Tag Archives: Stefan Zwieg

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It was eerie to have stepped into this silence of the desert, and I wished to get clear away. Yet, since there did not seem to be an adequate reason for absconding, I took a place at the table and resigned myself to the inevitable.
Stefan Zweig, Moonbeam Alley (139)

IMG_0506A green paperback. Four words. The title: Kaleidiscope One, and the author: Stefan Zweig.

The main motive is dread of solitude, of the terrible feeling of aloofness which severs us one from another -Transfiguration (202)

I was trying to navigate a new library, all of the books had call numbers that I could not make sense of. YF? Was I in the Youth Fiction section? I am stereotypically male-like in my reticence to ask for directions, but I was flummoxed and the awkwardness of looking so obviously lost clinched it- I would ask the pony-tailed librarian brimming with helpful alacrity for assistance. I was of course deeply impressed with his enthusiastic explanation of their filing system- Cutter Seventh Classification.

I rejoiced to know that my feelings had merely been paralysed, and were not utterly dead; that somewhere beneath the smooth surface of my indifference volcanic passion must still be raging. -Transfiguration (189)

Earnestly and nearly embarrassedly fascinated, I listened, raptly, while he extolled the difference. This guy Cutter (an actual librarian at the library in question 1894-1903, Forbes Library) developed a system for organizing books, but somehow , over time Mr Dewey Decimal gained popularity, meanwhile the Library of Congress knew a good thing when they saw it and based their system after Cutter’s, except they, cruelly, added in decimals which is the bane of the Liberian’s assistant (or maybe just mine) shelving existence, although it seemed also to be the reason why this young man was singing the praises of Cutter Seventh Classification to me- why, I think we almost had a connection….

…behind me I heard the laughter of a woman, the bright and somewhat agitated laughter I so dearly love in women-laughter that issues from the burning bush of voluptuousness. – Transfiguration (171)

But no, I had to face the stacks alone, and while I now had an appreciation for the system, I still didn’t quite grasp it, and I so when I saw this plain green book, with the familiar name-I just grabbed it. When I got home I realized it was a series of short stories, most of which I have already read. But, that’s okay there were a few new ones in there.

Touching, too, was the eagerness with which she would scan the shabby books in the hotel library… – The Fowler Snared (270)

I skipped to Moonbeam Alley in which I was able to assemble the most comprehensive list of words to describe a wanton women I’ve ever made (strumpet- love it, harlot- a favorite, vixen, weak-minded wench, slatternly, blowzy…blowzy?) Let me quickly add that Zweig has an innate sympathy for women, despite his creative use of synonyms, the subtle and not so subtle subjugating conditions of the female were repeating themes in his work.

But as I went along, I began to understand something about Zweig and my interest in his writing. Transfiguration is a long one, but it perfectly exemplifies what it is I felt. In all of his stories there is an urgency, a burning desire for something, even if it is simply to tell the tale. The fever of his characters is palatable. His passions awaken the reader, and are well suited to the short story format he favored. Whether resolved tragically or happily (yes there are a few) his heated breathless pace warms the soul by its cautionary or sympathetic call to those that open their hearts to sense and human passion: it’s our very humanity and Zweig’s writing is a spark.

Indeed, I now realize what was still hidden from me when I took up my pen ten minutes ago, that my sole object in writing this account of the incidents is that I may hold them fast, may have them so to speak concretized before me, may enjoy their rehearsal at once emotionally and intellectually. – Transfiguration (159)

It occurred to me, as I’m currently reading Sartre’s Existentialism and Human Emotions (found in my college’s L of C system- they use the DD as well depending on the book), that literature speaks directly to essence, while libraries speak to existence. The conditions are the same for book or person- we are here, and so…what’s the essence of the pages or our hours? That burning ember within us, that the books lack, is the freedom to choose (or not choose) how to live our lives. But the books, the books can give oxygen- their whispers remind, plead, scold or extol. It is their essence that fuels our fire.

But one who understands will not judge, and will have no pride. -Transfiguration (218)

* Kaleidoscope One translated from German by Eden and Cedar Paul, Hallam Edition

Life: A Novel

Perhaps we wouldn’t have been so hard on Robson if it hadn’t been for one central, unshiftable fact: Robson was our age, he was in our terms unexceptional, and yet he had not only conspired to find a girlfriend but also, incontestably, to have sex with her. Fucking bastard!
Julian Barnes, The End of TimesDSCI0018Between the philosophically self evident events of Eros and Thanatos is a story. Julian Barnes’ latest novel The Sense of an Ending pokes serious and fun at the self evidence of our philosophically comical lives, as well as the looming retrospective that Thanatos evokes, and our ever-consuming obsession with Eros-  sought, avoided, or remorsed.

I gave her the short version of the short version, leaving out the names of the relevant philosophers. (56)

Barnes unfolds the story as a story. The first third of the book is the life of Tony as explained by Tony; most of which concentrates on his school days when saying things like “philosophically self evident” comes easily to the earnestly cynical pedant of the over-schooled English lad. But that is not the story, it is merely a novella of the life, with the occasional arch comment about whether or not his life or any other makes a good novel.

Does character develop over time? In novels, of course it does: otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a story. But in life? I sometimes wonder. (113)

The story is about life as a history. How things are remembered, or suddenly internally or externally recalled. Finding the reasons for a single event, but aware that the history of the teller matters as much as all the predicating details that led to the actual event.

But we learn something else: that the brain doesn’t like being typecast. Just when you think everything is a matter of decrease, of subtraction and division, your brain, your memory, may surprise you. (122)

Barnes’ prose are terse, witty, and slyly moving. The End of Times is funny but also left me thinking about the sad and all too frequent smothered life.

I have often wondered about the novelistic qualities of my own life, I suppose you have to get to end to see clearly the chapters or parts, ( most lives don’t develop beyond the basic part I of childhood and part II of adulthood).

“Are there any Stefan Zweig titles you would particularly recommend?” (141)

Stefan Zweig – Well, surly that’s a mention far and away enough to recommend this book. Zweig’s books are often tragic. Even so,  I think we should live our lives as novels. Why end up as some banal biography of the sort that lines the shelves in a school library? If only for the simply reason that a novel is always written for a purpose, better to be active – write it. Live it.