Thursday, January 01, 2015
There is no topic more appropriate for this year, MMXV than to recommend Dr. Faustus by Thomas Mann.
If you are too lazy to read the entire book, read chapters XXII and XXV. The narrator uses roman numerals throughout and you may even be able to figure out why just from these two chapters. Roman numerals have their purpose, or at least had their purpose. When yours truly was studying for his doctorate, he was faced with the necessity of taking a course in European Intellectual History. As usual, I asked those I could believe not who was the best or easiest teacher or professor. My question was who knew his subject the best?
Well, why such a question? Easy. I found out that those who were not all that secure in their knowledge, while presenting an argument or bit of background, would often present an incomplete view. When I asked about an inherent contradiction, or asked for a bit of documentation for something that seemed a bit out of place, that professor would feel put on the defensive and react spitefully. Those who knew what they were talking about would either ask a series of questions in a Socratic manner that would lead to an understanding or simply make an appropriate citation, often lasting the rest of the hour, but they were never offended by the question.
Often, one person in particular would point out the appropriate professor, and then say “but I don’t wanna know that much!” He meant it as well.
This particular Professor of Intellectual History, then, turned out to be a veritable font of knowledge. It was 16th Century Intellectual History and he did expect a modicum of facility at reading Latin, but I felt quite prepared to undergo the task of acquiring that facility by the time the course started. It all worked out fine.
There was only one problem: at one time, I made the mistake that the problem, at least one of the major problems, of Roman Numerals was that they did not lend themselves to long division. He took issue with that and demonstrated quite extensively how to do long division using Roman Numerals. I have not been the same since.
At any rate, in Chapter XX, Mann explains the twelve tone scale in depth. He had the help of Adorno in this, and Adorno was angry that Mann did not give hum due credit for his assistance. What Adorno did not accept was the fact that once Mann researched a topic and used it in one of his novels, he instantly forgot as much of it as he could to make room for material for the next novel.
In Chapter XXV, the artist (as a young man, grin) meets with and discusses matters with the devil (the name one uses is, as the Devil explains, quite up to you as it is irrelevant considering the issues involved). There is no explicit bargain made, furthermore, although many suggest that there is. the Devil simply asserts that the deal has already been made and he simply appeared to make that point clear as some humans are a bit dense in that area.
The same point applies, by the way, to Germany.
American values are quite different that German values of the time were, so whether or not we have a bargain with the Devil is rather moot.
So, HAPPY NEW YEAR!