115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Friend and Foe in Under the Volcano and Doctor Faustus

Richard Sperber, Carthage College

Lowry’s and Mann’s novels explore the erosion of humanism by barbarism. Critical focus on the hero (Consul, composer) has ignored the role of his close friend whose distance, secrecy, and ambivalence vis-à-vis the hero raise this question: if the hero’s friend is also his foe, to what extent does each novel implicate friendship in the crisis of humanism?

Proposal: 

Under the Volcano and Doctor Faustus mark in-depth elaborations of a particular crisis of modernity: the shifting lines between humanism and barbarism. The hero—Malcolm Lowry’s Consul, Thomas Mann’s composer—embodies the accomplishments of Western humanism while simultaneously eroding them, either by rendering them ineffective in the face of barbarism or by himself engaging in barbarism. While critical attention has focused almost exclusively on the hero, the role of his close friend has been ignored. The friend uses the hero’s decline to stress his own moral credentials, but a close reading of his friendship to the hero reveals distance, secrecy, and ambivalence that recall recent discussions regarding affinities between friend and foe. If the hero’s friend is also his foe, to what extent does each novel implicate friendship, in particular the Aristotelian friendship of virtue, in the crisis of humanism?