T is for Tolkien!
T is for Tolkien!
Claude Monet - Woman with a Parasol (Madame Monet and their son Jean), 1875
What a magnificent piece of art!
An expert painter knows well which colors he has to use on his shapes, where a shade begins and which graduations. So Thomas Mann paints wisely with his pen and succeed in giving life to giant of literature, intended to be a pillar in the world of writing. And of a giant “The magic mountain” has all the features: it’s mighty; it’s slow, of the slowness that is typical of old wise men; a slowness that makes you announce something great: the calm before the storm. Certain traits are surely cumbersome, maybe boring, but inserted among the plot as shades absolutely necessary for the completion of the world that Mann creates and shapes at will.
There is therefore a condensate of types, nationalities, ideals, concepts, feelings and experiences that whirling revolve around Hans Castorp, young German who is projected in a place that levitates out of times, where everybody lead peacefully a mild life, unperturbed, maybe a non-life, but all this happens without anyone noticing that because of this magic enchantment, so elusive but so deep-rooted between the lines of the novel. But through experiences, that make of this great book (just partly) a bildungsroman, we see first the suction and the corruption of Castorp in this world, until the final break of this enchantment, break passing through love, death and pedagogy with a suggestive intensity, as realistic as suggested by the writer. Settembrini and Naphta’s compelling dialectical and ideological fights, Hans’ love for study, knowledge and music, the human body undressed of its charms and left naked and pulsing in front of human shame, and finally the woman, evanescent. The daily rhythm and the air breathed on the mountain are a foolish flight for which time disappears and everything remains suspended, articulated by routine, up to end in boredom.
But is maybe the main character a mere means by which Mann handles his themes, or there’s more behind the young German? During the novel there’s always a kind of aloofness, as if characters were not more than puppets used to tell a story that talks of higher values, transcendent values that in the end left no place for individualities but that need a cynical, foreign, total and ineffable conclusion. It’s more, indeed, what you can perceive than what is wrote, and through this perception, a kind of Dantesque transhumanize, you can own the essence of this masterpiece.
Writing about this novel reminds me of two marvelous paintings by Caravaggio, Young Sick Baccus (Bacchino Malato) and Amor vincit Omnia. While the first appears inevitably wounded and corrupted, but reserved and elusive, the latter invites you to join him on his bed with his strange eyes, and never go back. The key of interpretation is death. It is disconcerting the moment when Hans looks at his radiography, through his body deprived of every human beauty but reduced to a bunch of bones and flesh; and his mind is fulminated by the consciousness of death. Death as initiation, death as beginning, not just as catharsis.