Thursday, September 29, 2011
Death in Venice
Thomas Mann wrote a short novella in 1912 called Death in Venice. It was about a man, about my own age, early fifties, who is a writer who is artistically renowned. He too has come to a point in his life, where he feels a certain dissatisfaction and feels he has hit his own moment of midlife stasis. He too is a man who lives mostly inside his head and has a heightened view of art and beauty. He decided to take a holiday, in a sort of search for self identity and ends up in Venice Italy. Then just at the moment he is about to leave he spies and idealistically falls in love with a vision of perfection in a young lad named Tadzio, who is also in Venice on holiday with his family. Aschenbach becomes utterly captivated with this youth and begins to idolize and immortalize Tadzio as absolute perfection as one would gaze upon the beauty of the David sculpture of Michangelo. Aschenbach begins to watch and follow this lad on the beaches and throughout the city, becoming utterly obsessed. He becomes caught in an internalized struggle between reason and passion. Though the relationship remains completely plutonic his love and desire for this idealism grow so intense that he ignores a public health issue of a cholera epidemic that has swept the city, ultimately sacrificing his health. As reason overcomes passion, he is gripped by the epidemic. In the final moments as Tadzio finally comes to the beach to beckon him, he dies in his beach chair, trying to reach out to the boy. Yes, I have spoiled the story but with a title like Death in Venice you kind of know what to expect when to begin reading it and there are so many bad translations that many abandon it before they get to the end.
Though it has been years since I have read this story always seems to haunt me. In a greater sense I now see I embody Aschenbach and through the allusion of classical mythology and it’s comparison of Apollo and Dionysus in the story I identify myself, also caught in a universe captivated between my reason and passion searching for idealistic beauty. This is really the core of what I try to capture as the essence of my imagery. Though this story was written during a time when even the thought of desire for the same sex was completely unmentionable and I live in an era where this sort of desire is often realized, there is something still utterly captivating about recognizing that remarkable passion for what is truly beautiful. In my case it often becomes a reversal of the truth, because the mirror is then turned on the subject, to reveal their own hidden truths. Many of the people that come to me for images are people who cannot see the remarkable beauty within themselves and look to me to reveal it for them. My subjects are ordinary people, living ordinary lives, in an ordinary place like Montana, who become revealed in this process. But I like Aschenbach dwell in a certain loneliness and isolation because of our heightened sense of morality toward our obsession with the remarkable. Youth is filled with the prolific passion of the flesh, the fulfillment of carnal desire. As I work on this website I fear myself slipping into a certain reason where my passion for the idealism overwhelms my desire for human lust. I fear this so much in my head that it is spinning and I have become lost in a process of aging and the creation of art. Do we as artists sacrifice ourselves for the greater good of our artistic intentions? I now fear to touch and be touched, I fear to be desired, when in my youth I was captivated and consumed by it and retreat further into my head. I as the photographer remain distant and aloof like a viewer outside looking inward. Perhaps this is just part of the process of growing older? Perhaps the legacy of what is left behind will become just a vague recollection of my stories and images only to become recognizable in others.
The novel is Death in Venice and Other Tales by Thomas Man and I recommend the
Translation by Joachim Neusroschel
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