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Overturning 'Dr. Faustus'

Overturning 'Dr. Faustus': Rereading Thomas Mann's Novel in Light of 'Observations of a Non-Political Man'

Frances Lee
Volume: 4
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Overturning 'Dr. Faustus'
    Book Description:

    Thomas Mann's last major novel, 'Doktor Faustus', revolves around the transformation of traditional German culture into Hitler's fascist Germany, a process that intrigues and confounds thinking people still today. Mann has always been considered an exemplary and authoritative portrayer of German culture, and his opinion on the rise of fascism carries considerable weight. Unfortunately, the novel has always been interpreted as saying the opposite of what it does in fact say. Frances Lee provides a radically new interpretation by relating in a detailed manner to the text of Doktor Faustus the arguments expressed by Mann in his 'Observations of a Non-Political Man' -- a book of political essays published in 1918. This approach resolves many of the features that have been seen by critics as flaws or contradictions in the novel. Lee establishes what is actually happening in the novel in its historical setting, showing Mann's view of how the acceptance of fascism occurred and the determining role he attributed to the academic community in bringing about the disaster. Her book will be of interest to both amateur and professional students of Mann, particularly because it points to rich new directions for study. Frances Ann Ray Lee received the Ph.D. in German literature from the University of Toronto in 2005.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-701-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-vii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    In this book I attempt to provide a clear explanation of what I think Mann had in mind in writing Doktor Faustus.¹ The following study is the result of having, so to speak, tipped the kaleidoscope in looking at the novel. I have disregarded the accepted assumptions of what the novel is about, on the grounds that they do not lead to an intelligible interpretation of the text, and posited new assumptions. The book originated in a suspicion, which soon developed into the conviction, that Doktor Faustus is an autobiographical novel. In their readings of the novel most critics have...

  6. Background

    • 1: Die Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen
      (pp. 25-41)

      Die Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen goes much beyond being simply an argument against Mann’s brother Heinrich’s political position, which is what Mann started out to write. It is a sophisticated and sound discussion of political philosophy, although it is presented in rather unorthodox fashion. Published in 1918, the book is a collection of complementary essays written during the First World War, all revolving around the problem of the imminent political upheaval in Germany. Since it is inevitable that Germany will soon be a democratic country, no matter who wins the war, it is necessary, Mann argues, to face the problem and...

    • 2: The Reception of Die Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen
      (pp. 42-53)

      Some critics reject Doktor Faustus on the grounds that it does not reflect the realities they themselves see as underlying the rise of National Socialism in Germany. But what if the novel was never intended to reflect such realities? It seems more reasonable to expect to find, not a broad historical account, but a specific, more personal account. Paul Egon Hübinger’s historical study of the events surrounding the granting in 1919 and subsequent withdrawal in 1936 of Mann’s honorary doctorate, Thomas Mann, die Universität Bonn und die Zeitgeschichte (1974),¹ looks specifically at Mann’s relationship with the academic community in Munich...

    • 3: The Significance of Die Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen for Doktor Faustus
      (pp. 54-64)

      One of the outstanding characteristics of Doktor Faustus is the violence of the emotions expressed, a much greater violence than in any other of Mann’s novels. Mann tends, when discussing emotions, to be analytical and detached, but not here. Doktor Faustus expresses extreme degrees of hatred, frustration, anguish, and helplessness. The atmosphere is heavy with misunderstanding and innuendo, the emotion immediate and personal. Mann is experiencing his suffering and frustrations of the 1920s and 1930s all over again in his portrayal of Adrian’s suffering. He is anything but kind in the novel to his former friends.

      The relationship of Doktor...

  7. Analysis of the Text

    • 4: Going to Leipzig
      (pp. 67-82)

      Adrian’s decision in chapter 15 to change the center of his approach to life from theology to music is the most significant decision in his life and must, therefore, be analyzed very carefully. It is this decision that he defines in his Faust story in chapter 47 as the beginning of his Faust’s association with the Devil (DF, 662). When the argument for this decision is read in the context of Die Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen, the significance of the fact that Mann’s Faust is a musician becomes clear. Music, Protestant theology, and German nineteenth-century liberal humanism are virtually synonymous to...

    • 5: Adrian’s Studies in Leipzig
      (pp. 83-89)

      The description of Adrian’s studies contributes to the reader’s understanding of how Adrian is sorting out his basic approach to creating a democratic music. This is in fact what Adrian is doing, as he reports to Zeitblom in his letter from Leipzig in chapter 16. The account of his visit to the brothel is a funny anecdote that precedes a serious discussion of his intellectual development. Zeitblom diverts the attention of the reader from this important discussion by the simple expedient of devoting the entire following chapter to a fanciful elaboration of the visit to the brothel. The episode in...

    • 6: Adrian’s Strenger Satz
      (pp. 90-101)

      This remark introduces Adrian’s explanation of his strenger Satz. It is a reference to Beißel, who invented a new and simplified musical system for his congregation, since the traditional melodies are far too complicated. As in Wagner’s Meistersinger, his music is guided by the accentuation of normal speech. The harmony is according to a set tabulation, and it is an open system that can be expanded to include everything. Thus the entire congregation could and did participate in both the creation and the performance of the new music. The result was surprisingly effective. Zeitblom thought the system naïve and silly....

    • 7: Zeitblom’s Propensity to Demonology
      (pp. 102-114)

      The idea of Zeitblom’s espousing demonology appears ridiculous in the light of everyday common sense. However, in the world of the novel, fascism is presented in the shape of demonology and, therefore, requires this image. At the end of the novel, Adrian is presented as a Christ-figure, which is equally ridiculous in the world of reality, but appropriate to the novel. Obviously, in a secular age, no ordinary human beings fall into either of these categories. For most of the novel, Mann has presented both Adrian and Zeitblom as believable members of society. They have their peculiarities, which one may...

    • 8: Interlude
      (pp. 115-139)

      The First World War is the decisive break in the development of the events that are significant for the story of the novel. The change in the economic and political environment resulting from Germany’s defeat leads to a realignment of forces and relationships, based primarily on the suddenly extreme importance of whether each of the characters is a Catholic humanist, a Zivilisationsliterat, or a Protestant artist. Before proceeding with the discussion of the development of Adrian’s and Zeitblom’s political thought in the new situation, it would be well to pause and look at some examples of Mann’s light-hearted illustration of...

    • 9: The Outbreak of the First World War
      (pp. 140-150)

      In chapter 30 Mann illustrates how Zeitblom takes the final step in the development of his predisposition to fascism. In order for the political approach of the Catholic humanist Zivilisationsliterat to shift from advocating communism to advocating fascism, three factors are necessary. First, he must be literally a Roman Catholic; second, his eroticism must espouse Nietzsche’s glorification of life, the sacrifice of truth to life; and third, he must be an enthusiastic nationalist. Zeitblom has been shown to fulfill the first two requirements. However, there is, as yet, no political situation. All that has been established is Zeitblom’s theoretical predisposition...

    • 10: The End of the First World War
      (pp. 151-170)

      In chapters 33 and 34 Mann explains the basis of the great gulf that opens up between Zeitblom and his friends and Adrian and Rudi in the second part of the novel. Zeitblom describes six different aspects of the period just after the end of the First World War: his personal attitude towards the political situation; the political theories of the Kridwiß Kreis and his explanation of the conclusions reached; Adrian’s activities both during and after the war; Adrian’s Apocalipsis cum figuris; its reception by Zeitblom and his associates; and Adrian’s and Rudi’s decision to cooperate in support of the...

    • 11: Adrian’s Apocalipsis cum figuris
      (pp. 171-195)

      Zeitblom has expressed attitudes compatible with fascism and Adrian has rejected these attitudes forcefully. Suddenly, now that politics have entered the scene, Zeitblom is associating Adrian with the extreme fascist position of the Kridwiß Kreis. This association is through his Apocalipsis cum figuris, not through Adrian as a person. The deliberations of the Kridwiß Kreis were particularly convincing, says Zeitblom, because they discussed things in the context of a work of art by a friend of his that was rapidly gaining in popularity in Munich. These discussions amounted to a commentary on the work (DF, 493). This is clearly a...

    • 12: Adrian’s Devil
      (pp. 196-230)

      What Zeitblom calls “the document,” which he claims to have found in Adrian’s papers after his death, is the account Adrian wrote of his conversation with the Devil and is found in chapter 25. This “document” and its counterpart, Adrian’s final address in chapter 47, appear to constitute the only evidence in the novel that Adrian has sold his soul to the Devil. As I argue below, this is not an accurate reading of the text. “The document” is part of the subtext of the novel, not part of Zeitblom’s story. It must be read with an open mind and...

    • 13: The Story of Marie
      (pp. 231-255)

      The situation in the novel has now completely changed. The historical period of the rest of the novel is the 1920s in Munich, a time and place where the rapid increase in fascist support and political polarization and intolerance was particularly pronounced. Fascist intolerance of dissent was leading to a complete breakdown of social order and justice, and violence on the streets was routine. Adrian’s Apocalipsis cum figuris has been preempted as an argument for fascism by the Catholic intellectual community in Munich, and Adrian, who understands the demonic implications of this distortion of his ideas, is now working, as...

    • 14: Adrian’s Last Speech and Final Defeat
      (pp. 256-268)

      In chapter 47, the last of the few opportunities in the novel for Adrian to present his point of view, he is presenting his new work, his Dr. Fausti Weheklag. During his presentation his physical appearance is, symbolically, that of the German artist, head to one side (BeU, 113), and his speech is clumsy. Zeitblom objects that his language is Reformation German, which he finds barbaric because it is not as tightly controlled by rules as modern speech (DF, 656–57) — in other words, it represents Protestantism, which is not subject to dogma. Adrian’s new work does not make much...

  8. Conclusion

    • 15: Doktor Faustus: A New Perspective
      (pp. 271-286)

      Doktor Faustus is not a philosophical tract; it is a novel. It is an unusual novel in that the action is largely in the dialogue, but action it is, nevertheless. The fundamental underlying argument, that Catholic humanism is a secularization of the medieval approach to social control and nineteenth-century humanism is a secularization of the values of the Reformation, is illustrated over and over again in a multiplicity of practical applications. All of these episodes are simply variations on this one basic theme. They each show how opinion about whatever is being talked about depends on the position of the...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 287-298)
  10. Index
    (pp. 299-310)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. None)