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The artist Aschenbach, in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, has worked very hard to attain the credentials of a successful author, one who is respected and whose books are well received. In doing so, he has over time constructed for himself a solitary, emotionaless existence devoted to the discipline of his art.
For Aschenbach, the beauty of art is its form, which is realized through discipline. This one-sided, rational, unemotional construct of beauty in art is made apparent when he chances to encounter living, breathing beauty while on holiday in the warm climes of Venice. Aschenbach's equilibrium is destabilized by this emotion-awakening encounter because he doesn't know how to understand or what to do with pure physical, sensual beauty. His dedication to the rational discipline to the art of beauty has distanced him and separated him from the physical reality of the sensual form of living beauty and the emotion excited by it.
It is interesting to note that Thomas Mann's thematic point of the alienation that occurs when the form of art is pursued over the emotionality and sensuality of art would have perhaps been a bit more difficult to establish had Aschenbach been a sculpture or a painter.
For more information on Thomas Mann's Death in Venice read AngelFire.com.
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