Monday, August 17, 2009

The Magic Mountain (3). 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 his cousin in 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. RayS.

Sample quotes and ideas:

“Man was essentially ailing, his state of unhealthiness was what made him man.” p. 465.

“The recklessness of death is in life, it would not be life without it….” p. 495.

“It is love, not reason, that is stronger than death.” p. 496.

“The invention of printing and the Reformation are and remain the two outstanding services of Central Europe to the cause of humanity.” p. 516.

“Speech is civilization itself…. It is silence which isolates.” p. 517.

“…it was again impossible to distinguish which side was in the right, where God stood and where the Devil….” p. 525.

“But it is more moral to lose your life than to save it.” p. 557.

“…one doesn’t know oneself, no one can know that precisely and certainly.” p. 593.

“Hans Castorp looked about him. He saw on every side the uncanny and the malign, and he knew what it was he saw: life without time, life without care or hope, life as depravity, assiduous stagnation: life as dead.” p. 626.

“…the overpowering melancholy that lay in eternity, forever turning on itself without permanence of direction at any given moment….” p. 629.

“He affronted you. But he did not insult you. There is a difference…. It was a matter of abstractions, and intellectual disagreement. On intellectual topics he could affront you, perhaps, but not insult you.” p. 697.

“The whole affair was in the intellectual sphere, and has nothing to do with the personal, and insult can only be personal. The intellectual can never be personal.” p. 697.

“…that even the simplest events always worked out differently from what one would have thought beforehand.” p. 701.

“ ‘Coward!’ Naphta shrieked; and with this human shriek confessing that it takes more courage to fire than be fired upon, raised his pistol in a way that had nothing to do with dueling and shot himself in the head.” p. 704.

“There are authors whose names are associated with a single great work, because they have been able to give themselves complete expression in it. Dante is the Divina Commedia, Cervantes is Don Quixote.” p. 717.

“But there are others—and I must count myself among them—whose single works do not possess this complete significance, being only parts of the whole which makes up the author’s lifework. And not only his life work, but actually his life itself, his personality.” p. 718.

“…it may be unfair to the single work to look at it by itself, disregarding its connection with the others, and not taking into account the frame of reference.” p. 718.

“A work of art must not be a task or an effort; it must not be undertaken against one’s will. It is meant to give pleasure, to entertain and enliven.” p. 722.

“What he comes to understand is that one must go through the deep experience of sickness and death to arrive at a higher sanity and health: in just the same way that one must have a knowledge of sin in order to find redemption.” p. 724.

“It is this notion of disease and death as a necessary route to knowledge, health and life that makes The Magic Mountain a novel of initiation. This description is not original with me. I got it recently from a critic and make use of it in discussing The Magic Mountain…because I consider it a mistake to think that the author himself is the best judge of his work.” p. 725.

Comment: What more can I say? Life on the “Magic Mountain” is a similar state to that which is usually thought of as the afterlife—if one is in Heaven. The experience is primarily intellectual. People interact and read and grow in understanding themselves and the world from which they have come. I suppose I am on shaky ground, but that’s how I interpret this novel. RayS.

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