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Thomas Mann: Life as a Work of Art. A Biography Hardcover – September 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

More than any other modernist writer, Thomas Mann (1875-1955) has remained something of a mystery. Biographers have concluded from his writings that he was an anti-Semite, a closet homosexual, a proto-fascist and an authoritarian father. In exhaustive detail, renowned Mann scholar Kurzke offers what may easily become the definitive biography of the great writer. Drawing deeply on letters, journals, diaries and essays, he engages in close readings of all of Mann's writings to demonstrate the ways the writer's life so intimately informs his art and the ways that his art informs his life. Kurzke reads the essay "Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man," for example, to show how Mann's resistance to WWI nevertheless convinced him of the political power of art. Kurzke's Mann emerges as a celibate homoerotic writer who sublimated erotic desires and political questions into his art. Above all, Kurzke's biography proclaims, Mann ambitiously and tirelessly worked at his art ("He exists not for the sake of living but for the sake of writing") as he became an aesthete and man of letters. Kurzke's narrative is an unusual one that moves from past tense to present, from Mann's childhood to his later years, drawing on his writings blended with Kurzke's own interpretations. This style won't please everyone (and this is probably not for those looking for an introduction to Mann), but his portrait overcomes the theoretical tendencies of some recent Mann biographies (such as Anthony Heilbut's Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature) to offer a balanced, if sometimes hagiographic, study of Mann. 40 b&w photos.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Thomas Mann was one of the great humanist authors of the past century, the Nobel prize-winning architect of such beloved works as Death in Venice, Buddenbrooks, and The Magic Mountain, a naturalized American, a citizen of the world, and the quintessence of German genius. He was also a closeted homosexual who scheduled the release of his diaries to occur decades after his death in 1955 to assure a new wave of interest in his work for another generation and who took few actual or symbolic steps in public without considering their impact on his carefully managed career. The existing biographies are massive, encyclopedic endeavors, but they either shortchange the work (e.g., Donald Prater's Thomas Mann: A Life) or miss the complexity of the figure Mann (e.g., Anthony Heilbut's Eros and Literature). Kurzke's (literature, Univ. of Mainz) portrait strikes a fortuitous balance in blending excerpts from Mann's writings with nonjudgmental commentary. The focus lies with Mann's homosexuality, his relations to Jews and Judaism, the canny construction of the persona of Great Author, and how Mann transformed everything around him into art. But the book is gravely marred by a ploddingly literal translation. Teutonic syntax and idiomatic expression are preserved to a degree that would be laughable, if only this hack translation did not do such disservice to both an inspired biographer and to Mann the unparalleled stylist. Recommended for research libraries only.
Ulrich Baer, NYU
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 600 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; F First Edition, 1st Printing edition (September 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691070695
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691070698
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,375,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Kenneth S. Cargill on June 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I must beg to differ with my colleague in academia.
If it is sophomoric to assume that an author's life is completely mirrored in his novels, than it is the greater fool's error to believe that there is such a thing as an objective biography -- compiled from some sort of secret correspondence, some sort of puzzle contained in the actions of author's life, which will englighten a literary work further.
Kurzke respects a profound idea in his work: Mann wished to remembered by his fiction, and those letters which amplify his career.
Frankly, Thomas Mann is a figure in world literature who respected the idea of leaving for posterity exactly what he wished to said about him. Apparently, this is insufficient to repeat. It seems better to do what Joseph Frank did with his five volume Dostoevsky biography (everyone applauds this biography) -- to pour over the notes and sketches of rough drafts, as well as his surly day-to-day complaints about neighbors and his hemorrhoids. Frank admonishes Anna Dostoevskaya for trying to etch out and destroy parts of the notebooks that she did not wish to be public. Mann obviously succeeded in protecting himself from vulture professors and writers who would years down the road be searching for material to publish to advance their curriculum vitae.
As Settembrini might have said, a fixation on the concrete banal and prosaic facts about an author's life is an (intellectual) disease typical of the century just past. Kurzke's attitude and approach share nothing of this.
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17 of 24 people found the following review helpful By James D. Williams on November 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For decades, fans of Thomas Mann have been waiting for a definitive biography, frustrated by the fact that Mann's will sealed all his private papers after his death. Unfortunately, we must continue our wait.
Herman Kurzke's Thomas Mann: Life as a Work of Art, A Biography, is a hoax, for it simply is not a biography. The book is instead nearly 600 pages of literacy criticism, and sophomoric literary criticism at that. Kurzke makes the classic undergraduate error of assuming that the artist's work perfectly mirrors his life and that the artist is his characters. Again and again Kurzke strives--and fails--to provide insight into the life of Mann merely by delving into Mann's writing. Consider this passage from page 73: "Thomas Mann's favorite flower was the Marshall Niel rose. He 'is' [Little Herr] Friedemann, the reading and violin-playing ascetic who has succeeded in chaining up the dogs in the cellar. The basic motif for his life and actions is fear of passion, fear that the carefully tended equilibrium of his life could tip over, fear of the return of what was repressed and the collapse of true construction of art. The psycholoanalyst Krowkowski in The Magic Mountain knows with pleasure how to make it perfectly clear." So we learn what Mann's favorite flower was, but nothing more, and the unmistakable tone of undergraduate assertion here makes us shudder.
The absolute dearth of information about Mann is inexcusable, and those who are familiar with Mann's works, as certainly all who would buy this book must be, do not need someone of Kurzke's limited skills to tell us what those works are about. One need only read "Death in Venice," for example, to know it is about suppressed homosexuality, and one need only read Mann's 1918-1939 published diaries (1982) to know that Mann is addressing his own suppressed (or not) sexual inclinations.
In sum, this book is a waste of time, ....
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By R. R, Castillo on August 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This biography covers the major events of his life, focusing on Mann's political and familial involvements-- his life was unusual, insofar as his status as a leading writer continued throughout, and the author steers clear of this.
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