Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Magic of Thomas Mann

But then, how does one distinguish "realist" fiction from... from what?

I've been reading, reading again, after many years, Thomas Mann's Magic Mountain. This is not a reading, it's an experience--like a venture into another life. It envelopes me. I dream the dreams recounted in the book.

So strange, that this book made so little an impression on me when I first read it--almost 50 years ago. Not so with other works by Mann. Tonio Koeger, which I read in German in a class on German literature, Death in Venice... Perhaps because I was still working through having recently finished Hesse's Das Glasperlenspiel... with which it has more than a little in common, different as they are.

I couldn't begin to read this in German now, more's the pity. But the Lowe-Porter translation is quite enough.

It's not the conventions of realism that are the problem, it's the pretensions, the implied assumptions... which a great writer, like Mann, can take up and use and twist and subvert--quite eradicating any lines you might want to arbitrarily draw between the conventional and the avant-garde.

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