Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Magic Mountain

I picked up Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain" (1924) in a really good translation by the unimaginatively named John E. Woods amidst the bodice-rippers on the twenty-five cent table at the Na'alehu Farmer's Market the other day. I came across this line last night: All sorts of personal goals, purposes, hopes, prospects may float before the eyes of a given individual, from which he may then glean the impulse for exerting himself for great deeds; if the impersonal world around him, however, if the times themselves, despite all their hustle and bustle, provide him with neither hopes nor prospects, if they secretly supply him with evidence that things are in fact hopeless, without prospect or remedy, if the times respond with hollow silence to every conscious or subconscious question, however it may be posed, about the ultimate, unequivocal meaning of all exertions and deeds that are more than exclusively personal - then it is almost inevitable, particularly if the person involved is a more honest sort, the the situation will have a crippling effect, which, following moral and spiritual paths, may even spread to that individual's physical and organic life. To track that sentence down took great skill in hypotactic sentence construction, of course, but even more courage. Going there, to the place where we all measure ourselves against what the world secretly whispers to us and what we expect of ourselves, is to visit a place of great incoherence and vulnerability. Just to speak of such things sheds a little light and courage in the darkness where we all go fumbling to make a life. Thomas Mann's novels are vertiginous, often almost frightening reading experiences. Well, and to live in Germany through the first world war and its aftermath would give you a front-row seat on the catastrophic melt-down of a civilization.

1 comment:

Pajamahorse said...

It's interesting that the chaos communicated by the (lack of?) sentence structure conveys a subliminal message woven into the meaning of the thoughts. One must be determined to mine the nuggets, lest the subtleties be lost on the casual reader. There is a fine line between genius and insanity.

Mann sounds like a good read, but if that sentence is representative, a commitment.

Some books store the knowledge of centuries. Who of our youth are making the commitment to mine the nuggets to learn the lessons of history and apply them to the future?