Thursday, August 16, 2007

From Mann and Nabokov to Sheik al-Hilaly

Roger Sandall’s insightful piece on the response to an Islamist preacher calling scantily-clad Australian women ‘exposed meat inviting rape’ touches on Thomas Mann, Nabokov, art, ‘paederaesthetics’ and the sexualization of everyday life.

The so-called artist’s ‘gift’, wrote Thomas Mann in 1903, has dark roots in a poisoned psyche. ‘It is a very dubious affair and rests upon extremely sinister foundations.’ The world should know that most artists today are sick in mind and spirit, a danger to decent people and heedless of the damage they cause. Plumbers and carpenters and other tradesmen are reliable friends. But artists are not. ... ‘Literature is not a calling, it is a curse, believe me! It begins by your feeling yourself set apart, in a curious sort of opposition to the nice, regular people; there is a gulf of ironic sensibility, of knowledge, scepticism, disagreement, between you and the others; it grows deeper and deeper, you realize that you are alone; and from then on any rapprochement is simply hopeless! What a fate! [Tonio Kröger, Mann]’
Stephen Spender: ‘Thomas Mann is a monumental figure of our time. Reading [his] journals one feels that this monument is made of very hard, resistant, almost cruel material: but under the surface there is a human being who, together with Freud, was the greatest human being this century.’