The Journal of Nietzsche Studies 25 (2003) 92-93
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Caroline Joan ("Kay") Picart, Thomas Mann and Friedrich Nietzsche: Eroticism, Death, Music, and Language. Atlanta: Rodophi Books, 1999.
In Thomas Mann and Friedrich Nietzsche: Eroticism, Death, Music, and Language, Caroline Joan ("Kay") Picart appeals to Dürer's magic square of music, eroticism/sexual love and death, laughter and irony, to examine the relationship between Friedrich Nietzsche and Thomas Mann. She argues that Mann, despite his attempts to distance himself from what he saw as the demonic influences of Nietzsche's thought, never overcame Nietzsche's influence. Picart does not claim that Nietzsche and Mann engaged the elements of Dürer's magic square in the same way. Her point is that though they saw the relationship between these elements differently, they were both engaged in working with these elements in their thinking and writing. According to Picart, Nietzsche saw these elements as offering a secular redemption from the decadence of modernity; whereas Mann, living in the wake of the Nazi appropriation of the demonic, found the Dionysian aspects of the magic square more problematic. Mann's relationship to Nietzsche is, in short, ambiguous. According to Picart, he is anti-Nietzsche when he disavows the overman or blond beast but remains a disciple of Nietzsche in his tragic comic vision of liberation through art (6).
The motivation for this book may be found in its first chapter, where Picart provides us with a survey of the literature concerning Mann's writings and his relationship to Nietzsche. The point of this survey is to demonstrate that little attention has been paid to Mann's erotics. The effect of this neglect, according to Picart, is that the relationship between Mann and Nietzsche has been misunderstood. Her goal, first, is to attend to Mann's erotics by examining it through the lens of the magic square, and second, to bring this attention to bear on a corrected understanding of the relationship between Nietzsche and Mann. Thus the bulk of the text is dedicated to interpreting Mann's major novels and the two lectures directly addressed to Nietzsche's thought: the 1924 "Nietzsche and Music" and the 1947 "Nietzsche's Philosophy in the Light of Contemporary Events." Picart's analysis of Death in Venice finds Mann adopting Nietzsche's apocalyptic tone (30) and portraying Aschenbach as a Zarathustra figure, who, like his Nietzschean counterpart, finds his project of birthing a race of supermen ending in a sterile auto-eroticism (17). Calling Doctor Faustus a drama of Nietzschean decadence (43), Picart identifies it as the ultimate Nietzsche novel (39). She also finds Mann introducing the demonic into the sphere of the Dionysian in this work and thus distancing himself from what he takes to be Nietzsche's glorification of unchecked impulse. Finally she finds Doctor Faustus raising the theme that will continue to occupy Mann throughout his life: the competing claims of aesthetics and ethics and the dilemma of the politically responsible artist (56).
Picart reads the Joseph novels as transforming Nietzsche's "nightmarish" vision of the eternal recurrence into an eternal principle of recurrence and becoming (68), and The Confessions of Felix Krull as a parody indebted to Nietzsche's Ecce Homo. Picart argues against Mann's later disavowals of Nietzsche by pointing to the continued presence of Nietzsche's influence in Mann's writings, his enduring belief in number patterns (91), and his identifying both himself [End Page 92] and Nietzsche as tragic Hamlet-like figures (93). She also finds that his 1947 lecture is a critique of Nietzsche's politics but not a disavowal of Nietzsche as an artist (92).
Whether or not you find Picart's arguments convincing will depend on the weight you give to the matter of Dürer's magic square as an effective interpretive lens through which to gage the relationship between Nietzsche and Mann, and whether or not you find that it is in his later disavowals of Nietzsche that Mann "proves himself the ultimate Nietzschean by recovering his teacher through slaying him" (94...