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German Studies Association

The Double-Edged Sword: Anti-Semitism and Anti-Wagnerianism in Thomas Mann's

Author(s): Paul Levesque
Source: German Studies Review, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Feb., 1997), pp. 9-21
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press on behalf of the German Studies
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The Double-Edged Sword: Anti-Semitism
and Anti-Wagnerianism in Thomas Mann's

Paul Levesque
Wabash College

Even if one has never read Thomas Mann's 1906 short story Wdlsungenblut,
it is likely that one has heard of the "scandal" which blocked its publication, a
scandal arising from the fact that Mann supposedly had the gall to submit an "anti-
Semitic" piece for publication right after marrying into a Jewish family. Most
secondary literature devoted to the story does spend some time retelling the
particulars of its checkered publication history, but in essence most critics would
prefer not to notice Mann's use of an anti-Semitic discourse in his portrayal of the
main characters, Sieglind and Siegmund Aarenhold.' This essay will try to remedy
this lapse by addressing a number of questions often left unanswered by other
treatments of the story. First and foremost, it is important to determine whether it
is essential for the inner logic of Wilsungenblut that the Aarenholds in fact be
Jewish and whether this inner logic also demands that they be portrayed negatively.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for my argument, it is necessary to
determine whether there is a link between Mann's use of an anti-Semitic discourse
and the curious homage to/parody of Wagner one finds in the text.2
In order to test whether such a link exists, we must first come to terms with
Mann's rather free adaptation of his Wagnerian model for the story. As Mann's
choice of the names Siegmund and Sieglind makes clear, the source here is the first
act of Wagner's Die Walkiire. Mann modernizes Wagner's treatment of Siegmund
and Sieglinde by transporting it to the Berlin of 1905, where the hero and heroine
are now known as Siegmund and Sieglind Aarenhold, the decadent offspring of a
nouveau riche family. Less inclined to the heroic acts of the original Walsungs, the
Aarenholds are content to excel in both ostentatious display and the fine art of social
It is the Aarenhold's desire to advance up the social ladder which provides the
motor for Wdlsungenblutls action, for, as the story begins, we are told that Sieglind
has been promised in marriage to a certain von Beckerath, "Verwaltungsbeamter

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und von Familie."3 The "von Familie" is in this case the deciding factor, for th
is little else that would recommend this rather colorless figure as husband and so
in-law. In the story's opening scene, Siegmund casually asks his sister's fiance f
permission to take Sieglind to a performance of Die Walkiire that eveni
Permission is granted, and the stage is set for a meeting between the modern-d
Siegmund and Sieglind and their Wagnerian forebears.
Before this meeting takes place, however, we are offered a closer look at t
daily activities of Siegmund Aarenhold. He is the dilettante par excellence, a
aesthetic epicurean, a snob and a dandy "[d]er einen betrachtlichen Teil des Tag
vorm Lavoir verbrachte" (GW, 390). If there is any true substance to Siegmund
all, it is only revealed in his relationship to his twin sister Sieglind, for in her h
able to see and love himself, just as she loves her brother as the mirror image
herself. In their narcissism they seem like the two peacocks facing each other whi
decorate one of Sieglinde's dresses, two exquisite beings whose only functio
seems to be to mirror the beauty of the other.4
Sieglind is fated to fulfill an additional function, however, that of wife t
Beckerath. It is this fact which gives a certain weight to Siegmund's seeming
casual request that his sister's fiance allow the twins "vor der Hochzeit noch einm
allein miteinander die 'Walkiire' horen zu diirfen" (GW 389). For Siegmund,
least, this night at the opera represents a kind of ceremonial leavetaking, a farew
to the twin's previous form of existence. Although not up to the twin's high criti
standards,5 this particular production of Die Walkire nevertheless proves to b
particularly effective, for it opens up a heroic world to the twins which seems
mirror their own situation. This is especially true of the opera's first act, which
essentially "see" in its entirety through the eyes of the Aarenholds. By experienci
the opera from their perspective, we no longer see a Wagnerian Siegmund defyin
fate and the gods by rescuing his sister Sieglinde from the clutches of her husban
Hunding, and taking her as his bride. We see rather a prefiguration of the mo
prosaic triangle Siegmund-Sieglind-Beckerath, with Beckerath assigned the rat
thankless role of Hunding. The emphasis is no longer on Siegmund defying the g
but rather on Siegmund defying bourgeois convention, while at the same tim
meting out revenge on the eminently bourgeois Hunding by claiming for him
Hunding's conjugal rights.
This "reading" of Die Walkure obviously has its attractions for Siegmun
Aarenhold, because it seems tojustify the contempt he feels for Beckerath and off
an heroic vision of how revenge could be taken on the Hundings of the world. A
yet, it is not only the plot which proves attractive. It is also Wagner's passion
music, as the following description of its effect on Siegmund makes clear:

Siegmund sah ins Orchester. Der vertiefte Raum war hell gegen das
lauschende Haus und von Arbeit erfullt, von fingerden Handen, fiedelnde
Armen, blasend geblahten Backen, von schlichten und eifrigen Leuten, di

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Paul Levesque 11

dienend das Werk einer groBen leidenden Kraft vollzogen,-dies Werk,

das dort oben in kindlich hohen Gesichten erschien... Ein Werk! Wie tat
man ein Werk? Ein Schmerz war in Siegmunds Brust, ein Brennen oder
Zehren, irgend etwas wie eine siiue Drangsal-wohin? wonach? Es war so
dunkel, so schimpflich unklar. Er fiihlte zwei Worte: Schopfertum ...
Leidenschaft. Und wahrend die Hitze in seinen Schlafen pochte, war es
wie ein sehnsiichtiger Einblick, daB das Schopfertum aus der Leidenschaft
kam und wieder die Gestalt der Leidenschaft annahm [ ... ] Er sah sein
eigenes Leben an, dies Leben, das sich aus Weichheit und Witz, aus
Verwohnung und Verneinung, Luxus und Widerspruch, Uppigkeit und
Verstandeshelle, reicher Sicherheit und tandelndem HaB zusammensetzte,
dies Leben, in dem es kein Erlebnis, nur logisches Spiel, keine Empfindung,
nur t6tendes Bezeichnen gab,-und ein Brennen oder Zehren war in seiner
Brust, irgend etwas wie eine suBe Drangsal-wohin? wonach? Nach dem
Werk? Dem Erlebnis? Der Leidenschaft? (GW, 404)

Siegmund Aarenhold tries to win for himself both "Erlebnis" and "Leidenschaft"
by reenacting the mythical Siegmund's defiance of bourgeois convention as well as
his revenge on Hunding. Later that night, inspired by their mythical forebears,
Mann's Siegmund and Sieglind do in fact avenge themselves on Beckerath by
sleeping together; and yet, as Jens Malte Fischer has remarked, it is merely the
"ungeschickt-kindische Nachvollzug... dessen, was das Zwillingspaar auf der
Buhne gesehen hat."6 Moreover, it is an act brought on less by passion, by
"Leidenschaft," than by the desire to deny Beckerath that which bourgeois convention
has always accorded the husband: Sieglind's virginity. After the act itself, whose
clumsiness is glossed by its description as a "hastiges Getummel" (GW. 410),
Sieglind asks her brother what they should now do about Beckerath. Siegmund's
response is both dispassionate and direct: "Nun... dankbar soil er uns sein. Er wird
ein minder triviales Dasein fuhren, von nun an." (GW, 410)
The fact that Siegmund was able "to make something" of his Wagner experience,
even if that "something" was limited to sleeping with his sister, has led some critics
to speak of the redemption of Siegmund acted out in Walsungenblut, a redemption
carried out by the power of Wagner's music.7 This follows the standard line on
Wagner's influence on the young Thomas Mann, a line which states that Wagner
represented for the early Thomas Mann a liberating cultural force, a force which
Hermann Kurzke has referred to as "die anti-burgerliche Verfiihrung zu Kunst,
Rausch, Erotik und Tod."8
Such talk of redemption does not square very well with the "hastige[n]
Getiimmel" actually described at the end of Wdlsungenblut, nor do claims of a
spiritual reorientation on Siegmund's part take into account the cynicism of his last
remark concerning Beckerath cited above. Led astray by their conviction that Mann
could only portray Wagner as a positive force for Wilhelminian culture, some critics

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have tended to twist and bend the story until it fits into their model of a red
re-enactment of the Wagnerian mythical model. In this, they are not so far r
from Siegmund and Sieglind Aarenhold, for the twins are in effect guilty of th
misreading. In their case, however, those things bent and twisted, albeit in a
farcical manner, are their very own lives.
There is a way to untwist the story, however. It comes from moving beyo
contention that Walsungenblut functions as a gentle, even-tempered parody
aspects of Wagnerian theater9 to the conviction that Mann, in Wilsung
musters his parodic talents against Richard Wagner with a viciousness unp
in his other writings. It is a viciousness born of Mann's conviction that Wag
well as Wagnerism in all its various manifestations) laid out a theoretical fra
which actively served to deny Mann a place in the Wilhelminian cultural a
framework which condemned Mann's chosen field of prose writing and trum
the glories of the Gesamtkunstwerk.'1
It is important to remember how fierce this condemnation of the noveli
Those who based their aesthetics on Wagner's theoretical principles join
Master in denying any artistic validity to "mere novelists" such as Thoma
Wagner's oft-expressed contempt for the novel was bound up in his contem
all forms of "Literaturdichtung," that is to say "mere literature" as opposed
Wagner considered a true work of art, one which would appeal directly to th
by having a living, breathing body performing in front of an audience.
foundation of his most important theoretical work, his OperundDrama of 18
Wagner's conviction that prose writing, "das graue Gewiihl der Prosa,"1
utterly incapable of serving as the medium for an authentic aesthetic exp
The narrative description found in prose, with its reliance on the imagination
reader to make a scene come alive, is relegated to the status of a "diirf
Todesschatten[s]" (WGS,2) of a dramatic representation. As Wagner succin
it: "das wirkliche Kunstwerk erzeugt sich eben nur durch den Fortschritt
Einbildung in die Wirklichkeit, das ist: Sinnlichkeit." (WGS, 2)
Those who still made use of the novel to express themselves were rely
an outmoded means of expression in a world hurtling towards the future,
"innerliche Drang" found in all true artists had forced the issue, had called f
unmittelbare Darstellung an die Sinne" (WGS, 8), had insisted that the
replace the Novel. Not content to justify this privileging of the drama ov
writing with the help of teleological arguments regarding the evolution
Wagner also argued that this immediate appeal to the senses had an epistemo
certainty one could never find in the written word. "Im Drama miissen wir W
werden durch das Gefiihl," (WGS, 78) is how Wagner apodictically put it,
Gefiihl" is most effectively reached by a direct appeal to the senses. This av
cut off to those who rely on prose to express themselves, for

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Paul Levesque 13

in der moderen Prosa sprechen wir eine Sprache, die wir mit dem Gefiihle
nicht verstehen, deren Zusammenhang mit den Gegenstanden, die durch
ihren Eindruck auf uns die Bildung der Sprachwurzeln nach unserem
Verm6gen bedang, uns unkenntlich geworden ist. (WGS, 97)

In essence, this means that "in der modernen Sprache nicht gedichtet werden kann,
d.h. eine dichterische Absicht kann in ihr nicht verwirklicht, sondern eben nur als
solche ausgesprochen werden." (WGS, 98). If one wishes to create true poetry, one
must move beyond normal speech, beyond "Wortsprache" to the truly artistic
medium, the "Tonsprache" sung on the Wagnerian stage as part of a new
Gesamtkunstwerk. (WGS, 91)
All the critical reflections on the craft of novel-writing Mann wrote down
during the first decade of this century are more or less explicit replies to this central
teaching of Wagner's philosophy of art. In his essay "Versuch iiber das Theater" of
1908, Mann explicitly counters Wagner's arguments against the novel by offering
this passionate defense of his chosen medium:

Der Roman ist genauer, vollstandiger, wissender, gewissenhafter, tiefer

als das Drama, in allem, was die Erkenntnis des Menschen als Leib und
Charakter betrifft, und im Gegensatz zu der Anschauung, als sei das
Drama das eigentlich plastische Dichtwerk, bekenne ich, daB ich es
vielmehr als eine Kunst der Silhouette und des erzahlten Menschen allein
als rund, ganz, wirklich und plastisch empfinde.12

Mann continues his attacks on Wagner in notes written down in 1910-11 for an
unfinished essay provisionally entitled "Geist und Kunst." Since the notes were not
meant for immediate publication, Mann felt free to express himself in much harsher
tones than one finds in "Versuch iiber das Theater." This is especially true when
Mann feels compelled to deal with Wagner's attack on "Literaturdichtung:"

Wenn Wagner von "Literatur-Lyrik" spricht oder vom Epos, das er

den "diirftigen Todesschatten etc." nennt, so m6chte man an den Wanden
hochgehen. Das sind keine Kunstschriften, sondern Kunstlerschriften und
zwar von der allemaivsten, kompromittierendsten, kindisch egozentrischen
Art. Als Denker vollkommen dilettantisch, abhangig, kindlich.13

If Wagner had been merely an isolated voice, it would have been galling
enough; and yet Wagner had the good luck to have an excellent propagandist for his
cause in the person of the young Friedrich Nietzsche, someone who would infect an
entire generation with the Wagnerian philosophy. It is a sign of how seldom
Wagner's theoretical writings are actually read today that Nietzsche's Die Geburt
der Tragodie aus dem Geist der Musik is not seen for what it is, a highly

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sophisticated re-write of Wagner's Oper und Drama.'4 This means t

Symbolists, Impressionists and Expressionists who were calling the
Nietzscheans in their crusades to renew art in Germany at the turn of the c
were indeed Wagnerians, committed to Wagner's views regarding
inappropriateness of prose as means of artistic expression. Taking another
Mann's private notes for "Geist und Kunst," one comes across the follo
observation regarding some Neo-Wagnerians:

Aus der modischen Vornehmtuerei in Deutschland gegen

"Litterarische" und den "Litteraten" geht auch jenes iiberspannt
uberspannende Verlangen nach "Hohenkunst", "Tempelkunst" etc her
Heute will niemand ein guter Romanschriftsteller sein; man heiBt
Epiker-das klingt unliterarischer. Schreiben konnen gilt nichts, ab
lallend aus orphischen Tiefen kommt oder zu kommen vorgibt, wird

For Mann, who put great stock in being "ein guter Romanschriftstelle
attitudes of the Neo-Wagnerians of his time could only have served to enrag
In his "Geist und Kunst," Mann makes it quite clear who he feels is responsi
such attitudes: "Literat als Schimpf, Literatur gleich Unkunst. Der neuest
Unsinn, der iibrigens von Wagner her durchgesickert ist."16 Should it c
surprise, then, that in an attempt to focus his rage he should turn on the source
ideas, the one man he felt was most responsible for the "anti-literature" moo
day, Richard Wagner? As the passages from Oper und Drama cited above
Mann had reason enough to feel stung by Wagner's pronouncements aga
novel. In response to such attacks, he produced Wdlsungenblut, a story
designed to drive Wagner's ghost from the German cultural arena. This
agenda explains the viciousness of Wdlsungenblut, and, as should becom
also explains the presence in this story of a full-blown anti-Semitic disco
How does this particular discourse manifest itself? As many treatments
story go to some pains to explain, Siegmund's comment about Bec
"triviales Dasein" may in fact act as the closing line of most published ve
Wdlsungenblut'7 and yet it was not Mann's original choice for the ending. S
was originally meant to say "Nun... Was soll mit ihm sein? Beganeft [i.e.,
swindled (P.L.)] haben wir ihn-den Goy,"'8 a mixture of Yiddish and Ge
which offended Oskar Bie, the Jewish editor of the Neue Rundschau w
Wdlsungenblut was first meant to appear. Rather unwillingly, Mann a
change the ending, although it turned out to be a rather moot point, for M
later forced under pressure from his father-in-law to withdraw the story al
That excising Siegmnd's lapse into Yiddish should have satisfied Osk
seems rather surprising, however, for even without the Yiddish dialect there
any doubt that Siegmund and Sieglind are in fact Jewish. Mann had quite co

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Paul Levesque 15

equipped their parents with every negative stereotype normally attributed by anti-
Semites to the image of the social-climbing Jew in order to underscore this point,
including, among others, a love for vulgar display, a rampant materialism, and, in
the case of Frau Aarenhold, an uncertain command of the German language.19 We
as readers are therefore left in no doubt as to the racial background of the hero of
A Jewish Siegmund: what would have been more galling for an anti-Semite like
Wagner, author of the 1850 pamphlet Das Judenthum in der Musik? What would
have more enraged his committed followers who made up the circle around the
journal of the Wagnerians, the Bayreuther Blitter? Fully aware of such a reaction,
Mann not only presents his modern-day Siegmund as a Jew, he also implies that
Wagner's opera only makes psychological sense if its heroes are also Jews. For what
are the Walsungs if not the "Chosen People," chosen by Wotan if not by Jehovah?
Siegmund and Sieglinde are in effect the Jews of Wagner's mythical Teutonic
world, while Hunding, presented as a fine example of "vierschrotiger Pedanterei"
(GW, 400) in Wdlsungenblut, represents the true Germanic and/or Aryan spirit.
That this reverses Wagner's original intent is of course clear; Mann's reasons
for doing so, however, are open to question. A more sympathetic reading of the story
would argue that Mann's reversal makes use of the anti-Semite Wagner in order to
expose the anti-Semitism of Mann's day. Hunding's antipathy to the "fremdartigen"
(GW, 400) Siegmund thus becomes a paradigmatic form of the antipathy many in
the Wilhelminian era felt towards the Jews. Since Hunding is presented by the
narrator of Wdlsungenblut in a less than appealing light, it would seem that his
enmity ( and in broader terms the anti-Semitism of the Wilhelminian era) is being
subtly criticized.20
A less sympathetic reading of Wdlsungenblut could interpret Mann's use of
Wagner's Die Walkure and the discourse of anti-Semitism quite differently,
however. If one argues that Mann's main target in his text was the Wagnerism of
the Wilhelminian era, rather than either Wagner's or the Wilhelminian era's anti-
Semitism, then Mann's attempt to underscore the parallels between the Walsungs
and the Jews as both "Chosen People" must be seen in a different and more
disturbing light. From this perspective, Walsungenblut stands revealed as an
elaborate joke on Wagner and his followers, for what better way to expose the
Master's feet of clay than by revealing that his natural audience, the audience most
likely to feel some sense of inner bond with Wagner's heros, was in fact an audience
of Jews like Siegmund Aarenhold, members of a "Chosen People" just as Wagner's
Walsungs had been? That the Jews, in all their "decadence," were the true
Wagnerians? How would that reflect on the claims made by Wagner and his
followers that the novel was a botched artistic form and that Wagner's theater
represented the best hope for the spiritual rebirth of the German nation?

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One can take this less sympathetic reading of Wdlsungenblut one turn fu
What if Mann so wanted to disqualify Wagner as a cultural icon of the Wilhe
era that he was willing to take a page from the later Nietzsche, the Wagner
Nietzsche, and dig up the old rumors that Wagner himself was a Jew? Nietz
former confidante of the family and frequent visitor at Bayreuth, gleefull
family secret out of the bag in a footnote to his Der Fall Wagner of 1888 w
posed the question "War Wagner iberhaupt ein Deutscher?" As part of an
he offered the following remarks:

Sein Vater war ein Schauspieler namens Geyer. Ein Geyer ist be
schon ein Adler... Das, was bisher als "Leben Wagners" in Um
gebracht ist, ist fable convenue, wenn nicht Schlimmeres. Ich be
mein MiBtrauen gegenjeden Punkt, der bloB durch Wagner selbst be

Wagner biographers have spent the last hundred years trying to determine
whether Nietzsche's insinuations were in fact true and that the man with the Jewish-
sounding name already known as Wagner's stepfather may in fact have sired
Richard while his putative father, Carl Friedrich Wilhelm Wagner, was still alive.
There are strong arguments on both sides of this debate, but as of yet no conclusive
Proof, of course, was unnecessary for the kind of rumor-mongering Nietzsche
(and others) indulged in. In any event, enough of the story seems to have become
public knowledge even before Nietzsche's revelations for the question of Wagner's
paternity to have become grist for the caricaturist's mill.23 Mann could therefore
count on a more or less general public knowledge about Wagner's uncertain
bloodlines in his strategy of "outing" Wagner as a "Jew" in Walsungenblut. In this,
Mann seems to feel comfortable using the discourse of anti-Semitism as a tactical
move to disqualify Richard Wagner as a legitimate cultural force in the Wilhelminian
era by implying that Wagner's art was fit only for Jews because it was made by a
"Jew." This would mean, paradoxically, that Mann counted on tapping into the anti-
Semitic feelings of his bourgeois audience in order to wean them away from the
equally anti-Semitic Wagner.
This tactic of relying on the anti-Semitic feelings of his bourgeois audience also
plays a role in Mann's portrayal of Siegmund Aarenhold as a dilettante, that is to say
as someone incapable of creating true art. In one of the bitterer ironies of
Wdlsungenblut, Mann constructs the figure of Siegmund Aarenhold from the anti-
Semitic blue print laid down in Richard Wagner's own pamphlet Das Judenthum
in der Musik. Siegmund is shown to have no creative fire of his own and thus can
only copy the works of others, a lack of individuality so extreme that he cannot even
show originality in the taboos he breaks, but rather feels compelled to mirror the
breaking of taboos he has already seen on the stage.

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Paul Levesque 17

For Wagner, Jewish musicians also are bereft of any ingenuity and are thus
forced to mimic the works of earlier masters of the musical form, "und zwar ganz
peinlich genau und tauschend iihnlich, wie Papageien menschliche Worter und
Reden nachpapeln, aber ebenso ohne Ausdruck und wirkliche Empfindung, wie
diese nairrischen Vogel es thun."24 Siegmund's parroting of his Wagnerian forebears
in sleeping with his sister is in fact just what Wagner would have expected from a
Jew. As for Siegmund's desire for "Leidenschaft," a desire that remains unfulfilled
at the end of Wdlsungenblut, Wagner had already stated that the Jew "keine wahre
Leidenschaft [hatte], am allerwenigsten eine Leidenschaft, welche ihn zum
Kunstschaffen aus sich selbst drangte."25
Finally, Siegmund is well aware that he will never become a great artist, that
"die Bedingungen seines Daseins fiir die Entwickelung einer gestaltenden Gabe
nicht eben die gunstigsten waren." (GW 391) Not surprisingly, Wagner had also
claimed that the Jew "nie eine eigene Kunst gehabt [hatte], daher [sei] nie ein Leben
von kunstfahigem Gehalt [m6glich]; ein Gehalt, ein allgemeingiltiger menschlicher
Gehalt ist diesem auch jetzt vom Suchenden nicht zu entnehmen."26
The parallels are too close for it to be a mere coincidence, and yet it seems
strange that Mann would copy a page from Wagner precisely about the despicably
Jewish nature of copying. It is true that Mann was particularly unsympathetic to the
figure of the dilettante at the time of Wdlsungenblut, for the dilettante represented
an approach to art diametrically opposed to Mann's own vision of the artist as
fundamentally bourgeois and thus grounded in the traditional bourgeois work ethic,
a vision we find in Tonio Kroger and Mann's Schiller novella Schwere Stunde.
Rootless, spoiled by luxury, contemptuous of bourgeois convention, incapable of
any true commitment, Siegmund demonstrably lacks all the virtues Mann felt were
necessary for a true artist. For Siegmund, as his inner monologue while listening to
Wagner makes clear, art is merely "Erlebnis," "Leidenschaft." It is not the work or
the suffering one sees borne by the Schiller of Schwere Stunde. It is not art as a
"Beruf," a bourgeois profession with its own harsh demands and its own ethic.27 It
is art as a dilettante imagines it should be.
One possible answer to the question of what Mann is actually trying to do here
in his depiction of Siegmund Aarenhold as a dilettante comes from Bernd Kraske,
one of the few critics who has tackled the issue of anti-Semitism in Wdlsungenblut.28
For Kraske, Mann was never really interested in attacking Jews and had certainly
no intention of attacking Richard Wagner. All along the true target of Mann's
disdain was the dilettante, the bohemian, the outsider artist unwilling to accept
bourgeois responsibilities. In this reading, Siegmund's Jewishness is not really
supposed to be taken as "Jewishness," but rather as a sign for something else. As
Kraske himself puts it, "das Judentum wird von Thomas Mann ... lediglich benutzt,
um die AuBenseiterposition Siegmunds erklarbar, um sie logisch zu machen."29
With Siegmund set up as an outsider, Mann is now free to present the empty and

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ridiculous nature of this particular outsider's life and let his audience draw their o
conclusions about the lives of those bohemian German artists committed to a sta
of war with bourgeois society.
Kraske is convinced that Walsungenblut represents a significant turning poin
in Mann's career, that his travestying of the "Einsamkeitspathos des Kunstlers
the figure of Siegmund Aarenhold represents Mann's farewell to the "Kiinst
Biirger-Antinomie" of his earlier works on the one hand and a new commitment
the "Problem des gesellschaftlichen Zusammenlebens, der sozialen Fragen u
Aufgabenstellungen eines Volkes und Staates"30 on the other. All this could v
well be true, and yet Kraske's attempt to concentrate the reader's critical attent
on the figure of the dilettante, thus allowing one to ignore both the anti-Sem
discourse present in the text as well as how this discourse is linked with the fig
of Wagner, appears to be unfair to the complexity of the text.
This is especially true when one realizes that, in unmasking Siegmund a
dilettante, Mann was actually striking yet anotherblow against Richard Wagner.
letting the word "dilettante" fall, Mann is able to allude to a particular discou
initiated by Nietzsche against both the theatricality and the manipulative nature
Wagner's art. This attack against Wagner's dilettantism is clear in a work like
Fall Wagner, where Nietzsche says the following about the composer's "Stil":

Wie armselig, wie verlegen, wie laienhaft ist seine Art zu "entwickeln
sein Versuch, das, was nicht auseinander gewachsen ist, wenigstens
durcheinander zu stecken! Seine Manieren dabei erinnern an die auch
sonst fur Wagners Stil heranziehbaren freres de Goncourt: man hat eine
Art Erbarmen mit soviel Notstand. DaB Wagner seine Unfihigkeit zum
organischen Gestalten in ein Prinzip verkleidet hat, daB er einen "dramati-
schen Stil" statuiert, wo wir bloB sein Unvermogen zum Stil uberhaupt
statuieren, entspricht einer kiihnen Gewohnheit, die Wagner durch das
ganze Leben begleitet hat: er setzt ein Prinzip an, wo ihm ein Vermogen
fehlt.31 (emphasis mine)

Even in a work as sympathetic to Wagner as his relativly early Vierte Unzeitgemaf3e

Betrachtungen, "Richard Wagner in Bayreuth," Nietzsche could note with some
unease the "dilettantish" foundation of Wagner's art:

Ihn [Wagner] schrankte keine strenge erb- und familienhafte Kunstiibung

ein. Die Malerei, die Dichtkunst, die Schauspielerei, die Musik kamen ihm
so nahe als die gelehrtenhafte Erziehung und Zukunft; wer oberflachlich
hinblickte, mochte meinen, er sei zum Dilettantisieren geboren.32

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Paul Levesque 19

The careful use of the subjunctive here by Nietzsche does little to soften the sting
of criticism. Devoted Wagnerians would have been incensed by Nietzsche's
tactlessness in remarking on the Master's dilettantish artistic roots,just as they were
incensed by Mann's use of this quote in his Wagner essay of 1933, "Leiden und
GroBe Richard Wagners," the essay which called forth the infamous open letter
"Protest der Richard-Wagner-Stadt Miinchen," thus setting in motion the campaign
by the National Socialist government to strip Thomas Mann of his German
citizenship.33 In one of the true ironies of history, the language Mann used in 1905-
06 to poison the relationship between Wagner and his audience (Wagner as
dilettante, Wagner as uncreative, Wagner as Jew) ended up being the same language
which gave the Nazis the excuse to force Mann into exile.
This attempt on Mann's part to poison Wagner's relationship with his audience
and thus draw this same audience into his own camp guides the inner logic of
Walsungenblut and helps explain why this logic demanded that the Aarenholds in
fact be Jewish and be portrayed negatively. It also explains why there is an
inextricable link between the anti-Semitic discourse of the text and the figure of
Richard Wagner. As a strategy, this attempt is not merely problematic. It is worse
than that and should be labeled as such. Although one would go too far if one
attributed a strident form of personal anti-Semitism to Thomas Mann, one should
be able to say that his opportunistic use of an anti-Semitic discourse to damage his
literary opponents and further his literary program is in fact reprehensible, more
reprehensible even than any purported "kleine antisemitische Bosheiten" someone
like Hans Mayer claims to see in this text.34 Reference to "kleine Bosheiten" implies
an unthinking adoption of a mild form of anti-Semitism prevalent in Wilhelminian
society; and yet, as this study hopes to show, Mann's adoption of an anti-Semitic
discourse was far from unthinking, displaying in fact a considerable degree of rather
cold-blooded calculation. It is this cold-bloodedness which seems most disturbing,
for it reveals how far Mann was willing to go in his attempt to break the Wagnerian's
hold on the cultural life of Wilhelminian Germany.

For a more detailed account of the scandal surrounding Walsungenblut, see H. R. Vaget's
Thomas Mann-Kommentar zu samtlichen Erzahlungen (Munich: Winkler Verlag, 1984),
155-169. Vaget has also addressed the issue of "Nicht-Rezeption" or even
"Rezeptionsverweigerung" of Walsungenblut on the part of most critics in his essay "Sang
reserve in Deutschland: Zur Rezeption von Thomas Manns Walsungenblut," German
Quarterly 57(1984): 367.
2 For a treatment of the tension between a Wagner homage and a Wagner parody in
Walsungenblut, see Viktor Zmegac's "Kulissenwelt: Zu einer Szene bei Thomas Mann,"
Monatshefte 64 (1972): 136-146. My own interpretation will show that I see no "homage"
to Wagner in the text at all and therefore disagree with Zmegac's contention that Mann is in
no way rejecting Wagner as an artistic model in Wilsungenblut.

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3Thomas Mann, Gesammelte Werke in dreizehn Binden, (Frankfurt: S. Fischer 19

382. Subsequent references to this edition will appear in the text as "GW."
4 "Zwei gestickte Pfauen, einander zugewandt, hielten oberhalb des Gurtels i
Schnabeln eine Girlande" (GW, 395), is how the narrator describes the design.
5 Siegmund is not impressed by the singers ("Ich finde die Besetzung schlecht," GW,
Sieglind offers her own variation of Wagnerian Stabreim in judging the orchest
fihlte... das Orchester sich bewogen, bei dem Friihlingslied schrecklich zu schleppen," G
6 Jens Malte Fischer, Fin de Siecle: Kommentar zu einer Epoche (Munich: Winkler
1978), 238.
7 Christine Oertel Sjogren makes the claim that "Walsungenblut is a fictional illustration of
the early Nietzsche's thesis that Wagnerian music drama can counteract the artistic sterility
of a decadent age by bringing man into contact with the liberating and revitalizing power of
myth and music." See her "Wendelin and the Theme of Transformation in Thomas Mann's
Wilsungenblut," Comparative Literature Studies, (December 1977), 4:356.
8 Hermann Kurzke, Thomas Mann: Epoche-Werk-Wirkung (Munich: C. H.Beck, 1980), 11.
This is in effect the summary of his argument as advanced in the section of his study entitled
"Richard Wagner im Fruhwerk Thomas Manns."
9 This is essentially the argument put forward by James Northcott-Bade in his Die Wagner-
Mythen im Fruhwerk Thomas Manns (Bonn: Bouvier,1975). A similar argument can be
found in Viktor Zmegac's "Kulissenwelt: Zu einer Szene bei Thomas Mann," Monatshefte
64 (1972):136-146.
'?This reading of Walsungenblut obviously implies a much more problematic relationship
to Wagner (and Wagner's cultural ambitions) than has usually been acknowledged in the
secondary literature. Although mention is often made to what is delicately referred to as the
"Wagner-Krise" of the years 1908-1911, a time when Mann was supposedly switching his
allegiances from Wagner to Goethe, this "Krise" is more often than not downgraded to the
status of a lover's quarrel. And yet, how are we to judge such a "lover's quarrel" when Wagner
categorically states that a prose writer (such as Thomas Mann) is completely incapable of any
kind of aesthetic creation? For a more traditional view of the Wagner-Mann relationship, see
William Blissett's 'Thomas Mann: The Last Wagnerite," Germanic Review 35 (1960): 50-
76; H. R. Vaget's "Goethe oder Wagner: Studien zuThomas Manns Goethe-Rezeption 1905-
1912" in H. R. Vaget/Dagmar Barnouw's Thomas Mann: Studien zu Fragen der Rezeption
(Bern: Herbert Lang, 1975); James Northcott-Bade's Die Wagner-Mythen im Friihwerk
Thomas Manns (Bonn: Bouvier Verlag, 1975); Peter Wapnewski's "Der Magier und sein
Mythos," in his Richard Wagner: Die Szene und ihr Meister (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1978);
Erwin Koppen's Dekadenter Wagnerismus: Studien zur europaischen Literatur des Fin de
siecle (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1973) and Werner Vortriede's "Richard Wagners Tod in
Venedig," Euphorion 52 (1959): 378-396.
" Richard Wagner, Gesammelte Schriften und Dichtungen IV (Leipzig: Siegels
Musikalienhandlung, n.d.), 9. Future references to this work will appear in the text under
2 Thomas Mann, "Versuch iiber das Theater," Nord und Sad: eine deutsche Monatsschrift
32 (1908): 261.
13 Thomas Mann, "Geist und Kunst," in Quellenkritische Studien zum Werke Thomas Manns,
eds. Paul Scherrer and Hans Wysling (Bern: Francke Verlag, 1967),155.

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Paul Levesque 21

14 As Dieter Borchmeyer has put it, "The Birth of Tragedy is influenced down to its details
by Wagner' s theoretical works, above all by Oper undDrama (1851) and Beethoven (1870)."
See his "Wagner and Nietzsche" in Wagner Handbook, eds. Ulrich Miller and Peter
Wapnewski (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992), 327-342.
'5 Mann, "Geist und Kunst," op. cit., 158.
16 Ibid., 167.
17 For the tangled history of the story's publication in France as well as in Germany, see H.
R. Vaget's "Sang r6serve...," op. cit.
18 Cited in Vaget, Thomas Mann: Kommentar, op.cit., 156.
9 Bernd Kraske remarks that the story contains "ein Arsenal negativer Einschatzungen, die
geradezu aus einem Lehrbuch des Antisemitismus der Kaiserzeit-und nicht nur dieser-
entnommen sein k6nnten." See his 'Thomas Manns 'Walsungenblut': eine antisemitische
Novelle?" in Thomas Mann: Erzahlungen und Novellen, ed. Rudolf Wolff (Bonn: Bouvier,
1984), 53.
20This makes up part of Kraske's argument about the story. See Kraske, op.cit., 59.
21 Friedrich Nietzsche, "Der Fall Wagner," in Werke 1/, ed. Karl Schlechta (Carl Hanser
Verlag: Munich, 1969),929.
22 For a summary of the biographical research dealing with Wagner, see John Deathridge' s
"A Brief History of Wagner Research," in Wagner Handbook, op. cit., 202-223.
23 Images of Wagner with an enormous hooked nose were relatively popular among the anti-
Wagner caricaturists of the 1870s and 1880s. See Eduard Fuchs' and Ernst Kreowski's
Richard Wagner in der Karikatur (Berlin: B. Behr's Verlag, 1907), esp. 58-59 and 95.
24Richard Wagner, "Das Judenthum in der Musik" in Gesammelte Schriften undDichtungen
V, 75.
25 Ibid.,78.
26Ibid., 76.
27 For the importance of the concept of art as "Beruf" in Mann's thought, see Harvey
Goldmann's Max Weber and Thomas Mann: Calling and the Shaping of the Self(Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1988).
28 See Kraske's 'Thomas Manns 'Wilsungenblut': eine antisemitische Novelle?" in Thomas
Mann: Erznhlungen und Novellen, ed. Rudolf Wolff (Bonn: Bouvier, 1984), 53.
29 Kraske, op.cit., 57.
30 Ibid. 57-58.

31 Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke II, ed. Karl Schlechta (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1969),

32 Friedrich Nietzsche, Werke I, ed. Karl Schlechta (Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1969), 371.
33 For a detailed treatment of the "Protest der Richard-Wagner-Stadt Minchen," see H. R.
Vaget's "Musik in Munchen: Kontext und Vorgeschichte des 'Protests der Richard-Wagner-
Stadt Munchen' gegen Thomas Mann," Thomas Mann Jahrbuch 7 (1994), 41-69.
34 Hans Mayer, Aufienseiter (Frankfurt: S. Fischer, 1975),414.

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