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“Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann: Metaphysical Roots of White Decadence’s Essay

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Updated: Dec 12th, 2021

Nowadays, it became a common practice among contemporary sociologists and political scientists to assess the metaphysical dichotomy between the concepts of Western civilization and the Third World from a purely environmentalist perspective. That is, the fact that so-called ‘developing’ nations are not quite developing but rapidly regressing into primeval savagery is assumed to be yet another proof as to the sheer evilness of euro-centrism, as political sublimation of White people’s perceptional ignorance. Yet, one does not have to be particularly smart to be able to realize the sheer fallaciousness of such suggestion – the actual reason why Western countries feature the world’s highest standards of living is that, unlike what is the case with people in Third World, Westerners know how to subject their animalistic urges to their sense of rationale. In its turn, this allows them to act as facilitators of cultural and scientific progress. However, once Whites become overly enthusiastic while exploring the irrational subtleties of their psyche, they face the risk of eventual degradation and death. In this paper, I will aim to substantiate the validity of this suggestion even to a further extent, while basing the line of my argumentation upon ideas contained in Thomas Mann’s novel “Death in Venice”.

As it appears from the novel, before deciding to take a trip to Venice, the novel’s main character Gustav Aschenbach used to profess essentially Nordic (Apollonian) values of self-restraint, intellectual exaltation, discipline, and existential idealism. According to the author, Aschenbach was: “Too much occupied with the duties imposed by his ego and the European soul, too overburdened with the duty of production, too little interested in distracting himself to be a faithful lover of that gay outside world” (4). However, Aschenbach felt as if something important was missing in his life. Apparently, despite Aschenbach’s advanced age, his strongly defined sense of idealism never ceased affecting his attitudes towards surrounding reality. Even though Aschenbach was able to gain social prominence as an accomplished writer, he continued to think of his life’s purpose as such that had not been realized yet. In its turn, this prompted novel’s main character to embark upon the trip to a foreign land as the ultimate mean of expanding his intellectual horizons, with Venice becoming the choice for trip’s destination, due to this city’s geographic proximity: “What he was looking for was the unfamiliar and unrelated, which was indeed reached rather easily” (11). It is like idealistic individuals to seek unfamiliarity, as it helps them to boost up their existential sovereignty, simply because physical emanations of unfamiliarity can be turned into a trophy.

Nevertheless, upon his arrival to Venice, Aschenbach came to realize that there was nothing for him to do there – just as today’s Western tourists, who often refuse to share hotels with Russian tourists, due to these people’s barbarian-mindedness, Aschenbach could not quite relate to what he perceived as the intellectual shallowness and utter materialism, on the part of native Venetians. This was exactly the reason why, instead of acting as conventional tourists do, Aschenbach preferred to spend time alone. And, as psychologists are well aware of – it is only the matter of time for an individual, who had been deprived of socialization with others for a prolonged period, to turn behaviorally inadequate: “Solitude favors the original, the daringly and otherworldly beautiful, the poem. But it also favors the wrongful, the extreme, the absurd, and the forbidden” (18). After having met Tadzio, Aschenbach became inspired, in the artistic sense of this word, due to the young boy’s physical perfection. Yet, he could not stop from continuing to explore the innermost depths of his inspiration, which in its turn had led Aschenbach to fall in love with the Polish boy.

What happened is that, after having allowed its sensual urges to take over his rational mind, Aschenbach had ceased to be affiliated with Western civilization as such that is built upon the conceptual premise of rationalistic necessity, rather than upon the premise of sensual lawlessness. In its turn, this endowed novel’s main character with an acute sense of guilt: “Given that sweet youth that infatuated him his worn-out body disgusted him, his gray hair, the sharp features of his face caused him to feel shame and despair” (49). Yet, for someone who had stepped over the boundaries of perceptional naturalness, there can be no return back.

White people who had betrayed their biological essence as beings driven by rationale, cannot resort to rationale as the instrument of dealing with psychological anxieties, caused by such a betrayal. As Friedrich Nietzsche once said – if you gaze into the abyss for too long, the abyss begins to gaze back at you. This is exactly the reason why, after Aschenbach realized that he had committed a transgression against the laws of nature, he could not tackle his sense of shame in any other way than by savoring this shame with even more passion, while eventually turning himself into a clown: “(Aschenbach) saw in the mirror how his eyebrows arched upwards more elegantly, how his eyes looked larger and more shiny thanks to some makeup, saw his cheeks take on a rosy color, also his lips that had been pale were reddened” (50). The fact that today’s active homosexuals appear particularly jovial and intellectually liberated has nothing to do with them being happy with whom they are – their external cheerfulness is nothing but an integral part of the psychological defense mechanism, utilized by these people to alleviate the feeling of existential inadequateness, on their part. Similarly, people who had suddenly lost their jobs and money go about addressing their grief – they strive to convince themselves and others that they like being poor and miserable more than being rich and happy.

Thus, it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that “Death in Venice” contains clues as to what accounts for the initial stages of otherwise normal individuals embracing the ways of decadence. It all begins when they start assessing their animalistic (Dionysian) urges through the lenses of philosophy or art, even though these urges are best assessed through the lenses of psychiatry. And, it is namely the bellyful idleness, on the part of self-proclaimed White sophisticates, which represents the foremost precondition for them to begin experiencing an unhealthy curiosity in regards to different emanations of depravity.

As it appears from the novel, it was only a matter of time for Aschenbach to turn psycho, while in Venice – he was White, he was alone, he was an intellectual, and he had plenty of free time on his hands: “Another sunny day full of joyful idleness and ornate with countless occasions for happy accidents nearby” (30). It is not a pure coincidence that, according to statistics, serial killers consist of overwhelmingly middle-aged White males – once intellectually advanced Whites suppress rationality within themselves; they begin to act as the agents of destruction and death. As the best-case scenario – they begin to act as promoters of degenerative socio-political doctrines and art.

Therefore, Aschenbach’s rapid transition from an accomplished writer to child-molester-in-making was dialectically predetermined – apparently, he gazed into the abyss of depravity for little too long, which triggered irreversible processes within his psyche. In its turn, this explains how Aschenbach was able to deal the disgust towards his behavioral abnormality – he allowed his inborn fear of unnaturalness to be suppressed by his sense of curiosity: “Fear was the beginning, fear and lust and a horrified curiosity of what would be coming” (48). Slowly but surely, Aschenbach was turning into a female, in the psychological sense of this word, without even realizing it, because it is namely women who become conscious of their individuality by exploring sensual properties of their psyche. Whereas; men attain emotional satisfaction by indulging in activities associated with the notion of intellectual exaltation, women approach the same task from a metaphysically opposite perspective – they assess the objective value of their cognitive experiences by the extent of these experiences’ sheer intensity.

The fact that Aschenbach had given in to his irrational sensuality, caused him to act as female: “He added little embellishments to his suits to make them look more youthful, he wore jewelry and used perfume, multiple times a day he required a lot of time for his toilette” (49). Yet, despite his presumed intellectualism, it never occurred to Aschenbach that men do not explore their existential uniqueness by emphasizing the particulars of their physical appearance. This is exactly what constitutes Mann’s novel’s tragic overtones – once a particular individual decides to adopt the ways of the opposite gender, he or she declares its willingness to defy its biologically predetermined social role. In other words, such an individual begins to act as the agent of energetic entropy within a society. And, as we are all aware of, it is named something utterly unnatural, which people perceive as truly horrible. After all, the images of corpses do not horrify us as much as the hypothetical probability for chairs to walk, walking sticks to bloom, and animals to talk. It was not the fact that Aschenbach felt a platonic love towards Tadzio, which resulted in his ultimate demise, but the fact this feeling had caused the novel’s main character to cease assessing surrounding reality in terms of rationale – thus, turning him into a slave of his deep-seated sensual urges.

As of today, the promoters of political correctness in Western countries have largely succeeded in convincing these countries’ White citizens that they should feel shame on the account of their genetically predetermined ability to address life’s challenges in terms of logic because such their ability is assumed being yet another proof as to their euro-centric evilness. The feminization of Western societies has reached such an extent that the enforcers of tolerance often go as far as taking toy handguns away from boys in elementary schools and telling them to play with dolls instead. Yet, there can be no redemption for one’s sin of violating the laws of nature. The price for people’s perceptional ignorance has always been the same – degradation, destruction, and death. One would only need to read “Death in Venice” to realize the full validity of this suggestion, which correlates with the paper’s initial thesis perfectly well.


Mann, Thomas “Death in Venice”. 2005. Free.ProHosting.Com. Web.

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