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DavidsonLearns Presents Scott Denham’s Course on Thomas Mann

by | Jun 5, 2023

Thomas Mann’s 1924 novel Der Zauberberg / The Magic Mountain is, perhaps, the greatest novel of the 20th century. It has something for everyone: love, nature, time, intrigue, illness, medicine, science, philosophy, war, trauma, food, sex, death, and lots and lots of snow.​

In this reading-intensive seminar, we will pay close attention to Mann’s famous ironic narrator and to the role of time and space in structuring the novel. We’ll examine narrative and perspective, characters and characterization. We’ll learn some of the intellectual social history and context in Europe before the Great War, when the novel takes place, and in the immediate post-WWI years, when Mann was writing.

We’ll learn about turn-of-the-century bourgeois life, decadence, and cultural pessimism; about nationalism and antisemitism; about sexism and misogyny; about Nietzsche, Freud, and German Idealism; about theology, science and empiricism; about war and trauma; and about spirituality and the occult. We will also think about novels of education, der Bildungsroman, and how Mann’s novel fits into that tradition. We will ask if a deeply ironic novel about love and death can be a source for hopeful humanism.

This DavidsonLearns course parallels a Davidson College seminar with advanced German Studies majors. At the end of the semester, the college students will present their research papers in a public forum, which we call a literary soirée, with DavidsonLearns students being the primary audience members.

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