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A number of conversations with the devil have come down to us in German literature. The best known in the twentieth century is surely the one familiar from Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus, where it takes the form of a protocol from memory found in the posthumous notes of the fictional composer Adrian Leverkühn, transcribed faithfully for the reader by Leverkühn's fictional biographer Serenus Zeitblom. It is a dialog in which a “frightfully different sort” of respondent guides the discussion ([ein] entsetzlich anderer … vornehmlich das Wort [führt]). The respondent is the devil, an exceedingly eloquent gentleman who converses in a somewhat old-fashioned tone and manner. His manner and expression are reminiscent of certain previously documented encounters of the kind. We are familiar with the interlude of twenty-four years that he grants his conversation partner, an erstwhile student of theology, to continue living with a prospect of achieving exceptional things but with the condition that he must renounce the “entire heavenly host.” The terms take us back by way of Goethe's Faust—where a scarcely less eloquent Mephisto places himself at the service of a magister dissatisfied with himself and the world—clear back to a seminal version of this story: the Historia von D. Johann Fausten.… of 1587.
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