25 May 2010

Review: Death in Venice

Well if a book has ever left me with a deep ennui, this was it. I started off hating it, and by the end, I just didn't even care a little. I read it because I plan on studying Benjamin Britten, and he wrote an opera based on the story. Death In Venice is one of German writer Thomas Mann's most famous works, and it's so universally praised that I feel a bit weird for disliking it.

But I just can't get over how unrelentingly creepy it is. Aschenbach, the main character, is a famed, middle-aged, German writer in the pre-WWI 1910s. He feels a deep malaise for his work and decides to go on a trip. He ends up in Venice as Cholera begins to spread in the city. There, he falls madly in love with a 14-year old boy, Tadzio.

Now, Tadzio is apparently beautiful. But that's what you would expect of a thinly veiled metaphor for Apollo. Of course the sun/light/truth god is beautiful, this isn't Hephaestus. So we get to see Tadzi-apoll-o running about the shore and making Aschenbach's day. Sure, Aschenbach never does anything, but he lusts over the boy like a dog looking at a T-Bone. (Also, allow me to clarify that the age is what I have a problem with here, not the fact that both are male).

Thankfully, we're spared Aschenbach's continued awkward creepiness by his untimely death (spoiler alert). It was incredibly abrupt and felt like it came out of nowhere. I'd've been upset if it hadn't felt so merciful.

That said, I did manage to get one awesome line out of the book (one that I think I will use for conference papers when I turn my thesis into them):

But in empty, unarticulated space our mind loses its sense of time as well, and we enter the twilight of the immeasurable.

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