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Portraits of the Artist

Dionysian Creativity in Selected Works by Gabriele D’Annunzio and Thomas Mann

Jessica Wood

The Dionysian – an impetus towards abandon, intoxication and creativity, but also chaos, death and dissolution – captured the imagination of both Gabriele D’Annunzio and Thomas Mann, two authors whose work otherwise seems antithetical. Both admired Friedrich Nietzsche and engaged with his iconic yet enigmatic idea of the «Dionysian» in their depictions of writers and artists. Like many of their own fictional characters, D’Annunzio and Mann appear to have been drawn towards this idea and its significance in an artistic context. In their novels and short stories, both portray writers and artists who rely on the precarious form of creativity that results from interactions with the Dionysian. This book argues that the portraits of the artist offered by D’Annunzio and Mann, and the depictions of creativity found within these portraits, demonstrate that these two giants of European literature were more alike than has hitherto been acknowledged – and more alike than they would perhaps have liked to think.

This book was the winner of the 2016 Early Career Researcher Prize in German Studies, a collaboration between the Institute for German Studies at the University of Birmingham and Peter Lang.

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Chapter 1: Nietzsche’s Dionysian and Its Reception


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Nietzsche’s Dionysian and Its Reception

On 2 January 1872 Nietzsche’s first book, Die Geburt der Tragödie, went on sale. While it was enthusiastically received by Richard Wagner (to whom the book was dedicated) and his wife, Cosima, this monograph, which was later to become one of the nineteenth century’s most famous treatises on art, met with nothing but derision in academic circles. The book failed to command attention in quite the way Nietzsche had hoped, and by September of 1872 it had become clear that the young professor had become something of a pariah: students appeared to be eschewing his lectures, and several of his courses for that academic year failed to achieve a single enrolment. The figure of Dionysus, introduced by Nietzsche to his readers within the first few pages of Die Geburt der Tragödie, and present on virtually every page thereafter, was responsible for much of the contempt that the damaging monograph drew, for Nietzsche had audaciously suggested that the art of the ancient Greeks had drawn its inspiration from the irrational chaotic depths of the Dionysian. But how did Nietzsche arrive at such a radical thesis, and what caused him to find such creative value in the Dionysian? Furthermore, what, precisely, did he mean when he spoke of ‘Dionysus’ or the ‘Dionysian’? And how did these ideas, which were so derided in 1872, come to inform the understandings of creativity developed by Gabriele d’Annunzio and...

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