“Magic Mann”

“Hans Castorp loved music from his heart; it worked upon him much the same way as did his breakfast porter, with deeply soothing, narcotic effect, tempting him to doze”. The Magic Mountain (1924) – Thomas Mann

“Time cools, time clarifies; no mood can be maintained quite unaltered through the course of hours”. The Magic Mountain (1924) – Thomas Mann

Paul Thomas Mann (6 June 1875 – 12 August 1955) was a German novelist, short story writer, social critic, philanthropist, essayist, and 1929 Nobel Prize laureate, known for his series of highly symbolic and ironic epic novels and mid-length stories, noted for their insight into the psychology of the artist and the intellectual.

“It is love, not reason, that is stronger than death”.Thomas Mann

“A man lives not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries”.
Thomas Mann

“People’s behavior makes sense if you think about it in terms of their goals, needs, and motives”. Thomas Mann

Mann on “The Magic Mountain” (1924)

“There is something suspicious about music, gentlemen. I insist that she is, by her nature, equivocal. I shall not be going too far in saying at once that she is politically suspect”.

Mann started writing what was to become The Magic Mountain in 1912.

Plot: Castorp is symbolically transported away from the familiar life and mundane obligations he has known, in what he later learns to call “the flatlands”, to the rarefied mountain air and introspective little world of the sanatorium.
Castorp’s departure from the sanatorium is repeatedly delayed by his failing health. What at first appears to be a minor bronchial infection with slight fever is diagnosed by the sanatorium’s chief doctor and director, Hofrat Behrens, as symptoms of tuberculosis.
Hans is persuaded by Behrens to stay until his health improves.
During his extended stay, Castorp meets and learns from a variety of characters.

“Space, like time, engenders forgetfulness; but it does so by setting us bodily free from our surroundings and giving us back our primitive, unattached state. Yes, it can even, in the twinkling of an eye, make something like a vagabond of the pedant and Philistine. Time, we say, is Lethe; but change of air is a similar draught, and, if it works less thoroughly, does so more quickly”. 

The outbreak of the First World War interrupted work on the book. The conflict and its aftermath led the author to undertake a major re-examination of European bourgeois society, including the sources of the willful, perverse destructiveness displayed by much of civilised humanity. He was also drawn to speculate about more general questions surrounding personal attitudes to life, health, illness, sexuality and mortality. Given this, Mann felt compelled to radically revise and expand the pre-war text before completing it in 1924. Der Zauberberg was eventually published in two volumes by S. Fischer Verlag in Berlin.

“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”.

Mann’s vast composition is erudite, subtle, ambitious, but, most of all, ambiguous; since its original publication it has been subject to a variety of critical assessments. For example, the book blends a scrupulous realism with deeper symbolic undertones. Given this complexity, each reader is obliged to weigh up the artistic significance of the pattern of events set out within the narrative, a task made more difficult by the author’s Olympian irony.

“I love and reverence the Word, the bearer of the spirit, the tool and gleaming ploughshare of progress”.

“This conflict between the powers of love and chastity … it ended apparently in the triumph of chastity. Love was suppressed, held in darkness and chains, by fear, conventionality, aversion, or a tremulous yearning to be pure…. But this triumph of chastity was only an apparent, a pyrrhic victory. It would break through the ban of chastity, it would emerge — if in a form so altered as to be unrecognizable”.

Mann himself was well aware of his book’s elusiveness, but offered few clues about approaches to the text. He later compared it to a symphonic work orchestrated with a number of themes and, in a playful commentary on the problems of interpretation, recommended that those who wished to understand it should read it through twice.

Mann on Politics

“Everything is politics”. Thomas Mann

“Every reasonable human being should be a moderate Socialist”. Thomas Mann

“What we call National-Socialism is the poisonous perversion of ideas which have a long history in German intellectual life”. Thomas Mann

“Culture and possessions, there is the bourgeoisie for you”. Thomas Mann

“The Freudian theory is one of the most important foundation stones for an edifice to be built by future generations, the dwelling of a freer and wiser humanity”. Thomas Mann

Mann on Music

Music plays a major role throughout Thomas Mann’s work (as in many novels of the poet, already in the Buddenbrooks, but notably in Doktor Faustus): in The Magic Mountain, the recently perfected gramophone allows the Berghof people to listen to, e.g., Aida’s final duet with Radames from Verdi’s opera, and to Schubert’s multivalent song “Der Lindenbaum” from the Winterreise, both full of mourning feelings in the view of death; the latter hints an invitation to suicide. Hans Castorp engages himself deeply in such performances. With the last-mentioned song of Franz Schubert on his lips, the protagonist is told to vanish on the battlefields of World War I . (This end of the novel is at the same time of parodistic character, concerning the romantic “love for death”: e.g., see Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

It may also contain some amount of self-irony, since the song is sometimes considered as typical for prewar Germany, whereas the novel was published during the Weimar Republic, which Thomas Mann now strongly defended.) There are also some elements that suggest Debussy´s symphonic poem Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune as the orchestral piece in which Hans Castorp fantasizes about being a faun.


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