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Why does each of these philosophers—each fundamentally concerned with his own originality—return to Socrates as a model? The answer lies in the irony that characterizes the Socrates we know from the Platonic dialogues. Socratic irony creates a mask that prevents a view of what lies behind. How Socrates led the life he did, what enabled or inspired him, is never made evident. No tenets are proposed. Socrates remains a silent and ambiguous character, forcing readers to come to their own conclusions about the art of life. This, Nehamas shows, is what allowed Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Foucault to return to Socrates as a model without thereby compelling them to imitate him.
This highly readable, erudite study argues for the importance of the tradition within Western philosophy that is best described as "the art of living" and casts Montaigne, Nietzsche, and Foucault as the three major modern representatives of this tradition. Full of original ideas and challenging associations, this work will offer new ways of thinking about the philosophers Nehamas discusses and about the discipline of philosophy itself.
Author and Audience
Isn't it grand, isn't it good, that language has only one word for everything we associate with love--from utter sanctity to the most fleshly lust? The result is perfect clarity in ambiguity, for love cannot be disembodied even in its most sanctified forms, nor is it without sanctity even in its most fleshly ... Caritas is assuredly found in the most admirable and most depraved passions. Irresolute? But in God's name, leave the meaning of love unresolved/unresolved--that is life and humanity, and it would betray a dreary lack of subtlety to worry about it.
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
No novel can match the irreducible ambivalence that permeates The Magic Mountain. No passage can sum up that ambivalence better than this short discourse on the double nature of love, both "utter sanctity" and "fleshly lust," elegantly and irresolubly poised between these two seemingly inconsonant poles. Thomas Mann's irony deprives his readers of any final ground. Mann makes self-deceivers of all those who try to determine once and for all the nature of Hans Castorp, the novel's unassuming and unusual hero, and of the illness that brings him to a sanatorium for a stay that goes from three weeks to seven years. Mann's irony induces self-deception in the novel's readers in the very process of exposing them to a set of characters whose lives are filled with constant self-deception and to whom he makes these readers feel, for no good reason, superior. "Its questioning smile," a critic has written, "embraces impartially the author and its subject alike. But this smile, as we shall see, also embraces the reader, and it is neither purely genial nor wholly benevolent.
I will begin with Thomas Mann in order to illustrate a kind of irony that goes all the way down: it does not reveal the ironist's real state of mind, and it intimates that such a state may not exist at all. It makes a mystery of its author as well as of his characters, and it often turns its readers into fools. It originates in Plato, who remains perhaps its most disturbing practitioner. My goal is to examine the peculiar, almost paradoxical phenomenon that out of the irony of Plato and Socrates, the character Plato created and to whom he gave a stronger foothold on reality than he gave himself, a whole tradition according to which life can be lived eventually came to grow.
That tradition has been constantly reinterpreted and directed at the most disparate ends by Socrates' enemies as well as by his admirers. It has now become a whole family of traditions, a whole approach to philosophy not as a theoretical discipline but as an art of living. It has produced the most diverse pictures of Socrates as well as the most different conceptions of life itself In particular, it has inspired a particular approach that takes a human life to be at its most worthwhile when it is at its most individual and most inimitable. Yet all these various individual lives, three of which we shall address in the second part of this book, go back explicitly to Socrates, who persistently presents a silent, impenetrable appearance to them, refusing to let them see how he managed to live as he did. Which makes one wonder whether all his followers--friends and foes alike- are not, in a way, Socrates' fools. But before we turn to Socrates, we begin with a humbler, much less imposing and admirable but perhaps equally enigmatic character, who also, in his own phlegmatic, middle-class way, tried to make a life for himself.
On his first morning at the International Hans Berghof, where he had gone on a three-week visit to rest and to entertain his tubercular cousin, Hans Castorp woke up earlier than usual despite his deep exhaustion the night before. While, with characteristic fastidiousness, he devoted himself to his morning toilet before going down to breakfast, thoughts about his troubled sleep rose in his mind. "He recalled his confused dreams and shook his head complacently over so much nonsense, with the superior feeling a man has shaving himself in the clear light of reason. He did not feel precisely rested, but he had a sense of morning freshness" (38/56).
Sounds of music drifted up from the valley below the Berghof as Hans Castorp stood on his balcony on the magic mountain. Hans, who loved music deeply, "from his heart," gave himself to it. "He listened, well pleased, his head on one side, his eyes a little bloodshot" (38/56). First-time readers of Mann's novel cannot yet know that Hans always listens to music, drinks his beer, and confronts death, either manifest or merely intimated, with his head on one side. The pose is throughout the work one way of expressing that he understands, appreciates, or sympathizes with a particular situation from which he is also keeping his distance, that he remains at least superficially unaffected by it, as is proper for a man of his station and temperament. And whether the readers do or do not realize it, Hans's early sense of "morning freshness" is already tainted with intimations of death. Soon after his arrival the night before he had learned that the bodies from another sanatorium, higher up on the slopes than the Berghof, had to be transported down to the village on bobsleds during the winter. But even as Hans's hysterical laughter at the gruesome idea--"a violent, irrepressible laugh, which shook him all over and distorted his face" (9/17)--turned that grim fact into a comic outlandishness, death had already intruded into the young man's visit and into his life. Superficially organized as a playground for the idle rich, the mountain is really a place of death. But death can still provoke laughter.
Confused dreams, bloodshot eyes, a feeling of not having rested, a posture associated with the contemplation of death (though Hans is no more aware of that connection than the novel's first-time reader): something is not quite right with the young engineer. But the official story that both he and the readers have been told is that he has come to the sanatorium primarily to provide a distraction for his sick cousin. And with that idea foremost in his mind, Hans is still pleased, complacent, and at ease. The symptoms of his unease, which turn out to be the symptoms of his disease, are muted and understated. They pass unnoticed, or almost so. They slip in just below the threshold of the consciousness of character and reader alike. They (and others, as we shall soon see) are there, but they still mean little or nothing.
Still on his balcony, Castorp finds himself watching a black-clad woman walking about alone in the sanatorium garden. Again, though neither hero nor reader knows this yet, this connects him further with death, since the woman, known to the Berghof patients as Tous-les-deux, is there to tend her two dying sons. And while he is watching her, Castorp begins to hear "certain noises" in the room of the Russian couple who live directly next to him. Still immersed in the pure beauty of his surroundings, Hans feels that these sounds "no more suited the blithe freshness of the morning than had the sad sight in the garden below" (39/56-57). He now recalls that he had heard similar sounds coming from the same room the night before, as he was preparing himself for bed, "though his weariness had prevented him from heeding them: a struggling, a panting and giggling, the offensive nature of which could not long remain hidden to the young man, try as he good-naturedly might to put a harmless construction on them" (39/57).
Castorp, then, knows how to defend himself--up to a point--against embarrassing or unpleasant events. Even this morning, as he hears the sounds once more and begins to form a clear idea of their nature, he resists them. And his resistance is not innocent: "Perhaps something more or other than good nature was in play." His attitude, Mann writes, is what we sometimes call "purity of soul," sometimes "chastity," sometimes "hypocrisy," and sometimes "an obscure sense of awe and piety." As is his practice throughout the novel, Mann does not try to decide among those alternatives: "In truth, something of all these was in Hans Castorp's face and bearing as he listened. He seemed to be practicing a seemly obscurantism; to be mentally drawing the veil over these sounds that he heard; to be telling himself that honour forbade his taking any cognizance of them, or even hearing them at all--it gave him an air of propriety which was not quite native, though he knew how to assume it on occasion" (39/57).
We are told clearly that such an air of propriety is definitely not natural to the young engineer. He must have acquired both the facial expression and the self-deceptive strategy it manifests at some specific point in his life. And, in fact, we have already been told when that was. When Castorp's paternal grandfather, in whose house he had spent part of his childhood, died, he lay in state dressed not in his everyday black clothes but in an old-fashioned uniform that Hans had always felt expressed "the genuine, the authentic grandfather" (25/39). While the old man reposed in his coffin, resplendent in his uniform, Hans noted that "a fly had settled on the quiet brow, and began to move its proboscis up and down" (27-28/42). The grandfather's manservant tried to remove it without drawing attention to the situation: "Old Fiete shooed it cautiously away, taking care not to touch the forehead of the dead, putting on a seemly air of absent-mindedness--of obscurantism, as it were--as though he neither might nor would take notice of what he was doing" (28/43). Fiete's lesson is not lost on the boy. Hans Castorp has learned to be good at denying the obvious; his treatment of his neighbors' lovemaking is a perfect case in point.
In order not to have to listen to what is becoming more and more difficult to explain away, Hans leaves the balcony for his room. But that is a total failure, since the sounds of his Russian neighbors are even louder as they come through the thin wall that separates their room from his. He is shocked. He blushes. He tries to excuse them: "Well, at least they are married.... But in broad daylight--it's a bit thick! And last night too, I'm sure. But of course they're ill, or at least one of them, or they wouldn't be here" (40/57-58).
It is hard to imagine at this point that a man like Hans, who cannot admit in good conscience that such behavior even exists, could ever engage in it himself. For one thing, unlike his neighbors, he is not sick. He is a visitor at the Berghof. He is not there on account of his health: his family doctor's prescription of a few weeks on the mountains has been presented so casually and without fanfare that it slips by without being noticed (36/53). And, to the extent that the episode is noticed, the reason given for the prescription is that Hans is simply a little tired after his examinations and needs a short rest before he joins his firm and starts work in earnest. Even more to the point, his cousin Joachim, who is a patient at the sanatorium on account of a very real case of tuberculosis, could do with a little company. And yet Hans's unthinking comment that at least one of the Russians must be ill "or they wouldn't be there" casts his own presence at the sanatorium in an ambiguous light. Since he, too, is there, why should he be different from them? But before we can even raise that question, the narrative moves on and its brisk pace prevents us from focusing seriously on such an apparently incidental point. Good readers will remember this little incident later on, but it is hard to turn it into a topic in its own right at this time.
There is also a second reason Castorp would never dream of behaving like his neighbors, who take their meals at what is known as the "bad" Russian table. We already know that he is a supremely proper and particular German young man, and he knows, as we have just seen, that the Berghof's walls are so thin that everyone can hear whatever goes on in its rooms. He would never expose himself to the danger of becoming the target of the sanatorium's many gossips. And yet eventually he does behave just like his coarse neighbors. On carnival night, he tries long, and perhaps successfully, to convince Clawdia Chauchat, the Russian woman with whom he has fallen in love in the meantime, that he really is ill--"one of us"--and not just an impostor from the "flat-land." Clawdia, whose own demeanor is far from proper, invites him to her bedroom, and he spends part of the night with her. Like many of the patients he so disdains, Hans too ends up having what, at least from the outside, looks like a sordid little affair. But that too is something we do not yet know.
What we do know at this early point is that the behavior of his neighbors has upset Castorp immensely:
The flush which had mounted in his freshly shaven cheek [die frisch rasierten Wangen] did not subside, nor its accompanying warmth: his face glowed with the same dry heat as on the evening before. He had got free of it in sleep, but the blush had made it set in again. He did not feel the friendlier for this discovery towards the wretched pair next door; in fact he stuck out his lips and muttered a derogatory word in their direction, as he tried to cool his hot face by bathing it in cold water--and only made it glow the more. He felt put out; his voice vibrated with ill humour as he answered to his cousin's knock on the wall; and he appeared to Joachim on his entrance like anything but a man refreshed [erfrischt] and invigorated by a good night's sleep. (40/58)
Hans Castorp practices this "seemly obscurantism" quite frequently in the course of the novel. It is a form--perhaps mild, perhaps not--of self-deception. The particular section devoted to his first morning at the sanatorium exhibits, and makes a topic of, Hans's ability to ignore, at least up to a point, subjects that upset or threaten him--in this case, the tactless lovemaking of his neighbors, who he believes are coarser and less healthy than himself.
The veil Hans draws is at best tullelike, semitransparent, incapable of finally hiding the doings of the Russian couple. Yet, in the same motion, Hans also draws another set of curtains, more substantial, heavier, velvetlike. As we observe Hans formulate and manipulate his feelings about his neighbors, as we see him first deny and then excuse their behavior on account of their illness, we miss--we should miss, I think, as Hans himself misses--a number of indications of his own state of health, which is a subject of much greater importance to the novel as a whole.
Those indications are presented subtly. I have cited them already: "He did not feel precisely rested, yet he had a sense of morning freshness"; "he listened well pleased, his head on one side, his eyes a little bloodshot"; "his face glowed with the same dry heat as on the evening before." But Mann counterbalances those allusions to Hans's discomfort by his references to the good feelings that are only to be expected when a man wakes up in the pure mountain air and shaves himself "in the clear light of reason." At the very end of the section, when Joachim arrives to take his cousin to breakfast, Mann allows us to see Hans's irritable voice and flushed face, more objectively so to speak, from Joachim's point of view. Joachim has no excuses for his cousin's appearance. But Hans's mounting anger over his neighbors' behavior, to which most of the paragraph leading to Joachim's entrance has been devoted, has come so much to the forefront of our attention that it provides a convincing psychological explanation of his unsettled appearance: Hans is flushed because he is shocked, dismayed, and angry. It is difficult to interpret his red face as the first symptom of the consumption that keeps him on the mountain and ultimately makes him, from one point of view, just like the rest of the patients from whom, even at the end of the book, we will still be trying to distinguish him.
This tiny part of this very long novel exhibits the workings of self-deception. Mann does not explain how self-deception works; he has no "theory" of it. But his mere depiction of the phenomenon creates a chilling effect. Throughout most of the narrative, though progressively less in its later stages, Mann identifies the points of view of Hans, the narrator, and the reader. That strategy enables Mann to produce in his readers the same incomplete awareness of Hans's state that Hans himself possesses. We, too, are deceived for a long time about Hans's illness. We, too, choose to ignore the information that, in retrospect, should have convinced us that Hans had been sick (however sickness is to be understood in this questionable book) for some time--perhaps since childhood and certainly before he was told, as we are told, that it would be nice to visit his cousin and relax before he took up his first professional position. We remain deceived about this character who, because our point of view is so close to his, becomes for a long time our own second self. His errors are also errors of our own. And they are not only errors about Hans. They are errors about ourselves as well. We overlook the fact that we have at our disposal all the evidence that is necessary to decide that Hans is indeed sick; we refuse, or are simply unwilling, to confront that evidence directly and to interpret it as we should. As we attend to Hans trying to deceive himself about his neighbors, we disregard his much more successful disregard of his tubercular symptoms. Our ignorance regarding Hans's illness is also ignorance regarding ourselves as well. In depicting self-deception in his character, Mann induces it in his readers. The effect is chilling indeed.
Indications that Hans Castorp is and has been ill for a long time are strewn all over The Magic Mountain. We know, very early on, that both Hans's young father and his paternal grandfather, with whom Hans shared so many characteristics--physical, psychological, and even spiritual--died of an inflammation of the lungs (19/30; 26/39). "Inflammation of the lungs" ("Lungenentzundung") does not call tuberculosis immediately to mind, especially because at this early stage of the work the disease has not yet become a central theme. That is surely the reason Mann uses that more neutral expression, but in retrospect its significance is unmistakable. And though it is true that Hans's mother died not of lung problems but of cardiac arrest, Joachim is her half-sister's son. Her family, too, was therefore in all probability predisposed to the disease.
Hans, then, is in the midst of a serious tubercular episode. But both he and the narrator and, by means of the identification of the points of view we have already mentioned, the readers of the novel as well wave its symptoms away. Hans's flushed face, for example, is, we shall come to understand, a classic symptom of the disease: the sanatorium's chief physician, Hofrat Behrens, who is not untainted by the disease he fights, is always blotched and red-faced. But when Hans brings up "this damned heat I feel all the time in my face" during his very first walk with Joachim, his cousin tells him that that was exactly what happened to him when he first came to the Berghof: "I was rather queer at first. Don't think too much about it. I told you it is not easy to accustom oneself to the life up here. But you will get right again after a bit" (52/74). In that way, the flush is dismissed. But if we were to change our point of view to the slightest extent, we would have realized that since Joachim is actually ill, the parallel between the two cousins is actually evidence for the presence of the disease rather than evidence against it.
However, such a change of point of view is difficult to accomplish because every indication that Hans is ill is counterbalanced by an explanation that minimizes each symptom's significance and accounts for it in a different way. On the evening of Hans's arrival at the sanatorium, for example, his state is peculiar indeed: he laughs without measure, his face is flushed and yet he feels cold, he is unable to enjoy his cigar, he is short of breath and unusually sleepy. But all that is explained away the next morning, and Hans's condition is made to seem different from that of the (rest of the) Berghof patients, by Behrens's pronouncement that the young man is obviously anemic (4-6/67). It is only much later, when Consul James Tienappel, Hans's uncle, comes to reclaim him and bring him back to the "flat-land" (425/580) that the real function of Behrens's diagnosis of anemia becomes apparent. On the evening of his arrival, James exhibits, and continues to display throughout his visit, all the symptoms that Hans had experienced during his first days at the Berghof. But next morning, exactly as it had happened with Hans, James runs into Behrens, who applauds his idea of coming for a visit but adds that James "has served his own interest even better in so coming, for that he was totally anaemic was plain to any eye." Behrens even suggests, as he had suggested to Hans, that James follow the sanatorium's regimen (434/592). The diagnosis of anemia, in other words, is the sanatorium's way of "breaking in" new patients. But until we are able to see through that stratagem, the fact that Hans seems to be suffering from anemia appears to distinguish him from the rest of the patients of the Berghof and to place him in a class by himself.
For a long time, everyone refers to Hans as a "visitor" to the sanatorium, or as a "vacationer," despite the fact that both his state of health and his mode of life are indistinguishable from those of everyone else. Not only does Hans suffer from consumption, as surely as they all do; in addition, his behavior, which in its propriety and fastidiousness placed him apart from them at the beginning of his visit, gradually becomes identical to theirs. We have already said that his distaste at his neighbors' behavior is eventually belied by his own visit to Clawdia's room after their long conversation during carnival. Much more important, Hans Castorp's propriety gives way to a willingness to see the sexual affairs that spice the life of the Berghof patients in an equivocal light. The narrator sometimes describes those affairs in contemptuous, sarcastic terms (236/326-27), intimating that Hans's own attitude toward them is equally negative. And yet Hans also begins to feel that on the magic mountain sexuality acquired "an entirely altered emphasis. It was weighty with a new weight; it had an accent, a value, and a significance which were utterly novel" (237/326). One is left wondering whether Hans's bourgeois attitudes have really changed or whether his new insight is just his way of excusing his mounting passion for Clawdia, or perhaps both. What is certain is that less than five weeks after his arrival, Hans has become so accustomed to the Russians in the next room that he no longer pays any attention to them. Taking the evening cure like everyone else, "Hans Castorp too took his temperature for the last time, while soft music, near or far, stole up from the dark valley. The cure ended at ten. He heard Joachim, he heard the pair from the `bad' Russian table; he turned on his side and invited slumber" (202/279).
The Magic Mountain depicts a character who deceives himself, with varying success, about his health as well as about his differences--physical, moral, and spiritual--from the people among whom he happens to find himself. In the process, Mann replicates his character's self-deception in his readers, mostly by identifying their point of view with that of the narrator and thus with the point of view of his character as well. We have spent a considerable amount of time examining that procedure; we must now address another aspect of the novel, which, we shall see, also finds its origins in Plato.
The novel establishes beyond a doubt that Hans Castorp, like the rest of the Berghof patients, is suffering from tuberculosis: he is nothing but a patient himself. Not even his general demeanor can be distinguished from theirs. For example, the lawyer Paravant at one point abandons sex for the sake of dedicating himself to squaring the circle (or perhaps it is the other way around; 417/569). His maniacal commitment to his absurd project is not so different from the ardor of Hans Castorp's devotion to playing the same game of solitaire over and over again. He is so preoccupied with it that he is not even capable of holding a reasonable conversation about the coming war with his self-appointed mentor, Lodovico Settembrini. When Settembrini raises for the first time the topic of Europe's headlong rush to destruction, Castorp can only reply: "Seven and four.... Eight and three, Knave, queen and king. It is coming out. You have brought me luck, Herr Settembrini" (632-33/867-68).
On his first day at the sanatorium, Hans had listened with deep distaste to the loud banter of Herr Albin as he was trying to impress the ladies on the Berghof veranda (78-81/110-13). Two months later, the distaste is forgotten as Hans, in a manner obvious to everyone and extremely embarrassing to Joachim, acts in a similar way in order to attract the attention of Clawdia Chauchat (232-33/320-21). By that time, Hans's infatuation with Clawdia has turned him into an object of derision and gossip. When he crosses the dining room in order to draw a curtain that allowed the sun to disturb Clawdia's conversation, he fancies himself a gallant, heroic figure: "Only after the whole thing was over ... did he become conscious that Joachim had kept his eyes directed upon his place. Afterwards, too, he realized that Frau Stohr had nudged Dr. Blumenkohl in the side, and then looked about at their own and other tables, trying to catch people's eyes" (231/319).
And yet, despite all that, one still wants to say that Hans really is different from the rest of these people. After all, his case of consumption is not a mere mindless physiological phenomenon like theirs. Hans's disease, as Mann suggests throughout the novel, is the physical expression of Iris spiritual inability to fit into the bourgeois world of the flat-land. Hans, we are told, never really belonged to everyday life; he never saw the point of the efforts made by everyone around him: "He positively saw no reason, or, more precisely, saw no positive reason, for exertion." That is why, the narrator claims, Hans is not like the rest of the Berghof clientele, why "we may not call him mediocre: ... somehow or other, he was aware of the lack of such a reason" (32/47). Hans's disease, unlike perhaps the commonplace complaints of vulgar Frau Stohr, seems spiritual in origin. By the end of the narrative, he is able to leave the sanatorium behind, return to the world, and join the ranks of the German army, unlike Joachim, whose dream of joining the colors died with him on the slopes of the magic mountain.
But is it really so clear that the other patients' illness is as purely physiological (or "stupid") as the narrative often tempts us to think? Consider, as only one instance among many, the case of Joachim. No one among the Berghof patients is more eager than he to return to the world below. Joachim's only purpose in life is to get cured so that he can resume his military career. No one thinks of the disease as a purely physical indisposition to be set aside so he can go about the serious business of life more than Joachim does. And yet it is clear that Joachim is also attracted to the mountain because, despite his efforts to hide it, he is deeply in love with his tablemate, another Russian, the giggling Marusja. He does once try to renounce her and the mountain, and leaves the Berghof to return to the "flat-land" without the doctors' permission. But his effort is a complete failure. He soon returns, more seriously ill than before. And, on the night before he finally takes to his bed never to rise again, he approaches Marusja and addresses her for the first and last time, though, in contrast to Hans's long talk with Clawdia, Joachim's conversation remains completely private. Is Joachim's illness physical or spiritual? The novel will not let us decide. Hans is aware of its irreducibly double nature--as much a physiological phenomenon as a desire to give up the commonplace life of the flat-land--and he muses when he learns that his cousin is returning to the sanatorium soon after his unauthorized departure:
And directly before the maneuvers he has been so on fire to go to.... The body triumphs, it wants something different from the soul, and puts it through--a slap in the face of all those lofty-minded people who teach that the body is subordinate to the soul.... The question I raise is how far they were right when they set the two over against each other; and whether they aren't rather in collusion, playing the same game.... Is it possible that you have not been able to forget a certain refreshing perfume, a tendency to giggle, a swelling bosom, all waiting for you at Frau Stohr's table? (500/682)
Everyone on the magic mountain is sick, but everyone's disease is as much a physiological as it is a spiritual phenomenon. That is why even to decide that Hans's, or anyone else's, case is purely one or the other is to fall into a trap that Mann has constructed with the greatest care and is difficult to avoid. Any unqualified judgment of this sort requires an almost intentional overlooking of clear, though subtle, evidence and is therefore one more episode of self-deception. The novel relentlessly undermines our ability to make unconditional judgments in the same process that it tempts us to keep doing so.
Mann's irony, "not the `classic,' didactic device valued by Settembrini [but] the ambiguous kind the humanist sternly warns his pupil against... is irony that goes both ways." As we shall see in the next chapter, it is an irony that goes back to the very origins of the concept. It undercuts every effort to determine once and for all whether, say, Hans's disease is due to love or any other psychological or spiritual factor or to stark physiological reasons. The same is true of the disease of all the other protagonists and of the minor characters as well. The novel simply does not give us enough information to decide. More correctly, it gives us too much, enough to support both interpretations, and in large measure its irony consists in such abundance. As Hermann Weigand has observed, though Mann's irony includes "in its range the most passionate intensity of experience, it refuses to yield the clarity of its vision for any price."
Is Hans's illness different from or the same as that of the other patients? It is and it isn't. The factors that cause it seem to be similar to those responsible for the illness of his companions, both physiological and spiritual: all of them suffer from genuine cases of tuberculosis and all of them are also in one way or another unable to cope with life "below." But Hans seems to be able to use his illness to accomplish something that the others cannot: he finally accepts that life really occurs in the flat-land and returns there of his own free will. Those who, following Mann himself, find the essence of the novel distilled in the chapter entitled "Snow" generally accept this optimistic interpretation. Its climax occurs when Hans, having had a miraculous vision during a snowstorm he runs into while on a skiing expedition, exclaims, "For the sake of goodness and love, man shall let death have no sovereignty over his thoughts." That is his great insight, the idea that distinguishes him from the rest of the Berghofs world. But Hans beholds that vision only after he has had a healthy dose of the port he has carried with him on his excursion. The port has muddled his head, and he knows it: "The port was not at all the right thing; just the few sips of it have made my head so heavy I cannot hold it up, and my thoughts are all just confused, stupid quibbling with words. I can't depend on them--not only the first thought that comes into my head, but even the second one, the correction which my reason tries to make upon the first--more's the pity" (489/667). But this casts doubt on both the seriousness and the clarity of his vision, as well as on the message he receives from it. And though he says that his dream has given him that insight "in utter dearness," so that he "may know it for ever," his state changes rather quickly once he finds his way back to the sanatorium. The chapter ends with these words: "An hour later the highly civilized atmosphere of the Berghof caressed him. He ate enormously at dinner. What he had dreamed was already fading from his mind. What he had thought--even that selfsame evening it was no longer so clear as it had been at first" (4-98/679). We do not need to discount this extraordinary episode completely or to argue that Mann actually portrays Castorp in a purely negative light to sense that here, too, we cannot make an unequivocal judgment of Hans's qualities and accomplishments. His vision in the snow is as significant as his disease is purely physical.
It is certainly true that Hans finally returns to the flat-land, leaving some other characters, particularly Settembrini, his self-appointed "pedagogue" who has been urging him to leave the sanatorium from the day they met, behind. That is, of course, the central reason Hans does seem so different from the rest of the Berghof world. But even in this case, his behavior is not as unusual as it seems. Or, rather, it is--like Hans himself, who is both an ordinary young man ("ein einfacher junger Mensch") and "Life's problem-child" ("ein Sorgenkind des Lebens")--both common and unusual at the same time. Hans does indeed leave the mountain, but then so does almost everybody else. When the war begins, the "Berghof was the picture of an anthill in a panic: its little population was flinging itself, heels over head, five thousand feet downwards to the catastrophesmitten flat-land. They stormed the little trains, they crowded them to the footboard ... and Hans Castorp stormed with them" (712/975). But where does Hans go, after his seven years of "sympathy with death" on the mountain? Not where many of the weak former patients of the sanatorium would have ventured. He goes directly into the trenches, exchanging his effort to understand death on the heights for a march toward it on the plains where we take our final leave of him.
[CHAPTER CONTINUES ...]
|1||Platonic Irony: Author and Audience||19|
|2||Socratic Irony: Character and Interlocutors||46|
|3||Socratic Irony: Character and Author||70|
|4||A Face for Socrates' Reason: Montaigne's "Of physiognomy"||101|
|5||A Reason for Socrates' Face: Nietzsche on "The Problem of Socrates"||128|
|6||A Fate for Socrates' Reason: Foucault on the Care of the Self||157|