perfection in narrative
None of that can begin to express the multiple layers of Mann’s narrative. Here, for instance, is one of the central passages in the progress of Aschenbach’s obsession (and one of the best examples of the loveliness of Heim’s translation). He is watching Tadzio on the beach, while still trying to convince himself that his interest is solely aesthetic or platonic. Mann moves almost effortlessly from a total identification with Aschenbach, while he contemplates the boy’s beauty, to a position of sardonic distance from Aschenbach’s increasingly inane self-justifications. It’s as if Mann empathizes — indeed identifies — with his passion, but can’t bring himself to condone it:
"[Tadzio] would stand at the edge of the sea, alone, removed from his family, quite near Aschenbach, erect, his hands clasped behind his neck, slowly rocking on the balls of his feet, staring out into the blue in reverie, while little waves rolled up and bathed his toes. The honey-colored hair fell gracefully in ringlets at the temples and the back of the neck, the sun glimmered in the down of the upper spine, the fine delineation of the ribs and symmetry of the chest stood out through the torso’s scanty cover, the armpits were still as smooth as a statue’s, the hollows of the knees glistened, and their bluish veins made the body look translucent. What discipline, what precision of thought, was conveyed by that tall, youthfully perfect physique! Yet the austere and pure will laboring in obscurity to bring the godlike statue to light — was it not known to him, familiar to him as an artist? Was it not at work in him when, chiseling with sober passion at the marble block of language, he released the slender form he had beheld in his mind and would present to the world as an effigy and mirror of spiritual beauty?"
"We are cosmically insignificant, a speck in space and a blink in time, inconceivably unimportant—except to each other, to whom we should therefore be unspeakably precious"- Dale McGowan