Academic journal article German Quarterly

Niedergangsdiagnostik. Zur Funktion von Krankheitsmotiven in "Buddenbrooks"

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Niedergangsdiagnostik. Zur Funktion von Krankheitsmotiven in "Buddenbrooks"

Article excerpt

Max, Katrin. Niedergangsdiagnostik. Zur Funktion von Krankheitsmotiven in "Buddenbrooks"." Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2008. 412pp. euro69.00 hardback.

Katrin Max's monograph, the fortieth volume of the Thomas-Mann-Stuthen released by the Thomas-Mann-Archive in Zurich, is another example of the instructive and challenging texts published by the archive since 1967. It presents a largely new reading of Mann's first novel, Buddenbrooks (1901) that centers on the theme of Verfall, the novel's subtitle. Max, whose training includes the sciences as well as the humanities, has also written on Mann's Der Zauberberg, "Die Betrogene, " and "Tristan" with an interest in the liminal aspects of her disciplines. In this volume, she focuses on why and how degeneration strikes the Buddenbrooks: Hereditary and progressive biological-medical agents are at work, she determines, set off by certain behavioral "initiators," a "common root," a nervousness, that may, in turn, be the consequence of an innate "disharmony." The story might be read as a bourgeois rendering of the biblical story of original sin.

Max does not reject interpretations declaring the decline as a largely cultural phenomenon brought on by modernity with its secularization, new business models, fin de siècle anxiety, or Nietzschean ideas oídécadence; she means to complement those suppositions. Since there is little known about Mann's scientific sources - we know of Meyers Konversations-Lexikon (probably the 5th edition) with regard to Hanno's typhus - Max relies on discourse analysis, attributing the awareness Mann might have had to "cultural knowledge" (Michael Titzmann 1989).

Theorists who have left traces in Mann's novel are French psychiatrists Morel and Magnan (1809-73, 1835-1916), Italian criminologist Lombroso (1837-1909), and German neurologist Paul Julius Möbius (1853-1907), whose bookD/e Nervosität (1882) Max regards as the most likely and direct source for Buddenbrooks. And, indeed, much convinces: We find Morel's well known four-generational scheme of degeneracy in the novel and initial moral and religious failure in Johann Buddenbrook's superficial attitude toward religion, his rejection of Gotthold's right of inheritance, and his businesssavvy marriage. Increased religious faddism and fatalism mark the second generation, together with another set of loveless family nuptials, that of Tony and Grünlich. …

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