The purpose of this essay is to examine the conflict between rationality and irrationality in Death in Venice and to assess how this conflict is developed and possibly resolved. This conflict is fought and described throughout the short story with reference to ancient Greek gods, predominately Apollo and Dionysus and through the philosopher and philosophy of Plato. Through contemporary influences such as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, Mann further reflects on these ancient sources through a modern prism and this he does in this tale of life and death of the protagonist Aschenbach.
In order to answer the above question I shall therefore firstly have to examine the character of Aschenbach and the development/changes that occur within this character throughout the story. I shall do this by referencing Ashenbach's character development from the Apolline to the Dionysian. After tracing this development we shall then have a clear starting point for examining the ideas played out through the protagonist and we shall be able to examine these ideas closely. This shall involve an assessment of Aschenbach's belief in and final refutation of Platonic form and acceptance of irrational thought in form of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. I shall then conclude the essay with an examination of the rational/irrational narratorial influences that hold together the essence of Aschenbach's character changes, although these influences are naturally without the character. These will include the use of myth and the use of strangers. It is my hypothesis that Death in Venice is the tragedy of the inevitable destruction of any Apolline artist in a culture that rewards a repressed state of being. By the end of this essay I will have therefore hopefully shown how Mann works through his themes in Death in Venice and the conflict between rationality and irrationality.
From Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy out of the Spirit of Music (1872) Mann found postulated the two distinct artistic tendencies that he uses in this story, these are referenced to the two gods; Apollo and Dionysus. Under the Apolline banner Nietzsche has ascribed the values of intellect, sculpture, form, discipline, logic and rationalism, under the Dionysian banner; intoxication, music, chaos, abandonment, laughter and irrationality. In Death in Venice Mann places the character of Aschenbach on a pathway from a point of a strict Apolline artist to a Dionysian and on to death. This death is an important inevitability in the story, for as Nietzsche has Zarathustra say;
This crown of man who knows laughter...I have placed it on my head...But not a single soul have I found strong enough to join me.
(From the chapter: Of Greater Men)
This inevitable death of Aschenbach is an important aspect of the changes will shall outline, for as Mann said himself of this story "Art is suspect and that is the moral of my story." The changes that Aschebach will go through from the Apolline to the...