What is the relationship between artistic failure and Aschenbach’s psyche in Death in Venice?
Artistic success and failure are central to the development of Gustave von Aschenbach's character. At the beginning of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, Aschenbach has enjoyed success in art. As a middle-aged writer, he has even been given the "von" title in honor of his literary achievements (the "von" title is roughly the German equivalent of "Sir" when a person is knighted in England). Most of his success has been achieved through discipline rather than raw talent. As a character he is aloof, and though creatively accomplished, he lacks connection to his own feelings. At the beginning of the novella, Aschenbach is artistically accomplished, sane, and in need of inspiration.
Though usually a disciplined writer, Aschenbach decides to travel to Venice on holiday, hoping to spark inspiration. There, he becomes attracted to a boy named Tadzio, who is vacationing with his family at the same resort. Once Aschenbach sees Tadzio, his psyche begins to shift. Aschenbach is instantly attracted to Tadzio's body and secretly follows him. Eventually the boy returns his glances.
- Initially, Aschenbach is an acclaimed writer, yet he is disciplining himself very strictly. The id is repressed. While the artistic side of him thrives, the id is hidden.
- Next, Aschenbach is out of inspiration and decides to vacation in Venice. This is the first emergence of his repressed id.
- In Venice, Aschenbach's id is fully awakened when he sees Tadzio and is attracted to his body.
- Aschenbach's id takes over when he becomes fully infatuated with Tadzio and tries to change his old appearance. At this point, the artistic, disciplined side of Aschenbach is gone.
At the beginning of the novella, Aschenbach's id has been suppressed by years of discipline. It is awakened when Aschenbach first sees Tadzio and is attracted to him. Having been repressed for so long, the id begins to take over, and Aschenbach is driven purely by his sexual desires. The Freudian model allows us to draw a direct parallel between artistic failure and the morphing of Aschenbach's psyche.