Now this is a tribute to the great novelist Thomas Mann!
Thomas Mann was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and novellas, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual.
His analysis and critique of the European and German soul used modernized German and Biblical stories, as well as the ideas of Goethe, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer.
Mann was a member of the Hanseatic Mann family, and portrayed his own family and social class in the novel Buddenbrooks.
His older brother was the radical writer Heinrich Mann, and three of his six children, Erika Mann, Klaus Mann and Golo Mann, also became important German writers. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Mann fled to Switzerland. When World War II broke out in 1939, he emigrated to the United States, whence he returned to Switzerland in 1952. Thomas Mann is one of the best-known exponents of the so-called Exilliteratur.
“Modern Book Printing” from the Walk of Ideas in Berlin, Germany – built in 2006 to commemorate Johannes Gutenberg’s invention, c. 1445, of movable printing type.
Thomas Mann’s works were first translated into English by H. T. Lowe-Porter beginning in 1924. Mann was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1929, principally in recognition of his popular achievement with the epic Buddenbrooks (1901), The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg 1924), and his numerous short stories. (Due to the personal taste of an influential committee member, only Buddenbrooks was cited explicitly.)
Based on Mann’s own family, Buddenbrooks relates the decline of a merchant family in Lübeck over the course of three generations.
The Magic Mountain (Der Zauberberg, 1924) follows an engineering student who, planning to visit his tubercular cousin at a Swiss sanatorium for only three weeks, finds his departure from the sanatorium delayed. During that time, he confronts medicine and the way it looks at the body and encounters a variety of characters who play out ideological conflicts and discontents of contemporary European civilization.
The tetralogy Joseph and His Brothers is a four-part epic novel written over a period of sixteen years which is one of the largest and most significant works in Mann’s oeuvre.
Later, other novels included Lotte in Weimar (1939), in which Mann returned to the world of Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774); Doktor Faustus (1947), the story of composer Adrian Leverkühn and the corruption of German culture in the years before and during World War II; and Confessions of Felix Krull (Bekenntnisse des Hochstaplers Felix Krull, 1954), which was still unfinished at Mann’s death.
Mann’s diaries, unsealed in 1975, tell of his struggles with his bisexuality, which found reflection in his works, most prominently through the obsession of the elderly Aschenbach for the 14-year-old Polish boy Tadzio in the novella Death in Venice (Der Tod in Venedig, 1912).
Anthony Heilbut’s biography Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature (1997) was widely acclaimed for uncovering the centrality of Mann’s sexuality to his oeuvre. Gilbert Adair’s work The Real Tadzio (2001) describes how, in the summer of 1911, Mann had been staying at the Grand Hôtel des Bains on the Lido of Venice with his wife and brother when he became enraptured by the angelic figure of Władysław (Władzio) Moes, a 10-year-old Polish boy.
Handling the struggle between the Dionysiac and the Apollonian, Death in Venice has been made into a film and an opera. Blamed sarcastically by Mann’s old enemy, Alfred Kerr, to have ‘made pederasty acceptable to the cultivated middle classes’, it has been pivotal in introducing the discourse of same-sex desire into general culture. Mann was a friend of the violinist and painter Paul Ehrenberg, for whom he had feelings as a young man.
Throughout his Dostoyevsky essay, he finds parallels between the Russian and the sufferings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Speaking of Nietzsche, he says: “his personal feelings initiate him into those of the criminal … in general all creative originality, all artist nature in the broadest sense of the word, does the same. It was the French painter and sculptor Degas who said that an artist must approach his work in the spirit of the criminal about to commit a crime.”
Nietzsche’s influence on Mann runs deep in his work, especially in Nietzsche’s views on decay and the proposed fundamental connection between sickness and creativity. Mann held that disease is not to be regarded as wholly negative. In his essay on Dostoyevsky we find: “but after all and above all it depends on who is diseased, who mad, who epileptic or paralytic: an average dull-witted man, in whose illness any intellectual or cultural aspect is non-existent; or a Nietzsche or Dostoyevsky. In their case something comes out in illness that is more important and conductive to life and growth than any medical guaranteed health or sanity… in other words: certain conquests made by the soul and the mind are impossible without disease, madness, crime of the spirit.”
Balancing his humanism and appreciation of Western culture, was his belief in the power of sickness and decay to destroy the ossifying effects of tradition and civilisation. Hence the “heightening” of which Mann speaks in his introduction to The Magic Mountain and the opening of new spiritual possibilities that Hans Castorp experiences in the midst of his sickness.
He also valued the insight of other cultures, notably adapting a traditional Indian fable in The Transposed Heads. His work is the record of a consciousness of a life of manifold possibilities, and of the tensions inherent in the (more or less enduringly fruitful) responses to those possibilities.
In his own summation (on receiving the Nobel Prize), “The value and significance of my work for posterity may safely be left to the future; for me they are nothing but the personal traces of a life led consciously, that is, conscientiously.”
In 1955, he died of atherosclerosis in a hospital in Zurich and was buried in Kilchberg. Many institutions are named in his honour, for instance the Thomas Mann Gymnasium of Budapest.