Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Clarity of mind

Chapter 3 of The Magic Mountain (Thomas Mann) is pretty long.

Hans is greatly embarrassed and offended by the bestial behaviour of the Russian couple in the room next door. But while at first he directs his moral outrage at them, he very quickly shifts the blame from the individuals to the world they inhabit, the thin walls, the shoddy construction.

Hans seems disrupted. As much as he tries to maintain the regularities of his everyday life — the clothes, the mannerisms — something's out of whack. "In fact, he felt as if he had only just now reestablished a connection with yesterday, as if he were taking in the whole picture again, as it were, which had not really been the case since he awoke."

A lot of characters are being introduced at breakfast. I hope I can keep track of them all.

What year is this, by the way? 1913? Is it possible the influence of Coco Chanel is being felt?:

Almost all the women wore close-fitting jackets of wool or silk, called "sweaters," in white or bright colors, with shawl collars and side pockets; it looked very pretty when they just stood there chatting, both hands buried in their sweater pockets.


Hans meets the doctor, who seems to be bursting with good intentions such that he has no control over where they stick. Hans and Joachim go for a walk and encounter the Half-Lung Club (having undergone pneumothorax operation), some sweaters among them.

[A headline in The New York Times in 1913 reads: SURGICAL CURE FOR ADVANCED CASES OF CONSUMPTION; The Induction of Artificial Pneumothorax, or Compression of Affected Lungs with Nitrogen, as Tested in 1,000 Cases, Gives Remarkable Results in Pulmonary Tuberculosis. (This practice was ultimately found to be of little benefit and was discontinued.)]

All these patients, so full of life, so it seems to Hans. Joachim explains that they are free of time.

Hans's cigar doesn't taste good. All that fresh air in the mountains, of course! I believe this to be a sign of Hans's habits not sitting quite right in this environment.

On page 62 I encounter the 3rd instance of an auditory... jolt — it's like a grimace directed at the reader. The first was the cough, which came of illness; the second a whistle from a half-lung, an operational byproduct, a grotesquerie; now a wail in death. These are startling noises in sharp relief to the overall tone; like someone jumping up and shouting boo! while you're enjoying a calm mountain view.

Hans laughs quite a bit, by the way — uncontrollably. Perhaps it's a bit extreme, or inappropriate, or nervous, to be liberating and healthy. I don't know.

Herr Settembrini, strange little man they encounter on their walk. Charm and style. Wisdom and knowledge. Enthusiasm, lust. "One must apply truth and energy in naming things. It elevates and intensifies life." "Form opinions! That's why nature gave you eyes and reason." He's provocative!

Hans takes to philosophizing about time:

"There is nothing 'actual' about time. If it seems long to you, then it is long, and if it seems to pass quickly, then it's short. But how long or how short it is in actuality, no one knows."


And "what is the organ for our sense of time?" Hans is quite agitated about the subject. It seems to be pissing off Joachim a bit, but with some level of amusement too, as he later teases Hans about the outburst.

It's less than a day since his arrival and Hans is acclimatizing to the sanatorium routine. Wake, breakfast, walk, nap, second breakfast (with beer, since he is loathe to break his old habits, but he finds its effect completely stupefying), another little walk, another nap (rather, "rest cure"). It seems a bit ridiculous, really — I think we're meant to see it this way, as through Hans's eyes, to be taken aback by the eating and resting and lazing, the general apparent healthfulness among the ill, the disconnect from the world at the foot of the mountain, the difference in how time moves and the activities that fill it.

Hans's heart is pounding. Not out of fear, or anticipation, so to him it signifies a mind–body disconnect, that the body is acting independently of the soul and without reason.

So after dinner, there's another rest cure before tea. Hans is loving the rest cures and particularly his splendid lounge chair. He doesn't take much notice of the traces of blood in his handkerchief (duh-duh-DUH).

On waking, Hans announces to Joachim that he may not be able to stay. (He couldn't possibly leave!? We're only on page 96!) He prides himself on being healthy, but he's craving the doctor's attention. He pokes fun at the lifestyle in evidence, but he's clearly drawn to it all the same. It seems he fears succumbing to the spell of the place. The man's a walking paradox. His time here (not a full 24 hours to this point) has been as if in a haze, yet he's demonstrated, and himself felt, some remarkable clarity of insight and judgement. In going away, has he stepped out of himself? Or having stepped out of his daily life, has he become more himself? Hans really does seem afraid, and befuddled, even while he can philosophize on abstract points; he's losing his bearings. But no sooner does he express the possibility of leaving than it is forgotten. It's time for tea! Then another walk, and a rest cure, and supper.

Hans is to bed early and dreaming fitfully, twice about Madame Chauchat, the white-sweater-wearing door-slamming Russian woman.
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