The Magic Mountain - by Thomas Mann

What we call tedium is rather an abnormal shortening of the time consequent upon monotony. Great spaces of time passed in unbroken uniformity tend to shrink together in a way to make the heart stop beating for fear; when one day is like all the others, then they are all like one; complete uniformity would make the longest life seem short, and as though it had stolen away from us unawares. Habituation is a falling asleep or fatiguing of the sense of time; which explains why young years pass slowly, while later life flings itself faster and faster upon its course. We are aware that the intercalation of periods of change and novelty is the only means by which we can refresh our sense of time, strengthen, retard, and rejuvenate it, and therewith renew our perception of life itself. Such is the purpose of our changes of air and scene, of all our sojourns at cures and bathing resorts; it is the secret of the healing power of change and incident. Our first days in a new place, time has a youthful, that is to say, a broad and sweeping, flow, persisting for some six or eight days. Then, as one “gets used to the place,” a gradual shrinkage makes itself felt. He who clings or, better expressed, wishes to cling to life, will shudder to see how the days grow light and lighter, how they scurry by like dead leaves, until the last week, of some four, perhaps, is uncannily fugitive and fleet. On the other hand, the quickening of the sense of time will flow out beyond the interval and reassert itself after the return to ordinary existence: the first days at home after the holiday will be lived with a broader flow, freshly and youthfully—but only the first few, for one adjusts oneself more quickly to the rule than to the exception; and if the sense of time be already weakened by age, or—and this is a sign of low vitality—it was never very well developed, one drowses quickly back into the old life, and after four-and-twenty hours it is as though one had never been away, and the journey had been but a watch in the night.

One might say that he spent the week in waiting for the next week’s delivery. And waiting means hurrying on ahead, it means regarding time and the present moment not as a boon, but an obstruction; it means making their actual content null and void, by mentally overleaping them. Waking, we say, is long. We might just as well—or more accurately—say it is short, since it consumes whole spaces of time without our living them or making any use of them as such. We may compare him who lives on expectation to a greedy man, whose digestive apparatus works through quantities of food without converting it into anything of value or nourishment to his system. We might almost go so far as to say that, as undigested food makes man no stronger, so time spent in waiting makes him no older. But in practice, of course, there is hardly such a thing as pure and unadulterated waiting.

You could never convict me of ascetic inclinations. I affirm, honour, and love the body, as I protest I affirm, honour, and love form, beauty, freedom, gaiety, the enjoyment of life. I represent the world, the interest of this life, against a sentimental withdrawal and negation, classicism against romanticism. I think my position is unequivocal. But there is one power, one principle, which commands my deepest assent, my highest and fullest allegiance and love; and this power, this principle, is the intellect. However much I dislike hearing that conception of moonshine and cobwebs people call ‘the soul’ played off against the body, yet, within the antithesis of body and mind, the body is the evil, the devilish principle, for the body is nature, and nature—within the sphere, I repeat, of her antagonism to the mind, and to reason—is evil, mystical and evil. ‘You are a humanist?’ By all means I am a humanist, because I am a friend of mankind, like Prometheus, a lover of humanity and human nobility. That nobility is comprehended in the mind, in the reason, and therefore you will level against me in vain the reproach of Christian obscurantism—”

Could you conceive, Professor, of any possible criticism, if only on the score of consistency? A few minutes ago you were at pains to make comprehensible to us a Christian individualism based on the dualism of God and the world, and to prove its pre-eminence over all politically determined morality. And now you profess a socialism pushed to the point of dictatorship and terrorism. How do you reconcile the two things?” “Opposites,” said Naphta, “may be consistent with each other. It is the middling, the neither-one-thing-nor-the-other that is preposterous. Your individualism, as I have already taken the liberty of remarking, is defective. It is a confession of weakness. It corrects its pagan State morality by the admixture of a little Christianity, a little ‘rights of man,’ a little so-called liberty—but that is all. An individualism that springs from the cosmic, the astrological importance of the individual soul, an individualism not social but religious, that conceives of humanity not as a conflict between the ego and society, but as a conflict between the ego and God, between the flesh and the spirit—a genuine individualism like that sorts very well with the most binding communism.”

That is an answer, at least,” he said, turning to Naphta again. “It gives me cold comfort, but it is an answer. Let us examine all the consequences flowing from it. Along with industry, your Christian communism would reject machinery, technique, material progress. Along with what you call trade—money and finance, which in antiquity ranked higher than agriculture and manual labour—you reject freedom. For it is clear, so clear as to be evident to the meanest intelligence, that all social relations, public and private, would be attached to the soil, as in the Middle Ages; even—I feel some reluctance to say it—even the person of the individual. If only the soil can maintain life, then only the possession of it can confer freedom. Manual labourers and peasants, however honourable their position, if they possess no real property, can only be the property of those who do. As a matter of fact, until well on in the Middle Ages the great mass of the population, even the town-dwellers, were serfs. In the course of our discussion you have let fall various allusions to the dignity of the human being. Yet you are defending the morality of an economic system which deprives the individual of liberty and self-respect.” “About self-respect and the lack of it,” responded Naphta, “there is a good deal to be said. For the moment, I should be glad if the association were to make you conceive of liberty less as a beautiful gesture and more as a serious problem. You assert that Christian morality, with all its beauty and benignity, makes for servitude. And I, on the other hand, assert that the question of freedom—the question of cities, to put it more concretely—has always been a highly ethical question, and is historically bound up with the inhuman degeneration of commercial morality, with all the horrors of modern industrialism and speculation, and with the devilish domination of money and finance.”

Like many gifted people of his race, Naphta was both natural aristocrat and natural revolutionary; a socialist, yet possessed by the dream of shining in the proudest, finest, most exclusive and conventional sphere of life. That first utterance which the society of a Catholic theologian had tempted from him was—however comparative and analytical in form—in substance a declaration of affection for the Roman Church, as a power at once spiritual and aristocratic (in other words anti-material), at once superior and inimical to worldly things (in other words, revolutionary). And the homage he thus paid was genuine, and profound; for, as he himself explained, Judaism, by virtue of its secular and materialistic leanings, its socialism, its political adroitness, had actually more in common with Catholicism than the latter had with the mystic subjectivity and self-immolation of Protestantism; the conversion of a Jew to the Roman Catholic faith was accordingly a distinctly less violent spiritual rupture than was that of a Protestant.

This talk of the sanctified lot of the poor and wretched—yes, and what the Engineer, in his simplicity, had said about the Christian reverence due to suffering—was simply gammon, resting as it did on a misconception, on mistaken sympathy, on erroneous psychology. The pity the well person felt for the sick—a pity that almost amounted to awe, because the well person could not imagine how he himself could possibly bear such suffering—was very greatly exaggerated. The sick person had no real right to it. It was, in fact, the result of an error in thinking, a sort of hallucination; in that the well man attributed to the sick his own emotional equipment, and imagined that the sick man was, as it were, a well man who had to bear the agonies of a sick one—than which nothing was further from the truth. For the sick man was—precisely that, a sick man: with the nature and modified reactions of his state. Illness so adjusted its man that it and he could come to terms; there were sensory appeasements, short circuits, a merciful narcosis; nature came to the rescue with measures of spiritual and moral adaptation and relief, which the sound person naïvely failed to take into account. There could be no better illustration than the case of all this tuberculous crew up here, with their reckless folly, light-headedness and loose morals, and their total lack of desire for health. In short, let the sound man with all his respect for illness once fall ill himself, and he would soon see that being ill is a state of being in itself—no very honourable one either—and that he had been taking it a good deal too seriously.

Herr Settembrini had quite won him over with his plastic theory. Say what you like—and there was a lot to be said for the idea that illness had something solemn and ennobling about it—yet after all, you couldn’t deny that illness was an accentuation of the physical, it did throw man back, so to speak, upon the flesh and to that extent was detrimental to human dignity. It dragged man down to the level of his body. Thus it might be argued that disease was un-human. On the contrary, Naphta hastened to say. Disease was very human indeed. For to be man was to be ailing. Man was essentially ailing, his state of unhealthiness was what made him man. There were those who wanted to make him “healthy,” to make him “go back to nature,” when, the truth was, he never had been “natural.” All the propaganda carried on to-day by the prophets of nature, the experiments in regeneration, the uncooked food, fresh-air cures, sun-bathing, and so on, the whole Rousseauian paraphernalia, had as its goal nothing but the dehumanization, the animalizing of man. They talked of “humanity,” of nobility—but it was the spirit alone that distinguished man, as a creature largely divorced from nature, largely opposed to her in feeling, from all other forms of organic life. In man’s spirit, then, resided his true nobility and his merit—in his state of disease, as it were; in a word, the more ailing he was, by so much was he the more man. The genius of disease was more human than the genius of health. How, then, could one who posed as the friend of man shut his eyes to these fundamental truths concerning man’s humanity? Herr Settembrini had progress ever on his lips: was he aware that all progress, in so far as there was such a thing, was due to illness, and to illness alone? In other words, to genius, which was the same thing? Had not the normal, since time was, lived on the achievements of the abnormal? Men consciously and voluntarily descended into disease and madness, in search of knowledge which, acquired by fanaticism, would lead back to health; after the possession and use of it had ceased to be conditioned by that heroic and abnormal act of sacrifice. That was the true death on the cross, the true Atonement.

In a word, Hans Castorp was valorous up here—if by valour we mean not mere dull matter-of-factness in the face of nature, but conscious submission to her, the fear of death cast out by irresistible oneness. Yes, in his narrow, hypercivilized breast, Hans Castorp cherished a feeling of kinship with the elements, connected with the new sense of superiority he had lately felt at sight of the silly people on their little sleds; it had made him feel that a profounder, more spacious, less luxurious solitude than that afforded by his balcony chair would be beyond all price. He had sat there and looked abroad, at those mist-wreathed summits, at the carnival of snow, and blushed to be gaping thus from the breastwork of material well-being. This motive, and no momentary fad—no, nor yet any native love of bodily exertion—was what impelled him to learn the use of skis.

The recklessness of death is in life, it would not be life without it—and in the centre is the position of the Homo Dei, between recklessness and reason, as his state is between mystic community and windy individualism.

A brotherhood can never be purely contemplative. By its very nature it must be executive, must organize.

They gave themselves over to a blissful far niente, enlivened by scraps of conversation in which, out of sheer high spirits, no one hung back. They uttered thoughts that in the thinking had seemed primevally fresh and beautiful, but in the saying somehow turned lame, stammering, indiscreet, a perfect gallimaufry, calculated to arouse the scorn of any sober onlooker. The audience, however, took no offence, all being in much the same irresponsible condition.

The subject is so equivocal, the limits so fluctuating. We make bold to laugh at the idea. Is it not well done that our language has but one word for all kinds of love, from the holiest to the most lustfully fleshly? All ambiguity is therein resolved: love cannot but be physical, at its furthest stretch of holiness; it cannot be impious, in its utterest fleshliness. It is always itself, as the height of shrewd “geniality” as in the depth of passion; it is organic sympathy, the touching sense-embrace of that which is doomed to decay. In the most raging as in the most reverent passion, there must be caritas. The meaning of the word varies? In God’s name, then, let it vary; That it does so makes it living, makes it human; it would be a regrettable lack of “depth” to trouble over the fact.

The duel, my friend, is not an “arrangement,” like another. It is the ultimate, the return to a state of nature, slightly mitigated by regulations which are chivalrous in character, but extremely superficial. The essential nature of the thing remains the primitive, the physical struggle; and however civilized a man is, it is his duty to be ready for such a contingency, which may any day arise. Whoever is unable to offer his person, his arm, his blood, in the service of the ideal, is unworthy of it; however intellectualized, it is the duty of a man to remain a man.”