Friday, December 23, 2011

German angst on art and beauty

Book: Death in Venice and Other Stories

Author: Thomas Mann

Published: 1988 (Bantam, this collection); 1897-1912 (original story publication dates)

Pages: 263

Hoo, boy, does Thomas Mann ever have conflicting issues with his chosen profession.

He's this great chatty German with a keen sense of existential dread and how beauty (and lust disguised as high-minded appreciation of it) can wreck an artist especially easily. His character-to-character dialogue has that real-life rhythmic panic of "Oh fuck how much of what I actually feel should I say?", which is not something I expect to come across so clearly from a pre-modern writer. Snaps for him.

Or maybe his 1988 translator. That's a problem I have with translation; how much of the text is lost when it jumps languages? Witness Kafka's "bug" vs. "cockroach" vs. "vermin" opening. Maybe I should just learn German? 

But then I'd be the shitty translator and have no one to complain about but myself, and as Mann proves in his giant blocks of monologue on the nature of Art and the Writer's Role in it all, that is some boring-ass prose. It stops his narratives dead until the hunchback re-meets the lady who makes him feel the pang of being an outcast, or until the shopkeeper yells at the religious dude to stop waving that knife around because that won't make him take the obscene picture out of his shop window, or until the tubercular wife of a count stops playing the piano for a smitten writer. 

See? He's got some good stuff. You just have to get past his angst. I bet he was FUN when his writing was going badly.      

No comments:

Post a Comment