Finally one thing I can check off the list! My Thomas Mann presentation was today. I was up late working on it and then re-did the whole thing after talking to my grandpa. My presentation was on Thomas Mann and his use of irony in his literature. He himself says its basically his “element,” so yeah, it’s kind of important in understanding Thomas Mann.
Irony is when the speaker suggests something that does not correspond to his true attitude or belief. It’s when a speaker says the opposite of what he really means or believes.
Irony is closely connected to ambiguity. In his journal on October 13, 1953, Thomas Mann writes that cheerful(?) ambiguity is his element. In order to understand Mann’s literature, we need to understand his “true element,” irony.
Irony does a few things in literature, especially in Thomas Mann’s. One, the mind does not surrender the situation to the emotion. The author, the speaker, or the reader always have control. We don’t come to class with tears in our eyes because poor Aschenbach was not able to fulfill his desires for Tadzio. Because of irony, we become detached and distant from the figures and events in the novels. It also gives the author and the reader a sense of freedom.
One critic said irony creates polemic intentions against the characters in Mann’s literature. This is often seen with Mann’s creation of names, which we will see later on. Even if we don’t know anything about a character, we already have judgements towards them because of the name Thomas Mann gives them.
Irony gives us the sense of superiority.
Irony allows Thomas Mann to distance himself from all the sides of a debate and from every point of view. A situation or a perspective is never absolute. An example of this in Mann’s literature is in Der Tod in Venedig /Death in Venice. Gustav von Aschenbach is completely infatuated with the young boy, Tadzio.As Aschenbach spends his time on the beach, his passion for this boy becomes more and more exaggerated. On one side, we feel sympathetic for him, because he is alone, he is repressing feelings, this sickness is coming, and we have a pretty good idea he’s going to die (the title). But…
Then he does THIS and we can’t take him seriously anymore. He begins to wear make up to look younger (did it help?) as he paints his eyebrows and wears lipstick. We cannot take this seriously because this would not be taken seriously in our reality. This is an example of Thomas Mann distancing himself (and us) from the situation. We don’t get wrapped up in the feelings of Aschenbach like we do with other characters in other non-Thomas Mann novels. We can merely read it “from afar.”
The other example is in The Magic Mountain. (I haven’t read this, but thanks to my grandpa, I got a little summary about this scene). Naptha and Settembrini are two intellectuals. In one scene, they start a debate, both having two different perspectives. At the beginning we believe it’s a intelligent argument, but as it goes on, the characters become so caught up in their positions that their arguments sound like nonsense to the reader. We can’t follow their argument anymore. This is an example of when Thomas Mann distances us again from the situation. We can’t become enthralled in this so-called “deep discussion” of these two intellectuals because they sound crazy to us. Mann is making fun of intellectuals in general, especially those who take themselves too seriously.
The people in sanatorium in The Magic Mountain also act in strange ways, becoming very erotic. But they are all sick with a fever in a sanatorium, so we can’t take them seriously either.
Thomas Mann’s names are very ironic. This is another example from the Magic Mountain. I picked the names from this novel because I haven’t read them and don’t know much about these characters. Madame Chauchat’s name can be translated in French to many things…
Chaud means hot or warm, and chat means cat in French. So, this can be read as Ms. Warm Cat, a lady with a warm cat (…), or Mrs. Hot Kitty. It can get worse, you know. But you get the idea. This is another example of irony because no one in reality would ever be able to hold a straight face as someone introduced their friend as Mrs. Hot Kitty. But in the novel, Mann writes it as if it’s just another name on the street, another “Anderson” or “Johnson.”
Hofrat Behren’s name is ironic because of his position in the sanatorium. He is the leader of the sanatorium and his first name, if you take it apart, means “Courtyard” and “council.” So this is someone who seems to have a lot of power, someone who maybe works for the government, but all in all, someone who should have some kind of power. But the irony is that he is the leader of a place where people are extremely sick, out of their minds, and many who will soon die. So really, he doesn’t have much power. The people he’s over are dying left and right, so his name is making fun of the lack of power he has.