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Davidson, L. (1976). Mid-Life Crisis in Thomas Mann's “Death in Venice”. J. Amer. Acad. Psychoanal., 4(2):203-214.

(1976). Journal of American Academy of Psychoanalysis, 4(2):203-214

Mid-Life Crisis in Thomas Mann's “Death in Venice”

Leah Davidson

Psychoanalysts seldom get a chance to study healthy reactions to the problems of living. What we see in our offices are miscarriages of adaptation to life's stresses and demands, or “breakdowns,” so-called, of the psychological equipment in general.

Some of us have, indeed, been fascinated with how life mimicks the scripts of movies or novels. With patients in deep analysis, we have been privileged to watch the emergence of mental health, which had been buried under the more obvious psychopathology. With regard to mid-life crisis, the most common issues we see center around work and future vocation. Adult identity is perceived at this stage as very much a matter of “What I have done with my life?”; What I have achieved?; and What do I do now with the rest of what is left?

Often there is a feeling of being capable of more, a longing for achievements or fulfillments not realized, an inappropriate acting out—usually sexual—of the fears of aging and dying. These issues and behaviors merge almost imperceptibly into an acceptance of the finality of personal death, and resignation to human mortality in general, as treatment goes on. A very deep reworking of the relationship of procreation and its meaning in the totality of this life takes place—by this I mean the relationship to one's own protoplasmic immortality, and to one's death. “My children” are what I will leave behind of myself physically. There are fantasies of a future person much “like myself” and fantasies also of reincarnation.

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