Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Magic Mountain (1). Thomas Mann.

Trans. H.T. Lowe-Porter Garden City, NY: International Collectors Library 1924 (1952).

Why Read It? Want to know what the hereafter will be like? In my opinion, Hans Castorp’s experience in the tuberculosis sanatorium was very much like the popular belief of life after death—life without time. On the mountain, time does not exist. Events repeat themselves. Experiences repeat themselves. The patients have satisfied appetites. All of the patients’ desires are met. Regularity and routine are the everyday, undeviating experiences. On the mountain, one floats over the real world down below, the world of accomplishment and achievement.

The basic plot of the novel is simple, but it requires 700+ pages to work it out. Hans Castorp decides to visit a tuberculosis sanatorium on the mountain for three weeks. He soon shows symptoms of the disease and spends seven years there. Cured, he returns to the world below to fight for the German army in World War I. During his stay on the mountain, he encounters a humanist and a traditional believer in Christianity and their various arguments about the meaning of life take up considerable pages of abstract thought. Castorp studies biology and therefore life and gradually begins to develop his own personality, rather than being in the shadow of other, stronger personalities who at first dominate him with their thought.

The author, Thomas Mann, says Castorp is a seeker, a “questor” after what? Knowledge, self-knowledge. He goes through sickness and death to reach self-knowledge.

The author admits that he is not the best judge of his own work. The suggestion that Hans Castorp is a “questor,” he borrows from a critic.

Well, I have my own view of what his story means. It’s a description of life in the hereafter. Is this theme worth 700+ pages? I think so. I have always thought of the hereafter as being a place with no growth and therefore without the fire that animates us in the world.

At first the experience seems static. However, there are any number of stories and characters to keep the reader turning the pages. But for me, even though the author never mentions the symbolism of the hereafter as part of his meaning, the explicit description of the way of life on the “Magic Mountain” is enough to make me realize that the hereafter is a place of intellectual growth. An intellectual growth that helps Hans Castorp to learn who he is, to develop his understanding of his own independent personality. He grows to discover and understand the nature and mystery of his life. [Why do we read? To discover the nature and the meaning of the mystery of life and humanity.] For me, this novel is an interesting view of the experience of life in the hereafter. RayS.

Sample quotes and ideas:

“You can’t call it time—and you can’t call it living either!” p. 12.

“A year is so important at our age. Down below, one goes through so many changes, and makes so much progress, in a single year of life. And I have to stagnate up here—yes, just stagnate like a filthy puddle; it isn’t too crass a comparison.” p. 13.

“I, for one, have never in my life come across a perfectly healthy human being.” p. 14.

“When ‘accused’ of being a talented artist…Hans Castorp only laughed good-humoredly, and not for a moment considered letting himself in for a career of being eccentric and not getting enough to eat.” p. 31.

“I can tell by looking at people, you know, whether they’ll make good patients or not; it takes talent, everything takes talent…. …maybe he shows up on the parade-ground for aught I know; but he’s no good at being ill.” p. 44.

“…when one is interested the understanding follows.” p. 49.

“Malice, my dear sir, is the animating spirit of criticism; and criticism is the beginning of progress and enlightenment.” p. 59.

“One always has the idea of a stupid man as perfectly healthy and ordinary and of illness as making one refined and clever and unusual.” p. 95.

“I don’t like music if it’s supposed to be good for me.” p. 111.

Music puts us to sleep when our purpose is to awaken the reason. p. 111.

“And then a wedding ring seems so prosaic, it is almost repellent. It is a symbol of possession; it is always saying, ‘Hands off!’; it turns every woman into a nun.” p. 135.

“Herr Settembrini seemed to bring together in a single breath categories which in the young man’s mind had heretofore been as the poles asunder—for example, technology and morals.” p. 154.

“Two principles, according to the Settembrini cosmogony, were in perpetual conflict for possession of the world: force and justice, tyranny and freedom, superstition and knowledge; the law of permanence and the law of change, of ceaseless fermentation issuing in progress.” p. 155.

To be continued.

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