This research paper intends to examine the intertextuality of Klaus Mann’s novel Mephisto (1936) and István Szabó’s film Mephisto (1981) and how the derivative contents (i.e., film) accepted and improved the schematic aesthetics of conviction in original contents (i.e., novel).
In general, the aesthetics of conviction is applied to criticize the state socialism of the artists of the Third Reich or the ideology of the artists of East Germany from a biased ethical perspective. Mephisto is also based on the aesthetics of conviction. Thus, it would be meaningful to examine the characteristic similarity and difference between Klaus Mann’s real antagonist (i.e., Gustaf Gründgens) and fictional antagonist (i.e., Hendrik Höfgen) from a historical critical perspective. In this process, an aesthetic distance between the real and fictional antagonists would be secured through the internal criticism in terms of intertextuality. In this respect, the film aesthetics of István Szabó are deemed to overcome the schematic limit of the original novel.
The conviction in both the novel and film of Mephisto pertains to the belief and stance of a person who compromised with the state socialism of Nazi Germany, i.e., succumbed to the irresistible history. Klaus Mann denounced Mephisto’s character Höfgen (i.e., Gründgens in reality) as an “Mephisto with evil spirits” from the perspective of exile literature. For such denunciation, Klaus Mann used various means such as satire, caricature, sarcasm, parody and irony. However, his novel is devoid of introspection and “utopianism”, and thus could be considered to allow personal rights to be disregarded by the freedom of art. On the contrary, István Szabó employed the two different types of evil (evil of Mephisto and evil of Faust) from a dualistic perspective (instead of a dichotomous perspective of good and evil) by expressing the character of Höfgen like both Mephisto and Hamlet (i.e., “Faust with both good and evil spirits). However, Szabó did not present the mixed character of “Mephisto and Hamlet (Faust)” only as an object of pity. Rather, Szabó called for social responsibility by showing a much more tragic end. As such, the novel Mephisto is more like the biography of an individual, and the film Mephisto is more like the biography of a generation.
The aesthetics of conviction of Mephisto appears to overcome biased historical and textual perspectives through the irony of intertextuality between the novel and the film. Even if history is an irresistible “fate” to an individual, human dignity cannot be denied because it is the “value of life”. The issue of conviction is not only limited to the times of Nazi Germany. It can also be raised with the ideology of the modern and contemporary history of Korea. History is so deeply rooted that it should not be criticized merely from a dichotomous perspective. When it comes to the relationship between history and individual life, a neutral point of view is required. Hopefully, this research paper will provide readers with a significant opportunity for finding out their “inner Mephisto” and “inner Hamlet.”