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Bodily Transformations: Goethe and Mann in Venice

Heather I. Sullivan    Trinity University, San Antonio, USA    



Using material ecocriticism, this essay considers how Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Italian Journey portray the experience of Venice’s watery boundaries as transformative of both one’s sense of the body and of body itself. Mann obsessively presents bodies in Death in Venice, including the impact of cholera on the body of his protagonist, Aschenbach, and the idealised form of the Polish boy Tadzio; yet his text also eludes portraying Aschenbach’s death in any graphic detail. In other words, bodies matter in Death in Venice but there appears to be an inappropriate and less bodily gradient for the impact of disease such that the bodies of the workers who succumbed to cholera are portrayed in horrific detail while Aschenbach just quietly falls asleep, transformed visibly only by cosmetics. Goethe, in turn, also embraces both a bodily focus in his Italian writings, and one that similarly looks away from gritty embodiment. His journal depicts more abstract and scientific details of non-human bodies that later shape his writings on botany, optics, and morphology. However, Goethe’s text presents a proto-ecological sense of natural bodies immersed in an animated, lively, and disturbing world of water and life, one clearly inspired by his study of the ocean and lagoon in Venice.

20 Dicembre 2021
20 Ottobre 2021
23 Agosto 2021

Keywords: VeniceMaterial ecocriticismJohann Wolfgang GoetheThomas MannDeath in Venice

Copyright: © 2021 Heather I. Sullivan. This is an open-access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction is permitted, provided that the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. The license allows for commercial use. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.