Monday, August 08, 2022

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on Valéry and Musil

D.W. Buffa's recent novel is The Privilege, the ninth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. The tenth, Lunatic Carnival, will be published this month. He has also just published Neumann's Last Concert, the fourth novel in a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, finally,  America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Buffa's "Third Reading" of Paul Valéry's “The Crisis of the Mind” and Robert Musil's A Man Without Qualities begins:
At the end of the l9th century, Friedrich Nietzsche, according to one of his most profound students, “sought, by a new beginning, to retrieve antiquity from the emptiness of modernity and, with this experiment, vanished into the darkness of insanity.” Only a few years later, the First World War - The Great War, as it was called at the time - made it obvious to two of the greatest writers of the time that, with “the emptiness of modernity,” Europe itself had descended into madness.

Paul Valéry, one of the most famous French writers, understood that beyond the millions of men slain, something had broken, something fundamental had changed.

“The illusion of a European culture has been lost,” he wrote in his l9l9 essay, “The Crisis of the Mind.” Instead of a culture, there was nothing but disorder in the mind of Europe. What made this disorder? “The free co-existence, in all its cultivated minds, of the most dissimilar ideas, the most contradictory principles of life and learning.” In l914, just before the war broke out, “Every mind of any scope was a crossroads for all shades of opinion; every thinker was an international exposition of thought.”

In the absence of a culture, a way of life that believed in itself, the mechanical and technological forces let loose by modern science had been building a world of its own. Valéry believed that...[read on]
About Buffa's new novel Neumann’s Last Concert, from the publisher:
Neumann’s Last Concert is a story about music and war and the search for what led to the greatest evil in modern history. It is the story of an American boy, Wilfred Malone, who lost his father in the early days of the Second World War and a German refugee, Isaac Neumann, the greatest concert pianist of his age when he lived in Berlin, but who now lives, anonymous and alone, in a single rented room in a small town a few miles from San Francisco.

Wilfred has a genius for the piano, “a keen curiosity not yet corrupted by vanity” and “a memory that forgot nothing essential.” Neumann, alone in his room, is constantly writing, an endless labyrinth of questions and answers, driving him farther and farther back into the past, searching for the causes, searching for the meaning, of what happened in Germany, trying to understand what had led him, a German Jew, to stay in Germany when he could have left but instead continued to perform right up to the night that during his last concert they took his wife away.

Neumann’s Last Concert is a novel about the great catastrophe of the 20th century and the way in which music, great music, preserves both the hope of human decency amidst the carnage of human insanity and the possibility of what human beings might still accomplish.
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

--Marshal Zeringue