Atmosphere, Mood, Stimmung: On a Hidden Potential of Literature

By Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht; Erik Butler | Go to book overview

THE WEIGHT OF
THOMAS MANN’S
VENICE

ACCORDING TO WORKING NOTES, Thomas Mann understood Death in Venice—which appeared in 1912 and soon became a favorite for generations of readers—in relation to the theme of the “tragedy of artistic mastery.” In 1901, at the age of twenty-six, he had published Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family. A decade later, Mann worried whether he would obtain comparable success again. He also reflected on the style and subject matter “worthy” of an author who had met with favorable response from critics and fulfilled the expectations of a broad international readership; therefore, he thought, he could no longer simply follow the most recent intellectual and literary fashions. Georg Lukács’s essay, “Longing and Form,” offered a point of condensation for the debates on the “tragedy of artistic mastery”—a popular topic one hundred years ago. In this piece, the young Lukács drew attention to the “intellectual renewal” that Socrates had experienced late in life, but he drew gloomy consequences for literary authors: “poets will forever be denied such a renewal. The object of their desire has a weight of its own—life that desires its own completion. The renewal of artists always leads to tragedy, for a single form must

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