Thomas Mann achieved the feat of balancing a tension inherited from Romanticism and which seemed impossible to resolve: that of living simultaneously as a member of the bourgeois and an artist. At the expense, of course, of renouncing sensuality and life: what he eloquently called “the dogs chained up in the cellar”. The inevitable tensions caused by this forced balancing act emerge over and over again in his life, but Thomas Mann was able to sublimate them in his literature. We owe the best of his extraordinary work to them, so entangled with his life as Goethe’s was in his time, Thomas Mann believing he was his legitimate successor.
Understanding art as being incompatible with life, Thomas Mann the writer became a virtuoso of distance. In contrast to the often fragmentary and impetuous writing of his expressionist contemporaries, Thomas Mann’s work is based on a harsh daily discipline, an extraordinary capacity for observation and a perfectly gauged irony. Equipped with these qualities, Mann converted the prime material of his own life and those surrounding him into literature of epic proportions. Curiously, although he didn’t create a school and his figure stands as a unique phenomenon in German literature, his works are considered the quintessence of Germanness, an idea cultivated by Mann himself, who in 1938, from his American exile, stated: "Germany is wherever I am".