Sunday, November 27, 2011

MM Part 7: The Thunderbolt

August 1914, German troops advancing through Belgium

Hans remains seven years at the Sanatorium Berghof and sits at each of the seven tables.
His tablemates at the last, “bad Russian” table come from the foggy edges of Europe.

Hans has become some kind of a hermit, an anchorite. He takes less care about himself and wears a goatee. There is, the narrator adds, a certain philosophical negligence in his appearance.

With the exception of his occasional visits to his mentor Settembrini, Hans has become silent and most people, even the doctors and nurses, leave him alone.

Hans has no watch anymore and no calendars in his room, so he is also standing outside time now. Time has continued slipping past and many things have changed, people have died, kids have grown up and died and the old consul Tienappel has died too. While Hans is very distant to what happens in the flatlands, he still sees the departing of his uncle as another step towards his total freedom.

He has stopped writing letters to people he once knew, stopped ordering his Mancinis ( replaced them by a new brand “Oath of Rutli” – an independence symbol ), cut all strings which still attached him to the flatlands.

We hear a “Rumble of thunder”. We are in the Summer of 1914 ( WW1 officially begins 28th July ). The two demons introduced in the last chapters Stupor and Petulance, have taken geopolitic dimensions and are the cause of war.

“The Thunderbolt itself was the deafening detonation of great destructive masses of accumulated stupor and petulance”

The War has of course an effect on the residents of the Berghof too. People are fleeing the sanatorium and travelling down to the flatlands.

The Magic Mountain bursts open and “rudely sets the entranced sleeper outside the gate”. (The Tannhauser gate of Wagner’s opera…)

Our friend Hans has not seen things coming despite the warnings of Settembrini. Hans is the Sevensleeper.

“There he sits ( rubbing his eyes ) in the grass like man who has failed to read the daily papers”

HC is released, set free… “not by his own actions he had to admit to his shame”

Settembrini is very ill and will not make it down to the flatlands.
There is an emotional adieu between Settembrini and Hans

Next we find ourselves on the battlefield “Where are we ? What is that ?”

Sounds of War, Brass blaring, Drumbeats. There is a Regiment of volunteers, youngsters, students, 3000 of them. Statistically 1000 are about to die in the imminent attack.

A “shameful and sublime” war scene interrupted with a vision of that “golden age” , we remember from the chapter snow.

Among the volunteers we discern our Hans for a final last time…
He has turned into a real soldier, without hesitation he steps on the hand of a fallen comrade. Marching towards the enemy, he is singing to himself strophes of Schubert’s “Der Lindenbaum”.

“Upon its bark, I have carved there so many words of love
And all its branches rustled, as if they called to me”

The world of Death beckons…

The narrator and the readers take leave of Hans. “We have told your story to the end…”.

Hans disappears in the fog of war. It is not likely that he will survive. But for the story, it does not matter that much…

What a way to finish a Bildungsroman ! Has all that learning served to nothing? Will all those pedagogic efforts be crushed by the next bomb?

And even if we get an answer to the question “Will Love rise up from this carnival of death too?”, will it be in an endless cycle of learn and build and then…destroy?

Finis operis

( the end, not in the sense of the “last page” but in the sense of St Thomas of Aquinas : the purpose of the work)