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Showing posts from January 17, 2010

Mann's Goethe and Tolstoy

Before I begin, I can't emphasize enough that the blog I've labelled, News from Haiti, has become essential. They are publishing a chronicle of a fairly well known Haitian writer, Lyonel Trouillot. Those who can read French should go to this site. For those who can't, I might translate some of the Trouillot articles on News from the Zona, if I have time. The one 19th century literary work that leaps most resolutely into the void of the artificial paradise is Goethe’s Faust, which from the very beginning seeks the transition from the medieval world – in which Aristotle and Nostradamus are equally valid routes to secret knowledge – to the modern world – in which there is only one route to all knowledge, and secrecy is simply a matter of encrypting. I’ve been pondering how to approach Faust for a while now, what doddering and crooked approach to make – ruled as I am by the idea that secrets cannot be dismissed so easily, nor universal history affirmed so flatly. How to c

A sense for traces

I'm going to try to tear my appalled attention away from Haiti, and begin a new thread about Goethe's Faust, book II. As Thomas Mann wrote in his essay, Goethe and Tolstoi, Goethe was a man of the 18th century whose Spuersinn - sense of traces - foresaw the 19th: "the whole social-economic development of the 19th century, the industrialization of the old cultural and agricultural lands, the domination of the machine, the rise of organized labor, the class conflicts, democracy, socialism, Americanism even, along with the sum total of intellectual and educational consequences that organically come out of these changes.” In Mann's Doktor Faustus the narrator, Zeitblum, remarks that it wasn't until the end of World War I that the ancien regime - a way of thinking stretching back to the 14th century - finally collapsed. In this respect, the "Spursinne" for what I'd call the advent of the artificial paradise has to be put in relation to the fact that, for t