Death in Venice
A Deleuzian Pondering: Dionysian impulse within Death in Venice and The Birth of Tragedy
Thomas Mann in Death in Venice, published in 1912, engages in a disquisition regarding art and life. The story set in Germany revolves around Gustav Aschenbach and his necessity to liberate from the restraints of mind and follow his passions, resulting in emerging complications among concepts of love, life, death, and art. A creation of a complex space of love emerges when Aschenbach falls in love with a young Polish boy named Tadzio, which leads to a problematization of ideas like desire and sexuality. Thomas Mann’s novella remains a text pondering over contradictory elements of life and death, security and passion, love and restrain, and finally desire and norms.
[T]he idea that nature trembles with rapture when the intellect bows in homage to beauty (Mann 37).
Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy written in 1872 engages in elaboration of Nietzsche’s earliest pondering over philosophy of tragedy as a platform for enunciation of both desires/passions and reality/beauty. He uses the trope of Dionysus and Apollo to discuss this intense interaction between two differing aspects of life and how tragedy resulting from this space of interaction not only helps us experience reality at a deeper, passionate level, but the Apolline makes the element of suffering and impulse within existence a little less tragic, and the Dionysiac makes the systematic, perfect, utopic, dream-like appearance of world full of passion and intensity, heightening the corporeal sensuality of life.
Dionysiac art, too, wishes to convince us of the eternal delight of existence – but we are to seek that delight not in phenomena themselves but behind phenomena. It wishes us to acknowledge that everything that comes into being must be prepared to face a sorrowful end. (Nietzsche80)
This paper shall explore the concepts of Dionysian and Apolline as portrayed within Death in Venice and The Birth of Tragedy, and discuss an intersection of these elements within Thomas Mann’s text. At a secondary level, this paper shall engage in an application of Theory of Desire by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, and explore the significance of passion and sexuality within this desire, resulting in a failure of channelization of this intense desire, leading consequently to death of Aschenbach.
And thus the emotion that had now come over him so belatedly and so suddenly was quickly tempered and rectified by his reason and by the self-discipline he had practiced from his youth(Mann 4)
Tracing the Apolline within Death in Venice, Gustav Aschenbach is established as a character whose reason, self-discipline and knowledge overpower his passions, and intimacies. There’s an appreciation of world and its beauty but his life is marked with no indulgence, with no experimentation, leading to Aschenbach as a character of strict rules and stricter monotony. Like a traditional artist of forms and structures, there’s a sense of servitude and respect when it comes to creation of art for Gustav, this ingrained and institutionalized channelization of Aschenbach’s passions, and indulgence leads to an overwhelming imagery of Nietszche’s Apolline bind of the Dionysian to restore stability and illusion of beauty.
The Greeks knew and felt the fears and horrors of existence: in order to be able to live at all they had to interpose the radiant dream-birth of the Olympians between themselves and those horrors. (Nietszche 22)
The creation of an Apolline authority emerged from the necessity to channelize or control the frenzied passions and emotions of the brooding Dionysian. The Apolline creates a veil of Maya, or illusion between this world of intensities and reality, leading to an appearance of utter beauty, and structure, which but in the end is part of illusion. Apollo the god of plastic art, or visual art, defines the very recesses of structure and stability, which controls the mobility of Dionysiac indulgence, intimacies, and especially suffering, which holds the immensities that could startle a person’s core. The establishment of this idealistic authoritative figure was in reaction to this inability of mankind to systemize this primal and strong wave of desires, and hence Apolline norms that were established formed a demarcation between itself and the Dionysian chaos, allowing occasional and controlled flow of aspects from other side.
It was an urge to travel, nothing more; but it presented itself in form of a real seizure, intensified to the point of passionateness; in fact, it was like a delusion of the senses. His desire was clairvoyant; his imagination… summoned up a representative sampling of all the wonders and terrors of the variegated earth. (Mann 3)
Gustav Ashenbach’s ultimate fall into decadence of passion not only escalates as he moves away from the familiarity of his hometown to the exotic and unknown boundaries of Venice, but with the introduction of a consuming desire that he feels towards the young Polish boy Tadzio while vacationing not only reinforces the theme of Dionysian desires but also comments on this unprecedented shift of sexuality once unbound by familiar restraints of society. This need to travel, experience, and explore, not only awakens a passionate call for indulgence and inspiration and creation through a repressed primal self, but the sense of liberation that enraptures Aschenbach is related towards allowing himself to devour this intoxicating emotion and experience, as opposed to actual emotional liberation, where he is eventually bound by his love for Tadzio and succumbs to death due to his passionate necessity to be around the young boy, even though fully aware of the threatening spread of Cholera.
Without a single image, the Dionysiac musician is himself nothing but primal suffering and its primal resonance (Nietzsche30).
The Dionysiac within The Birth of Tragedy becomes almost an archetypal space of primordial experiences and emotional influx. It is heavy with the portrayal of ephemeral quality of life and heightens a sense of suffering at the end of every experience, hence the Dionysian is accentuated with an intoxicated pleasure of the now, as opposed to Apolline which avoids a quality of ephemeral life and follows ideals. Dionysian experience of life is almost carnivalesque that encourages absolute indulgence and immersion of one self within the realm of desires, passions, and intimacies, which more often shatter the frail norms established by illusion of civilization and reveal a maddening and passionate spirit of man. It’s the Dionysian impulse within man that provides him with fervent connection to art, indulging in creation of self through erratic flow of these restricted emotions.
Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice functions as a literary space where structured bliss and eternal suffering collide, consequently leading to Aschenbach’s unprecedented death. This tragic fall of Aschenbach not only accelerates due to his inability to channelize his desires and restrict his instincts, but from this space emerges the complication within the spheres of sexuality, where not only Aschebach is thrown into a frenzy of sexual deviance, that of pedophilia, but he engages in arrant idealism of Tadzio, transforming his moral, structured reality into a space of absolute abundance and intensity.
He who has received this smile dashed away with it as with some fatal gift. He was so shaken that he was compelled to flee…”You shouldn’t smile like that! Listen, no one should smile at someone else that way!”…he whispered the standard formula of longing- impossible in this case, absurd, perverse, ludicrous…still sacred and respectable: “I love you!” (Mann 42)
Discussing this concept of desire both within Death in Venice and The Birth of Tragedy as a component of Dionysian, philosophy and psychology both indulges in an ontological dialog of desire. Desire within some branches is considered as a form of catalyst for motion within beings, desire becomes a necessity for acquiring goals although reason when coupled with desire provides it not only with a moral stature but by constraining the flow of desire and directing it, focuses on moral relevance of the goal and the mode engaged in acquirement of those goals. Within both branches Desire is defined as a primal part of being that emerges from a lack and is provided structure through the human power of reasoning, as opposed to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari who discusses desire not as a component emerging from lack but an active, positive reality of human nature, forever producing, not to be restricted but allowed to flow.
Desire causes the current to flow, itself flows in turn, and breaks the flow. (Deleuze & Guattari 5).
According to Deleuze and Guattari desire is ever active and ever producing element of being. It is free flowing and refuses to be structured or channelized. Placement of this desire-production/function within a capitalist society, leads to imposition of certain restrictions upon desire, forcing it to remain stagnant, and channelizing it towards “goals” which functions, in this case, in tune with societal norms and moral values. A resistance against this territorialization of desire not only results in an establishment of desire as an anomalous element which needs to be erased, but within literature, this rebellion is treated either with forceful imposition of hegemonic ideals or reason, or leads to death of the indulging character, as portrayed within Death in Venice.
In The Birth of Tragedy the Apolline aspect of art functions, one may say, as a structuring of these impetuous desires that cannot be understood through the perception of reasoning and beauty. Although within this text Nietzsche represents tragedy as inclusion of both the Apolline and Dionysian, without the one overpowering the other, resulting in creation of tragedy that not only helps us experience an illusionary bliss but reduces the severity of imminent suffering and death.
From the foundation of all existence, the Dionysiac substratum of the world, no more can enter the consciousness of the human individual than can be overcome once more by that Apolline power of transfiguration, so that both of these artistic impulses are forced to unfold in strict proportion to one another, according to the law of eternal justice. (Nietzsche117)
In Death in Venice the very movement of Aschenbach out of the familiar structures of hometown could be taken as a trope for abandonment of repressive and familiar systems that constrained the character. Aschenbach’s indecisive, passionate, and impulsive Dionysiac love and aspiration not only overpowers his Apolline reason but engages in a tussle with the very conformity that he is habitual too in his mannerism. His deliberate ignorance of an epidemic due to his captivation by Tadzio not only portrays this slow crumbling of realities, but an overpowering flow of unrestricted desire is accentuated, leading to his reverie like tragic death at the end of the text.
Ritchie Robertson in The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann discusses Aschebach’s ability of creation of art after being infatuated by the young polish boy Tadzio. He discusses this in accordance with an autobiographical relevance although one could gauge this point introspectively and discuss emergence of a prosaic art through experiences of passions and impulse as a trope for inclusion of Apolline structure within Dionysian impetuousness.
The Birth of Tragedy and Death in Venice both indulge in a discussion regarding art and passion. Where Nietzsche speaks of importance of inclusion of Dionysian within the structures of Apolline art, especially the art of music where melody purely belongs to Dionysian vein, he discusses of art, as a space for inclusion of both these aspects of life and not promoting or projecting an erasure of Dionysian experiences due its perceived uncouth, unrestrained, and dark desires. Resonating an idea of “Yin and Yang” Nietzsche discusses necessity of balance between the two opposing qualities of life, which could lead to an heightening of experience of both art and reality if appreciated in togetherness as opposed to unitary figure.
Death in Venice in certain aspects becomes a portrayal of this ideology and discusses at subtle level the destructive force that possesses Dionysiac desires. Although unintentionally, one could explore the imposed necessity of social consciousness to mold, define, and territorialise sexuality and desires, where a form of sexual deviance like that of pedophilia cannot be thoroughly understood, appropriated, and channelized, where one, especially the reader, cannot fathom how to respond to Aschenbach’s sincere love and affection for Tadzio. These complications of Dionysiac desires awaken within the reader through sheer intensity of the character towards the young boy, with an inability to explore and establish a comfortable diagnosis of it.
Mann’s Venice moves away from structured formality of his hometown, and indulges in unfamiliarity and exuberance, leading to abundance of passion, love, and intensities, with a space left for readers to problematize obscure concepts of pedophilia, life, and death, through a Dionysian perspective.
Mann, Thomas. Death in Venice. Trans. Stanley Applebum. New York: Dover Thrift Publications, 1995. Print.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy. Trans. Shaun Whiteside. England: Penguin Group, 1993. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. Anti-Oedipus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1983. Print.
Robertson, Ritchie, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Thomas Mann. Cambridge: Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 2002. Print.
Discovery in Venice: Setting and Sexuality in Mann’s Narrative
One thing workaholics are tired of hearing is “you need a vacation!” The classic workaholic has no idea when they have worked enough, and usually has trouble making the decision to take a break for even a short period of time. Workaholic Gustav von Aschenbach, a middle aged writer living in early 20th century Germany, is in desperate need of a vacation to clear his mind and recharge. His life is comparable to that of a machine, constantly working without break and lacking true meaning. Aschenbach’s life goal is to maintain a high status in society and to be continually recognized for his great work, and consequently he is left with no time left for real introspection. It is because of this that his life is a monotonous, never ending cycle of superficiality and oblivion to his own identity and, more specifically, to his homosexuality. In 20th century Germany homosexuality was forbidden, and sexuality itself was a topic that was swept under the rug. Aschenbach’s superficial goals conflict with this part of his identity, for in order for him to achieve success he must deny his sexuality entirely. This built up frustration causes him to yearn for vacation, for “a fresh scene, without associations,” (15) and after a little bit of traveling he ends up in the city of Venice — little does he know that Venice is the perfect place for him to break out of this cycle of repression that consumes his life, for it allows him to feel as though many societal constraints and expectations have been lifted. In Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, certain characteristics unique to Venice work to expose and to strengthen Aschenbach’s long suppressed homosexuality.
The symmetry between Venice’s forbidden sickness and Aschenbach’s own evil secret relieves him of his guilt, and provides him with a sense of comfort and satisfaction that allows his inner nature to flourish. For the most of Aschenbach’s stay in Venice he struggles with his sexuality. Aschenbach feels as though his sexuality is a dark and evil secret, and it is because of this that, at first, he does not understand nor accept it for what it is. He continually denies his feelings for Tadzio out of fear of his own emotions. One day, as Aschenbach is watching Tadzio, his heart begins “throbbing unpleasantly fast, while his breath came in such quick pants that he could only have gasped had he tried to speak.” (46) After he experiences this sensation he says to himself, “That must be the Love-God himself, that makes us hang our heads at sight of beauty and weighs our proud spirits low as the ground.” He “played with the idea-he embroidered upon it, and was too arrogant to admit fear of an emotion.” (47) This overwhelming experience of emotion scares Aschenbach, and leaves him in a state of denial of his true feelings. He believes these feelings are wrong and that they should be kept secret from himself and others, causing him to disguise them as something they are not.
Venice, too, has an evil secret that is hushed up by those who know it. There has been a deadly outbreak of Cholera in Venice, yet the Venetians deny it in the interest of sustaining its imag e in the same way that Aschenbach denies his sexuality to uphold his image. The idea that Venice is hiding something under the guise that all is well gives Aschenbach “a dark satisfaction. The city’s evil secret mingled with the one in the depths of his heart…” (53) Once he finally figures out what is going on in Venice, his “knowledge that he shared the city’s secret, the city’s guilt-it put him beside himself, intoxicated him…and he was giddy with fugitive, mad, unreasoning hopes and visions of a monstrous sweetness.” (65) The feeling that he shares the guilt of his dirty secret with Venice –that Venice is his coconspirator– causes him to change his entire mindset about his homosexuality. Instead of denying it or dressing it up as something else, he is able to accept it and consequently break away from his old “moral sense” that caused his self repression. Once he understands and accepts Venice’s sickness, he is able to understand and accept his own “sickness.” This new awareness of Venice’s secret gives way to an intense and horrifying dream, after which Aschenbach is “shattered, unhinged, powerless in the demon’s grip. He no longer avoided men’s eyes nor cared whether he exposed himself to suspicion…” He feels that the truth has “leaked out; despite all efforts to the contrary, panic was in the air.” (67) Ultimately, this knowledge of the city’s sickness frees him from his self repression, and allows him to act on his emotions without caring what the outside world will think. When Aschenbach felt he was alone in dealing with his secrets, he was filled with fear and guilt. However, it is because of Venice’s secreted sickness that he no longer feels shame or guilt for his homosexuality, and that he is able to express his true nature.
Venice’s ocean relaxes Aschenbach, providing him with a comfortable and convenient setting for his obsession with Tadzio to develop and consequently for his for his subconscious homosexuality to come out of its shell. The beach and ocean scene has always been one that pleases Aschenbach, it has the “power to beguile him, to relax his resolution, to make him glad…” However it is not the calming sound of the waves or the crystal clear water that brings him joy, it is “the sight of sophisticated society giving itself over to a simple life at the edge of the element.” (29) Aschenbach’s “love of the ocean had profound sources: the hard-worked artist’s longing for rest…” and a “yearning… a lure, for the unorganized, the immeasurable, the eternal-in short, for nothingness” (30) The ocean has the power to transport him “to Elysium, to the ends of the earth, to a spot most carefree for the sons of men … without effort or struggle… ” (40-41) Aschenbach finds joy at the beach because it makes him feel as though the constraints and expectations of society have been lifted; he takes pleasure in the idea of society abandoning its norms because he subconsciously desires to abandon his norms.
The beach is the only place in which one can sit and watch people (including young children) in swimwear play games or go swimming without the risk of looking foolish or creepy. The altered status quo allow Aschenbach to feel comfortable watching Tadzio for hours every day. It is these “regular morning hours on the beach which gave him his happiest opportunity to study and admire the lovely apparition… this immediate happiness, this daily recurring boon at the hand of circumstance, this it was that filled him with content, with joy in life, enriched his stay, and lingered out the row of sunny days that fell into place so pleasantly one behind the other.” (41) In this way, the beach is an incredibly convenient spot for Aschenbach’s subconscious homosexuality to creep into his conscious actions. At the beach, Aschenbach is able to let himself go, to stop constraining his desires as he is forced to everywhere else. He is able to “let his eyes swim in the wideness of the sea, his gaze lose focus, blur, and grow vague in the misty immensity of space.” (30) Essentially, he is able to detach from his very serious and repressive nature, and give control to his true subconscious emotions and desires.
In addition to this, the ocean has the ability to enhance Tadzio’s beauty, making him even more desirable to Aschenbach and thus strengthening his feelings. Aschenbach constantly notices Tadzio in relation to the sea; he would “see him come up, on the left, along the margin of the sea; or from behind, between the cabins..in the blue and white bathing-suit that was now his only wear on the beach…” And the majestic view of the distant sea “formed the background which set off his figure.” (42) Not only did the beach give Aschenbach the otherwise very rare pleasure of seeing Tadzio in his bathingsuit, but it also served as a beautiful setting to highlight Tadzio’s God-like features. By lifting certain societal constraints and accentuating Tadzio’s beauty, Venice’s ocean plays a very important and unique role in exposing and strengthening Aschenbach’s sexuality.
In Death in Venice, Thomas Mann stresses the importance of escaping from the everyday cycle of life and refreshing the mind. He shows that the key to doing this is to encounter and experience unfamiliar things in a foreign environment. However, our world is becoming more and more homogenous; one can travel hundreds of miles away to a resort, for instance, and find the exact same culture and society as they do back at home, without being exposed to the authentic culture of the area. A popular travel destination for wealthy New Yorkers is the Hamptons, in which one can find the exact same people and lifestyle and they can find in New York. A vacation to a place in which everything is familiar does not accomplish what it intends to; it does not allow one to break out of the rhythm of the everyday and to refresh and rediscover their true authentic self — Aschenbach is only able to begin understanding himself when he is exposed to Venice’s secret sickness, something that sets Venice apart from everywhere else. Thomas Mann demonstrates that a real escape and exposure to the unusual is essential to one’s mental health, something that, if staved off for too long, can lead to what once may have been small mental problem to fester into something that completely consumes a person. It is for this very reason that, for our own sake, we must push back this homogeneity and strive to create a world where different cultures aren’t hidden from us, but they are instead uncovered and shared with the rest of the world.
Man’s Search for Human Autonomy in Death in Venice
In Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, Mann explores the struggle between impulse and logic through the symbolism of luggage presented throughout. The luggage Aschenbach clings to represents the dominance of logic over his impulses, and the effects societal restrictions exert upon his natural instincts. The evolution of Aschenbach’s relationship to his luggage illustrates his natural progression away from the influences of social restrictions and his gradual embrace of innate impulses. Mann demonstrates Aschenbach’s gradual change of lifestyle by initially asserting the values luggage represents through associations, comparisons, and contrasts. The first instance of luggage is introduced when Aschenbach arrives at his original vacation destination, a remote island, by a motorboat that carried “him and his luggage in the misty dawning back across the water” (Mann, 15). Mann groups Aschenbach and his luggage as linked entities on the motorboat through imagery of Aschenbach located in proximity to his luggage, but also through the form of the text by placing the two subjects in close proximity on the page, in order to demonstrate his attachment to luggage. Luggage also acts as interference brought from civilization into the seclusion and remoteness of the vacation island. The misty surroundings and the uncertainty in direction and destination demonstrate Aschenbach’s short-sightedness regarding his future and desires, and his inability to make the best decision. Mann then reinforces the fact that luggage is an extension of societal values by depicting “those of the second class” that sat upon their “bundles of luggage” and associates luggage with the standards of modern society (Mann, 16). As Aschenbach rides in the gondola on his way to Hotel des Bains, he not only admires the “coffin-black” seats of the vessel but also praises the gondola seat as “the softest… most relaxing seat in the world” (Mann, 20). The connection between the coffin black color and relaxing qualities establish death as a luxurious escape from the overwhelming stresses of daily life and the ultimate relaxation. Aschenbach’s seat on the gondola is “opposite his luggage, which lay neatly composed” in order to emphasize the contrast between the relief death presents, and the order, obligations and responsibilities represented by his luggage on the polar opposite side of the spectrum (Mann, 20). After the bellhop brings the luggage into Aschenbach’s hotel room, Aschenbach approaches a window and stands looking out at the sea, hearing only the “rhythmic beat upon the sand” (Mann, 24). The separation between the interior of the hotel room, where luggage is situated, from the outside world of nature is a parallel to Aschenbach’s struggle between confinements from societal standards and his natural instincts. Through comparing and contrasting luggage with imagery of society, the ultimate relief of death, as well as the relaxation and freedom of nature, Aschenbach’s luggage is the ultimate symbolism for the constraints established by societal values, and his overwhelming use of logic in his decision-making. As Aschenbach’s journey in Venice progresses, the physical distance between Aschenbach and his luggage increases and Aschenbach gradually confronts the values luggage represents such as societal restrictions placed upon his life. Aschenbach’s progression is foreshadowed when the gondolier informs him that he cannot bring luggage to the vaporetto and Aschenbach retorts: “I may want to give my luggage in deposit. You will turn around” (Mann, 22). The use of an exotic language for the name of the destination represents the cultural difference of a foreign land, and its effect on distancing Aschenbach from his luggage, old customs, and burdens of responsibility. Aschenbach’s indecision towards the placement of his luggage and the repeated change in direction emphasizes his confusion regarding whether he should consult his logic or instinct in terms of decision-making. En route to the Venetian hotel, Aschenbach ordered his “luggage [to] be taken to the Hotel des Bains” in a separate handcar as the first physical separation from his luggage in Venice (Mann, 23). Hotel des Bains also translates to Hotel Bath, introducing imagery of Aschenbach using his time in Venice to cleanse himself of old inadequate lifestyles and leave anew. However, Aschenbach doesn’t comfortably embrace a lack of luggage until his decision to leave Venice and the bellhop warns him that the car is leaving soon, to which he passionately responds “good, then it might go, and take this trunk with it” (Mann, 36). Aschenbach’s irritation with the heavy time constraints prevailed and revealed his preference for a leisurely lifestyle, and his lack of luggage only reinforces the newfound relaxation and frustration towards obligation and restraints. As Aschenbach leaves Hotel des Bains with only his light hand-luggage, Aschenbach laments on the brevity of the trip and his encounters with Tadzio, and “quite unusually for him, he shaped a farewell with his lips, he actually uttered it” upon seeing Tadzio (Mann, 36). The repeated mention of time emphasizes Aschenbach’s gravitation away from filling his time with responsibility and obligation, and his pursuit for leisure time, where Aschenbach gains the freedom to become sole influence of his actions. The more time Aschenbach spends in Venice, the more physical distance is established between Aschenbach and his luggage. His attitude towards his luggage also shifts from an initial dependence to enjoying a newfound, unburdened freedom. The transformation of Aschenbach after the departure of his luggage is emphasized by his embrace of his spontaneity in voicing a farewell to his unrequited obsession, Tadzio. The transformation endowed Aschenbach with aggression, the ability to take action, and act upon his inner desires without the restraints of logic and a society that condemns his obsession for Tadzio.Aschenbach demonstrates the completion of his transformation by revealing his homosexuality and love for Tadzio, a feat impossible without utilizing his newfound instincts, independence and aggression. The evolution of Aschenbach’s relationship to his luggage ultimately allows Aschenbach to pursue his love for Tadzio without constrictions of society and demonstrates the random, uncontrollable nature of love, and illustrates the permanence of both societal pressures and innate natural instincts, and how dependence upon logic is ultimately an obstruction to human autonomy. Aschenbach’s progress is proven by two parallel events that brought his transformation full circle. When Aschenbach first entered Hotel des Bains, he refrained from unpacking; an action that shows logic is still the dominating reason within his head as well as his excessive use of caution. Also, by not unpacking, Aschenbach acknowledges the inevitable departure from Venice and a return to the mundane. During his second stay in Hotel des Bains, after his lost trunk has been returned, Aschenbach takes full advantage of his second opportunity and shows his disregard for the constrictions within his life by considering his debacle “so happy a mischance… then the lost trunk was set down in his room, and he hastened to unpack” (Mann, 40). Since the luggage has been returned, it shows that the social order is still in place, however, the social forces have lost its influence over Aschenbach as demonstrated by his unpacking. The physical distance established between Aschenbach and his luggage, as well as the emptying of his suitcases through unpacking shows that logic no longer holds dominance over Aschenbach’s impulse. Aschenbach is free to pursue his natural desires by embracing his obsession for Tadzio without the pressures of having to conform to societal values. The process of how Aschenbach lost his luggage is also crucial. The trunk had been placed with the wrong luggage before morning, and is “on its way in precisely the wrong direction” (Mann, 38). Mann’s emphasizes that the loss of luggage was a random occurrence that Aschenbach could not possibly control in order to create a parallel to the random nature of attraction, love, and sexuality. All three sentiments are based upon natural instincts and similar to the lost luggage, cannot be controlled. Also, since the luggage is heading in the completely wrong direction, it shows that the values represented by luggage such as social influence and a fear of impulse has led Aschenbach astray in the past, but after his transformation, Aschenbach’s path is free from the influence of those values. As a result of Aschenbach’s new disregard of logic and standards of acceptable social conduct, Aschenbach’s hidden sexuality begins to emerge. When his trunk is first removed, Aschenbach “answered with some heat” (Mann, 36). The mention of heat evokes imagery of passion and sex. The freedom from restriction results in “a reckless joy, a deep incredibly mirthfulness shook him almost as with a spasm” (Mann, 38). The reckless joy shows freedom from control and the deep spasms act as sexual imagery, in order to associate his independence as the source of his realized homosexuality and embrace for his love of Tadzio. Only when Aschenbach has been freed by his luggage, Aschenbach loses his obsession for order and reason and gains the ability to place the importance of his own natural instincts over that of the opinions of society; as demonstrated by his pursuit of Tadzio. Throughout life, “luggage” is always present in the form of flaws, insecurities, and outer influence. However, people need to be able to overcome and “lose” their luggage in order to embrace inner desires and bring to fruition the goals of highest importance.
Art and Extremism
In Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice,” Gustave von Aschenbach is described as “the watcher” (73), who becomes interested in the young Tadzio, eventually leading to a dangerous obsession that causes his death. In the novella, Mann uses Aschenbach’s sudden passionate fascination with the young Tadzio to portray the dangers of art taken to one extreme, and the need for a balance between the Dionysian and Apollonian-between drunken hedonism and detached rationalism. Aschenbach’s heavy reliance on the Apollonian prior to his visit to Venice backfires on him, thrusting him to the Dionysian without any hope of finding stability. Tadzio’s role in the story is passive, as he is the impetus for Aschenbach’s transformation, but does not necessarily encourage Aschenbach’s destructive behavior. Furthermore, Aschenbach himself is not fully aware of his changing, for he becomes somewhat delusional, dying relatively happily and peacefully. Almost as soon as he sees Tadzio, Aschenbach becomes delusional, as discrepancies between what he perceives and what the narrator reveals become apparent. In Tadzio, Aschenbach sees a boy whose “face recalled the noblest moment of Greek sculpture-pale…the brow and nose descending in one line, the winning mouth, the expression of pure and godlike serenity” (25). However, “Tadzio’s teeth were imperfect, rather jagged and bluish, without a healthy glaze of, and of that peculiar brittle transparency which the teeth of chlorotic people often show” (34). Interestingly enough, imperfect teeth, especially those with gaps, traditionally represent a lack of chastity-a far cry from Aschenbach’s belief that Tadzio is “virginally pure and austere” (33). As Aschenbach’s obsession intensifies, he loses his grip on reality even further. In the beginning of the story, Aschenbach was “moved to shudder” when he looked at the “old man…with wrinkles and crow’s feet round eyes and mouth; the dull carmine of the cheeks was rouge” (17). Later on, as the barber applies makeup to Aschenbach so that “a delicate carmine glowed on his cheeks…the dry, anaemic lips grew full, they turned the colour of ripe strawberries,” Aschenbach “sat there comfortably; he was incapable of objecting to the process-rather as it went forward roused his hopes” (68). Aschenbach is unable to realize his sudden resemblance to this deathlike ominous figure, from his false-youth down to his red neck-tie. The allusion to the ripe strawberries foreshadows Aschenbach’s own consumption of the dangerous fruit in the next scene, and his inability to see his own downward spiral towards destruction. While following Tadzio, Aschenbach manages to “lose his bearing…he did not even know the points of the compass; all his care was not to lose sight of the figure after which his eyes thirsted” (69), and the strawberries become the quencher for his impulsive desire. Aschenbach grows more delusional, as Mann states that his sentences are “shaped in his disordered brain by the fantastic logic that governs our dreams” (70), and Aschenbach no longer lives in any sort of reality. When a confused Aschenbach feels “a sense of futility and hopelessness,” he is unsure “whether this referred to himself or to the outer world” (71). Since he is unsure of his situation, Aschenbach’s death may be considered tragic to the reader, but not to Aschenbach himself, who “sat just as he had sat that time in the lobby of the hotel when first the twilit grey eyes had met his own” (73), and may not understand how his plunge into the world of the Dionysian ruined him. When Aschenbach dies, he simply “rested his head against the chair-back and followed the movements of the figure” (73), enjoying his last glimpse of Tadzio. Although he dies lonely, “a shocked and respectful world received the news of his decease” (73), and Mann indicates that his admirers will not soon forget him. While Aschenbach of the novella dies without fully understanding the ramifications of his inability to balance the Dionysian and Apollonian, the Aschenbach of Luchino Visconti’s dramatic film is aware of his problem and tragically sees that he cannot stop himself. In the film, Tadzio takes on a more active role, as he looks directly into the camera, luring Aschenbach by waiting for him to follow. The Tadzio of the film is seductive and beautiful not only in Aschenbach’s eyes, but to the plain viewer. Thus, Aschenbach is no longer delusional, but is quite reasonable, since Tadzio engages in this game with him. Aschenbach is aware, then, of his precarious behavior, but sees no way to stop it. This is apparent in the scene near the close of the film, in which Aschenbach fervently pursues Tadzio, and when he loses him and sits by the well, is sweating and crying, as if to indicate his sadness at the inescapability of his fate. Perspiring and panting, Aschenbach appears urgent and pained, and does not seem to take pleasure in chasing Tadzio, but seems unable to stop himself. By knowing his problem but being unable to control himself, Aschenbach is a more tragic figure, and his death is far unhappier than in the story. In the film’s dramatic close, Mahler’s music plays as Aschenbach gasps and appears injured, as black hair dye mixed with sweat drip down his face. He does not seem, as Mann described, to have a “relaxed and brooding expression of deep slumber,” and though “the pale and lovely Summoner out there smiled at him and beckoned” (73), the film depicts Aschenbach being lured and painfully attempting to near Tadzio, as if pulled by a string, and somewhat unwillingly. Visconti ends the film by zooming out on the sad scene and does not close with Mann’s somewhat uplifting message, in which the world mourns him. Instead, Aschenbach dies lonely and isolated, fully-knowing his problem and watching his descent into destruction, without the slightest ability to control it.
The Artist’s Struggle in the Work of Thomas Mann
In his works “Tonio KrÃ¶ger,” “Death in Venice,” and “Tristan,” Thomas Mann discusses the artist’s struggle in terms of who he is, who he should be, and who he will be. In the three works, the artistic protagonists struggle with either a metaphorical or physical sickness, stemming mainly from their inability to reconcile the two polarities with which every artist struggles. Attempting to overcome these “sicknesses,” the artists react to their problems differently, and in each of their reactions one can see Mann’s assertion of what can become of an artist. In order to overcome his difficulty, Tonio KrÃ¶ger attempts to face his problems head-on, thereby moving towards eliminating them. Gustave von Aschenbach, however, runs from his metaphoric sickness to its polar opposite, which makes him even sicker. Finally, Deltev Spinell runs away from his issues, but towards nothing, which causes him to remain perpetually sick. In all three works, the artist seeks to find a medium between the two polarities that drive him. Friedrich Nietzsche’s theory on Greek tragedy influences Mann’s view of this artist, who must aim to maintain balance between the Dionysian, or passionate and intoxicating forces, and the Apollonian, or the rational and detached forces. In “Tonio KrÃ¶ger,” Mann portrays these clashing opposites through Tonio’s parents-his southern, “dark, fiery mother” (78) and his northern, “reflective, puritanically correct” (131) father. Working as a writer in Munich, Tonio painfully tries to reconcile his “icy intellect and scorching sense” (92), and finds himself stuck as a “literary man” who stands removed from the world-only able to “label it and express it and discuss it and polish it off” (101). In order to face these influences of the Apollonian and reconcile them with his passion, Tonio decides to return to his childhood home. Directly confronting his problems by returning to his northern roots, Tonio sees that he is neither entirely comfortable with the artists who call him “bourgeois” (104), or the bourgeois who almost arrest him. In fact, Tonio will never find himself amongst the fair-haired blue-eyed of the world, but as a passionate observer who can reconcile his opposing forces by seeking out his “bourgeois love of the human, the living and the usual” (131). Thus, Tonio realizes he may never find the perfect balance between the Dionysian and the Apollonian, or between his mother and father, but to apply both of these forces towards creating art, he can settle them in his work. In “Death in Venice,” Gustave von Aschenbach has similar difficulties balancing the Dionysian and Apollonian, for he is “painfully conscientious” (12), without even traces of the Dionysian. An utter perfectionist who champions will over nature, Aschenbach’s strictness with his art, in which his style is “fixed and exemplary” (14) is described as a malady-an inability to give into any indulgences and stray from his carefully plotted path. When Aschenbach visits Venice, he is no longer able to control his dormant Dionysian side, which takes over. He becomes reckless in his pursuit of Tadzio, and drinks contaminated water, eats possibly poisonous strawberries, and becomes the very image of death he had once condemned. Instead of balancing the Dionysian and Apollonian, Aschenbach runs away from the Apollonian-the aspect of himself he had known to this point, and behaves only passionately, rejecting any sort of balance between the two. Through Aschenbach’s stay in Venice, which leads to his demise, Mann depicts the dangers of a heavy imbalance of the Dionysian and Apollonian. In “Tristan,” the writer Detlev Spinell surrounds himself with the sick, and claims to only reside at Einfried to have himself “electrified a bit,” admitting he enjoys it there because “it is a feeling for style” (326-327). That Spinell remains in a house of sick when he is physically healthy is significant, as it shows that, like Aschenbach, he is detached and hides from the world-unable to enjoy life or embrace even a trace of the Dionysian. However, unlike Aschenbach who travels to Venice where he replaces the Apollonian with the Dionysian, by eliminating entirely his detached and intellectual side, Spinell runs away from the Apollonian but towards nothing. With Gabriele KlÃ¶terjahn’s death, instead of having one passionate, highly emotional moment, Detlev Spinell “went away across the gravel…his gait was the hesitating gait of one who would disguise the fact that, inwardly, he is running away” (357). Without letting even a hint of the Dionysian into his life, Spinell is doomed to remain an invalid in Einfried forever, as he simply runs away from the Apollonian without rejecting it, but towards no balance with the Dionysian. In all three works, Thomas Mann depicts detached observers whose inner struggles hinder their ability to fully live life, and all of whom travel somewhere to deal with these issues. Mann shows that the ultimate goal for these artists should be to balance out the Dionysian and Apollonian, like Tonio KrÃ¶ger does, which would lead to a healthy life and fruitful career. Tonio KrÃ¶ger, however, is the only one who is able to achieve this balance, as he alone confronts his difficulties, finding that the two polarities, which will always remain in conflict, can be reconciled by applying them and using them to create art. Gustave von Aschenbach and Detlev Spinell, however, run from their problems but towards no better solution, thereby causing them to remain “sick.”