Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on "Doctor Faustus"

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 soon. 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 Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus begins:
To have any worth at all, a course on twentieth century intellectual history would have to start with nineteenth century intellectual history, because any twentieth century intellectual history worth talking about is dependent on Friedrich Nietzsche, who died, conveniently enough, in l900, a date so perfect for the purposes of connecting the intellectual history - and perhaps not just the intellectual history - of the two centuries that it might make some wonder whether, despite what Nietzsche claimed, God is dead after all.

For at least the first third of the twentieth century, anyone who wanted to think seriously, or to write something that serious people would take seriously, read Nietzsche. The most important book of Martin Heidegger, the most profound thinker of the twentieth century, was not the famous and unfinished Being and Time, but his commentaries on Nietzsche himself. What some regard as the most profound novel of the twentieth century, Thomas Mann’s Dr. Faustus, a novel about genius and madness, has as its central character a man unmistakably based on Nietzsche.

It goes further than that. It was Nietzsche, Mann admits, “to whom I looked as a master, for from the start he was not so much for me the prophet of some kind of vague ‘superman,’ as he was for most people when he was in fashion, as rather the incomparably greatest and most experienced psychologist of decadence.” For Mann, decadence means most of what the modern world admires. Decadence meant...[read on]
About Buffa's recent 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.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

--Marshal Zeringue