I recently have enjoyed a couple works by Thomas Mann, neither of which I had read before. The Magic Mountain was especially good, though I liked The Transposed Heads even better. Therefore, I was excited to begin The Black Swan, a novella first published in 1954. I have to say I ended up somewhat disappointed. The Black Swan combines an odd mix of impending mortality with sexual renewal in the form of the protagonist Rosalie, a 50 year old widow. Mann’s exploration of social attitudes towards Rosalie’s temporary sexual awakening reminds the reader of his 1912 Death in Venice (incidentally, not a favorite of mine either!). Still, its exploration of body and soul and the relationship of such to nature and harmony, in youth and age, is thought-provoking. For instance:
But consider: Body and soul are one; the psychological is no less a part of Nature than the physical; Nature takes in the psychological too, and you needn’t be afraid that your psyche can long remain out of harmony with the natural change in your body….For it is the body that moulds the soul, in accordance with its own condition.
Youth and its conflict with age is often reflected upon, and here is nailed perfectly:
It was strange and to a certain degree painful that in life shyness was the rule between youth and age. Youth was reserved in the presence of age because it expected no understanding of its green time of life from age’s dignity, and age feared youth because, though admiring it whole-heartedly, simply as youth, age considered it due to its dignity to conceal its admiration under mockery and assumed condensation.
Youth is feminine, and age’s relationship to it is masculine, but age is not happy and confident in its desire, it is full of shame and fear before youth and before all of Nature, because of its unfitness.
Nature is always the catalyst:
…Nature can make the soul flower miraculously, when it is late, even too late–flower in love, desire and jealousy, as I am experiencing in blissful torment.
Probably the greatest take away from Mann’s reflections is the necessary synchronization between one’s actions and their convictions, through which one can be in equilibrium with Nature:
Harmony between body and soul is certainly a good and necessary thing, and you are proud and happy because Nature, your beloved Nature, has granted it to you in a way that is almost miraculous. But harmony between one’s life and one’s innate moral convictions is, in the end, even more necessary, and where it is disrupted the only result can be emotional disruption, and that means unhappiness.
Death is necessary for life, it is what makes life flower:
But how should there be spring without death? Indeed, death is a great instrument of life, and if for me it borrowed the guise of resurrection, of the joy of love, that was not a lie, but goodness and mercy.
This edition from the Limited Editions Club, designed by Kim Shkapich, is quite stunning in its luxuriously soft full brown calf leather (which, unfortunately, has been extremely prone to spine fading). The interior design is appropriately quite modern. The text, set by Dan Carr and Julia Ferrari at the Golgonooza Letter Foundry, is in 18 point Monotype Gill Sans. It really is quite interesting, and I found it, with the spacing, quite pleasurable to read, though perhaps a bit monotonous. The paper, like the binding, is super luxurious to feel. The text was printed, by Heritage Printers, Inc., on mould-made Rives Buff Text. The illustrations were printed, at the Pondside Press, in Rives Buff Cover, which carries a slightly more creamy color than the Text paper and provides an excellent canvas for the illustrations. Speaking of illustrations, there are eight interesting, apropos and extremely well reproduced lithographs by John Hejduk (1929-2000). Hejduk was a prominent American architect and artist famous more his modernist exploration of space via cubes, grids, curves and planes, the style of which is well represented in the lithographs in this edition. The wiki article on Hejduk interestingly notes that he “moved away from his interests in favor of free-hand “figure/objects” influenced by mythology and spirituality, clearly expressing the nature of his poetry.” This seems to also be represented in this edition, as you can see in ‘Sample Illustration 5’ below.
About the Edition
- Designed by Kim Shkapich
- Eight lithographs by John Hejduk
- Lithographs printed at Pondside Press by Melissa and Ted Braggins
- Paper for lithographs is Rives Buff Cover
- Translation by Willard R. Trask
- Afterword by David Shiparo
- Text set in 18 point Monotype Gill Sans by Dan Carr and Julia Ferrari at Golgonooza Letter Foundry
- Paper is mould-made Rives Buff Text
- Bound at Jovanis Bindery in full brown calf in a black linen slipcase
- Limited to 375 copies
- Printed by Heritage Printers, Inc.
- Signed by John Hejduk
Pictures of the Edition
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