Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hofmannsthal's Tale

There is a disturbing quality to the “Tale of the 672 Nights,” but it is not the fact that the story deals with death, because the death is not the death of a person but that of a cherished ideal. Hofmannsthal’s “Tale” describes the experiences of a merchant’s son. He chronicles the young man’s life as he renounces the world around him and enters into a world of pure beauty. He is captivated by the beauty of art and nature. In his isolated world, he is tended by beautiful, loyal servants and is surrounded by beautiful objects. He is even captivated by his own beauty. He is the ultimate aesthete. In this little cocoon the merchant’s son finds that he becomes filled with anxiety when he thinks too much about the lives of his servants, “…a mortal fear of the inescapability of life.” This does not translate into his own life though; he does not consider “himself” when his mind wanders off into thinking about his world. There is a strange disconnect between himself, as physical being, and his own existence within his sensitive mind. This “idyllic” world is shattered when he goes into the city, chasing after a vague mental phantom. In the city, he is a foreigner; he looks at this “real” world but he does not “feel” it. As he wanders through the city, he is, perhaps, attempting, to escape from his self-indulgent existence, but he sees “reality” as a distorted, mirror image of his isolated world. The death of the merchant’s son is really the death of the hedonistic aesthete. It is Hofmannsthal’s rejection of simply creating “art for art’s sake” since such creation means nothing in the “real” world and “it is only the things that are of greatest significance—the meaning of life, the ultimate values—that are inexpressible.” Art cannot be used as a medium which only expresses longing, but never true desire…it must have heart and passion as well in order to be valid and compelling.

No comments: