Image credit: Manuel Miranda

Thomas Mann: Art, Politics, and Exile

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In 1914, Thomas Mann extolled World War I as “a purification, a liberation, an enormous hope.” In 1918, with Germany in a state of collapse, he proclaimed that democracy was anti-German (and that leftist intellectuals such as his brother Heinrich were Zivilisationsliterat—outsider cosmopolitans). Yet, in the 1930s and ‘40s, Mann was among the world’s foremost defenders of democracy, a pronounced anti-Nazi, and, in exile, a neighbor and companion to the German-speaking intellectual cosmopolitans he once derided—Arnold Schoenberg, Bertolt Brecht, Max Horkheimer, and Theodor Adorno, among others. How can we understand Mann’s political trajectory—from monarchist to liberal to, by some lights, radical—and what kind of light does it cast on his written work, from the metaphysical Magic Mountain to the allegorical Doctor Faustus (written partly with the assistance of Adorno) and beyond?

Join us Wednesday, November 10th, as BISR faculty Rebecca Ariel Porte, Ajay Singh Chaudhary, Nathan Shields, and Christine Smallwood explore the art and politics of Thomas Mann. What explains Mann’s shifting political beliefs and allegiances, and in what ways was it reflected in his fictional writing? How was Mann shaped by the German émigré community of artists and intellectuals that made up, in the 1940s, what Mann called “German California”? How did Mann understand the relationship between art, the artist, and politics? Are art and the artist autonomous, as Mann once argued in his Reflection of a Nonpolitical Man? Or, are culture and aesthetic form inextricably bound up with politics and material conditions? How, ultimately, did Mann understand the rise of fascism: as a sudden eruption of mass hysteria; or—as portions of Doctor Faustus seemingly suggest—a thing made possible by the very humanist culture to which Mann once pledged his absolute allegiance?

Thomas Mann: Art, Politics, and Exile—co-sponsored by Goethe-Institut New York, and being held in conjunction with Goethe’s ongoing exhibition and event series Thomas Mann: Democracy Will Win—is free to attend and will stream live to the BISR public Facebook page. To receive any updates and a reminder, please RSVP below.

Event Schedule

Wednesday, 7:00pm EST
November 10, 2021


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