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Zinkin, L. (1977). ‘Death In Venice’ A Jungian View. J. Anal. Psychol., 22(4):354-366.

(1977). Journal of Analytical Psychology, 22(4):354-366

‘Death In Venice’ A Jungian View

L. Zinkin

In This Paper I want to bring together three things—a novel, an illness and a theory.

The novel is Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, the illness can be labelled paedophilia, and the theory is Jung's theory of individuation. As each of these would fill a book I intend to start by limiting my aims.

I have a number of patients who brought up the story in analysis—usually through having seen the film. Two of these patients especially could be diagnosed as paedophiliacs—as perhaps could Aschenbach; but it was clear, both in the patients and in the story, that the attraction to a beautiful youth was not just an undesirable perversion, but an expression of a deep longing for an experience that would somehow give meaning to their lives. Thomas Mann seemed to be bringing out in a work of fiction something which Jung was simultaneously bringing out in his writings on psychology. The correspondence between my patients and the story, therefore, led me back to a number of Jung's ideas, and all I want to do in this paper is to try to show what light this threw, for me, on what one is trying to do as a Jungian analyst.

The Story

Let us start with the story. It is quite short—only a novella, but quite extraordinary in its evocation of atmosphere, its power to grip the reader and lead him to a conclusion which seems inevitable. What is it about? Like all great works of art its meaning is ambiguous and cannot easily be translated into terms other than itself. Each re-reading seems to yield new aspects of meaning, and on close scrutiny every sentence seems to be significant, although this is not always immediately apparent. Thomas Mann brought to it a deep interest in mythology, in classical antiquity, and was deeply impressed, as was Jung, by the works of Goethe, Schiller, Nietzsche and Freud. He had certain conscious intentions in writing the story, particularly in bringing out the Apollonian-Dionysian opposites. His symbolism is partly conscious and he particularly intended to depict in Tadzio, as well as in other characters, the symbolic motif of Hermes Psychopompos, the guide who led souls to death.

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