The novella Death in Venice by Thomas Mann examines the nature of the relationship between art and life. The progression of the main character, Gustave Von Aschenbach, illustrates the concept of an Apollinian/Dionysian continuum. Apollo is the Greek god of art, thus something Apollinian places an emphasis on form. Dionysus is the Greek god of wine and chaos, hence something Dionysian emphasizes energy and emotion. In The Birth of Tragedy Friedrich Nietzsche suggests that,"... the continuous development of art is bound up with the Apollinian and Dionysian duality--just as procreation depends on the duality of the sexes, involving perpetual strife with only periodically intervening reconciliations.. in the Greek world there existed a tremendous opposition, in origin and aims, between the Apollinian area of sculpture, and the nonimagistic, Dionysian art of music "(33). The Greeks embodied this concept in the "clear figures of their gods" just as Thomas Mann, a great reader of Nietzsche, embodied it in his characters (33).
At the beginning of the novel, Gustave is depicted as an extremely, if not overly, civilized man. He is an artist, but he approaches art coldly and rigidly. It is more a job than a joy for him, and it is actually his urge to seek "flight from his rigid, cold, and passionate service" that brings him to Venice (Mann 6). Although Gustave loves this service, he is currently in a state of frustration: "To him it seemed that his work had ceased to be marked by that fiery play of fancy that is the product of joy..." (7). His beliefs can be summarized in the words "mind and art," thus missing the crucial ingredients of life and sensuality. Gu...
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... painting Figures on Rocks at the Edge of the Sea. Life is found to be problematic if lived at either extreme, a midpoint of some type must be established. A dynamic state of oscillation, the best environment for the cultivation of creativity, would have prevented Gustave's uncontrollable exhibition of previously inhibited Dionysian qualities. The ideal state for the production of art and living in general seems to be a mixture of art, mind, and life.
Mann, Thomas. Death in Venice and Other Stories. New York: Random House, Inc., 1989.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music. 1872. In The Birth of Tragedy and The Case
of Wagner. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage Books, 1967.
Vibert, Jean-Georges. Figures on Rocks at the Edge of the Sea. Snite Museum of Art, Notre Dame, Indiana.
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