Kent State University
On May 19, 1934, Thomas Mann began his first journey to America at the request of Alfred Knopf to promote a volume of his new book, Joseph and his Brothers54. He took with him Tieck’s translation of Don Quixote, in four volumes55, and a firm commitment to values best described as liberally humanistic-values which would receive reexamination during the voyage. Mann, who had already moved to Zurich to avoid possible repercussions from his anti-fascistic sentiments, was a reluctant and ambivalent exile from his native land. He shared his voyage with refugees fleeing the countries that had originated and nurtured the very values that Mann exemplified. Their flight and Mann’s uncertain relation to his homeland give —74→ the author the opportunity to reflect on the cultural and political changes ushered in by the rise of the totalitarian regimes that would eventually transform Europe into a slaughterhouse. But that is in the future. What Mann sees in 1934 is a regime in Germany tottering on shaky legs, doomed to fall in a relatively brief time. Nevertheless, he must ask himself what all this fulmination means. Are these changes in Europe the cultural consequences of those values that Mann believes are the foundation of his being? Can he distance himself, and those he believes to be true Europeans, from the fascist claims to be the logical inheritors of properly European values -what Mann calls the «traditions of my blood»?
The catalyst for this self-examination is the physical voyage
itself and the reflective journey prompted by Mann’s reading of
Don Quixote. The comparison of the reading of a book to a journey
is an old, tired metaphor drawn by Mann himself when he speaks
«this ocean of a book» (330). However, our interest lies in the
passage at the end of the essay where Mann describes his arrival
in New York as greeted by a dream brought about by the quieting
of the ship's engines. Mann's dream is the focal point of our
reflections. The identification of Don Quixote with Zarathustra and
the portrayal of the latter as his creator, Nietzsche, the advocate of
transvaluing all traditional, Christian moral values, are the culmination
of Mann's cultural self-examination. It is his dream that
points us toward the meaning of the essay, a reflection on the
morality of exile56.
In Ronald Hayman's biography of Mann he maintains that Mann wrote «Voyage with Don Quixote» in lieu of a political essay. Hayman declares the essay to be «light-hearted» and, at the same time, a reflection of Mann's fear of voicing resistance to the fascists —75→ (414). We agree that the essay concerns fascism. However, it is neither «light-hearted» nor the apolitical travel essay that Hayman believes it to be. Rather, Mann's account of his journey to America is a reflection on properly European values as antithetical to fascism. His discussion of Cervantes and his linking of Don Quixote and Zarathustra are attempts to show that the exiles of Mann's time retain the right to be called true Europeans.
Mann, a writer gloriously steeped in the values of liberal
humanism, recognizes his own de facto exile from a homeland
whose contemporary political climate he sees as a direct affront to
the traditions and concerns that are his foundation:
what does that mean anyhow? Does it mean Kussnacht near
Zurich, where I have lived for a year and am more of a guest than
at home? ...Does it mean further back, my house in Herzogpark,
Munich, where I thought to end my days and which has now
revealed itself as nothing but a temporary refuge and pied-à-terre?
Home-that must mean even further back, to my childhood home,
the parental house at Lübeck, which still stands at present and yet
is so deep-sunken into the past?» (337). For Mann home is also the
locus of the «twin pillars» of European civilization, Christianity and
classical antiquity. His essay is marked by ruminations on the
European character as the direct result of the influence of these
The question then becomes: can one be a European while
rejecting these cultural ancestors?
«The denial of one of these
fundamental premises of our civilization and education-how
much more both of them-by any group of our European community,
would mean its break with that community and an inconceivable,
impossible diminishment of its human stature, who knows to
what extent?» (356). It is not difficult to see Mann's aim in these
remarks. The political extremists in Germany promoting nationalistic
and Eurocentric views are, in fact, rejecting the very foundations
of what it is to be European. The Western liberal humanist
tradition dates from the ancient Greeks, whose cardinal concerns
were truth, justice, beauty, and goodness. The fascists' claims to be
the true inheritors of the European psyche ring hollow in Mann's
ears. It is this hollow sound that turns Mann in the direction of a
truly European icon -Don Quixote.
Mann's remarks on Don Quixote are largely confined to Part II
of the novel, rushed into print by Cervantes to combat the counterfeit
adventures spawned by his own remarkably successful Part I.
Nevertheless, the second part is weightier both in tone and in
«The second part has no longer the happy freshness
and carelessness of the first, which shows how, par hasard et par
génie, a blithe and vigorous satire grew into the book of a whole
people and of all humanity» (334). What has happened? What
began modestly enough has grown to magnificence. This, for
Mann, is exemplary of all truly great art. Humble beginnings and
ambition held in great restraint mark the possibility of the masterpiece.
However, Mann's attitude seems to run counter to the modern
trend in art. Consider the pre-bourgeois notion of the artist -the
artist of the guilds:
«The genius, the great ego, the lonely adventurer,
was an exception produced out of the modest, solid, objectively
skilled cult of the craft; he achieved royal rank, yet even so
he remained a dutiful son of the church and received from her his
orders and his material. Today, as I said, we begin with the genius,
the ego, the solitary-which is probably morbid» (362). Mann finds
the image of artists and their art to be that of «ailing eagles»,
brooding over their own frustrated greatness, isolated and alone,
living in the heights denied to lesser mortals and completely
divorced from the past. His antimodernist stance is reflected in his
use of Cervantes' work as foil to the contemporary artistic pose.
Don Quixote is rooted in tradition and the cultural soil that is
solidly European. Even the extremes of character and action, the
degradation and ennobling of the dignified yet ridiculous hero, are
«But abasement and exaltation are a
twin conception, the essence of which is distinctly Christian. Their
psychological union, their marriage in a comic medium, shows
how very much Don Quixote is a product of Christian culture,
Christian doctrine, and Christian humanity» (355). Christian
values, Christian mores, Christian concepts ground this tale of a
madness both ridiculous and admirable in the guise of a clown,
imbued with the morals and motives true Europeans profess to
What began as satire has become epic. This is how a masterpiece
is generated, according to Mann: through crafting and the
labor of the journeyman who has served his apprenticeship in the
workshop of tradition. This allows Mann to reflect on the European
thinker who remains for him an anomaly: Friedrich Nietzsche.
Having said that a true European cannot reject the twin
pillars of classicism and Christianity, what is Mann to make of
Nietzsche, who seems to reject both?
«The hectic attack of Nietzsche,
the admirer of Pascal, upon Christianity was an unnatural
eccentricity; it has always puzzled me, like much else in the character
of that tragic hero» (356). Are Nietzsche's attacks on the religion
of the cross in keeping with his character? Mann contrasts him
with Goethe, pointing out that the latter's lack of belief was no
barrier to his admiration for the religion's civilizing tendencies. Of
course, Goethe was
«more happily balanced and physically less
hampered» (356) than Nietzsche. This, in itself, might indicate why
Nietzsche was obliged to reject (or, perhaps, appear to reject) the
values that Mann and all good Europeans espouse. Certainly,
Mann will not simply acquiesce in the notion that Nietzsche's anti-Christian sentiments were a fully integrated aspect of his thought
Instead, the aberrational aspects of Nietzsche's attacks on
Christianity are emphasized by Mann through Cervantes' story of
Ricote, the Moor. The tale occurs in Part II of Don Quixote as Sancho
Panza is forced to flee his governorship. He meets Ricote, a former
neighbor, who was sentenced to exile along with other Christian
Moors. He returns to his homeland even though it may result
in his death. Ricote bemoans his fate, although he considers the
edicts of banishment to be just:
«Not that they were all to blame,
for some were true Christians, but these latter were so few in
number that they were unable to hold out against those that were
not. In short, and with good reason, the penalty of banishment
was inflicted upon us, a mild and lenient one as some saw it, but
for us it was the most terrible one to which we could have been
subjected. Wherever we may be, it is for Spain that we weep; for,
when all is said, we were born here and it is our native land». The
Moor is sent away even though he is thoroughly Christian. Expecting
a better life among the Moors of North Africa, he is confronted
with the grossest inhumanity and laments,
«We did not know our
good fortune until we had lost it... sweet is the love of one's country»
(Don Quixote, II, 64).
The fable is used by Mann for several ends. Ostensibly, it demonstrates Cervantes' loyalty (or, as Nietzsche complains, obsequiousness) with respect to tradition and institutions. Also, it reflects Cervantes' (and Mann's) own recognition of the pain of exile. Significantly, Mann employs the tale to emphasize the enlightening aspects of exile -the exile as cultural adjudicator, the one compelled to recognize and evaluate the foundations of his distant culture. What better example than the Nietzschean hero in exile, Zarathustra?
Zarathustra, however, is in exile voluntarily. In the prologue to
Thus Spoke Zarathustra we learn that Zarathustra has exiled himself
to the mountains. The analogy of Zarathustra to Christ in this
section has been well documented (see Lampert): Zarathustra is
thirty years old and goes into self-imposed exile before he begins
his preaching and his search for disciples. The differences in the
analogy are also worth noting, since Nietzsche quite deliberately
creates them: Unlike Christ, who goes into the desert, Zarathustra
goes to a mountain top; Zarathustra stays in exile for ten years
rather than for forty days and nights; Zarathustra does not fast but
returns from exile
«overflowing with himself», having enjoyed
rather than merely survived his solitude.
After the prologue sets the stage for Zarathustra's speeches to
his disciples, the first speech is the story of the three metamorphoses
of the spirit. The first is the camel. The camel represents reverence
for the traditional values of his culture. He heroically bears
the burdens of these values: stoically bearing sickness and suffering
alone, loving his enemies. But being so burdened and so heroic
becomes too much for the camel to bear.
«All these most difficult
things the spirit that would bear much takes upon itself: like the
camel that, burdened, speeds into the desert, thus the spirit speeds
into the desert» (138).
In the desert, alone, the camel wants to be master of his domain,
but the only way he can feel a master is by defeating his old
master -the traditional values with which he burdened himself.
Thus, the camel transforms himself into a lion in order to vanquish
the revered values.
«[H]ere the spirit becomes a lion who would
conquer his freedom and be master in his own desert. Here he
seeks out his last master: he wants to fight him and his last god; for
the ultimate victory he wants to fight the great dragon. Who is the
great dragon whom the spirit will no longer call lord and god?
'Thou shalt' is the name of the great dragon» (138). The lion wants
to change the «thou shalt» values, clearly a reference to Christian
commandments. The lion, however, wants to change the «thou
shalt» to «I will». This implies a creation of values rather than an
adoption and reverence for values externally imposed upon
mankind by a god. The camel must transform himself into a beast
of prey in order to destroy these values. Despite the camel's desire
to overcome his old master, the beast of burden does not have the
stomach for the battle.
«He once loved 'thou shalt' as most sacred:
now he must find illusion and caprice even in the most sacred, that
freedom from his love may become his prey: the lion is needed for
such prey» (139).
But a third metamorphosis is necessary. There is a void left by
the lion's destruction of the traditional values. New values are
needed to replace the old ones, but this is no simple inversion of
the vanquished ones. The lion transforms into a child. This is a
curious choice. One might expect to turn to a sage for the wisdom
to create new values. Instead, Nietzsche's Zarathustra proposes the
«Why must the preying lion still become a child? The
child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled
wheel, a first movement, a sacred 'Yes'. For the game of
creation, my brothers, a sacred 'Yes' is needed: the spirit now wills
his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers
his own world» (139). The lion is a «No»; he reacts against the
traditional values handed down to the camel, which the camel
bore heroically. With the metamorphosis into the child, Nietzsche
suggests that the creator of new values starts out value-free. There
is no memory of the old values nor of the overthrowing of those
values. This renders the child fully free to create, through childlike
play and experimentation, his own values. Some, perhaps many,
of the values created by the child might resemble values the camel
bore. However, the difference between the camel's values and the
child's values is that the child is aware of his creation as his own,
while the camel's were thought to be externally imposed upon it.
The camel, exiled into the desert, becomes overburdened with
the values unsuitable for his solitary existence. He wants to shed
those values and create ones better for his situation. To defeat the
values, he turns into a lion, capable of overcoming such a difficult
task. Nietzsche uses the image of a dragon to represent values that
shine like gold on the dragon's scales. The dragon tells the lion:
«All value has long been created, and I am all created value» (139).
The problem with Christian values is that they are presented as
absolute values, imposed upon humans by an omnipotent God.
But these Christian beliefs, the dragon tells the lion, are a human
creation, too. Now the lion must turn into a child to create new
values suitable for its new situation -the self-conscious creation of
This point is reiterated later in Part One, where Zarathustra
claims that any culture's value system reflects that culture's will to
«A tablet of the good hangs over every people. Behold it is
the tablet of their overcomings; behold, it is the voice of their will
to power... Verily, men gave themselves all their good and evil.
Verily they did not take it, they did not find it, nor did it come to
them as a voice from heaven. Only man placed value in things to
preserve himself-he alone created a meaning for things, a human
The three metamorphoses are necessary for a revaluation of
values. It is not sufficient, according to Nietzsche, to tinker here
and there, or question within an ethical code. The entire ethical
code must come under scrutiny. But how is one able to question
the values in which one is immersed? Nietzsche's answer is clear:
The camel speeds into the desert; Zarathustra heads for the mountaintop.
For Nietzsche, there must be distance, an exile beyond the
limits of the culture, and there must be solitude.
«For the task of a
revaluation of all values more capacities may have been needed than
have ever dwelt together in a single individual-above all, even
contrary capacities that had to be kept from disturbing, destroying
one another. An order of rank among these capacities: distance;
the art of separating without setting against one another» (Ecce
Homo 254). Distance, then, is a necessary condition for the
transvaluation of values. As Mann sails farther from Europe and
closer to America, his exile allows him the time, distance, and solitude
to reconsider the cultural and ethical roots of his heritage.
Nietzsche, too, had experienced a kind of exile. His fragile health, exacerbated during a non-combat accident in the Prussian army, eventually forced him to quit his teaching position. He then decided to pursue his writing outside of Germany, spending the winters in the much warmer climate of Italy and the summers in Switzerland. Later he would claim that his health-imposed exile from his homeland allowed him to gain a better vantage point from which to view German culture and reject it (Ecce Homo 319-25). For Nietzsche, Zarathustra's solitary journey mirrors his own, and in Ecce Homo, Nietzsche's most autobiographical book, he makes it clear that Zarathustra is his mouthpiece (333).
Mann's essay ends with a dream. The irony of appealing to a
dream as «reality» notwithstanding, it is apparent that Mann is
identifying Don Quixote with the creator of Zarathustra. The
identification of author with creation is foreshadowed earlier in the
«The change in the point of view permits and even causes
a considerable identification of the author with his hero, an inclination
to assimilate his intellectual attainments to the author's own,
to make him the mouthpiece of Cervantes's convictions and to
heighten by cultural and intellectual gifts the picturesque charm
which, despite his doleful exterior, his own mad idea develops in
Don Quixote» (344). The physical portrayal of Don Quixote/Zarathustra in Mann's dream is obviously that of Nietzsche himself.
But what is the significance of this identification? All the
principals involved (i. e., the authors and their respective heroes)
have experienced exile. Cervantes remains in captivity in Algiers
for five years; his hero is in a self-imposed exile in quest of adventure;
Nietzsche confines himself primarily to Switzerland and Italy
until the onset of his madness; Zarathustra has his mountain.
What of Mann himself? He has exiled himself from the fascist
regime, knowing that his freedom was at stake because of his
opposition to fascism and his brother's banishment from Germany.
Mann understands the nature of exile, and, consequentially, this
journey awakens his reflections on the meaning of one's homeland.
The exiles are alike in their allegiances to the European culture
that spawned them. For all of Nietzsche's egregious railings
against Christianity, he appears in Mann's dream as what Mann
believes him to be -a good, middle-class German intellectual,
polite, courteous, and enculturated through the very mores that he
appears to reject. Why does Mann emphasize this point? Consider
Mann's comment on Ricote's description of the peace the Moor
found in Germany:
«[F]or Ricote tells how he went from Italy to
Germany and there found a sort of peace. For Germany was a
good, tolerant country, 'its people not standing much upon niceties
and everybody living as he pleased, for in most parts of it there
is liberty of conscience'. Here it was my turn to feel patriotic pride,
let the words be old which awaken it in me. It is always pleasant
to hear praise of home out of a stranger's mouth» (361).
Is Mann's Germany the land of benevolent tolerance described by Cervantes? The fascistic sentiments in his homeland suggest otherwise. And what writer is employed in justification of such sentiments if not Nietzsche? It is incumbent upon Mann to use the case of Nietzsche to stress the nature of fascism as antithetical to the essence of the Germanic soul, much as Nietzsche's strident anti-Christian stance is contrary to his European background. —83→ Mann believes that Nietzsche may turn his back on Christian dogmatics and religion in the narrower sense, but his soul is still imbued with Christian values. Only in this way can he be European.
What Mann has recognized in Cervantes is the significance of the Moor's account. Ricote is emblematic both of the plight of the exile and the self-evaluation that exile brings in its train. The view that Spain's Moorish past has somehow cast doubt on that country as exemplifying traditional European values (witness Wagner's Parsifal and the location of the castle of the Grail -facing France- as opposed to Klingsor's -facing Spain) makes Ricote's tale even more poignant.
Ronald Hayman is mistaken in considering «Voyage with Don Quixote» as «lighthearted». Although it is not the vigorous and vociferous attack reminiscent of his speech in Berlin in 1930, it nevertheless is part of Mann's continuing attempt to demonstrate the aberrational nature of fascism, aberrational in the sense that the movement is a rejection of everything that Mann believes Europe to stand for. Mann believed that this aberration would be corrected in a relatively short time. To this end he issues, in this essay, a rallying cry for a rejection of the contemporary totalitarian movements. From exile he recognizes them as deviant, and certainly not the return to the «real» Europe that the fascists claimed as their goal. Mann's prediction that these movements would not prevail was ultimately correct. What he did not foresee was the unthinkable consequences of their hegemony. Instead, their short lives and demise were a descent into an apocalyptic madness that Mann did not foresee -a madness he would address in his essay «Nietzsche in Light of Recent History», and in his last novel, Doctor Faustus.
But all of that is in the future. What he now faces are the skyscrapers of Manhattan, the «giants» of the New World that may turn out to be windmills after all. What is it that Mann takes with him on his quest? Like Zarathustra's transformation into the lion, he takes with him a reconsideration of his own values and a reappraisal of what it is to be a European. The voyage with the Knight of the Lions has compelled him to a revaluation, not necessarily a repudiation but perhaps a greater appreciation, of what his —84→ culture has wrought. The exile imposed upon him by the totalitarian wave sweeping over his homeland distances him enough to bring about this reexamination of what he truly is. This is the morality of exile-an intensification of the ties that appear to be severed, but are, in fact, only made more evident when they appear to be lost.
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