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Modern European Intellectual History. Lecture 6 Thomas Mann: Art, Form, and Passion February 11, 2008. outline. intro: Thomas Mann’s life homosexuality: rival approaches Buddenbrooks (1900) “Tonio Kr ö ger ” (1903) interlude: primitivism and sacrifice “Death in Venice” (1912)

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Modern european intellectual history

Modern EuropeanIntellectual History

Lecture 6

Thomas Mann: Art, Form, and Passion

February 11, 2008


Outline
outline

  • intro: Thomas Mann’s life

  • homosexuality: rival approaches

  • Buddenbrooks (1900)

  • “Tonio Kröger” (1903)

  • interlude: primitivism and sacrifice

  • “Death in Venice” (1912)

  • conclusion


Mann s life
Mann’s life

  • Lübeck

  • Munich

  • Paul Ehrenberg

  • Katia (Pringsheim) Mann


Homosexuality naturalist hypothesis
homosexuality: naturalist hypothesis

  • a. art as a displacement of or disguise for homosexuality (the artist has a secret).

  • Mann: “It is as well that the world knows only a fine piece of work and not also its origins, the conditions under which it came into being; for knowledge of the sources of an artist’s inspiration would often confuse readers and shock them, and the excellence of the writing would be of no avail” (135).

  • b. art as helping reveal this fact to the world (everyone else has a secret). 

  • Sigmund Freud; Otto Weininger, Sex and Character (1903)


Culturalist hypothesis
culturalist hypothesis

  • Magnus Hirschfeld

  • Weininger: ‘masculinity’ designated the pole of conscious subjective agency, rational control, ethical individuality, freedom and spiritual transcendence and ‘femininity’ designated the pole of unconscious objective passivity, sexual determinism, amorality, and material de-individualized immanence.


Cont d
cont’d

  • a. homosexuality as hypertrophy of feminine desire

  • Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Psychopathia Sexualis (1880-): Love is feminine; what is significant about homosexuals is not so much their different choice of object as their exaggeration in loving that object. Thus, homosexual love is like heterosexual love, only more so. For both Krafft-Ebing and Freud, the difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality is the difference between idealization and deification of the love object.


Cont d1
cont’d

  • b. ‘feminine Desire’ as a moral, social and political problem

  • ‘crisis of masculinity’

  • Mann: “For a significant intellectual product to make a broad and deep immediate appeal, there must be a hidden affinity, indeed, a congruence, between the personal destiny of the author and the wider destiny of his generation” (102).


Cont d2
cont’d

  • c. Mann: fiction as exploring the relationship between art and passion, masculinity and femininity

  • how artistry and homosexuality seemed alike to Mann: artists were like homosexuals - and vice versa - in their awareness of the claims of both genders and of reason and passion alike.

  • thesis: homosexuality helped Mann take up a particular position about the nature of art and explore its viability


Buddenbrooks the decline of a family 1900
Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family (1900)

  • Old Johann

  • Consul Johann

  • Thomas

  • Hanno

  • “Thomas regarded music as a hostile force that had come between him and his child - after all, he had hoped to make a genuine Buddenbrook of him, a strong and practical man with a powerful drive to master and take control of the world outside him.”


Tonio kr ger 1903
“Tonio Kröger” (1903)

  • How it hurt to feel the upsurge of wonderful sad creative powers within one, and yet to know that they can mean nothing to those happy people at whom one gazes in love and longing across a gulf of inaccessibility! (15). 

  • He surrendered himself utterly to that power which he felt to be the sublimest power on earth, to the service of which he felt called and which promised him honor and renown: the power of intellect and words, a power that sits smilingly enthroned above mere inarticulate, unconscious life. He surrendered to it with youthful passion, and it rewarded him with all that it has to give, while inexorably exacting its full price in return (16).

  • As an artist I’m already enough of an adventurer in my inner life. So far as outward appearances are concerned one should dress decently, damn it, and behave like a respectable citizen (20).

  • One simply has to be something inhuman, something standing outside humanity, strangely remote and detached from its concerns, if one is to have the ability or indeed even the desire to play this game with it, to play with men’s lives, to portray them effectively and tastefully. Our stylistic and formal talent, our gift of expression, itself presupposes this cold-blooded, fastidious attitude to mankind … As soon as an artist becomes human and begins to feel, he is finished as an artist (21).


Cont d3
cont’d

  • But what is an artist? I know of no other question to which human complacency and incuriosity has remained so impervious. “That sort of thing is a gift,” say average folk humbly, when a work of art has produced its intended effect upon them; and because in the goodness of their hearts they assume that exhilarating and noble causes, it never enters their heads that the origins of this so-called “gift” may well be extremely dubious and extremely disreputable (23).

  • [H]e saw himself corroded by irony and intellect, laid waste and paralyzed by insight, almost exhausted by the fevers and chills of creation, helplessly and contritely tossed to and fro between gross extremes, between saintly austerity and lust -- oversophisticated and impoverished, worn out by cold, rare, artificial ecstasies, lost, racked and sick -- and he sobbed with remorse. … I am between two worlds, I am at home in neither… (54-5.)


Interlude primitivism redux
interlude: primitivism redux

  • His imagination, still not at rest from the morning’s hours of work, shaped for itself a paradigm of all the wonders and terrors of the manifold earth, of all that it was now suddenly striving to encompass: he saw it, saw a landscape, a tropical swampland under a cloud-swollen sky, moist and lush and monstrous, a kind of primeval wilderness of islands, morasses and muddy alluvial channels; far and wide around him he saw hairy palm-trunks thrusting upward from rank jungles of fern, from among thick fleshy plants in exuberant flower; saw strangely misshapen trees with roots that arched through the air … exotic birds … the glinting eyes of a crouching tiger; and his heart throbbed with terror and mysterious longing… (97).

  • Dream of the Stranger God: “Was it not also enticing him - with shameless insistence to the feast and frenzy of the uttermost surrender?”


Cont d4
cont’d

  • [The primitives] were himself as they flung themselves, tearing and slaying, on the animals and devoured steaming gobbets of flesh, they were himself as an orgy of limitless coupling, in homage to the god, began on the trampled, mossy ground. And his very soul savored the lascivious delirium of annihilation… (155).

  • Igor Stravinsky (1892-1971), Le Sacre du Printemps (1913)

  • Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929), Ballets russes

  • Vaslav Nijinsky (1888-1950


Stravinsky
Stravinsky

  • Henri Matisse, “The Dance” (1909)


Death in venice 1912
“Death in Venice” (1912)

  • His head and his heart were drunk, and his steps followed the dictates of that dark god whose pleasure it is to trample man’s reason and dignity underfoot… (142).

  • [M]onstrous things seemed full of promise to him, and the moral law no longer valid… (156).

  • Dream: The scene of the events was his own soul, and they irrupted into it from outside, violently defeating his resistance -- a profound, intellectual resistance -- as they passed through him and leaving his whole being, the culture of a lifetime, devastated and destroyed… (154). 


The abyss
the abyss

  • Do you believe, dear boy, that the man whose path to the spiritual passes through the senses can ever achieve wisdom and true manly dignity? Or do you think rather (I leave it to you to decide) that this is a path of dangerous charm, very much an errant and sinful path which must of necessity lead us astray? For I must tell you that we artists cannot tread the path of Beauty without Eros keeping company with us and appointing himself as our guide; yes, though we may be heroes in our fashion and disciplined warriors, yet we are like women, for it is passion that exalts us, and the longing of our soul must remain the longing of a lover … that is our joy and our shame. Do you see now perhaps why we writers can be neither wise nor dignified? That we necessarily remain dissolute emotional adventurers? The magisterial poise of our style is a lie and a farce… We try to achieve dignity by repudiating [the] abyss, but whichever way we turn we are subject to its allurement. (159).


Conclusion
conclusion

  • To what extent can form serve as a defense against desire?

  • Aschenbach: The magisterial poise of our form is a lie and a farce… (159)

  • Mann in 1940: Death in Venice “displays in its manner and style that very stance of dignity and mastery which is denounced in it as spurious and foolish.”

  • questions: What would a formless art look like? What would a replacement of “bourgeois” mastery with “artistic” submission look like socially and politically?