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Astrachan, G. (1990). Dionysos in Thomas Mann's Novella, ‘Death in Venice’. J. Anal. Psychol., 35(1):59-78.
  

(1990). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 35(1):59-78

Dionysos in Thomas Mann's Novella, ‘Death in Venice’

Gary Astrachan, Ph.D.

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 Venice. 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 jewel-like piece of literature 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

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