The Modern Revival of Gnosticism and Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus

The Modern Revival of Gnosticism and Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus

Kirsten J. Grimstad

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Explores the resurgence of Gnostic thought in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and provides a startling reevaluation of Mann's late novel.
Gnosticism is an extreme religious sensibility, dating from the early Christian era, that combines a radically pessimistic view of life and the world with an optimistic belief that the human spirit is itself divine, though lost in an alien and evil world. This study explores the reappearance of Gnostic themes across the landscape of European literature and thought and in major works by Thomas Mann. Prompted by the rediscovery of original Gnostic writings during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this supposedly long-dead sensibility was adopted as the earliest precursor for such far-reaching schools of thought as C. G. Jung's model of individuation, the modern nihilism of existentialism, and Gershom Scholem's treatment of Jewish mysticism and the revolutionary messianic movements inspired by kabbalist thought. Kirsten Grimstad argues that the modern cultural movement known as the religion of art rekindled a culturally subversive Gnostic sensibility that was expressed in an extremist revolt against modernity, reiterating the Gnostic revolt against the cosmos. Close textual analysis of Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus extends this argument by exposing a Gnostic redemption drama that is encrypted within the main story of the protagonist's downfall and damnation. Recognizing this hidden story unlocks some of the novel's central problems.

Kirsten J. Grimstad is associate professor of graduate studies at the Norwich University, Northfield, Vermont.

Table of Contents

Thomas Mann and Gnosticism in the Cultural Matrix of His Time
On Gnostic Modernity and Modern Gnosticisms
The Gnostic Schema in European Aestheticism
Satanic God, Demiurge of Reason
Leverkühn as Modern Magus in Doktor Faustus
Nature, Gender, and the Catastrophe Caused by Desire in Doktor Faustus
Leverkühn's Story as Told in His Music in Doktor Faustus
Works Cited


[Grimstad's] construct of "modern gnosticism" is grounded in a very solid familiarity with the relevant historical sources and scholarly discussions, and is defended on a level of sophistication which makes it clearly superior to any other similar construct of which this reviewer is aware. CHOICE

As original as it is fascinating. RELIGION AND THE ARTS

Grimstad has a knack for uncovering veiled allusions to Gnostic motifs and not only convincingly integrating them into her broader reading of Doktor Faustus but also situating Mann's particular deployment of Gnostic "structures of thought" within late 19th- and early 20th century gender discourse. GERMAN STUDIES REVIEW

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