Monday, 2 June 2008

Blogging Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann

In my teens I enjoyed what was for me a very useful correspondence with the Scottish singer/songwriter Momus (Nicholas Currie), who responded very graciously to umpteen dogged queries I had about his delightful recordings, in particular some of their literary underpinnings. I remember my chasing him about Jean Genet and he saying essentially that one or two of the plays were fine and dandy but that the novels (Our Lady of the Flowers and so forth) he planned on 'saving for his old age', along with Kafka's America. I found this very impressive, and shortly thereafter affected a similar if less meaningful stance toward the later novels of Thomas Mann. Thankfully the pose didn't last and I gave in to Doctor Faustus, of which I can say there is scarcely a novel I like better. But I was daunted still by Mann's slightly earlier tetralogy Joseph and His Brothers, all 1400+ pages of it. 'Only the exhaustive is truly interesting', Mann is believed to have said. (But then he never had to get through Crusaders.) In any event a friend has just made me an excellent present of the recent translation of Joseph by John E. Woods, and some low-but-building thrill tells me this is the very moment to crack those forbidding pages. I'm probably old enough now. But how long will the whole take me, in this age of distraction? Hard to say, maybe all year, but as a project I will log my impressions of it occasionally as I go along. Next year, I don't doubt, all the readers' groups will be at it like rats up a drainpipe...

2 comments:

Rabbi said...

Have you begun reading the book as yet? If not, I would suggest starting at p. 314 of the Woods edition. The translator, in his introduction, also suggests skipping the beginning initially, although he has a different suggestion for where to start.
If you start at p. 314, then Genesis 37 will help you stay focused on Mann.

I must confess to the one flaw in my suggestion. When, to my utter delight, I finally finished the book, I could no longer muster the strength to read the first three hundred pages.

Richard T Kelly said...

Kind reader, thank you for advising. Duly noted. Per your question, no, I still haven't cracked the spine, it's been a busy fortnight, but I have a long weekend's holiday in prospect soon and will be keen to report back thereafter...