Watching Gattopardo

Last night, watching (for what surely was the 127th time, or was it 128th?) Visconti's Gattopardo, I paid special attention to Don Fabrizio's reflections on Sicily, Sicilian history and her people's character; they were no doubt Tommasi di Lampedusa's own (historicist) reflections, held in absolute and honest conviction that they meant something (while they don't: they are the world's purest nonsense). One wants to thank di Lampedusa for having put them in the mouth of a fictional character, where they play an important role painting the character himself: a depressed middle aged man, possibly sick, whose intellectual powers, he realizes, do not measure up to the gravity of the times, or the role he has to play in it. Had Lampedusa written a philosophico-historical treatise, he'd have made a fool of himself; thank goodness he didn't have the ambition to be a thinker and chose to be a novelist instead.

A similar relationship obtains between Thomas Mann's own powers of reflection -- mediocre at best, and actual drivel for long stretches -- and his ability to weave them into powerful novels; divided into voices and fragmented by action, thus rendered incomplete and inconclusive, the thoughts -- or snippets of thoughts, rather -- expressed by various characters in The Magic Mountain and Doktor Faustus strike as as suggestive of great depth in the same manner in which a partly clothed woman's shoulder appears to our eye far more alluring than it is, or the way in which the shadow of a hat rack, viewed obliquely may seem a mysterious figure crouching in the dark: the uknown is mysterious and seems, by virtue of its mystery, profound.


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