This is the end of my third week with Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus. The week’s reading included Adrian Leverkühn’s pivotal conversation with Diabolus (or whichever nickname you’d prefer), in which the Devil offers Leverkühn a form of artistic genius, a breakthrough to art beyond parody. It is a terrific scene, contradicting those readers who expect Mann’s writing, via translator Helen Lowe-Porter, to be stuffy. This is a novel of ideas, crammed with German philosophy and musical history, but it is also written with a delicate, polished irony.
Distraction lies all around, and I am fighting the urge to read other things, grabbing snatches here and there of Heaney, Cernuda, Kate Tempest. Powerful though the densely-woven Doctor Faustus is, the dogmatic and bumbling narrator Serenus Zeitblom, Ph.D. is wearing after a few hundred pages. But I persist, drawn along as much by curiosity about the novel’s structural logic as by the need to follow Leverkühn’s fate.