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His prose is quite wonderful - very rich and beautiful. But all the works I've read so far are short and intense, so I'll be interested to find out what the longer ones are like.
Roth is also excellent - I read his Hotel Savoy and his Confession of a Murderer may be the book I read next.
I read several of the Collected Stories of Joseph Roth recently (I was inspired after reading the wonderful Memoirs of an Anti-Semite ). So far I have read 6 or 7 of Roth's novels. I thought that the story (actually a fragment from an uncompleted novel) Strawberries was extraordinary, and Stationmaster Fallmerayer, also in the Collected Stories, wasn't far behind it.
I think it's an unduly vitriolic assessment, but Hofmann's passion is clear. I recently read The Radetzky March and nothing I've come across by Zweig matches it. Having said that, Zweig has his virtues and I don't think he can fairly be blamed for somehow usurping Roth in posterity's esteem (as Hofmann seems to believe to be the case).
I thought I'd be on board with any criticism of Zweig (whom I disliked and judiciously despised long before 2010), but Hofmann is ridiculous. Amusingly, nothing is more Zweigian than such silly frothing and righteous banging. All that wind.
There are some good bits:
‘each sentence incredibly pretentious, false and empty – the whole thing a complete void’
yet even that is marred by that weak, AWSM adolescent-speak "incredibly"--no, Zweig's rhetoric is quite credibly pretentious, false and empty; and yes, "the whole thing", his thought in sum, a complete void.
Zweig had no original ideas and no original insight about anything at all, not literature, not history, not his many biographical subjects. He was a trumpet, an instrument, not a composer. But--in that capacity, he is as informative and interesting as a film reel from 1912. His is the mentality and the voice of a culture, of a Zeitgeist--not Musil's. Not Kafka's.
As to whether he was a miserable person or not, and therefore deserves such flogging, eh, let's discuss that after we burn all of Orwell and Céline.
And I have to say Michael Hoffman himself has irritated me ever since I read his translation of Roth's Tale of the 1002nd Night. As I wrote in my review:
"Finally, I note that the translator is the much commented-on Michael Hoffman. Not only did he write what for me was an annoying introduction, but there was one place where the translation itself irritated me: there is a low-life character who doesn't speak good German, and Hoffman renders his speech in contemporary and late 20th century street slang -- it was jarring to me. I'm sure there's a way of showing that someone is speaking that way without jumping over 100 years into the future."
I read this book in 2010, so I no longer remember why the introduction annoyed me. Sometimes forgetfulness is good!
Zweig's as original as Joyce was.
You know, I might have said something halfway nice about Zweig's fiction, but statements like these almost swing me to Hofmann's side. Perhaps it's best if I just thank you for the laugh. Now we are justifying adjective like "incredible".
I wouldn't use the unique singularity of an author as a measure of quality.
Who does? Originality isn't a measure of quality, it IS a quality. Some have it, masses do not; of those that do have it, some are significant--depending on any number of other qualities--many are not.
But Zweig's lack of originality is hardly his biggest problem--IMO, his deplorable style and lack of taste are far worse faults. At least as long as we are talking about fiction. Unfortunately, he didn't limit himself to stories. I have no idea how aware his Anglo public may be of his literary criticism, biographies, essays--this is where the poverty of his talent and intellectual inadequacy become painfully obvious.
I'm sorry Hofmann's tone was so intemperate because I'm beginning to think he had a very good general point--it is a crying shame that people might be wasting their time reading Zweig IF they are neglecting others incomparably more worthy of it.
'originality' wasn't a big issue in literature until the 19th century at the earliest, and that hoards of esteemed works to this very day (The Tin Drum vs. Midnight's Children, anyone?) rip off of others like there's no tomorrow,
I didnʻt know, consciously at least, that "originality in lit is a l9th c." primary value. I donʻt accept it, as is, but IN CONTEXT OF HISTORICAL CHANGES of Form, Style, Treatment of Subjects, Technical Use of Language, etc., I think Korrick may be right. INDIVIDUALISM from an Individualistic "take" on originality is new in that we now tend to crave NOVELTY for Originality. This is not what Lola means, exactly, of course. But it is what she is leaning into saying. Our insistence on individualism means originality/novelty wouldʻdeny the importance of the earlier consensus on the community as the judge of what is important in traditional literature, e.g. Homerʻs epics, Beowulf, where novelty was a part of the idea and expression and not an adjunct of them. These are original by standards so different from those of our individualistic concepts of freedom (political, humanly inherent, right to expressions not traditional).
Plato was not traditional at all, as far as poetry was concerned -- and he was right. But his insights or Socratesʻ insights (which he presented but also was free to disagree with!) are not based on the more egoistic concept of WHO is writing than on the sense of Whatʻs New because thatʻs how it needs to be for what needs expressing. Anyway, I love Joyce but it took me years of maturity to get here; however, I loved Zweig and would make no excuses. Lola thinks his style was wanting. I thought it was "mesmerizing." I come from an ORAL TRADITION and love it. The WRITTEN TRADITION is a late acknowledged concept (Eric Havelock on the Greek Thinking and Writing, etc., or Walter Ong on Orality and Literacy. TOMCATMURR said something very interesting in the Topic Poetry Fool: that a certain line of a poem presented was "prose" not "poetry" -- he then rewrote the lines as prose lines; he was right. BUT HE WAS RIGHT ONLY BECAUSE HE WAS READING THE TEXT and figuring out the RHYTHMS SILENTLY IN HIS HEAD, not READING THEM OUT, as the
writer/poet had written them out, in verse forms. Well, Korrick and I will stand by Zweig (even in AMOK!, although I would not insist that means heʻs the best for all times. Not everybody needs to read GREAT LITERATURE as though itʻs bread and water for every day; OUR TIMESʻ "greats" would probably shock Homer, but probably not offend him. GREAT is relative. ORALITY AND WRITTEN too are relative, because all written is based originally on speakings from which literary "voices" come.ʻ
I consider Prose and Poetry not a useful distinction, only a general guide -- weʻve gone too far in both, itʻs hard to keep up. Look at Paul Celanʻs SELECTIONS (tr. P. Joris)!
Garcia Marquezʻs (tr. Gregory Rabassa) ! They came out of different personal histories though overlapping times. But the so-called THIRD WORLD of which Ong (ORALITY AND LITERACY) and Albert Lord (SINGER OF TALES) and in a precedent way Eric Havelock (PREFACE TO PLATO) now challenges us to reconsider how superficial, comparatively, each extreme is. Like each blade of grass is a mystery even when identified, classified? Or is that a stretch?
Summary: Some novels like Zweigʻs and Maughamʻs are STORY-TELLING novels.
Earlier stories were story-telling too, but distinctions made between anecdotes, tales, and (in hawaiian) Long Winding Accounts (history, biography). The POINT, so clear in intellectual novels of the West, is embedded, on different levels for different cultures and times (e.g., in Polynesia, for chiefs, for administrators, for non-chiefs, in what persists today in the Kingdom of Tonga, as 3 concurrent languages). In the latter, which looks simpler to a Westerner (with models of Western Lit., and its distinctions and definitions theoretical and practical and factual) the embedments were highly SYMBOLIC but interpretable in slanting ways (simple for children, etc.), and the symbolism not accessible on All levels by all the interested. That STORY-TELLING embedded form, in that old language of great restraint in the poetry, is very, very difficult to execute today in the Pacific -- and I am sure many of the African literatures that Ong was so familiar with. All societies start simple, i.e., there, where childrenʻs stories are. Story-telling is CORE to all prose, though devised differently by art form, e.g., of which the introduction to musical instruments PETE AND THE WOLF is uncannily true. And it can certainly be GREAT, as the Grimm Brothers FolkTales are, simple and yet not. Andersonʻs is more literary. The KALEVALA is genuinely folk, ed. by Lonnrot. Writing (Lit.) societies abstracted storytelling ways of speech, devised alternative forms of retellings etc. and so rightly claim their sophistication is superior supposedly to what oral and oral in writing (like the Grimmsʻ) "simpler" societies have. (In the Pacific, editors like M.W. Beckwith calls much of the greatest work HE TUMULIPO --boring repetitions and rituals. And they are unless one understands the refinements of the language and social norms of delivery.) They are superior also, however, to other examples of the same specific societies. They do not aim for the same quality or vintage or class or order of writing as the West; so now there is a neglected area of study long overdue attention: ORATURE. Speakings in Written Forms of Serious Story Modes (including for dance, and memorization of group chants).
I love Linguistics precisely because it keeps to the basics, which contemporay Western societies understandably forget, easily, from having many options and wonderful technology, a fine curiosity, a pioneering spirit, and relative openess. But much of our best writing ends being read (silently --time is money) mainly by our academic friends.
Slam Poetry, however unsophisticated it appears as popular, is putting poetry back into SPOKEN FORM. And itʻs the young people of a new generation thatʻs teaching us thatʻs where we first lived in our hearts and minds, ears, feelings, and thoughts. Itʻs distinguishedly primitive.
Somewhat as Picasso loved African art, despite the great achievement of French art in his time.
I think my experience with Zweig is still too limited to dive into the criticism morass.
When I think of novels that that wade into a partially imaginary Austro-Hungarian region of yesteryear it is always Gyula Krudy who floats to the top for me. I can never really remember the plot, of Sunflower (I think it was more experiential rather than plot driven) but I have a strong visceral memory of what it felt like to read it.
A further recommendation (from NYRB): Dezső Kosztolányi's very fine Skylark.