A Study of The Magic Mountain （For “Der Lindenbaum”）
 My Trip to Germany Canceled
Once COVID-19 began its insidious spread across the world in late February 2020, northern Italy suffered the first major outbreak in Europe. The rest of the European Union was infected in no time. Dark clouds loomed over the research that I had planned to Germany with a friend. “Maybe I can just make it,” I thought optimistically, while also worrying, “But what if I can’t get back?” Unsure what to do, as the news coming from the Robert Koch Institute in Germany and Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs only got worse, ultimately I decided to cancel my research... And then, that fateful day, March 16th. The very day I was scheduled to land at Munich airport, Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to begin closing Germany’s borders. While knowing that my indecision had kept me from going, I felt slightly relieved to learn that travel would be impossible for the foreseeable future.
It has been twenty-five years since the twenty-six member countries of the European Union created the Schengen Area and opened their borders. As open borders were the very embodiment of its ideals, it surely came as a surprise to the EU that, after a quarter-century of allowing free movement, it would have to shutter its borders to stop, of all things, a virus. One can only hope that it won’t be too long when the people of Europe can again stand together and sing “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a paean to European unity and the anthem of the EU（that is, without fear of spraying each other with contaminated droplets）.
 Aquarius and the Magic Mountain
It is said that the Surrealist and poet André Breton was lying when he publicly declared his birthday to be February 18th, when in fact it was on the 19th. He claimed that his reasons were “poetic.” But I have my suspicions. Of the twelve signs of the Western zodiac, it is Aquarians who are said to exhibit the strongest traits of genius（and eccentricity）. Perhaps that is what he was trying to claim for himself?
Like Breton, I, too, was born on February 19th, on the borderline between Aquarius and Pisces, and until recently, I thought I was a Pisces. Upon researching my horoscope on the internet last fall, however, I learned that I was in fact an Aquarius, since the sun was still lingering within Aquarius on the morning of my birth. Okay, that makes sense. I am certainly more of an individualistic and eccentric Aquarian than I am a romantic and delicate Pisces. I have put greater faith in horoscopes ever since, avidly reading related articles. Then, one day, I came across the following strange and prophetic statement!
......“In the coming year of 2020, you, Aquarius, like Hans Castorp in Thomas Mann’s novel The Magic Mountain, will set out on a magical pilgrimage across time, encountering people and ideas previously unknown to you, in places far, far away from your normal life.”......
What?! My future will trace the path followed by the protagonist in a novel I had never read?!... Scared as I was, I knew that I had no choice but to read this prophetic text. I immediately logged into Yahoo! Auctions and bid on the two-volume Iwanami Bunko edition of The Magic Mountain. I started reading it on New Year’s Day, 2020.
 My Remote Climb up the Mountain Begins
The first volume of The Magic Mountain is 598 pages. The second volume is 690 pages. Having abandoned Dostoevsky’s Demons before finishing volume one, I knew that I had my work cut out for me when this even thicker novel arrived. Two months later, in early March, I still had only gotten through 260 pages. With 1288 pages total, if The Magic Mountain was Mount Fuji, I’d only be around Nigome, the second station up the slope. Hans Castorp has begun to get to know the people of the sanatorium. He has mastered the art of wrapping his body in a blanket and lying quietly. He is infatuated with Madame Chauchat, a dead ringer for his first love, a boy named Hippe. Is love the cause of Hans’s persistent low-grade fever and the reason the mercury in his thermometer refuses to drop? Or does he have a lung disease? And so, the exciting scenes unfold（as the dazzling scenery does on the road leading up to the second station of Mount Fuji, as you know the real action is about to start!）.
And then, as I approached the third station, I’ll never forget what happened. It was the night of March 25th. The time, 8 PM. I was having drinks at a friend’s house when the broadcast of Governor Koike’s emergency press conference began. “Forty-one cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Tokyo. We are potentially facing a major outbreak. I strongly urge the residents of Tokyo to refrain from going out on weekends,” she said, with palpable tension in her voice. Oh no! What are we going to do?!（Now, forty-one cases seems like nothing.）The next morning, I joined the hordes at the supermarket, shoving one other to secure food. As often as people make light of the saying “Avoid the Three Cs,” oh how I later regretted plunging myself into that crowded C... Not only did I resign myself to the prospect of not being able to drink outside, I vowed to myself to never leave the house unnecessarily again. Avoiding contact with other people is key to containing the virus’s spread! I have more confidence than most in being able to endure isolation. And since I can’t travel to the outside world for research, I’ll climb The Magic Mountain remotely from the confines of my own room! I’ll travel（by brain）to explore the “abyss” on high!
 A Synopsis of The Magic Mountain
I’m sure many of you were like me: familiar with only the title of The Magic Mountain. So, allow me to provide a brief summary.（Spoiler alert）
It is 1907 in Germany. Hans Castorp, a wealthy orphan who grew up in Hamburg, is “an unassuming young man,” ordinary without any distinguishing characteristics（this “unassuming” nature is described over a full twelve pages）. Supported by wealthy relatives, he acquires the typical trappings of the bourgeoisie and lives comfortably without a care in the world. Things suddenly change, however, in the summer of his 23rd year. Soon after being offered an apprenticeship as a ship designer, he falls ill. On the advice of his doctor, he decamps to the International Sanatorium Berghof in the mountains of Davos, Switzerland, for a short period to recuperate. This retreat, which doubles as an opportunity for Hans to visit his cousin Joachim, who was forced to retire from the military due to tuberculosis, was supposed to last only three weeks. But lo and behold, it’s been seven years and Hans is still there.
His daily life at the Berghof Sanatorium, an alien world high in the Alps, begins happily as Joachim instructs him on how to conduct oneself properly at the facility. He is amazed at the uniqueness of life there, as he surveys the cosmopolitan richness of the patients. He is inspired by the presence of Italian writer Lodovico Settembrini. With the exotic Russian Madame Chauchat, it’s love at first sight. Oh, how filled with excitement this novel is! This mysterious low-grade fever just won’t go away. Could he have tuberculosis? He finds out he does, as the reader has long suspected. X-rays reveal both the traces of past illness and new lesions. Hans Castorp is now a proper, full-time resident of the sanatorium.
Time flows by idly in the sanatorium. In an attempt to forget death, the wealthy patients indulge in hedonistic behaviors. Settembrini, on the other hand, tries to maintain his dignity. Hans is wary of the Italian scholar’s faith in Enlightenment thought, but finds great meaning in their conversations. So much happens over the course of Hans’s seven long years at the sanatorium: the heartrending death of his cousin Joachim, his evanescent love affair with Madame Chauchat, the appearance of an enigmatic and charismatic man, Settembrini’s pitted arguments with Naphta and the duel that results, etc... Though he went there simply to get healthy, Hans Castorp ends up passing his youth at the sanatorium. Alas, his moratorium on existence finally drains the lifeforce from him. Those empty days come to an abrupt end with the outbreak of war. Now 30 years old, Hans is rushed out of the sanatorium and to the battlefield, where he vanishes from the reader’s sight covered in mud. That is where the story suddenly ends...
And so ends my brief outline of this 1288-page novel. As the above is only meant as a rough summary, I have not attempted to convey this masterpiece’s many depths. Though I would like to recommend that you read it, I dare not impose upon you since it’s so damn long.
 The Bildungsroman and the Mount of Purgatory
On the cover of the second volume of the paperback edition, The Magic Mountain is described as “a major Bildungsroman that plumbs the depths of human nature.” The term “Bildungsroman,” or kyoyo shosetsu in Japanese, was new to me. I suppose the idea is that whoever picks up this novel is expected to be educated and have a decent amount of background knowledge already. Indeed, as the novel is filled with new words and includes 277 footnotes, the reader is bound to be educated just by reading the notes and looking up things on their smartphone... Bildungsroman are, as their name claims, indeed edifying. When Hans meets the Italian Settembrini, a humanist scholar whose head whirls with knowledge and moral understanding, their intense conversations introduce the young man to both the shame of ignorance and the joys of learning. Unable to keep up, Hans often feels frustrated. But once he’s alone, he thinks over their exchanges. As this happens over and over again, I imagine the idea is that not only Hans’s intellectual development, but also the reader’s, will advance over the course of the novel.
While reading, the centrality of Settembrini’s teacher-like relationship to greenhorn Hans made me wonder if his character was modeled after the poet Virgil in Dante’s Divine Comedy? Sure enough, there’s a scene in the second half of the novel in which Settembrini pontificates about being Virgil to Hans’s Dante so that the young man stays on the path of goodness. “I knew it!” I cried out, slapping my knee. What a relief to learn that I wasn’t wholly unread, after all（though to be frank, it was dumb luck that I was familiar with the Divine Comedy）... “You are bold indeed, thus to descend into these depths...” says Settembrini, the gentleman from Purgatory, ironically, after Hans have scaled to an elevation of 5000 feet on a mountain hike. In his heart, Hans occasionally rebels against the narrow Eurocentrism and the prejudice against music that his teacher sometimes lets slip beneath his poetic and mellifluously accented German. His is the same arrogant and snarky disdain that Dante, the faithful Christian bound for heaven, expresses toward the unfortunate Virgil, who as an ancient Roman is stuck in Purgatory because of his pagan beliefs.
 A Rod of Light Standing in the Endless River of Time
“Get along now, into the caboose with you – march!” says the head doctor. Thus begins three weeks of rest and quiet for Hans, now a “proper” tuberculosis patient. Like clockwork, the so-called “soup-everlasting” is brought to his bed. The doctor checks up on him during his daily rounds. During break times（ten slots a day, ten minutes each guest）, the kindhearted Joachim sits by Hans’s bedside and tells him about what’s going on in the outside world. Day in and day out, there is practically nothing to do. Time flows endlessly like a giant river. There is nothing of note or anything worth remembering. While the first three curiosity-filled weeks following Hans’s arrival to this mountaintop wonderland take up 301 pages, the next three weeks of him stuck in bed fill just thirty-six.
Just by looking at these page counts, the contrasting quality and richness of these two sets of three weeks should be apparent. When you’re bored with nothing to do, time seems to never end. But as nothing happens to fill the time, those days appear flat and condensed from the outside, like a smushed loaf of bread with nothing inside. In other words, time expands and shrinks depending on how you spend it.
I think many people, myself included, experienced something similar during the pandemic, as we locked ourselves inside and refrained from going out. With so many hours spent in a daze, it’s impossible to recall anything when nothing happens. Time cannot be counted by empty memories. Actual time and experienced time don’t match up. When Hans first tells Settembrini that he will be at the sanatorium for three weeks, Settembrini responds, “We up here are not acquainted with such an unit of time as the week...Our smallest unit is the month,” he says jokingly, probably alluding to the relative nature of time.
Then, halfway through Hans’s period of isolated rest, Settembrini comes to visit the sick young man in his dimly lit room. Once his friend brightens the room by turning on the electric light, Hans begins to talk non-stop, like a dam bursting open. Back home, people spread tasteless rumors about his inheritance and if he has any money left. He never felt comfortable in that society. Moreover, as an orphan, he had been forced to confront the fact of his parents’ and grandfather’s deaths long ago. He was intimately familiar with the sublimity of death. He thought that it was perhaps more appropriate that he be cut off from the world and spend his days at death’s side at the sanatorium. Such were his private confessions. To which his friend replies that growing accustomed to feelings of disdain for life’s normal cruelty（that is, disdain for one’s discord with the world）is in danger of being lost to life, to the manner of life to which he was born. The sanatorium, he explains, is a place precisely for that purpose. However, neither sickness nor death are noble things, he admonishes Hans. Healthiness is to be respected. One must not undermine it simply to flee from society.
Hans is perturbed by this challenging of his own self-analysis. But Settembrini smiles at his young friend and asks to be allowed to tutor him in theory（essays）and practice（experiments）. “It is uncommonly kind of you – I must ask myself if I really – that is, if there is anything – ” sheepishly mutters Hans, to which Settembrini replies with a laugh, “Sine pecunia, of course...I can’t let myself be outdone!” And he promises to continue their discussion in the future. As he leaves the room, Settembrini says to Hans something that he repeats throughout the novel: “Engineer, you are a wag.” ... Once Hans realizes that their heated discussions will lead him out of ignorance, his face lights up. My heart did, too.（Oh, Settembrini, so filled with affection for the young man! Wishing for Hans’s return to society by calling him “engineer,” at the same time that you respect this simple young man’s idiosyncrasies by calling him “a wag”!）
 Infectious Diseases and Moratoriums
Despite being orphaned at a young age, Hans Castorp grew up in a rich family, wanting for nothing. The idea of Hans as a “unassuming young man” is partly, I think, a product of his being surrounded by jealousy and indebtedness to his relatives while growing up. From an early age, he probably realized that, as an orphan, being ordinary and not drawing attention to oneself was his best line of defense. The truth is,（like most people in the world）Hans has a distinct personality and hobbies. He is hardly ordinary, innocent, or naive. While his apparent “simplicity” led his relatives to urge him to become a shipbuilding engineer, deep down he was reluctant to become a corporate employee. Being sent to the sanatorium was, in that sense, an unexpected gift, as it put life as he knew it on hold. What’s more, once he was deemed a “good patient,” he was able to enjoy life on the mountain without having to make any immediate decisions about what he was going to do with his life...
Having read that far, I thought, “This sounds like me!” In the third grade, I started hating going to school. Every morning, I tried thinking up legitimate reasons to be allowed to stay home. Early morning asthma attacks were what almost always did the trick, to the point where my classmates gave me the weird nickname “Asthma White.” Everyone saw me as a frail child, myself included. Gradually, however, even I had trouble telling whether I was actually sick or faking it. I became, instead, the “kid who refused to go to school”! When my condition got worse, I was sent to a school far from home for children with chronic illnesses to get better. What a relief to have succeeded in sabotaging my social obligations（like Hans did）and pleasantly spend my days with other sickly children! As tuberculosis for Hans, so asthma enabled me to distance myself from the healthy crowd.
The “stay home” directives that were issued to help stop the spread of COVID-19 offered young and old people the perfect opportunity to become “troubled moratorium youth.” I believe that even the lonely hours stuck at home have value. Time may often slip past aimlessly like it does at the sanatorium. Yet, proper self-reflection and contemplation require being cut off from everyday life. There is not an hour of the day that I’m not thinking about something, which I take out on my poor woodcuts with my carving tool. For those who are healthy in mind and spirit, I imagine that these repetitive days make you want to bust out and make a run for it. For me, it’s like I was training for this 24/7 life of reclusion by being on moratorium for the past forty years.
 The Encyclopedia of World Suffering
“Everlasting check trousers”... This is the nickname Hans gives Settembrini, in（respectful）honor of the way he wears the same exact outfit every day, all year round: a coarse woolen double jacket, a high collar shirt, light yellow plaid trousers. The main reason he always dresses this way is that he is, in today’s parlance, a “minimalist.” But financial difficulties may also be a factor.
Settembrini, who is probably in his late thirties, belongs to the International League for the Organization of Progress, a group of humanists who work toward enlightening the world about human progress. Due to his poor health and limited mobility, however, he has been unable to attend the regular meetings at the organization’s Barcelona headquarters, so he must fulfill his duties as a member through international post（a form of remote work） instead. The project he has devoted himself to is the compilation of a book about the pathologies of suffering, called The Sociology of Suffering. This impressive undertaking aims to survey all the forms of suffering that afflict human beings, offering examples of each in the form of an encyclopedia, which will enable humans to shed the fetters of their distress and find footholds on our collective climb toward achieving a happy and progressive world.
The International League for the Organization of Progress... The Sociology of Suffering... There is something about these silly names that makes me want to say, “Gimme a break!” If bellies could be magically filled just by adding “world hunger” to a dictionary, that would be one thing. But just knowing about problems is hardly the same as solving them. Settembrini advocates for the “self-perfecting through social betterment” via such humanist projects, but in reality they serve only his own personal self-perfection.
Though unable to resolve even his own personal predicament, Settembrini nonetheless expounds on doing things for “the service of humanity.” His struggles high up at the sanatorium are as comical and pathetic as Don Quixote’s. But I also wonder: Are we artists really any different? How about how artists are often blown up as revolutionaries simply by bringing up certain social issues? If parading “problems” is how we try to convince people that this vague and ambiguous thing called “art” is somehow essential to society, then what we do is just as silly and self-indulgent as Settembrini’s The Sociology of Suffering.（Yes, I’m talking about my own work, too!）
 Mountain-Top Armchair Theorie
About halfway through The Magic Mountain, in chapter VI, another man with a sharp tongue appears alongside Settembrini. While Madame Chauchat has left for a foreign country, Settembrini has moved into a boarding house in the city. The faces in the sanatorium are changing, when suddenly Leo Naphta, Settembrini’s intellectual nemesis, takes to the stage. If Settembrini, with his elegantly shabby look（his “everlasting check trousers”）, jokes, and irony-embroidered conversation, is “yang,” then the steely Naphta, who dares to dress his diminutive physique in modest-looking but expensive clothing, is “yin.” They live on the second and third floors of the same small boarding house. To a casual observer, they are about alike as cats and dogs, yet for some reason they are always together. As ordinary people are no match for their extraordinary minds, these two intellectual equals instead choose to fill their loneliness by engaging in constant, pitted debate with each other.
For Hans, who has recently awakened to the joy of critical thought, the spectacle of their thrilling arguments makes his brain crackle. Hoping to sway the impressionable young man to their respective schools of thought, these two loquacious teachers debate on and on before Hans. He, in turn, as the adorable student, is excited by the stream of words that gush forth inexhaustibly from their fountains of knowledge, and their ability to use those words to parry and attack their foe. As it turns out, however, behind both of their stores of wisdom are powerful institutions: the secret society of the Freemasons backs Settembrini, while the Jesuit Church backs Naphta.
As a reader, I was quite disappointed to find out the source of Settembrini’s staunch belief in the progress and perfection of humanity through reason and wisdom, and Naphta’s in the building of the Kingdom of God even if it requires revolutionary violence. Both their “ideological principles” and their “God” are merely manifestations of concepts created by humans for their own convenience. They are like Brocken spectres in the mountain mist. What is the point of worshiping an oversized human shadow, and endlessly perpetuating division, conflict, and domination in its name? Even today, politics are put forth to be obeyed, religion remains inviolate and sacred, and money becomes more wondrous the more one has. But are the “liberties” and “rights” that back these things really anything more than the questionable fabrications of history’s victors?
Later, these garrulous men’s stubborn arguments escalate into a pistol duel. With Hans and others looking on, the moment of the duel arrives. Settembrini fires his pistol into the air, while Naphta fires a bullet into his own head!... The death of Naphta（a shadowy figure not unlike the character William Wilson in the eponymous Edgar Allan Poe story on the theme of the doppelgänger）leaves Settembrini so distraught that he becomes incapable of even writing and spends his hours just lying in bed. These knights of discourse continued clashing their verbal swords, knowing full well that they were armed with only ineffectual “mountain-top armchair theories.” Their battle may have been pointless, but at least they enjoyed exercising their minds at full throttle.
 For “Der Lindenbaum”
Three winters ago. I snatched up seventeen classical music CDs at a local recycle shop for the cut-rate price of 50 yen each. One of them was Schubert’s Swan Song cycle. This became my first encounter with the vocalist Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. It was, in fact, the first time I had listened to any first-class German Lieder singers. Fischer-Dieskau’s gentle yet austere baritone taught me the magnificence of Schubert’s songs. Finding myself a prisoner of his voice, I bought CDs of all his key works. Among them, Winterreise（Winter Journey）could be called, without exaggeration, a collection of poems for the ear. Even if you listen to it in the summer, this profound cycle of songs succeeds in evoking a freezing winter. I can listen to it on repeat for hours on end and not tire of it.
The lyrics of “Der Lindenbaum,” the most popular song in Winterreise, familiar to many Japanese through Kondo Sakufu’s translation, begins with the lines, “By the well, before the gate, stands a linden tree.” Listening to the song again while contemplating Wilhelm Müller’s original poem, the image of a traveler wandering through the endless winter, wrapped in warm and beautiful memories, appeared vividly in my mind’s eye. ... What a strange coincidence it was to find that the lyrics of “Der Lindenbaum” are also the last words Hans utters in The Magic Mountain.
Chapter VII: Fullness of Harmony. Hans is overjoyed by the state-of-the-art gramophone and the 144 records newly installed in the sanatorium’s recreation room. An aficionado of music, he puts himself in charge of taking care of the gramophone, managing the record collection, and selecting songs to play. Once the other guests leave the recreation room, Hans is in heaven... The names of several masterpieces of classical music appear. As each is placed on the gramophone, Hans recalls the scenery they are meant to depict and appraises how wonderfully the instrumentation and singing captures it. “Der Lindenbaum,” which he is familiar with as one of the German people’s most beloved songs, is among them. The song’s gentle beginning suddenly shifts when the singing describes the traveler’s hat being blown off by a gust of wind, dramatically destroying the song’s mood and foreshadowing Hans’s own future. The last two lines, “I found my solace there / For rest and peace are here,” move Hans unexpectedly. In the Japanese version, the song ends with the refrain, “there I will find happiness.” As I listened to the voice trailing off with rapt longing, I imagined that this place of peace and tranquility offering both “rest” and “happiness” signified the end of the journey, that is, death.
And then...it has now been seven years since Hans entered the sanatorium. Hans has lost both his youth and his sense of existence. He has become a man living on autopilot. An opportunity to rejoin society suddenly arrives in the form of a draft notice following the outbreak of World War I. Settembrini raises his weakened body from his bed to see off this life’s delicate child,” who is determined to leave the mountain no matter the means. “Addio, Giovanni mio!” cries Settembrini from the train station platform, bidding farewell to his beloved Hans with the deepest affection, calling him by a name（“Giovanni” is Italian for Hans）and an appellation（“thou”）that he had never spoken before. ... And so ends this tearjerker of a human tale. Then, a ruthless battlefield slathered in rain, mud, and bullets. It is difficult to make out who is whom. But there, in the distance, we see Hans, marching through the mire, treading with his military boot upon the hand of a fallen comrade, bereft of everything, even his personality.
“And loving words I’ve carven / Upon its branches fair –.” Hans hums “Der Lindenbaum” upon heavy breaths. “Its waving branches whi – ispered / A mess – age in my ear –.” Visions of sweet happiness have vanished into the evening glow of the distant mountain fog. Now all there is the wind of whizzing bullets grazing his iron helmet... Our Hans, forsaken even by the omnipotent narrator, wanders across the wasteland between life and death! Farewell, most troublesome nursling, life’s delicate child, farewell!
And so ends this long, very long novel. I am not sure how to process Hans’s demise or this all-too-abrupt and cold ending... Fischer-Dieskau, through whom I was first introduced to Winterreise, was drafted into the German army at the age of nineteen, with the outbreak of World War II. He was trained on the Russian front before being sent to combat in Italy. There, he was captured by Allied forces and spent two years as a prisoner of war in an American military camp. It is said that Fischer-Dieskau mastered almost all of Schubert’s songs during those two years, soothing the souls of his captive compatriots.
He was fortunate to survive that vicious war despite Germany being outmanned. Resilient, he continued singing until he was almost 70 years old. Only someone driven by a “divine destiny” could have been blessed with such a magnificent life. On the one hand, Fischer-Dieskau, embraced by both the gods of fate and music. On the other, Hans Castorp, the work-in-progress who grasped at spiritual growth but could not quite reach it. In the end, World War I and World War II, the worlds of fiction and reality, may never actually intersect. However, in my heart, these two young soldiers stand side by side beneath the linden tree, brought together by a common song.
 Rebirth of a Story: A World 100 Years Ago and 100 Years Later
As a reader, it took me seven months to relive Hans Castorp’s seven-year journey. Young Hans became my friend as we traveled together through 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. After settling into his moratorium, where he could indulge his interests with the easy pleasure of a dilettante, without pressures to take any sort of material action, he disappeared into the inexorable historical rupture that is war.
Published in 1924, The Magic Mountain’s universality is enhanced by its weaving of classical motifs into the environment of a hundred years ago in which the novel is set. As unripe young men like Hans can be found in every age, his character is timeless... Ancient myths exude a mystical universality precisely because they suggest a curious continuity between lands otherwise separated by oceans and mountains, and because their stories are based on forms of human “karma” that remain constant over thousands and thousands of years. Like myths, every classic masterpiece of art is a key of “common understanding” capable of reawakening emotions that stretch across time and space. The real-time The Magic Mountain of a hundred years ago stirs our sympathies even today, a hundred years later.
That said. Will there still be classics a hundred years from now? Settembrini would certainly not be happy about people these days being okay with low literacy and the popularity of words like “anti-intellectualism.” We must continue to strive to create works worthy of the classics, so that there will be new classics to delight us a hundred years from now.
[Thought Fragments, etc.]
The International Sanatorium
The International Sanatorium Berghof has patients of many different nationalities. Many of the residents of the sanatorium, which was built in a prime location in the scenic resort town of Davos, are very rich. But even among the wealthy, tables in the dining room are divided into seven（not overtly discriminatory）categories based on ethnicity and social status. There is also a hierarchy of illnesses. Patients with mild conditions are regarded as freshmen, while those with moderate conditions are considered veterans. Those with conditions so severe that they can no longer make it to the cafeteria are treated as “moribunds”（people who are dying）. Anyone incapable of leaving their room is shunned by the other patients, who indulge in hedonistic pleasures to avoid the reality of death. When the sick finally succumb, their bodies are disposed of discreetly.（Only in this sequence of rituals is the sanatorium egalitarian.）
After seeing the bewitching portrait of Madame Chauchat painted by the head doctor, Hans takes to sitting on his balcony and gazing at the stars while lost in physiological ruminations. The wonders of the human body, the origins of life, even microorganisms like the tuberculosis bacillus... In this world, there are living things with individual wills and microorganisms without, and between them could there not also be a vast array of inanimate things? Such are Hans’s thoughts. This passage probably reflects the recent discovery of the existence of viruses, and is meant to foreshadow the onslaught of the Spanish flu pandemic during the World War I era.
One day, Madame Chauchat returns to the sanatorium with her elderly patron and lover, Mynheer Peeperkorn. Owner of a plantation, the parvenu Peeperkorn is an elusive fellow with a strong figure and a face like a mask from Greek tragedy. “Very good.” “By all means.” “Settled.” He declares, issuing one decisive statement after another. Even when the conversation is casual, he manages to confuse his interlocutor. As the host of a lavish card tournament held in the dining room, he charms the residents of the sanatorium with his Dionysian behavior... Hans, too, becomes completely enamored with him. “This is what it means to be human!” he thinks, surrendering himself to Peeperkorn’s bizarre aura at the expense of humanity and intelligence... As a couple, the nouveau riche colossus Peeperkorn and the predatory young Madame Chauchat remind me of Mr. and Mrs. Donald Trump. Has the combination of an overbearing demeanor and the inability to speak coherently always and everywhere been a prerequisite for charismatic personages?
Hans is caught in a blizzard during a reckless skiing trip in the mountains. Whiteout conditions cause him to take refuge in a mountain shack, where he has the following strange dream... The seaside, serene and filled with light. Residing there are simple yet beautiful people who worship the god of nature. This humble community of modest means moves Hans. But then, he raises his gaze. Atop the coast’s cliffs, he witnesses hell: a “banquet of blood.” Upon a stone altar, an old hag rips an infant apart and eats it!... Awakened by fear, Hans（in the most agitated of mental states）comes to the conclusion that there must be some kind of deep meaning in his dream’s vivid contrast of beauty and horror. No longer will he allow himself to be ensnared by Settembrini and Naphta’s yarns. Reason and religion are just concepts, and all binary oppositions –life and death, good and evil – are meaningless. All that remains is love! concludes Hans.（Incidentally, when I was his age, I came to the conclusion that all binaries are two sides of the same coin.）Eminently satisfied with the insight to which this little adventure has led him, Hans bounds down the mountain on his skis and heads to Settembrini’s home. But after falling asleep from exhaustion and relief, Hans wakes up to find the revelation wiped from his memory! His own hard-fought insight and his teacher’s valuable feedback have both slipped through his fingers, and with them, his chance of graduating from the sanatorium.
The Great War and Occultism
Towards the end of the novel, a psychic medium, Elly Brand, suddenly appears at the sanatorium. During a seance she conducts, the curious but careless Hans proposes summoning the spirit of his dead cousin Joachim. When his ghost appears in a dimly lit corner of the room（wearing a fake military uniform, perhaps due to lingering regrets of not being able to serve in the military）and stares at Hans with the same eyes he did in life, Hans breaks down and begins to sob... I find this scene very interesting, for in its mystery novel-style drama, it reflects the craze for the occult during the Belle Époque. In fact, many of the romantic, photographic, and illustrated postcards that were popular during World War I feature supernatural, mystical motifs, including Valkyrie aiding a soldier, a legless veteran standing beside his lover, and a vision of family members upon the battlefield. Though, at first glance, they look phony in the way images of the occult often do, one can also see the deep emotions they express for the safety and return of loved ones sent to war.（The same love is palpable in the scene with Joachim’s ghost.）
Mann and Wagner
Thomas Mann gave a lecture in 1933 entitled “The Sorrows and Grandeur of Richard Wagner.” “Wagner is not a symbol of the German soul, but one of the greatest artists in the world,” he says – words that would incite Mann’s denouncement by Hitler’s newly established cabinet and the cultural figures who supported it and would prevent him from returning to his native Germany. In chapter VII, “Fullness of Harmony,” in which appears a number of classical masterpieces, the words of musical appreciation from Hans’s mouth sound like they are based on the author’s own knowledge. “Mann’s a Wagnerian, so Wagner’s music is bound to come up!” I read expectantly, but not once was his name mentioned... Perhaps not writing about Wagner is the highest form of respect one can pay his music.
Death in Davos
The German Expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, who is a major influence on me as a printmaker, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home in Davos. The psychological trauma of fighting in World War I, and the shock of being branded as a “degenerate artist” by the Nazis, was ultimately too much for him to bear... The real-life sanatorium in Davos on which Mann modeled the one in The Magic Mountain treated mental illnesses as well as tuberculosis. Kirchner met the German conductor Otto Klemperer at this same sanatorium while he was being treated for mental illness. He even made a portrait of Klemperer playing the piano. In this image of artists congregating high in the mountains to escape the din of the lower world, I am reminded of Settembrini and Naphta. Likewise, in the steep, snow-covered mountains visible from Davos, I think of the apex of Kirchner’s despair at the moment he decided to shoot himself.
All quotations are from Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, trans. H. T. Lowe-Porter（London: Vintage, 1999）.