Music and Exile in Twentieth-Century German, Italian, and Polish Literature
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CitationCai, Siyu. 2021. Music and Exile in Twentieth-Century German, Italian, and Polish Literature. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractMy dissertation studies the connections between music and exile in three sets of literary works by Thomas Mann, Eugenio Montale, and Czesław Miłosz. Although rarely compared together, these three writers approach the theme of exile similarly. They share a polyphonic style that joins different voices and viewpoints led by a common subject, thus creating an illuminating dissonance that is exilic in essence. By using a musical analogy I argue that Mann, Montale, and Miłosz all long for a historically-connoted place that leads each of their voices: it is a shared fugal style that joins different voices and viewpoints led by a common subject, creating an illuminating dissonance that is exilic in essence.
My dissertation begins with the theme of descent in Mann’s 1947 novel Doktor Faustus, which was written during the author’s exile in California. Opening with an epigraph from Dante’s Inferno, Mann envisions this novel as a story of descent. I read Doktor Faustus together with Theodor Adorno’s Philosophy of New Music, as they both tie the origin of music to the myth of Orpheus. While drawing parallels between literature and music, I pay particular attention to Mann’s technique of interweaving various narrative strands, which he began to practice with his first novel Buddenbrooks and the musical aspect of exilic expressions within these novels. Following this trajectory, Mann turns Doktor Faustus once again into an artist’s paradox, and the life story of a musician is not only a descent but also an ascent and return. I then turn to traces of paradox in Montale’s writing, which revolves around his early life in Liguria and his musical training. While Montale was not exiled physically from Italy, I argue that his poetry as well as prose are exilic and propelled by a longing for return. I also explore the relationship between Montale’s roles as a poet and a journalist, in particular the question of form and how he engages dialectically with cultural and social criticism. In the end, I look into the works Miłosz, which reveal a similar artist’s paradox. On the one hand, this paradox concerns Miłosz’s exilic mentality that begins with his conflicted identity as a child of Europe, a similar crisis that Mann once explored in his early novella Tonio Kröger. On the other hand, Miłosz’s search for a more spacious form comes close to Montale’s vision for prose. Although having taken separate journeys, the voices of Mann, Montale, and Miłosz all come together in their hope for an earthly return.
As a comparative study, my dissertation brings together three sets of literary works from three literatures, and my choice of texts also derives from three genres—novel, artistic prose, and poetry. As I explore the connections between music and literature within each set of works, I also place them in the historical context. These spatial and temporal threads, disconnected as they may seem, are interwoven by the common subject: exile and music. While the themes of exile and music, individually, have been touched upon in pre-existing scholarship, joining them together in comparative and interdisciplinary studies offers new perspectives in understanding the diversity of cultures. I hope my dissertation will invite more interdisciplinary and multicultural comparison within and also beyond the scope of twentieth-century Europe.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368411
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