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By David Fuller


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340): so Mann’s Socrates to his boy, Phaedrus; and so Mann to the reader. All the ways of understanding the effect of the boy that Mann presents have some validity for Aschenbach – and some analogy with the qualities that fascinate and compel Shakespeare in WH. Most simply Tadzio is associated with Greek sculpture generally, and specifically with the Spinario (boy pulling a thorn), epitome in classical art of the innocently eroticized boy-girl.

Nowadays it is not only my habit, it is also my taste – a malicious taste perhaps? – no longer to write anything which does not reduce to despair every sort of man who is ‘in a hurry’. For philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all: to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow – it is a goldsmith’s art and connoisseurship of the word which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do and achieves nothing if it does not achieve it lento. But for precisely this reason it is more necessary than ever today, by precisely this means does it entice and enchant us the most, in the midst of an age of ‘work’, that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to ‘get everything done’ at once, including every old or new book: – this art does not so easily get anything done, it teaches to read well, that is to say, to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers.

As in Plato’s Theaetetus, where Socrates is a midwife helping men and boys to bring ideas into being (149a–151c), in the sexual imagery of Diotima’s account the philosopher’s spiritual and mental pregnancy gives birth to virtuous actions, creations, or teachings. The apparent paradox about mysteries of man-boy love being articulated by a female voice, and in terms of giving birth, recognizes that even in ancient Greek society, this love was seen as potentially and even dangerously fluid in gender.

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