Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann

I have just started reading this book, having received it today as a Father’s Day present. I suspect it will be significant to my interests in all forms of modern and ancient ‘classical’ music and in morbid literature.
My initial post yesterday here:

Quotes from Dr Faustus in comments below.


11 responses to “Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann

  1. page 57
    …but we heard it as greedily, as large-eyed, as children always hear what they do not understand or what is even entirely unsuitable — indeed, with far more pleasure than the familiar, fitting, and adequate can give them. Is it believable that this is the most intensive, splendid, perhaps the very most productive way of learning: the anticipatory way, learning that spans wide stretches of ignorance? As a pedagogue I suppose I should not speak in its behalf; but I do know that it profits youth extraordinarily. And I believe, that the stretches jumped over fill in of themselves in time.

  2. “A peculiarly painful combination that: necessity and futility.”
    Page 111

  3. At this point one can only say “and so on”; for it is time to put an end to the reproduction of that conversation — or of such conversations. In reality it had no end, it went on deep into the night, on and on, with “bipolar position” and “historically conscious analysis,” with “extra-temporal qualities,” “ontological naturalism,” “logical dialectic,” and “practical dialectic”: painstaking, shoreless, learned, tailing off into nothing — that is, into slumber, to which our leader Baworinski recommended us, for in the morning — as it already almost was — we should be due for an early start. That kind nature held sleep ready, to take up the conversation and rock it in forgetfulness, was a grateful circumstance, and Adrian, who had not spoken for a long time, gave it expression in a few words as we settled down.
    “Yes, good night, lucky we can say it. Discussions should always be held just before going to bed, your rear protected by sleep. How painful, after an intellectual conversation, to have to go about with your mind so stirred up.”

  4. Pages 190-194

    “In your opinion,” I laughed: “So far as she knows. But actually she is no longer freedom, as little as dictatorship born out of revolution is still freedom.”
    ”Are you sure of it?” he asked. “But anyhow that is talking politics. In art, at least, the subjective and the objective intertwine to the point of being indistinguishable, one proceeds from the other and takes the character of the other, the subjective precipitates as objective and by genius is again awaked to spontaneity, ‘dynamized,’ as we say; it speaks all at once the language of the subjective. The musical conventions today destroyed were not always so objective, so objectively imposed. They were crystallizations of living experiences and as such long performed an office of vital importance: the task of organization. Organization is everything. Without it there is nothing, least of all art. And it was aesthetic subjectivity that took on the task, it undertook to organize the work out of itself, in freedom.”
    ”You are thinking of Beethoven.”
    ”Of him and of the technical principle through which a dominating subjectivity got hold of the musical organization; I mean the development, or working out. The development itself had been a small part of the sonata, a modest republic of subjective illumination and dynamic. With Beethoven it becomes universal, becomes the centre of the whole form, which, even where it is supposed to remain conventional, is absorbed by the subjective and is newly created in freedom. The form of variations, something archaic, a residuum, becomes a means by which to infuse new life into form. The principle of development plus variation technique extends over the whole sonata. It does that in Brahms, as thematic working-out, even more radically. Take him as an example of how subjectivity turns into objectivity. In him music abstains from all conventional flourishes, formulas, and residua and so to speak creates the unity of the work anew at every moment, out of freedom. But precisely on that account freedom becomes the principle of an all-round economy that leaves in music nothing casual, and develops the utmost diversity while adhering to the identical material. Where there is nothing unthematic left, nothing which could not show itself to derive from the same basic material, there one can no longer speak of a ‘free style.’ ”
    ”And not of the ‘strict style’ in the old sense, either!”
    ”Old or new, I will tell you what I understand by ‘strict style.’ I mean the complete integration of all musical dimensions, their neutrality towards each other due to complete organization.”
    ”Do you see a way to do that?”
    ”Do you know,” he countered, “when I came nearest to the ‘strict style’?” I waited. He spoke so low as to be hard to hear, and between his teeth, as he used to when he had headache.
    ”Once in the Brentano cycle,” he said, “in ‘O lieb Madel.’ That song is entirely derived from a fundamental figure, a series of interchangeable intervals, the five notes B, E, A, E, E-flat, and the horizontal melody and the vertical harmony are determined and controlled by it, in so far as that is possible with a basic motif of so few notes. It is like a word, a key word, stamped on everything in the song, which it would like to determine entirely. But it is too short a word and in itself not flexible enough. The tonal space it affords is too limited. One would have to go on from here and make larger words out of the twelve letters, as it were, of the tempered semitone alphabet. Words of twelve letters, certain combinations and interrelations of the twelve semitones, series of notes from which a piece and all the movements of a work must strictly derive. Every note of the whole composition, both melody and harmony, would have to show its relation to this fixed fundamental series. Not one might recur until the other notes have sounded. Not one might appear which did not fulfil its function in the whole structure. There would no longer be a free note. That is what I would call ‘strict composition.’ ”
    ”A striking thought,” said I. “Rational organization through and through, one might indeed call it. You would gain an extraordinary unity and congruity, a sort of astronomical regularity and legality would be obtained thereby. But when I picture it to myself, it seems to me that the unchanged recurrence of such a succession of intervals, even when used in different parts of the texture, and in rhythmic variations, would result in a probably unavoidable serious musical impoverishment and stagnation.”
    ”Probably,” he answered, with a smile which showed that he had been prepared for this reservation. It was the smile that brought out strongly his likeness to his mother, but with the familiar look of strain which it would show under pressure of the migraine.
    ”And it is not so simple either. One must incorporate into the system all possible techniques of variation, including those decried as artificial; that is, the means which once helped the ‘development’ to win its hold over the sonata. I ask myself why I practised so long under Kretschmar the devices of the old counterpoint and covered so much paper with inversion fugues, crabs, and inversions of crabs. Well now, all that should come in handy for the ingenious modification of the twelve-note word. In addition to being a fundamental series it could find application in this way, that every one of its intervals is replaced by its inversion. Again, one could begin the figure with its last note and finish it on its first, and then invert this figure as well. So then you have four modes, each of which can be transposed to all the twelve notes of the chromatic scale, so that forty-eight different versions of the basic series may be used in a composition and whatever other variational diversions may present themselves. A composition can also use two or more series as basic material, as in the double and triple fugue. The decisive factor is that every note, without exception, has significance and function according to its place in the basic series or its derivatives. That would guarantee what I call the indifference to harmony and melody.”
    ”A magic square,” I said. “But do you hope to have people hear all that?”
    ”Hear?” he countered. “Do you remember a certain lecture given for the Society for the Common Weal from which it followed that in music one certainly need not hear everything? If by ‘hearing’ you understand the precise realization in detail of the means by which the highest and strictest order is achieved, like the order of the planets, a cosmic order and legality — no, that way one would not hear it. But this order one will or would hear, and the perception of it would afford an unknown aesthetic satisfaction.”
    ”Very remarkable,” said I. “The way you describe the thing, it comes to a sort of composing before composition. The whole disposition and organization of the material would have to be ready when the actual work should begin, and all one asks is: which is the actual work? For this preparation of the material is done by variation, and the creative element in variation, which one might call the actual composition, would be transferred back to the material itself — together with the freedom of the composer. When he went to work, he would no longer be free.”
    ”Bound by a self-imposed compulsion to order, hence free.”
    ”Well, of course the dialectic of freedom is unfathomable. But he could scarcely be called a free inventor of his harmony. Would not the making of chords be left to chance and accident?”
    ”Say, rather, to the context. The polyphonic dignity of every chord-forming note would be guaranteed by the constellation. The historical events — the emancipation of dissonance from its resolution, its becoming ‘absolute’ as it appears already in some passages of the later Wagner — would warrant any combination of notes which can justify itself before the system.”
    ”And if the constellation produced the banal: consonance, common-chord harmonics, the worn-out, the diminished seventh?”
    ”That would be a rejuvenation of the worn-out by the constellation.”
    ”I see there a restorative element in your Utopia. It is very radical, but it relaxes the prohibition which after all already hung over consonance. The return to the ancient forms of variation is a similar sign.”
    ”More interesting phenomena,” he responded, “probably always have this double face of past and future, probably are always progressive and regressive in one. They display the equivocalness of life itself.”
    ”Is that not a generalization?”
    ”Of what?”
    ”Of our domestic experiences as a nation?”
    ”Oh, let us not be indiscreet! Or flatter ourselves either. All I want to say is that our objections — if they are meant as objections — would not count against the fulfilment of the old, the ever repeated demand to take hold and make order, and to resolve the magic essence of music into human reason.”
    “You want to put me on my honour as a humanist,” said I. “Human reason! And besides, excuse me; ‘constellation’ is your every other word. But surely it belongs more to astrology. The rationalism you call for has a good deal of superstition about it — of belief in the incomprehensibly and vaguely daemonic, the kind of thing we have in games of chance, fortune-telling with cards, and shaking dice. Contrary to what you say, your system seems to me more calculated to dissolve human reason in magic.” He carried his closed hand to his brow.
    ”Reason and magic,” said he, “may meet and become one in that which one calls wisdom, initiation; in belief in the stars, in numbers… ”
    I did not go on, as I saw that he was in pain.

  5. Pages 242-243
    The vexed texture of text or of atonal music? The Devil’s work?


    I: “An annunciation, in fact. I am to grow osmotic growths.”
    He: “It comes to the same thing. Ice crystals, or the same made of starch, sugar, and cellulose, both are nature; we ask, for which shall we praise Nature more. Your tendency, my friend, to inquire after the objective, the so-called truth, to question as worthless the subjective, pure experience: that is truly petty bourgeois, you ought to overcome it. As you see me, so I exist to you. What serves it to ask whether I really am? Is not ‘really’ what works, is not truth experience and feeling? What uplifts you, what increases your feeling of power and might and domination, damn it, that is the truth — and whether ten times a lie when looked at from the moral angle. This is what I think: that an untruth of a kind that enhances power holds its own against any ineffectively virtuous truth. And I mean too that creative, genius-giving disease, disease that rides on high horse over all hindrances, and springs with drunken daring from peak to peak, is a thousand times dearer to life than plodding healthiness. I have never heard anything stupider then that from disease only disease can come. Life is not scrupulous — by morals it sets not a fart. It takes the reckless product of disease, feeds on and digests it, and as soon as it takes it to itself it is health. Before the fact of fitness for life, my good man, all distinction of disease and health falls away. A whole host and generation of youth, receptive, sound to the core, flings itself on the work of the morbid genius, made genius by disease: admires it, praises it, exalts it, carries it away, assimilates it unto itself and makes it over to culture, which lives not on home-made bread alone, but as well on provender and poison from the apothecary’s shop at the sign of the Blessed Messengers. Thus saith to you the unbowdlerized Sammael. He guarantees not only that toward the end of your houre-glasse years your sense of your power and splendour will more and more outweigh the pangs of the little sea-maid and finally mount to most triumphant well-being, to a sense of bursting health, to the walk and way of a god. That is only the subjective side of the thing, I know; it would not suffice, it would seem to you unsubstantial. Know, then, we pledge you the success of that which with our help you will accomplish. You will lead the way, you will strike up the march of the future, the lads will swear by your name, who thanks to your madness will no longer need to be mad. On your madness they will feed in health, and in them you will become healthy. Do you understand? Not only will you break through the paralysing difficulties of the time — you will break through time itself, by which I mean the cultural epoch and its cult, and dare to be barbaric, twice barbaric indeed, because of coming after the humane, after all possible root-treatment and bourgeois raffinement. Believe me, barbarism even has more grasp of theology then has a culture fallen away from cult, which even in the religious has seen only culture, only the humane, never excess, paradox, the mystic passion, the utterly unbourgeois ordeal. But I hope you do not marvel that ‘the Great Adversary’ speaks to you of religion. Gog’s nails! Who else, I should like to know, is to speak of it today? Surely not the liberal theologian! After all I am by now its sole custodian! In whom will you recognize theological existence if not in me? And who can lead a theological existence without me? The religious is certainly my line: as certainly as it is not the line of bourgeois culture. Since culture fell away from the cult and made a cult of itself, it has become nothing else then a falling away; and all the world after a mere five hundred years is as sick and tired of it as though, salva venia, they had ladled it in with cooking- spoons.”

  6. The Captain Nemo(nymous) vision of the composer. Truth or fiction?


    I remember this conversation most vividly. It occurred at a week-end I was spending in Pfeiffering, after the simple meal served us in the big piano-room, when the primly clad young Clementine had kindly brought us each our half-litre mug of beer, and we sat smoking Zechbauer cigars, light and good. It was about the hour when Suso, the yard dog, in other words Kaschperl, was loosed from his chain and allowed to range the courtyard.
    Then Adrian embarked with gusto on his jest, which he related to me in the most circumstantial manner: how he and Professor Akercocke climbed into a bullet-shaped diving-bell of only one point two metres inside diameter, equipped somewhat like a stratosphere balloon, and were dropped by a crane from the companion ship into the sea, at this point very deep. It had been more than exciting — at least for him, if not for his mentor or cicerone, from whom he had procured this experience and who took the thing more coolly as it was not his first descent. Their situation inside the two-ton hollow ball was anything but comfortable, but was compensated for by the knowledge of their perfect safety, absolutely watertight as it was, capable of withstanding immense pressure. It was provided with a supply of oxygen, a telephone, high-voltage searchlights, and quartz windows all round. Somewhat longer than three hours in all they spent beneath the surface of the ocean; it had passed like a dream, thanks to the sights they were vouchsafed, the glimpses into a world whose soundless, frantic foreignness was explained and even justified by its utter lack of contact with our own.
    Even so it had been a strange moment, and his heart had missed a beat, when one morning at nine o’clock the four-hundred-pound armoured door had closed behind them and they swayed away from the ship and plunged into the water, crystal-clear at first, lighted by the sun. But this illumination of the inside of our “drop in the bucket” reached down only some fifty-seven metres. For at that depth light has come to an end; or rather, a new, unknown, irrelevant world here begins, into which Adrian with his guide went down to nearly fourteen times that depth, some thirty-six hundred feet, and there remained for half an hour, almost every moment painfully aware that a pressure of five hundred thousand tons rested upon their shelter.
    Gradually, on the way down, the water had taken on a grey colour, that of a darkness mixed with some still undaunted rays of light. Not easily did these become discouraged; it was the will and way of them to make light and they did so to their uttermost, so that the next stage of light’s exhaustion and retreat actually had more colour than the previous one. Through the quartz windows the travellers looked into a blue-blackness hard to describe; perhaps best compared to the dull colour of the horizon on a clear thawing day. After that, indeed long before the hand of the indicator stood at seven hundred and fifty to seven hundred and sixty-five metres, came solid blackness all round, the blackness of interstellar space whither for eternities no weakest sun-ray had penetrated, the eternally still and virgin night, which now had to put up with a powerful artificial light from the upper world, not of cosmic origin, in order to be looked at and looked through.
    Adrian spoke of the itch one felt to expose the unexposed, to look at the unlooked-at, the not-to-be and not-expecting-to-be looked-at. There was a feeling of indiscretion, even of guilt, bound up with it, not quite allayed by the feeling that science must be allowed to press just as far forwards as it is given the intelligence of scientists to go. The incredible eccentricities, some grisly, some comic, which nature here achieved, forms and features which seemed to have scarcely any connection with the upper world but rather to belong to another planet: these were the product of seclusion, sequestration, of reliance on being wrapped in eternal darkness. The arrival upon Mars of a human conveyance travelling through space — or rather, let us say, upon that half of Mercury which is eternally turned away from the sun — could excite no greater sensation in the inhabitants — if any — of that “near” planet, than the appearance of the Akercocke diving-bell down here. The mass curiosity with which these inconceivable creatures of the depths had crowded round the cabin had been indescribable — and quite indescribable too was everything that went whisking past the windows in a blur of motion: frantic caricatures of organic life; predatory mouths opening and shutting; obscene jaws, telescope eyes; the paper nautilus; silver- and gold-fish with goggling eyes on top of their heads; heteropods and pteropods, up to two or three yards long. Even those that floated passively in the flood, monsters compact of slime, yet with arms to catch their prey, polyps, acalephs, skyphomedusas — they all seemed to have been seized by spasms of twitching excitement.
    It might well be that all these natives of the deep regarded this light-radiating guest as an outsize variation of themselves, for most of them could do what it could; that is to say, give out light by their own power. The visitors, Adrian said, had only to put out their own searchlight, when an extraordinary spectacle unfolded outside. Far and wide the darkness of the sea was illuminated by shooting and circling will-o’-the-wisps, caused by the light with which many of the creatures were equipped, so that in some cases the entire body was phosphorescent, while others had a searchlight, an electric lantern, with which presumably they not only lighted the darkness of their path, but also attracted their prey. They also probably used it in courtship. The ray from some of the larger ones cast such an intense white light that the observers’ eyes were blinded. Others had eyeballs projecting on stalks; probably in order to perceive at the greatest possible distance the faintest gleam of light meant to lure or warn.
    The narrator regretted that it was not possible to catch any of these monsters of the deep, at least some of the utterly unknown ones, and bring them to the surface. In order to do so, however, one would have to preserve for them while ascending the same tremendous atmospheric pressure they were used to and adapted to in their environment — the same that rested on our diving-bell — a disturbing thought. In their habitat the creatures counteracted it by an equal pressure of their tissues and cavities; so that if the outside pressure were decreased, they would inevitably burst. Some of them, alas, burst now, on coming into contact with the diving-bell: the watchers saw an unusually large, flesh-coloured wight, rather finely formed, just touch the vessel and fly into a thousand pieces.
    Thus Adrian told his tale, as we smoked our cigars; quite as though he had himself been present and had all these things shown to him. He carried out the jest so well, with only half a smile, that I could but stare amazed even while I laughed and marvelled at his tale.

  7. The imminent ends of the two world wars as perceived in palimpsest by Germany…but a quote appropriate to us today, too, as a human whole?

    “That it remains shrouded in silence is uncanny enough. It is already uncanny when among a great host of the blind some few who have the use of their eyes must live with sealed lips. But it becomes sheer horror, so it seems to me, when everybody knows and everybody is bound to silence, while we read the truth from each other in eyes that stare or else shun a meeting.”

  8. The “dead tooth” of music and political history… (First passage below retrieved from page 151 and the second passage below from where I have just reached in reading the book on page 370)

    His studies in orchestration under Kretschmar’s guidance were not the less zealous on that account. For he agreed with his teacher that one must have command over what has been achieved even though one no longer finds it essential. He once said to me that a composer who is sick of orchestral impressionism and therefore no longer learns instrumentation seemed to him like a dentist who no longer learns how to treat the roots of teeth and goes back to the barber technique because it has lately been discovered that dead teeth give people rheumatism of the joints. This comparison, extraordinarily far-fetched yet so characteristic of the intellectual atmosphere of the time, continued to be an oft-quoted allusion between us, and the “dead tooth” preserved by skilful embalming of the root became a symbol for certain very modern refinements of the orchestral palette, including his own symphonic fantasy Ocean Lights. This piece he wrote in Leipzig, still under Kretschmar’s eye, after a holiday trip to the North Sea with Rüdiger Schildknapp. Kretschmar later arranged a semi-public performance of it. It is a piece of exquisite tone-painting, which gives evidence of an astonishing feeling for entrancing combinations of sound, at first hearing almost impossible for the ear to unravel. The cultured public saw in the young composer a highly gifted successor to the Debussy-Ravel line. That he was not, and he scarcely included this demonstration of colouristic and orchestral ability in the list of his actual productions; almost as little, indeed, as the wrist-loosening and calligraphic practice with which he had once occupied himself under Kretschmar’s direction: the six- to eight-part choruses, the fugue with the three themes for string quintet with piano accompaniment, the symphony, whose particell he brought him by bits and whose instrumentation he discussed with him; the Cello Sonata in A minor with the very lovely slow movement, whose theme he would later use in one of his Brentano songs. That sound-sparkling Ocean Lights was in my eyes a very remarkable instance of how an artist can give his best to a thing in which he privately no longer believes, insisting on excelling in artistic devices which for his consciousness are already at the point of being worn out. “It is acquired root-treatment,” he said to me. “I don’t rise to streptococcus disinfection.” Every one of his remarks showed that he considered the genre of “tone-painting,” of “nature moods,” to be fundamentally out of date.

    Was I to trust my ears? But now I had to laugh, yet at the same time was amazed when the gentlemen at this point came upon the subject of dental medicine and quite objectively began to talk about Adrian’s and my symbolic musical critique of the dead tooth. I am sure I went the colour of a turkey-cock for laughing, while listening to a discussion, pursued with the same intellectual satisfaction as before, about the growing tendency of dentists to pull out forthwith all teeth with dead nerves; since it had been concluded — after a long, painstaking, and refined development in the nineteenth-century technique of root treatment — that they were to be regarded as infectious foreign bodies. Observe — it was Dr. Breisacher who acutely pointed this out, and met with general agreement — that the hygienic point of view therein represented must be considered, in a way, as a rationalization of the fundamental tendency to let things drop, to give up, to get away, to simplify. For in a matter of hygiene it was quite in place to suspect an ideological basis. There was no doubt that in the future, after we had begun to practise a large-scale elimination of the unfit, the diseased and weak-minded, we would justify the policy by similar hygienic arguments for the purification of society and the race. Whereas in reality — none of those present denied, but on the contrary rather emphasized the fact — that the real reason lay far deeper down, in the renunciation of all the humane softness of the bourgeois epoch; in an instinctive self-preparation of humanity for harsh and sinister times which mocked our humans ideals; for an age of over-all wars and revolutions which would probably take us back far behind the Christian civilization of the Middle Ages; in a return to the dark era before it arose after the collapse of the classic culture. . . .

  9. I quote the substantial whole of “CHAPTER XXXIV (Conclusion)” here:
    representing for me the essence of Horror or Weird Literature, the Devil’s influence in connection with artistic creativity, the birth of modern ‘classical’ music and more!

    “….an overwhelming, sardonically yelling, screeching, bawling, bleating, howling, piping, whinnying salvo, the mocking, exulting laughter of the Pit.”

  10. I have now finished this book and it has had a momentous, monumental effect on me. More than any book.
    Its palimpsest of self-shame at Germany’s two world wars, involving all manner of horrors, filtered through the fraternisation with evil and with music.
    It also echoes (note that word ‘echo’) my erstwhile real-time reviewing obsession with the ‘dying fall’ or ‘lament’ or ‘chaconne’.

    Mann’s Lamentation with the Faust legend is shaded into by yearnings for the young sea-maid or the young boy, offset by pain in the legs or mermaid’s tail or dead teeth? Phantom pain or Echo?

    But it is far more than all or any of that.

    “No, this dark tone-poem permits up to the very end no consolation, appeasement, transfiguration. But take our artist paradox: grant that expressiveness — expression as lament — is the issue of the whole construction: then may we not parallel with it another, a religious one, and say too (though only in the lowest whisper) that out of the sheerly irremediable hope might germinate? It would be but a hope beyond hopelessness, the transcendence of despair — not betrayal to her, but the miracle that passes belief. For listen to the end, listen with me: one group of instruments after another retires, and what remains, as the work fades on the air, is the high G of a cello, the last word, the last fainting sound, slowly dying in a pianissimo-fermata. Then nothing more: silence, and night. But that tone which vibrates in the silence, which is no longer there, to which only the spirit hearkens, and which was the voice of mourning, is so no more. It changes its meaning; it abides as a light in the night.”

    cf: ‘candle dreaming’ and ‘eventernal slumber’…

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