Thomas Mann and Friedrich Nietzsche Eroticism, Death, Music, and LaughterBy Caroline Joan Picart
Traditional interpretations of Thomas Mann's relation to Nietzsche's writings plot out a simple relation of earlier adulation and later rejection. The book argues that Mann's disavowal of Nietzsche's influence was, in the words of T.J. Reed, a necessary political act when the repudiation of Nietzsche's more hysterical doctrines required such a response. Using a genealogical method, the book traces how Mann labors ambivalently under the shadow of Nietzsche's writings on his own political artistry through a detailed analysis of Mann's Death in Venice, Dr. Faustus, the Joseph tetralogy, and Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man. Using the recurring Nietzschean themes of eroticism, death, music, and laughter as a guide, it arrives at a rough picture of how Mann both takes up and discontinues Nietzsche's poetic heritage. The book derives the vision of the interrelationships binding these four leitmotiv elements from Durer's magic square as depicted in Melancholia I. The link with Durer is far from arbitrary because Mann directly aligned Nietzschean insight with Durer's world of passion, sympathy with suffering, the macabre stench of rotting flesh, and Faustian melancholy.