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

  • Edward Engelberg

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Solitary Confinement Collective Illness Early Story Ambiguous Ethic Negative Capability 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    C. A. M. Noble, Krankheit, Verbrechen, und künstlerisches Schaffen bei Thomas Mann (Bern: Verlag Herbert Lang, 1970), 137, 147.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Samuel Beckett, Proust (New York: Grove Press, 1957), 47.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Fritz Kaufmann, Thomas Mann: The World as Will and Representation (New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1973), 3.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    For the developing relationship between Death in Venice and The Magic Mountain see T.J. Reed, Thomas Mann: The Uses of Tradition 2nd. ed.(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 229ffGoogle Scholar
  5. T. E. Apter, Thomas Mann: The Devil’s Advocate (New York: New York University Press, 1979), 67ff.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    See Harry Slochower, Thomas Mann’s Joseph Story: An Interpretation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1938), 4.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, tr. John E. Woods (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 118.Google Scholar
  8. 12.
    Hans Mayer, Thomas Mann (Frankfurt-am-Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1980), 130.Google Scholar
  9. 15.
    Chris Ackerley has written a brief essay on this matter, “‘Who are these Hooded Hordes… Eliot’s The Waste Land and Hesse’s Blick in Chaos,” The Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association 32 (November 1994): 103–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. For an analysis of Western perceptions (and misperceptions) of the East, see Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon, 1978).Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    On Freud and other psychological observations on time/space perceptions, see Sanford Gifford, “‘The Prisoner of Time’: Some Developmental Aspects of Time Perception in Infancy, Sensory Isolation, and Old Age,” in The Annual of Psychoanalysis, vol. 8 (New York: International Universities Press, 1980), 131–154.Google Scholar
  12. 23.
    Thomas Mann, Joseph and His Brothers tr. H. T. Lowe-Porter (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963), 389, 381.Google Scholar
  13. 29.
    Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus, The Life of the German Composer Adrian Lev-erkühn as Told by a Friend, tr. John E. Woods (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), 8.Google Scholar
  14. 30.
    Michael Beddow, Thomas Mann: Doctor Faustus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Edward Engelberg 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edward Engelberg

There are no affiliations available

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