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Title: The fantastic in Thomas Mann's Der Tod in Venedig and Joseph und seine Brüder
Author: Nolan, Tom
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2011
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The thesis includes an introductory survey of recent relevant secondary literature and a coda dealing with the fantastic as a manifestation of Schiller’s ‘Spieltrieb’. Its main body, however, is comprised of three substantial chapters prosecuting two interlinked arguments: (1) that Der Tod in Venedig and Joseph und seine Brüder are fantastic narratives and (2) that the fantastic in these narratives works hand in glove with Mann’s philosophical concerns. In order to demonstrate that the first of these propositions is correct chapter II is devoted to showing how much Der Tod in Venedig has in common with works which are acknowledged to be part of the fantastic genre (as defined by Todorov and refined by Brooke-Rose): ‘The Black Cat’, ‘The Turn of the Screw’ and ‘Der Sandmann’. This chapter also attempts a hermeneutics of the fantastic by discussing each of the above mentioned stories in relation to morality, meaning and intention. Attempts to dismiss the putatively supernatural elements in Der Tod in Venedig are considered in the light of the critical debate as to whether ‘The Turn of the Screw’ should be considered a ghost story or just an account of hysterical hallucinations. This chapter also broaches the topic of the relationship between the metaphysical and the supernatural. Chapter III is an investigation of the meaning of Der Tod in Venedig in the light of Mann’s philosophical development. The question of whether he is more properly to be regarded as a Nietzschean or Schopenhauerian is raised, as is the influence of each on Mann’s earlier (i.e. pre-Tod in Venedig) fiction. It is suggested that neither of these philosophers could provide Mann with the sense of purpose vital to his literary creativity, and that he began casting around for an alternative to Nietzsche’s value-free naturalism and Schopenhauer’s value-free metaphysics. Two candidates are proposed: Plato (elements of whose philosophy Mann adopts without irony) and Schiller (as a synthesis of Platonism and Kantianism). Schiller’s interpretation of the contrast between a metaphysics of value on the one hand and a natural world with its own claims to respect on the other is advanced as the model for the ‘Geist/Natur’ distinction which lies at the heart of Mann’s world-view. Mann, it is argued, having begun to apprehend the deficiencies of both Nietzsche and Schopenhauer while not yet fully embracing the Schillerian categories he would later make his own, includes putatively supernatural elements in Der Tod in Venedig which can be understood both in terms of Schopenhauer’s ‘Wille’ and also in terms of a Platonic empyrean, so that it seems that two different metaphysical systems compete for space with one another. However, a Schillerian solution – involving the ‘Spieltrieb – to this apparently unsatisfactory situation is at hand. Chapter IV deals with Joseph, and it follows the analytic procedure established in the previous two chapters. Firstly it demonstrates that there are good reasons to suspect the presence of the supernatural in this novel. Secondly, it establishes the meaning of the supernatural by considering the philosophical background alluded to by the novel’s events and commentary. Numerous examples of the putatively supernatural are considered, as is the ubiquity of something that looks like providence throughout the tetralogy, and various naturalistic critiques are evaluated. The Schopenhauerian interpretation of the novel is discussed in the light of Mann’s 1937 essay on this philosopher, and is shown to be insufficient to explain the work as a whole. The importance of ‘Geist’ is emphasized. Complementing the proto-Christianity which has always been acknowledged as playing a role in Joseph a proto-Platonism is proposed as one of the novel’s main preoccupations, and the metaphysic behind the supernatural in Joseph is shown to be as Platonic as it is Christian. However, a certain Hegelianism (which Mann understands in a dualistic fashion) at work in Joseph suggests that direct access to a ‘Geist’ outside of the secular world (which is what Joseph apparently has) lacks the validity and staying-power of a ‘Geist’ realized through earthly struggle. This, the thesis suggests, is the reason that Juda rather than Joseph receives Jacob’s blessing.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral