Thursday, November 17, 2011

MM Part 6: Snow

Ludwig Von Hofmann : An die Quelle

"Et in Arcadia Ego"

Goethe : An Italian Journey

Top of the Mountain !

This chapter is considered by many critics to be the centre of the book. In time Thomas Mann would agree and said that he regretted not to have put this chapter at the end of the Magic Mountain. But if Snow would have been the last chapter, the book would have been completely different and probably not “open” to so many ways of understanding.

In the previous chapter, the two pedagogues Settembrini and Naphta, have given a demonstration of a rhetorically masterful but pointless debate, unconsciously switching stances and chasing each other to the extremes of the consequences of their philosophical positions. Hans and we the reader are left in “great confusion”.

Two things happen in the chapter “Snow”: Hans is visiting his old friend “Death” again ( the wintry white landscape symbolizes death, eternity, the dissolution of individuality, nothingness), getting closer than he ever did before, (the relation becoming quite personal now) and secondly he is about to come to a summary, a conclusion of what he has learned; not in words, but in a vision. Had this be the last chapter, the book would have ( in my opinion ) suffered a lot.

Is it over after this? Absolutely not, some important and excellent chapters remain to be read. The dance of death will continue in a cruel way and the “summary” to which Hans would come in this chapter will have to be reviewed nearly every chapter…

And remember, still we need to meet one more “major character” to complete the number of 7 teachers of our friend Hans.

But lets not cut corners, Snow first !

Winter. Patients of the Berghof grumble because of the lack of sunshine.
There is a lot of snow however. Mann’s description of the snowy landscape instil in the reader and the patients feelings of the “sublime and the holy”.  

Frau Solomon is back from the flatlands. Her stay in the flatlands has worsened her illness and she is about to die. We fear for others who have gone down too: Joachim and Clawdia

A snowstorm is described as a “beast”, it is dangerous for you lose your way and you might even suffocate. Mann has to instruct his readers a bit about extreme weather.
(there is no tv and no NGS channel yet )

HC rebels against the “Berghof rules”and purchases a pair of skis anlearns the skill. Settembrini loves this simple act of rebellion. See how Settembrini compares himself to Mercury with wings on his ankle ( Hermes ): funny… what an agreeable companion, S is, encouraging and helping HC.

HC lately longs to be alone… “It permitted him the solitude he sought, the profoundest solitude imaginable…”. Is this a new development ?

Nature is described as dangerous and threatening. HC experiences fear and courage in his solitary expeditions. Fear is prerequisite of courage.

Near death

HC sets of on another lonely trip.

praeterit figura huius mundi ( Corinthians 7:31)” and those that use the world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.

HC takes positions: he likes Settembrini ( … my pedagogue Satana…)  and prefers him to Naphta ( terrorist, torturer, flogger ). A trick of light makes him remember Hippe and Clawdia. “Glad to…”

HC is losing his bearings. Blinded by the whiteness on all sides it even seems he enters the mountain at a moment. The reader is worried before HC who is acting recklessly… with some kind of defiance of death. He challenges death? “Fear made him realise he had secretly and more or less purposely, been trying to lose his bearings all the time, to forget in what direction…”. Compare this to the very first chapter, where we had also Hans visiting the world of the death.

“But there is only one word for what was happening in HC’s soul: defiance”.

Hans is caught up by the snow storm and experiences the unexpected “wind-chill” danger. ( compared Death’s scythe )
Not only is he lost, probably tired but also dangerously under-dressed.

Dangerous things are happening in his mind:
“…The more physical part…was inclined to abandon itself to the muddled state threatening to engulf him as exhaustion grew…
HC compares a life threatening situation with “illness”. “…familiar blend of languor and excitement…” “… a merciful self narcosis sets in…” Are we witnessing one more ( final?) turn in Hans “dance of death”? Another step closer to his experience with death?

Luckily HC realizes that this numbing “means great harm”

“…The desire, the temptation to lie down and rest crept into his mind”
“… All he had to do was to submit to it…” The “it” is the life-denying force. HC “withstood the temptation..”

Finally he gets cover from the shed he has already sighted several times during the afternoon.
The shed might safe his live…

Terror sets finally in…”What a hell of a state of affairs”

The situation in the snow-storm wakens up parts of HC’s brain we thought were numbed for ever: He understands that “…you ran around in a circle…a foolish arc that led back on itself…a teasing year come full circle…And so you wandered around and never found your way home”   

The experience of time has slowed down considerably.

Hc mind begins to fantasize, to hear Settembrini’s horn, to see him as a genuine organ grinder,.. his mind is jumping – horizontal position – impersonal desire to lie down and sleep –

It is no coincidence that Hans "near dying" plays out in a scenery we recognize from Schubert's famous Lieder cycle "Winterreise". Indeed throughout the song, we follow a lonely figure lost in the snow and about to die. There are many hints to make a link between Mann's text and Schubert's song.

Which specific song we should listen to, I leave to you. Best candidate is "Der Lindenbaum", which will be heard  a few times more in the course of the book and which implies an attraction to death. Another candidate is "Im Dorfe", one of Mann's favourites, which he specifically linked to the Magic Mountain in a radio interview in 1954. "Der Leiermann" was already encountered in the Satana chapter...Personally, I would suggest " Erstarrung" and "Frozene Tränen"as the best accompaniment to this important chapter. 

But maybe it is best to listen to the complete cycle for the right mood of this chapter.

The Vision

From the relative security of the wooden barn against which he is sheltering, Hans has his vision. He sees an Arcadian world, a Mediterranean landscape (the cradle of civilization) – referring to Goethe, Classicism, the Enlightment, the soil from which Settembrini draws his ideas. It is a happy scenery with beautiful, healthy people. 

Puvis de Chavannes. Summer.
There are hints of Clawdia – of love in this vision – of Hippe and then suddenly his eyes are diverted to another scene embedded in the happy one.  In a more ancient, archaic Doric (? ) temple a gruelling scene takes place. Two witches are ripping a child apart and eat it “piece by piece, the brittle bones cracking in their mouths, blood dripping from their vile lips” The woman curse him in his own dialect…

Hans awakens into a dream – state from his mortal sleep… and ecstatic wonders about the dream. Where does it come from? What does it mean ?

“We dream anonymously and communally… the great soul, of which we are just a little piece… , dreams through us….( Jung ? )

It is our own eternal secret dream – about youth, its hope, its joy, its peace, and its bloody feast”

The dream is revelation of the Human condition, the Golden Age pitted against the cruelty of life. There is a lot of Nietzsche’s “Birth of tragedy” here with its “Olympian Magic Mountain

Horror is in the middle of our world, most Modernist writers remind us. Mann’s sunny people do not intervene in the horror, cannot stop it, are not willing, are not able…they have to live with it.

And here comes Hans conclusion : “ Where they ( The sunny people ) charming and courteous to one another, out of silent regard for that horror? What a fine and gallant conclusion for them to draw! I shall hold to their side, here in my soul, and not with Naphta, or for that matter with Settembrini – they’re both windbags”

… in the middle is where the Homo Dei’s state is found…

And emphasized by Thomas Mann : “For the sake of goodness and love, man shall grant death no dominion over his thoughts”

Hans wakes up: My dream has granted me ( the truth ) so clearly that I will always remember… The weather changes to the better and Hans returns safely back to the Berghof.

The chapter ends ironically…

His dream was already beginning to fade…. He was no longer sure what his thoughts had been…

Ludwig von Hofmann : Die Quelle

Das wichtigste und wertvollste Bild ist ein Ölgemälde des Malers und Grafikers Ludwig von Hofmann (1861 bis 1945), Die Quelle. Es wurde um 1913 gemalt und zeigt drei im Urteil Thomas Manns "koloristisch meisterhaft ausgeführte Jünglingsakte." Hofmanns Bildwelt geistert durch Hans Castorps Schneetraum, vor allem in der Vision der südlichen Landschaft, welche "Sonnen- und Meereskinder" bevölkern.

Schon Gerhart Hauptmann, ein anderer Hofmann-Liebhaber, notierte hierzu am Rand seines Zauberberg-Exemplars: "Das ist ja L. v. H. ganzes Werk." Hofmanns Bilder umkreisen jene Menschlichkeit, die nicht nur Castorp, sondern vor allem seinem Autor als Traum vorschwebte.