The Novel pp 173-188 | Cite as

The Tiger’s Revenge

Thomas Mann: Death in Venice


If there is a problem Thomas Mann’s exquisitely crafted short novel Der Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice) poses to the reader in search of clues about the relationship between language and narrative, it is that — at least at first sight — the text seems to say too much rather than too little. The novel, which draws in many respects on Mann’s own visit to the Lido in April–June 1911 (Lehnert 1968:122), can be, and has been, read as an essay on the birth of art, on the creative process, on the way the rough ‘marble mass of language’ has to be worked on to liberate ‘the slender forms of […] art’ (p. 50).1 But behind this obvious level of meaning, and behind the spectacular struggle between Apollo and Dionysus highlighted by the novel, lies another tension which seems to me to lead us closer to the text’s subtler and more profound concerns with language — and that is the dialectic between Aschenbach, the author in the narrative, and the narrator who manipulates and articulates it 2 It is this dialectic, much more than the split between reason and emotion, logic and passion, Apollo and Dionysus, the dual legacy of a Silesian father and a Bohemian mother, within Aschenbach’s artistic personality, which demonstrates the novel’s problematising view of language, and its embodiment in the narrative.


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© André Brink 1998

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