down as I was yanked into my own reality:

"...the democracy of the West--however outdate its institutions may prove over time, however obstinately its notion of freedom resists what is new and necessary--is nonetheless essentially on the side of human progress, of the goodwill to perfect society, and is by its very nature capable of renewal, improvement, rejuvenation, of proceeding toward conditions that provide greater justice in life." (358)

I suppose I still believe this...but I note also Zeitblom's comments a couple of pages earlier regarding Germany:

"It is the demand of a regime that does not wish to grasp, that apparently does not understand even now, that it has been condemned, that it must vanish, laden witht eh curse of having made itself intolerable to the world--no, of having made us, Germany, the Reich, let me go farther and say, Germanness, everything German, intolerable to the world." (356)

This is why I read.

Readers who have no musical background will likely find themselves frustrated with some of the lengthy musical explications. I suggest skipping/skimming them. Normally I would never recommend this, but there is so much else to be had from reading this novel that it would be such a disservice to throw the myriad babies out with the musical bathwater. For the musically-inclined reader, however, the plethora of references to composers and pieces is a ready-made listening list and a chance to experience a nation's struggle with both political and aesthetic ideologies.


(Crossposted)
Profile Image for Andrei Tamaş.
434 reviews278 followers
March 19, 2017
Un vast studiu romanţat despre decăderea psihică a unui însetat de cunoaştere, a unui erudit ce nu se mulţumeşte cu telurica modalitatea de a cunoaşte, ci aspiră la absolut.
Unii văd în "Doctor Faustus" elemente ce ţin de fantastic, însă unui cititor acătării i-ar cădea mai degrabă să spună că în viaţa aceasta pragmatică, întâlnim -mai ales la un anumit stadiu al cunoaşterii- elemente ce unora, mai puţin iniţiaţi, li se par... supranaturale.
Un lucru foarte interesant: e uluitor cum Thomas Mann reuşeşte să scrie un Bildungsroman despre viaţa compozitorului german Adrian Leverkuhn folosindu-se de două planuri narative, unul situat în anii celui de-Al Doilea Război Mondial, iar celălalt, cronologic, din 1900 până în anii premergători războiului total dus de nazişti.

*Ioana, dacă acum, după atâta timp în care nu ne-am vorbit, citeşti asta, să ştii că-ţi mulţumesc pentru faptul că, atunci, în acele momente de cumpănă, mi-ai oferit prilejul să citesc această carte.*

Andrei Tamaş,
27 ianuarie 2016
Profile Image for Sue.
1,217 reviews512 followers
March 16, 2014
I have hesitated to write a review of this book because there is so much here and it is so difficult to know where to begin. Based on the Doctor Faustus story, it is the tale of one Adrian Leverkühn, born early in the 20th century, who trades his soul for the ability to compose brilliant music. Of course this is a limited pact, in his case for 24 years. His story is told by a childhood (and adult) friend Serenus Zeitblom, who also presents the changes in German culture during the years, ending with the bombing of Germany by the Allies and the encroaching Russian army.

The allegories are plentiful, the writing is often amazing. I read the final 150 pages as if in a fury...I was compelled to keep reading. The writing itself seemed inspired as if Mann himself were truly on fire from his subject.


Since the end of March now---and the date is 25 April
in this year of destiny 1945---our nation's defenses in the
west have plainly been in total disarray. Newspapers, already
half un-shackled, record the truth; rumor, fed by the enemy's
radio broadcasts and by the stories of those who have fled,
knows no censorship and has carried the particulars of this
rapidly expanding catastrophe to regions of the Reich that
have not yet been swallowed up in it, not yet liberated by
it---even to my refuge here.There is no stopping it:
surrender on all sides, everyone scattering. Our shattered
and devastated cities fall like ripe plums.
(p 504)


And one quite beautiful, and sad, musical comment:


The echo, the sound of the human voice returned as a
sound of nature, revealed as a sound of nature, is in
essence a lament, nature's melancholy 'Ah, yes' to man,
her attempt to proclaim his solitude, just as vice versa,
the nymphs' lament is, for its part, related to the echo.
In Leverkühn's final and loftiest creation, however, echo,
that favorite device of the baroque, is frequently
employed to unutterably mournful effect.
(p 510)



In spite of a few sections on musical theory/construction that I, quite frankly, did not understand, I grew to admire and ultimately become attached to this book. It is now my favorite of the Thomas Mann novels read. Toward the end of the book, in passages such as the latter, I even began to glimpse some of what Mann was saying in the musical interludes.

I think this is a brilliant book, written by a German ex-pat living in the United States, compelled to write of what he knew to be a horror in the land he loved.

I do recommend this with the acknowledgment that this is, at times, not an easy read. But it is ultimately so worthwhile.
Profile Image for Andrés Cabrera.
345 reviews64 followers
July 15, 2016
Existen obras que ponen a prueba todo lo que se entiende por ser un "lector". El "Doktor Faustus", sin lugar a dudas, es una de ellas. Su complejidad conceptual (argumentativa, si se quiere) es impresionante. De hecho, Mann logra desplegar con maestría toda su erudición en temas tan variados como la filosofía (sobre todo del medioevo), la teoría musical, la psicología e, incluso, el devenir histórico de Alemania. De entrada, me reconozco avasallado por todo el despliegue conceptual de la obra. Si bien logré orientarme medianamente bien (calificativo, tal vez, demasiado optimista de mi parte) en la reflexión filosófica e histórica (se lo debo en parte a la formación profesional por la que opté), mis conocimientos de teoría musical y psicología fueron insuficientes en buena parte de la obra. Sin embargo, eso no quita que Mann se tome la tarea de explicar con solvencia y ánimo pedagógico algunos de los pasajes más difíciles (situados sobre todo al comienzo del libro) al final de la obra misma. Si bien por momentos el Fausto de Mann puede verse como un arranque de soberbia y arrogancia intelectual, está muy por encima de eso. Uno aprende...y se pone a prueba. No es un libro sencillo; por el contrario, debe rumiarse a todo momento.

De la obra de Leverkühn (el compositor al que Zeitblom le servirá de biógrafo) puedo afirmar tresaspectos que me quedaron claros: 1) sus composiciones parten del hecho de que debe saberse con solvencia las técnicas formales de composición y que, sólo de su despliegue más acabado, puede surgir la singularidad propia del artista, el componente espiritual y subjetivo de la obra; 2) su pretensión es de generar una obra de contenido espiritual negativo. Siguiendo, tal vez en esto a Adorno (colaborador de Mann en todo el proceso del Fausto) y sus constelaciones , Leverkühn aborda el problema de la divinidad siempre desde su rechazo o negación. Dicho de otra manera, su obra es espiritual en la medida en que pone en tensión dos fuerzas: lo divino y lo demoníaco. Para hacerlo, el compositor se vale de los contrapuntos y las fugas (que simbolizan lo "divino") en diálogo permanente con las armonías (elemento demoníaco). En este punto, creo que Mann retoma la vieja fórmula de Nietzsche (no pretendo ser para nada exhaustivo en esto) del "Nacimiento de la Tragedia" para definir a la Tragedia misma: el arte parte del diálogo dos fuerzas o pulsiones, lo apolíneo (lo ordenado, punto de partida de las composiciones del personaje azotado por Mefistófeles) y lo dionisiaco (lo desordenado, tal vez lo más pasional) y; 3) la obra de Leverkühn se muestra como un hijo de la historia. En ciertos pasajes, Mann parece sugerir que sólo lo demoníaco tiene cabida en los tiempos que corren (la historia se encuentra situada entre la Gran Guerra y la Segunda Guerra). Cabe preguntarse si el triste final del compositor no puede ser una metáfora de la sociedad alemana de la postguerra: enterrada, olvidadiza, desesperada. Desinteresada en buena parte de su pasado barbárico reciente. Una sociedad que apoyó (por acción u omisión, dependiendo de cada caso en concreto) la barbarie y se vio sometida por ella al final.

Más allá de la complejidad de la novela, el Fausto de Mann tiende a ser fascinante. El escritor parece conceder que, de no existir una historia fuerte detrás de toda la complejidad argumentativa de la novela, es probable que el lector se extravíe en medio de la multiplicidad de discusiones académicas que se abordan en el relato. De allí que no extrañe la manera en que cada capítulo se encuentra redactado: el principio y el final sirven para mantener al lector cautivado, muchas veces, gracias a frases o sucesos efectistas.Asimismo, Cada capítulo presenta conceptos en tensión, que se hilvanan en el curso de los apartados subsiguientes. Eso sí, considero que no es posible entreverse del todo el diálogo conceptual sin la ayuda de la historia. Ambas se colaboran todo el tiempo.

Como apreciación final, debo decir que si bien disfruto bastante de Mann, su manera de escribir me tiende a parecer frívola (pareciera que le faltase sangre en las venas al hombre); mas no por ello no digna de elogio. Mann es un artesano: escribe con delicadeza y precisión milimétrica. Por desgracia, a veces quisiera ver algo más de vitalidad en sus palabras.
Profile Image for Siti.
279 reviews92 followers
July 19, 2022
Se il massimo poema della letteratura tedesca è il “Faust” di Goethe, il suo massimo romanzo è allora il “Doctor Faustus”, non perché fra i due ci sia un senso di continuità legato al mito tedesco dell’uomo che sigla un patto con il diavolo, quanto perché la continuità è data dall’espressione artistica che sfruttando quel mito ambisce all’empireo della perfezione formale e contenutistica.

Richiamare il diavolo e la sua pericolosità e con esso le velleità umane e i suoi mortali limiti, inscenando la vita di un musicista, il compositore tedesco Adrian Leverkühn, raccontata a mo’ di biografia dal suo caro amico, Serenus Zeitblom, è il modo che Mann, ormai settantenne, si riserva fra il 1943 e il 1947, quando, a guerra finita, la sconfitta della Germania nazista fa provare solo un profondo senso di smarrimento accompagnato da un lamento d’amore per la propria patria.

Patria, l’ultima parola del romanzo.

Eppure l’opera, ci ricorda Ervino Pocar, traduttore e curatore dell’edizione da me letta (ristampa anni ‘80 dell’edizione Mondadori del 1949), non fu affatto ben accolta dai tedeschi che accusarono il suo autore di ipocrisia nella rappresentazione del lutto nazionale, avendo egli preso le distanze dalla sua nazione che vedeva lucidamente destinata ad una pericolosa deriva.

Come poteva un antinazista cantare ora il lamento funebre più straziante?

E invece questo è, agli occhi di chi scrive, il messaggio più profondo dell’opera: la rappresentazione di un’apocalisse, quella del mondo germanico, che va di pari passo con l’opera alla quale lavora il folle musicista, un oratorio apocalittico appunto intitolato “Lamentazioni del dottor Faust”. La rappresentazione del destino tedesco è però tutta affidata al caro amico Serenus che alla morte del grandissimo artista, nel 1940, decide di raccontarne la tragica vita, riferendosi continuamente alla storia del presente e alla sua dissoluzione le cui radici vengono però situate nel passato recentissimo, vissuto anche da Adrian quando la Germania, in conseguenza della sconfitta della prima guerra mondiale, cercò di divenire repubblica senza riuscirci e facendo di fatto nascere un abominio dittatoriale.

Il parallelo fra i due periodi della storia nazionale è solo una delle tante stratificazioni presenti, il resto è infatti una complessità nutrita da una vicenda narrativa che vive di pochi elementi sapientemente gestiti dalla voce narrante la quale fa abbondante uso di anticipazioni creando di fatto curiosità verso gli scarsi elementi narrativi mentre il lettore arranca, come solito in Mann, fra disquisizioni riguardanti soprattutto l’arte e il ruolo dell’artista, senza trascurare l'erudizione pura riguardante prevalentemente aspetti strettamente legati al linguaggio musicale, dalla dodecafonia in poi.

Una lettura molto impegnativa, certo, ma che ripaga con una scrittura sublime che si nutre di ritratti precisi, ricchissimi di particolari, care vecchie descrizioni a ricordare l’impianto ottocentesco del romanzo, digressioni quasi monografiche come quella dedicata a Beethoven, o ancora moniti pedagogici che fungono da chiara guida ideologica nutriti come sono dalla convinzione che solo la cultura possa salvarci dalle barbarie.
Libertà, ragione, umanità. Vi occorre altro ?

Profile Image for David.
1,381 reviews
September 8, 2020
Brilliant. Challenging. Enlightening. Disturbing. A work of art.

I had not read Thomas Mann, neither the Magic Mountain nor Buddenbrook, then I saw over the course of the last year several fine reviews pertaining to this book. Then Kalliope’s musical entity stirred me to get the book from my library.

Brilliant. I am familiar with Goethe’s version but this one works on a different level. In fact the various levels at play here reveal Mann’s brilliance.

Mann himself fled Germany during the war to America, where he wrote this book. The narrator is Serenus Zeitblom, a professor of Greek and Latin, who is retelling the story of his friend and composer Adrian Leverkühn, just as Germany itself is collapsing at the end of World War II. Leverkühn, driven to be a leading German composer of the twentieth century makes a deal with devil to live another 24 years.

So we have a multitude of stories at play. One of music; the other of history. One of friendship; one of betrayal. One of culture; one of barbarism.

Challenging. The hardest part was the descriptions of music. Although I can read music and have a good knowledge, Mann’s pushes this to extremes and his famous chapter 24, on twelve tone was beautiful and baffling. Schoenberg comes to mind. One almost needs a musical listen after each description. But just as music is about structure, so is this a complicated book. There are a lot of characters, sub stories and yet, it all unfolds nicely.

Enlightening. The one characteristic that defines the a German character, according to this book, is to strive for perfection. In this case, music. Germans have a long history of great composers, with Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. Mann teaches us all about this facet of German culture, from folk tales, nursery rhymes to the great pieces. Encompassing one might say.

Disturbing. And of course, this leads to that most horrible of things, when one strives to be perfect, others are lesser than you. In a competition, there are losers. And what do you do with the losers? Class, culture, elitism leads to distaste, snobbery and a view of superiority. We are not just speaking of rivalry between composers.

A work of art. In some sense, the arts are part of the problem just as much as the political issues that brought the Nazi’s to power. Thomas Mann writes with brutal conviction. The thousand year reich was a failure. They made a terrible mistake. They didn’t know when to stop. They cut a deal with the devil one may say and it ends badly. “Alles ist schlecht” one might say. Not this book.

This was not planned but it fits nicely in after reading “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and “Waiting for the Barbarians.” Maybe we need works of art to teach us to be humble. Or at least, to be human.
Profile Image for Pat.
415 reviews94 followers
October 23, 2017
Nel 1933, l’umanista tedesco Serenus Zeitblom, contrario al nazismo, abbandona, all’età di 60 anni, l’insegnamento. Destina il suo tempo alla stesura della biografia del suo carissimo amico: il compositore Adrian Leverkuhn. È il tempo in cui Hitler ammorba l’aria quando Serenus narra la vita di Adrian, che si svolge fra la fine del 1800 e l’avvento del nazismo.
Adrian e Serenus hanno frequentato lo stesso ginnasio. All’università Serenus studia lettere classiche, Adrian invece si iscrive alla facoltà di teologia che abbandonerà di lì a due anni quando, trasferitosi a Lipsia, si dedicherà alla musica. Giunto a Lipsia, un facchino, al quale si è rivolto per essere accompagnato in una buona trattoria, lo conduce in un bordello da cui fugge spaventato. Ma, la curiosità e il desiderio lo riporteranno in quel luogo di piacere che lascerà in lui il segno.
Ritroviamo il nostro Adrian a Monaco e poi in Italia, a Palestrina. E qui, Adrian avrà una lunga conversazione con il demonio; conversazione che si concluderà con un patto infernale: 24 anni di esaltante forza creatrice e poi la dannazione.
Adrian non potrà coltivare affetti, avere una vita normale, amici, una compagna, gli verranno strappati l’amore e la gioia del piccolo “Echo”. Questo il prezzo da pagare per la magnificenza e la gloria delle sue composizioni musicali.
Ritirato in Alta Baviera, Adrian lavora alla sua opera più importante, la “Lamentatio Doctoris Fausti”. Invita amici, conoscenti, ammiratori per presentare la sua cantata sinfonica. La partitura è aperta sul leggio del pianoforte. Adrian prende a parlare. La sua è una confessione, spaventosa e delirante. La sua follia finirà e ne inizierà una peggiore: la rovinosa follia della seconda guerra mondiale.

Una cascata impetuosa di musica e storia. Il drammatico destino dell’uomo corrisponde a quello della Germania. Il dolore e la disperazione del suo animo corrispondo al dolore e alla disperazione di un popolo.

P.S. Non è certo una lettura scorrevole, semplice, lieve. È un macigno, un monumento di sapere. Ci va tempo, e non poco. Le digressioni sono dense di significati, di simboli. Quelle di argomento musicale credo risultino poco, o per nulla, comprensibili a chi non ha buona conoscenza della materia. Una lettura impegnativa e complessa. Confesso che arrivata verso pagina 250 ho avuto la tentazione di sospendere la lettura per riprenderla in un momento più propizio. Ma ho resistito. E bene ho fatto. Il colloquio con Satana, da solo, vale la fatica. Prendetevi tempo e leggetelo.
Profile Image for Chris Chapman.
Author 4 books25 followers
July 21, 2019
It has been a long time since I thought so much about a book, jotted down so many notes as I was reading. Oh the joy of a book that challenges, provokes... Having said that, it does nothing to charm and seduce. The narrator is not easy to love, being, as he admits, a "sobersides", and clearly emotionally repressed; there are long passages about musical theory, and a transcription of the conversation of a group of students on a Wandervogel outing, discussing the nature and destiny of the German people - each trying to outdo the other for philosophical / mystical gymnastics.

Among the many unreliable narrators in the history of fiction, Serenus Zeitblom surely occupies an exalted position. Right from the start he tells us he is probably one of the least appropriate people to tell the story of Adrian Leverkühn, "German composer", because he is too close to him, he has too much love for him, he has no objective distance. As the account progresses there is more and more evidence of this unreliability. While clearly worshipping and adoring his friend, he is also emotionally repressed, indicating a troubled, complicating relationship with love and friendship. He is writing the events many years after the fact - we have to doubt him when he quotes the contents of a letter word for word but tells us he doesn't have the letter, and is transcribing from memory. He is clearly jealous of all of Leverkühn's hangers-on, and these take up a strangely disproportionate part of the story. He has a peculiar obsession with the form of his narrative - he apologises to us when chapters exceed a certain arbitrarily fixed length, he agonises over whether certain events belong together in one chapter - having a common theme - or should be separated into two. We begin to realise that the subject matter - his beloved friend's progress via genius to a horrible death - is very painful to Zeitblom, and this obsession with form may be a diversionary tactic.

But Zeitblom's unreliability, we realise eventually, is a double-edged sword. Or rather, it somehow turns in on itself, it inverts itself. The more he invites us not to trust him, the more we do. For a start, all the other people who surround Leverkühn, who have their own narratives, are even more barking mad than Zeitblom. And what fallibilities he has, just make him seem more human. While all of the Leverkühn hangers-on have a variety of worrying motivations - career progression, or simply basking in reflected glory - his only motivation appears to be love.

Superficially, the pact with the devil is offered as the explanation for Leverkühn's genius. Starting with the book's title we are led in that direction. Leverkühn's culminating work is a Faust opera. Then there's a curious medieval anecdote about a woman who, fearing her husband will cheat on her, goes to see a witch. The witch, having dealt with Satan and obtained powers from him, is able to help her lay a spell on said unfortunate husband. Zeitblom, significantly, pours scorn on this version of events, finding other reasons to explain the husband's predicament.

Here is where the curious effect of Zeitblom's unreliability becomes important. It is said of James Joyce that he lets the words do the work. Mann lets the reader do the work. He gives us many reasons for distrusting Zeitblom. But in the end, we trust him, and Mann knows we will. We discount the Satanic pact narrative.

Ultimately we are being asked to consider the nature of genius and where it comes from. Clever but ultimately sterile tricks with mathematical progressions, developing complex harmonic structures which pre-determine the progress of an entire piece and leave nothing to inspiration? Zeitblom's obsession with chapter lengths and the compartmentalising of events is a parallel of this. We should understand that this is also the wrong track; Zeitblom infuriates the reader with his apologies about the length of his chapters.

So what other explanations are we asked to consider? The impact of the syphilis bacterium on the brain, first accelerating its creative capacities, and then corrupting and destroying it? In the end the book is a commentary not just on the nature of genius and inspiration but also how to nurture it when you are embedded in a stifling bourgeois society. 'We also wonder if we are more monstrous than we can bear. We believe that if we were good we wouldn’t have aggressive or violent thoughts, forgetting that monstrousness is useful in art, which, to be effective, has to be pushed to an extreme, making the audience tremble. Art emerges from what Friedrich Nietzsche called “inner anarchy” and never from so-called decency' (Hanif Kureishi). This is why Leverkühn flees to the village of Pfeiffering - a carbon copy of his childhood home, where life is more real - he can horse-whisper to the dangerous dog, and is surrounded by more genuine types, like the stable girl with cow-dung-caked bare feet. His host, Frau Schweigestill (the names are always relevant - hers could be a German translation of horse-whisperer) is not particularly well-educated, but – it turns out – has had a string of unusual guests in her house, either very eccentric ones, or suffering some kind of terrible life-curse, Leverkühn obviously being the culmination. She has understood perfectly how to deal with them, with her natural intelligence, and without bourgeois judgement.

Zeitblom rails against the Reformation, for its insistence on a literal reading of sacred texts, thus not allowing space for the magic of the act of faith (although Mann was brought up a Lutheran, this seems to be a parallel to the critique of bourgeois constrictions). He also blames it for triggering the Wars of Religion, by taking an utterly unforgiving, no-quarter-given-or-taken approach to the truth of religion, as interpreted from foundational texts. The creation of a myth of truth, and of destiny, and the dogmatic pursuit of it – this is also a parallel of the Third Reich.

Nazism indeed weighs heavily on the book. Zeitblom repeatedly reminds us to bear in mind the time he is writing about (Leverkühn's time, before, during and after the First World War) and the time he is writing in (World War Two). As a further layer of distancing (it feels like Brechtian Verfremdung) he reminds us that Mann is writing about Zeitblom writing about Leverkühn, for example through the cheekily self-referential “but I am not writing a novel...”. Is Mann asking us to wish madness, genius and inspiration to be channelled into artistic creation, because if they are directed along other paths – for example, to the pained, fevered striving for the realisation of a nation's manifest destiny – the consequences can be indescribably terrible? But if the aim of bourgeois society is to set constraints on madness and non-conformist behaviour, this can just as easily crush artistic endeavour, as provide a bulwark against genocidal political tendencies. This dilemma is not fully resolved, and it can be assumed that Mann does not want to provide all the answers.

As a footnote, Arnold Schoenberg, Mann's friend, whose music – and genius – were an inspiration for the novel, was upset at its publication. Mann's ambitions were grand, of course – his theme was the nature of genius itself, not specifically Schoenberg's. But, like Zeitblom, surely Mann exhibited an emotional blindness by not foreseeing his friend's anger. "Dear Arnold - here is my novel, a tribute to your genius, where I lay out various possible theories for its origin - a syphilitic infection, madness, a pact with the devil, a repressed Oedipus complex ..." Finally, after the first publication, he felt compelled to write a very brief afterword where he explains that the musical theory in the book is drawn from Schoenberg, implying that this was the only connection.
Profile Image for Amabilis.
111 reviews14 followers
August 30, 2019
Dvije su riječi koje su posebno naglašene u ovom djelu: oholost i ravnodušnost. Priča prati Adriana Leverkuhna i njegovog prijatelja i pratitelja, koji je zabrinut za njegovu dušu. Adrian od mladosti pokazuje znakove otpadništva od svijeta, zanima se za ono teško, nadljudsko, tako da gubi veze sa realnim svijetom. Negdje sam pročitao kako je Mann je lik Adriana napravio po životu filozofa Friedrich Nietzschea. Mann je preko života i propasti duše Adriana Leverkuhna prikazao i propast njemačke duše u periodu u kojem se odvija roman, prijelaz 19. u 20.stoljeće i dolazak nacista na vlast. Jedan od likova u knjizi govori kako je Njemačka posebno osamljena zemlja, jer njezine visine koje treba dosegnuti u odnosu na druge narode čine ju osamljenikom, kao i Adriana koji je uz svoj "pakt" sa Sammaelom, doveo svoju dušu u propast. Zanimljivo je kako Mann koristi figuru Sammaela (Anđeo otrova, prema judeokršćanskoj mitologiji, Onaj koji je čovjeka upoznao sa zlom, koji je nagovorio Evu i Adama da jedu sa Stabla spoznaje) i u ovom djelu (kao i u "Josip i njegova braća"), kao predstavnika otpadništva od Boga, predstavnika dvostrukosti. Ovo je djelo i o glazbi, točnije Mann je glazbu koristio kao element pripovijedanja. U djelu je upečatljiv dijalog Leverkuhna sa Sammaelom, kao i konačno priznanje Adrianovo pred ljudima koji su mu bili bliski čemu je posvetio život, prije nego je skrenuo s uma. Zanimljivo je kako "duševno oboljelog" lika u knjizi ne napuštaju žene, ostaju do kraja da se brinu o njemu.
"Umirem kao zao i dobar kršćanin"
Profile Image for Matt.
752 reviews511 followers
May 5, 2018
ICH

Verzeiht, ich kann nicht hohe Worte machen,
Und wenn mich auch der ganze Kreis verhöhnt:
Mein Pathos brächte euch zum Lachen,
Doch Lachen über Mann ist präsumtiv verpönt.

Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust,
Und keine kann sich von der andern trennen.
Die eine hält dies Werk in derber Liebeslust,
Die andre will’s nicht anerkennen.

SEELE I

Die Sprach’ verspricht den herrlichsten Gewinn,
Der Dichter bringt sie, wie er’s braucht, zur Schau.
Und seine Worte, die er benützt, sind sehr genau.
Kein Ton im Buch ist ohne tiefen Sinn.

SEELE II

Allein, der Worte sind genug gewechselt,
Laß mich auch endlich Taten sehn!
Indes der Dichter lange Sätze drechselt,
Könnt’ etwas Nützliches geschehn.

SEELE I

Bedenke der Figuren Zahl.
Und wie sie umeinander tanzen:
Sieh wie die Liebesleute sich umschranzen.
Sogar ein Mord geschieht; ein Kindlein leidet Höllenqual.

SEELE II

Das will ich freilich zugestehn:
Gestalten wanken viel auf diesen Seiten.
Doch alle sind sie kühl und schwerlich umzugehn.
Die Herzenswärme fehlt, sowie manch’ Heiterkeiten.

SEELE I

Wie kannst du Heiterkeit erwarten,
Wenn Mann von Teufels-, Narren-, Totentänzen schreibt,
Vom Pakt des Fliegengotts, von dem am Ende gar nichts bleibt,
Von Deutschlands Untergang mit Fahnenfetzen und Standarten.

SEELE II

Mich dünkt das Werk entstand zu früh.
Des Dichters Busen war im Tiefsten aufgerührt,
Sein Geist zu heiß für all die Müh’.
Wurd’ er vom Zeitgeschehen gar verführt?

ICH

Haltet nun ein, ihr beiden, die ihr mir oft,
In Not und Trübsal, beigestanden.
Sagt, was ihr wohl in diesen Landen
Von unsrer Unternehmung hofft.

Seid nur auf Vota ihr erpicht,
Wollt Ruhm und tausendfachen Tand erlangen
Und von den Lesern Ehr’ und Preis empfangen?

SEELE I + II

Klar, warum nicht.


__________

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Profile Image for Forrest.
Author 46 books693 followers
November 15, 2017
It took me nine months to read this book, and now I'm supposed to summarize it in a review limited to 20,000 characters? Pah! I don't dare even attempt it! Many others have outlined the plot (such as it is) and explored in greater detail than that of which I am capable, the parallels between the story and Mann's bout of cultural guilt over the Third Reich. Anything I say about this would only serve to expose how much I did not understand about this novel. And because I didn't understand the entirety of this novel, I will present my thoughts scattershot, with little or no context, as I don't have the capacity to provide it. My reading of this book, like my reading of Beckett's Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, has left a great gaping void where my brain used to reside, but a void more capable of being filled now, because of the beautiful trauma that has been inflicted therein.

Since I am ill-equipped to address the slow-burning, then fast-burning plot, the emotionally deep and most-often tragic characters, or even the many clever uses of metafictional technique throughout, I will concentrate, quite simply, on one of the central conceits of the novel: the music of the composer, Adrian Leverkuhn.

Mann has caught my innermost feelings regarding what I will call "avant-classical" music. The sort composed by Ligeti, Penderecki, Part, Crumb, Xenakis, Schnittke, and Stockhausen. I have a perverse love of this seemingly-nihilistic music, a certain spiteful soft-spot for the naughtiness of it all. The brooding goth that lives behind my heart delights in the sheer transgressiveness of the music, while I take great intellectual interest at the same time, a real fascination that I can't explain, but is a core part of my deep life. It's a mixture of fear and delight, a rarefied emotional state that makes me feel connected with the rest of the cold, dark universe. Mann's prose, while not directly explaining the feelings I feel when I'm listening to such music, hints at them in a sidelong way:

Contagious diseases, plague, black death, were probably not of this planet; as, almost certainly indeed, life itself has not its origin on our glove, but came hither from outside. He, Adrian, had it on the best authority that it came from neighbouring stars which are enveloped in an atmosphere more favourable to it, containing much methane and ammonia, like Jupiter, Mars, and Venus. From them, or from one of them - he left me the choice - life had once, borne by cosmic projectiles or simply by radiation pressure, arrived upon our formerly sterile and innocent planet. My humanistic homo Dei, that crowning achievement of life, was together with his obligations to the spiritual in all probability the product of the marsh-gas fertility of a neighbouring star.

"The flower of evil," I repeated, nodding.

"And blooming mostly in mischief," he added.

Thus he taunted me, not only with my kindly view of the world, but also by persisting in the whimsical pretence of a personal, direct, and special knowledge about the affairs of heaven and earth. I did not know, but I might have been able to tell myself, that all this meant something, meant a new work: namely, the cosmic music which he had in his mind, after the episode of the new songs. It was the amazing symphony in one movement, the orchestral fantasy that he was working out during the last months of 1913 and the first of 1914, and which very much against my expressed wish bore the title
Marvels of the Universe. I was mistrustful of the flippancy of that name and suggested the title Symphonia cosmologica. But Adrian insisted, laughing, on the other, mock-pathetic, ironic name, which certainly better prepared the knowing for the out-and-out bizarre and unpleasant character of the work, even though often these images of the monstrous and uncanny were grotesque in a solemn, formal, mathematical way.

-And again:

. . . a barbaric rudiment from pre-musical days, is the gliding voice, the glissando, a device to be used with the greatest restraint on profoundly cultural grounds; I have always been inclined to sense in it an anti-cultural, anti-human appeal. What I have in mind is Leverkuhn's preference for the glissando. Of course "preference" is not the right word; I only mean that at least in this work, the Apocalypse, he makes exceptionally frequent use of it, and certainly these images of terror offer a most tempting and at the same time most legitimate occasion for the employment of that savage device. In the place where the four voices of the altar order the letting loose of the four avenging angels, who mow down rider and steed, Emperor and Pope, and a third of mankind, how terrifying is the effect of the trombone glissandos which here represent the theme! This destructive sliding through the seven positions of the instrument! The theme represented by howling - what horror! And what acoustic panic results from the repeated drum-glissandos, and effect made possible on the chromatic or machine drum by changing the tuning to various pitches during the drum-roll. The effect is extremely uncanny. But most shattering of all is the application of the glissando to the human voice, which after all was the first target in organizing the tonic material and ridding song of its primitive howling over several notes: the rerun, in short, to this primitive stage, as the chorus of the Apocalypse does it in the form of frightfully shrieking human voices at the opening of the seventh seal, when the sun became black and the moon became as blood and the ships are overturned.

My dark fascination was inflamed as I read and recognized that Mann could convey that which I could not, my love of that dark, mysterious music. His ability to put into words, albeit indirectly, the feelings I feel when listening to this color of music, is, frankly, astounding. And while there were some sections on music theory that baffled me, there were long stretches of prose that enveloped me. The existentialist in me is in love with a good portion of this book. I can see myself hiding in its shadows frequently. Or maybe I can't see myself at all. And maybe that's the point.
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