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Anyone hoping to find in Thomas Mann's Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) (1924) the ‘representation of an arduous journey out of inwardness into social activity’1 is in for a disappointment. When we first encounter the hero, Hans Castorp, he is well integrated into society, on the verge of a practical career in engineering, and generally thought by his contemporaries to be ‘obviously on the way to important positions in life’ (p. 54).2 What is supposed to be a three-week visit to his cousin at a Swiss tuberculosis sanatorium turns into a stay of vastly longer duration. In his own words (or rather, those of the song memorably set by Mahler) he becomes ‘lost to the world’ (p. 823), progressively abandons all contact with what he and most of the other patients contemptuously call the ‘Flatland’, and makes of the Mountain his new ‘home’ In this ‘home’, with its distinctive ‘Lebenshaltung’ – both a way of life and an attitude to life (p. 581) – he abandons himself to a ‘phlegmatic passion’ (p. 824) for Clavdia Chauchat, a Russian patient who seems to embody the antithesis of all that he has previously lived by. He is exposed also to the ‘logomachy’ (p. 820) that rages between two ‘discursive natures’ (p. 564): Settembrini, the liberal advocate of technocratic progress, and Naphta, the ‘conservative revolutionary’ (p. 636); and he finds it all ‘worth listening to’ [hörenswert] (p. 140 & passim) though not every reader will agree. He explores the frontiers of current knowledge in biology, physics and psychology, and dabbles for a while in the occult. And in a place where suffering and death, though omnipresent, are emphatically not talked about, he resolves to take them seriously (p. 412), as indeed he has to, when he must cope with the death of two
On two separate occasions in the course of his long sojourn on the Mountain, Castorp seems to be granted a kind of insight which draws together all his disparate experiences and reflections, focuses them into what might form the basis of an imperative that could send him away from the Mountain, back to the world, enriched by his ‘adventures in the flesh and the spirit’ (p. 994). Yet this imperative is never quite formulated, let alone acted upon. During his early months on the Mountain, when its ‘magic’ was producing what looked like an ‘alchemical sublimation’ (p. 705) in his nature, Castorp looked with disdain upon certain inmates of the sanatorium ‘who, as was generally admitted, were not ill at all, and who were living here completely of their own free will, under the official pretext of having a slight infection, but in reality merely because they were enjoying themselves and found the way of life of the patients congenial’ (p. 413). In the final years of his stay, however, Castorp himself has come to resemble the people he once so despised, except that he hardly seems to be ‘enjoying himself’ much. Outwardly dishevelled, inwardly apathetic, more or less ignored by the medical staff, certain for years past that there is no clinical reason for remaining on the Mountain, he is one of those who are ‘there for good, long since past knowing where else he might go, no longer capable of even conceiving the thought of returning to the Flatland’ (p. 982).
So his seven years in the Berghof have taken him from contented, if slightly lackadaisical social integration, through a phase of intense questioning and feverish discovery, to a final state of almost vegetable torpor in which he seems of no use and of no interest to himself or to anyone else. What saves him from malingering away the rest of his existence in this condition is not any sort of insight arising from his experiences of
This apparently rather inconsequential story is offered to us by the garrulous narrator with the claim that it is ‘eminently worth telling’ (p. 9). To see the sense of that claim we have to consider the cultural temper of the age in which it was primarily addressed. Although first conceived as a Novelle in 1912, the bulk of Der Zauberberg was written in the immediate post-war years, and the climate of those years shaped the finished whole into which the portions written before 1914 were eventually subsumed. 3 Like Agathon and Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, the founders of the tradition with which Mann was consciously engaging in shaping Der Zauberberg, 4 Hans Castorp's story was an attempt to bring the peculiar resources of prose fiction to bear upon the problem of human nature. By an irony of intellectual history, the predicament from which Mann's novel emerged had come about through the collapse of precisely that model of the natural world which both Wieland and Goethe felt to be a threat to humane values. The mechanistic understanding of nature which, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, had held unchallenged sway in the physical
While the revolution in physics was taking place, radically new psychological notions and methods were being developed by Freud and the various psychoanalytical schools which grew from his work. Here too, ideas formulated around the turn of the century passed into broader intellectual currency in the years after the First World War. Freud himself, as has often been observed, had a strong allegiance to mechanical models of explanation; but the effect of his work and that of his disciples and rivals was to undermine existing certainties about mental and emotional life in the same way that contemporary physicists were dissolving the mechanical picture of the external world. The notion that the self
The reception of the new physics and the new psychology by German-speaking intellectuals in the first quarter of the present century was shaped by two factors peculiar to the German situation, one philosophical, the other political. Revolutionary as the new theories of matter and of consciousness may have been within the disciplines in which they emerged, there was a sense in which they had already been speculatively anticipated by a particular variety of that philosophical Idealism which was as much the common coin of German intellectual life in the nineteenth century as Rationalism had been in the first three-quarters of the eighteenth century. To see the nature and the effects of that anticipation, we must look briefly at the origin of German Idealism in the work of Kant, and at the way it was decisively re-shaped by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.
Kant's philosophy grew out of the same quandary as the fiction of Wieland and the thought of Herder: the manifest explanatory power of Newtonian physics, the intellectual attractiveness and yet also the moral dubiousness of assimilating man's spiritual and emotional life to the mechanical model of nature. Kant attempted to show how Newtonian physics could offer the definitive account of the workings of the physical universe, without giving a true picture of fundamental reality. To accomplish this ambitious enterprise he created a new philosophical tool, a type of argumentation he termed ‘transcendental’. Transcendental argumentation proceeds basically as follows. We start by drawing up as complete and yet as economical an inventory as we can manage of the essential and invariant features of our
The history of German philosophy in the century or so after Kant is largely the story of thinkers deeply impressed by the cogency of Kant's delimitation of possible experience and knowledge, and yet convinced that they have found a way through to knowledge of noumenal reality which is not barred by Kantian strictures. Perhaps the most important strand of post-Kantianism is that represented by Schelling, Fichte and Hegel, especially the latter, who combined impulses from Kant's method with elements from the ideas of Herder into a system which, via Feuerbach and Marx, has quite literally made history. But, for our present purposes, it is the strand of Idealism initiated by Schopenhauer that matters most. To see what Schopenhauer did to Kant's thought we need to grasp that Kant, when he argued that anything that could count as an instance of human experience
Kant had tried to ensure that in compiling his phenomenology of the essential features of experience he included only purely formal features. Schopenhauer draws up his inventory of experience in a much less rigorous manner, incorporating two substantial features which, when fed into the process of transcendental argument, produce results very different from Kant's in one crucial respect: they claim to offer knowledge of what noumenal reality is, like. To Kant's phenomenology of the subject, Schopenhauer adds the promptings of a ceaselessly striving will; to his repertoire of the essential features of the
Nietzsche adopted Schopenhauer's account of the fundamental nature of reality, but reversed, or tried to reverse, his predecessor's evaluation of what that account contained. Schopenhauer believed that it was possible, and supremably desirable, to escape individuation, bondage to the Will and the sufferings which they brought: temporarily, through art; and maybe eternally through radical and absolute self-abnegation, the way of the Saint. Nietzsche denied that there was any such escape from the all-pervading Will to Power, and claimed that those who advocated such ways of ‘release’ as Schopenhauer proposed were in truth merely exercising their Will to Power in their own way. For, although according to Nietzsche all specifiable ‘reality’ was illusory, all selfhood a deceptive construction, all ‘truths’ merely expedient fictions, there was still room for a ‘transvalued’ scheme of values, which assigned supreme worth to those illusions, constructions, fictions which collaborated most fully with the metaphysical Will to Power by fostering the most energetic and ruthless affirmation of an intrinsically senseless existence. So like other varieties of Idealism, Nietzsche's thought asserted the illusoriness of what common-sense observers took to be their real selves and the real world: what marked it off from other kinds of Idealism was the claim that the reality underlying phenomena was a cosmic energetic flux, an all-sustaining, all-devouring dynamism of which the entities
It should now be plain why, to people versed in Nietzsche's thought, the developments in physics and psychology which began to reach public attention just after the First World War seemed like experimental confirmations of Nietzsche's speculative conclusions. Here, after all, were physicists apparently saying that substance was merely a transient mode of energy, psychologists reducing the self of everyday experience into a secondary product of the interaction of instinctual, impersonal forces: this looked to some like scientific confirmation of Nietzsche's account of reality, and perhaps even a sanction for his scheme of values. In another time or another place, such a line of thought might well have remained the prerogative of a relatively few harmless cranks; but in the Germany that emerged from the Great War it possessed real and ominous political potential.
This potential derived from two facets of German political life: one perennial, the other acute in the immediate post-war years. In general, German political thought, like that of other Continental countries, has been marked by an assumption that, before a desirable scheme of political organisation can be worked out, it is necessary to establish a specific doctrine of human nature, which the political order would then be expected to express or to realise. The outcome has all too often been what have been termed ‘positive’ conceptions of political liberty, in which the sovereign power is given the right, or even the duty, of so regulating the lives of citizens that they are brought, by coercion if need be, to live a truly human life according to the lights of the prevailing ideology. 6 The belief has been, in other words, that political theory and practice should ideally derive from philosophical anthropology, which in its turn rests on a general theory of what fundamental reality is like: ontology and politics are thus brought into
But in normal circumstances, political cranks are no more dangerous than philosophical ones. The trouble was that the circumstances in Germany in the aftermath of the First World War were notoriously very far from normal: it was a period of social and political turmoil unlike anything the nation had known since the Thirty Years War two-and-a-half centuries earlier. The Russian Imperial rulers had fallen in 1917, followed within a year by the collapse of the Austrian and German Empires. Soviet Russia was presenting itself as the exemplary implementation of a model of social organisation which, just a short time before, had had no existence outside the minds of thinkers widely regarded as utopian eccentrics. More than once in the chaotic months following the abdication of the Kaiser in November 1918 it seemed that the Bolschevik system was on the point of being adopted in Germany as well. From its earliest beginnings, the Weimar Republic was permeated by an atmosphere of provisionality. As it staggered from crisis to crisis and government to government amid ever increasing violence from the private armies of both Right and Left, the feeling that the establishment of some other form of political organisation was just around the corner was rife – among the supporters of the Republic's constitution themselves, as well as among its many and various enemies. Here was a perfect opportunity for the idealogues of ‘dynamic’ politics, who based a programme of self-proclaimed fanaticism, unbridled violence, the ruthless pursuit of power for its own sake, upon a loosely Nietz-
This is the turbulent and threatening climate which Der Zauberberg was shaped to engage with. From his earliest published stories of the second half of the 1890s, Thomas Mann had shown a sustained fascination with the psychological, moral and artistic implications of Nietzsche's thought. These first stories reveal a grotesqueness of character and incident which is both matched and accounted for by an ostentatiously cynical narrative stance. The narrator's attitudes and techniques express a sense that the events being related reflect a reality which renders sympathy and moral evaluation completely out of place, because the characters are at the mercy of forces beyond their control or comprehension. The stories intimate that the way the characters behave, whether as destroyers or victims, is dictated by factors which are neither personal, nor social, nor environmental, but impersonal, irrational, instinctual, irresistible. It is a world in which whatever autonomy of consciousness or will the characters may think they possess is unmasked as a sham, a construction by which individuals try to defend themselves against an inimical reality within as well as around them. The quality of character and incident represented in his fiction, and the nature of the narrative tone, underwent far-reaching changes as Thomas Mann matured as a writer. But the basic pattern of an underlying chaotic, dynamically destructive reality kept in precarious check by fragile and vulnerable constructions remained the groundwork of his outlook throughout his life. Thomas Mann's understanding of the political implications, in particular, of this abiding commitment to a Nietzschean ontology was altered dramatically in the immediate post-war years as he was working on Der Zauberberg, a process which has been penetratingly and exhaustively retraced elsewhere. 7 But it is essential to grasp that the new
We may not find the ontology expressed in the novel either attractive or plausible; and in any case, we may not feel in much need of persuasion that it is a bad thing to link ontology and morality, let alone ontology and politics. But the fact remains that Thomas Mann did find the ontology plausible, and did feel the force of the claim that morality and politics should have an ontological foundation; and in both respects he was culturally representative. ‘Oh, if I were you I wouldn't be starting from here’ says the Irishman in the joke when asked for directions to a particular place: a remark whose helpfulness is in inverse proportion to its truth. It may well be the case that Thomas
‘Realistic fictions’, Professor Stern observes, ‘are erected on firm ground which reveals no epistemological cracks, and ... when such cracks appear, they are not explored but transformed into the psychology of characters: realism doesn't ask whether the world is real, but it occasionally asks what happens to persons who think it isn't.’ 9In this sense, Der Zauberberg is the antithesis of a realist fiction. It shows us a hero who has never previously thought to question the reality of the world he lives in being brought to do so by an ever-accumulating body of experiences, offered to him on terrain which proves to be riddled with epistemological crevasses; and our guide to this treacherous landscape, the ever-present narrator, takes such a delight in pointing out these hazards that we may be forgiven at times for wondering whether he is not hoping to lure us into jumping down them rather than help us steer a safe course. The sober, no-nonsense engineer is transformed into a dedicated Idealist, and this conversion to Idealism is represented unequivocally as a discovery of truth, albeit a truth that is highly problematic in its implications.
The Hans Castorp who arrives at the sanatorium, expecting shortly ‘to return home exactly the same person as he was when he set out, and to pick up his life again at the very same point where he had been obliged to leave it for a moment’ (p. 12) is someone who takes the world he has grown up in and where a highly practical career awaits him as ‘absolutely given’, its reality and sufficiency being for him ‘a matter of course (selbstverständlich)’ (p. 50). The temper
But then the Mountain's magic begins to work on him. He has previously located his identity by reference to his past and future in the society of the Flatland: he was an engineering graduate about to enter industry. From his very first exchanges with Joachim on the way to the Berghof, however, Castorp is being initiated into a sphere in which the linear, goal-oriented time of the Flatland has been replaced by a cyclical, goalless, essentially static quality of time where little serious regard is paid either to past or future as the outside world understands them. Everything about life in the Berghof Sanatorium benumbs any sense of leaving behind a definite, irretrievable past and moving into a new, different, open future. At first, Castorp views the Mountain with the eyes of the Flatland: as an uninitiated newcomer he finds everything that happens is something novel and unexpected. Before long, though, he comes to know all the parts of the sanatorium routine, so that soon everything that occurs has already happened in much the same way at least once before during his stay, whether it is the meals every few hours, the daily regulation stroll, or the fortnightly concert. He begins to experience his existence as a kind of perpetual present, with not even the sequence of the seasons to provide a sense of time passing:
The first clear sign of what is happening to him comes through a conversation he has with cousin Joachim on the morning of his first full day at the Berghof. He finds himself embarking on some reflections about the nature of time, to Joachim's slightly embarrassed amazement and to his own surprise, ‘for he was certainly not in the habit of philosophising, and yet he felt the urge to do so’ (p. 95). This urge, precursor of so much to come, is stimulated
The chief inspiration of Castorp's questionings is his love for Clavdia Chauchat. 10There is here an attraction of opposites at a purely personal level: the laxity of manners (it is her habit of letting doors slam which first draws her to Castorp's attention) fascinatingly suggesting a laxity of morals (although she is rumoured to have a husband ‘somewhere beyond the Caucasus’ there is no wedding ring on her perhaps slightly grubby hand). All this is the antithesis of Castorp's fastidious propriety. Even as his infatuation with her nears its height, he is conscious of ‘deep gulfs’ separating her way of life (Existenz) from his (p. 202), and he has ‘a sense of superiority which he was neither able not willing to set aside’ whenever he considers her ‘nature and existence (Sein und Wesen)’ (p. 203). But that is all part of the appeal. Yet Castorp's involvement with her is as much a philosophical as an emotional adventure: or rather, the full emotional significance of what she means to him derives from the challenge which her ‘nature and existence’, together with his response to them issue to his sense of what is real, important and true. This challenge arises in part through Castorp's own reflections on his feelings, their origin and import; but it is enlarged and focused through the intervention of Settembrini.
From the start, Clavdia reminds Castorp of someone. But the part of his past she recalls is lost to his conscious mind (though it does enter into a dream) until he is suddenly overcome with a fit of giddiness on a mountain walk and finds himself ‘transported back to a former time and place
The breaking-down of the categories Castorp has so far unthinkingly identified with reality, fostered by his feelings and the reflections they induce, is considerably furthered by the attempts of Settembrini to reinforce them. For the Castorp who arrived at the Berghof, the work-ethic, the commitment to practical, no-nonsense aims, was quite simply a way of life. Settembrini, however, presents him with this way of life transformed into an elaborated ideology. The difference is of enormous import for what happens to Castorp, for, whereas a way of life is just something to be lived, an ideology is something to be assented to and adopted - and therefore also, possibly, dissented from and rejected. An ideology is the object of intellectual and moral enquiry, of experiential testing. ‘Placet experiri’: Castorp learns the tag from Settembrini, and he learns, too, of the possibility of making the tag into a lived maxim, much to the disquiet of his mentor. When he got off the train at Davos, Castorp thought he was just an engineer on holiday; but, before long, Settembrini is telling him that he is ‘the representative of a whole world of work and practical genius’ (p. 85). Which sets Castorp wondering whether he really does ‘represent’ what Settembrini claims, and whether he wants to do so. He finds it difficult to share the Italian's enthusiastic belief in the ‘self-perfection’ of mankind through the systematic ‘organisation’ of technological progress (pp. 341-2). ‘Do not lose yourself to alien influences !’ (p. 345) Settembrini implores Castorp, the influences he has in mind being above all the ‘Asiatic principle’ he sees embodied in Clavdia Chauchat (p. 340). Castorp, though, is by no means sure that the influences emanating from Clavdia are any more ‘alien’ to his nature than the doctrines Settembrini insists that it is his professional duty to espouse. Made aware of Clavdia, not just as a sexually alluring individual, but as an embodiment of an alternative set of priorities and attitudes, Castorp tries to find out which of the alternatives has a better claim to his allegiance.
Settembrini is repeatedly exhorting him to serve ‘life’; but what is life? Presumably the life sciences ought to have an answer, if anyone has, so Castorp orders a small library of biological, biochemical and medical text books and sets to work studying them, inspired by the ‘image of life’ in the shape of Clavdia, who is ever-present to his imagination as he reads and makes notes (p. 385). He does not gain the sort of enlightenment available from the volume on ocean steamships which his new reading material displaces. Instead of hard facts, definite answers to the definite question that guides his studies, he enters a realm where not only knowledge, but the actual intended objects of knowledge themselves, seem hopelessly elusive. No one knows, he is forced to recognise, just what ‘life’ is, even in a strictly scientific sense. Such answers as do emerge are very different in character to the solutions to technological problems with which he has up to now been involved. ‘What was life? – It was the existence of what could not really exist (das Sein des eigentlich Nicht-sein-Könnenden), of something which, in this complicated and feverish process of decay and renewal, just about managed to balance, agonisingly, ecstatically, upon the needle point of existence’ (pp. 384-5). But the elusiveness of ‘life’ is not the most disconcerting of the discoveries Castorp makes in his venture into sciences hitherto beyond his ken. Passing from biochemistry to modem physics (rather too ‘modern’ in one sense, as will be discussed below, (p.281), he realises that substance itself dissolves under the investigator's scrutiny, for the atom is ‘such a miniscule primitive and transitory concentration of something immaterial, not yet material, but already resembling matter – namely energy – that it could hardly be thought of as already or still material, but had to be envisaged as something half way between the material and the immaterial’ (p. 395). Where classical physics placed the reliably solid and substantial ultimate constituents of nature, Castorp finds the brink of a ‘yawning
So it is his scientific reading that inclines him to look upon the world given in everyday experience as a secondary construction, under which lies the ultimate reality of immaterial forces. His conversion to someone ‘whose basic outlook bore the stamp of philosophical Idealism’ (p. 510) is complete. During the carnival celebrations, he can turn the tables on Settembrini by addressing him as a ‘representative in this place and at my side’ (p. 302) before choosing to turn aside from what Settembrini ‘represents’ and go to ‘know and possess the genius loci’ (p. 486) in his night with Clavdia Chauchat.
Acquaintanceship with Naphta, following on Clavdia's departure, exposes Castorp to a discursive exponent of the ‘spirit of the place’: just as Settembrini transformed Castorp's former way of life into an ideology, so now Naphta articulates the alternative ethos which has proved so attractive to Castorp, gives it a philosophical foundation, draws out its moral and political implications. The components that make up Naphta's philosophy are as apparently heterogeneous as the formative influences which help account for it (pp. 608-18). A good deal of Naphta's terminology is borrowed from Hegel (Absolute Spirit), Marx (Dictatorship of the Proletariat) and Christianity (Original Sin, Redemption). But this is Hegel without the emergent rationality, Marx without the economic causality, and Christianity without divine or human love: it is not, in other words, Hegelian thought, Marxism or Christianity at all. The core of Naphta's philosophy, underneath these loosely affixed extraneous labels, is an epistemological programme derived from Nietzsche, linked to a political programme characteristic of the radical extreme Right in early twentieth-century Continental politics. Naphta insistently denies the claims of the common-sense categories of knowledge and experience to correspond with what is
In essential respects, the narrative is calculated to underpin Naphta's epistemology, to show us a world that can only be properly accounted for by a Nietzschean derivative of Idealism; that is, by a description of a world of precarious, fictional structures which attempt to contain an underlying dynamic chaos. Three levels interact to achieve this: the character and content of some of Castorp's most important experiences; certain reflections and comments by the garrulous narrator; and the emerging metaphoric, synchronic character of the text's underlying structure, which has metaphysical implications.
The way that Hans Castorp's experiences and explorations in his first months on the Mountain lead him to adopt an Idealist outlook, long before he meets Naphta, has already been discussed (above, pp. 243-50); and it was apparent that this conversion was portrayed as compatible with, indeed to some extent inspired by, impeccably attested scientific knowledge. The ‘abolition’ of space and time as he relives an incident from his childhood has also been mentioned as an instance of an experience which Castorp feels he can only properly describe in language
That the realities which are glimpsed through the fractures in ordinary experience are threateningly destructive of all that is valuable in such experience is suggested above all by a strand in the narrative which eventually issues into the account of the apparition. In this set of experiences Castorp is offered ‘independent’ evidence of the validity of Naphta's association of ‘radical scepticism’ with ‘moral chaos’ (above, p. 252), evidence emerging from ‘analytical’ activities. The sanatorium basement houses two places in which ‘deep twilight’ reigns (pp. 189; 295-6): the X-ray unit and the office of Dr Krokowski, the ‘psychoanalyst’. (The inverted commas are called for, because the ideas we hear Krokowski propounding have rather more to do with the psychology of Nietzsche, or even of Novalls, than with any of the psychoanalytical schools proper. As a matter of fact, at the time of writing Der Zauberberg, Mann had very little detailed knowledge of psychoanalytic thought, and merely drew on such notions as were ‘in the air’ at the time about what Freud and his followers stood for; a closer study of Freud came only later.13) And this darkness is associated in both cases with the grave, with the destruction, decomposition of life. The suggestion is that knowledge gained by looking through or under experience is ultimately of highly questionable value, whatever its truth: it is not just
It is not just the represented character of so many of the hero's experiences which bear out the essential tenets of
Alongside or rather enclosing the character of the repre-
To contemplate the sea, the narrator has just reflected, is ‘to become lost to time’ (ibid.), to feel the ‘dizzying’ dissolution of all the categories of ordinary experience; and this dissolution of the structures which shape our everyday lives in the common~sense world is, he here suggests, an omnipresent characteristic ‘secretly’ informing his entire narrative, which is thus deeply Idealist in spirit.
There is a further, more elusive, link between the synchronic patterning of the text and the intimation of an Idealist vision of reality. A represented world which is so intensely marked by internal relationships of analogy and homology among virtually all its constituent parts is, in one essential respect, quite unlike either the world of our everyday experience, or the kind of world we encounter in realist fictions. Exploring a represented world like that of Der Zauberberg, where it is hard to find any elements which are merely contingently related, where each element seems to ‘mean’ at least one other element, we are likely to gain the impression that this consistently, and insistently, metaphorically related set of elements must itself ‘mean’ something, that the represented world in its entirety is some kind of metaphor, that it ‘means’, as a totality, something other than what it is. And something which seems to mean something else, no matter how strongly that something else may resist specification, does not strike us as having final reality - unlike the world of our ordinary experience which does not, in its totality, ‘mean’ anything: it just is there. ‘Whatever passes away is merely an image of something else’, to provide a rather cumbersome paraphrase of what
So, by a variety of means, the novel suggests that the world it lays before us can best be accounted for by an Idealist epistemology. To recognise that is to gain a perspective upon the depicted disputes between Settembrini and Naphta, which enables us to see the sense of our being shown at such length, rather than just told rather more briefly, that their arguments are as interminable as they are inconclusive. The endlessness and seeming fruitlessness of the discussions is another manifestation of the novel's Idealist stance. To accept any form of Idealism is to set severe limitations upon the power of discursive language to encompass reality. Precisely by being so thoroughly at home in the world of common-sense experience, discursive language is ill-adapted to penetrate the conditions of that experience. This is an affliction which weighs as heavily upon Naphta, the declared Idealist, as it does upon Settembrini, the committed Realist. It results in the ‘vast confusion’ which is generated as, with Castorp looking on and determined to find it all ‘worth listening to’, the two disputants try to expound their rival views on the nature and destiny of humanity:
Both the adversaries are flinging themselves up against the barriers of conceptual language, damaging themselves as
But that is not the full extent to which the novel's Idealist view of reality appears in these disputes. Quite apart from the problems each of the contenders for Castorp's ideological allegiance has in formulating his own position coherently, there can be no reasoned disagreement between the positions taken up by Naphta and Settembrini, let alone any sort of ‘synthesis’ of those positions. For agreement, reasoned disagreement, or synthesis between two positions all require that both positions should have a common epistemological basis, since only then are they on an equal footing as discrete parts of a single world, and only if they are parts of a single world can they be brought into relationship with each other. Unless, that is, the epistemological basis of one of the positions is such that it can encompass the epistemology of the second as a special case of its own. In such an instance, the first position can subsume and relativise the second: the dispute is resolved by one party invalidating the arguments of his opponent by showing that those arguments derive from second-order considerations whose applicability he can account for and circumscribe on his own first principles – an argumentative move upon which Hegel builds his entire Phenomenologv of Spirit. And Naphta claims to be in just such a situation vis-à-vis Settembrini. Naphta freely acknowledges the existence, and indeed within limits the viability, of Settembrini's
Hans Castorp's self-appointed task of mulling over all he has heard and experienced, in the hope of working out ‘den wahren Stand und Staat des Menschen’ (p. 646) – mankind's true status in the universe and the kind of social and political organisation most appropriate to that status – is thus a formidable one. The fictional world of which he is an inhabitant is so constituted that human beings might appear to be confronted with a choice of equally unattractive alternatives. Either they devote themselves to the pursuit and recognition of truth, which by its very nature will lead to the destruction of much that Western Humanism has come to value most highly; or they confine themselves within the horizon of what Settembrini praises as ‘civilisation’ (p. 22-5), but at the cost of ignoring essential truths of their being and condition. It would seem that people must elect either to be crushed by the terrors of truth or enner-
In his second winter on the Mountain, Castorp takes to going on solitary skiing expeditions, partly because he is bored and a little ashamed of conducting his spiritual adventures in the luxury of the sanatorium (p. 659), but also out of a desire to challenge the forces of nature at their most threatening (p. 665). On the occasion on which the narrative concentrates, it seems that he has chosen to extend this challenge to a foolhardy degree, driven by a mixture of indifference and ‘embittered impatience’ (ibid.) with all that has built up within him in his time at the Berghof Though he can see a storm gathering, he ventures further away from human habitations than ever before. The weather worsens, all landmarks grow indistinct, and he is overcome by a sudden fear, an awareness of where his unconscious motivation is taking him: ‘this fear made him realise that up to now he had actually been secretly trying to lose his sense of direction … which he had now succeeded in doing so as completely as could be wished’ (p. 664). He is in the grip of a death-wish, whose promptings become more and more insistent as the blizzard descends: he recognises in his fits of delirium, his wandering in circles, the insistent desire to lie down and sleep the classic preliminaries to death by exposure, but this ‘rational observation’ (p. 669) of the danger he is in has increasingly less influence on his behaviour. Resting in the meagre shelter afforded by the side of a locked hut, he gives up the battle for consciousness, knowing that it is also the battle for life, and succumbs to his drowsiness. That he does not in the event die is partly a matter of external good fortune – the blizzard quickly passes; but though the improvement in the weather makes
At the most basic level, then, the ‘meaning’ of the snow episode is that, despite Castorp's openness to the blandishments of death, his fascination with penetrating the boundaries of time, space and individuation, there is within him a deep urge to live on, to affirm and adhere to his personal identity as an individuated being in space and time; and that, when matters are brought to extremity, this urge to life is (just) strong enough to prevail. The actual content of the vision which is so instrumental in pulling him out of the clutches of his own death-wish elaborates upon the meaning that is already suggested in the mere fact of the vision and its effect. It establishes a complex set of links between this extreme experience of physical survival against considerable odds and the general issue, dominating the text as a whole, of the survival of humane values in an age which has discredited their claims to be rooted in fundamental reality.
Castorp is drawn first into a climate laden with all he has deprived himself of in his sojourn in the rarified mountain air close to the tree-line: the sights, sounds and fragrances of a deciduous forest in a summer rain shower. This gives way to the main part of the vision, as he sees before him on a southern sea-shore a community of resplendently healthy and happy young people who behave towards one another with friendly solicitude and relaxed dignity, a charmingly unemphatic mutual respect which seems to stem from a ‘bond joining all their minds and hearts (Sinnesbindung)’ and a ‘deeply ingrained idea’ that ‘rules in all of them’ (p. 680). But there is more to the scene in which Castorp finds himself. He is made aware of a temple behind him, and he fells a compulsion, mingled with growing dread, to approach and enter it. Before the inmost chamber is a group of statues the sight of which ‘for obscure reasons’ makes his ‘heart still heavier, filled with yet more fear and foreboding’ (p. 682). The reasons are not likely to be so obscure to the reader, who recognises the figures of Ceres and Persephone, and identifies the temple as the shrine of a fertility cult. Finally, in the sanctuary, he comes upon two half-naked hags who are dismembering and devouring a living child. His struggles to tear himself away from this sight dislodge him from his position against the side of the hut, he slides to the ground and is partially jolted back to consciousness. Still he carries on dreaming ‘in a sense, no longer in images, but in thoughts...’ (p. 683). The dream thoughts, like the images they reflect upon, have the same origin as the vision: they are expressions and instruments of a will to survive.
The ‘thoughts’ centre on the relationship between the scene on the shore and the horrors within the temple, and on the implications of that relationship. The temple and the shore are parts of one landscape, co-existent points on the map of a single reality. What Castorp comes upon in the sanctuary is something the ‘sun-people’ know to be there: and, he realises, their way of life, which so captivated him, is not a denial of, but a response to their knowledge. Castorp's venture into the temple interior, drawn on by a fascination which is heightened rather than checked by his mounting fear, re-enacts his discoveries of the truths his stay on the Mountain has taught him. It is at one level a journey into the childhood of man as a possessor of culture (the physical condition of the temple reveals its antiquity), and a parallel journey into the terrors of Castorp's own
Castorp's Traumwort has sufficient power to pull him out of his torpor, make him grasp his position and head for safety. But does it carry any significance beyond the context of the incident which provokes them, let alone beyond that of the novel as a whole? There are two seemingly good reasons for doubting that it does. First, it might be argued that the creation of fictions is too marginal and ethereal an activity to be able to bear such weight as here seems to be laid upon it – the burden of sustaining an entire culture,
The second difficulty in the way of reading Castorp's Traumwort as something that has more than rhetorical significance outside its immediate context is more substantial. ‘Goodness and love’, it would appear, are being offered as values by which the obsession with truth at all costs is to be curbed and the creation of humane fictions is to be inspired and shaped. The trouble is that ‘goodness’ and ‘love’ are not in themselves values at all: they are just words; and to get at the values they denote we need to establish what the words mean. Without some way of fleshing out that
Any adequate reading of this novel must allow as much
Der Zauberberg was initially conceived as an ironic counterpart to Death in Venice, and the residual marks of those origins have often been commented upon. 21 One noticeable contrast between the course of the plot in the two narratives is worth observing here. For all the differences between Gustav von Aschenbach and Hans Castorp in character and situation, each of them becomes captivated by a figure which appeals to them largely because of what it represents, because of forces of which that figure is to some degree an emissary or a transparent medium. Aschenbach becomes consumed with a passionate fascination with Tadzio, without really knowing the boy as a person at all. What Aschenbach thinks of as his love for Tadzio is an experience of succumbing to forces within himself which the image of the boy has awakened and unleashed, rather than an encounter with the ‘absolute’ nature of another person. Similarly,
The serious point behind all this bantering, then, is that ‘life and humanity’ are actually manifested (not devalued or debunked) by the inability of language to label them neatly: an obvious slap in the face for the claims of discursive language to delimit what is real; and a covert pat on the back for the achievement of imaginative language in rendering as fully and distinctly as could be wished the nature of the feelings which the kiss expresses. The novel abounds in similar achievements. There is, for example, the representation of Settembrini's strong and much-tried affection for his and ‘life's problem-child’ (p. 429); the portrayal of Joachim's integrity and courage, with the respect it commands even from the otherwise irremediably trivial minded; and the rendering of Castorp's grief at Joachim's death. The experience of mourning is, after all, a compelling testimony to the uniqueness and absolute worth of an individual life. The Idealist may see in death the passing of an illusory mode of being. But to the eyes of love death is an irreplaceable loss, and it is with such eyes that Hans Castorp stands at his cousin's deathbed. True, his ‘analytic’ awareness cannot be restrained from reminding him that the tears he is shedding are a ‘salty-alkaline glandular excretion … containing a certain amount of mucin and protein as well’ (p. 744). But they are nonetheless signs of a profound emotion with which, thanks to the novel's masterly intimation of personality, we can wholly identify. To say that ‘goodness and love-’, the key terms of Castorp's Traumwort, are not given a substantial meaning in this novel would be to pass judgment on our own ability as readers, not on Thomas Mann's achievement as a writer.
As far as anyone can tell, Thomas Mann never so much as set eyes on Wieland's Geschichte des Agathon. Yet there are striking respects in which Der Zauberberg bears a closer resemblance to Agathon than to Wilhelm Meisters Lehriahre. Agathon and Der Zauberberg are both dominated by an extremely garrulous narrator, fond of reflecting upon problems of fictional representation, who feels obliged to apologise for the ordinariness of his ‘hero’. Agathon, the narrator concedes, is not a particularly important person, but he just happened to be someone the ‘editor’ was in a position to know particularly well; and Hans Castorp, we are warned, is ‘simple’ and possibly ‘mediocre’ (Agathon, p. 2; Zauberberg, pp. 9; 49). Moreover, the hero's subsequent destiny after that portion of his life which serves the narrator's purposes is said to be of little further interest or import (Agathon, pp. 380-1; Zauberberg, p. 994). The slightest external evidence that Mann knew Wieland's novel would have sufficed to set scholars pouncing upon such things as conscious and artful references. To attach significance to resemblances like these despite the certainty that there is no direct influence is to court the rebuke of practising ‘a Geistesgeschichte which is simply unwilling to forgo any connection between great and great’. 23 And yet what seems to be at work here is something like a coherent strand of German intellectual, spiritual, literary history. Beneath the similarities of technique there is an affinity of purpose. Wieland saw that the ability of prose fiction to combine within a single representation images of external reality and renderings of human consciousness made it possible to devise a novel which brought the resources of imaginative literature to bear upon the problem of identifying authentic humanity (see above, pp. 24-5). Thomas Mann drew upon that same capacity of fictional narrative to integrate the mirroring of states of affairs with the rendering
When Joachim. hears his cousin gleefully anticipating how much ‘they’ will learn from future conversations with Naphta, whom they have just met for the first time, he is provoked to an uncharacteristically exasperated reproach: ‘Oh, you with your biology and your botany and your unstoppable turning-points, you keep on getting brainier and brainier up here…. The thing is, though, that what we're here for is to get better, not to get cleverer’ (p. 535). We suspect, as Joachim doubtless does, too, that ‘getting better’ does not rank very high among Castorp's priorities, especially since there seems not much clinically wrong with him anyway. But his answer seems plausible enough: ‘All right. You say we're not supposed to get cleverer, but better; but, for goodness sake, surely it's possible to do both!’ (p. 536). However, the course taken by Castorp's story would seem to suggest that the combination is not possible if we take ‘getting better’ in the sense Joachim intends – being able to leave the Mountain and take up an active life in the Flatland. Whatever insights his story may yield for us as readers, they seem of no avail to Castorp himself. His Traumwort, granted him before the end of his second year on the Mountain, does not release him from the domain of death. Indeed, we learn that no sooner has the atmosphere of the sanatorium enclosed him again than the memory of his vision begins to fade, and by the evening of the day he escaped freezing to death he no longer understands all that well what he had thought (p. 688). Later – just how much later we cannot say, for as the novel lengthens we lose track of external chronology almost as completely as does Castorp; but it is before the sinking of the Titanic in Spring 1912 (p. 959) – his reflections on his favourite gramophone records reveal that Castorp has a strong sense that his life is wasting away, that he is in thrall to death (pp. 893-907). Yet these reflections
We, however, as the narrator insistently reminds us in the opening sentences of the novel, are inhabitants of a very different world indeed from the one which Castorp left and failed to re-enter. And in the course of that reminder, the narrator introduces an important distinction between the hero and his story:
Which reads like the preamble to some narrative of prehistory – though we are swiftly disabused as the narrator cautions us that the degree to which the story belongs to
Castorp lives in and is confined to the prewar world; his story is told in and for the post-war world. And it is in that post-war world that there is the possibility, indeed the acute necessity, of making use of insights granted to readers through Castorp's story, which were of no avail to Castorp himself in the pre-war circumstances of his narrated life. With the war, the narrator says, ‘many things began which have still hardly yet stopped beginning’ (p. 9-10). The old political structures have collapsed, and society and culture are in flux. When the ‘beginnings’ do eventually come to an end, new structures will have emerged; and those to whom the novel is addressed will be called upon to make decisions which will help determine what those new structures are.
The extent to which the insights yielded by Castorp's story are addressed to the condition of citizens of the postwar age is emphasised by certain intellectual and ideological anachronisms. Physically, socially and in terms of concrete historical events, Hans Castorp's depicted conditions of life are indisputably those of the period from 1907 to 1914. Intellectually and ideologically, however, the chronological accuracy of the novel's ambience is less clear. This is most demonstrably so in the case of an important part of Castorp's initiation into advances in ‘contemporary’ science, his encounter with the ‘planetary’ model of atomic structure that helps incline him towards Idealism (see above, p. 250).
All this indicates that the division between the pre- and post-war worlds, the gulf between the age inhabited by the hero and the age in which his story is told, is not rendered quite so straightforwardly as the opening passages of the novel suggest. Constrained within the realities and opportunities of pre-war Europe, Hans Castorp is nevertheless exposed to the intellectual and ideological perplexities characteristic of the immediate post-war period. His exposure to those perplexities yields insights which, precisely because he exists in the social and concrete historical realities of 1907 to 1914, are of no use to him. But they are of use to the readers of his story, citizens of the post-war world who have to make moral, cultural and political choices of a kind not available to or enjoined upon the hero: choices which will help decide whether humane values are carried across the social, political and philosophical gulf between the nineteenth century which, as has sometimes been remarked, ended in August 1914, and the twentieth century, which had ‘hardly stopped beginning’ when the novel was shaped. The novel's first readers had
1 . This is one of the general formulations offered by Pascal, German Novel, p.299, for the distinctive subject-matter of Bildungsromane.
2 . Page references after quotations from Der Zauberberg are to Thomas Mann, Gesammelte Werke in 13 Bänden, Vol. 3, Frankfurt am Main 1974. All translations are my own.
3 . Further details in H. Saueressig, Die Entstehung des Romans ‘Der Zauberberg’ , Biberach an der Riss, n.d., pp. 7-34.
4 . For Thomas Mann's knowledge of the Bildungsroman tradition, see J. Scharfschwerdt, Thomas Mann und der deutsche Bildungsroman. Untersuchungen zu den Problemen einer literarischen Tradition, Stuttgart etc. 1967, pp. 12-16. A diary entry of 15 June 1921 suggests that Mann became fully aware of the affinities between Der Zauberberg and Wilhelm Meister only at a fairly late stage in his work on the novel. See Thomas Mann, Tagebücher 1918-1925 ed. P. de Mendelssohn, Frankfurt am Main 1979.
5 . A. Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World, Cambridge 1928, p. xvi
6 . See I. Berlin, Four Essays on Liberty, Oxford 1969, pp. 118-72.
7 . By T. J. Reed, Thomas Mann. The Uses of Tradition, Oxford 1974, pp. 275-316.
8 . I am not trying to cast any doubt on the (to my mind unanswerable) case made by Reed, Thomas Mann, pp. 226-74, for saying that Der Zauberberg is intended to convey a positive message. But I disagree with Reed's assessment of the price at which that message is shown to be bought. Reed does not take the rendered metaphysical threat to Castorp's readiness and ability to live in the world of common-sense reality seriously enough. According to Reed, Hans Castorp is shown to he endangered through having ‘opened his mind to all possible influences’ (p. 272). The Hans Castorp we see ‘lost to the world’ in the latter part of his stay on the Mountain is, Reed claims, offered as a ‘warning against the sloth and quietism which Bildung [understood as the pursuit of ‘richness and manysidedness’] under some circumstances may lead to’ (p. 273). But what is problematic about Hans Castorp's ‘education’ is not the amount of knowledge nor the number and variety of the experiences he is gaining: it is the fact that so many of his discoveries and experiences are subversive of the fundamental categories which have previously constituted his conception of what is real. The task of reconstruction which the novel presents as the necessary preliminary to any affirmation of the worldly world is accordingly that much greater than Reed indicates. At the opposite extreme is the study by B. Kristiansen, Unform-Form-Überform. Thomas Manns ‘Zauberberg’ und Schopenhauers Metaphysik, Københaven 1978, which purports to show that the entire novel is a vehicle for ‘eine[ ] sich an Schopenhauers Metaphysik orientierende[ ] Deutung des Seins’ (p. xxiii). Apart from the fact that Kristiansen seems unaware of the enormous difficulty (and doubtful utility) of sorting out just what Thomas Mann received from Schopenhauer directly, rather than through Nietzsche, his thesis commits him to struggling against, rather than responding to, the novel's efforts at affirmative reconstruction.
9 . J. P. Stern, On Realism, London 1973, p. 31.
10 . It is consequently difficult to see why M. Sera, Utopie und Parodie bei Musil, Broch und Thomas Mann, Bonn 1969, p. 148, thinks that Hans Castorp's ‘fixation’ on Clavdia Chauchat has a predominantly ‘inhibiting function’, and is the expression of a ‘stagnation’ which is ‘alien to development’.
11 . The Germanic punctuation is that of Mann's text, though the blame may lie with his original publishers.
12 . Thus H. J. Weigand, The Magic Mountain, Chapel Hill 2nd. edition 1964, p. 147. Despite introducing the red herring of Mann's alleged ‘mysticism’, Weigand at least faces the challenge which the presence of this episode in the novel offers to any interpreter. His courage has seldom been emulated: many commentators either pass over the apparition entirely, swiftly dispose of it with obvious embarrassment, or, in the case of Reed, Thomas Mam, pp. 265-6, are provoked to something approaching indignation, accusing Mann of an unacceptable ‘manipulation of reality to make an argument’. But that reproach is too easily made, seeing that we are dealing with a novel one of whose central contentions is that ‘reality’ is not such an obviously clear?cut thing as Reed's criticism implies.
13 . See M. Dierks, Studien zu Mythos und Psychologie bei Thomas Mann, Bern 1972, pp. 129-35; and J. Finck, Thomas Mam; und die Psychoanalyse, Paris 1973, pp. 15-32.
14 . For the First Antinomy, see Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, B 454/A 426 - B 457/A 429; Reclam edn. (Stuttgart 1966) pp. 468-71. U. Karthaus, ‘Der Zauberberg – ein Zeitroman. (Zeit, Geschichte, Mythos)’, DVjs, 44 1970), pp. 269-305, suggests a parallel to Kant's discussion of time in the Transcendental Aesthetic (B 46/A 30 et seq.), I think that the reference I suggest to the first of the mathematical antinomies in the Transcendental Dialectic is more plausible and more illuminating. More plausible, because it is the sort of thing Mann, who had only the vaguest and most elementary knowledge of Kant, might have picked up through hearing someone expound the First Antinomy as a philosophical party-piece. More illuminating, because whereas Karthaus has to conclude that there is a wide divergence between Kant's definite conclusions in the ‘transcedental discussion’ of the concept of time, and the narrator's reminder to the reader that one can ‘keep on asking’ for ever whether it makes sense to regard time and space as either finite or infinite, it is possible to regard the narrator's point about the impossibility of deciding that question either way as the informal equivalent of the antinomy that Kant demonstrates.
15 . See F. Bulhof, Transpersonalismus und Synchroniztät. Wiederholung als Strukturelement in Thomas Manns ‘Zauberberg’ , Groningen 1966.
16 . Most of the numerous participants in the interminable, and not very enlightening, debate about the import of Hans Castorp's vision seem to me to neglect two essential things: the ‘operational’ function of the vision in keeping Hans Castorp alive – it effects what it signifies, and the effect is an important part of the significance; and the implications of its being presented as the product of a feverish (though not deranged) spirit in extremis, so that attempts to locate the Sun People historically – whether as members of a past culture (Scharfschwerdt, Tbomas Mann, p. 142) or as representatives of ‘a future humanity’ (H. Jendreiek, Tbomas Mann. Der demokratische Roman, Düsseldorf 1977, p. 330) are no more appropriate than are aesthetic judgments upon its content (T. E. Apter, Tbomas Mann. The Devil's Advocate, London 1978, p. 67, for example, calls it ‘hopelessly trite’) or moral strictures upon the figures who appear in it (as, for instance, when Swales, Bildungsroman, p. 114, charges them with ‘smugness and callousness’ for making no attempt to stop the sacrifice). Kristiansen, Unform, provides a fairly exhaustive account of the various contributions to this debate, together with his own implausible offering.
17 . For Mann's presentation of this conception of fiction in a very different mode, see my ‘Fiction and Meaning in Thomas Mann's Felix Krull’, Journal of European Studies, 10, 1980), pp. 77-92.
18 . I have no quarrel with Reed, Tbomas Mann, p. 299, when he demonstrates that in the light of politics and society in the Weimar Republic such formulations as the Traumwort ‘emerge as epitomes of the vital issues of those years, and as unmistakeable contributions to the inner-German debate’. But I do wish to argue that the Traumwort is given concrete embodiment witbin the novel as well, in a way that complements the historical applications which Reed displays.
19 . Readers unfamiliar with German need to be warned against two possible misunderstandings of the translation ‘absolutely positive’ for the original ‘absolut positiv’. The first is that ‘absolut’ is not simply a rhetorical intensifier, as ‘absolutely’ so often is in English: it carries its full meaning of ‘without condition or qualification’; and ‘positiv’ does not signify ‘having favourable characteristics or an affirmative attitude’: it means that something is just simply there, whatever anyone may think or say about it, that it has an undeniable reality of existence.
20 . This phrase is, of course, from the subtitle of the study which has suggested many of the ideas employed in this portion of my argument: J. Bayley, The Characters of Love, London 1960.
21 . For example by Reed, Thomas Mann, pp. 227-33.
22 . Thomas Mann, Gesammellte Werke in 13. Bänden, Vol. 8, Frankfurt am Main 1974, pp. 493-4.
23 . Reed, Thomas Mann, p. 83.
24 . Swales, Bildungsroman, takes the distinction between hero and story to be one between the two poles of a dialectic: the ‘complex coexistence of possibilities’ in the hero; and the inescapable ‘linear temporality of practical existence’ acknowledged by the sequential story (pp. 124-5). Swales thereby provides himself with a conceptual framework which he puts to good use in interpreting, not just Der Zauberberg, but the Bildungsroman tradition as a whole. But this is not the distinction the narrator of Der Zauberberg is making
25 . See G. K. T. Conn & H. D. Turner, The Evolution of the Nuclear Atom, London 1965, pp. 129-756.
26 . Hence the serious inadequacy of the view presented by T. Ziolkowski, Dimensions of the Modern Novel, Princeton 1969, p. 73, that the ideologies expressed within the novel are ‘mere intellectual pawns, to be pushed about for the sake of the composition’.