Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 424

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It is not the distance of time that the reader needs to appreciate the full scope of this cryptic and unusual short story, but rather aesthetic distance, for indeed it is aesthetic reality that the story seems to be about. On the most obvious level, the story can be read as a parable of the inevitable fate of trying to live life detached from the reality of social interaction and responsibility. All the guests, after all, seem to exist solely in their devotion to realms of reality apart from the social world—that is, in the world of artifacts and the frozen world of art. The narrator is allowed to survive because, as he says, he is taken up with everyday affairs; it is indeed the everyday that the Marchesa and her guests avoid and deny.

Thus, in terms of a moral-aesthetic parable, Wolfgang Hildesheimer could be pointing out the shaky foundation of such artifice and antiquity, and thus, in a grimly amusing way, illustrating how it must inevitably come crashing down like a stack of cards. Moreover, he does not here offer anything that seems more valuable to take the place of such aesthetic values, for the world of the Marchesa seems to have no social context outside itself. The story is more likely, however, to be one in which Hildesheimer, himself an artist, an art critic, and a stage designer, seems to be creating a world of pure decor and unreality, a world of artifice, for no other reason than to play with aesthetic reality.

The problem is that in such a world of art, one cannot always distinguish between genuine art (whatever that is) and pretension and posturing. There is much name-dropping in this story, a fascination with the antique for its own sake and for its decadent quality. For example, there is the absurdity of valuing the tub in which Marat was killed, and there is the fact that the Marchesa does not seem to know, at least according to the narrator, that the sonata that she and the flutist are playing, supposedly by Antonio Giambattista Bloch, is a forgery, for no such person as Antonio Giambattista Bloch ever lived. In this sense, Hildesheimer is writing an ironic aesthetic fantasy that poses no real moral judgment, but which simply plays with the ambiguity of what is artistic and what is only posturing. Certainly the narrator himself is as guilty of such posturing as are any of the famous guests for whom the world ends at the end of this story.