Saturday, September 4, 2010

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Foreword", "Arrival" "In the Restaurant"

Rather in the manner of a philosophical treatise, this novel has a foreword, and Mann occupies it by playing with the theme of time. He beseeches his reader to consider the story old, although the setting is quite recent. He takes up this time motif again in the opening passage of the first chapter, as he describes Hans Castorp's trip to Davos. He observes the fungibility (though imperfect) of time and distance, noting that the effect of distance in changing Castorp's preoccupations is similar to the passage of a considerable stretch of time.

Mann makes the scene feel more distant by presenting the protagonist impersonally at the start. From the first paragraph, we find out only that there was a young man on a trip to Davos. After two paragraphs describing the route (in present tense), we finally learn Hans Castorp's name -- and immediately have him put at a distance again with a parenthetical interpolation noting that he has been introduced (a trick which is soon repeated with his uncle Consul Tienappel).

Soon enough, time becomes compressed for Hans Castorp, for his trip ends one stop earlier than he expects -- just as he thinks that the journey will be over soon, it is already over.

Castorp's conversation with his friend Joachim Ziemssen quickly turns to time, too. Ziemssen informs Castorp that the scale of time is different for the inmates of the sanatorium, whose lives have been suspended. For them, Castorp's three week visit feels like nothing more than a day.

Krokowski -- psychoanalysis -- 16: "I, for one, have never in my life come across a perfectly healthy human being."

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