Friday, January 30, 2009

Death of Virgil

It would be remiss not to devote an entire post to a book that took nearly a year to finish.

The work in question is Herman Broch's The Death of Virgil, which is much less a novel than it is a weapon of last resort developed in concentration camps for use against the Nazis.

The book is written in stream of consciousness fashion -- think Finnegan's Wake with half the cleverness and twice the pretension. Bosch attempts to capture the complexity of a classical symphony in language: recurring themes, exaggeration of tempo, and so forth. What this boils down to are highly repetitive sentences of amazing length -- some so many pages long that they have to be broken up arbitrarily into paragraphs, probably due to some publisher's equivalent of the Geneva Conventions.

It is this grandiose goal which proves the downfall of the novel, for it has quite good things to say about the nature of art, the duty of the artist, and the philosophy of death, as it were. Barring the exceedingly distracting hallucinatory episodes, there is a compelling portrait of Virgil and his times. With some restraint, either limiting the too-clever-by-half use of language, or leaving it to another (hopefully shorter) work, this could have been quite a powerful novel.

In the end, it is a prime candidate for the Emersonian technique: skim the book lightly and quickly, letting your eyes discover for themselves what they may, rather than attempting any deep or thorough immersion in the text.

No comments: