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Going through all the accumulated memos which fortunately [or not, as I'm beginning to think at close to 1 am] weren't deleted...

I actually read these books in summer/early autumn, but well. I'm lazy like that when it comes to actually bringing vague thoughts into any kind of coherent writing. Not saying that I've succeeded, either...

Thomas Mann, Königliche Hoheit:
Quite sweet, if sometimes almost painful to read - Mann describing with poignancy, detachment and irony, but (at least that's how it felt to me) also quite some sympathy Prince Klaus Heinrich falling in love. Clumsy, ignorant, embarrassing himself more often than not, but with a stubborn determination stemming from the (perhaps subconscious, perhaps not) realisation that this love is his last chance of escaping from an existence wasted in meaningless formalisms. Forcing him, who’d never developed a personality of his own, to consider himself as a person beyond the parameters determined by social standing, tradition and obligations. Forcing him, when he never had the need to actually work for a relationship, to consciously reflect about his relations with other people and his impact upon them on a simple human level, change his outlook and attitude according to them. The importance of connecting to something real.

(His way of echoing conversations and passing off second-hand accounts as personal experiences… that struck almost too close, because I sometimes catch myself doing that in random conversations, to make up for lack of personal life.)

Almost romantic, or at least on Thomas Mann's standards in this respect. Not gushingly so, or quite by the conventional definition ('ein strenges Glück'), and one might have thought Imma would be offended by the economic considerations that came into the marriage, rather than considering them an enticement, but there's a happy ending of sorts and the quite distinct message that those feelings are vital to a human being and to deny them ultimately leads to spiritual death (as exemplified by the fate of Dr. Überbein). For Mann, whose leitmotif so often is resignation and self-denial that is indeed outright romantic...

'Lotte in Weimar':

Somehow I never could quite get into this, read it mostly at work or during lunch-breaks - maybe because I have no background knowledge worth speaking of about Goethe.

Some aspects still strike me as interesting, especially coming from a writer who had an intense personal fascination with Goethe. Like Adrian in 'Doctor Faustus' here's another artist whose trademark is distanced irony, and who is quite bad at close personal relationships. Not really a very likeable human being.

The ambiguity of 'genius' and 'greatness'. The uneasy relationship all those close to Goethe have with him, torn between almost canonised admiration for the artist and almost, if not outright, dislike for the man, which none of them can help spilling before Charlotte. Goethe's stifling relationship with his son most especially, and August's ill-fated love for Ottilie, which, as Adele von Schopenhauer hints at, is a reflection of his father's earlier unfulfilled love for Charlotte.

I won't even start on the political implications... The story about the massacre of the Jews in Eger is chilling (the one survivor hiding in a chimney (!)), especially as the novel was published before the worst of the holocaust, and from Mann's knowledge at the time just might not quite have been meant to be an actual, almost literal prediction (depending on when exactly that passage was written). Which, incidentally is the only excuse for some adjoining passages, that in hindsight are... partly maybe to the point, but partly barely tolerable, even (or rather, especially) when expressed with Goethe's emotional detachment. ('incalculable Naturereignisse, die der Seelenlage der Epoche entsteigen' (...) 'Die Juden (...) seien pathetisch, ohne heroisch zu sein' (...) 'das jüdische Pathos eine Leidensemphase, die auf uns andere oft grotesk und recht eigentlich befremdend, ja abstossend wirke') It depends of course on how literal we are to take Goethe here, to what extent, if at all, Goethe speaks for Mann. One would suppose at this time passages about German nationalism and anti-Semitism wouldn't be entirely disconnected from contemporary events, and Goethe's criticism of even the well-meaning beginnings of nationalism (Von den Alten bilde auch ich mir ein etwas zu verstehen, aber der Freiheitssinn und die Vaterlandsliebe, die man aus ihnen zu schöpfen meine, laufen Gefahr und sind jeden Augenblick im Begriff zurFratze zu werden) might lead the reader to believe that those passages were chosen because they echo at least in some respect Mann's own sentiments.
On the other hand it doesn't feel to me that we're supposed to take Goethe as a perfect or ideal man, or even close to one - Riemer, Adele, August - their attitude might be sometimes petty and insincere and reflect more upon their own weaknessess that Goethe's faults of character, but much of their criticism seems valid....

:: sigh :: Difficult...

I rather like Lotte's character - the way she deals with her regrets and disillusionment. She may be slightly naive and dwell on her past fame too much, and her repeated emphasis of the fulfilled life she'd had might too obviously mask her regrets for lost chances and possibilities, but she does it with a sense of dignity and her direct and down-to-earth character is refreshing when contrasted with the slightly hypocritical sycophancy of Goethe's circle.

I find her way of with dealing with the past more honest than Goethe's, whose incapability of dealing with real relationships - implied by his choice of the engaged and unavailable Charlotte – and regrets over similar might-have-beens over-shadows even his son's life.

"Ich kam, um mich nach dem Möglichen umzusehen, dessen Nachteile gegen das Wirkliche so sehr auf der Hand liegen, und das doch als ›Wenn nun aber‹ und ›Wie nun erst‹ immer neben ihm in der Welt bleibt und unserer Nachfrage wert ist. Findest du nicht, alter Freund, und fragst du nicht auch mitunter dem Möglichen nach in den Würden deiner Wirklichkeit? Sie ist das Werk der Entsagung, ich weiss es wohl, und also doch wohl der Verkümmerung, die wohnen nahe beisammen, und all Wirklichkeit und Werk ist eben nur das verkümmerte Mögliche. "


solitary summer

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