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Seeing Jaakob

The Poetics of Visuality in Thomas Mann’s "Die Geschichten Jaakobs"


David Tingey

Despite the considerable amount of scholarship on Mann’s work, his tetralogy – composed prior to and during his exile from Nazi Germany – has received less attention and has not been examined from the perspective of the relationship of visuality to narrative. In this study of Mann’s reworking of the biblical account of Jacob, father of Joseph, the author examines the ways the novel’s protagonists frame their environment through knowledge and meaning gained via specific acts of seeing. While considering Mann’s oft-stated intent to refunctionalize myth by means of psychology for humane and progressive purposes, the book explores the lavish narrative attention Mann gives to visual detail, visual stimulation, the protagonists’ eyes, ways of seeing, and even to staging and performance in anticipation of another’s way of seeing. The results reveal that the plot of the first Joseph novel is carried and propelled by a series of visual encounters during which the narrative draws attention to the protagonists’ eyes and acts of looking.

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