Sunday, February 05, 2012

Down the Danube

I've taken a break from crime to read Danube, Claudio Magris' thrilling meditation on history, literature, time, national and personal identity, and just about everything else worth meditating upon.

Nothing much in it puts me in mind of crime fiction, as books outside the genre sometimes do.  But the following might interest people who think about or read ultra-violent crime fiction. It also sneers at a vogue word in arts criticism in a way you might enjoy:
"The rhetoric of transgression presents crime, maybe on account of the unhappiness which is assumed to accompany it, as carrying its own redemption, without the need for any further catharsis. Violence thereby appears as one and the same as redemption, and gives the impression of installing some kind of innocence among the psychic drives. The mystique of transgression, a word invested with edifying claptrap, deludes itself in exalting evil for evil’s sake, in contempt of all morality."
© Peter Rozovsky 2012

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26 Comments:

Anonymous solo said...

It also sneers at a vogue word in arts criticism in a way you might enjoy

It might have been enjoyable if the entire passage hadn't been claptrap itself.

A case of the pot calling the kettle black.

'Installing innocence among the psychic drives', I must remember that one.

Highfalutin' phoniness.

February 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

What can I tell you, except to suggest that you find a copy of the book (borrow it if you don't want to plunk down cash), and read a bit more of it to establish context.

But shoot, the guy's a professor; one must permit him the occasional excess.

February 05, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

The book was on the bestseller lists over twenty years ago. I ditched it after reading forty pages or so. Too many lousy passages like the one you cite.

Have you read The Name Of The Rose, Peter? Another badly written book by another Italian academic. And another from the bestseller lists. Always a bit of mystery what will grab the public's attention.

February 05, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I'm not excited about the passage, at least out of context, but the book is marvelous.

February 05, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Solo, Peter

Have either of you read A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor? For me that's the gold standard.

February 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Solo, at least I can't accuse you of not having given the book a try. What did you do, flip through it looking for the bad passages?

No, I have not read The Name of the Rose, though I am wary of its success.

February 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I highlighted the passage not because I thought it especially good, but encase it happened to mention crime and because i happened to need material for a post.

I've preferred some of the posts on German and Austrian cultural identity and tendencies, and the opening chapters' discussion of the controversies about the river's source.

February 05, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

A Time of Gifts. From the hook of holland to the middle danube:

http://www.amazon.com/Time-Gifts-Constantinople-Holland-Classics/dp/1590171659

by the great Patrick Leigh Fermor.

February 05, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, Fermor has come up in connection with my reading of Danube, maybe in some article I read about Claudio Magris. A Time of Gifts is on my list.

February 06, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Aha, thanks. And I think you've read The Road to Oxiana, which is surely funnier than most travel books.

February 06, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

The Road to Oxiana is good but the style that Robert Byron began Patrick Fermor perfected.

His like we shall not see again:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/military-obituaries/special-forces-obituaries/8568395/Sir-Patrick-Leigh-Fermor.html

February 06, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, I remember reading a Fermor obituary and being mildly surprised that he'd lived as late as he did.

February 06, 2012  
Anonymous Tim Mayer said...

You really need a spam filter...
I don't think Rome ever bridged the Danube. It marked the edge of the Roman empire.

February 06, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Love the Harwood Flooring thing. I take it your blog reaches millions.

I don't know any of the books, but don't much like the style of this one. I'm with Solo again. Still, using the Danube in order to get a grasp of the tumultuous history of central Europe is very neat.

Rome certainly extended its empire by colonizing north of the Alps and beyond the Danube. Note the many German cities that still bear names based on their Roman equivalents. Cologne and Augsburg (Augusta Vindelicorum) for example, and Trier. I went to high school in Kempten (Campodunum). See some of the Lindsey Davis novels for the Roman empire in mysteries. (Sorry, I'd have to look up the other German cities for their Latin names).

February 06, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

i.J., parts of the book more to the point than the passage I quoted deal with what Magris sees as crucial differences between German and Austrian cultural identity. Also, insofar as the Danube is a pathway between worlds, Magris sees those worlds not as Roman on one hand and barbarian on the other, but rather as German and Central European. You might interested in taking a look.

February 06, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Tim: I think one aspect of the barbarians' aspirations to Romanitas was their desire to imitate those clean Roman floors and carpets for which the empire was known. Hence the interloper's interest in this post.

Danube includes a chapter on the Roman limes, so he is certainly aware of the river as a boundary and a pathway.

February 06, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

What did you do, flip through it looking for the bad passages?

No, Peter. I waded through the first forty pages trying to avoid the bad passages. A fruitless task. It would be easier to get through a minefield. It's a long time since I tried to read it (courtesy of the library) so I've had to resort to the internet to find passages to explain how I responded to it.

Conviction, as Michelstaedter wrote, is the present possession of one's own life and one's own person, the ability to live each moment to the full, not goading oneself madly into burning it up fast and using it with a view to an all too imminent future, thus destroying it in the hope that life -- the whole of life -- may pass swiftly

To me, this passage is typical of the Magris 'style'. It promises to tell us something about conviction. But does it? Is the reader any the wiser about conviction after reading that passage. I'm not.

Who is Michelstaedter? Well, he's an Italian 'thinker' who shot himself at the age of 23. An early suicide is hardly a good source on any subjuct, except depression. But Magris will quote anyone. The book is an orgy of references. He obviously went to great pains to assemble those references and is determined to make the reader share his pain. No index card left behind.

But look at the writing there. 'The present possession of one's own life'. As opposed to what: the past or the future possession of one's own life? Or 'life - the whole of life'. There's a difference betweeen the two? Or 'one's own life and one's own person'. Try splitting the difference between those two.

I can tolerate a little hot air, but Magris' hot air could heat an entire village for a year or two.

All writers have faults. Maybe, Peter, you can see past his faults to see what is good in his writing. I can't.

February 06, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Aha! Solo won that one hands down. That's pretty awful stuff. Don't think I'll sample.

I'm not sure there is a difference between Austrians and southern Germans. Political borders do not mean much. I'm Bavarian myself. I see no difference either in temperament or culture between Bavarians and Austrians. Now between Bavarians and Prussians, there is a distinct difference. We don't much like each other. :)

As for the Danube as a demarcation line between barbarism and civilization, that would apply to the Roman empire and only to certain historical times when the Romans had a hard time subduing those ornery northern tribes and called them barbarians. Central Europeans tended to look toward the East for barbaric threats. They fought the huns (Mongolian armies)repeatedly and had trouble with the Russians in later years.

February 06, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I get the impression that Magris mentions Prussia in hushed tones only. He does have something to say about jolly old Bavarian stereotypes.

He's a pretty interesting fellow: Italian, but from Trieste. so situated himself between two worlds. Yet he has devoted his professional life to German studies. If I have time later, I'll try to find a choice (and more understated) passage on Austrians and Germans.

February 06, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

Aha! Solo won that one hands down

Really, IJ! This is not a competition. It's merely an exchange of ideas. Of course, my ideas are better than anyone else's, but that's beside the point.

February 06, 2012  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Right on, Solo! :)

Peter is a stubborn bloke.

February 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Only when I'm right.

February 07, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I was just over at GoodReads to see if Peter and I are alone in our love of this book. No, we are not. But neither are you, Solo. It seems to be a book that people either love or hate, with very few coming in in the middle.

I haven't read it for many years, so I can't join in in a more spirited defense, but I found it terrific at the time, and would hope to pay it another visit at some point.

February 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I will say in Solo's possible defense that the book seems not to lend itself to being broken down into brilliant pieces. Its leisurely pace and the wide range of its observations are what make the book.

February 07, 2012  
Blogger seana said...

I don't think Solo needs a lot of help here, Peter.

February 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'm a born humanist, trying always to understand my fellow man.

February 07, 2012  

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