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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 7, Number 1 (January 2009) : 45--59
Thinking Outside the Hermeneutic Circle
Mephistophelean Intertextuality in John Banville's Mefisto
Yael Levin
Rubric A: Topoi


Literary undertakings of the Faust legend have traditionally associated the fate of the overreacher with a thematized fragmentation. On the level of plot, Faust is torn limb from limb or threatened to be thus handled by a devilish cohort; stylistically, the tight drama that unfolds in the protagonist’s study spirals into a disjointed account of royal courts and sidekick pranks. In John Banville’s Mefisto this fragmentation is articulated in intertextual links that open up the text to a rich anteriority. Signification is consequently produced both horizontally and vertically, both inside and outside the novel. This paper traces the antecedents of the Faustian intertexts present in the novel and test the effects of such accumulation on the practice of hermeneutic deciphering. It shows that Banville’s intertextuality itself functions as a Mephistophilian figure, a playful abundance that creates an obstacle for interpretation. Such a stylized chaos does not allow for a teleological reshuffling or re-ordering of the text into a meaningful and cohesive pattern. The reader, then, is enjoined not to re-order the text but to performatively re-enact it, a creative process that will have us thinking not inside but outside the hermeneutic circle.

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