Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Thomas Mann, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche

Sanford and Lough (What Men Are Like) mentioned Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. Among the free samples available on the net, I found Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and Other Stories, with a wonderful introduction by David Luke, who also provides what is said to be an excellent translation from the original German. I learnt that Mann read Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, and that the latter was attacking, in his writings, the rationalism of the former. He seems to have said that even Christianity was preferable to the pretensions of rationalism. In Mann himself, there seems to be a struggle between two kinds of aesthetics: "vitalism" and a more elevated kind of intellectual, superior approach. A struggle that he embodied in himself: deeply attracted by and at the same time  despising, what he referred to as the vitalism embodied by the Italians. The two contrasting figures for him were Lorenzo de' Medici representing the former, and Girolamo Savonarola representing the latter.

Like Goethe - and like many if not most writers - Mann's works are latent autobiography: where else does an author get his "stuff" if not from his own experience, and that of others? (Luke, Introduction ix) This is a process of self-mediation through writing - and, as Mann himself, or Luke, notes, it is also a process of self-discovery. In the process of writing, one mediates oneself, and "comes to light." 

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