Eros, Existence, and Art in the Pandemic: Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice

Yu Min (Claire) Chen


Death in Venice, hailed as one of Thomas Mann’s best works, relates the plight and demise of a well-established aging writer, Aschenbach, similar to Dr Faust. The senile Aschenbach is dissatisfied with his life in seclusion, which formerly made him feel tranquil and peaceful. He now simply feels smothered by the bleak, chilly environment as well as his dwindling inspiration and vitality. He suddenly feels compelled to make a change to something vivid, creative, and vibrant. The gorgeous tourist beach in Venice serves as a haven for the weary writer, providing a paradise, like a retreat from his hard work. On the beach, he notices Tadzio, a Polish adolescent who embodies youth and beauty. Tadzio rekindles Aschenbach’s passion, enthusiasm, and inventiveness. Unfortunately, the emergence of cholera in Venice necessitates large evacuations for public safety and disease control. Aschenbach’s initial admiration and craving for Tadzio’s youth and beauty gradually develop into obsession. Ignoring the rapid spread of the disease, his own poor condition, and the evacuation order, Aschenbach refuses to leave Venice. He continues to stalk and observe Tadzio. His lover and obsession eventually lead to moral depravity and death.

In Plato’s Symposium, many varieties of love are defined. The paper examines how Aschenbach’s yearning for Tadzio descends from the love ladder in Plato’s Symposium. How has Aschenbach’s love for Tadzio changed? What does Tadzio represent for the aging author? Is he lamenting the loss of his youth? Is it his desire to be young and beautiful? Is Aschenbach’s eros (desire) for the young physical body desire for a creative state of being or a lifetime pursuit of art? The paper contends that Aschenbach deviates from the pursuit of artistic Ideals to the desires of corporeal youth, eventually losing his dignity and succumbing to the pandemic’s rampage. 


The Symposium, the Dionysian to the Apollonian, bourgeois art, modernism, the Birth of Tragedy

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