Art as a Reflection of Life in Death in Venice
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, the way to the south, is described through imagery of tropical wilderness contrasted with a northern cemetery.
Aschenbach's resolution to travel is not described by the author as a voluntary act, but instead portrayed his destiny. Mann writes, Aschenbach "regarded travel as a necessary evil." (Mann, 6) His life had been filled with order, austerity, and isolation, essentially elements of an Apollonian lifestyle. Due to the regularity and predictability of his previous life, Aschenbach's decision to travel can be interpreted as an act of fate, thereby making the man on the portico a messenger. Upon being summoned by the messenger, Aschenbach's first destination is Trieste, a word meaning "sad" in French. Appropriately enough, this concurs with Aschenbach's outlook towards his upcoming travel.
The next event of Aschenbach's twist of fate takes place on the small boat ferrying him to Venice. While onboard, Aschenbach takes note of an elderly man not acting his age. Mann writes, "But the young-old man was a truly repulsive sight in the condition to which his company with youth had brought him." (Mann, 19) Seeing a drunken old man passing away the time with the youth is not what disgusted Aschenbach. On the contrary,...