J.L. Sirisuk is a US/UK based writer, educated in New York, Oxford, and Manchester. She writes drama and humor with the ultimate goal of making people laugh and cry simultaneously. Currently in the works is a play about Mann entitled ‘The Magician’ which she hopes to stage in either New York or Berlin. Sirisuk is also writing a novel of dark
humor surrounding one man’s struggle to be taken lightly – this is called ‘The Laughing Kind.’ She has written for Salon.com’s Saved by Pop Culture series.
For more on Mann from Sirisuk, please read the following article:
LOVE, DEATH, AND GERMANY
“There’s no problem on earth so tantalizing as the problem of what an artist is and what art does to human beings.” -Thomas Mann, Tonio Kröger
The story of Thomas Mann’s life began with a fiction. Echoing the details surrounding the birth of Goethe, Mann weaved a tale mimicking that of his literary hero and planted a seed of myth within the story of his own conception. This form of artistic manipulation is an important facet of Mann’s life and work as he created richly textured stories that examine the various constellations of the soul. He explored the overwhelming and oftentimes devastating effects of love on the human spirit and injected into his political writings a poetic and lyrically satisfying dimension of sensuality. Mann is one of the most remarkable and influential writers of the 20th century and it is an unfortunate fact that in more recent years his books have fallen slightly out of fashion. Complaints of his work being too “dense” or “complex” have been used as excuses not to enter Mann’s world. Yes, his narratives are undeniably dense, but the intellectual and artistic force behind the complexity of his narratives reveal the intricate soul of a man investigating the cultural evolution of his country’s political history through two world wars – they reveal the soul of a man struggling to maintain a controlled exterior under the weight of overwhelming attraction and deep sensual inspiration over the course of a lifetime. Mann was many things – novelist, essayist, social critic, Nobel Prize winner, spiritual descendent of Goethe– and his language carries a deep and moving resonance. His books have impacted numerous writers and artists including Susan Sontag, Benjamin Britten and Carlos Fuentes, and in more recent years his narrative Der Zauberberg has inspired a song by New York rock band Blonde Redhead, a painting by the German artist Christiaan Tonnis, and a prequel by the Polish writer Pawel Huelle.
Mann’s personal life was as important to his body of literature as were the historical events that unfolded around him. With Freud, Schopenhauer, Goethe, Wagner, and Nietzsche as philosophical and artistic influences, Mann descended from a deeply intellectual and poetic cultural lineage. During a time when homosexual desire was forbidden, he examined the soul’s struggle to balance Dionysian passion and Apollonian reason. In Der Kleine Herr Friedemann, Tonio Kröger, and Der Tod in Venedig, Mann unmasks the romantic aesthetic of love and exposes us to the tremendous feeling of longing stemming from attraction and sexual desire. It is in Der Tod in Venedig that we follow Gustav von Aschenbach as he experiences the all consuming yet melancholic elements of love, a love experienced by the artist – at once satisfying, perplexing, erotic, and painful. For Mann, it is through creative expression that the tension of repressed desires can be liberated. However, to be entirely swept away by a movement of abrupt sensuality can lead the artist down a path of self-destruction that, in Mann’s world, quite often leads to death. Morality is thrown aside and passion dictates action. To love is to suffer, but for the artist such suffering and pain are experienced within the private rhythms of language.
Mann was aware of culture’s influence on political phenomena and he believed in the importance of the artist in society. He used his role as a narrative artist to explore the historical roots of Germany and wrote essays, gave lectures, and crafted epic novels while attempting to comprehend the development of his cultural past. He wrote his way through two world wars and explored the relationship between the flesh and the spirit, investigated the internal and external worlds of the individual and of society. At the core of his rich and layered language is a real desire to reveal the soul of conflicted individuals – those who represent the psyche of a nation, and those who serve as representations of the struggle within each of us to maintain a balance between passion and reason. In Doktor Faustus and Der Zauberberg, Mann guides us into the diseased and struggling minds of men on the edge of sanity as they maneuver their way through intellectual battlefields. For Mann, the soul of Germany has its roots in a creative and poetic past and in Doktor Faustus, Mann tells the story of Leverkühn, a German composer who sells his soul to the devil in order to achieve creative excellence. In Leverkühn we see Mann portray a conflicted Germany in the form of the flesh. He traces the rising sickness of a nation, the shared illness of a diseased psyche, and investigates the birth of a dangerous yet self-conscious quest for gratification. Mann gave lectures and speeches in Germany and even England, and performed radio broadcasts for the BBC. The role of the artist is indeed significant and in 1933 Mann was exiled from Germany.
Thomas Mann may be known for the political resonance of his writings – however, he was primarily an investigator of the human condition. With a tapestry of words encompassing myth, history, art, and love, his language is not a dense wall of complexity, but an overwhelmingly lyrical and moving cannon of work whose impact resonates in the soul. It was through literature that he expressed his desires and intellectual and poetic understanding of internal and external worlds. He lived in New Jersey, California, and then settled in Switzerland where he died in 1955. Although exiled from his country, he spent years preserving and exploring its artistic roots while also tracing the anatomy of a diseased mentality during a specific time in history. It was in her essay Pilgrimage that the American writer Susan Sontag describes meeting Thomas Mann while she was a teenager and he was living in Los Angeles, and in it she describes Mann as “a god in exile who lived in a house in the Pacific Palisades.” Although he never lived permanently in Germany again, Mann remained tied to his country and its cultural and artistic history through language, for it was through words that he remained linked to the country whose soul he tried to understand, whose mistakes he contemplated, and it was through words that the movement of his artistic inclination was connected to the history of Germany. It was within language that he was always home.