Under the Volcano with Lulu and Mephisto

I watched the 1981 film Mephisto last night for the first time in years. Thomas Mann’s son Klaus wrote it. He killed himself I seem to remember. One of the scenes in the film is set on the Fisherman’s Bastion in Budapest, where I went a few years ago. I had been intending on subsequent trips to continue eastwards to Latvia, Lithuania and other Baltic states, and to Transylvania, but this pandemic put my plans on hold.

Incidentally, I’ve been reading a new translation of Faust by Walter Arndt. At least it is new for me, both parts in the one volume. I know some German but not enough to cope with that. I wonder how Germans with English as a second language can penetrate the dense poetry, allusions and multiple layers of meaning in Shakespeare. Probably they can’t, and apparently Faust loses much in translation.

I didn’t think Finnegans Wake could be translated at all, but it apparently has been. I’ve made several unsuccessful attempts on that black book. At the moment I’m tackling Ulysses, set in Dublin, and Under the Volcano, set in Mexico. Exposure therapy seems to work when penetrating music and literature, and it is certainly true that the more effort you make the more you get out of it. I found some operas such as Il Trovatore and Simone Boccanegra difficult to listen to before I made a serious assault on Lulu, and then when I returned to them they were much easier to appreciate, and easier on the ear after Berg’s atonality. The Lulu ordeal also helped when it came to listening to Wagner’s Ring, which at least has some good tunes in it.

It is snowing thickly today, which always puts me in mind of Dance of the Vampires, another old favourite. I must dig it out. Lockdown is a time for digging things out, reassessing one’s life, deciding what matters and what does not. I hope that people have learned during this enforced seclusion the value of getting back to basics and enjoying simple pleasures such as an afternoon walk in the park. Less is more. Rushing to catch a tube train, sitting at a desk all day and attending meetings seem like fragments of a shattered troubled dream now. These days I do what’s important to me in the time left, and sod what anyone else thinks.


‘Whosoever unceasingly strives upward… him can we save’
Goethe – Faust

‘And this is how I sometimes think of myself, as a great explorer who has discovered some extraordinary land from which he can never return to give his knowledge to the world: but the name of this land is hell.’
Malcolm Lowry – Under the Volcano



2 responses to “Under the Volcano with Lulu and Mephisto

  1. Do you recommend revisiting Mephisto? I haven’t seen it since it came out, but it occasionally comes to mind.

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