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8.7.08

À mon chevet: Doktor Faustus

Joseph Kerman, Opera and the Morbidity of Music
À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.
Here let me be bold enough to express an opinion born of the experiences of our own time. To a friend of enlightenment the word and conception "the folk" has always something anachronistic and alarming about it; he knows that you need only tell a crowd they are "the folk" to stir them up to all sorts of reactionary evil. What all has not happened before our eyes -- or just not quite before our eyes -- in the name of "the folk," though it could never have happened in the name of God or humanity or the law! But it is the fact that actually the folk remain the folk, at least in a certain stratum of its being, the archaic; and people from Little Brassfounder's Alley and round about, people who voted the Social-Democratic ticket at the polls, are at the same time capable of seeing something daemonic in the poverty of a little old woman who cannot afford a lodging above-ground. They will clutch their children to them when she approaches, to save them from the evil eye. And if such an old soul should have to burn again today, by no means an impossible prospect, were even a few things different, "the folk" would stand and gape behind the barriers erected by the Mayor, but they would probably not rebel. -- I speak of the folk; but this old, folkish layer survives in us all, and to speak as I really think, I do not consider religion the most adequate means of keeping it under lock and key. For that, literature alone avails, humanistic science, the ideal of the free and beautiful human being.

-- Thomas Mann, Doktor Faustus: Das Leben des deutschen Tonsetzers Adrian Leverkühn, erzählt von einem Freunde (1947, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter), Chapter 6, pp. 37-38
Alex Ross put the idea to read this book in my head, by quoting it so often in his recent book The Rest Is Noise. The translation featured in the link at right is not the same as the one quoted here, inherited from my wife's late father.

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