Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Tales of Hoffmann: Automata

"Automata" gives us Hoffmann in what appears to be an experimental mood, and not always succeeding. The story is in several parts, and it can seem as if the parts are greater than the whole.

It opens with the narrator going to visit his friend Vincent who's having a storytelling session. An attendee, named Cyprian (what a great name!) tells a memorably unsettling tale of a haunting which leaves people so traumatized that a teenaged girl is driven mad and now thinks she's a ghost. Some editors have cut that part from the story, and it's good enough to stand on its own, and has no bearing on the rest of the story.

Then another attendee, Theodore (maybe supposed to be Hoffmann himself?) tells a tale of the Talking Turk, a famous touring automaton which is very obviously based on the famous chess-playing Turk (pictured above) which I've written about before.

However, this Turk answers questions in a very macabre manner, and the story is of someone who asks a question, and gets a strange answer, and all sorts of twists and turns of fate that result. The automaton really doesn't play that big a role in the story, and it's more of romance and betrayal and fate...and then it just stops. Little is resolved, plot threads are left hanging, and the automaton's nature is unrevealed.

It's puzzling. The title really comes across as a misnomer. The structure is a bit odd and disjointed. The main story has no real ending and is unresolved.

But...given some thought, and a lot of this is coming to me as I write this, I wonder if this was meant to duplicate the experience of friends getting together and telling stories. Stuff just comes out, and sometimes an intriguing story just peters out because the person telling it doesn't know how it ends, or maybe, as so often in real life, things do just peter out unresolved.

So instead of an botched attempt at a weird tale, this could very well be a bold and experimental tale that prefigures postmodern literature. Damn, that Hoffmann was something else.

More Tales of Hoffmann coming soon!

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