David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Gregor von Rezzori: The Snows of Yesteryear

[The German is Blumen im Schnee, which sounds better to me.]

Cassandra’s superstitious awe of the reality of letters, and her ultimate and voluntary rejection of their decipherment, originated in a much more archaic insight. The serried rows of books on the shelves of my father’s library were truly demonic for her. That certain things had been recorded between the covers of these books which could be grasped mentally and transformed into speech and knowledge by initiates in the shamanic craft of coding and decoding those runic symbols–this could be understood only as a supernatural phenomenon. It irritated her to see that we had lost the sense of its terrifying uncanniness and that reading was an everyday custom, publicly performed, nay, that it could even become a vice, as exemplified by my sister. With the instinctive certainty of the creature being, she felt that such casual handling of the irrational was bound in turn to generate irrationality.

She realized that for those who had acquired it, the ability to read conferred power over those to whom the written or printed word remained a sealed mystery. But she also knew that this was a power pertaining to black magic–that it turns against its own practitioners and transforms them into slaves of the abstract. She saw in it a truly devilish power, since its manipulators, who also were its most immediate victims, were not even aware of its nefarious effects.

A little bit of anti-Calibanism from Rezzori’s well-wrought memoir, written in the late 80s, which portrays a family in the early part of the 20th century but reads as closely contemporary, as though he brought them with him into the end of last century to make them easily comprehensible to the younger generations. There’s a nice hesitancy to Rezzori’s irony that I enjoyed.


  1. Blumen im Schnee means Flowers in the Snow. You have a great website.

  2. Translated by Hermann Broch’s prodigal son, as it turns out. I hadn’t realized.

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