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Mann, Thomas (1875-1955)  
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The Magic Mountain

Mann's unresolved attitude toward homoeroticism (his fear of secret desire becoming public identity and thus destroying the stability of his life) expresses itself in his 1924 novel, Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain). The main character, Hans Castorp, comes to visit his cousin at Berghof, a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients.

Instead of staying three weeks, he remains for seven years, high in the Swiss Alps where time moves quite differently from how it does in the "flatland" Castorp has left. In the world below, European civilization is descending into the chaos that will become World War I.

In this Bildungsroman (novel of education), the simple, young engineer becomes a patient at the sanatorium and a pupil of two men representing opposing views of the world as well as philosophical traditions, Settembrini and Naptha. Crucial to Castorp's physical rejuvenation and spiritual renewal is Clavdia Chauchat, a Russian émigrée staying at Berghof. She uncannily resembles Pribislav Hippe, a boy whom Hans had loved when they were fourteen-year-old schoolmates.

Through his relationship, emotional and sexual, with Chauchat, Castorp resolves his homosexuality in favor of, as Karl Werner Böhm argues, bisexuality. Freud's influence on Thomas Mann was significant and may certainly have played a role in Mann's conception of how homosexual desire might be integrated, rather than repressed or destroyed. Nonetheless, illness remains ineluctably attached to it.

Coding Homosexual Desire

Typically, Mann does not describe homosexual desire overtly or bluntly. Instead, he makes its appearance evident through symbols, metaphors. The "pencil-lending" episodes of Der Zauberberg exemplify this practice and have become iconic examples of writing about homosexual desire without naming it explicitly.

Years ago, Hans had secretly "borrowed" a pencil from his classmate Pribislav. When Mann describes the reawakened memory of that moment, it becomes clear that the pencil symbolizes Pribislav's penis. Hans yearned to express his love for his friend sexually, but all he could bring himself to do was to take one of his friend's possessions, as a token of him.

The deeply symbolic value of that token becomes evident when Chauchat offers Hans a pencil and triggers that memory, thus enabling him to resolve his homosexual past, to "get well."

Mario and the Magician

In the 1929 novella Mario und der Zauberer (Mario and the Magician), Italy again serves as the intersection of culture and the banal, of art devolved into eroticism.

Cipolla, the "magician" of the title, performs in the resort city of Torre di Venere. He is a hypnotist who uses no swaying watches or mesmerizing devices, but instead simply forces his will on his subjects. Cipolla's act of power is all the more compelling since his appearance would suggest a weak soul: He is a hunchback.

After various scenaria with unwilling townfolk doing his bidding, his fancy lights upon an attractive young waiter, Mario, whom he seems more to entice than to request to join him on stage. After referring to Mario as "Ganymede," it quickly becomes apparent that Cipolla wants to play the role of Zeus.

The magician weaves his dark magic by speaking about Mario's "troubles" with his girl friend, offering himself as the more understanding, more deserving love object. Obeying the supplication Cippola utters as a spell--"Trust me, I love you"--Mario kisses him.

That moment of artistic triumph--"a momentous moment, grotesque and thrilling, the moment of Mario's bliss"--marks Cipolla's destruction, for he has crossed that line Mann described in Death in Venice as separating the realm of artistic inspiration from overt homoeroticism and, ultimately, death. Immediately when the spell is broken, Mario pulls a gun and kills Cipolla, avenging himself for the magician's public humiliation of him.

In addition to the work's relation to themes Mann developed in other stories, it should be noted that the author who would leave Germany for exile in 1933 already here begins to depict the links between fascism, homoeroticism, and .

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