Friday, January 7, 2011

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain: "Soup-Everlasting", "Sudden Enlightenment", "Freedom"

An authorial aside at the onset of the recounting of Hans Castorp's bed-rest establishes that henceforth the treatment of time will be telescoped, that much more time will be compressed into a shorter space of narrative. Hans' regular sick-bed regime is described. It is noted that the division of his his days into an unchanging pattern makes them seem shorter, but also makes it seem as if time is not passing at all. Joachim urges Hans to write a letter alerting his relations to the extension of his stay. Hans has some trouble bringing himself to write, but puts himself to it when his three weeks are up and the issue can no longer be avoided. Hans reveals as as little as possible, suggesting that he has been only briefly detained by a bad cold. This becomes part of a pattern of uncovering his true state only gradually, as we learn when he discloses, a week and a half later in a conversation with Settembrini, that he has he has written a second latter attributing further delay to mere suspicion about the condition of his chest. Castorp reveals to Settembrini his increasing alienation from his accustomed bourgeois society as a result of the perspective brought on by illness. Settembrini, alarmed anew, resumes his chiding. He first relates skeptical anecdotes about the diagnoses and cures of the doctors, and then launches a frontal assault on Hans' view that death and disease provide distance from and perspective on ordinary life. At the end of three weeks, Behrens releases Hans from bed rest, but only after he has been reminded -- he seems to have lost track of how long Hans has been confined.

A week later, Hans goes in for his first x-ray. In the meantime, he receives more intelligence about Madame Chauchat. His tablemate, Miss Robinson the schoolmistress, informs him that Madame Chauchat receives a Russian visitor who stays in town, and also that she is sitting for a portrait by Hofrat Behrens. This news distresses Hans, and causes his temperature to spike. He also observes that Madame Chauchat has another admirer at the sanatorium, a young man from Mannheim. Madame Chauchat ignores this other admirer. On the day of the appointment, Madame Chauchat comes in for her x-ray after Hans and Joachim and converses with Joachim in the waiting room. Hans speculates about whether she speaks to Joachim instead of him out of delicacy about their silent flirtation. Joachim appears to have perceived the goings-on between them, and seems uneasy with Madame Chauchat. Hans looks at the insides of Joachim in the x-ray room, at also looks at the skeleton of his own hand.

Some time later -- it must be a few days, for we learn that October is almost upon them -- Hans converses with Settembrini. After first mocking the put-upon pose of some of the young inhabitants of the sanatorium -- he contends that they are in fact enjoying their luxuriant irresponsibility -- Settembrini concludes with a cutting remark about Russians ("Parthians and Scythians"). An annoyed Hans concludes that Settembrini, too, has noticed his commerce with Madame Chauchat. Immediately after the discussion, Hans writes his third letter home, this time revealing that he must be expected to stay for at least the whole winter, and requesting supplies and money to cover his expenses. As he writes, his sense of dread about informing his relations evaporates, and a sense of satisfaction with his self-assertion comes over him.


Endel Bendel said...

But for one letter the title of this chapter is 'soul everlasting'. Settembrini's interpretation of Castorp's recumbrancy and introspection, as a kind of compliant meditation, suggests the meaning of this episode is religious conversion. And when the Devil himself goes out of his way to tell you that you are converted, you'd better give it heed!

aretino said...

Conversion as a metaphor for Castorp's acceptance and then embrace of illness -- that's a great catch! Mind, the orthoographic distance between Suppe and Seele is larger in German than in English translation. You are still on to something, though.

Endel Bendel said...

Nice response from Aretino. Mine derives from seeing that Mann's mountain is the same as Dante's.