<i>Death in Venice</i>: Irony, Detachment, and the Aesthetic State

Kevin Newmark

in Irony on Occasion

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780823240128
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823240166 | DOI:
Death in Venice: Irony, Detachment, and the Aesthetic State

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Thomas Mann, perhaps the most widely recognized theorist-practitioner of irony in the 20th century, provides a crucial test case for any study of irony. This chapter situates Mann at the far end of German romanticism and asks how his understanding of irony relates to that of Schlegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche. After sketching key elements in his theory of irony, the chapter reads Death in Venice to determine whether Mann's concept of aesthetic detachment can match the ironic forces inscribed within his fiction. The lucidity, self-consciousness, and aloofness of the novella's narrator stand in marked contrast to the confusion, loss of self-understanding, and demise that progressively beset the main character. This divergence between empirical fallibility and the serenity of intellectual comprehension corresponds perfectly to the concept of irony that Thomas Mann proposes throughout his career. Other elements, however, both thematic and rhetorical, ultimately interrupt this correspondence with an irony of a wholly foreign type.

Keywords: Thomas Mann; Schlegel; Kierkegaard; Nietzsche; Theory; Fiction; Death in Venice; Irony; Serenity; Aesthetic detachment; Interruption

Chapter.  11885 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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