Alex Ross on Thomas Mann’s Personal and Collective Self-Examination

Alex Ross on Thomas Mann’s Personal and Collective Self-Examination

Alex Ross takes a closer look at how Mann’s self-examination and the questioning of his fellow Germans are intertwined in the essay. He is a music critic of The New Yorker and author of The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century and Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music.

5 thoughts on “Alex Ross on Thomas Mann’s Personal and Collective Self-Examination”

  1. I love it that Alex Ross sees Mann’s model for One Germany as one we can also claim as One America…going inward to see our faults as collective not “them the bad” and “us the good”! We do share a collective guilt that must be admitted as he admists for Germany.

  2. Thank you very much, Alex Ross, for your, as far as I can say, very insightful thoughts to which I fully agree. A few hours ago I replied to Max Czollek’s post. The reply has not been published yet. In any case I would be very grateful if you could let me (and the other users of mutuallymann) know your thoughts on the questions raised therein. Some of those issues may appear to apply to a more or less specific German situation but I think same to be understandable from the American perspective as well. I presume that your answers would (or will) differ from those of Max (in case he decides to reply). Therefore, hoping for a fruitful discussion, I’m sending again my initial comment to Max. Thank you and all the best.

    Thank you, Max Czollek, for your interesting post inviting us to “embrace a marginalized “Germany of the others”” as it is referred to in the announcement for your contribution. Well, I’m willing to follow this invitation (and have done so before), but, reading the well-known German daily and weekly newspapers and magazines and listening to German public broadcast, I do not have the impression that the “Germany of the others”, as you call it, is, indeed, still “marginalized”. Due to my perception the current public discourse is characterized by topics as “gender”, “racism”, antisemitism” etc. The “Germany of the others”, isn’t this nowadays rather the Germany of those who used to be part of the “majority” and who meanwhile feel forgotten and, maybe, have been? Don’t you think that, in such a climate and considering the shift in the public recognition of those who are conventionally not assigned to the so-called “majority society” (just to remind: we already have the ”marriage for all” and even a conservative like Markus Söder supports the women’s quota), a self-critical approach, as it is admirably performed by Thomas Mann in his essay, could be seen as something which is missed by many of those advocating for the “minorities” of today? A self-critical approach – wouldn’t this be a good starting point for everybody for an embracement, a mutual one? Having asked so I wish to add that the situation in the US with 70 million having voted for Trump and quite obviously being unwilling to exercise any form of self-criticism seems to be different to the situation in Germany.

  3. Thank you for these explanations. I share your view that it must have been Thomas Mann’s intention and/or recommendation “not to create this clean dividing line between the good and the bad”, but to recognise “it is all within me.”
    Contemporary populist movements generally refuse to admit that ambiguity. Do you think that Mann’s analysis of Germany’s twisted concept of freedom (“It was a concept of protest… against everything that tended to limit and restrict national egotism… stubborn individualism” (p.56)) also applies to today’s state of mind and politics in the last decade (in Germany, the US, UK etc.) ?

  4. Thank you for this! Absolutely crucial to carrying out this project is the understanding that “it should not be regarded as disloyalty” (p. 48-49). Many of my fellow Americans, including some progressives, centrists, highly educated folks, etc., are so easily shattered by dissenting speech and honest national accounting that they shut down before one can even truly begin such a conversation. I’m terrified and depressed by this, but I also believe that part of my work of “self-examination” is to help others understand that bearing these difficult truths is not, in fact, disloyalty or anti-American. It’s just what we owe each other, and ourselves. In fact, it’s an act of love to learn how to be honest and take responsibility for our history, both in itself and insofar as it allows us collectively to heal, grow, and change. In James Baldwin’s immortal words, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” For the Germanistically inclined among us, reading and rereading this essay is great advice, and I hope many of us will take your words to heart.

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