Thursday, December 29, 2011

Though I would not have it look as though I wanted to complain

There's a strange panting, obsessive quality to the narrator in Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus. Significant is the narrator's confession early on:

It was the time in which our du was rooted, the time when he too must have called me by my Christian name, I hear it no more, but it is unthinkable that at six or eight years he should not have called  me Serenus or Seren just as I called him Adri. The date cannot be fixed, but it must certainly have been in our early schooldays that he ceased to bestow it on me and used only my last name instead, though it would have seemed to me impossibly harsh to do the same. Thus it was -- though I would not have it look as though I wanted to complain.

In Mann's extensive communication with Herman Hesse, whose The Glass Bead Game unsettled him by what he saw as its resonance with Doctor Faustus, and with whom he grew closer and closer over the years, neither Hesse nor Mann ever use anything but the formal address and never the first name only.

I picture Mann writing his Doctor Faustus on a hard wooden seat.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Supposed misinterpretations

It is ironic that Nicholas Zurbrugg should accuse Beckett of misreading Proust. His own study of the two writers, with its many clods of such unwieldy terms as 'positive modes of non-habitual action', is frequently disturbed by sudden irruptions of impatience with Beckett's supposed misinterpretations of Proust (so many little snide remarks that it is hard to believe that Beckett could ever have given the 'attention and assistance' to Zurbrugg's project that the Acknowledgements declare). My suggestion is that you don't look too closely at Zurbrugg's own reading of Proust. On page 65, for example, he begins an analysis of the 'Daltozzi suivant les femmes' incident in Jean Santeuil, only to forget, on the following page, that the narrator of the book is no Marcel and so is not actually Jean Santeuil at all, but a third person narrator. Little slips like these weaken his position on Beckett the critic, who at worst seems only to have been exuberantly perverse rather than shoddy in his analysis of Proust in his eponymous essay.

I am, however, indebted to Zurbrugg for drawing my attention to Beckett's first novel, the posthumously published, Dream of Fair to Middling Women. Just the image suggested by the title, as it resonates with Proust's second volume of A la Recherche du Temps perdu: A l'ombre des Jeunes Filles en fleurs (in Grieve's translation: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower), is deliciously funny.