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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

THE   NOVEL   OF   IMPRESSIONISM                   315

cesses; and culture, he shows, is the effort of man to extricate his
mind from the swathing folds of these myths by piercing to the
sense of the symbol. Knowledge unifies the myriad myths of history
and religions as the multiple but identical imaginative shaping,
ever repeated though varied, of processes mysterious and mira-
culous to the primitive mind, particularly the sexual act (=burial
in the pit), birth ( = resurrection from the pit), and death (=birth;
for ail that is buried - as: seed in slime - is reborn). The divine is
split into male and female; but these are one, because they are one
principle. The animal gods of Egypt are easily intelligible as deifi-
cations of the animal functions of man: the ^baumelnde Hoden* of
the god-bulls, the phallic spears of temples reared at the sun, and
so much besides that Thomas Mann with gentle irony illuminates.
The most daring interpretation is that of the Resurrection of Christ
as ewige Wlederkehr and as a birth-myth: *BSr' means so much -
hole, prison, pit, underworld; and in Mann's story a stone is rolled
away from the pit into which Joseph has been cast by his brethren.
But though the elucidation of procreation myths is the crimson
thread that binds the succession of tales, there is interwoven too
in moving fashion a picture of the gradual creation of the idea of
God by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: God as He evolves for them
is that which consecrates to higher duties (that is, to humanity and
culture); and if Jewish religion, created as it is by the spirit, still
retains in veiled form the sexual symbols by which primitive man
imaged his gods Joseph (and by implication Christ, as Joseph re-
turning) marks the ultimate spirituaiization of life. If there were
only this far-cast net of thought in the work, it would be philo-
sophy rather than literature; but to the general reader the lure of the
tales will be in the superb characterization., particularly of Jaakob,
a monumental and tragic figure; and in the vivid poetic realism of
certain episodes - the birth of Reuben, Jaakob's marriage-night
with Rachel and the nine times repeated frenzied union. Most
curiously elaborated is the temptation of Joseph by Potiphar's
wife; and if Philipp von Zesen in his seventeenth-century novel of
Assenat und Joseph (1670) - a related experiment in the cramming
of encyclopaedic knowledge into a tale showing the present in the
past - makes this lady psychologically possible, Thomas Mann
gives inevitability to her stung passion - not only is her 'husband'
a eunuch priest, not only is she obsessed by the phallic ritual of
Egyptian deities, but the poignancy of the situation is accentuated