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Stefan Zweig, Beware of Pity

There are occasions when you meet the consummate novelist, the shamelessly perfect master of the form. You think Dang, why has it taken so long to meet, why didn't I follow up on positive leads or references earlier; and most importantly, you think Blast this perfectionist freak with his superior ability and insight. Damn his Austro-Germanic precision!

Zweig... is a master. Constructing a nearly classical novel on the inward model of a Proust by way of Nietzsche (that is, Nietzsche Lite, overtly namechecked as the greatest mind of his generation, and also as thesis-predecessor) with simple first person prose and overt precision, Zweig has the gift of realistic pacing and detailing life's happenstance meanings blended with clear moral slash didactic lines. But what I liked in particular (forgetting for the moment the explicit location in pre-war Habsburg times, their morality and language) is the neat, controlled power of his narrative causality. Situation A ineluctably leads to B and complication C and repeating defect D. You cannot anticipate his turns despite their regularity, you cannot but be drawn in. A classical theory of narrative movement and the novel could definitely source itself here. Pace, structure and thorough anticipation, each moment locking into the next. Ringo would laugh.

The thesis of pity's absorbing, corruptive dependencies is played through a coward's mind with oscillating force. The lead discovers his capacity for pity, discovering an inner life, self-analysis and his own cowardly, profound weakness and herd-conscience. Actually, it is more a study of cowardice than pity; only a coward such as Hofmiller would fall prey to the causality of pity understood in the pathetically condescending kind. Soldiers and empathy don't mix, methinks. And the histrionics may have dated for our modern, indifferent tastes; but the social difficulty of cripples in the early 20th is handled with surprising elan; the prose is everywhere perfect and crisp (and well translated), especially when drawing emotions or the subjective depth of errors. And as with Proust, Zweig is an important branch on the history of the novel as social investigation and framing device.

posted by rino breebaart  # 10:24 pm
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Alternatively, read about it at: The Slow Review or the long blog. Or even Nurture Health

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