The Paris Review Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Mann’

Reader’s Block

August 22, 2013 | by

bookstacklarrge

For a year and a half I read Helen Lowe-Porter’s sauntering, elegant translation of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain at the rate of about one paragraph a day. For months I envisioned Hans Castorp lighting up his Maria Mancinis or gazing at Frau Chauchat’s creamy white arm curving along the back of a dinner chair. The sentences were amplified with a key transitive verb or with a subtle detail of winter in Davos and then slowly unfurled. Inevitably, several sentences in, I would put the book down and polish some sentences of my own. This happened nightly. I made it through three-quarters of the book, to the point just after (spoiler alert) Joachim dies, and I cried again, just as I had a decade earlier when I first read the entire novel.

During the day, I’d go to the writers’ space I belonged to in Brooklyn, a gloomy place filled with dark cubicles, and write all day. Never once did I flip open a book. That was for nighttime reading and always Thomas Mann. He, or rather Lowe-Porter, had the right tone for the book I was writing.

Nearly two years later, dozens of books lie scattered on the floor beneath my bookshelves. Some are piled on top. These are the books I mean to read. Many I ordered in one fell swoop from Open Letter Books. Others are offbeat wonders from the NYRB Classics. A handful are poetry books that I’ve read and re-read for decades. But you don’t read poems as much as you hear them in your head. They go on and on, with no end and no beginning, as T. S. Eliot might have said. But you can, of course, read fiction. My neglected authors are an eclectic mix: César Aira, Willa Cather, Roberto Bolaño, Tanizaki, Sholem Aleichem, Thirty Umrigar, Mercè Rodoreda, Jean Genet, Natalie Sarraute, Jennifer Egan, Tessa Hadley, Christina Stead, Don DeLillo, and a dozen or so books by friends, which I promised I’d get to “immediately.” I envy my multi-tasking friends who read voraciously while they write.

It started to worry me a little. I picked up books I knew I loved—like The Magic Mountain or The Master and Margarita—and put them down again after lingering over select pages. I made it part of the way through infuriatingly opaque books, including Gombrowicz’s Cosmos and emotionally compelling ones, such as Sebastian Barry’s The Secret Scripture, a beautifully composed and moving book told in the alternating voices of a 100-year-old woman and her therapist in the asylum where she lived out most of her adult life. It takes place in Sligo, a word that makes me swoon. Sligo County in Ireland is the setting for W. B. Yeats’ famous poem, “Lake Isle of Innisfree,” where he hoped to put his clay- and wattles-made cabin “and live alone in the bee loud glade.” Still, I put the book down. Read More »

5 COMMENTS

Enttäuschung

June 6, 2013 | by

01_1153576

“In books we never find anything but ourselves. Strangely enough, that always gives us great pleasure, and we say the author is a genius.” ―Thomas Mann

 

NO COMMENTS

Natural History: Adalbert Stifter

May 20, 2013 | by

Statute of Stifter, Linz.

Statute of Stifter, Linz.

My literary hero, Adalbert Stifter, was introduced to me by a professor of German studies during my sophomore year at Binghamton University. At the time, I lived alone in a studio apartment on the west side of Binghamton, a small city in upstate New York crippled by its loss of the computer and defense industries. The low standard of living and high crime rate, palpable even in the city’s nicer parts, are all the more jarring for the beautiful view of the Catskill Mountains that graces the area. At the end of the school year, the cold lifts, the rains stop, and the weather turns mild. The air, normally raw and wet, is balmy, and thick with the smell of pine.

In an e-mail, I expressed particular curiosity about the desiccated natural landscapes in Thomas Bernhard’s novels, and my professor suggested that I read Adalbert Stifter, an Austrian author who, despite the endorsements of Thomas Mann and W.G. Sebald, is remembered as a hokey sentimentalist, interested mostly in mountains and flowers.. The stories, novellas, and novels for which Stifter is known were written at the height of the Biedermeier period, a time of bourgeois reaction after the catastrophic, continent-wide destruction unleashed by the Napoleonic Wars. Beidermeier culture was fond of middle-class comfort, of painted plates, copper prints, simple furniture, and little knickknacks. Rather than challenge the political repression of post-Metternich Europe and take stock of the hopes for equality and immediacy in human relations shattered by the failed revolutions of 1848–49, the German-speaking world of Stifter’s time withdrew into the home, the family, and from there, into a world of fantasy.

Desperate for my professor’s guidance and approval, I found Stifter’s novella collection Bunte Steine (Many-Colored Stones) in the deathly quiet German-language stacks of Bartle Library. Read More »

4 COMMENTS

Dear Paris Review, Where Do I Publish?

July 20, 2012 | by

Dear Editors:

Have made writing full time. Have novel and short essays. Attended NYU’s Summer Writer program last year. Would you have a good list of places for submissions beyond The Paris Review, The New Yorker and The New York Times? Thank you for reaching out via Twitter and offering some of us (hopefully lovable) newbies some guidance.

Dear Newbie,

We get asked this a lot. It’s a reasonable question, but it always makes our hearts sink.

Here’s the thing: no matter how many classes you take, no matter how much time you spend at the keyboard, you cannot write seriously unless you read. And that means, partly, reading your contemporaries. Their problems are your problems; you can’t write—that is, you can’t write for serious readers—until you know what the problems are. Read More »

28 COMMENTS

Wednesday: Me

June 13, 2012 | by

A page from Gombrowicz's diary.

Yesterday at the Polish Club, I dropped by right at the end of the steamrollering of my soul and works. The paper that was positive about me was the work of Karol Swierczewski and Mrs. Jezierska read a paper against. A discussion followed at whose conclusion I appeared.

Thomas Mann, an experienced connoisseur in these matters, said that an art that grows in the light of recognition from the very beginning will undoubtedly be different from an art that must win a place for itself with difficulty, and at the price of much humiliation. How would my work have looked if from its very inception it had been crowned with a laurel wreath; if even today, so many years later, I did not have to devote myself to it as to something forbidden, shameful, and inappropriate? Read More »

NO COMMENTS

Literary Paint Chips: Gallery 2

May 2, 2012 | by

Paint Samples, suitable for the home, sourced from colors in literature. As seen in our two-hundredth issue. See Gallery 1 here.

Havisham’s Complexion1 Anti-Sex Scarlet2 Plum Purple3 Closed Eyelid4
Green Paste5 Rain Stone6 Nothing7 Esther’s Sauce8
Anthracite Brazier9 Dove10 Encrimsoned11 Foul Mood12
Snot13 Eyes14 Aschenbach’s Youth15 Saffron Silk16
Elm Shadow17 Paris18 Paper Smell19 England20
Rat Brown21 20,00022 Dorian Scarlet23 Lilac Ocean24
Basking Pear25 March Morning26 Sour Apple27 Gulag28

Annotations

  1. “ ‘Dear Miss Havisham,’ said Miss Sarah Pocket. ‘How well you look!’ ‘I do not,’ returned Miss Havisham.‘I am yellow skin and bone.’” ‘Great Expectations,’ Charles Dickens.
  2. “A narrow scarlet sash, emblem of the Junior Anti-Sex League, was wound several times round the waist of her overalls, just tightly enough to bring out the shapeliness of her hips.” ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’ George Orwell.
  3. “ ‘Not those socks, Jeeves,’ I said,gulping a bit but having a dash at the careless, off-hand tone. ‘Give me the purple ones.’ ‘I beg your pardon, sir?’ ‘Those jolly purple ones.’ ‘Very good, sir.’ ” ‘The Inimitable Jeeves,’ P. G. Wode- house.
  4. “I pulled up my feet, bent my knees, and rested my chin on my hand. Then I closed my eyes. Still no sounds. The darkness behind my closed eyelids was like the cloud-covered sky, but the gray was somewhat deeper.” ‘The Wind-up Bird Chronicle,’ Haruki Murakami.
  5. “I bought makeup in tubes off a rack, and in the cold and dirty toilet of the gas station, I attempted a transformation, slapping buff-colored liquid over my face and rubbing green paste on my eyelids.” “Dulse,” Alice Munro.
  6. “A rainstorm would last hours, soaking the ruined outbuilding nearby, darkening its stones.” “St. Martin,” Lydia Davis.
  7. “Taken to his uncle’s house once, he had stumbled on her in the soft pink bedroom. Ida had just emerged from her bath and she sat in a powder blue nothing before a mirror at a little table crammed with jars.” ‘The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz,’ Mordecai Richler.
  8. “He taught me how to eat avocados by melting grape jelly and french dress- ing together in a saucepan and filling the cup of the pear with the garnet sauce.” ‘The Bell Jar,’ Sylvia Plath.
  9. “At the street corner there was a brazier alight, the red cones of anthracite beautifully glowing, and a whiff of heat shedding from it.” ‘Girls in Their Married Bliss,’ Edna O’Brien.
  10. “Passersby, who, of course, stopped and stared, had just time to see a face of the very greatest importance against the dove-gray upholstery, before a male hand drew the blind and there was nothing to be seen except a square of dove gray.” ‘Mrs. Dalloway,’ Virginia Woolf.
  11. “Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the trellised panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around.” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Edgar Allan Poe.
  12. “At home I’d slept for several hours then woke to a blue light and in a foul mood.” ‘Ticknor,’ Sheila Heti.
  13. “Tom was crying. He put his knuckles in his eyes the way little girls do on biscuit tin lids. A large tube of green snot hung out of one nostril, and when he sniffed it bobbed out of sight.” ‘The Cement Garden,’ Ian McEwan.
  14. “Pretty eyes. Pretty blue eyes. Big blue pretty eyes. Run, Jip, run. Jip runs, Alice runs. Alice has blue eyes. Jerry has blue eyes. Jerry runs. Alice runs. They run with their blue eyes. Four blue eyes. Four pretty blue eyes. Blue-sky eyes. Blue-like Mrs. Forrest’s blue blouse eyes. Morning-glory-blue-eyes. Alice-and-Jerry-blue-storybook-eyes.” ‘The Bluest Eye,’ Toni Morrison.
  15. “ ‘Surely you will permit me to restore what belongs to you?’ ‘How?’ asked Aschenbach. For answer the oily one washed his client’s hair in two waters, one clear and one dark, and lo, it was as black as in the days of his youth.” ‘Death in Venice,’ Thomas Mann.
  16. “But still at home, ignoring him, I’ll stay . . . Beautiful, clad in saffron silks all day.” ‘Lysistrata,’ Aristophanes.
  17. “On a sheep-cropped knoll under a clump of elms we ate the strawberries and drank the wine—as Sebastian promised, they were delicious together—and we lit fat, Turkish cigarettes and lay on our backs, Sebastian’s eyes on the leaves above him, mine on his profile, while the blue-gray smoke rose, untroubled by any wind.” ‘Brideshead Revisited,’ Evelyn Waugh.
  18. “In Paris, Cyril had a room away from his mother. I could already imagine the window open to the pink and blue sky, the wonderful sky of Paris, with the pigeons cooing on the windowsill, and with Cyril beside me on the narrow bed.” ‘Bonjour Tristesse,’ Françoise Sagan.
  19. “It used to disturb me at first. I thought seriously of burning the house—to reach the smell. But now I am used to it. The only thing I can think of that it is like is the color of the paper! A yellow smell.” “The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
  20. “At Gatwick they found a taxi without difficulty. It was raining, as it always seemed to be when you returned to England. Graham gazed through the speckled window. Why did every- thing green seem to have so much brown in it here? And how was it possible for things to be both damp and dusty at the same time?” ‘Before She Met Me,’ Julian Barnes.
  21. “It was a rough and ugly thing, an overall length of twenty-eight feet, a five-foot draft and just that one junk sail, but with a respectable three hundred and fifty square feet. A trim tab rudder hung on the stern. She was heavy and slow. And very ugly. I made her more ugly by painting her rat brown.” ‘The Shipping News,’ Annie Proulx.
  22. “The solar rays shone through the watery mass easily, and dissipated all color, and I clearly distinguished objects at a distance of a hundred and fifty yards. Beyond that the tints darkened into fine gradations of ultramarine, and faded into vague obscurity.” ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,’ Jules Verne.
  23. “His finely chiseled nostrils quivered, and some hidden nerve shook the scarlet of his lips and left them trembling.” ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray,’ Oscar Wilde.
  24. “The sky turns a soft lilac. Seeing this magnificent, enchanting sky, the ocean frowns at first, but soon itself takes on such tender, joyful, passionate colors as human tongue can hardly name.” “Gusev,” Anton Chekhov.
  25. “Grapes for the asking, / Pears red with basking / Out in the sun, / Plums on their twigs; / Pluck them and suck them, / Pomegranates, figs.” “Goblin Market,” Christina Rossetti.
  26. “It was a typical March morning when we got up to drive them to the train: blowy, dark, with spits of rain now and then.” ‘The Country Wife,’ Dorothy Van Doren.
  27. “White halogen off the green of the composite surface, the light out on the indoor courts at the Port Washington Tennis Academy is the color of sour apples.” ‘Infinite Jest,’ David Foster Wallace.
  28. Both of us were weak, dried out; our skin was grayish-yellow on our bones.” ‘The Gulag Archipelago,’ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

4 COMMENTS