Academic journal article German Quarterly

Overturning Dr. Faustus. Rereading Thomas Mann's Novel in Light of Observations of a Non-Political Man

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Overturning Dr. Faustus. Rereading Thomas Mann's Novel in Light of Observations of a Non-Political Man

Article excerpt

Lee, Frances. Overturning Dr. Faustus. Rereading Thomas Mann's Novel in Light of Observations of a Non-Political Man. Rochester: Camden House 2007. 320 pp. $75.00 hardcover.

Frances Lee's reading of Thomas Mann's novel Doktor Faustus contradicts the vast majority of interpretations and throws over board a number of assumptions often taken for granted. According to Lee, there is no evidence that Adrian Le verkühn's person and life parallels the rise of German fascism, nor that the narrator, Serenus Zeitblom, represents Thomas Mann's own point of view. On the contrary, Leverkühn, the protestant German artist, stands for democracy whereas the catholic classicist Zeitblom supports fascism and Nazism, and is to be seen as an unreliable narrator who misunderstands Adrian, misinterprets his work, and misrepresents his life. In Lee's reading, Adrian's "sin" is the fact that his Apocalypsis cum figuris was, against its intention, misused by the fascists who interpreted it as supporting their movement, although, unlike Zeitblom, he zealously supports the Weimar Republic and rejects all fascist and nationalist thought.

Lee's starting point is Mann's 1918 book Observations of a Non-Political Man, which, she suggests, should not only be taken seriously asa political philosophy but should also be regarded as intrinsically related to the novel. Most importantly, theZivilisationsliterat against whose left-wing radicalism Mann had warned in his book-length essay, reappears in the novel as its right-wing counterpart: Zeitblom bears many characteristics of the Zivilisationsliterat, Let argues, for example the tendency to find sexual explanations for anything - the only difference being that he is not a communist but supports Hitler and Nazism. In this light Lee analyzes the novel, not taking Zeitbloms narration as a matter of fact, but rather reading most of it as his interpretation or misrepresentation of events. WhUe some scholars do not trust Zeitblom's account either, Lee is the first who on this basis tries to offer a consistent reading, allowing her to close some gaps usually accepted as remaining inconsistencies in the novel. Lee's reading is most convincing where Zeitblom is concerned. He is indeed a politically obscure figure with a more or less obvious predisposition for fascism, who does not always appear to provide an honest account of, for instance, why he knows certain things he has not witnessed in person. …

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