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1990, 35, 59-78
DIONYSOS IN THOMAS MANN'S NOVELLA, 'DEATH IN VENICE'
GARY ASTRACHAN, Portland, Maille THIS paper attempts to discuss what is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable epiphanies of a Greek god in twentieth-century art and literature: the powerful explosive appearance of the god Dionysos in Thomas Mann's novella, Death in Vet/ice. What continues to make this a vital and psychologically important manifestation of this god for our own time is not only the fact that this prophetically brilliant and jewellike piece ofliterature encapsulated the entire Romantic tradition which preceded its publication, while at the same time foreshadowing two world wars and the fate of Germany and Europe for the twentieth century, but even more significantly for our purposes, that it reveals in its manifold archetypal resonances, the eternal fate of the individual attempting to come to terms with both the ideal and demonic poles of human existence. Death in Venice is, in fact, the unsettling story of deeply disturbed Western culture, portrayed by the main protagonist, caught in its soul-rending conflict, torn between the opposites and consequently falling prey to the extreme poles of non-human or inhuman behaviour, brutality and the denigration of all values. What originally impressed me so much in my initial encounter with the novella, and what still continues to be the subterranean centre-piece of the story for depth psychology, is the dream of the novel's main character, a man named Gustav von Aschenbach. It is this dream, which shatteringly and finally emerges only seven pages before the story hurtles to its gruesome though inevitable finale, that provides us with the novella's climactic peripeteia. The conflict is exposed in the nightmare, and the horror laid bare. This deranging dream, as we shall see, is in its own way frighteningly apparent in its sense and symbolic foreshadowings and serves to make disturbingly manifest, in the archetypal images of classical mythology, what had been lurking and gathering strength throughout the entire preceding novella. The unsurpassingly artful and suspenseful way the scene is laid for this culminating dream experience, however, makes it necessary that we follow Mann's example, at least to a certain extent, in our own
0021-H774/90/01005Y+ 17 S02.oo/o
The Society of Analytical Psychology
C. D. Astrachan
interpretative work. That is, we must try to provide the essential context and situation into which the dream itself bursts forth from the depths of the unconscious. Let us, however, first satisfy our basic analytical psychological curiosity and quote the dream for the first time as it is recalled by the dreamer, a fifty-year-old man, a German, a writer, on holiday in plague-stricken Venice, and fatefully in love with a young boy:
The beginning was fear; fear and desire, with a shuddering curiosity. Night reigned, and his senses were on the alert; he heard loud, confusing noises from far away, clamour and hubbub. There was a rattling, a crashing, a low dull thunder; shrill halloos and a kind of howl with a long-drawn u-sound at the end. And with all these, dominating them all, flute notes of the cruellest sweetness, deep and cooing, keeping shamelessly on until the listener felt his very entrails bewitched. He heard a voice, naming though darkly, that which was to come: The stranger God!' A glow lighted up the surrounding mist and by it he recognized a mountain scene like that about his country home. From the wooded heights, from among the tree-trunks and crumbling moss-covered rocks. a troop came tumbling and raging down, a whirling rout of men and animals. and overflowed the hillside with flames and human forms, . with clamour and the reeling dance. The females stumbled over the long. hairy pelts that dangled from their girdles; with heads flung back they uttered loud hoarse cries and shook their tambourines high in the air; brandished naked daggers or torches vomiting trails of sparks. They shrieked, holding their breasts in both hands coiling snakes with quivering tongues they clutched about their naked waists. Horned and hairy males, girt about the loins with hides. drooped heads and lifted arms and thighs in unison, as they beat on brazen vessels that gave out droning thunder, or thumped madly on drums. There were troops of beardless youths armed with garlanded staves; these ran after goats and thrust their staves against the creatures' flanks, then clung to the plunging horns and let themselves be borne off with triumphant shouts. And one and all the mad rout yelled that cry, composed of soft consonants with a long-drawn u-sound at the end, so sweet and wild it was together, and like nothing ever heard before! It would ring through the air like the bellow of a challenging stag, and be given back many-tongued; or they would use it to goad each other on to dance with wild excess of tossing limbs - they never let it die. But the deep, beguiling notes of the flute wove in and out and over all. Beguiling too it was to him who struggled in the grip of these sights and sounds, shamelessly awaiting the coming feast and the uttermost surrender. He trembled, he shrank. his will was steadfast to preserve and uphold his own God against this stranger who was sworn enemy to dignity and self-control. But the mountain wall took up the noise and howling and gave it back manifold; it rose high, swelled to a madness that carried him away. His senses reeled in the steam of panting bodies. the acrid stench from the goats, the odour as of stagnant waters-and another, too familiar smell-of wounds, uncleanness and disease. His heart throbbed to the drums, his brain reeled, a blind rage seized him, a whirling lust, he craved with all his soul to join the ring that formed about the obscene symbol of the Godhead, which they were unveiling and elevating, monstrous and wooden, while from full throats they drove each other on with lewd gesturings and beckoning hands. They laughed, they howled. they thrust their pointed staves into each other's flesh and licked the blood as it ran down. But now the dreamer was in them and of them. the stranger God was his own. Yes, it was he who was flinging himself upon the animals. who bit and tore and swallowed smoking gobbets of flesh-while on the trampled moss there now began the rites in
it is because the dream portrays in gripping and terrible images what we know from the more generous and leisurely contexts of Greek and Roman myth as 'the wild rout of God Dionysos' (ASTRACHAN2). he is an acknowledged master of form and prose style and his creative . how that happened to us. vigorously diligent writer. So now then. Thomas Mann writes that the 'unhappy man woke from this dream shattered. 76). let us turn our attention to the actual story. in this case Gustav von Aschenbach. pp. to the plot and structure of Death in Venice itself. taking a break from his work. unlike any other form of modern art. which consists mainly of formal German prose history and biography. He is an ageing. at least in part.Dionysos in Death in Venice honour of the God. is the bloody twist and the ultimate physical. we would hope to be in a position to see how the prediction is or is not borne out by the events of our own time. If the dream sounds familiar in many ways to those of you acquainted with the rites of this god. Dionysos. As we shall see. (MANN 14. 74-76). in that event. unhinged. titled since the age of fifty for his outstanding contributions to German literary culture. And this powerful short novel. due to centuries of harsh repression-the systematic denial of his epiphany as brought about especially through the repressive codes and formulas of the Christian world-view. powerless in the demon's grip' (Ibid. sickened and diseased for and by twentiethcentury man. moral and mental degradation and disintegration of the ritual participant. Gustav von Aschenbach. What remains outstandingly different in this dream from the broad classically Greek canvas of the Dionysian entourage and ritual celebration painted throughout classical mythology and even up through the Renaissance and Romantic periods. it is just that brutally tearing aspect and psycho-physical annihilation which delineates the nature of the Dionysian experience as it has degenerated and become corrupted. 14. His entire life and creative writing work has been up until this point. It is the harrowing harbinger of his own ultimate disintegration and death. through the life of an individual. Afterwards. tells incomparably. so that we may unravel the profound diagnosis and the surgically accurate prognosis of the Dionysian experience that the tale reveals for the contemporary psyche. an orgy of promiscuous embraces-and the bestial degradation of his fall. p. That is. taking an afternoon walk in his native city of Munich. the final dissolution in the tragically fated life of this dreamer. And that fall from the good graces of this basically gladdening God occurs. as our cultural heritage and destiny. consecrated upon the altar of the god Apollo. Dionysos. 61 in his very soul he tasted This incredible dream experience spells out in the images of the savage ritual of the stranger god. The story begins with the main character.
glistening teeth to the gums. however. eminently suited to psychological literature since it devolves upon associations. however. almost an hallucination. this character heralds the major dark theme of the tale as it unfolds. It would be impossible and probably unfruitful for me to relate at every point of the story how Mann has meticulously laid out small details. In ordinary circumstances this brief sight. and deepened as the story progresses. . and unfold all through the tale into ever-reverberating meanings which get picked up. is distinctly exotic and foreign. The man he glimpses for the first time is strikingly snub-nosed. which become increasingly complicated and worked out on different levels. The effect is almost musical in the artful way the themes. images. What he sees and senses in his imagination is a teeming tropical landscape-a primeval wilderness world of marshes. suddenly and precipitously. The passion of this experience. He is immediately beset by a sudden desire to travel. ramified. in an ardent thirst for distant scenes. For a full appreciation of Mann's masterly writing technique. triggered by the stranger. this quick glance of a mildly frightening foreigner sets off in him an extraordinary and exotic fantasy. As the patterned leitmotif of the messenger of death himself. he compares to a seizure. He is obviously not Bavarian and. While waiting for a tram to take him back home. has a prominent Adam's apple and a domineering and ruthless air. Because. foreshadow. bent towards attaining a classically formal style. and leitmotifs. already begun to take its toll and he has been feeling more overwrought. and scenes. can be seen just at this point in the story. His entire unremitting effort has been both in his life and in his art. all of which recur later in the novel in four separate later characters in detail. This peculiar man reveals several particular features. would not have had any especially unusual effect on Aschenbach. as we see from early on in the tale. overtaxed. made especially malevolent by his lips which seemed to curve back laying bare the long. In fact. even of an albeit peculiar stranger. in fact. white. this recurring series of spectral characters provides the inexorable rhythmical pulse of Aschenbach's paced journey towards death. all of which echo. and tired lately from his straining intellectual exertions. One example of this layering technique. when Aschenbach turns away from the man's hostile gaze and finds himself totally immersed. _ are laid out.G. of his extremely tensed and overstrained mental state as of late. Astrachan wntmg work itself proceeds only through severely disciplined concentration and purifyingly hard daily labour. there is no substitute for reading or re-reading this amazing little story. D. to escape. This constant physical and mental austerity and conscientiousness has. melodies. he suddenly catches sight of a stranger standing in the doorway of a graveyard.
lush thickets. The first of these frightening emissaries we have met at the Byzantine mortuary chapel in Munich. Aschenbach's first sidelong look into that unknown realm within him. is one of the most common theriomorphic representations and symbols of the god Dionysos. nourishing and destructive. and yet conceals in that green and living landscape the lurking terror of sexual and aggressive instinctual urges. The slow descent and immersion into the cauldron of his inner primitive archetypal drives is facilitated at each step of the way by one of these demonic guides to death. And there below decks. thick steaming lush vegetation and deep in a thicket of bamboo. the gleaming eyes of a crouching tiger. This hallucination of jungle. reminding . the tiger. one often sees Dionysos recumbent upon a tiger surrounded by his triumphant retinue of followers. besides being portrayed in such a jungle landscape by Henri Rousseau in several of his famous tropical paintings done at the time of Mann's writing. is what culminates. Especially in Hellenistic art. drives and frenzied wishes for release. in the climactic dream. of course. The tiger. especially as lion. literature and film. hairy palm trunks. OTTO 15). panther. even to the recurrence of specific images and metaphors mingling in each case both sexual and aggressive impulses. Aschenbach realises his need for a holiday: perhaps three or four weeks at one of the sunny playgrounds of the south would do. leopard and lynx (DETIENNE4. Aschenbach must buy his ticket. On the boat to Venice. on a street in central Munich. Both Otto and Detienne provide interesting discussions of the combined sexual and aggressive implications found in the classical imagery of Dionysos as a beast of prey. Thus. He leaves Munich but his first stop at an Adriatic island does not really suit him. the tarnished glittering European whore. The man. becomes an inevitable movement ever down and away into the bottomless recesses of his soul. dingy hulk. The primitive and archaic depths of his own collective psyche into which he now peers is rich in its overgrown. and so he heads for Venice. decadence and death. an obsolete.Dionysos in Death in Venice 63 channels. the inspiration of so much of western culture's creativity in music. Venice: for centuries a soul journey within the European topos associated with creativity. Aschenbach has his first penetrating glimpse of the frightening and enticing world of the unconscious to which he will eventually succumb. Thus Aschenbach begins his descent into the teeming world of the unconscious which he has for so long denied. luxuriant foliage. art. he encounters the next herald of his impending fate. Once the abyss has yawned wide in his inner world. and sensual and dangerous delights. His rigid selfcontrol slowly begins to crumble and becomes undermined by his own suppressed yearnings. beauty and splendour-and just as much with disease. in a cavernous sooty cabin. hairy trunks.
dismembered and eaten raw at his cult festivities. Reverberating still from this one image of the strange man with a goatee. Known for its licentious. and the . This uncanny perception creates a dream-like distortion of perspective for Aschenbach. D. a goat was often sacrificed. gives in to the pleasant physical sensation of the gondola-and his soothing fantasies rock him towards his ultimate destination. the lascivious. made even more unforgettable by Visconti's lush film. His own impulses. Aschenbach sees the snub nose and prominent teeth.. as if the world is somehow undergoing an unreal and weird transformation. he issues the ticket to Aschenbach. and soon of death itself as the culmination of lawless sensuality. Returning to the strange man with the goatee. and even more a yearning for the dissolution of his own conscious. his brown hair a wig. followers of the mad god. The next character in this ambiguous line. by Dionysos's fellow revellers. The goatee is also sported. his moustache dyed and his yellow teeth a cheap false set. dressed foppishly and outrageously with a red tie and rakish Panama hat. themselves goat-like. Mann himself comments again on the image of goats much later in the novel describing the sea 'like prancing goats. it was a world possessed by Pan' (MANN 14. Again. acknowledging his longing for the dense underworld of passion so sorely absent from his earlier life. half-human. begin to assume frightening form. rational self (FEDER 7). Aschenbach. is an ageing dandy. has a beard like a goat's. 56). along with the devilish Adam's apple and colourless red-lashed eyes. Upon continued inspection. of course. contour and features of the Dionysian satyr. we can recognise that the features of satyr and goat and all of their associations are carried on most formidably in the image of the Devil or Satan. The next and penultimate apparition of a dissolute death for Aschenbach is the gondolier who takes him from Venice to the Lido where he is staying. The primary theriomorphic representation of Dionysos is also the goat. The gliding gondola facilitates his fantasies of the many nocturnal amorous and murderous adventures carried out in them. ithyphallic . . half-animal beings. Astrachan him of an old-fashioned circus director. Aschenbach picks him out on the boat. jesting. though from a distance. He puts it off to giddiness and a lack of sleep. the satyrs. and underworldly connections. as if he were one of them. the waves . an obvious suggestion of the grinning skeleton. nocturnal. Aschenbach notices that this grotesque old man's cheeks are rouged.. among a group of noisy youths where this obviously aged man is playing. The . with elaborate flourishing gestures and empty grandiloquent phrases of praise and charm for Venice. p. now increasingly unrestrained begin to release associations of sexuality and death. and cavorting noisily with the group of young clerks. which Mann notes in passing.C.
the whole dangerous affair is kept insidiously hushed up . a foreigner. he feels that even ifhe were to be killed the gondolier has rowed him well. This is the tapas. and the elderly coxcomb drunk on the deck. First there is the image of the southern capital of decadence itself. Then there is the concrete disease which Aschenbach slowly and horrifyingly learns is creeping over Venice while he is there-an actual plague. a black. is watching the evening's light entertainment at his hotel at the Lido. half comedian. as well as of the tourists like himself. winking. In his vigorous efforts at the oar. He thus gives in to the uncontrollable forces directing his fate. The malevolent stranger at the cemetery. Nevertheless. rowing the soul of Aschenbach to its final resting place in Hades. And precisely because public news of this fatal epidemic would ruin the tourist trade. It is in the same night that he has his dream. Asiatic cholera. it is actually offensive yet irresistibly funny. brutal. a pale. Aschenbach. Venice. beautiful and romantic yet rotting and corrupted at its very foundation. Leering. here pass into Aschenbach's experience of the gondolier as Charon himself. are reinforced in a variety of ways. blustering. snubnosed face. a quartet of strolling singers. transporting him to the other world. terrifying herald of his own demise. his white teeth are bared to the gums. his song becomes more than suggestive. the goat-bearded man from the bowels of the ship. as he relaxes back in his seat. unbridled. the scene for the entire drama. The man has an unpleasing brutish face. gilded coffin. Their leader is a Neapolitan jester. and thoroughly entertaining. Jumping ahead in Aschenbach's dissolving world of idealised values. The images of disintegration. and his facial structure as well as the blonde moustache under the short snub nose again show him to be of non-Italian stock. This gruff. his reason tottering under the onslaught of a hopeless love for a young boy. disease and death to which all of these five characters point Aschenbach. let us look at this last. with a blow from his oar may send him to Hades. who. red hair and a facial expression furrowed with vice and selfwill. and wagging his tongue. Aschenbach wishes that the trip might last for ever. half bully. all of which also mirror Aschenbach's gradual decline and submergence into psychic chaos. In the story it is beginning to take a heavy toll of the native population. overbearing gondolier refuses to take Aschenbach where he expressly wishes to go and Aschenbach fears he is a criminal. He is the last in the line of death's messengers for Aschenbach and this last one even gives off an unmistakable odour of disinfectant and disease.Dianysas in Death in Venice luxurious relaxing gondola itself becomes the final vehicle. He has a prominent Adam's apple. another variant of the promiscuous drunken satyr figure who beckons him towards a bestial realm of danger and instinctual permissiveness.
and illnesses.66 C. we find the powerful image of disease as both an actual medical fact. chaos and conflagration which actually overcame Germany twice in one century. Throughout his life. Dionysos. _the uncanny stranger at the Munich mortuary at the very beginning of the story. as well as hypochondriacally concerned with his own health. The cholera epidemic from Asia. perhaps. among whose bamboo thickets the tiger crouches. after all. returns as the long-repressed. as he imaginatively reconstructs it. unleashed energies of dissolution. forced into exile for 2000 years. Astrachan and secret by the Venetian officials. obsessed in his own lifetime with the need to resolve the opposites. takes up this notion of a destructive disease and turns it into a metaphor which he lays at the very doorstep of the Western psyche. D. and a charged archetypal symbol. published in 1912. is thus also assimilated to the god who came victorious from Asia with his raving retinue. thus springs from the remote depths of the collective unconsciousthe same source whence is derived Aschenbach's total psychic disintegration-the lush green untrodden and unlived wilderness of his inner nature. we have forgotten how to honour him. And while in the life of Gustav von Aschenbach the disease becomes destructive. From Death in Venice to the masterpiece of rumination on disease. contagiously infecting all those in his path with ritual madnessDionysos. symptoms. the Asiatic cholera. he considered his life and his art as upholding and representing the true ideals and values of German European culture in contrast to the stark brutality. The Magic Mountain. has found its way to Venice from a primeval exotic island jungle. Dionysos appeared to the Greeks like a strange and foreign . which occurs late in the novella. Throughout the writings of Thomas Mann we find this recurring and prominent image of disease to have decidely ambivalent aspects. the most prominent German artist to leave Nazi Germany as a response to Nazism well before the outbreak of World War II when he settled in Switzerland in 1933. The disease in our language. as a German through both world wars and was. was. is identical to the transforming vision precipitated by . at the same time. Thomas Mann. to the syphilitically sick protagonist of Dr Faustus. The disease. Europe had been a prey for the dark forces of the unconscious. Clearly. He lived. and the price of this neglect is his vengeful wrath. He considered the twin diseases of power and ignorance to be the tempting altar on which humanity could immolate itself due to its own intrinsic self-destructive tendencies. Aschenbach's hallucinatory image of the plague ravaging Venice. During his many wanderings away from his native country. for many of the characters in The Magic Mountain and Dr Faustus the disease serves a force eminently creative. repeatedly confronted with a world primarily in the grip of the demonic pole of human existence. So we can see how Death in Venice.
The boy. p. His thoughts and aesthetic and philosophical theorising are coloured by passages and adaptations from Homer. p. Besides the actual concrete disease. Increasingly. the symbolic disease and irruption of the unconscious which leads so inexorably to his madness and death in the novel? What fascinating diseased perils of the unconscious lead him to his ultimate surrender to the forces of dissolution in psychic death? Shortly after Aschenbach's arrival at the Lido hotel. of the birth of form. of the origin of the Gods' (Ibid. his aesthetic and romantic theories of the artist pursuing the spiritual ideal. wherein he would rave that he was Dionysos. and receding image of static perfection. as a primeval legend. of apparently Polish descent. even with that first inspection in the easeful lounge of the hotel. Tadziu seen at the beach seems to 'emerge from the depths of sea and sky . 'the pure and God-like serenity' (Ibid. 39). p. infinite. and especially from Plato. 14. He appears from the very first to Aschenbach as the embodiment of perfect beauty-his face recalling 'the noblest moment of Greek sculpture' (MANN 14. As with the real character and figure of Friedrich Nietzsche. we now ask. . of Dionysos. the old ageing writer. is named Tadziu. In these days spent at the Venetian hotel. is himself the product of the finest and ennobling aspects of European culture and education. the god of formlessness. Tadziu comes to be for him the perfect representation of Apollonian harmony. As the story continues and Aschenbach's fascination and ardour for this adored and beautiful young boy with the honey-coloured ringlets increases. p. 56). as we already know. he catches sight of and becomes absolutely entranced by a beautiful long-haired boy who is about fourteen years old. is the psychological situation. in both body and soul. handed down from the beginning of time. Aschenbach's trancelike fantasies and thoughts begin to assume more and more a passionately inflated archetypal longing for an absolute. 35). . ambiguity. overlaid with all the nostalgic and romanticised longings of a time nineteen centuries away from the actual . we see how Tadziu enables Aschenbach to relive and formulate all of his classical ideals of perfect form and harmony. Tadziu comes to epitomise for Aschenbach. 3I) he has been seeking his entire life.Dionysos in Death in Venice epidemic which had the uncanny power of invading and overwhelming their values of rational sobriety. Aschenbach. and raw emotion. the Asiatic cholera to which Aschenbach finally succumbs. whose last twelve years were spent in a psychotic and syphilitic delirium. 14. what. 14. temperance and modesty (DODDS 6. so too does Aschenbach fall from his exaggeratedly lofty and spiritually one-sided heights of Apollonian distance and detachment. with the yellowish bloom of Parian marble' (Ibid. his head that of 'Eros. to become the torn and dismembered victim. GUTHRIE8). in fact later in the very same day he arrives and gets settled.
He is now enclosed. cut off and lost in the inner reflections of his shattered psyche. D. the discipline. We would be hard-pressed to find in the literature of any period a more accurate or harrowing description of a mind so brilliantly able to perceive its own gradual destruction. p. and unrealisable longings. sees Tadziu as the vehicle for all his elevated theories of art and the spiritual function of the artist. Tadziu's figure comes to represent for Aschenbach. Aschenbach realises and records how completely he is in the . but a submersion in and a possession by his passions. Socrates's intellectual seduction of Phaedrus with a lofty discourse on beauty. a smile from Tadziu elicits from Aschenbach the association of Narcissus smiling at his own loving reflection and only then Aschenbach finally admits to himself the sacred . who in projecting and idealising his fiercely repressed homo-erotic drives. the 'form as divine thought. Tadziu will be cut down in this first blush of his manhood by the plague. since in Aschenbach's own diseased imagination. Aschenbach increasingly calls up classical and literary models to contain. the lover's way to the spirit as the rationale of his passion for Tadziu. for example.and ridiculous truth he is feeling: 'I love you!' The world for him thus mirrors only his own psychotic infatuation. In his interior. dissociate. Emotionally intoxicated and intellectually deluded. Thomas Mann allows us here an insight into a human psyche in the process of disintegration and slow reversion to its own archetypal roots and sources. He has indeed returned to a narcissistic absorption and preoccupation with his own idealised fantasies. In fact. By the fourth week of his stay. delusions. as ideals and objectifying sublimations for his own concretely erotic passions and impulses. Finally. Aschenbach now prolongs his stay in Venice indefinitely. he makes Tadziu's beauty a model for a philosophical essay he is writing on the erotic as intrinsic to the creative impulse. Tadziu becomes the image of Amor or Eros himself. the essence of beauty.68 C. convey. precision and strong will characteristic of the artist. . and disguise his intense homo-erotic desires. Tadziu takes on all the archetypal qualities and features of a myth for Aschenbach. as Hyacinthus is destroyed in the Greek myth. will and precision crumble in the face of his increasing erotic passion. Slowly he begins to separate Tadziu. the single and pure perfection which resides in the mind' (Ibid. using. from what another whispering part of him knows is the frenzy of erotic drive at the source of creation. and his own discipline. Astrachan Greek experience. attraction and fantasies surrounding the boy. intellectual monologues he reconstructs passages from Plato's dialogues. the Phaedrus and the Symposium. even when Aschenbach himself abandons all attempts at creative writing while in Venice. 50). 14. It is no longer a brief holiday for the busy working scholar. and then he becomes the beautiful but doomed Hyacinthus.
In this regard. not being present in the dream. is the microcosmic. even in the I). revelling in his monstrously sweet and perverse fantasies. 14. utterly and hopelessly lost. His intuition and experience of the erotic and sexual as the source of art. Venice. What we can observe even in this dream experience then. p. outside and watching it. left the whole cultural structure of a life-time trampled on. an exhaustive survey of the contemporary literature on dreams and dreaming. violently overcoming the profound resistance of his spirit. 14. no matter how disturbed or chaotic we may be in the conscious life situation. 'If'. following Tadziu and his family around the city to catch a glimpse of his beloved. and the events burst in from outside. as Mann writes. and destroyed' (Ibid. mad. unreasoning hopes and visions of a monstrous sweetness' (Ibid. the dream ego. his longsuppressed urges and images of fear and desire rise now in an uncontrollable flow to the surface of his mind. In the by now extensive annals of dream research (ASTRACHAN it is "nearly impossible to find. records remarkably few instances of the dreamer. that great capital of art and pleasure. rather than leading as it so fruitfully can to renewal. 74). abbreviated recapitulation of his entire degeneration into the bestial impulses and behaviour of his increasingly full-blown psychosis. It is as if the self keeps dreaming us. the absence of a dream ego. . only comes fully before his eyes in the dream. he initially attempts to maintain distance. 'dream be the right word for a mental and physical experience which did indeed befall him in deep sleep. 74). Fallen prey to the primeval sources of creativity. dreams of the most regressed and disintegrated psychotic patients. shape or other in the dream. yet without his seeing himself as present in it. the dreamer's own personality or identity is nearly always present in some form. Intoxicated with the forces of chaos and despair and 'giddy with fugitive. however. passed him through and left him.Dionysos in Death in Venice grip of his mania. if only split into an omniscient perceiving and an acting representation or image of the dreamer. As Aschenbach's dream progresses. that night he has the fearful dream. His tightly controlled Romantic ideals come crashing down into the mire under the onslaught of abhorred. that is. he is not in the dream. p. as a thing quite apart and real to his senses. however. he is distant from it. Even in the dream. At first. That is. ravaged. due here to its archaic force and its alienating and horrible primitivism. overwhelms Aschenbach's defences and integrative capacities. the entwined impulses and mysteries of sexuality and death. The dissolution of his personality and the failure of his intellectual defences and sublimations against the flood of his instincts. as he says. long-repressed and forbidden emotions. becomes the reeking and contaminated theatre for Aschenbach's unleashed erotic and aggressive drives. Rather its theatre seemed to be his own soul.
39).70 C. The boy's foreignness. D. clamour and hubbub. untrammelled nature. collapses completely. a low dull thunder. dominating them all. Dionysou-Dionysou. There was a rattling. He heard a voice. 75). 14. the actual dream: The beginning was fear. The dream continues: And with all these. flute-notes of the cruellest sweetness. Throughout his mythologem. fear and desire with a shuddering curiosity. keeping shamelessly on until the listener felt his very entrails bewitched. a whirling rout of men and animals. Astrachan we shall see that his ability to maintain distance from the horrible and bloody spectacle he witnesses. It is of course the name of the beautiful and beloved Tadziu and just before the dream. the women calling out his name with the exotic shrill syllables. from among the tree-trunks and crumbling moss-covered rocks. come ringing and clanging through the centuries to pull and drown Aschenbach. Night reigned. and it is the last shred of familiar or individual identity in the dream before the . p. the uncanny intruder. the 'roarer' (HARRISON10). a barbarian or foreigner. Again. day residue as it were. the cadence had something sweet and wild: "Tadziu! Tadziu!" (Ibid. deep and cooing. 74). and with it. confused noises from far away. ROHDE 16. shrill halloos and a kind of howl with a long drawn u-sound at the end (MANN 14. are transplanted from beach and sea to woods and mountain wilderness. the strange visitor from the alien and uncivilised realms of pure. Dionysos remains the quintessential unknown factor. the cries of his attendant nurses. into their call with their sweet persuasive urge to lose himself. appearances and disappearances. and his senses were on the alert. though darkly that which was to come: The stranger God!' A glow lighted up the surrounding mist and by it he recognised a mountain scene like that about his country home (MANN 14. OTTO 15. is destroyed also. a troop came tumbling and raging down. Once again. Throughout the preceding novel. he hears the 'lad's' name. Aschenbach has had several occasions to rhapsodise on the long-drawn u-sound. The noise of Dionysos. and overflowed the hillside with flames and human forms. as Carl Kerenyi tells us this raving God was actually called in the most ancient Greek times (KERENYI13). p. 'the stranger God' par excellence (DODDS 5. the observer.~. with its softened consonants and long drawn u-sound. SEGAL17)· From the wooded heights. with clamour and the . triumphal onslaught of ' the stranger God' and his impersonal retinue of collective impulses. the Maenads. p. he heard loud. Bromios. here is a personal reference. naming. a crashing. in his many comings and goings. the last vestiges of the individual personality of Gustav von Aschenbach. possess the beach like a rallying-cry.
75).. But the mountain wall took up the noise and howling and gave it back manifold. monstrous. procreative and potent fluidity of the god. Homed and hairy males. which was the centre-piece and symbol in the processions and festivities of Dionysos. In many of his rites and celebrations. hairy pelts that dangled from Here we can recall Aschenbach's very first and still mild intimation of these elemental erotic depths. and like nothing ever heard before! It would ring through the air like the bellow of a challenging stag. The dream continues: '. or thumped madly on drums. 14. uncleanness. girt about the loins with hides. so sweet and wild it was together. They shrieked. . They laughed.. Hairy palm-trunks . holding their breasts in both hands. 14. . the odour as of stagnant watersand another. a blind rage seized him. brandished naked daggers or torches vomiting trails of sparks. the wooden phallus represented the fertilising. the primordial steaming fantasy made rank and completely wild by the cold northern imagination of repressed desire and distorted instinct. a whirling lust. 71 over the long. shamelessly awaiting the coming feast and the uttermost surrender. and be given back manytongued. then clung to the plunging horns and let themselves be borne off with triumphant shouts. 75-76). of course. His senses reeled in the steam of panting bodies. the phallus carved out of fig-wood. swelled to a madness that carried him away. monstrous and wooden (Ibid. composed of soft consonants with a long-drawn u-sound at the end. coiling snakes with quivering tongues they clutched about their naked waists. He trembled. steaming. Thus we find already at the beginning of the novel. as they beat on brazen vessels that gave out droning thunder. His heart throbbed to the drums.. he craved with all his soul to join the ring that formed about the obscene symbol of the Godhead. his brain reeled. fat. a reeking sky. which they were unveiling and elevating.. . drooped heads and lifted arms and thighs in unison. he shrank.. The females stumbled their girdles (MANN 14. rank . thick . p. and while appearing shameful to some was venerated as sacred by most others (OTTO 15). or they would use it to goad each other on to dance with wild excess of tossing limbs-they never let it die. it rose high. crass vegetation. naked roots . his visionary hallucinatory fantasy precipitated by the stranger in Munich: 'a tropical marshland.Dionysos in Death in Venice reeling dance. swollen. stagnant water' (Ibid. Plutarch and other of their contemporaries record. There were troops of beardless youths armed with garlanded staves. And one and all the mad rout yelled that cry. 10). even in the larger cities at a later stage of his worship. We turn back to the women in the dream: with heads flung back they uttered loud hoarse cries and shook their tambourines high in air. beguiling notes of the flute wove in and out and over all. p.. But the deep. as Heraclitus. his will was steadfast to preserve and uphold his own God against· this stranger who was sworn enemy to dignity and self-control. too familiar smell-of wounds. Beguiling too it was to him who struggled in the grip of these sights and sounds. the acrid stench from the goats. these ran after goats and thrust their staves against the creatures' flanks. while from full throats they drove each other on with lewd gesturings and beckoning hands. This is. pp. and disease.
unable any longer to resist the demon call. Yes. This dream. active supporters of what remains. thrilling to the sexual and unbridled blood lust and violence he observes. The great cultural. p. the classical statement on the instinctual Dionysian at the base of Western civilisation. Aschenbach's disintegration is complete-he has fallen into the bottomless pit.72 G. bloody rites. Astrachan they howled they thrust their pointed staves into each other's flesh and licked the blood as it ran down' (MANN 14. p. Aschenbach. Feder. no matter how diluted those spiritual fluids have become over the past two or three millennia. a peeping Tom like Pentheus in the Bacchae. of course. the stranger god was his own. The pride and personality of the intellectual artist. ritual and worship. also provides an interesting account of Rohde's influence on Mann (FEDER7). he merges with the melee of his innermost animalistic desires and terrors. also lays bare the entire collective psyche and swirling abyss upon which Western civilisation has constructed its house. It is widely acknowledged that Mann borrowed heavily for this dream sequence from the account of the Thracian worship of Dionysos found in Rohde's Psyche. artistic and social achievements of Western civilisation. D. who bit and tore and swallowed smoking gobbets of flesh-while on the trampled moss there now began the rites in honour of the god. that the entire populace of ancient Athens allowed and acknowledged this deep level of their own humanity to be purged and . as well as giving numerous illuminating insights and interpretations of Death in Venice. it was he who was flinging himself upon the animals. his friend Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy. It was from these same ancient erotic and even earlier. Rohde was also one of the very few original. that of a pathetic and tragic voyeur. which so beautifully captures so much of what was in fact the actual experiential content an imagery of early Dionysiac religion. as Nietzsche revealed and Freud furthered in Civilization and its Discontents. rest upon the Dionysiac foundation of raw instinctual stirrings and they still draw from that source their living spirit. 76). discards the last shred of his identity. 76). 14. and it was at these celebrations of the 'mad god'. that tragic drama evolved. is swallowed in the embrace of his own 'blind rage' and 'whirling lust' (Ibid. This groundbreaking work influenced and still continues to influence all reflections on this topic since it was originally published in 1872. But now the dreamer was in them and of them. Falling. 76). first published in 1893 (ROHDE 16). an orgy of promiscuous embraces-and in his very soul he tasted the bestial degradation of his fall (Ibid. once so scornful of all that was ambiguous. or formless. Dionysos Mainomenos. amorphous. when Nietzsche was a mere twenty-eight years old. p. And here. the abyss he so loathed and rejected in his lifetime ends as his home in madness and disease. 14.
prefigures a once noble and lofty European culture dissolving into its own dark and degenerate shadow. which are his .Dionysos in Death in Venice 73 relieved. intoxication. the 'render of men'. Dionysos Mainomenos. rejuvenating. denied for so long. becomes the destroyer. Zagreus. denied.a representative of the tortured German spirit split off from its own dark side. enthusiasmous and ekstasis. Tragic drama became the collective participatory religious ritual for an entire civilisation-to renew the roots of their own life in the communally experienced remembrance of their psychic heritage. originally titled Die Gotterdammerung. unbridled sexuality and bloodlust. It is interesting to note that Visconti followed up his cinematic version of Death in Venice with Ludwig. Aschenbach. This brutal violation and distorted denial of both inner and outer nature which parades as collective culture continues forcefully into our own time where we are now faced with confronting the dark side of the 'mad god'. the great and rending cataclysms which were to befall and possess Europe twice in the twentieth century. The god who is the 'liberator'. life-bringing and enhancing. seeks his revenge through the dark side of his own godhead. once triggered by homo-erotic impulses. in feeling. Pentheus and Orpheus for example. Aschenbach's lifelong denial and repression of his own instinctual bases. decadence and disease within both the German aristocracy and the Nazi rise to power. becomes released and backlashes in primitive. in shutting Dionysos out of his life. naturally healthy. (The Twilight of the Gods) and released in English as The Damned. perversion. The harsh and disciplined repression of the Dionysian life instinct as it appears in Eros. the tale of the mad Bavarian king's descent from refined aesthetic distance and grandiose ideals. Mann thus foreshadows. that is. polymorphously perverse and contradictory drives. Like many other tragic figures. through his fall becomes the sacrificial victim. There at the centre of the god. Dionysos. revealing in all three films the contamination of the Dionysian life principle as it is subverted by repressed desire. the forests and seas. grotesque and doomed. homosexuality and total psychotic disintegration. thus ritually re-experienced and renewed (OTTO 15). especially in the atrocities of the Second World War. and in the destruction of the wilderness. in his vengeful nihilistic aggression. falls prey to those same repressed. 'Lysios'. his meditation on AschenbachNietzsche as . the opposites lie in promiscuous eternal embrace: creation and destruction. And then he filmed his operatic fable on the incest. sexuality and death. into paranoia. the 'great hunger'. represented for example in the proliferation of nuclear weapons. and thus all the more powerful urges within himself. leads insidiously to the coldly sadistic outbursts which characterised Mann's German homeland. Aschenbach. in this. like Essenbeck in The Damned. Aschenbach. the detached observer.
applies make-up to his eyebrows arching them. express or integrate the divinely raging Dionysiac core we all bear. and tragically absurd.. grey hair. the shadow of our inferior feeling (JUNG 12). Shattered and dissociated beyond recall. Disgusted with his own ageing body. The one. In a scene which is wonderfully conveyed in Visconti's film version of the story. alienated from its own powerdriven and sexual impulses. owes its deathly force to just this dissociation from the chthonic roots at its source (JUNG 12). curls it in waves. his morality. the barber dyes Aschenbach's hair jet-black. and follows him. and makes the eyes brilliant. Aschenbach's enantiodromia (HANNUM9) reveals the twin poles that the god Dionysos contains within his own image. Finally. we note one more interesting variation on the myth ofDionysos which appears before the tragic finale of the story. and hopeless fear of being unable to please and appeal to Tadziu. he dresses in bright ties. wanders out of the barber's delighted and dazed as if in a dream. through the use of cosmetics. does not appear to be an adequate vehicle to contain. Aschenbach frequently visits the hotel barber. Coming now towards the end of our discussion of Death in Venice. That . Aschenbach. We call for a new vessel with new rituals for this old wine. naturally belongs to him. and firm hold on reality is now all in ruins. perfumes and jewelry. D. Only the monstrous and perverse offers him any hope. 78). Astrachan home. perverse. p. wandering through the plague-ridden streets of Venice. primitiveness and inner chaos. rouges his cheeks and turns his dry anaemic lips 'the colour of ripe strawberries' (MANN 14. The result is grotesque. handkerchiefs. In his deluded wishes to please his fantasy lover. as well as the splitting between the fraternal archetypes of Apollo and Dionysos that occurs with dissociation and regressive disintegration (JUNG 1I). As a 'moral fable' of the individuation process (ZINKIN 18).74 G. The edifice of his personality. seeing a young man in the mirror at the conclusion of this transforming treatment. The dream is the final precipitant of Aschenbach's descent into acute psychosis (ASTRACHAN I). and now. spending hours to array and finally present himself in the dining room. The modern ego of Christian moralism. the mask of the personality regressively and literally. the talkative barber convinces him that he must restore his youth which. Aschenbach spends the following days and nights shamelessly obsessed with Tadziu. Here cool rationality and civilisation have run their course. he claims. it seems in order to ensure the survival of the human species against its perpetuation of new daily atrocities we must find a way to honour our own psychic wilderness. sidedness that Jung saw in the prowling 'blonde beast' of the Aryan race which exploded in war twice during his lifetime. What we see here in this episode is a classical example of an attempt to restore the persona.
leers. a persona. wateryeyed and barely able to stand upright. in the climactic penultimate scene. which we see in Aschenbach and in his unsettling predecessor. swaying. Aschenbach. and the other raving women of Thebes. What is also recapitulated in this bizarre event and grotesquely distorted. Through the presentation of a facade. 14. shaken out of a tree by the god-possessed women. The young-old man buttonholes anyone within reach. Drooling. this ghastly. with the insistence of the God Dionysos disguised as an ordinary mortal. the young and foolish King of Thebes who.Dionysos in Death in Venice 75 is. As a final parting shot. the old. literally the mask of a character in a tragic drama wherein he. rouged cheeks. a stranger. 24). heavily made-up man aboard the boat taking them both to Venice. whom he sees in his hallucinatory dissociation as a bull. he pathetically attempts to repair the crumbled structure of his dedifferentiated self. is then dismembered and devoured by them. in his arrogant pride. There the pitiable old man with the dyed hair. the stranger god. the virtual bible of Dionysian religion. giggles. blinking and gurgling. Pentheus ends up as the bloody victim of his own . he babbles inanities to Aschenbach who escapes from the boat absolutely horrified. with the final dissolution of the inner true personality. and absurd Panama hat. Pentheus is led through the streets of his own kingdom of Thebes by Dionysos. the grotesque old man repulses Aschenbach who watches him. the Bacchae of Euripides. finds one of its most archetypal expressions in the tragic drama most concerned and expressive of Dionysian rite and religion. is then compelled by the god to participate in his rites in their most violent and self-destructive form. including his own mother. brown wig. as if in a retrospective fun-house mirror. consistently denied Dionysos. his face besmirched with make up. Reduced to hallucinatory madness. in fact. aunt. a formal farewell. Aschenbach makes one last effort. false teeth. a dress on. their orgia in the woods. is the victim. stutters. bright red tie. fatuously shakes his old beringed finger and his tongue keeps 'seeking the corner of his mouth in a suggestive motion ugly to behold' (Ibid. As a prophetic image of the depths to which Aschenbach would himself despairingly sink. With a wig askew on his head. They arrive finally at the woods where Pentheus. Pentheus. became terribly drunk and loud in his efforts to cavort with the young men around him. transsexual persona made up in the effort to hide or restore an actually dissolved masculine personality. This image of a grotesque. p. There. is the scene earlier in the story where Aschenbach encounters the second messenger of his own tragic fate. Pentheus dresses up as a woman in order the better to spy on the raving female followers of the God enacting their rites. who must pass him to leave the boat. drunk. pathetically disguised old man pays Aschenbach. Going there pruriently to witness their orgies.
the final loosening of the knot. was quite definitely an essential part of the Dionysian rituals and satyr plays which came both before and after the tragic drama centrepiece. He stands in a glass cabinet in Berlin. In the very beginnings of tragic drama in Greece. putting on a mask. has Aschenbach sitting at the beach. fundamentally loosened. 'the pale and lovely summoner out there smiled at him and beckoned. In thousands of images of Greek and Roman gods. was an integral part of the Dionysian ritual-as it still is in carnival. In this excruciatingly prolonged final scene in the cinematic version of this tale. The last scene of the novel. in the Museum of Greek Art. exquisitely. all the actors were. the Dionysian celebrations par excellence that occur at the same time as they always have throughout the world. mid-winter. We find then. drunkenness. of course. gently . ancient and modern. turns back to gaze towards Aschenbach. his hand palm down. that this notion of dressing up. if not part of their actual role. in his chair. watching Tadziu play and then walk from his young friends. intoxicated and inspired acceptance of the god. its lysis. and shifting and temporarily changing sexual identity. the watcher. C. there seems to be only one who makes that particular oriental-like gesture. Fastnacht. the summoner. men and transvestism. the director. That is. 83). sexuality and intoxicated release. one hand on his hip.G. outlined against the immensity of sea and sky. Astrachan lascivious desires.' to Aschenbach. like Pentheus. as though with the hand he lifted from his hip. DOLIN 3). integrate or assimilate the God's good and positive graces and gifts: pleasure. Hermes the 'guide of souls'. and then once more with his hand on his hip. that the destructive and murderous reprisals are avoided. looking out peacefully through all of time. has a long and venerable tradition (COOK. from about the 7th to the yth centuries B. the other gesturing of infinity-a small bronze state of Hermes Psychopompos. reaps the punishment of an elemental force of nature scorned and revengeful. As doubles of Dionysos. mardi gras. his hunted sacrificial victims suffer either physical dismemberment or irremediable psychic tearing and disintegration. p. and masquerading as the opposite sex. he pointed outward as he hovered on before into an immensity of richest expectations' (MANN 14.. who meets Tadziu's eyes before his own close for ever as in deep slumber. a persona. drunken. his last bit of strength ebbing away. the raving god himself. D. with the thumb and first finger joined to form a circle. Mann writes 'It seemed. it is through the erotic. Erotic permissiveness and licentiousness. Aschenbach. Visconti. raise his free arm and make a particular sign: his arm outstretched straight but relaxed from the shoulder. through an inability to accept. Tadziu walks out into the shallow water. has Tadziu etched in beauty against the infinite horizon.
C. DOLIN. we witness the gradual disintegration of an individual soul caught in the twentieth century man. Coli. G. (Ed. dissertation. prophetically illustrates the Dionysian impulse as it appears in our lives. . H. FEDER. E. 6. R. (1950). (1978). Princeton. K. 9. 6. Introduction and commentary. 2. G. COOK. Thomas Mann. Indiana University Press (1979).Dionysos in Death in Venice accompanying and leading the soul of Gustav von Aschenbach..f?Y· Cambridge. London. Princeton. 12. Dionysos. c. (1972). 5. D. Dionysos Slain. Gustav von Aschenbach. GUTHRIE. Dallas. Lectures on 'Dionysos' given at the C. Psychological Types. Princeton University Press. (1922). to its eternal home. REFERENCES I. Zurich. 'The role of the unconscious'. Perspectives. (awaiting publication). written around 1912. in his brilliant novella Death in Venice. (1977). Dionysos: archetypal image of indestructible life. Psych. 10. 'Archetypal echoes in Mann's Death in Venice'. Wks. The Greeks and the Irrational. an awareness of the need for new rituals and new vessels to honour and contain the god. (1976). University of California Press. E. the 'loosener'. (Eds. . 13. A. Berkeley. Oxford University Press (1960). has become corrupted and deceased for our time. 4. The Greeks and Their Gods. W. (1921). -(1951). the enlivening and invigorating god of classical Greek culture. 5. 7. II. Through the novella's main protagonist. eventually all of us.) (1944). HANNUM. ASTRACHAN. M. Methuen (1968). . G. C. Jung Institute. Madness in Literature. Coli. in order to avert his horrors and ensure his blessings.D.Ph. Cambridge University Press. Oxford.). Euripides' Bacchae. DODDS. Prolegomena to the study of Greek mytho[o. -(1918). L. (1980). E. I. G. 3. (1974). DETIENNE. KERENYI. Wks. 8.J. Bloomington. HARRISON. This naturally liberating god has been forced through centuries of harsh repression to seek release through the darker sides of human nature. New York University. An Anthology of Greek Tragedy. 'The structure of dreams in schizophrenia'. 10. Princeton University Press. SUMMARY 77 and Dionysos. JUNG. Spring Publications. -(1983).
4. J. Tubner. Bloomington. Astrachan 14. Penguin (1977). (1933). D. ZINKIN. Harrnondsworth. Princeton. (1912). (1977). Analyt. . C. 17. SEGAL. W. Dionysos: myth and cult. 'Death in Venice-a Jungian view'. (1983). ROHDE. E. MANN. (1925). OTTO.' Death in Venice. L.G. Indiana University Press (1965). Kegan Paul. F. Psyche. 22. Dionysian poetics and Euripides' Baahae. Princeton University Press. 16. Psychol.. (1982). 15. Trench. T. 18. London.
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