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“this is not a detached dissertation but an exploration of my origins, an indirect attempt at self-definition” —Octavio Paz

Bernhard in Mann

This is the first of Thomas Mann’s work I’ve read—and I’m only sixty pages in, at that— and I’ve only read a handful of Bernhard, but even this early in Doctor Faustus, it seems that one of Bernhard’s blatant tactics is a reductio ad absurdum of Mann’s style.  That may or may not be a product of my limited reading, but I’m finding it impossible to ignore Bernhard as I’m reading Mann.

The narrator of Faustus is always tentative about first-hand material.  When speaking of his home town, he says, “I really would rather speak in the past tenses, since it is the Kaisersaschern we knew in our youth of which I speak.”  When speaking of his biographical subject, Adrian Leverkühn, he sticks mostly to transcriptions of conversations and to physical descriptions of reactions, and usually throws in a comment about how unwilling he would be to suppose the motivation of such a great artist.  (Interestingly, the narrator also says that, “thanks to my friendship with Adrian, the artist’s life functions as the paradigm for how fate shapes all our lives, as the classic example of how we are deeply moved by what we call becoming, development, destiny—” but you can probably figure out what I’d have to say about that, harping as I do on intention and interpretation and the role of art and all that.)

And here is where my Bearnhard hypothesis enters: The more layers between the narrator and the subject discussed, the more wild the description and supposition become. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Bernhard, Mann

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