01. 04. 2011. 14:09

Thomas Mann's horse

Katie Brandenburg, university student in the Department of German, dreamt one evening that  Antal Mádl, the Head of Department, in her Finals had asked her what was the colour of Thomas Mann's horse. No more than three days were left until the exam so that she really needed to knuckle down to elucidating the answer to this important question.

Sadly, the specialist literature gave no guidance, not even the publication entitled "The Human Aspects of Thomas Mann", where the only human aspect of the great teller of tales recorded was the hue of his stool: what it was like during the writing of The Magic Mountain, and what it was like in the various phases of composition of the Joseph and His Brothers tetralogy, and so on. There was no such thing as the Internet in the year that she sat her Finals so that there was no search program to come speedily to the aid of Katie Brandenburg, who therefore had to resort to her personal acquaintances. She asked them all: "What was the colour of Thomas Mann¹s horse?" Some said it was white as alabaster, some that it was black as jet, but there were also some who considered it was a gelding. None of this sounded too convincing, and Katie Bran suspected that Antal Mádl would not vouchsafe such pitiful bluffs even the thinnest of smiles. But it was vain to make an attempt with even more fastidious expressions such as dun or dapple-grey. She felt these were also unworthy of a narrator who sent his alter ego to Venice in order to consume overripe strawberries. Katie enquired of the blackbird on the sward, and the cockerel on the rooftop: "What was the colour of Thomas Mann's horse?", but she asked in vain because the blackbird chirped unfoundedly and the weathercock squeaked groundlessly. By now just one evening separated Katie from her Finals, when she turned to Uncle Remus, the old slave: "What was the colour of Thomas Mann's horse?" Uncle Remus knew everything and knew everybody, including the mocker of Lübeck's bourgeoisie., so that at some point in the hours of daybreak made it known to Katie that Thomas Mann did not have a horse, nor could he ride horseback. He could walk a dog, though. Well yes, Katie objected when she got a word in, but even if he did not have a horse, she needed to know the colour of that non-existent horse! At that moment Katie noticed a picture on the wall, and resplendent in that picture was Thomas Mann's non-existent horse along with Thomas Mann's existent literary self-consciousness. The self-consciousness was an irregular round surface, from a distance reminiscent of a palette, and the horse, the tail of which was almost like the leaf of a water palm but which, on the other hand, had at some point in time lost its hoofs, was tipped oddly as it sank on its way to self-consciousness.

Needless to say, in her Finals Katie Brandenburg was not asked by Hungary's leading authority on Thomas Mann about the horse of the author of Tonio Kröger but about something else, though Katie had boned up on that topic.

Translated by Tim Wilkinson

Tags: László Márton