Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I was just rereading a bit of How Fiction Works by James Wood and I think my favourite bit in the whole book is this little section on "capturing a central human truth":

"There is such a moment in The Radetzky March, when the old captain visits his dying servant, who is in bed, and the servant tries to click his naked heels together under the sheets... or in The Possessed, when the proud, weak governor, von Lembke, loses his control. Shouting at a group of visitors in his drawing room, he marches out only to trip on the carpet. Standing still, he looks at the carpet, and ridiculously yells, 'have it changed!' - and walks out... or when Charles Bovary returns with his wife from the grand ball at La Vaubyessard, which has so enchanted Emma, rubs his hands together and says: 'It's good to be home'... or in Sentimental Education when Frederic takes his rather humble mistress to Fontainebleau. She is bored but can tell that Frederic is frustrated with her lack of culture. So in one of the galleries, she looks around at the paintings and, trying to say something knowing and impressive, merely exclaims: 'All this brings back memories!'... or when, after his divorce, Anna Karenina's husband, the stiff and joyless civil servant, goes around introducing himself with the line: 'You are acquainted with my grief?'

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"My name is a brand name, and whoever uses this brand name has to pay for it."
- Bertolt Brecht in 1929, quoted in The Life and Lies of Bertolt Brecht by John Fuegi

Fascinating to find an arch-Marxist anticipating Warhol's idea of the artist-as-corporation.

Unrelatedly, the book also reveals that Brecht circulated explicitly gay sonnets under Thomas Mann's name as a means of attack on Mann.
"Arnold Schoenberg (1874-1951) was particularly displeased with Thomas Mann for having presented Adrian Leverkuhn [the protagonist of Mann's novel Doctor Faustus (1947)] as the inventor of the dodecaphonic method without even mentioning Schoenberg's name. In Febuary 1948 Schoenberg sent Thomas Mann an article which he had composed for an imaginary 'Encyclopaedia Americana' for the year 1988. Writing under the pseudonym Hugo Triebsamen, he attempted to suggest the damage which he believed the character of Leverkuhn could well inflict upon his own subsequent reputation. The article presents Thomas Mann as a writer who was originally a musician and the true inventor of the dodecaphonic technique. The writer suffers in silence when a certain thieving composer called Schoenberg appropriates this discovery for himself. It is only in Doctor Faustus that the writer openly proclaims this spiritual-musical property as his own."

- from the notes on Theodor W. Adorno and Thomas Mann: Correspondence 1943-1955, ed. Christoph Godde and Thomas Sprecher, trans. Nicholas Walker

Mann later tried to placate Schoenberg but he did not succeed. The invention of real things is an interesting problem in fiction: I had always wondered about The Hudsucker Proxy, in which Tim Robbins' character "invents" the hula hoop, but Wikipedia reveals that although the Wham-O toy company repopularised the hula hoop in the late 50s, they were unable to patent it because it had been in use for thousands of years.

The letters also reveal that Mann lived long enough - by about a year - to see, and dislike, the original Paris production of Waiting For Godot. "I cannot help feeling some anxiety for the society that finds acclaimed expression in such a work."