Follow by Email


A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The completion of the Romantic idea of the artist: Tonio Kroger

The third section of Tomas Mann's story Tonio Kroger contains one of the greatest dialogues about art and the life of the artist(in the broadest sense - art, writing, music, etc.) - Tonio speaking (it's more of a monologue than a dialogue actually) with a Russian woman friend, a painter, in her atelier - they're both about 30 and at the outset of their careers - Tonio now a somewhat bohemian poet, left his home town in Germany, father dead, fortune mostly gone, out of touch with his mother who's remarried and traveled. Tonio discusses how artists must be sensitive to the society and world around them but must always be alien and outside of that society, looking in - that the suffering of the artist is inevitable and part of the cost of devoting one's life to art, and in fact that the true artist must give, and give up, everything - a lifetime of devotion to the calling. In one of the memorable moments, Tonio describes a military man who stands up at a party and asks permission to recite some of his poetry - how pathetic and banal. Tonio remarks that cone cannot pull a leaf from the laurel tree of art without devoting one's whole life to the effort (he says it way better than that! - the story is full of astounding aphorisms). The painter friend makes a few remarks about the importance of art for society, leading people to greatness and high aspirations and broader perspectives - all very palliative and probably true, but not nearly as romantic and dramatic as Tonio's focus on the suffering of the artist. This story summarizes and completes the great Romantic idea of the suffering artist - and has inspired and in some ways comforted thousands of young aspiring artists and writers who feel lonely and alienated and drawn to a way of life that may offer much suffering and little recognition. Whether Tonio's (and Mann's) vision of the artist is accurate or simply self-dramatizing is another matter - but the story is an encapsulation of a world view that dominated thinking for a century (the opposite from the appollonian view of the artist, serious and analytic - and probably much more like Mann himself). Reading this, you have to think ahead to Proust and Joyce, the other two great modernists who essentially stepped outside of life in order to capture their world through writing.

No comments:

Post a Comment