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The full title of this novel is "Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkühn as Told by a Friend." Mann wrote it during the latter part of World War II when he was living in exile in the United States. The Faust character in this story is a German composer named Adrian Leverkühn (1885-1940), whose biography is recounted by his childhood friend, a schoolmaster named Serenus Zeitblom. Zeitblom presents the tale in his own voice--in essence, the novel is an extended reflection on the composer’s life (the past) set into the context of the deteriorating military situation in Germany (the present) as he is writing; i.e. the same period that Mann is actually writing the novel.
Adrian Leverkühn starts out as a student of theology, but succumbs to his passion for musical composition. His early pieces, though technically skillful, lack energy and imagination. However, all this changes when the young man experiences himself as having made a pact with the devil. In a confession written years later, Adrian recounts that he "voluntarily" contracted syphilis in an encounter with a prostitute, an episode that he believed was emblematic of this Faustian bargain.
In the confession he recreates his dialog with Satan, who promises the composer an artistic breakthrough, if he agrees to forego human love. As a result of the pact, Leverkühn sets off on a brilliant 24-year career, becoming the greatest German composer of his time. Throughout the novel Serenus intersperses technical details of Leverkühn’s many compositions, culminating with his masterwork, an oratorio called "The Lamentation of Doctor Faustus."
Adrian Leverkühn had been a self-centered youth who failed to reciprocate the friendship and devotion that others, especially Serenus, had lavished upon him. As an adult he leads an austere, solitary, monk-like life. Yet, while he lives only for his music, he also yearns for love. His personal life consists of a series of aborted relationships. Leverkühn becomes attracted to a female acquaintance and asks a friend to court her for him, only to learn that she has fallen in love with the friend.
Toward the end of his career, Adrian’s 5-year-old nephew comes to live with him in the country. The nephew ignites in him another spark of love, only to be snuffed out when the boy suddenly dies of meningitis. Finally, just as he is in the process of "unveiling" his great composition to a select group of friends, Leverkühn experiences a "stroke" and lapses into a coma from which he recovers physically, but not mentally. He survives for another decade in a demented, childlike state, and cared for by his mother.
The larger theme of this somber work relates to the decline of German culture during the decades before the onset of the Nazi era. Mann explores the collapse of traditional humanism and its replacement by a mixture of sophisticated nihilism and barbaric primitivism. In "The Story of a Novel" (1949),
Mann wrote that "Dr. Faustus" was about "the flight from the difficulties of a cultural crisis into the pact with the devil; the craving of a proud mind, threatened by sterility, for an unblocking of inhibitions at any cost; and the parallel between pernicious euphoria ending in collapse with the nationalistic frenzy of Fascism." In Zeitblum’s narrative comments, Mann subtly relates the composer’s personal tragedy to Germany’s destruction in the war. Mann also claimed a "secret identity" between himself, Leverkühn, and Zeitblom.
This fairy tale by Wilhelm Grimm, rediscovered in 1983, is prefaced by a short letter to "Mili," presumably a young girl much like the one in the story; what follows is a tale designed to teach children that life can be unpredictable. The story also demonstrates, however, that the unknown can sometimes provide shelter and security even when things are not familiar.
A young widowed mother, afraid for her daughter when the village they lived in was about to be attacked by invading warriors, sends the child to hide in the forest for three days. Alone and frightened, the girl loses her way, prays to God and is led to a little house tucked away in the woods where she meets a kind old hermit, Saint Joseph.
Three days (translated thirty years earth time) later, he decides it is time for the girl to return to her mother, whose dying wish is to see her daughter once more before death. Handing Mili a rosebud, he promises that after she meets her mother, she will be able to return: "Never fear. When this rose blooms, you will be with me again." The next morning the neighbors find the child and mother together, dead in their sleep.
When 47-year-old Henry Newman experiences testicular pain, he gets little pity from his wife, Arlene. His personal physician, Dr. Vikrami (a woman who has only reluctantly examined Henry’s "private parts" in the past) schedules him for an ultrasound study of the testicles rather than examining him first. A young nurse performs the test and a female radiologist apprises Henry of the findings-- epididymitis.
A urologist confirms the diagnosis, but Henry is more interested in learning that the doctor has a twin brother who is also a urologist. Henry goes to see his 80-year-old mother who resides in a convalescent home. She pesters him about checking on the condition of his brother’s grave. His brother, Aubrey, died as an infant, and Henry was born two years later.
Henry visits the cemetery and finds the small tombstone marking Aubrey’s grave covered by weeds and bird excrement. He tidies it up. When Henry returns to the convalescent home, his mother’s bed is empty. He fears she has died but then spots her exiting a bathroom. Henry tells her that he has finally spruced up Aubrey’s grave, but she seems oblivious to his announcement and just babbles on.
Summary:Subtitled, "Essays from a Cancer Limbo Time," this collection of essays constitutes a memoir of living while dying. It was written during the time following the author’s acute treatment for Stage IV lung cancer, when she felt well enough to write--a period of approximately one year during which she was still taking oral anticancer medication. Based on journal entries and memory, Cumming reflects on what it is like to be in a state of "recovery" while at the same time, and variably, anticipating death. "I knew that my kind of cancer was not curable, and yet, for a spell, it seemed to have vanished" (xvi). How does one go about living in the face of "a very good partial response" to treatment?
Summary:Max, who has lost his wife after a long life and career together as circus acrobats, reluctantly retires to an assisted living home. There he finds unexpected friendship first in his neighbor, Lettie, a widow who has a gift for uncomplicated kindness, and Alison, a thirteen-year-old he meets when he gives juggling and stunt lessons at the local junior high. The unhealed ache of his wife's slow death from cancer makes Max skittish about opening his heart to either of them, though Lettie offers him patient companionship and Alison, full of adolescent restlessness, unfocused intelligence, and need, desperately wants something of the grandfatherly good humor and wit she finds in Max.
Mackay’s story begins in the 1940s when, at age 5, he was sent to a "boarding school" run by the Catholic order of the Pauline Brothers. Mackay’s mother had herself been institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia and his father was not in the picture. In the school Mackay was exposed to pervasive violence: "intramural" violence wherein the stronger children taunted and beat up the weaker ones; classroom violence in which the instructors slapped or beat with a razor strop those boys they deemed to be errant in any respect; organized boxing matches; and, most feared, "statutory evening punishment" where students had been selected out by a Brother to be humiliated and beaten after the evening meal and prayers. The latter violence was characterized by "the absence of mercy" and a sadistic ritualism that induced "sick-making terror" in its victims.
We follow Mackay through additional episodes of violence as he progresses through delinquent adolescence--now living in a welfare hotel with his mother--through a stint in the Navy, marriage and fatherhood, and, finally, to an episode in the New York City subway that is the crisis point of the story. In the Navy he is once again victimized by a drill instructor who humiliates Mackay into losing the "instinctive cringe" he had developed during his years at the institution.
Mackay reads in the newspaper that an old buddy--"they had suffered shame and pain together that could never be explained to anyone (38)"--has been murdered in the subway while coming to a woman’s aid. Mackay is terribly troubled by this incident, not only because of the earlier close relationship, but also because he finds himself intrigued by the story. A year later, Mackay is in a similar situation--in his presence, a well dressed but deranged man is threatening a woman in a subway station.
The Canadian narrator, Marie, is in a Paris archive, reading and translating excerpts from the diary of the Jewish mother of Marcel Proust. The entries cover the period from 1890 to 1905. Mme. Proust and her physician husband make excuses for their son's lax behavior, and they worry over his chronic asthma, his social agenda, his apparent lack of interest in women, and his risky future as a writer. Like the entire country, the Proust family divides over the anti-Semitic Dreyfus affair. Later, Mme. Proust writes of her own illness with cancer.
Nearly half a century later, young Sophie Bensimon is sent to safety in Canada from France by her Jewish parents who were never heard from again. In reaction to this loss, Sophie walls herself from emotional expression. Her childless, adoptive parents, the Plots, have difficulty understanding her return to France to search for evidence of her birth parents' demise. She too must cope with archives, papers, and bureaucracy, but she discovers some details of their fate at Auschwitz. She marries a doctor, keeps a kosher kitchen, and worries over every minor event in the life of her son, Max.
As Marie struggles against a pressing deadline to research and translate without reinterpretation, she is aware that her choices will inevitably skew her findings. With this work, she imposes herself, her tastes and her needs on another woman's past. And she remembers her passionate love for Max whose genuine fondness for her finds no sexual expression because he, like Marcel Proust, prefers men.
This documentary, narrated alternately by the daughter-filmmaker and mother whose stories it tells, focuses on how two women move apart and together while experiencing, respectively, adolescence and mid-life. The mother has cancer, a mastectomy, and then rheumatoid arthritis, and these experiences intertwine thematically and structurally with the narrative of the mother-daughter relationship.
Another provocative juxtaposition cross-cuts scenes from the daughter's modeling career (and the social and erotic body that context constructs for her) with scenes of the mother's illness, stigmatization, and erotic daydreams. Both women come to a new awareness of the social meaning of mastectomy within heterosexual and same-sex contexts by the documentary's end; they also come to a place of recognition of the mother's personal and social value and the nature of their relationship.
Three novellas by a master storyteller. For the title story, see the separate entry in this database (Epiphany). "Harmony Ain't Easy" is a tale in which Dr. and Mrs. Sams (he retains his own name here) get stranded when their car is disabled on a country road, thanks to Dr. Sams's bull-headedness. After a warmly humorous series of reverses, they are finally saved.
In the last story, "Relative and Absolute," aged Mr. McEachern is approached by three high school students who want to interview him for their oral history project. They ask him questions about living conditions and race relations in their county when he was young. During the series of interviews, as he tells them anecdote after anecdote heavy with homey wisdom, the old man and the adolescents learn to like and respect each other.
In the early 1950's, Milan, Georgia is a racially divided town where secrets are plentiful and the meaning of justice is muddled. J. T. Malone, a 40-year-old pharmacist who failed his second year of medical school, is diagnosed with leukemia and told he has only 12-15 months to live. In some ways, Malone's last year of life parallels the declining fortunes of the town's leading citizen, Judge Fox Clane, an overweight and elderly former Congressman who suffers from diabetes and a previous stroke. Judge Clane's wife died of breast cancer, his only son committed suicide, and his daughter-in-law died during childbirth. He raises his grandson, John Jester Clane, and aspires to restore the grandeur of the South in conjunction with redeeming his personal hoard of Confederate currency.
Judge Clane hires Sherman Pew, a "colored boy" and orphan, as his personal assistant, but Sherman eventually resigns from the position when he can no longer tolerate the Judge or his prejudice. Sherman moves into a house located in a white neighborhood. A group of townspeople including the Judge plots to get rid of him. A local man bombs the building and Sherman dies. Shortly after his death, the United States Supreme Court announces its decision supporting school integration.
The Judge is infuriated and goes on the radio station to express his opinion, but he has not prepared a speech. Instead, he begins babbling Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The radio station cuts him off. Malone has been listening to the Judge on the radio, but his wife turns it off. Integration no longer matters to Malone. Near the end of his life, Malone finds solace in the renewed love for his wife, Martha. He finally appreciates the order and simplicity of life. The pharmacist dies peacefully in his own bed.