A Letter (Ein Brief, 1902, collected in The Lord Chandos Letter and Other Writings, ed. John Banville, trans. Joel Rotenberg, 2005)


by Hugo Von Hofmannsthal (1874 - 1929)

While clearly fictional – this ‘letter’ purports to be sent in 1603 from the English Lord Chandos to Francis Bacon – this nonetheless merits categorization as an essay because its fictive frame is merely a way for Hofmannsthal to present philosophical, essayistic ideas, while emphasizing that they are neither solely of his own time nor simply autobiographical outpourings.

Hofmannsthal’s subject is Wittgensteinian and Modernist: the limits of language and hence of thought. Transcendental epiphanies and visions of life and death (rats dying in a poisoned cellar, for example) are expressed in paradoxically vivid language as examples of what lies beyond rational expression.

Related recommendation: EM Cioran’s ‘Some Blind Alleys’ (1956)

Origin: Austria

Themes: The role of Art or Artists, Modernity and Self-consciousness

Genres: Dialogue or Epistolary, Semi-Fictional , Spiritual or Philosophical Meditation

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