Death in Venice & Seven Other Stories

ISBN: 067960040X
ISBN 13: 9780679600404
By: Thomas Mann Helen T. Lowe-Porter

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Classics Currently Reading Favorites Fiction German German Literature Germany Literature Short Stories To Read

About this book

Death in Venice -- Tonio Kröger --Mario and the magician --Disorder and early sorrow --A man and his dog --The blood of the Walsungs --Tristan --Felix Krull.

Reader's Thoughts

Josh Mings

I enjoyed Tonio Kroger and A Man and His Dog greatly, but the rest missed the mark for me. It was interesting to see the links to The Magic Mountain in the short stories.

karen

european men, stay put. seriously, nothing good ever happens to you when you leave whatever small european town you are from and venture into the wider world. whether it is gide and tunisia, conrad and the congo, robbe-grillet with wherever that was, various graham greenes; statistically, there will be temptations which you are not equipped to resist and you will either succumb or drive yourself to humiliation and despair with the wanting to succumb. and i totally get it - different surroundings, absence of judgmental peer group, it's vacation morality. when i was in prague, i totally stole a guinness mug from the irish pub i fell in love with. so i am no stranger to a wild life of crime and transgression. i left the children alone, though... (for the record, lawrence durrell is totally exempt from this advice, although since he is dead, it doesn't really matter...)and just so we're clear - i only read death in venice. the other seven stories can go screw for now - this is just book club fare, and if i have time in my life to read more troubled intellectual germans, i will know where to turn. but for now, i must bake book club cake and enjoy my free snow day.readers, thinkers, and drinkers feb 2010

Frank Spencer

I just read Death in Venice; I'll save the seven other stories for later. Maybe I'll try a H. James story next.

Mateo

Beautiful prose can be found in here...florid descriptions of such density I practically had an allergic attack to its bouquet. But I was left a bit unsatisfied at the end of each story. The tales seemed to have no closure, or perhaps more accurately, no climax. A bit like Catcher in the Rye: things happen and then, the End.

Jerry Auld

In the age (1911) before TV this style of writing was probably the only game in town, and it may be that this was the first time that a story had delved into madness and obsession in such a metaphorical way for the demise of a man who is yearning for the innocence of his youth, but today, and to me, it reads thick and overwritten, clunky at times and not at all delivering the bang for the work. Mann is subtle, but it would work better with a lighter touch on the exposition. Perhaps I was not the right audience, but I struggle to see how his reputation is deserved.

Matthew Balliro

Whether you're going to call it a novella, a short story, or something in between, "Death in Venice" is simply an ensnaring work. It's nothing groundbreaking or experimental (from what I can tell; but I'm not an expert in pre-War short German fiction), but that doesn't mean it isn't fascinating. It's the story of an aging German writer's vacation to Venice and his reflections and encounters with beauty, youth, and illness when he's there. That's a much-simplified description of what's going on, and it really needs to be read to be experienced. Recommended for everyone.

David

I think I'm fonder of the other Mann I've read, but I would never deny Mann's skill in writing. Some of these stories were a little more contemplative in approach than lived for me, perhaps more intellectualized than suited me at the moment. Still I enjoyed a number of these stories a great deal. After all, Mann is the man.

Eric

It's intellectually lazy to review a book and say, "No one writes like this anymore." Promulgating this false nostalgia is just puffery, a proclamation that one (save the speaker) appreciates the finer things that are no longer produced. But that sentence kept running through my mind while I read this collection of novellas (they are much more than short stories), so what was this feeling?Thomas Mann's novellas start very slowly and as I read each of these, I would begin to think that finally I'd found the collection's clunker. After about fifteen pages, I would begin to find myself increasingly eager to go where this was going and eventually some aspect of it would seep into me and I would find myself absorbed in its narrative world. This was especially true of Mario and the Magician and The Blood of the Walsungs, but even the quiet simplicity of "A Man and His Dog" drew me in.So what struck me was not just the way Mann lets his narratives unfold at a pace suited to the story at hand but also the completely matter of fact aesthetic of the retelling. These are not stories begging for attention, eager to demonstrate how clever they are; they are self-assurred and clever simply because they are. There is no meta-narrative, Mann is not winking from behind a curtain in the room, there is only the tales, well-told, engaging you on their own terms.Thinking back to my first thought, it's tempting to compare this literary confidence with its modern antitheses on my bookshelves, but it doesn't really serve a purpose. Just read these novellas.

Jessica

Holy hell, Death in Venice is fucking amazing. If, like me, you somehow just never got around to reading it, pull yourself together and do something about that now.

Palmyrah

'A level of literary quality,' says the blurb on the back cover of my Bantam Classics paperback edition, 'that Mann himself despaired of ever again matching.' Well, perhaps it's better in German. I tried the first three stories; they all seemed to be about solitary young men of straitened means and aesthetic if depressive inclinations living rather uneventful lives in Bavaria. I managed to finish the first story; the second seemed to be a variation on the first, and I abandoned it when, on turning the third page, I found myself faced with another expanse of solid prose unbroken by quotation marks. I had hopes for the third story, Gladius Dei, because it is very sort, yet the first part of it appeared, to my skipping eye, to be nothing but a travelogue description of Munich. Several pages passed before an actual character made his appearance. By then I had lost interest.In despair, I turned to the last story, the acknowledged masterpiece, Death in Venice. It seems to be about one of those young Bavarians, now mature and artistically successful, who decides to take a break from his work and travel to Venice, where he falls in love with a boy and falls to pieces. I never got as far as the boy. The prose was more muscular than in the other three stories I read, but after a few pages I had to throw it down for sheer dullness.I know Mann is heavy going. I have read Doctor Faustus , and though it was a struggle, it was one I found rewarding indeed. I wish I could say the same for these early stories of Mann's, but honesty compels me to admit I found them over-ruminative, stodgy and dull as ditchwater.

Sheri-lee

It's always so very difficult to rate a collection of stories. I think I'll star them separately with brief comments on each story below.'Death in Venice' (4)Reads like the fascination of a train wreck -- the awfulness that you can't take your eyes away from.'Tonio Kroger' (4)Love not lived, life not lived. Art...expression and appreciation and how very different they can be. The last three paragraphs are fantastic.'Mario and the Magician' (4)Reminiscent of 'World of Wonders' by Robertson Davies in the creepy illusionist persona genre. (Or perhaps Robertson Davies is reminiscent of Thomas Mann...it just happens that I read Davies' story first). Again this one reads like a train wreck fascination except this time the narrator is aware of it in the telling.'Disorder and Early Sorrow' (5)A story for all father's to read, especially fathers of little girls. Sweetness and beauty in the big sorrows of little people.'A Man and His Dog' (5)Wonderful opening sentence, paragraph and chapter; one I wish I could memorize for it's beauty since this is a borrowed library book that I won't have quick access to. It's the kind of chapter that you would re-read to lift your spirits.'The Blood of the Walsungs'(2)I never really understand these story lines of incestuous narcissism. But I did learn a lot about Norse Mythology, Richard Wagner, and his operas trying to figure out who Siegmund and Sieglinde were. :)'Tristan' (3)Again interesting usage of Wagner's operas in these short stories. It's possible I'm getting more out of some of my research around Mann's writings than from the writings themselves. :) Typical Mann juxtapositioning with Herr Spinell as the hero, but a cowardly one at that.'Felix Krull' (2)This is a short story written in 1911 to which Mann further expanded into a larger work in 1955. If I were a psychiatrist, I bet I could diagnose Felix Krull with something. There is nothing endearing about him...perhaps the longer version will flesh that out??

Todd Johnson

"Death In Venice" is not a great way to stay awake on an airplane that you had to be up at 4:30 to catch, but with the help of some crappy airline coffee I was able to get past the first 15 pages, and at that point it becomes a really touching story. If I had read it as a senior or a junior in high school, it probably would be one of my all-time favorite stories. But, as I've gotten older, it's gotten harder for me to get as excited about fiction which contains extended narratives about Art. This is much more an issue with my taste than it is with the writing. Opting for something lighter on the return flight, I didn't get to the rest of the stories.

Kv Santosh

A collection of novellas. Bleak and melancholic in tone, the stories describe unrequited love; with Dickensian protagonists. The title story chronicles an elderly author's secret gay love for a boy - a magnificient piece of prose.

Ian Paganus

Elements in a Composition"Death in Venice" was published in 1912, when Thomas Mann was 37. The protagonist is in his mid-50’s.Both Mann and his wife, Katia, acknowledged that virtually all of the elements of the plot were modelled on their trip to Venice in 1911. However, I don’t see any value in trying to analyse the novella as an exploration of Mann’s own homoeroticism. Mann had to choose, prioritise, sublimate and arrange his inspiration as "elements in a composition". I’d prefer to approach the novella on the basis that it addresses abstract issues that were of concern to Mann for the whole of his life. Indeed, most of them were of equal concern to Goethe, Nietzsche and Freud, not to mention Socrates and Plato before them and Nabokov subsequently. To paraphrase Anthony Heilbut, I’d prefer to "contemplate the metaphysical implications than the sordid reality". I don’t really care if there was a sordid reality."Overindulged Intellect, Overcultivated Erudition"Gustav von Aschenbach is a prominent writer who has achieved critical, popular and official success. He has his "father’s sober, conscientious nature" (an Apollonian influence) and the "darker, more fiery impulses of the mother" (a Dionysian influence).Though he had passed through a "libertine chrysalis stage", he "had never [truly] known leisure, the carefree idleness of youth,...he had...stumbled in public, made false moves, made a fool of himself, violating tact and good sense in word and deed. Yet he eventually gained the dignity to which…every great talent feels instinctively drawn."In the manner of his father, he had "overindulged the intellect, overcultivated erudition", combined the "rapture of the will with clever management" and so never managed to become an "incorrigible bohemian".He was married, but soon after became a widower with a daughter who is now married. He is unencumbered by any significant female presence.An experience while waiting for a tram rattles his composure. In a scene that foreshadows the primary drama of the novella, Aschenbach scrutinises a relatively nondescript male in a bast hat who looks at him "so belligerently, so directly, so blatantly determined to challenge him publicly and force him to withdraw it". This experience awakened in him a latent desire, and this desire "sported eyes". He learns to look, he learns to see, he learns, perhaps, to gaze:"His imagination…conjured forth the earth’s manifold wonders and horrors in his attempt to visualize them: he saw."While he has always been "averse to diversion and no lover of the external world and its variety", he feels an "urge to flee his work, the humdrum routine of a rigid, cold, passionate duty."Aschenbach’s flight from diligence witnesses him depart to Venice, a city which is half fairy-tale and half tourist trap.He has succumbed to a Wanderlust. The Lust of the WandererOne purpose of the trip might be to satiate not just Aschenbach’s need to wander, but his lust as well.Not only does Aschenbach embark on a journey into the outside world, but he commences a journey into his own psyche.Again, Mann uses a "double" to foreshadow what is to come, this time by describing the atmosphere of one of Aschenbach’s novels:"Elegant self-possession concealing inner dissolution and biological decay from the eyes of the world until the eleventh hour; a sallow, sensually destitute ugliness capable of fanning its smoldering lust into a pure flame, indeed, of rising to sovereignty in the realm of beauty; pallid impotence probing the incandescent depths of the mind for the strength to cast an entire supercilious people at the foot of the Cross, at their feet; an obliging manner in the empty, punctilious service of form; the life, false and dangerous, and the swiftly enervating desires and art of the born deceiver."This language of dissolution, decay, destitution, ugliness, impotence, superciliousness, punctiliousness, deception hints at the nature of Aschenbach’s inner desire. However, I prefer the view that this pejorative language is intended to describe not the nature of his desire, but the consequences of repressing it. To the extent that we repress desire, we are inauthentic. The Journey to ElysiumThere is a duality in the journey. It seems to be genuinely life-affirming, but it recognises the inevitability of Aschenbach’s death (which is foreshadowed in the title of the novel).Mann describes the journey in terms of the Elysian Fields:"Then he would feel he had indeed been whisked off to the land of Elysium, to the ends of the earth, where man is granted a life of ease, where there is no snow nor yet winter, no tempest, no pouring rain, but only the cool gentle breath released by Oceanus, and the days flow past in blissful idleness, effortless, free of strife, and consecrated solely to the sun and its feasts." 1, 2Implicit is not just the promise of a certain joie de vivre, but perhaps also a joie de mort.It’s arguable that Elysium represented both the beginning and the end of Aschenbach’s life, perhaps the realization of his life. It is a place where the quick and the dead, mortals and immortals, men and gods are one.The Middle of the JourneyOn the ship out, Aschenbach experiences another potential double, an ugly version of himself– an older man consorting with youths, dressed in an extravagantly cut, foppish, gaudy suit with a "rakishly uptilted Panama hat" (does the hat maketh the man?), whom he describes as a "superannuated dandy":"...it was repugnant to behold the state to which the spruced-up fossil had been reduced by his spurious coalition with the young…he displayed a pitiful exuberance, buttonholing everyone who came up to him, jabbering, winking, sniggering, lifting a wrinkled, ringed finger as a part of some fatuous teasing and licking the corners of his mouth with the tip of his tongue in a revoltingly suggestive manner."Note the almost vicious assonance – spruced-up, reduced, spurious, exuberance, fatuous, suggestive – which might owe something, if not everything, to the translation. Clearly repulsed, Aschenbach describes his feelings in terms of "warping" (bent, twisted, distorted):"He had the impression that something was not quite normal, that a dreamlike disaffection, a warping of the world into something alien was about to take hold…Aschenbach watched him with a frown, and once more a feeling of numbness came over him, as if the world were moving ever so slightly yet intractably towards a strange and grotesque warping, a feeling which circumstances kept him from indulging in..."The Weft and the Warp in the Social FabricThe reference to "indulging" seems to suggest that he might have participated, but for the circumstances that intervened.This dualism is woven into the fabric of the novel, it is its weft and warp. As Aschenbach summarises the events of his voyage, he remarks:"The observations and encounters of a man of solitude and few words are at once more nebulous and more intense than those of a gregarious man, his thoughts more ponderable, more bizarre and never without a hint of sadness."Images and perceptions that might easily be dismissed with a glance, a laugh, an exchange of opinions occupy him unduly; they are heightened in the silence, gain in significance, turn into experience, adventure, emotion. "Solitude begets originality, bold and disconcerting beauty, poetry. But solitude can also beget perversity, disparity, the absurd and the forbidden."Solitude can breed aberrant or deviant behavior. Society is a leveler, a normaliser."Wretched Figure"Mann hints at this duality earlier when he summarises Aschenbach’s novel "Wretched Figure", about a character who acts out of "debility, depravity, or ethical laxity".Aschenbach’s creative process reflects a moral rigor or ossification as he abandoned his youthful embrace of the existentialist "abyss". He had sided with convention, and "cast out" the non-conformist:"The power of the word by which the outcast was cast out heralded a rejection of all moral doubt, all sympathy with the abyss, a renunciation of the leniency implicit in the homily claiming that to understand is to forgive, and what was under way here, indeed, what had come to pass was the ‘miraculous rebirth of impartiality,’ which surfaced a short time later with a certain mysterious urgency in one of the author’s dialogues... "Was it an intellectual consequence of this "rebirth," this new dignity and rigor, that at approximately this time critics observed an almost excessive intensification of his aesthetic sensibility, a noble purity, simplicity, and harmony of form that henceforth gave his artistic production so manifest, indeed, so calculated a stamp of virtuosity and classicism?" The Aesthetic FormStill, Aschenbach speculates that this moral rigidity contains a paradox:"...does not moral fortitude beyond knowledge—beyond disintegrative and inhibitory erudition—entail a simplification, a moral reduction of the world and the soul and hence a concomitant intensification of the will to evil, the forbidden, the morally reprehensible? "And has not form a double face? Is it not moral and immoral at once—moral as the outcome and expression of discipline, yet immoral, even antimoral, insofar as it is by its very nature indifferent to morality, indeed, strives to bend morality beneath its proud and absolute scepter?"Something powerful has occurred in these Nietzschean words.The type of erudition that Aschenbach targets is inhibitory, repressive, inauthentic and disintegrative. It creates a false dichotomy, which ironically intensifies the lure of evil.Equally importantly, Aschenbach has severed form, beauty and aesthetics from the realm of morality. This permits the remainder of the novel to concern itself with beauty, desire and the gaze, free of moral connotations.It’s up to us, the readers, to determine whether this quest is legitimate.The Beauty of TadzioThis is when a beautiful long-haired blonde 14 year old Polish boy called Tadzio comes into the picture.As would later be the case with "Lolita", this sentence might be less disturbing for readers, if the boy’s age began with a digit other than "1".I wish to postpone my discussion of hebephilia to the aesthetic or metaphysical issues. I also want to divorce the metaphysical issues from any concern whether the relationship is homoerotic or heteroerotic.Aschenbach first spies Tadzio while seated on the promenade outside his hotel:"Aschenbach noted with astonishment that the boy was of a consummate beauty: his face—pale and charmingly reticent, ringed by honey-colored hair, with a straight nose, lovely mouth, and an expression of gravity sweet and divine—recalled Greek statuary of the noblest period, yet its purest formal perfection notwithstanding it conveyed a unique personal charm such that whoever might gaze upon it would believe he had never beheld anything so accomplished, be it in nature or in art."The response is an aesthetic one. It focuses on formal perfection as if the boy was a work of art, a classical Greek statue. To the extent that he is beautiful, he is also divine, a product or act of the gods. However, Mann goes further than pure artistic analysis: Aschenbach observes a unique personal charm, one that might not be found in either nature or art. Mann elaborates:"Good, good, thought Aschenbach with that cool, professional approval in which artists encountering a masterpiece sometimes shroud their delight, their excitement."I’m interested in his choice of the word, "shroud", which could mean either "clothe" (which is relatively neutral) or "hide". If the latter meaning was intended, then it introduces a sense of disingenuousness or insincerity.Divine BeautyLater, Aschenbach describes the statue as godlike. He associates beauty with the divine. It is how the divine manifests itself on earth. Beauty is perfection of form, and perfection is representative of the divine:"His eyes embraced the noble figure standing there at the edge of the blue, and in a rush of ecstasy he believed that his eyes gazed upon beauty itself, form as divine thought, the sole and pure perfection that dwells in the mind and whose human likeness and representation, lithe and lovely, was here displayed for veneration."Aschenbach quotes Socrates to Phaedrus:"For beauty, my dear Phaedrus, and beauty alone is at once desirable and visible: it is, mark my words, the only form of the spiritual we can receive through our senses and tolerate thereby. "Think what would become of us were the godhead of reason and virtue and truth to appear before our eyes!...Hence beauty is the path the man of feeling takes to the spiritual, though merely the path, dear young Phaedrus, a means and no more."The sight of true beauty unsettles Aschenbach, as if he had never experienced it in nature or in art before:"This was intoxication, and the aging artist welcomed it unquestioningly, indeed, avidly. His mind was in a whirl, his cultural convictions in ferment; his memory cast up ancient thoughts passed on to him in his youth though never yet animated by his own fire."Gazing at Tadzio forces Aschenbach to cast off his moral rigidity. He now resides solely within the aesthetic (and therefore, the spiritual) sphere, or so it would seem.Platonic FormsThe word "form" is vital to Mann’s analysis of beauty. It reflects Plato’s theory of Forms or Ideas. It’s probably also worth mentioning Kant in this context (but that’s a whole other story). The ideal form is the path by which beauty allows us to travel to divinity or spirituality:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theory_o...Still, Mann appears to poke fun at the idea as well:"Tired yet mentally alert, [Aschenbach] whiled away the lengthy meal pondering abstract, even transcendental matters such as the mysterious connection that must be established between the generic and the particular to produce human beauty and moving on to general problems of form and art only to conclude that his thoughts and discoveries resembled certain seemingly felicitous revelations that come to us in dreams and after sober consideration prove perfectly inane and worthless."Again, it’s difficult to determine whether this apparent aside is designed to undermine our perception of Aschenbach’s sincerity.The Subject’s Relationship with the Object of BeautyOnce an object of beauty exists, we can look at and see it. We gaze at it. We desire it. "Our desire sports eyes." To reverse the order of Socrates’ dictum, beauty is both visible and desirable.The object of my desire is a vehicle through which I can experience something beautiful, feel good, and witness something divine, godly or spiritual.The German word "Sehnsucht" describes the sense of longing, yearning or craving for the object of desire, as well as the sense that something is missing or incomplete:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SehnsuchtAschenbach feels this Sehnsucht more acutely, because he is a writer. Again, he cites Socrates:"...we poets cannot follow the path of beauty lest Eros should join forces with us and take the lead…passion is our exultation and our longing must ever be love—such is our bliss and our shame."Our longing manifests itself as love. So it is that Aschenbach:"...whispered the standard formula of longing—impossible here, absurd, perverse, ridiculous and sacred nonetheless, yes, still venerable even here: "I love you!"Yes, Aschenbach has made a silent declaration of love, but has he made a fool of himself again?Lust in LongingThe perception of beauty gives the subject an experience of the divine. This allows the subject to internalize the divine.Mann/Aschenbach uses this mechanism to describe a paradox:"And then he [Socrates] made his most astute pronouncement, the crafty wooer, namely, that the lover is more divine than the beloved, because the god dwells in the former, not the latter, which is perhaps the most delicate, most derisive thought ever thought by man and the source of all the roguery and deep-seated lust in longing."Socrates’ describes the desire for a whore or a "comely maid" as lust, whereas a man's desire for his wife is love, even though it is also part lust.Perhaps, the quotation of Socrates is directed at the dissociation of love and lust, where lust dominates, in which case it constitutes "roguery".While Aschenbach does not consummate his love or longing for Tadzio, some readers might believe that his "love" is mere rationalization of his lust.Transgressive LustI don’t consider homoerotic love to be transgressive. The gender of the love object is personal to the subject. I am more interested in the metaphysics and the mechanisms of desire, lust and love (and their mutual fulfillment) than the gender of the object.I also don’t see any point in trying to analyse Mann’s personal views on homosexuality within a literary context. I think that he places all forms of love within the same metaphysical framework. I believe that beauty, desire, lust and love are subjective. Each of us carries around in our mind a "form", which we apply to each object upon which we gaze. To the extent that the object and the ideal conform, we find it beautiful and we feel good. Social standards and ideals of beauty might impact on us, but that does not detract from the subjectivism of our own preferences.You Can Look, But You Can’t TouchReaders might wish to form a view with respect to Aschenbach’s hebephilia.This is a moral and legal issue determined and enforced by social sanction. Mann suggests that Aschenbach lost his moral compass:"...when he sat in the morning by the sea, his gaze—heavy, injudicious, and fixed—resting on the object of his desire, or when, as evening fell, he resumed his undignified pursuit through the narrow streets clandestinely haunted by loathsome dying, things monstrous seemed auspicious and the moral code null and void."However, apart from thinking and stalking, Aschenbach never actually did anything either immoral or illegal. He never consummated his passion for the object of his desire. He might have had a cosmetic makeover, he might have been "in search of his lost youth", but he did not transgress with any other lost youth. I think he was genuinely "in love".Sun, Leisure and Sea BreezesAschenbach’s journey took him to the edge of the Elysian Fields, the edge of the sea, Oceanus, a beach where "the sun diverts our attention from the intellectual to the sensual". Tadzio was the metaphorical vessel by which he arrived there.As we can glean from the title, Aschenbach also died there. As Aschenbach dies in his chair, Mann plays around with the identity of the perspective he is describing. At first, it is Aschenbach’s, then it appears to be Tadzio’s, then it reverts to Aschenbach. Each one gazes at the other.I suspect that Mann’s intention was to transmit Aschenbach’s aesthetics to Tadzio, if he did not already subconsciously share them.If we remove the hebephilic issue by substituting a consenting adult object, then the novella is an eloquent argument not to repress desire, except within moral and legal limits. It is the "overindulged intellect", "overcultivated erudition" that is disintegrative and inhibitory, and therefore unhealthy. Mann was trying to integrate the Apollonian and the Dionysian spirits. I still think it’s a good idea.

Yair Bezalel

It can be a joy to be wrong sometimes. Going into this collection I didn't have much to go on regarding Thomas Mann. I'd heard some biographical details and titles of works, but nothing more. I'd heard his name mentioned in the same breaths and sentences as Kafka, Goethe, Hesse, in German literature particularly, and in the same vein along some of the writers of the highest echelons of the world generally, but I, for lack of a better term, never got around to him. I expected him to be the runt of the German litter, the one who came late to the party and only made it in by the skin of his teeth. I was wrong beyond words.But one early evening segueing languidly into night in Jerusalem, I popped into a used bookshop (which, wonderfully, Jerusalem has plenty of) and picked up a few tomes for my soon to be coming move back to America. I was in an odd state of mind as I was tremendously relieved to be traveling back to the country of my upbringing with all that that entailed...but I was also more than a bit sad, troubled even, that I hadn't succeeded in Israel. Not getting into the army, not learning Hebrew quickly enough to get a job to improve it further and also being unable to attain the Masters degree I had to set out to obtain...I was tired, so tired, in so many ways.On that night though, I picked up (if I recall correctly) Peer Gynt, a copy of A History of Ancient Philosophy, and this Thomas Mann collection.A lot happened between my buying the collection and my actually reading it. For one thing, I left Israel and spent an eventful and infinitely memorable six days in Estonia. After that I made my way back home to California. It was there I started thumbing through Death in Venice.It was a slow process. I thought after reading Saul Bellow I'd be ready for languid prose that took it's time and suffused the pages as well as nearly overwhelmed the reader with no acquiescence to ease or convenience. But Bellow would be the speaker at the dinner party, the man surrounded by onlookers throwing out as many cultured references and allusions as he can muster in an attempt to do through force what a writer like Mann, the one sitting around a fire place with a sparse but intimate number of friends can do easily, casually, with no less effort, but with infinitely more grace, calculation, and, dare I say, skill.Death in Venice is haunting to me because it acts, completely knowingly, as a collapsing bridge between two exclusive worlds beyond joining, that are also inexorably linked. The ancient world of the classics, of Greek, of Latin, of Gods and and passion and feeling more fluid, more primal than what we have now. And the second world, our ostensible world, a world trying harder and harder to divest itself of its more flexible, even more sylvan past, and maintain everything through repetitious, near dogmatic assertions of reason, logic, philosophy, science, all of it meant to make explicable, make real, make palatable our reality. But Mann in this story, depicts a man torn in half who vacillates between straddling the line and, finally, inevitably, letting it cut him in two, destroying him utterly. It's a fecund and feverish story that's relentless in its artistry. Objectionable due to the content? Of a grown man fallen in hopeless love and lust for a boy? Oh, most definitely. But that's the point. It's from this vantage point Mann shows us two worlds colliding, and all the passionate and destructive fallout that ensues. It's a lush and even deadly story.Now, as for the rest of the collection. What can I possibly say? They are all excellent. And considering this is a short story collection that's doubly impressive. I don't think I've ever given a perfect score to any collection like this before, not even Joyce's Dubliners. Tonio Kruger is as beautiful an authorial and even artistic manifesto as one is likely to find (hand in hand with Portrait of the Artist), Man and his Dog is a humble and warm slice of life, Tristan is a maddening look at human frailty and the power coupled with futility of the written word, Blood of the Walsungs is a masterwork of decadence and narcissism and an incredible depiction of an empty and superficial generation descending into apathy and slow irrelevant death. Mario and the Magician is a deft satire about the rise of character based cults in German leadership and chilling given its context. Disorder and Early Sorrow feels like a blueprint for later works, a slow and drawn out exhalation that still holds true and still shows the keenness of Mann's vision. And finally Felix Krull, while funny, is also unexpectedly tragic, so much so that I believe the last few lines of it, of a son paying tribute to a dead father through the gift of his tears, will stay with me for quite some time, if not for the rest of my time I read and think.It's a powerful collection, at times, many times, even sublime. Please devote yourself to it when you get a chance, make the time for it even. It's worth far and beyond the time and energy needed to read it and will pay you back emotionally, even spiritually, in dividends, as an affirmation or possibly a reaffirmation of the awesome and necessary power of true words written by a divinely skilled hand. And now, as per a friend's advice, I must start the Magic Mountain, possibly even putting my life on hold until it's finished and appreciated fully.

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