Multi-ethnic, Indigenous, and Intertextual Dialogues in Drama
Edited By Dorothy Figueira and Marc Maufort
Dorothy Figueira Theories of Myth and Myths of Theory in Thomas Mann and Girish Karnad 197
Theories of Myth and Myths of Theory in Thomas Mann and Girish Karnad Dorothy FIGUEIRA University of Georgia I. Theories of Myth In 1940, Thomas Mann wrote Die vertauschten Köpfe [The Transposed Heads], an Indian tale based on a German translation of Sanskrit source material. Initially, Mann did not attribute great importance to his unique venture into exoticism. He described it as an “improvisation” (Mann Briefe 1937-1947 164), “metaphysichen Scherz” (Briefe 1937-1947 11.157), a “Divertissement… Intermezzo” (Briefe 1937-1947 152), “Entzweiungs- und Identitätsspiel” and “ein Kuriosum” (Briefe 1937- 1947 131). However, by 1941, he confessed the satisfaction he experienced composing the novella amid the suffering of exile and concluded that it synthesized disparate themes found throughout his entire work (Briefe 1937-1947 175). In 1971, Girish Karnad produced an English translation of his play Hayavadana in Madras. In an author’s note, Karnad acknowledged his indebtedness to the German novella and thanked Mann’s widow for allowing him to “draw heavily” on her husband’s reworking of the tale (Karnad Three Plays 68). With the exception of the framing story involving the horse, from which the play gets its name, Karnad’s play follows closely the plot of Die vertauschten Köpfe. In the following discussion, I will first examine the Sanskrit source material of the transposed heads myth and its rendition in the hands of Thomas Mann. I will then address how Karnad’s play diverges from Mann’s version and how both authors treat myth. Finally, I will discuss these rewritings in the context...
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