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The magic mountain by Thomas Mann

The magic mountain (1924)

by Thomas Mann

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,20498654 (4.22)4 / 382
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    mousse: La narración se basa en las experiencias del autor, aquejado de tísis osea, en el sanatorio de Berck, en la costa francesa.El ambiente en el sanatorio y las relaciones entre los pacientes son similares.
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English (70)  Spanish (10)  Swedish (3)  French (3)  German (2)  Catalan (2)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  Portuguese (1)  Hungarian (1)  Italian (1)  Russian (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (98)
Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
the book ends and then keeps on going, like a dirt path after the sidewalk ceases. things become unnatural by the final chapters. a microcosm of an introspective life ( )
  Peter_Scissors | Jun 21, 2016 |
Possibly my favorite novel ever. The unexpected shock of Naphta's solution to a quarrel. the SNOW chapter, of course. The sense of a past never to be repeated and a world completely shattered by the Great War. The story manages in almost every sentence to be simultaneously bleak and triumphant. I wish for more people in the world to have read this novel. ( )
1 vote poingu | Jan 23, 2016 |
The ending tore my mind. ( )
  DVDWalsh | Jan 18, 2016 |
You’re faced with a daunting task when you try to talk about The Magic Mountain – there are so many threads that to pull on one seems unfair to the others. For some it’s a meditation on time, for others it’s the foundational ‘sick-lit’ masterpiece; it’s an allegory of pre-First World War Europe, say one group of supporters; not at all, argue others, it’s a parody of the Bildungsroman tradition.

And yet despite the profusion of themes and ideas, this is a supremely contained book. ‘Insular’ you might almost say, were the etymology not so inappropriate; perhaps ‘hermetically sealed’ is better (and indeed that becomes an important phrase in the text). The world of this novel is a closed one, or so at least it appears – sealed off from reality, with its own rules, its own time, its own space. The extent to which the characters here can interact with the ‘real’ world is something they have to discover themselves through the book’s seven-hundred-plus pages.

The plot can be disposed of in a single statement: that a young engineer called Hans Castorp takes a three-week visit to see his cousin in a Swiss sanatorium and ends up staying for seven years. This is not a novel of events, but a novel of ideas. (The main idea was apparently, I wonder if I can write seven hundred pages where literally nothing happens?)

At first the set-up seems to anticipate the whole imprisoned-in-a-medical-facility trope that has subsequently become familiar – as Hans gets sucked into the routine, and gradually diagnosed with problems of his own that prevent his leaving, I was picking up on a vague One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest vibe, and I also found myself thinking of the Alpine clinic scenes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or even the Timothy Cavendish bits of Cloud Atlas.

But the danger here is more subtle. The staff are friendly and accommodating (despite a sense that ‘above and behind [the Director] stood invisible forces’); you can leave for a trip into town, or even discharge yourself, whenever you wish. To paraphrase The Eagles, you can check out anytime you like, but you can never discount the possibility of a tubercular relapse forcing you to return with a collapsed lung. The patients claim they want to get out, but their attitude, in reality, is much more ambiguous. There’s a brilliant moment where Hans rails against the surroundings a little too much, and the director of the sanatorium calls his bluff with a quick examination:

When he was done, he said, ‘You may leave.’

Hans Castorp stammered, ‘You mean…but how can that be? Am I cured?’

‘Yes, you’re cured […]. As far as I’m concerned, you may leave.’

‘But, Director Behrens. You’re not really serious, are you?’

And suddenly we realise that Hans does not want to leave at all. He doesn’t want to go back to the responsibilities and expectations of his engineering job; here, in the sanatorium, he has freedom – freedom, and also a certain license in behaviour granted to the sick.

This is what lies behind the book’s treatment of time, and why the narrator can refer to the story as a Zeitroman, a ‘time-novel’. The inhabitants are in some sense degraded by being there, but they also cherish their privileged status, exempt from the world’s calendar. One character speaks of the sanatorium as an ‘isle of Circe’; it is a ‘life without time’, where the ‘true tense of all existence is the “inelastic present”’ (ausdehnungslose Gegenwart). In such an environment, there is a tendency for ideas, ideologies, dogma, to clash together unmediated – and also, conversely, for petty jealousies, flirtations and sexual desires to be unnaturally heightened.

Indeed this must be one of the most sexual novels ever written to involve so little actual sex. Everything is sublimated into various social conventions, so that Hans’s quasi-relationship with his mysterious fellow patient Clavdia Chauchat is initiated when he asks to borrow a pencil, and a climactic instance of sexual union is described, adorably, as a moment when ‘the use of informal pronouns achieved its full meaning’.

Psychoanalytic critics have had a field-day with the pencil-lending, not least because it reminds Hans of his homoerotic feelings for a childhood friend. But what makes the book truly Freudian in a less trivial sense is its close examination of the links between sex and death, eros and thanatos. One of my favourite chapters is the section called ‘Research’, where Hans stays up all night reading books about anatomy and biochemistry and feeling intimations of mortality mixed with a vague horniness. Life is imagined as ‘a secret, sensate stirring in the chaste chill of space’ – ‘matter blushing in reflex’ – while evolution is ‘the quintessence of sensuality and desire’, stirred into action ‘by reeking flesh’. Gazing out over the nighttime Alpine landscape, Hans sees only a cosmic, naked (female) human body:

The night of its pubic region built a mystic triangle with the steaming pungent darkness of the armpits, just as the red epithelial mouth did with the eyes, or the red buds of the breast with the vertically elongated navel.

(This whole virtuoso section reminded me of university, spending all night poring over textbooks while trying to manage teenage hormones.)

So much for the metaphysical games, the grand narrative theories. I’d expected something of the sort just from the novel’s reputation. What I had not expected – and it came as a very pleasant surprise – was to find that The Magic Mountain is a comic novel. In fact the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that it’s this tone that lifts it, for me, into the first rank. Apart from anything else, it’s so important for the reader that they have some counterpoint to the grandiose theories so many of the characters want to expound upon, and Mann provides exactly that through the endearing character of Hans himself, our ‘thoroughly unpretentious’, ‘unheroic hero’. High-minded comments – and there are many – are rarely allowed to stand without an invitation for us to smile at them:

‘Did you know that the great Plotinus is recorded to have said that he was ashamed to have a body?’ Settembrini asked, and with such earnest expectation of an answer that Hans Castorp found himself forced to admit that this was the first he had heard of it.

Later, after a similarly earnest apophthegm from another character, we are allowed to eavesdrop on Hans's thought process: ‘Well, there’s a Delphic remark for you,’ he says to himself. ‘And if you purse your lips tight after delivering it, that will certainly intimidate everyone for a bit.’ In fact even when Hans is the one delivering the sententiousness, he can’t take himself very seriously:

‘There are so many different kinds of stupidity, and cleverness is one of the worst. Hello! Why, I think I’ve just coined a phrase, a bon mot. How do you like it?’

(‘Very much,’ comes the deadpan reply. ‘I cannot wait for your first collection of aphorisms.’) Without these ironic shifts in register, the book would still be fascinating but it would be monotone: with them, the effect is almost orchestral.

Such things are brought out especially well by John E Woods in his 1996 translation, an improvement on the old 1927 Lowe-Porter version in every way. Lowe-Porter, it has been said, succeeded in translating the novel into German, and having tried the first few pages of her translation I admit I found it almost unreadable. I had to order the Woods from the US, but it was worth it, despite the godawful cover and font design used by Vintage, and passing over also the Americanisms scattered through the text (catercorner being perhaps the most jarring; Woods also silently amends the patients’ temperatures from Celsius to Fahrenheit!).

Towards the end of the book, we finally suspect that Mann is pushing us beyond the ‘hyperarticulate’ arguments and towards real-world applications of these theories – to ‘leave logomachy behind’, as the narrator says at one point. The final couple of pages of this book move for the first time beyond Davos, to show us the Western Front – and we realise with a terrific jolt that it is 1914 and time has not stopped moving after all. Suddenly we appreciate the full importance of the novel’s investigation into how love and life can be made to emerge from death.

But now I am in danger of just rephrasing the book’s final lines in less felicitous language. Suffice to say that the whole mountainous project comes together in the climax, and it all ends, characteristically, in a question mark. Readers today may be better-placed than they wish to supply the answers. ( )
2 vote Widsith | Jun 20, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (67 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mann, Thomasprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Byatt, A.S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Caro, HerbertTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Castelló, DavidTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fonseca, GonzaloIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Giachetti-Sorteni, BiceTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hawinkels, PéTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kaila, KaiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lowe-Porter, H. T.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lowe-Porter, H. T.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Marques, BernardoCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mattson, EllenAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rosoman, LeonardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wallenström, UlrikaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winter, G.A. vonAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wood, MichaelIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woods, John E.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Курелла, В.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Станевич, В.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Die Geschichte Hans Castorps, die wir erzählen wollen, - nicht um seinetwillen (denn der Leser wird einen einfachen, wenn auch ansprechenden jungen Mann in ihm kennenlernen), sondern um der Geschichte willen, die uns in hohem Grade erzählenswert scheint (wobei zu Hans Castorps Gunsten denn doch erinnert werden sollte, dass es seine Geschichte ist, und dass nicht jedem jede Geschichte passiert): diese Geschichte ist sehr lange her, sie ist sozusagen schon ganz mit historischem Edelrost überzogenund unbedingt in der Zeitform der tiefsten Vergangenheit vorzutragen.

An unassuming young man was travelling, in midsummer, from his native city of Hamburg to Davos-Platz in the Canton of the Grisons, on a three weeks' visit.
The story of Hans Castorp, which we would here set forth, not on his own account, for in him the reader will make acquaintance with a simple-minded though pleasing young man, but for the sake of the story itself, which seems to us highly worth telling - though it must needs be borne in mind, in Hans Castorp's behalf, that it is his story, and not every story happens to everybody - this story, we say, belongs to the long ago; it is already, so to speak, covered with historical mould, and unquestionably to be presented in the tense best suited to a narrative out of the depth of the past.
Well, about the skin. What do you want to hear about your sensory sheath? You know, don't you, that it is your outside brain - ontogenetically the same as that apparatus of the so-called higher centres up there in your cranium? The central nervous system is nothing but a modification of the outer skin-layer; among the lower animals the distinction between central and peripheral doesn't exist, they smell and taste with their skin, it is the only sensory organ they have. Must be rather nice - if you can put yourself in their place. On the other hand, in such highly differentiated forms of life as you and I are, the skin has fallen from its high estate; it has to confine itself to feeling ticklish; that is to say, to being simply a protective and registering apparatus - but devilishly on the qui vive for anything that tries to come too close about the body. It even puts our feelers - the body hairs, which are nothing but hardened skin cells - and they get wind of the approach of whatever it is, before the skin is touched. Just between ourselves, it is quite possible that this protecting and defending function of the skin extends beyond the physical. Do you know what makes you go red and pale? ( -- Hofrat Behrens in conversation with Hans Castorp p 263)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679772871, Paperback)

In this dizzyingly rich novel of ideas, Mann uses a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps--a community devoted exclusively to sickness--as a microcosm for Europe, which in the years before 1914 was already exhibiting the first symptoms of its own terminal irrationality. The Magic Mountain is a monumental work of erudition and irony, sexual tension and intellectual ferment, a book that pulses with life in the midst of death.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:22 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

A sanitorium in the Swiss Alps reflects the societal ills of pre-twentieth-century Europe, and a young marine engineer rises from his life of anonymity to become a pivotal character in a story about how a human's environment affects self identity. In this dizzyingly rich novel of ideas, Mann uses a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, a community devoted exclusively to sickness, as a microcosm for Europe, which in the years before 1914 was already exhibiting the first symptoms of its own terminal irrationality. The Magic Mountain is a monumental work of erudition and irony, sexual tension and intellectual ferment, a book that pulses with life in the midst of death.… (more)

» see all 5 descriptions

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