Friday, June 13, 2014

The Magic Mountain - The Culturist Review

Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain is a classic of Western Literature.  Starting just before World War I, it follows a middle class bourgeois, Hans Castrop, to a tuberculosis sanitarium on the top of a mountain (hence the title).  His intended 3 – week visit to his cousin, turns into a seven-year internal odyssey among the sick.  

The Magic Mountain is written as a bildungsroman – a genre wherein the main character develops his character via experience and help from guides. In this version, an advocate of Enlightenment values Settembrini and the Nietzscheian Naphta fight over Hans’ soul. 

Settembrini is working on an Encyclopedia of suffering in order to help expunge suffering from the world; Naphta dreams of returning to Middle Ages values in which people knew their place and accepted suffering and shortcomings as a part of life.  Settembrini’s dreams are based on science and progress; Naphta’s require and celebrate a bit of violence and oppression to keep man in order.

And this battle for Hans’ soul reflects that battles over the Weimar Republic that Mann faced as he wrote the Magic Mountain.  Many bought Naphta’s appeal to save Germany via order during the inter-war period; they killed communists by the 100s and spawned the Third Reich.  In turn, the Weimar Republic called for calm and appealed to Settembrini’s enlightened ‘republican’ (small r) values.

Hans’ never really buys either proponents’ position.  He liked Settembrini’s Enlightenment ideals, but found them shallow and dull.  And though he admires how easily Naphta destroys Settembrini in arguments, he understands that Naphta is a misanthropist and a monster. 

In an exciting climax, the two intellectuals agree to a duel.  As a pacifist, Settembrini fires into the air. Naphta then calls him a coward, and commits suicide.  The intellectual battles over, Hans languishes, nowhere in thought, far removed from society, on top of that mountain.

Eventually, Hans leaves this sanitarium, to go back to the real world.  He leaves arid thought to engage in life’s day – to –day struggles.  Ironically, as World War I is on, he actually returns to the front lines of a thoughtless battle.  We hope - as the book is a bildungsromans – that he is improved.  Perhaps with irony, the narrator tells us that he hopes love will bloom from this carnage.

As a culturist, I understand the pull between the rational and the irrational.  In Mann’s sanitarium, wherein bourgeois slowly rot, in the face of Islamic aggression and ghetto culture, we do nothing out of fear of being called ‘racist.’  I hope the term ‘culturist’ can allow us to have reasonable discussions about negative impacts of cultural diversity, sans the ‘r’ word.

But, as a culturist, I study cultural dynamics.  I know that dry reasoned debates do not wake people up as much as the English Defense League smashing the offices of pro-immigration politicians offices would.  So I too am torn between Settembrini’s placid debate and the evil attraction of Naphta.


The political correctness police should understand that by using Settembrini’s “universal” (not) “global” (not) Enlightenment values to stifle any sense of western pride, they are preparing the way for a backlash of Naphta’s irrational violence.  As such, we culturists need to safely develop national pride and discussions of cultural diversity.  Otherwise, as with Hans, we will have no option but to cower on a mountain top or join in mass carnage.
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