A FAUSTIAN BARGAIN: My father, Thomas Mann and the Nazis
Of course, hisstory does not repeat itself, neither as a tragedy nor as a farce. All flows and no man ever steps in the same river twice. With one of my sisters I spent a weekend cleaning out my parents' home, among other things we found vast amounts of letters. Chests and drawers overflowed with letters exchanged between my grandparents, between my parents and those I and my sisters had written over time. It was sad to be confronted with letters my parents had written and received when they were still alive. The letters preserved thoughts and concerns nurtured on specific occasions. When I read them I heard their voices and saw my parents in front of me. At first I throw away bundles with letters, particularly those I had written, though I eventually changed my mind. "Someday" I thought "sometime I'm going to sit down and read everything." Try to track my parents' lives and thoughts and maybe to certain degree succeed to make them live again. It will probably never happen.
Most amazed I become over the amount of letters I had written and received. Reading a few of them I realized that he who wrote and received these letters was a different man than the one I am today. Someone who lived in another time, had other friends and priorities, thoughts and feelings. Nevertheless, some of those friends remain and several convictions are still there, though in a different kind of existence, within a different time sphere.
I found other documents, like an essay that my then seventeen-year-old father had written after the Nazi takeover of Germany. To my dismay, I discovered that he, whose strong reluctance to intolerance and power abuse have become beacons for me, once had defended the National Socialism. My father seldom hid his radical ideas and did not hesitate to expose his occasionally unconventional views to relatives, acquaintances and even unknown people. Surely he would have been ashamed if I had presented my find to him. Though - why had he kept that essay during all those years? Had he forgotten all about it? I do not think so. Maybe he had just like me become fascinated by the person he had once been. Maybe he wanted me to find it?
One of my father's older brothers did at that time work for a German-owned company and often visited Hamburg. Uncle Herbert, or Hubbe as my father called him, furthermore had a German fiancée, a relative to his boss and Hubbe was soon to marry her. My grandfather, who died when my father was two years old, was apparently a convinced socialist. At one photograph I see him was standing on a scaffold together with his bricklayer workmates. After the bankruptcy of the family smithy my grandfather had lived in Germany for several years and when returned to Sweden he was a bricklayer, germanophile, teetotaller and Social Democrat. Accordingly, Germany was to a certain degree present in my father´s family and who could in 1933 imagine how badly it all would end? Millions of people; completely harmless children, women and men, Jews, homosexuals, mentally handicapped, Romani, socialists, pacifists and Soviet prisoners of war, would have been efficiently murdered to an unprecedented extent.
In his essay my father argued that reports about Nazi discrimination against Jews were exaggerated, while he exposed musty views about race and nation. I do not believe that my Father could have been a full-fledged Nazi: I assume that he already at that age was a Liberal, or rather Social Democrat, but the shoddy arguments of his essay was painful reading.
When I now listen to how Jimmie Åkesson, leader of the Sweden Democrats, is speaking in the radio, I come to think about my young father. How would he have behaved if he was young today? Would he have argued that the Sweden Democrats do "raise important questions" and in "several respects have quite sensible opinions"? Would he agree that this political party's murky past has nothing to do with its present appearance? That comparisons between Sweden Democrats and totalitarian, racist ideologies are unjustified?
It is not my seventeen years old father, but the older, more experienced and critical journalist who makes me ask questions like: "Why listen to such a party?" If the Sweden Democrats are "expressing good opinions," why accept all that dirty washing from times gone by that ripple around in its backwater? "The Swedish-friendly Party", which prioritises issues like health - and elderly care, though they nevertheless consider them to be less significant than the all-encompassing issue of immigration's adverse effects on Swedish society. Or, as Jimmie states:
Mass immigration has transformed an ethnically homogeneous Sweden into a multicultural mess, with violence, drugs and ethnic conflicts - a country where the future looks darker than ever.
If some of my friends would happen to catch a glance caught a glance of what I am writing, they would probably make their usual remark about my dogged opinions: "Now he's caught up in his old track about the Sweden Democrats. His disc repeats the same old scratchy sound, over and over again. Why does he care? The Sweden Democrats are no Nazis, but a big national that, which in the name of democracy raises unpleasant but necessary questions about an issue that other political parties are reluctant to deal with. In addition, far from all their opinions are as repellent as Jan seems to assume they are."
What do I answer to that? Nothing except that it was my aversion to these so called "democrats" that made me start writing this blog a few years ago. Those friends of mine point to the apparent absurdity of my way of equating the Sweden Democrat Party´s chanting about how a marvellous, homogeneous Sweden is being threatened by unrestricted immigration, with the Nazis' idea of Blut und Boden, “Blood and Soil” which aimed at justifying ethnic cleansing, extermination or repatriation of people the Nazis considered to be a threat to the purity of the Aryan race.
My friends may be right, I am exaggerating. Let me therefore ignore my generalizations and instead scrutinize the healthy opinions of the Sweden Democrats. Can those also be traced to Nazi ideology? Certainly, at that time, there was for sure several voters who neglected or excused the Nazis' mad antisemitism, their xenophobia, homophobia and hatred of all those whom they considered to be odd and abnormal. Instead, they voted in support of the Party's health- and employment policy.
A glance at the Sweden Democrats website “The Sweden Democrats - The Swedish Friendly Party” reveals that under the heading Our policy the party prioritizes the well-being of the elderly:
Pensioners are probably the most neglected group of our time. [...] We Sweden Democrats want to strengthen the elderly's status in society. It is an endeavour at many levels. Several elderly people have the energy and will to continue to work, though today they are denied that opportunity. We need to be better at taking advantage of the skills of our older generation both in the labour market and in society at large.
Already in their in their first party program from 1920 the German National Socialists demanded "a generous increase in the benefits for the elderly". However, when they came to power in 1933 all commitments and reforms related to the elderly were linked to citizens' duty
to mentally and physically act for the general welfare. Claims of an individual cannot be allowed to violate public interests, but must always be judged whether they are beneficial to each and everyone. Your health is not your exclusive concern, it is your duty to society.
Difference between individuals were emphasized: "not every elderly person is valuable". The primary goal of all health care should be to prolong an active, profitable life, guaranteeing every citizen a "full disposal of the achievements and health that find their foundation in inheritance and race." The main concern was to maximize the employability of citizens and "reducing the unemployed phase of a person's life". In fact, pensions did not change significantly after the National Socialists had come to power, other than retirement pensions and payments were becoming calculated, controlled and disbursed by the State.
National Socialism declared that health care, healthy living and sustainable resource utilization had to be prioritized. It defended the rights of the animals and several party members had a craze for things natural and organic. Hitler's party pointed to the fact that German doctors in the early 1930s had clarified the connection between smoking and lung cancer and did accordingly initiatiate the world's first state-sponsored campaign against smoking. Research on the harmful effects of smoking was extensive. Hitler's personal disgust for tobacco was crucial for a campaign that was already associated with racism. Hitler, who devoured Karl May's books about noble Indians, regarded smoking as the "Red Man's Revenge" since "they the White People had poisoned him with their alcohol". According to the Führer and medical expertise, addiction was currently weakening and could finally destroy the entire Aryan race.
Pregnant women's smoking and alcohol consumption resulted in a higher rates of fetal death and miscarriage. The Nazis anti-tobacco campaign included a ban on smoking in public places and mandatory health education in schools. Health magazines with names like Gesundes Volk, Healthy People, Volksgesundheit Public Health and Gesundes Leben, Healthy Living, warned of the harmful effects of smoking and alcohol. At the same time, it became commonplace among national socialists to attack the “Jewish monopoly” that favoured "excessive and unnecessary" healthcare and drug production. As an alternative the Nazi regime favoured a plethora of unconventional medical treatment.
Personally, Hitler fought for animal rights and often complained about meat intake, as well as the use of animal fat (gelatine) in cosmetics. Vivisection and painful animal testing were banned. Under Hermann Göring, the Reichsforst und Jägermeister, National Forestry and Hunting Master, a Reichstierschutzgesetz, Animal Protection Act, was established, which forbade kosher slaughtering, boiling of live crustaceans, commercial use of animal traps, and harmful use of animals in film and entertainment. Specific rules were established for nature conservation, forestry and animal transport.
However, the care for helpless creatures did not include humans classified as Lebensunwertes Leben, Life unworthy of life. The systematic killing of Jews and Romani, as well as Russian prisoners of war were not the only savagery resulting from this kind of twisted reasoning, approximately 300,000 mentally and physically disabled people were killed by gas or mortal injections, while 400,000 were sterilized.
In 1933, more than 6 million German men were unemployed. Hitler's party promised Arbeit und Brod, Work and Bread, by imposing labour duty, expanding the weapon industry and trying to make Germany self-sufficient (autarchy). Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD), The Reich Labour Service, proclaimed that every man between 18 and 25 years of age for six months had to undergo "manual labour training" in specific camps. RAD included forestry, digging of drenches, as well as construction of highways and hospitals. At the same time the armed forces increased from 100,000 men in 1933 to 1,400,000 in 1939. Men aged 18-25 had to undergo two years of mandatory military service. In 1939, less than 350,000 Germans were unemployed, with the exception of women and Jews. However, the autarchy policy failed. In 1939, Germany imported 33 percent of its raw materials and several parts of the country suffered food shortages.
Aggressive militarism, nationalism, yearning for revenge and territorial expansion, contempt for others and the ever expanding arms industry led to the inevitable - war! Nazi Germany had once again taken the road that earlier had led to the First World War. The former English Foreign Minister, Edward Grey, did in 1925 determine the cause of the Great War:
More than one true thing may be said about the causes of the war, but the statement that comprises most truth is that militarism and the armaments inseparable from it made war inevitable. Armaments were intended to produce a sense of security in each nation - that was the justification put forward in defence of them. What they really did was to produce fear in everybody. Fear causes suspicion and hatred; it is hardly too much to say that, between nations, it stimulates all that is bad, and depresses all that is good.
Lord Grey wrote this after he had retired to his estate, the Fallodon. At that time he was half-blind: “I am getting to an age when I can only enjoy the last sport left. It is called hunting for your spectacles.” Two years after he had written about his role in Great Britain´s war efforts he wrote a charming book about birds and birdsong. Reading it I came to think of how nice it would be if certain politicians, instead of forcing unpleasant ideas on their nations, dedicated their time to listening to birdsong. Fanatics are dangerous and if they engage in politics their views and actions become threat to us all.
When Jimmie Åkesson joined the Sweden Democrats in 1995, he was as old as my father was when he wrote his defence of German National Socialists in 1934. When he had matured emotionally and politically my father changed his opinions completely, after realizing how harmful it is to generalize and make a distinction between people and people.
At the age of seventeen my father had written a poorly informed school assignment, which now lies forgotten in a box placed in a corner of our garret in Bjärnum. At the same age, however, Jimmie Åkssson joined a party whose founders had their roots and inspiration among extreme, racist organizations. The party's first chairman (1988 - 1995) was Anders Klarström, convicted of, among other things, unlawful threat to the television entertainer Hagge Geigert: "We will burn you, damned Jewish swine!" Klarström was succeeded by Mikael Jansson, who has been acclaimed for housetraining the party. However, I doubt that a man who believes that "some cultural differences between countries are there for a racial reason" actually succeeded in doing so. When Jimmie Åkesson was joining the Sweden Democrats, Klarström was still party chairman and when Åkesson took over the chairman's club it was from Mikael Jansson. Are the Sweden Democrats roots insignificant? I am told they have sturdy and healthy Swedish roots:
For us it is also obvious that Sweden is unique and that Swedish culture is exceptional and worthy of preserving and underscoring. The common Swedish culture is much older than multicultural culture and we in particular want to highlight its significance for the peaceful, democratic and solidary welfare society we live in.
According to Jimmie we Swedes are not like any others:
I mean that Swedishness cannot be considered as some kind of general identity that anyone can acquire. I cannot become an Albanian, an Aboriginal or a Chinese.
This means I cannot become a Sweden Democrat, since I cannot understand what is meant by Swedishness and is unable to swallow the chit-chat on their party site. To me, the views and actions of Sweden Democrats are similar to the bargain Faust made with the Devil, through which he abandoned his moral principles for wealth, security and other personal benefits. We live in a time of general indifference in which we constantly ask ourselves, "What's in it for me?" I want my smartphone, my car and villa and nobody will stop me in this endeavour of mine, or take away my rights from me.
Faust's shadow rests heavily on Germany. At last year's art biennial in Venice, the German pavilion presented Faust a Gesamtkunstwerk, “total work of art” by Anne Imhof. The pavilion had been transformed to accommodate a five-hour performance by Imhof's work team. By the entrance visitors had to pass fenced-in Dobermanns, who occasionally barked at the passers-by. Imhof´s black-dressed, young collaborators either sat high up on the faces, staring absent-mindedly into empty space, or were playing with the dogs.
Within the exhibition halls, youngsters crawled under a thick glass, which constituted the visitors' floor and their roof. Underneath the glass the actors performed mysterious rituals, sat alone, or rested in the corners. Likewise, young people were moving around the premises, where they either stood on protruding shelves above the visitors' heads, or performed complicated ballet movements, apparently mimicking emotionless mating games.
Occasionally someone sang under the glass – long winding, German song cycles. The environment was cold and chilly; steel, glass and white walls. Alienation, numbness and incomprehension, which emanated something threatening, something pending. Past, present and future mixed together. The aggressive watchdogs reminding of concentration camps and/or East German border patrols. The classical songs, the glass floor separating visitors from an incomprehensible underworld populated by strangers who moved under the vistors and even in the midst of them, acting in an incomprehensible manner. Europe/Germany - choices made and not made, choices that have to be made. The story of Faust, who for his own short-sighted benefit made a fatal choice, ending up in the claws of the Devil. Again, Germany and Europe are at the crossroads, making its choice between good and evil.
In the introduction to Murnaus's movie Faust from 1926, we meet a grotesque Devil discussing with an archangel. The Devil proudly declares that the world belongs to him, but is contradicted by the angel who reminds the demon that there are good people and to prove his point the angel shows the demon Faust, who is instructing a group of eager students reminding them about the great gift God has given humankind – that we unlike animals are able to choose, something that opens up a host of exciting possibilities. The angel challenges the Devil by proposing that if he can make Faust doing a bad choice and live a life in sin and God denial the Devil has proved that the world belongs to him.
The Devil accepts the challenge. In the next scene we see how people are enjoying themselves within the square of a medieval town. Menacing the Devil´s immense figure rises above the picturesque thatched roofs of the little town. He spreads his black coat over it all, darkness devours everything and like poisonous smoke evil sweeps in, taking the form of a plague that Faust is supposed to cure.
A prophetic vision of the utter immorality and despair, which seven years after Murnaus's film relentlessly would consume Europe. Like Faust, who made a fatal choice and thus brought misery upon himself, as well as everything and everyone he came into contact with. Nevertheless, Goethe succeeded in transforming his tale about Faust's originally tragic story into a legend of salvation in which the ever-dreaming, stubborn and striving Faust finally is pardoned by a merciful God. However, in the so-called German folk book The History of Dr. Johann Faustus, the Devil drags the unfortunate Doctor with him down into the eternal damnation of Hell.
Ever since I as a child read a Classics Illustrated based on Goethe´s Faust I have been obsessively fascinated by the story. An interest that was enlivened further when I among my grandfather's bookshelves found a German luxury edition of Goethe´s Faust with illustrations by a certain Dr. August von Kreling.
A few years ago, while I was alone driving our car from Rome to Bjärnum, I passed through Germany and visited Bayreuth, the epicentre of a global Wagner cult. The weather was brilliant and I visited the piteously renovated Baroque opera house, Wagner's Villa Wahnfried and his Festspielhaus. For several years I have in vain tried to understand and appreciate Wagner's music. Particularly since some of my friends and acquaintances are dedicated Wagnerians. I have honestly, with great effort, really tried to enjoy Wagner's music, though have not succeeded to do so, despite extensive reading and intense listening to his operas.
Like other cities I visited I was amazed by how beautiful and tranquil Bayreuth was. In former West Germany, the completely destroyed cities were quickly rebuilt after World War II, but the results were often terrifying with their tasteless, brutal functionalism, lack of character and charm, this while large parts of East Germany remained in ruins until the town centres now are being restored with greater care than in the old West. Although Bayreuth was saves from the Communism of East Germany it appeared to have been rebuilt with the same care as the ancient cities of the East.
Wagner's newly restored Villa Wahnfried, who had been badly damaged during World War II, was now restored but was alas not much more than a beautiful shell. The minimalist décor did not reflect the plotty Bierermeier style that had appealed to its luxury-loving builder.
Quite strange were the rooms in the cellar, with their sacred atmosphere and reverential exposure of the original manuscripts to the Master's operas, shrines of devotion erected for members of the Wagnerian cult.
In the adjacent museum I bought Daniel Barenboim's recording of Parsifal and during my continued journey along the nail-straight highways up to Lübeck I listened to it. However, I was not able to experience Thomas Mann's “wonderful hours of deep and solitary happiness […] hours filled with frissons and brief moments of bliss.”
Lübeck reflects Mann's detailed and rather heavy breakthrough novel Buddenbrooks. The last time I was in the city was with my parents in 1963 and my memories were therefore more linked to the novel than with that bygone visit. It was a sunny day and from early morning to late afternoon I walked through the town, visiting its churches and museums, all impeccably fresh and restored. The churches´ cool, white-washed interiors bore witness about all that had disappeared through the bombings during the war. Lübeck was one of first towns to be terror-bombed and a fire storm devoured it.
Of course, I visited Buddenbrook House, where rooms from the novel were recreated, yet with a slightly creepy feeling that nothing was quite correct, because everything was new. The whole of Lübeck, with its well-organized tranquillity, is a reconstruction, a scene and while I walked up and down along its streets, I thought more about Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus than Buddenbrooks. Perhaps because, although it was 36 years between the novels, Buddenbrooks was published in 1901 and Doctor Faustus in 1947, a time during which Germany and Lübeck had been destroyed and completely changed, both novels presented great similarities, for example an obsession with music, and this was of course due to the character and interests of the author.
The novels deals just as much with Thomas Mann as with Germany, maybe even more with Mann. His strange double character as a wealthy, strict and stiff philistine and witty bohemian, dissident and philanthropist, between humour and dryness, acting, self-awareness and honesty. There is something out of joint with Thomas Mann. He is a skilled and often original stylist, but occasionally monotonous and pretentious. During World War II, he became a symbol of "the second Germany", the cultured, humanitarian, genial and musical Germany, in stark contrast to Nazi brutishness. A role that suited Thomas Mann perfectly and which he cleverly adapted himself to. However, at the same time, Doctor Faustus emits a sense of guilt, deceit and insufficiency, something that makes Thomas Mann interesting, both as a person and as an author.
As soon as I had returned to Sweden, I looked up my father's copy of Doctor Faustus and read it. I remembered how my father used to talk about that novel in very appreciative terms. He said it explained a lot about how the Nazis could gain a grip on Germany. When I several years before had tried to read Doctor Faustus I soon got stuck. I found that the narrator, the somewhat dry and pedantic, but nevertheless likable Serenus Zeitblom, side up and side down lost himself in convoluted music theory. When I now much later returned to the novel I found it quite interesting, though I did not find it particularly informative about how the Nazi movement could overwhelm Germany. It is mostly about Thomas Mann, in various chameleonian disguises. He did admittedly distance himself from Nazism and turned into a fierce and quite brave opponent to its barbarism, but under his disguise as the main character of the novel, Adrian Leverkühn, Thomas Mann distances himself from the world, ruthlessly using his life experience and the people around him to create art. Like Leverkühn, Mann apparently felt himself to be excluded from normal life, an exclusion that made real love impossible. Through his bargain with the Devil Leverkühn succeeds in creating great art, but he does not surrender himself to love and kindness, an aspect he appears to share with Thomas Mann, who through his masterly writing and intellectual haughtiness turned himself into a lonely giant on the cool heights of the Parnassus.
Thomas Mann's radical brother Heinrich, also he a skilled writer, wrote in 1918 in a non-sent letter to his more famous and admired younger brother:
Probing and struggle have defined the experience of a few others besides yourself, if more modestly; what they have as well is regret and a new strength for action: they´re not just “managing” which is not worth all the trouble; not just “suffering” for the sake of the self, this furious passion for your own ego. It is to this passion that you owe the production of a few narrow but resolute works. To it you owe as well your complete lack of respect for others, particularly for those who don´t measure up to your standards, you owe that “contempt” that sits more easily with you than any other, in short, the inability to grasp the real earnestness of another person´s life.
On another occasion, Heinrich Mann wrote about his brother:
What he wanted most was to be loved, not for his literary skill or his talent as an entertainer but for his human qualities. What he wanted least was to be condemned as cold, detached, unloving, unlovable.
In Doctor Faustus, Adrian Leverkühn lives under modest conditions - an ingenious hermit, assured of his own greatness, honoured by music connoisseurs, without family, but surrounded by a small number of devoted friends. Leverkühn knows in advance, after being infected with syphilis in his youth, that he has been sentenced to privation of love and a premature death. The contrast seems to be great between Levekühn and Thomas Mann, the world renowned and acclaimed Nobel laureate who enjoyed a wealthy existence among waiters, drivers and chefs, surrounded by the most respected intellectuals of his time and a big family. He and his wife Katia had six talented children. However, the similarities are great between Thomas Man and the sharp, almost eerily talented Leverkühn, who lives for his art, while nurturing a cynical distance towards an environment, which he make use of in his art. Germany collapses around Leverkühn, while he transforms the impressive German music tradition into something completely new, making use of the tragic state of affairs that affect everyone around him, he achieves this through its brilliant intellect and intense discipline. However, he has to pay for it all with an inability to experience true love. He is a loner, an angry genius on the verge of total collapse and madness.
Thomas Mann´s acquaintance, the multifaceted inventor of twelve-tone music, Arnold Schönberg, believed himself to be the main model for the tragic Leverkühn, but it is doubtful if he ever read the novel with much attention. If Schönberg had done that he would probably have discovered that it is Thomas Mann himself, and especially Nietzsche, who are to be found behind the character of Adrian Leverkühn. The brutally sincere Nietzsche who shook up the intellectual history of the twentieth century has provided the novel with much of his life story - his loneliness, crippling migraine, syphilis, clear-mindedness, cleverness, vanity and final, total paralysis. Not least, was Nietzsche like Thomas Mann a passionate music lover, with and impressive knowledge of music history and harmonics. Nietzsche explained that he wrote his philosophy like a composer writes his music, while Thomas Mann claimed that Wagner's music constituted a pattern, a model, for his writing. According to Mann, his brave masterpiece Buddenbrooks could not have been conceived without the help of Wagner's music.
The convoluted music theories and elaborate, almost rigid structure of Doctor Faustus , are in my opinion the most unfortunate features in this rather bizarre novel. Mann described how he made use of what he called his “montage technique”. How he lifted entire segments from other books, like The Brothers Karamazov, Theodor Adorno´s musical theories, and the German folk book about Faust, and then grinded, brushee and adaptsed them to his all-encompassing novel structure.
Adrian Leverkühn's conversation with a demon is, is for example a quite faithful copy of Ivan Karamazov's more awe-inspiring meeting with the Devil himself, and the death of little Nepomuk, the only person for whom Leverkühn was able express a sincere and deeply felt love, is a reflection of Ivan Karamazov's violent accusations of a God who is capable of letting innocent children undergo excruciating, deadly pain and abuse.
If you read Doctor Faustus side by side with the German folk book The story of Dr. Johann Faustus, it becomes apparent that Mann used it as a model for the structure of his novel and that the folk book's burlesque and occasionally long-winding descriptions have been adapted to modern conditions. For example, the difficult music theory sections may be compared to Dr. Johann Faustus bewildering discourses about the universe's nature and structure.
Another aspect of Mann's montage technique is that he ruthlessly made use of the lives of friends and close of kin. In Doctor Faustus, the sisters Rodde play an important role. One of the sisters dies after an unsuccessful acting career, during which she became exploited by an unpleasant deceiver, while the other sister, after accepting an unemotional marriage, becomes a morphinist, kills her lover and ends up at a mental hospital. Destinies that somewhat to perfectly harmonized with those of Thomas Mann´s sisters Carla and Julia, one of whom killed herself after a failed acting career, while the other who in spite of striving to maintain a bourgeoisie facade had an excessive love life, became a drug addict and finally took her life. Several others of Mann's relatives, friends and acquaintances played under easily uncovered disguises prominent roles in his novel.
Doctor Faustus was not the first tale in which Thomas Mann used music as an important ingredient, for example is music important in Buddenbrooks and it may be that the outwardly correct, bourgeoisie and stoic-minded Mann considered the romantic music tradition, with Wagner at its highest peak, to be an almost inaccessible ideal, a model for his authorship, Nevertheless, he admitted that any ideal, in all its perfection also requires shadows that may take the shape of disharmony, fraud, theft and exploitation, and that such ingredients are required if you want to create meaningful and great art, hence Leverkühn´s bargain with the Devil, and the unavoidable bad choices the agreement brought with it.
Within religious sphere, and Doctor Faustus is to a certain extent a religious tract, heavenly tunes are combined with infernal ones. Music belongs both to God and the Devil. Religion has always been wrestling with the nature of music. Is it divine or demonic? It has been declared that it may bring the pious closer to God, while others accuse it of turning them away from his presence. The divinely inspired Bach, juxtaposed to the shrewd wizard Wagner.
Nazism and the disaster of World War II are present though almost invisible in Doctor Faustus's, for me it is more concerned with an artist who loses his soul by sacrificing it to his artistry, utilizing and victimizing people around him. However, those who sold their sold to Nazism behaved much worse than Leverkühn. The stifling and destructive ferocity of the regime, the abominable crimes committed by human beings in the Party´s service, how their humanity, their love, compassion and human souls perished, disappeared completely, is revealed with much more frightening clarity in other fictional works, for example in Jonathan Littell's terrifying The Kindly Ones, which credibly and chillingly describe the monstrous inhumanity of a cultured SS officer - Maximilian Aue.
And when it comes to a Faustian bargains with the Nazis, when a human being for money and fame sells his soul to the Nazis, Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus is surpassed by his son Klaus Mann's novel Mephisto, which tells the story of how the actor Hendrik Höfgen leaves his conscience and radical friends behind to move into the Nazi sphere in order to improve this social status, secure his income and gain admiration from the general public and Nazi bigwigs.
The model of the pathetic collaborator and traitor Hendrik Höfgen was Klaus Mann's former brother-in-law Gustaf Gründgens, who had been married to his beloved sister Erika, Thomas Mann's favourite among his six children. Through his stage interpretation of Mephistofeles in Goethe's drama, Gründgens celebrated great triumphs in Hitler Germany. He thus played the demon who seduced Faust into making his fatal deal with the Dark Forces and in Klaus Mann's novel, Gründgens becomes identical with both the Devil and Faust, and thus a representative for the seemingly radical and benevolent persons who for their well-being, betrayed their ideals and ended up as associates with absolute malevolence.
Thomas Mann's relationship with his talented son reflects Adrian Leverkühn's attitude towards the world and others. The bisexual Thomas Mann, whose inclinations were no secret within the family circle, and who to a quite astonishing degree hinted at them in his correspondence, apparently respected his son's open homosexuality, his unconventional radicalism and the straightforward popular writing style he used in his novels and articles. Furthermore, Thomas Mann was intrigued by the chic appearance of his son: However he did seldom reveal anything of this to Klaus, whom he routinely criticized for depravity, idleness and laziness, maybe due to a grain of envy of Klaus unequivocal stance. Klaus Mann's prose was easy to read and his opinions effortlessly discernible. His character was volatile, generous and unreserved, yet he did often fall into the trap of boundless melancholy.
Thomas Mann kept Klaus at a certain distance, criticizing him for his openness and bluntness, while he at the same time concealed his fascination and admiration. Thomas Mann's aloofness and internalized, personal struggles probably wounded Klaus and like his younger brother, the musician Michael Mann, he eventually took his own life. The youngest of Thomas Mann´s sons, the historian Golo Mann, wrote about his father's behaviour shortly after the First World War:
We had once loved our father almost as tenderly as our mother, but that changed during the war. He could still project an aura of kindness, but for the most part we experienced only silence, sternness, nervousness or anger. I can remember all too well certain scenes at mealtimes, outbreaks of rage and brutality that were directed at my brother Klaus but brought tears to my own eyes. If a person cannot always be very nice to those around him when he is devoting himself exclusively to his creative work, must it not be much more difficult when he is struggling day after day with Reflections of a Non-Political Man in which the sinking of the British ship Lusitania with twelve hundred civilian passengers on board is actually hailed, to name just one of the book’s grimmest features.
Thomas Mann remains despite - or because of - his shortcomings one of the few writers who have stayed with me after reading their novels. He has become a life companion. Notwithstanding his acting, his intellectual haughtiness and stiff rectitude Thomas Mann is an unusually lively and distressed author, whose exquisite language and hypersensitive artistry continue to amaze me. Doctor Faustus is probably among Thomas Mann's worst works and is occasionally too long-winding, a shortcoming it shares with Buddenbrooks and The Magic Mountain, though at the same time it is his most engaging novel. I cannot agree with the opinion that he succeeds in describing and explaining Germany's descent into the abyss. But ... it does maybe after all succeed is doing just that - through its description of how a person by turning his back towards love and compassion. Instead Leverkühn chases glory and admiration, though not even fame and admiration satisfy him and he loses his soul. It is maybe only by acknowledging our weaknesses, our shortcomings that we become truly human. Accordingly, we need to identify ourselves with the weak, the forgotten, the lonely and odd people who surround us.
My father wrote in his youth a pathetic defence of Nazism. However, he did not remain in that place. Apart from politics and accepted opinions, he was interested in and found individuals and eccentrics. Of course, my father was not a perfect human being, but he was a curious and kind man. He wanted to get to know other people, understand them, learn from them. He was probably also trying understand himself. Perhaps that was one reason to why he safeguarded his unpleasant essay. Perhaps he even wanted me read it and understand that we can all change, that we while dealing with politics need to be unfaithful, doubtful and not fall into any inhuman, vicious traps. Adrian Leverkühn denied love and compassion and suffered for it, that is the message I carry with me from Thomas Mann´s novel and maybe from his life story as well.
Grey, Edward (1925) Twenty-five Years: 1895 – 1916, 2nd Volume. London: Hodder and Stoughton. Grey, Edward (2001) The Charm of Birds. London: Gollancz. Imhof, Anne (2017) Faust. London: Koenig Books. Hayman, Ronald (1995) Thomas Mann: A Biography. New York: Scribner. Mann, Thomas (1975) The Letters of Thomas Mann, selected and translated by Richard and Clara Winston. Bungay, Suffolk: Penguin Modern Classics. Proctor, Robert N. (1988) Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Proctor, Robert N. (1999) The Nazi War on Cancer. Princeton University Press. Weiss, Andrea (2008) In the Shadow of the Magic Mountain: The Erika and Klaus Mann Story. University of Chicago Press.