Thomas Mann: Doctor Faustus
Equal parts allegory, realist novel, and anguished epitaph, Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus anatomized the soul of modern Germany and asked how it had been lost. It located the sources of the Nazi calamity at the heart of the high culture Mann both loved and embodied, and in the very traditions—philosophy and music—that seemed its crowning glory. Its Faust-figure, the Nietzschean composer Adrian Leverkühn, is at once a prophet without honor in his own country and a reflection of its sickness, whose demonic artistic genius mirrors the nation’s descent into authoritarianism and inhumanity. Around Leverkühn’s tragedy Mann weaves a virtuosic exploration of German music and thought, attempting to understand how his culture’s highest ideals had engendered madness and barbarism. How, for Mann, did idealism give birth to nihilism? How did the yearning for transcendence transform into a worship of power?
In this course we will read Doctor Faustus in its entirety, discussing its relationship to the musicians and thinkers who shaped it. We’ll listen to Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner, Schoenberg, and other composers, considering how their music informs Mann’s narrative and cultural vision. We’ll examine Faustus’s debt to philosophers like Theodor Adorno, who shaped its account of Leverkühn’s music, and Friedrich Nietzsche, who provided the model for his catastrophic life. And we will ask: What can Mann’s novel tell us now—about the ambivalence of art, the relation of culture to barbarism, and the tragic contradictions of musical beauty?
Course ScheduleWednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
April 07 — April 28, 2021