Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 9 (Thomas Mann)


Death in Venice
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Mann, Thomas
Death in Venice
And Seven Other Stories


Purchased at the Fordham University Bookstore. I think it was for a summer class called "Politics and the Novel," but it might have been for another one called, "The Individual vs. The Institution." Or I may have used it in both. I do remember that it was purchased not for the purpose of reading the title story, but for reading "Mario and The Magician." This recollection brings me no closer to determining which of these two courses required the book.

After college, two friends, R. and L., both women, moved to Paris to work as au pairs. I'd been closest with R., with whom I had one of those strangely undefined relationships one has at that age, wherein two people pretend that friendship should include staying up all night together talking of your deepest feelings, then sleeping in the same bed without having sex. Etc.

Anyhow, I went to visit R. and L. in Paris. I stayed with L., who lived in a hovel in the parking garage of the building she worked in, I believe on Rue John F. Kennedy. Anyhow, it was within walking distance of the Trocadero. I arrived to discover that R. had a boyfriend, an American artist who'd grown up in Brussels, and who was just finishing up art school.

His name was T., like the character in Death in Venice. (I choose not to write it out in the hope that he doesn't encounter this blog while googling himself). You can figure it out yourself -- it's the name the androgynous boy the main character lusts after.

He'd actually been named after that character by his mother. I remember he had a major mother thing going on in his life. So much so that when we saw the movie "Spanking The Monkey" together, he nearly had to leave the theater.

Anyhow, T. and I became fast friends. He was quite literary. He introduced me to the work of Paul Auster, I recall. In fact, I think he has pursued a writing career since our friendship ended. He moved to New York after he graduated and lived in a flat in Brooklyn, right underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

They used to have great parties on the roof of the building. You could look out and see all of lower Manhattan, as well as the underside of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was all very romantic.

Over the next several years we formed a kind of strange threesome. He had a love/hate relationship with the city and moved back and forth between New York and Europe. I ended up as the third wheel, helping R. process all her emotions about the relationship while he was out of the country, but remaining a platonic friend, despite the continuing sleepovers and so on.

One of the things I like about a lot of the so-called "Mumblecore" films is that they often deal with these kinds of relationships that are mostly defined by stifled desire and social anxiety. It's a relatively unexplored topic in the world of narrative art, despite its prevalence among twenty-somethings.

Eventually, I wanted more. I made my feelings known. I demanded she end it with him. She didn't. She called him. The they talked. He waited, was patient. Waited some more. She told me she'd have to see him in person. I got angry. I got impatient. Etc.

Eventually, they talked it all out. It brought them closer. Renewed their love. Etc. I never spoke of it with him until it had been settled in his favor, at which point he brought down the hatchet in one of the nastiest letters I've ever received.

This all occurred just as I was moving to Buffalo. I eventually severed ties with both of them. It was kind of sad, but I felt I really had no choice. I think they ended up getting married and moving to Africa or something.
Funny, now that I think of it, I don't think I've ever actually read Death in Venice. At least, not all the way through.

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