Death in Venice explores the relationship between an artist, namely Gustave von Aschenbach, and the world in which he lives. Aschenbach, destined to be an artist from a young age, represents art, while his surroundings represent life.
As the story unfolds, Aschenbach endeavors on a journey in an attempt to relinquish his position in society as an artist. Aschenbach wants to experience life, as opposed to merely reflecting upon it, as he has done for so many years. This attempted change of lifestyle can also be interpreted as a transition from the ways of Apollo to those of Dionysus, an archetype dating back to Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy. Aschenbach's journey throughout Death in Venice can be seen as an artist's attempt to live life free from artistic interpretations. In the end, however, Aschenbach fails and his death shows that art is transient. Because of Aschenbach's failure to step down from his position as an artist and to become a part of life, it can be concluded that art is purely a reflection of life.
Aschenbach's journey commences upon his encountering a stranger on a portico. "He was obviously not Bavarian." (Mann, 4) Aschenbach, never having ventured far from home, is intrigued by this foreigner who fails to give him the respect and reverence that he is used to as a renowned artist. For the first time in his life, Aschenbach is challenged. "So now, perhaps, feeling, thus tyrannized, avenged itself by leaving him, refusing from now on to carry and wing his art and taking away with it all the ecstasy he had known in form and expression." (Mann, 7) Aschenbach, acknowledging the challenge, resolves to travel. The new territory upon which he is to embark, t...
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...be an artist is shown throughout his life, including in his last moments on the beach when he fears Tadzio's death. The irony of Ashenbach's demise emphasizes that art, as a reflection of life, is transient. "And before nightfall a shocked and respectful world received the news of his decease." (Mann, 73) Aschenbach has earned his place in history as an artist. But like all artists, he is replaced by his successors. Aschenbach's transition from an Apollonian way of life to a Dionysian one shows that art reflects life. In his case, art is nothing more than a reflection, and although beautiful and appreciated, it is not an essential element of life itself.
"Mann, Thomas." Microsoft(r) Encarta(r) 98 Encyclopedia. 1993-1997.
Mann, Thomas. Death In Venice. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.
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