‘The Path To The Cemetery’ by Thomas Mann

The Path To The Cemetery by Thomas Mann, 1900

The magic trick:

Comically mannered narration

This is seems like a fairly dour story. Serious stuff. Death metaphors that turn into just plain old death.

So it might be surprising – it certainly was to me – to find our narrator reveling in the absurd glee of telling the story as the director of a TV drama might. He gives us the scene of the road, he tells us about some soldiers, he introduces us briefly to a dog, he even tells jokes. It’s almost like your listening to the announcer taking you into an episode of Rocky & Bullwinkle. Maybe not that silly, but it’s exceptionally mannered. There is likely method to the madness. Contextualizing the story that follows, giving it a proper touch of the absurd. I love it.

And that’s quite a trick on Mann’s part.

The selection:

The way to the cemetery was trodden by a solitary man; he walked slowly, with lowered head, and supported himself on a black stick. The man was called Piepsam, Logbott (Praisegod) Piepsam and nothing else. We proclaim his name with a certain emphasis because subsequently he acted in a most peculiar manner.


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