Thursday, October 02, 2014


The Most Futile of the Branches of Science

In chapter XLII of Thomas Mann's novel Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverk├╝hn, as Told by a Friend, Inez Institoris shoots and kills her former lover, the violinist Rudolf Schwerdtfeger, after a concert. In the words of the narrator and eyewitness to the crime, Serenus Zeitblom (tr. H.T. Lowe-Porter):
Several people were standing by Rudolf, among them Dr. Kranich, holding his hand.

"What a horrible, senseless, irrational deed!" said he, pale in the face, but in his clear, scholarly, well-articulated, short-winded way of speaking. He said "hor-r-r-ible," as actors often pronounce it. He added that he had never more regretted not being a doctor instead of only a numismatist; and actually at that moment the knowledge of coins did seem to me the most futile of the branches of science, more futile even than philology, a position by no means easy to sustain.
Zeitblom's field is philology.

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