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Soundings

Recent Books by Dartmouth Authors

Thomas Mann's Death in Venice: A Novella and Its Critics

By Ellis Shookman, Associate Professor of German
Camden House Press
2004

Reviewed by Noah Tsika '05

In his new, far-reaching analysis of the reception of a classic, Thomas Mann's Death in Venice: A Novella and Its Critics, Ellis Shookman surveys nine decades of Mann criticism. First published in 1912, Death in Venice tells the story of Gustav von Aschenbach, a celebrated author-bachelor whose journey to a Venice racked with Indian cholera precipitates his tragic demise. Mann's story has served as the basis for a 1973 opera by Benjamin Britten, a 1991 ballet interpretation starring Rudolf Nureyev, and a 1971 film by Count Luchino Visconti. In his introduction, Shookman points out that the novella's title has entered the American vernacular, that it is often used as shorthand for expressions of human mortality. But Death in Venice is about far more than the loss of individual life, as Shookman demonstrates in a section titled "Increasing Acceptance, 1915-55." An examination of the scholarly reactions to the novella during the First and Second World Wars, the chapter surveys both the mounting criticism with which the press began to view Death in Venice and Mann's own increasing vociferousness in defending his work. Shookman relates Mann's response to a 1933 manifesto denouncing the author's work, in the following excerpt:

Mann wrote his reply in France later that same month, though it was not published until 1974. He remarks that his thinking and writing are not without connections to the modern heroism that is now so proudly and so consciously opposed to a psychologism that degrades and enervates life. Death in Venice, he explains, tells of an artist who has set an example of a morality determined to deny, to reject, and to go beyond knowledge, insofar as such knowledge weakens and paralyzes the will, the deed, and the creative impulse. That the story ends badly, he says, does not disprove the author's interest in such heroism. He cannot praise such heroism as enthusiastically, though, he continues, as someone who has only recently discovered it.

A Brief History of the Paradox: Philosophy and the Labyrinths of the Mind

By Roy Sorensen, Professor of Philosophy
Oxford University Press
2003

Reviewed by Noah Tsika '05

A paradox, according to Roy Sorensen in A Brief History of the Paradox: Philosophy and the Labyrinths of the Mind, is much like a prime number in the world of mathematics; in philosophy, the paradox is a stepping stone - a building block in the formation of the philosophic ideas. Popular examples include the chicken-and-egg question: which came first? And can God create a stone so heavy, even he can't lift it? Does time have a beginning? In A Brief History of the Paradox, Sorensen provides a catalog of similar examples, demonstrating that while the non-philosopher may view the subject with weary, skeptical eyes - How can a paradox help us to ponder the existence of God or the dependability of logic? - the philosopher treats the paradox as an indispensable tool. Sorensen's book, however, is aimed at both types of reader. By tracing the history of the paradox from the time of the ancient thinker Anaximander, who was stirred by folk riddles and who consequently founded the first metaphysical system, to the time of later philosophers like Lewis Carroll, Sorensen humanizes the subject one step at a time in the following excerpt:

Consider the folk paradox, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" The egg answer is backed by an apparently compelling principle: every chicken comes from an egg. The trouble is that there is an equally compelling principle supporting the opposite answer: every egg comes from a chicken.... Seduction riddles are constructed to make a bad answer appear as a good answer. How much dirt is in a hole two meters wide, two meters long, and two meters deep? This question entices us to answer, eight cubic meters of dirt. The riddler then reminds us that there is no dirt in a hole. Mystery riddles, in contrast, appear to have no answer. One way to achieve this aura of insolubility is by describing an object in an apparently contradictory way. As a boy, Anaximander must have been asked the ancient Greek riddle, "What has a mouth but never eats, a bed but never sleeps?" (Answer: a river).

Dartmouth College Football: Green Fields of Autumn

By David Shribman '76, Executive Editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and former Dartmouth trustee, and Jack DeGange, former sports information director
Arcadia Publishing
2004

Reviewed by Noah Tsika '05

In a new, exhaustive study, Dartmouth College Football: Green Fields of Autumn, David Shribman and Jack DeGange unlock the legacy of a sport that continues to thrive as a rite of the fall season. Since its inception in 1881, Dartmouth football has achieved national titles. Shribman and DeGange survey the beginnings of the sport at Dartmouth: "'Old Division,' later known as 'Whole Division,' was Dartmouth's distinctive football game in the mid-19th century. Seniors and sophomores dueled against freshman and juniors, kicking a leather case inflated by a bladder." A photograph of the first official team bears a caption chronicling early victories against Amherst and Yale. The authors relate the story of Charles Oaks, Class of 1883, who scored the first touchdown in Dartmouth history, writing home to his mother: "We played a game of foot-ball Wednesday with Amherst. It was the first game we ever played. I 'spect I was the hero of this occasion. I made the touchdown and several good runs and at the end of the game the boys rode me around the campus on their shoulders." The authors examine the growing popularity of the game, and the ways in which football came to exemplify school spirit. All of this can be traced back to the game's official inauguration, as the authors demonstrate in the following passage:

During the 1880s, Dartmouth's field for occasional home games was on the Green. After the first game at Harvard, a 53-0 loss, in 1882, a headline in the Dartmouth exclaimed, "Rugby is Dead!" The student paper was surprisingly positive in 1884, running the headline "Dartmouth Eleven Acquit Themselves Very Creditably" after powerful Yale was invited to Hanover and "educated" Dartmouth 113-0. Dartmouth fielded no team in 1885, but the next four seasons saw the game take root under Bill Odlin. His leadership ensured the future of football at Dartmouth. In 1889, Dartmouth built a 7-1-0 record, losing only to Harvard and outscoring its opponents 239-72.

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Last Updated: 12/17/08