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Deaths in Venice: The Cases of Gustav von Aschenbach (Leonard Hastings Schoff Lectures) Hardcover – November 12, 2013

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Deaths in Venice: The Cases of Gustav von Aschenbach (Leonard Hastings Schoff Lectures) + Thomas Mann's Artist-Heroes
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Product Details

  • Series: Leonard Hastings Schoff Lectures
  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; first edition (November 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231162642
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231162647
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,267,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Philip Kitcher's book is a profession of love: for Mann's novella, for Mahler's music, and for the commitment to ideas and reflections on life that a certain current of German culture represented in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. One senses that Kitcher has so completely immersed himself in the works of Mann, Mahler's music, their biographies, and to an extent the works by Britten and Visconti, that he speaks from within these works and lives.

(Mark M. Anderson, Columbia University)

Unusually rich, rewarding, and astounding in its range, Deaths in Venice asks important philosophical questions -- about art's demands on its practitioners, its connections to the rest of life, and the possibility of endowing our short, evanescent lives with some lasting significance. More than reaching conclusions, these works provide beginnings: examples of new human possibilities that are not to be imitated but transcended -- and that, in large part, is how the book itself proceeds. This is much more than a work on the philosophy of art: it does philosophy with art.

(Alexander Nehamas, Princeton University)

Deaths in Venice is a thorough discussion of the possible relation of literature, and art in general, to philosophical thinking. It is this double intensity of perspectives -- a double intensity that is never sacrificed in the one or the other direction -- that makes reading the book a unique experience.

(Rudiger Campe, Yale University)

Deaths in Venice is to the twenty-first century what Nietzsche's literary and musical criticism was to the nineteenth: a philosopher's profound, shrewd, learned, sharp-eyed, and humane interpretation of art, which is also a profound interpretation of daily life. Starting from the doomed, lonely passion of Thomas Mann's Aschenbach, Philip Kitcher explores three millennia of thinking and the hidden mysteries of the individual mind as it confronts itself, its neighbors, and the universe.

(Edward Mendelson, Columbia University)

...[An] outstanding, intellectually agile book, which sheds so much fresh light on Mann's work and on the philosophical questions that it explores.

(Ritchie Robertson Times Literary Supplement)

About the Author

Philip Kitcher is the John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University and the author of numerous books and articles, including Science in a Democratic Society, The Ethical Project, and Preludes to Pragmatism: Toward a Reconstruction of Philosophy.

More About the Author

Philip Kitcher (New York, NY) is John Dewey Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. He is the author of twelve books, including Living with Darwin: Evolution, Design, and the Future of Faith; In Mendel's Mirror: Philosophical Reflections on Biology; Science, Truth, and Democracy; and The Lives to Come: The Genetic Revolution and Human Possibilities. Professor Kitcher was the first recipient of the Prometheus Prize awarded by the American Philosophical Association for "lifetime contribution to expanding the frontiers of research in philosophy and science." He is also the winner of many other awards, most recently the Award for Distinguished Service to the Columbia Core Curriculum, the Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award from Columbia University, the Lannan Foundation Notable Book Award (given for Living with Darwin), and the Friend of Darwin Award (given by the National Committee on Science Education).

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Michael Greenebaum on December 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating, and sometimes infuriating, book. Real and fictive people, past and present, music and text all co-exist in an imagined space in which they can inform and elucidate one another. The use of one work of fiction to explicate another is common enough, as is the use of an author's life to explicate a text (and occasionally the other way around), but it makes me uneasy nonetheless.

In this case, the author considers Mann, Visconti and Britten and their interpretations of Aschenbach. He makes it easy to imagine Aschenbach as a real person interpreted in various ways by the author, film-maker, and composer. But he isn't; he is Mann's creation. Mann is quite clear about how much of his own experience is the basis of the novella, and how much the death of Mahler may have inspired it. Nonetheless, Aschenbach is a fictional character; Visconti and Britten are interpreting a work of fiction, no matter how much their own lives may be implicated in their work. Philip Kitcher's strategy, while intriguing and frequently illuminating, does not allow these works, two of which (the novella and the opera) are masterpieces, to stand on their own.

It is disappointing that he has so little to say about Britten's opera - it is clear that he would much rather talk about Mahler. It is particularly regrettable since he raises the issue of whether Aschenbach succumbs to the plague or to a weak heart, and he seems to come down on the side of the heart. Britten's opera comes down on the side of the plague (even though the composer wrote it with a failing heart) and I wish Kitcher had devoted more attention to it.

My occasional impatience with this book is more than balanced by what I learned from it and what it forces me to think about. The author writes well and I will return to his work with pleasure.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This very interesting book is an unusual combination of intellectual history, art criticism, and philosophical reflection. The quality of writing is excellent and like all of Kitcher's work, the analysis is meticulous. Kitcher's conclusions are based on careful examination of primary sources and secondary literature. Enthusiasm for this book will probably be a function of enthusiasm for Mann, Britten, and Mahler, but if you enjoy the work of these artists, this book will be a very enjoyable read.

Since Mann's Death in Venice is the armature of this book, Mann is the primary subject of Kitcher's analysis. Kitcher argues that Mann had explicitly philosophical intentions in writing Death in Venice. In particular, Mann is focusing on the existensial question of what is a meaningful life? Kitcher has a detailed, very interesting, and thoughtful analysis of how Mann drew on the work of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche to address this question. Mann's particular preoccupation with the roles of artists, and the tension between art and the ethical demands of a more conventional life. Kitcher provides a very close reading of Death in Venice, pointing to Mann's use of philosophical themes from Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and .also with important aspects of his personal life and experience. Mann's ambiguous sexuality and the clear parallels with von Aschenbach are explored but in way that stresses how this aspect of Death in Venice and Mann's life should not overshadow the more philosophical aspects of Death in Venice. There is a lot of interesting information about subsequent, interesting aspects of Mann's life and work.

Kitcher has similar, thoughtful treatments of Britten's and Visconti's treatments of Death in Venice.
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