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Thomas Mann and the Politics of Art
May 28, 2021 at 2:00 pm - 5:00 pm EDT
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In this salon, Danish-American literary critic and biographer Morten Høi Jensen leads a discussion of Thomas Mann’s journey from right-wing patriot to liberal democrat in an exploration of the fraught relationship between art and politics.
Like many writers of his generation, Mann welcomed the outbreak of the First World War as a deliverance from the decadence of the late nineteenth century and as an opportunity to reassert German cultural dominance and national strength. In his rambling, unwieldy Reflections of a Non-Political Man, published in 1918, Mann asserted that politics was better left to politicians. He maintained that “life and intellect, art and politics as totally separate worlds” — a stance that alienated him from his progressive brother, Heinrich, to whom Mann did not speak for seven years.
Yet by the early 1920s, just as the National Socialist movement was beginning its assault on German politics, Mann emerged as an unlikely defender of the embattled Weimar Republic. In a number of articles and addresses he warned Germany’s youth against the temptations of mass politics. When he published his great novel The Magic Mountain in 1924, many of the German conservatives who had previously supported Mann now turned against him.
- “The Writer Apart” by Mark Lilla, New York Review of Books
- “What Mann Can Tell Us About Defending Democracy” by Tobias Boes, Jacobin Magazine
- “The Unbearable Pathos of Thomas Mann” by Morten Høi Jensen, Los Angeles Review of Books