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May. 28th, 2004

Schwierig. Not that I dislike it; I don't. But it's hard to really judge a novel, whose process of creation, albeit interrupted, stretched over four decades, still leaving it unfinished.

The general lack of enthusiasm TM almost constantly expressed in his 1950ies diaries probably didn't help, either.

Maybe that's part of the 'problem' I have with the book: having read most of the relevant diaries beforehand, and the resulting knowledge of the original context of some of the thoughts expressed there. This occasionally makes it a little... weird would be too crass an expression, but it is somewhat uncanny (I'd almost say sad, but that would probably imply misplaced pity or condescension), to read Mme. Houpflé praising Felix' beauty and that of young men generally, echoing, in a somewhat more sexually explicit manner, Mann's own thoughts expressed in his diary.

Strange. Self-insertions weaving in and out, never too continuous or too blatant, but hard to draw a line, wondering weather or not the term sexual fantasies is wholly inappropriate or not.

Of course it had to be a woman, at that time, if the novel was to be published, and Lord Kilmarnock, who's also given some of Mann's habits, is merely allowed to extend an invitation that of course must be rejected, but one wonders how much was conscious. It occupied him (Aber was noch? Der Roman kann es kaum weiter bringen. Mir hat er eigentlich damit Genüge getan. TB 2. 4. 51.), but when Erika mentioned the homosexual nature of the passage, the only comment in his diary is a laconic soit. (TB 31. 12. 51) Soit, yes, soit, no, soit, maybe, it doesn't matter? Soit, hm, I wasn't aware and am not sure I altogether agree, but if she says so?

Change of gender as an element of (self-)distance, and/or psychological safe-guard perhaps even more than a disguise?

Being a woman, as a female character I find Mme. Houpflé more than a little clichéd and questionable, and I can't help thinking that it's almost (unconscious?) cruelty, a harsh irony, to make her the writer, and give her so many of his own thoughts, words and experiences, rather than the more dignified Lord Kilmarnock.

(Were those who complained about being used or caricatured in his novels aware that he was just as relentless towards himself?)

But having already read the 'real thing', so to speak, the immediate experience, the artifice and disguises of the novel are just not that interesting to me.

Generally speaking I almost dislike Felix as a character; it works well enough in the earlier parts, but when later the novel drifts towards more serious subjects, his character is too light-weight, or to be more precise, simply not real enough for my taste.

Love, for example, which seems to be a major concern.

Felix, trying to convince the cynical Zouzou of the reality of love: It's a beautiful passage, and it rings true, but because it's Mann himself talking here more or less directly (Das Wesen der Liebe seltsamste Aufhebung der Abneigung gegen das Mitgeschöpf durch Sympathie: Kein Widerwille mehr gegen zu nahe Berührung, gegen die fremde Leiblichkeit..., &c., TB 16. 8. 50), through Felix, who, IMO (pace, un_crayon_rouge) at this point at least has no idea what love is, or ever really experienced love, because he's not a person, he's all pretty surface, pretence, and that makes him a strangely unfit and unworthy object of love and an even more unfit spokes-person for love.

Coming from Felix' mouth, trying to seduce Zouzou, who is the only one to at least partly see through his disguise and recognise the lack of substance, it sounds, if not almost out of character (and the paragraph following the speech shows that TM was aware of this), then almost as fake as his effort to please the king, or any other person throughout the novel. It sounds wrong. Too many prisms and reflections.

Mann, too, reflects on the perhaps illusionary nature of sexual attraction or even love is in the diaries, but he believed in the reality of its existence. (Ich glaube wenig an das Wort »Herz«, und doch gibt es, was es meint. TB 15. 8. 50)


There are passages I love - Felix' meeting with Prof. Kuckuck, Kuckuck's speech and Felix' dream; to a lesser extent his visit at the museum, but again those passages echo Mann's own fascination after a visit of the Chicago Museum of Natural History.

And there is something compelling about the way Felix slips into identities.

I wonder, though, if it's only my imagination, having read the diaries before the book, the recognition of already familiar thoughts, that makes the discrepancy seem so marked between passages that touch more personal concerns/emotions/experiences and those that don't, or at least not to the same extent, to the point of the former sometimes gaining precedence over the story itself.

Awandlung von innerer Kühnheit, die Memoiren betreffend, die ich gern so nenne, weil ihre einziger Reiz darin besteht, mein Leben, wie in den Faustus hineinzulegen, - selbst unbekümmert um »Form« und Objektivität. (TB 9. 10. 51)

And there's something I can define even less well, and most likely it's me reading things into the text, that never were there at all - a feeling of unease, that underneath the light tone and social comedy there's a dark under-current, something almost nihilistic, a questioning of alll and everything, identity, values, emotions. Nothing is real, and nobody notices, and perhaps it doesn't even matter. Or does it?

[Hoping that un_crayon_rouge is too busy moving in, to pounce & disgustedly pick this apart. ;) ]


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 29th, 2004 11:17 am (UTC)
Poeple must think I'm the most obnoxious nitpicker of all times :-)) I actually was about to write my last entry and then pack the computer away. Of course I couldn't resist the temptation to read thruogh your comments to Felix Krull, and of course, I have nothing intelligent to say except that they were totally worth reading and definitelay would bear a re-reading. I haven't actually read the book *hangs head in shame*, but I can understand very well wahat you say about your knowledge of the journals influencig the way you read the novel. I have propably said this already, but one of the reasons Thomas Mann is so close to my heart (which is at least curious, since he's not a man to arouse "warm" feelings) is because I *know* how hard he struggled all his life, how much he suffered - and in this case, it is irrelevant whether the suffering is from imaginary causes, the pain in itself is very real. This man was striving for something above humanity, and that's what makes him so profoundly human.

And this is what you get from a girl with all her bags packed and her mind elsewhere. Gah.

Be hugged!!
May. 29th, 2004 05:35 pm (UTC)
Poeple must think I'm the most obnoxious nitpicker of all times

Nonono, it's just that obviously you know so much more about him & his work, and with his novels I'm often having a very hard time putting my thoughts (feelings, rather) into words and am extremely unsure whether I make any sense at all. So I'm rather shy about posting...

but one of the reasons Thomas Mann is so close to my heart (which is at least curious, since he's not a man to arouse "warm" feelings)

I couldn't have put it so well into words, but I totally understand & agree. Not curious IMO.

Enjoy your new/own place!! *smile & hug*
May. 29th, 2004 07:19 pm (UTC)
What I find amazing, touching and admirable at once, is his decision not to destroy the diaries, the apparent wish that at least after his death people should be able to put the pieces together and see the whole. Oder wünsche, daß die Welt mich kenne?

Oh and...

If/when you read it, I'd love to hear your throughts...
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


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