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Aspiring musical composer Leverkühn's extraordinary intellect and creativity as a young man mark him as destined for success, but his ambition is for true greatness. He strikes a Faustian bargain for creative genius: he intentionally contracts syphilis, which deepens his artistic inspiration through madness. He is subsequently visited by a Mephistophelean being (who says, in effect, "that you can only see me because you are mad, does not mean that I do not really exist"), and, renouncing love, bargains his soul in exchange for twenty-four years of creative genius. His madness - his daemonic inspiration - leads to extraordinary musical brilliance but he feels the progress of his neuro-syphilitic madness leading towards complete breakdown. Leverkühn's life unfolds in the context of, and in parallel with, the German cultural and political environment which led to the rise and downfall of Nazi Germany.