Saturday, November 28, 2009

Mann and myth

Thomas Mann:

For the myth is the foundation of life...Certainly when a writer has acquired the habit of regarding life as mythical and typical there comes a curious heightening of his artist temper, a new refreshment to his perceiving and shaping powers...

One might say that such a phenomenon alone could be the "lived myth"; nor should we think that it is anything novel or unknown. The life in the myth, life as a sacred repetition, is a historical form of life, for the man of ancient times lived thus...

Life, then – at any rate – significant life – was in ancient times the reconstitution of the myth in flesh and blood; it referred to and appealed to the myth; only through it, through reference to the past, could it approve itself as genuine and significant. The myth is the legitimization of life; only through and in it does life find self-awareness, sanction, consecration.

Each of these quotes comes from Mann's address i Freud and the Future. What concerns me is that he delivered this address in 1936, only a few months after Hitler entered the Rhineland, and the full evil of that lunatic's appropriation of mythology as a way of promulgating an ideology was quickly becoming evident. There is a startling naivety about it, and I do not believe that this is so only in retrospect: Mann, it seems to me, was truly naive. Of course, he later came to write Doctor Faustus, a notably darker work, so perhaps his romanticism was finally tempered by reality.

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