Monday, December 23, 2013

Doctor Faustus : chapter 17 : “An exercise in close reading”

Hetaera Esmeralda

At the end of chapter 16, AL asks SZ to destroy the letter. SZ does not. On the contrary, he rereads and analyses it for the reader ( …to study it critically for style and psychology …) By doing this, Mann, stops the reader in his reading tracks and directs him back to chapter 16. This emphasizes the importance of that chapter and allows us to actually compare our notes with those of our Serenius Zeitblom.

Doctor Faustus is a book with a built-in exercise in close reading and interpretation… how about that!

So, did you notice that…?

17.1 SZ did not destroy the letter for otherwise we would not be able to read it.
He didn’t because it is an important DOCUMENT from a biographical point of view

17.2 The letter was asked to be destroyed, just for the part of the upsetting occurrence in the bawdyhouse, the rest of the letter was not important enough to be destroyed.

17.3 That the bordello scene is told hesitatingly “just in passing” and “hidden” between trivia about Music. “… all the rest is trimmings, wrappings, pretense etc…” check.

17.4 Did you notice the bizarre reference to his father’s study of butterflies? Yes, noticed that in the second reading!

17.5 Did you notice that the burlesque “Kumpfian antiquated German style” lasted only until he told the bordello scene? The rest of the text is again in plain German. No, missed that…

17.6 That the antiquated language created a “religious atmosphere”, “The language of the Age of reformation”. How else could he put a sentence as “pray for me” in a letter written in 1905 ? Idem with the expression “a hell-hole of lust”.

17.7 SZ  feeling when reading the letter is “rage at the obscene prank”, not out of prudishness but out of a sense of protection of his friend against crudeness. SZ would have wanted to say “Silence dear one! Thy lips are too pure and austere for these things”

17.8 The topic of sexuality was never discussed between the friends and the reader suspects that SZ rage might well be caused by a certain jealousy for AL.

17.9 Dis we notice how he fled to the piano, just as he did in the Winfried episode of chapter 15. Yes, check

17.8 Last sentences: “ The arrogance of the intellect had suffered the trauma of an encounter with soulless instinct” and as a cliffhanger : “Adrian would return to the spot where his deceiver had led him”

17.9 So what with the parallels with the German political situation. Nothing much, except maybe that 1905 was the year of the first Moroccan crisis which is a first issue of Franco – German rivalry leading to the First World War.