Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: World Fiction Series)
Hannah’s departure forces Richard to realize more keenly that he lives in an empty present, a present devoid of memory, history, and personal biography. Although he ultimately—and comically—fails as a writer, his manuscript does leave a genuine trace of who he is and was. As such, it counteracts the “verbal free-for-all” and “nervous synchronism” that the narrator sees as characteristic of contemporary Germany. Strauss, through Richard, condemns those performing artists who create a false presence of a text by destroying its historical con-text, “its secret as a relic”: “In the presence of such people, memory fails us; they wipe out the written, the diachronic desire.” Writing, then, is the only means for combating the epoch’s ahistoricity, memory loss, and obsession with an all-consuming present.
Writing, however, does not have as its primary function enlightenment, either in the form of greater self-understanding or critical cultural analysis. Rather, it offers a compensation for the shallowness of experience, a momentary withdrawal from the thin and smug public sphere. Richard’s self-analysis similarly aims not to unmask the unconscious but to enrich it. He would want as his conversational partner not a disinterested psychoanalyst but a seductive tempter such as Mephisto, whose “moving concern” and “delighted interpretation” intensify Faust’s desire instead of curing him of it in Goethe’s Faust.
(The entire section is 333 words.)
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