Academic journal article PSYART

Violence, Desire and the Body: A Kleinian Reading of Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain"

Academic journal article PSYART

Violence, Desire and the Body: A Kleinian Reading of Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain"

Article excerpt

abstract

This article proposes a Kleinian reading of Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain"(1924). The work of psychoanalyst Melanie Klein (1882-1960) foregrounds the way in which visceral corporeal experience is transformed into phantasy. The article examines the representation of the body, violence and desire in the light of these insights. It begins with a discussion of greed and hypochondriacal symptoms manifested by the characters from a Kleinian perspective. Close analysis of the representation of desire in "The Magic Mountain" reveals the Kleinian longing to get inside the mother's body and inflict sadism upon it. The article subsequently explores the way in which this sadism surfaces through the theme of violence which recurs throughout the text. Finally, the article suggests that its reading of "The Magic Mountain" might offer a redemptive reading of the novel, one which focuses on the role of reparation in assuaging the destructive passions that have been exposed and which highlights the role of the reader. The article concludes by suggesting where reparation might be located in a Kleinian reading of "The Magic Mountain".

The world of corporeality inhabited by Thomas Mann in The Magic Mountain is so vividly portrayed that it invites a Kleinian reading. The psychoanalyst Melanie Klein (1880-1960) developed a theoretical framework out of her empirical observations of children's behaviour, in which she highlighted the role of the body in infantile phantasy and the pivotal roles of aggression and envy in constituting object relations[1]. In focusing upon Thomas Mann's status as a pioneer of the Bildungsroman[2] and the philosophical novel, critics have largely failed to address not only the role of the body but the violence inflicted upon it from a psychoanalytic perspective[3]. Several interesting exceptions are Elizabeth Boa, who highlights what she terms the "aesthetics of disgust" in The Magic Mountain, Buddenbrooks, and Der Tod in Venedig[4]. Stephen Joy's "Open Wide! An Oral Examination of Thomas Mann's Early Fiction",[5] in which he identifies the recurrence of the mouth in Mann's early fiction, and Andrew Webber's examination of gender identity in terms of performance, in "Mann's Man's World: gender and sexuality"[6]. There are interesting points of intersection between their work and mine, but their primary interest does not lie in addressing the problematic violence that is inherent to the fabric of Mann's writing from a Kleinian perspective[7]. Ritchie Robertson examines violent sacrifice and cannibalism in The Magic Mountain through the filter of religious ritual in his article, "Sacrifice and Sacrament in The Magic Mountain".[8] In doing so, he examines the lack of critical response to the violence in Mann's text, pointing out that Martin Swales is the only critic who addresses it from an ethical perspective[9]. Mann shows an awareness of violence but couches it in imagery of violence against the body. In this article I am interested in exploring why this may be the case. Boa argues persuasively that the "aesthetics of disgust" is a veiled way of representing "gangrenous wounds or collapsing lungs concealed within the symptomatology of tuberculosis[10]" but this does not go far enough in addressing the seductive appeal of the visceral bodies, the magnetic appeal of that corporeality, what we might tentatively call "the aesthetics of sadism". I propose a Kleinian reading of the desiring, diseased and appetitive body in The Magic Mountain, focusing on four principal areas: greed, hypochondriacal symptoms, desire and aggression. I aim to show that it is Klein, above all, who enables us to illuminate the reader's phantasmatic investment in Mann's text, to trace and inhabit the patterns of phantasy which crystallize around the representation of the body in The Magic Mountain.

The relationship between Mann and Freud was, by Mann's own admission, a "complex" one, characterized both by mutual respect and profound ambivalence[11]. …

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