In my current work on global warming, I argue that the only apparent solution to the deep problem of climate change would require very large transfers of wealth from rich nations to poor nations, so that the entire world can make the transition to renewable forms of energy as fast as possible.
Sometime during the 1990s, when I was teaching philosophy at UCSD, my friend, colleague, and music teacher, Carol Plantamura, discussed the possibility of teaching a course together looking at ways in which various literary works (plays, stories, novels) had been treated as operas, and how different themes emerged in the opera and in its original. One of the pairings we planned to use was Mann's great novella and Britten's opera. Unfortunately, the course was never taught, but the idea remained with me.
Mann is widely recognized as a master of irony and ambiguity, yet it's remarkable how quickly people foreclose options he carefully leaves open. Lots of readers - including eminent critics - jump to conclusions: that Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy is a central background text, that Aschenbach is an inferior writer, that he's never been attracted by pubescent male beauty before, that he dies of cholera.
I intend Deaths in Venice to contribute both to literary criticism and to philosophy. But it's not "strict philosophy" in the sense of arguing for specific theses. As I remark, there's a style of philosophy - present in writers from Plato to Rawls - that invites readers to consider a certain class of phenomena in a new way. In the book, I associate this, in particular, with my good friend, the eminent philosopher of science, Nancy Cartwright, who practices it extremely skilfully.
Wilhelmine Germany was hostile to the expression of same-sex love - and, of course, Mann would have known of the fate of Oscar Wilde. His early reading of Platen's poetry, and, probably when he was in his early twenties, of Platen's diaries, introduced him to a form of sexual expression he found profoundly congenial. It's not quite Platonic.
Both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake are inexhaustible. They are celebrations of the ordinary, compelling reactions to philosophical elitism about "the good life". I hope to examine both of them further, doing more justice to Joycean comedy than I did in my "invitation" to the Wake, and trying to understand how the extraordinary stylistic innovations, particularly the proliferation of narrative forms, enable Joyce to "see life foully" from a vast number of sides.
Britten's opera tends to see things in simpler terms. It portrays an Aschenbach who wants a richer form of sexual fulfillment, and who is hemmed in by the social conventions to which he subscribes. But Visconti's use of the Mahler Adagietto is perfect for what I take to be Aschenbach's sexual desire.
Mann and Joyce are very different, and yet their fiction often appeals to the same people: Harry Levin taught a famous course on Joyce, Proust, and Mann, and Joseph Campbell singled out Joyce and Mann as special favorites. To see them as offering "possibilities for living", as I do, isn't to identify any distinctive commonality. After all, many great authors would fall under that rubric.
Aschenbach is not only a projection of Mann in the obvious ways - same daily routines, author of the works Mann had planned - nor even in sharing his author's aspirations, doubts, and sexual identity. His watchword, "Durchhalten!" [persevere, keep going] could be Mann's own.