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The Art Of Decadence In The City Of Venice: Death In Venice

2455 words - 10 pages

The premise of decadence was tremendously popular in late 19th century European literature. In addition, the degeneracy of the individual and society at large was represented in numerous contemporary works by Mann. In Death in Venice, the theme of decadence caused by aestheticism appears through Gustav von Achenbach’s eccentric, specifically homoerotic, feelings towards a Polish boy named Tadzio. Although his feelings spring from a sound source, the boy’s aesthetic beauty, Aschenbach becomes decadent in how excessively zealous his feelings are, and his obsession ultimately leads to his literal and existential destruction. This exemplifying, as will be examined in the following, how aestheticism is closely related to, and indeed often the cause of, decadence. Although the narrative is about more complexities, the author’s use of such vivid descriptions suggest the physical, literal aspect of his writing is just as important to the meaning of the story.
The first and most obvious instance of aestheticism and decadence as correlating themes in this story is the title, Death in Venice. By fore-grounding the name of the city in the title, Mann is highlighting the city's key role in the unfolding narrative. Mann aligns the word 'Venice' with the word 'death' in the title. This creates a relationship between these two words - the word death strongly infuses the word Venice with all its connotations. Death and decay is an important idea within the context of decadence. By shear nature the title relates the concepts of death and dying to the city of Venice, which implies that the location is where a death will occur. However, this is paralleled by the opening of the story when Mann drearily tells of Aschenbach’s stroll through Germany. In the reading of this passage it proves ironic that the title is Death in Venice as the protagonist seems to be dying in Munich: from his loss of creative ability, depletion of strength to the course of his walk ultimately leading him to a graveyard from which weakness forced him to catch a train home from. This sets up the binary opposition between Munich and Venice, self-control and the slavery of the self to depraved passion. One of the ways in which Mann establishes his novel as the literary landscape for decadent and aesthetic writing is through the language he appropriates in describing each city. There lacks a sense of elegance with Mann’s description of aspects concerning Germany and a typical Aschenbach. This can be contrasted with the eloquent description given to Venice, “He saw it once more, that landing-place that takes the breath away, that amazing group of incredible structures the Republic set up to meet the awe-struck eye of the approaching seafarer” (19). The obvious pleasure that Aschenbach feels as a result of the aesthetically pleasing city foreshadows how aestheticism will ultimately lead to his death and decay, important ideas within the context of decadence.
Naomi Ritters wrote a critical...

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