I just finished Death in Venice by Thomas Mann and loved it! I have so much to say about the story that I've decided to break my entries into sections. This is part one. (Technically, it's part 2 because I posted my thoughts on a quote from the story HERE - so check that out also).
First, a summary: Death in Venice is the story of Gustav von Aschenbach (but I'll be calling him Gus von A), an acclaimed and well-respected German writer, who, in an uncharacteristic departure from his hyper-disciplined lifestyle, becomes obsessed with a beautiful boy named Tadzio while vacationing in Venice.
It seems pointless to review this classic story, so I'll be discussing some of my observations instead, starting with my thoughts on this quote:
“Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty unfamiliar and perilous- to poetry. But also, it gives birth to the opposite: to the perverse, the illicit, the absurd.”
This is the absolute truth, but I can only speak from my own experience. I spend a lot of time alone these days (thanks depression!) and have never been more creative or bizarre in my life. The chance to do heaps of silent sustained reading is plenty to be thankful for, so it's not all bad and I've gotten to know what I'm like when there's no one else around, when I don't have to answer to anyone's expectations. A descent into madness isn't out of the realm of possibility though (ha!).
Montaigne's On Idleness has something to say about this and it's very similar to Mann's description of Gus von A's isolation and its effects on his mind:
"I find... like a runaway horse, [the mind] is a hundred times more active on its own behalf than ever it was for others. It presents me with so many chimeras and imaginary monsters, one after another, without order or plan, that, in order to contemplate their oddness and absurdity at leisure, I have begun to record them in writing, hoping in time to make my mind ashamed of them."
Which is why I write as much as I do. Montaigne's Essays are the most honest and articulate exploration of character and personality I've ever come across (which is why we're still talking about them over 500 years later) and as I read of his epiphanies and moments of self-discovery I often find myself nodding in agreement. The same was true of my reaction to parts of Death in Venice.
When literature is truly universal, which all great literature is, any reader can see his or her self reflected in its words. The passing of 500 years, the separating distance of an ocean and several nations, a difference in sexual orientation, race, gender, ethnicity and language proves no hindrance to the power or poignancy of a great story.
That's all for now.
Part 2 - Tadzio is to Gus von A as Dorian Gray is to Basil Hallward.
Part 3 - Gus von A as a fallen dandy (as defined by dandyism.net).
Part 4 - "Who shall unriddle the puzzle of the artist nature?"
Part 5 - Death in Venice: on the page and beyond (on: the real Tadzio, Rufus Wainwright's Grey Gardens, the movie adaption, and mythological allusions).