Introduction

I’m Emily. I’m a student at a small liberal arts college in mid-Western America, officially studying Classics (Latin and Greek) and German. Otherwise, I live on a sheep farm and Bed and Breakfast in Vermont.

You probably came here from my Germany blog. This new site is a continuation of that project, and also a new experiment. It has arisen out of the encouragement and prodding of various friends and teachers (Dian, Kodiak, Dr. Yaniga…), as well as out of my own occasional dissatisfaction with the confines of college-level academic writing. It is a space to practice breaking out of that mold, and breaking into something more personal and more vast.

I’m interested in the dialogue, the conversation, between centuries and genres and half-mad philosophers. What do they all have to say to each other? What do we have to say to them?

Don’t expect footnotes, bibliographies, specialization, or even complete accuracy. There will probably also be multiple posts rehashing the same sorts of things. I could, for instance, quote Hamlet in every essay I write until the day I die. At the moment I am most curious about tragedy, German opera (Richard Wagner), Shakespeare, postmodernism, Nietzsche, all music, modern art, chiaroscuro, Classical languages, Faust, land, joy, feminism, humanism, Thomas Mann, work.

Right now, I am shooting for two posts a month when I am not in school, one when I am. We shall see how that works out this next semester, along with those six academics and two jobs. Of course, I would love to hear from you, in the comments or otherwise, if you have something to critique or add or suggest.

The title is one of those wonderful Joycean neologisms, from Portrait of the ArtistThoughtenchanted silence is the whole phrase.

And finally, here is a quote from Thomas Mann (his essays on Wagner), who sums up the foundation and telos of this whole affair brilliantly, as usual.

For admiration is the best thing we have; yes, if I were asked what emotion, what reaction to the phenomena of this world, to life and art, I considered the finest, happiest, most constructive, most indispensable, I should answer unhesitatingly: admiration. What other answer can there be? What would man be, above all what would an artist be, without admiration, enthusiasm, absorption, devotion to something not himself, something much too large to be himself, yet something to which he feels most intimately allied, most powerfully congenial–to approach which more nearly, to ‘penetrate with the understanding,’ to make utterly his own, his nature passionately demands?
Admiration is humble and proud at once, proud of itself; it knows jealousy, the youthful challenge: what do you know about it? It is the purist and fruitfullest, the vision and the stimulus to competition, the makes the highest demand, it is the strongest and sternest discipline, the incentive to one’s own contribution; it is the root of all talent. Where it is not, where it withers, nothing more sprouts, all is arid and impoverished.

13 thoughts on “Introduction

  1. Emily,

    Your St. Sebastian/T. Mann essay was as gorgeous as the art that accompanied it, your style, tone and thoughtfulness befitting the subject(s). I look forward to reading more of your work. I am currently on my second reading of The Magic Mountain and a Google for a trifling clarification led me to your so literate blog. I write stories and stuff, confess while I love much of Mann could never finish Doktor Faustus, which became for me like the codaless Beethoven Opus 101 sonata therein.

    Jim in San Diego

    • Jim,
      Thank you so much for your comment and kind words. I am so glad you found the Death in Venice essay of interest; isn’t Thomas Mann astounding? And The Magic Mountain may well be my favorite work of all time.
      It took me two tries to finish Doktor Faustus–such a searing, difficult book, made much more complicated by English translations. The last 50 pages, though, make up for everything else. May I ask what translation you were using? The breakthrough for me (before learning German) was switching to the new John Woods translation–a fantastic piece of literature in its own right. His Magic Mountain is also superb.
      Anyway, thank you again for reading, and I wish you all the best!
      Emily

      • Emily,

        The translation I have is the Lowe-Porter. Have seen commentary lately that exalts the Woods translation. (I am currently reading de novo the Woods rendition of Magic Mountain, eagerly awaiting the arrival cum slamming door of Madame C., as well as the unparalleled blizzard scene/dream.)

        I read some of your enchanted reaction to your Wagner pilgrimage last night and found it delightful, again enhanced by the accompanying (photographic) art. Despite the latter-day Nietzsche, I still fall under the spell of the master of Bayreuth (who also died in Venice), Nazi appropriation notwithstanding. Your joie de vivre (contra much of Mann) is infectious.

        All the best,

        Jim

      • Jim,
        Again, thank you. I write about things I love and send them out with the thought that someone who loves the same things might find them. You have inspired me to re-work some of my notes and post something about The Magic Mountain and Faustus. Also, you may enjoy the pictures I took in Munich of Mann’s house and particularly of Nordfriedhof, the real-life setting of Death in Venice: http://emilysarahabroad.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/munchen-thomas-mann/
        I am quite possibly more enchanted and disturbed by Wagner than I am by Thomas Mann. It is my great goal to actually get to Bayreuth for a performance–for now, CDs and the occasional live Met opera broadcast shall have to do. In Nietzsche’s case, I have always thought his love and his hatred of the composer were two sides of the same coin–in either case a passionate, obsessive, and hugely fruitful engagement with one of the most troubling figures of Western art. Have you read Mann’s various essays etc. on Wagner? They are fantastic, I think, and a little more balanced than Nietzsche.
        Alles Gute
        Emily

      • Emily,

        One thinks of Mann as a man of the cold north, not the passionate south. But Munich is where the artists ended up, including the manque’ Adolf, famously. And we see Thomas later at the steamy fleshpot of Hollywood, exchanging cocktail-party quips cigarette in hand with the likes of Christopher Isherwood, Jimmy Cagney, Irving Berlin, Greta Garbo, J. Krishnamurti and Upton Sinclair. He evidently loved Southern California, as per this L.A. newspaper account:

        Thomas Mann—the Nobel Prize-winning author of Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain—was among those who attended the salons at [Lion Feuchtwanger’s] oceanfront Villa Aurora, calling the house a “true castle by the sea.”

        Mann, perhaps the most famous of the German émigrés in Los Angeles, would later build his own castle perched atop the hills of Pacific Palisades [where the famed Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger currently resides].

        Strongly opposed to Nazi policies, Mann left Germany in 1933. After several years of exile in Switzerland and a short teaching stint at Princeton, he and his wife Katia arrived in Los Angeles in 1940.

        Many within the exilic community held conflicted feelings about Los Angeles; some detested the city’s perceived cultural and urban shortcomings and were only too happy to return to Europe after the war. Mann, however, took U.S. citizenship and planned to make Los Angeles his permanent home.

        In his 1996 book German-speaking Artists in Hollywood, Cornelius Schnauber quoted Mann, who often enjoyed strolling down Santa Monica’s Palisades Park, on his reasons for settling in Los Angeles:

        “The climate has great advantages,” he wrote a friend, “as does the countryside, living expenses are relatively cheap, and, in particular, the opportunities for our young musician-children are promising.” Later, Mann wrote to his son: “We were just at Princeton and it is very pretty. But I am a bit afraid of the scholarly atmosphere, and I basically prefer the movie rabble in Hollywood.”

        A 1942 New Yorker profile proclaimed Mann to be “Goethe in Hollywood” and, according to Mann’s fellow exile Bertolt Brecht, the author thought of himself as a “latter-day Goethe in search of the land where the lemons grow” (quoted in City of Quartz by Mike Davis).

        Mann’s years in Southern California were productive. He composed some of his most significant works while in Los Angeles, including Doctor Faustus [!] and The Holy Sinner. Eventually, the draw of Europe’s old world traditions was too strong. In 1952, Mann returned to Switzerland, where he died in 1955. [This concluding datum suffers from non-factuality.]

        Your descriptions and photos brought Mann’s Munich home for me. I can see you as a high-style travel writer. One of my favorite examples, Nietzsche in Turin by the charming Germanophile Lesley Chamberlain. Have never read Mann on Wagner, must correct that. (Mann actually my second-favorite German writer, with Kafka always in first place.) Have you ever heard Beethoven’s 101 piano sonata so lionized in Faustus? It foreshadows jazz IMHO.

        Alles freudig,

        Jim

  2. Jim,

    Fascinating article, thank you! Yes, I have always had a hard time picturing Mann in southern California….if I ever get out of freezing Vermont I would love to see for myself where he and other European intellectuals ended up.
    For all Mann was lauded in America, however, I always think that some of Serenus’ agony in the latter half of Faustus (looking from afar at a country in the process of self-immolation) was his own.

    How funny that you should mention Kafka–I am just in the process of reading him for the first time, getting ready for a comparative study next semester of German and South American surrealism/magic realism. What draws you to his work? I am loving what I have read so far, though in many ways Kafka seems a good deal harder to pin down than Mann (who always seemed to have some sort of clear-cut ideological structure behind his works, however complicated).

    Indeed, I am familiar with the Beethoven sonata, though I am rather more of a symphony-opera person. I had never thought of it in connection with jazz, though–how interesting!

    Alles Gute
    Emily

    • Kafka reaches for the ineffable in virtually everything he writes, working ceaselessly to fathom, or at least come to grips with, the cosmic riddle. He writes for himself. He never compromises. He struggles againsgt a diffident, hyper-neurotic personality. Two of his three novels, The Castle and Amerika, are unfinished, as per the great 101. (Not as in B.’s case by deliberation.) The closer he got to his goal the more impossible was the task, for reasons both psychological and artistic. ( If having a few unfinished novels were a sign of greatness, however, I and more than a few other putative writers would be ready for the Pantheon. I did finish one, now up on Kindle, a brash, sloppy homage of sorts to K.) An interesting feature of the Hollywood cum exile crowd in the ’40s was the attraction to mysticism, with the chief coach being the magnetic Jiddu Khrishnamurti, later a spiritual mentor to Nehru and Indira Gandhi. When it came to mysticism, Kafka was his own coach, writing his meditation.

      Your favorite symphony?

      • I like the idea of Kafka writing for himself, against his personality. Somehow I don’t get that sense with Mann, who certainly had his own issues but in the end seems turned outward more than inward. I am slowly reading The Castle in German right now, and very much looking forward to delving into the various interpretive possibilities. If you have any non-fiction reading tips on the topic of [Eastern] mysticism in Kafka or other German writers of his generation, I would love to hear them. It’s something that I know very little about, but have always been interested in. Have you read much Hesse? He’s incredibly different from both Mann and Kafka, but from what I have read the most overtly influenced by Eastern thought.
        What is the name of your novel?

        Favorite symphony? Not an easy question to answer….Beethoven and Mahler are my favorite symphonists, no question (though Mozart brings up a close third). I love Beethoven for the vitality, the drive, the almost-savagery of his music–it’s crazy new, radical if you can make yourself listen with something like 19th-century ears. For me, his 3rd (the big break with classicism) and 7th (which Wagner called the apotheosis of the dance) are pretty much the ultimate. And Mahler…his music reminds me the most of Robert Musil, another sprawling turn-of-the-century Viennese artist, exhaustive and exhausting. His music is so personal, almost like reading a private journal over someone’s shoulder. The drive to encompass everything in a work of art fascinates me. With him, I would have to pick his 2nd and 5th (especially after its use in the Visconti Death in Venice film). Also Das Lied von der Erde, if that counts as a symphony.

  3. Emily,

    Ludwig Van’s odd-numbered symphonies (maybe not the somewhat derivative first), the pinnacles of Western culture, each fighting its way up the mountain higher than its predecessor. The 9th the apotheosis, as the boys in Clockwork Orange concurred. I also would agree with you on Mozart and Mahler, though I know Mahler less well. Maybe corny by now but I love Dvorak’s New World (“Going Home, Going Home”) and the Schubert Unfinished (there I go again). And the epic Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique. Off-topic, the incredible Orff Carmina Burana.

    Good for you reading The Castle, its wholly oneiric world, its constant mind-numbing confusions, its ceaseless quest, the Mannesque snow. Some equivalence with the Ninth, minus the Ode to Joy. I’m not sure it needs or can stand much interpretation; it just has to happen to one, to put yourself on the road heading up the hill but growing tired and the light is failing. My quest book is The P-1 Penetration Paradox, last of a half-dozen working titles. (PPP is a coy leitmotiv.) I don ‘t think Kafka was interested in mysticism qua mysticism, not noted to my recall in his biogs I have read. He was a secular Jew attracted by Zionism and had planned to emigrate from increasingly anti-Semitic Czechoslovakia when his TB finally did him in. He was just a mystical guy of a What’s It All About, Alfie stripe from childhood, striving always toward a transcendent morality, feeling a transcendent duty a la Wittgenstein. Of German writers and mysticism I’ve picked up from secondary sources & novels; Google would be, as always, a good source here. It’s German idealism at the heart, reacting against Kant through Hegel up to Heidegger and beyond. It’s the religious urge post Nietzsche.

    J.

  4. Em,

    You will be interested in the very insightful introduction by Mann (which he calls an homage) to the 1956 Knopf English edition of The Castle (Muir translation, which includes passages deleted in his ms by Kafka as well as unincorporated fragments). “He compared his own work with ‘a new secret doctrine, a cabbala.” “The Castle is through and through an autobiographical novel.” “The Castle … represents the divine dispensation, the state of grace — puzzling, remote, incomprehensible.” “[A]nd the strangest, most novel thing about it is that it is done with humor … which leaves utterly unchallenged the fact of the divine Absolute. This is what makes Kafka a religious humorist.” Mann’s essay is dated 1940 in Princeton.

    J.

    • Jim,
      Yes, one of my greatest intellectual flaws is the drive to interpret things–to fit them into something else, to draw connections that may or may not exist. It comes in handy when carrying out academic research, not so much when reading literature for the joy of it.
      I hardly know the Carmina Burana, but am very much fascinated by these great vocal/symphonic works in general (thus Mahler 2, 4, 8, Strauss orchestral Lieder etc). I would almost put Wagner in the same category, especially Parsifal.
      And thank you for the essay tip–I shall certainly look that up! Mann is the sort of critic (especially his Wagner writings) that I would like to be…something to strive for, anyway. You have most likely already read his “The Making of the Magic Mountain,” also from Princeton–another good one.
      If I may ask, are you involved in the humanities/arts as a career (or in academia?), or just a life-long reader and listener?

      Emily

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