O Altitudo! O Solitudo! Exilic Solitude and Ambiguous Ethics on The Magic Mountain

  • Edward Engelberg


From the earliest stories that found their full voice in the novella Death in Venice (1912) through the three major novels—The Magic Mountain, Joseph and His Brothers, and Doctor Faustus—to one of the last tales of loneliness, The Black Swan [Die Betrogenel], Mann was preoccupied, even obsessed, with men (and sometimes women) who were on the outside, who did not fit, whose often solitary existence brought them little happiness and much sorrow. Most of the time he treated these figures sympathetically, for was he not in some measure, for all his public unsmiling face, one of them? Of course, there were always touches of irony and ambiguity, and nowhere are these more clearly the center of the portrayal than in the depiction of that voluntary expatriate, the self-exiled Hans Castorp, for whom solitude is intended to have a heuristic function. This unheroic hero and his fellow-patients, hermetically sealed off in a tuberculosis sanatorium, experience their solitude on top of that magic mountain, where solitariness was both an imposed and selected form of alienation from the flatland, that other, “healthy” society one left behind when ascending to this snowbound island of isolation. It will turn out that the thrice-orphaned Castorp will be thrice-exiled: once from the flatland and family to the enchanting mountain; and again from the mountain’s medicinal function to the aesthetic, if decadent, realm of the East (for that realm can offer him nothing of the ethical). The third exile returns him to a “highly questionable” and ambiguous ethic as he is weaned from the mountain to return to the flatland, a released Ego making a choice.


Solitary Confinement Collective Illness Early Story Ambiguous Ethic Negative Capability 
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© Edward Engelberg 2001

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  • Edward Engelberg

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