the magic mountain

Dame Barbara Hepworth, Green Man, 1972


Leo Naphta and Lodovico Settembrini: ideological voices in the formation of Hans Castorp

In the last chapter of his posthumous book Six proposals for the next millennium Ítalo Calvino (1923–1985) observes, in the midst of considerations on the encyclopedic trend of the novel, that the magic mountain can be considered “the most complete introduction to the culture of our century”, since from the “reclusive world” of the alpine sanatorium portrayed by Thomas Mann would depart “all the threads that will be developed by the maître à penser of the century: all the themes that even today continue to nourish discussions are foreshadowed there and reviewed”.[I]

With this appreciation, Calvino places himself alongside countless other critics who see in this monumental novel – “the fruit of many years of struggle with form and idea”, in the words of Anatol Rosenfeld, “one of the most wonderful creations of world literature of the twentieth century, inexhaustible in its multiplicity and impenetrable in its depth.[ii] – the masterpiece of the Lübeck novelist. Thomas Mann himself expressed in 1930, in the context of a provisional balance of his work, a similar view before Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, even though he had cautioned that it was a “difficult reading”, contrary to the Buddenbrook.[iii]

Moved by the desire to write a satirical counterpoint to the telenovela Death in Venice, published in 1912, Mann began to work that same year on a narrative that then bore the title “The enchanted mountain” (Der verzauberte Berg), but the outbreak of war in 1914 brought about a four-year interruption, after which the project was resumed and began to expand prodigiously, until reaching the several hundred pages distributed in the two volumes (chapters I – V in the 1st; VI and VII in the 2nd) that come to light in November 1924. In the segment “Passeio pela praia”, which opens the last chapter, the narrator himself characterizes the magic mountain as a zeitroman, both in the sense of thematizing the phenomenon that at the beginning of the Christian Era caused such profound perplexity in Saint Augustine (Quid est ergo “tempus”?, he asks in the 11th book of Confessions) and for unfolding a vast panel about the historical time that led to the war in which the trajectory of the simple “traveler in formation” (Bildungsreisender) Hans Castorp.

It would be legitimate to say that Calvin's words about the anticipatory dimension of magic mountain are mainly due to the second meaning of zeitroman, because as already announced in the “Purpose” before the seven chapters, the reader is faced with a story set in “old times, in that world before the Great War, whose outbreak marked the beginning of so many things that had barely stopped starting. ”.[iv]

To construct this historical framework that would foreshadow the most fundamental themes of the “era of extremes”, in the characterization that Eric Hobsbawn gave to the XNUMXth century, Thomas Mann uses, as his main resource, long and bitter debates between two tubercular intellectuals who inhabit the “reclusive world” of Davos: the Italian Lodovico Settembrini and the Jew Leo Naphta, “born in a village located near the border between Galicia and Volhynia”, as can be read at the beginning of the subchapter “spiritual operations".

The narrator, who in the aforementioned “Purpose” presents himself as a “magician who evokes the past tense”,[v] thus makes use of a procedure frequent in literary works, more typical of those that are distinguished by a “polyphonic” character (in the concept of Mikhail Bakhtin), and with very subtle humor Goethe uses it in the long scene “Classic Valpúrgis Night” from the Faust II, by making two pre-Socratic philosophers, the “Neptunist” Thales of Miletus and the “Vulcanist” Anaxagoras, face the Homunculus, who in his yearning for guidance would occupy a pedagogical position similar to that of Hans Castorp, due to fierce disputes on scientific topics, such as the formation of the planet Earth and the moon, the origin and composition of meteors, the emergence of organic life, etc.[vi] In Goethe, however, a playful perspective prevails – these are, after all, “very serious jokes”, as the old poet referred to the Faust II in the letter to his friend Wilhelm von Humboldt written five days before his death – whereas in Mann's novel the interminable discussions between Settembrini and Naphta take on the strictest seriousness, ending in death.

It is true that, if on the one hand some of these long polemics, triggered by the most varied subjects, demand a lot of breath from readers, on the other hand they are also capable of exerting a fascination of which the Mexican Octavio Paz offers us testimony when reconstituting, in his biography policy Itinerary, the period of his university education marked by intense literary and political debates, which in the end would be nothing more than “naive parodies of the dialogues between the liberal and idealist Settembrini and Naphta, the communist Jesuit”.[vii]

A fervent representative of Enlightenment and progress, the Italian is introduced to us in the first pages of the magic mountain, in the segment whose title “Satana” is taken from the poem inno a satana by Giosuè Carducci (1835 – 1907), in which Satan himself appears as a champion of work, reason and enlightenment: “O health, the satan, the Ribellione, the forza vindice della Ragione...”, in the verse that Settembrini soon recites to the young Castorp, astonished by this meaning attributed to the devil. In the temporal dimension of the novel, we are here only in the second of the 21 days that the protagonist's visit to his cousin Joachim Ziemssen at the Berghof sanatorium should last, which, however, will become seven years. Immediately assuming the role of intellectual mentor to the young newcomer, Settembrini never misses an opportunity to deliver long speeches in favor of democracy, culture and science, understanding between peoples, the progress of all humanity. Upon seeing him for the first time, Hans Castorp instantly and intuitively thinks of the type of an “organ player” and this is how the eloquent Italian, with his modest and threadbare clothes, will appear to him in the dreams of that same night, whose vivid description leaves show the influence of dream interpretation, a work that will be surreptitiously honored in a later passage.[viii]

Despite, however, the brushstrokes of subtle irony that are dispensed to him throughout the story, Settembrini never fails to radiate warm sympathy, which reaches its most expressive moment in the scene in which, with a tear in his eyes, he says goodbye at the train station. from Davos of the pupil who, more than ever a “sick child of life”, goes to war: “Hans Castorp stuck his head among ten others that filled the opening of the small window. He waved over them. Also Mr. Settembrini waved with his right hand, while, with the tip of his left ring finger, he delicately touched the corner of one of his eyes” (p. 824).

From the debut novel by the young Thomas Mann, which behind the story of the decadence of Buddenbrook Over the course of four generations, his own family constellation becomes apparent, a very strong tendency in this novelist's creative process has always been to elaborate his characters also with traits taken from people from real life, whether from his circle of coexistence, or from the cultural sphere of his life. past (such as the elements of Nietzsche's biography borrowed from the hero of Doctor Faust). In the case of the illuminist and Freemason Settembrini, a first model for his conception was, as pointed out in the secondary bibliography, the Italian writer Paolo Zendrini (surname that still echoes Settembrini), whom the writer met in 1909 in a sanatorium in Zurich.

As for the ideas and political positions conveyed by the Italian mentor of the young Castorp, a large part comes, according to Mann himself, from the political writings of Giuseppe Mazzini (1805–1872), hero of Italian Unification and companion in the struggles, in the fictional dimension, of the also carbonari and Freemason Giuseppe Settembrini, grandfather of Lodovico. Another possible source for the conception of this character was suggested by Benedetto Croce who, after having read the novel, asked the translator Lavinia Mazzucchetti to ask Thomas Mann if this Italian character might not have been inspired by the politician and writer Luigi Settembrini (1813–1877). ). The novelist responded evasively, prompting Croce to send him the “Memoirs” of the historical Settembrini (Ricordanze della mia vita), starting an exchange of letters between the two future anti-fascists.

in the world of the magic mountain, the antipodal position of that how to write it's up to the Jew Leo Naphta, who flees his homeland to Germany after his family has fallen victim to one of the countless pogroms that raged in the region – his father, versed in the Old Testament and in religious rituals, was “slaughtered in a horrific way: they found him crucified, nailed to the door of his burnt-out house” (p. 508). In the new country, the young Naphta unfolds his exceptional intellectual talents in extensive readings (not only of sacred texts, but also of Hegel, Marx, etc.) and ends up joining the order founded by Ignatius of Loyola.

However, the impressive figure of this character who at the same time embraces the communist idea of ​​the fiercest dictatorship of the proletariat began to be conceived in later stages of the work in the magic mountain, because in the first drafts of the novel Settembrini's antagonist was a shepherd named Bunge. In January 1922, however, Thomas Mann personally met Georg Lukács in Vienna, being impressed by the Hungarian intellectual's intellectual resources, his vast erudition and incisive argumentation.

The novelist then uses various traits, including physical ones, to remodel that Bunge character, renamed with the strange name that evokes not only the biblical figure of Naphtali (Genesis, 30:8) - "struggle", "dispute", in Hebrew - but possibly also the pungent odor (intensely "pervading" are all manifestations of Naphta) of naphthalene and crude oil (naphtha, in Czech)[ix]. In the new novel configuration, the character is introduced at an advanced moment in the story, that is, at the beginning of the penultimate chapter (“Someone else”), which follows the departure of Clawdia Chauchat after the erotic adventure with Hans Castorp in the carnival festivities of “ Night of Walpurgis”. It is clear, therefore, that the appearance of Naphta also plays, in the aesthetic economy of the novel, a kind of compensation for the loss of such an important character, even if it is a temporary loss, since a year and nine months later (and soon after the death of Joachim Ziemssen) she will be back, but in the company of the exuberant Dutchman Mynheer Peeperkorn, a figure modeled after the German playwright Gerhart Hauptmann (1862 – 1946).[X]

Wide and varied is the spectrum of themes that feed the discussions between Naphta and Settembrini, which are certainly behind Calvino's aforementioned vision. At times, the polemics stem from abstract issues, such as the dichotomy between action and inaction, Nature and Spirit, Renaissance progress and medieval dogmatism. But the occasion for fierce disputes can also arise from more concrete issues, such as the death penalty, torture, military profession or the structure of Freemasonry and the Societas Jesus, and in one of these polemics about the order to which Naphta belongs, Thomas Mann pays homage to Freud by alluding to the epigraph of the dream interpretation.[xi] Quite often, discussions become heated when they fall on the contemporary correlation of forces, that is, geopolitics in Europe at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, governed by the western powers France and England as well as by the four great empires that would crumble with the advent of Great War: Russo-Tsarist, Austro-Hungarian, German-Williamin and Ottoman.

The first of these great discussions took place in August 1908, when the return of the columbines in the Alpine heights made Hans Castorp realize with some vertigo that his arrival at the sanatorium had just completed a year. During a walk through Davos with his cousin, the young man bumps into Settembrini, absorbed in a conversation with a stranger: precisely the “someone else” presented below as Naphta. According to the astronomical calendar, summer is at its peak, but in the mountains there is not the slightest trace of the heatwave of the plain, instead a springtime freshness prevails, which the narrator makes the Italian, quoting verses from Aretino, enthusiastically praise in a passage in free indirect speech : “No effervescence in the depths! No electricity-charged mists! Only clarity, dryness, pleasure and austere grace. It harmonized with his taste, it was superb” (p. 432).

The cousins ​​– and with them the reader – then witness the first sting delivered by the Jesuit: “Just listen to the Voltairean, the rationalist. He praises nature, because even in the most fertile conditions she does not disturb us with mystical mists, but retains a classic dryness ”. The retribution, evidently, does not wait: “The humor, in the conception that our Professor has of nature, consists of the following: in the manner of Saint Catherine of Siena, he thinks of the wounds of Christ when he sees red primroses”.

We have here, unraveling the theme of “nature”, the starting point for an ideological confrontation that over the next 400 pages will extend to the most varied subjects. And even though in this segment “Someone else” the fronts are already disposed in crass opposition, the dispute seems wrapped in a cordial atmosphere, which is explained by Settembrini in order to reassure the cousins: “Don't be surprised. This gentleman and I have frequent arguments, but everything is amicable and based on many common ideas” (p. 438). Advancing a few pages, however, the reader will realize that the disputes between the two intellectuals are in no way based on “common ideas” and that, moreover, they will increasingly lose their friendly appearance.

In all its manifestations, Settembrini proves to be an unconditional supporter of enlightenment, of reason, of the Western principle of civilization. His “organ barrel”, however, often leaves naive and somewhat shallow conceptions, which as a rule also receive ironic comments from the narrator, for example in the passages referring to his participation in the encyclopedia Sociology of Evils, conceived by an International League for the Organization of Progress with the purpose of eradicating all human suffering.

Naphta’s ideological position, on the other hand, is much more complex and is distinguished by an unusual mixture of a fierce medieval mysticism – inspired above all by Pope Gregory VII (465th century) with his motto “Cursed be the man who prevents his sword from shedding blood!” – and communist aspiration for the most relentless “dictatorship of the proletariat”, which the Jesuit hopes will spread “terror for the salvation of the world and for the conquest of the objective of redemption, which is the filial relationship with God, without State and without classes ” (p. XNUMX).

The mixture is in fact extremely unusual, but it is necessary to remember that the young Naphta had studied Marx's work in depth, especially The capitalafter escaping from pogrom who slaughtered his father. In any case, the positions derived from these readings gave rise to a most eclectic radicalism, which in the critical fortune of the magic mountain it is also close to the so-called “conservative revolution”, one of the trends that fostered the advent of national socialism. This approximation, however, is already made by Hans Castorp himself, because while following a polemic about torture and the death penalty, it occurs to him that Naphta is indeed a true revolutionary, but “a revolutionary of conservation” (p. 529). Thus, the complex figure introduced in the “Someone Else” segment – ​​Jew, Jesuit, Communist – gains yet another ideological layer, coated with pre-fascist traits, which only contributes to the intensification of clashes with the liberal-progressive positions of Settembrini.

In the vast plethora of topics reviewed, let us only briefly highlight two confrontations in the field of aesthetics, the first of which revolves around the author of Aenida, praised by the Italian since the first days of Hans Castorp in the sanatorium: “Ah, Virgil, Virgil! There is no one to surpass him, gentlemen! I believe in progress, for sure. But Virgílio has adjectives that no modern person would find…” (p. 78) When these words are pronounced, there is still a long way to go before the stateless Naphta enters the scene; however, as soon as he emerges in the plot, a shattering judgment will come on the Latin poet: “He observed that on the part of the great Dante it was a partial attitude, very kind and ingrained at the time, that of surrounding a mediocre versifier with so much solemnity and granting him him in his poem such an important role, even though mr. Lodovico attributed an overly Masonic character to this role. What value, after all, was this laureate courtier, sycophant of the Julian house, with his pompous rhetoric but devoid of the slightest spark of creative spirit, this big-city literati, whose soul, if he had one, was indisputably second-hand and who was by no means a poet, but only a Frenchman in a powdered wig in the height of Augustus?” (p. 597)

Another extraordinary controversy of an aesthetic nature takes place in the cubicle that Naphta rents in Davos from the tailor with the suggestive name Lukacěk – in fact, for financial reasons, Settembrini, until then a guest at the Berghof, becomes the tailor’s subtenant from the segment “Transformations”. Paying a visit to the Jesuit in the company of his cousin, Castorp comes across a wooden sculpture that fascinates him for its extreme ugliness and, at the same time, expressive beauty. It is a true masterpiece by Naphta's artistic standards, which explains to the young man that it is an anonymous piece from the XNUMXth century.

It is known that Thomas Mann took as a model, for the description of the sculpture, the so-called “Pietà de Roettgen” (name of its last owner), currently exhibited in a museum in Bonn: “The Virgin was represented with a cap, with a frown , twisting her half-open mouth with so much grief; on his knees was the Saviour, a figure of primary errors in proportions, and whose grossly exaggerated anatomy documented the artist's ignorance [...] ” (p. 453). It is inevitable that Settembrini's arrival at the Jesuit's cubicle triggers a new altercation, because for his classical taste the grotesque Pietà it can only cause horror and profound repugnance.

However, as in the previous “Someone else”, here too the discussion begins in a mild way, as Settembrini is initially too “courteous to say everything he thought”, limiting himself to “criticizing the errors in the proportions and anatomy of the group, infidelities to natural truth”. The aesthetic issue, in any case, works as a trigger for a clash that will expand, as suggested by the title (“From the city of God and redemption through evil”) that Thomas Mann gave to this segment, and become as it generates several other divergences, until it finally ends up in politics, the usual closure of the discussions that so fascinated the young Octavio Paz.

Under the prism of an updated reading of the epic complex around Settembrini and Naphta, it may be appropriate to resume Calvino's observation at the opening of this text and relate one of the topics discussed to strongly virulent ideological trends, in the middle of the XNUMXst century, in countries more vulnerable to populist propaganda, such as anti-scientific and – with regard not only to the Covid epidemic but also, on a broader scale, to climate change – “denialist” rhetoric. The figure of Naphta is evidently too complex and profound, rich in contradictions and also, in its own way, too integral and consequential to be compared with maître à penser like Steve Bannon or Olavo de Carvalho.

In some of his fundamental traits, however, the Jesuit could indeed be associated with ideological forces committed to fostering the rise of politicians worldwide such as those elected in the United States (2016) and Brazil (2018). The anti-vaccine movement, for example, would find a coreligionist in this Naphta, a staunch enemy of science and who sees in human commitment to safety only “a symbol of cowardice and vulgar effeminacy that civilization produced” (p. 798). The same would be valid for flat earthers spread across the globe, as not a few manifestations of the Jesuit would guarantee their affiliation to the Flat Earth Society, founded in 1956 by the Englishman Samuel Shenton and other conspiracists, with the support of biblical passages placed above all achievements. and scientific evidence.

Naphta's first major attack on science comes in the wake of the controversy surrounding the sculpture of the Pietà, when he takes the side of the Church in the conflict with Galileo and insists on the superiority of the Ptolemaic system over the heliocentric postulate of Copernicus, which in his view would have led to a degradation of human beings and planet Earth: “The Renaissance, the Age of Enlightenment, the natural sciences and the political economy of the 457th century did not forget to teach anything, absolutely nothing, that would favor this degradation, starting with the new astronomy: by virtue of it the center of the universe, the magnificent scenario where God and the devil disputed the possession of the creature desired by both, was transformed into an insignificant little planet, and it put a provisional end to the great position of man in the cosmos, which served as the basis of astrology” (p. XNUMX).

The meaning of the adjective “provisional” is clarified soon afterwards, when the Jesuit's incisive argumentation reiterates confidence in the triumphant return of geocentrism undermined by post-Renaissance science. This “return” would take place under the auspices of the Bible, in the Jesuit rhetoric that seems to be articulated on the same level on which Luther’s arguments against science moved, for example, when he called Copernicus a “fool”, "stupid" (fool), for contradicting the wisdom of the sacred texts with his astronomy, since Joshua ordered the sun, and not the Earth, to stop to prolong the day (Joshua: 10, 12 – 16).[xii]

Directly or by associating it with a negative view of the cognitive faculties of human beings, Naphta brings up the issue of science in several other moments of subsequent disputes, until finally the bitter duel fought with Settembrini over hundreds of pages it extrapolates the sphere of words and gains the concreteness of pistols and, consequently, bloodshed and death. This happens in the penultimate subchapter of the novel, in which we can admire Thomas Mann's mastery in showing the irradiations of the great European political scenario on the microcosm of the Berghof sanatorium, which thus appears as the concentrated focus of a world ready to explode with the shots fired. on June 28, 1914 they would be detonated in Sarajevo – “a storm signal, a warning to the initiates, among whom we have every reason to include Mr. Settembrini” (p. 823).

“The great irritation” is the title of this penultimate segment of the novel that tells the continuation of the “endless discussions” in which Hans Castorp's mentors fight, until the narrator, to direct the outcome of this narrative line, chooses “at random […] an example to demonstrate the way in which Naphta worked by disturbing reason”. Right after these words, the bone of contention that first appeared 350 pages ago appears again: “However, the way he spoke of science, in which he did not believe, was even worse. He had no faith in science, he said, since man is free to believe or not to believe in it. This was a belief like any other, only sillier and more harmful” (p. 799).

On the one hand, therefore, planet Earth, perhaps flat, at the center of the universe; on the other hand, a different “belief”, “only more foolish and more harmful”, based on the scientific efforts of the “fools” Copernicus, Galileo, Newton or even Einstein, who then worked – concurrently with the disputes accompanied by Castorp – in the expansion of his Theory of Relativity.[xiii] On the one hand, faith in the effectiveness of chloroquine and its counterparts; on the other hand, the belief in vaccines developed in the midst of scientific efforts in various parts of the world... It is clear that the narrator of the magic mountain does not present us with an unequivocal and superficially positive image of science, since the destructions, unprecedented in human history, into which the plot ends, will be unmasked as a “product of a wild science”, as formulated in “O trovão”, a title that announces the imagery dimension in the narration of Hans Castorp's first steps on a battlefield in Flanders.

Images of hell and violence in nature metaphorize the dehumanizing impact of trench warfare and war material on young soldiers – a narrative procedure that is expressed in the famous book by Ernst Jünger (1895–1998) In the steel storms, based on impressions and experiences in the front noted in his war diary and whose third version was published in the same year as Thomas Mann's novel.[xiv]

In the polyphonic universe of the magic mountain the view of science that can be disentangled from its last segment is revealed to be nuanced enough not to be confused with certain more naive postulates of Settembrini. But could Thomas Mann have imagined that the views of his Jesuit Naphta, always hostile to the scientific spirit celebrated by Goethe in the Faust II with the figures of Thales and Anaxagoras and converting objective facts into a matter of mere subjective belief, would they remain current a hundred years after the novel's publication?

Still in the context of the example chosen “at random” by the narrator (“The Great Irritation”), Hans Castorp witnesses violent attacks against Ernst Haeckel (1834 – 1919), then a leading name in the sciences and main promoter of Darwinian theory in Germany: once again it would be a matter of simple faith to blindly adhere to the account of the Genesis about the creation of the world or inclining towards scientific positions, such as evolutionism, “the central dogma of the free-thinking and atheistic pseudo-religion, through which it was intended to abolish the first Book of Moses and oppose enlightening wisdom to a stultifying fable, as if Haeckel had been present at the moment the Earth was born” (p. 800).

Settembrini could have asked him at that moment, paying him back in kind, if by any chance his opponent was present when God created the light and the firmament on the first two days, or the fish, birds and other animals on the fifth, finally man in his image and likeness, before resting on the seventh day... I could have asked him if the days and, therefore, the "time" already existed before the divine creation...

It so happens, however, that with the advance of tuberculosis, Naphta – contrary to Settembrini, whose spirit does not change with the deterioration of his health in the time lapse between the antepenultimate and penultimate subchapters – becomes “more loquacious, more penetrating and more caustic”, barely letting the opponent take the floor. In the atmosphere of profound irritability that overwhelms Davos at the end, the dialogues become uninterrupted speech by the Jesuit, apparently directed solely at Castorp, but at bottom always aiming to hit the Italian with maximum violence.

What is left for Settembrini is to finally interrupt the opponent's monological flow with the aside that leads immediately to the duel and, in a way as surprising as in the case of Mynheer Peeperkorn, to the death of the complex character devoted to the cause of destruction - of society, of the world and, quite consequentially, of himself: “May I ask you: do you intend to put an end to these things of yours soon? indecency?” (p. 805).[xv]

The events that followed the death of the Jesuit, that is, the Great War referred to in the “Purpose” as the “beginning of so many things that had barely begun”, seem to support his successive predictions about a world “doomed to an end ”, expressed from the subchapter that introduced him into the story: “The catastrophe will come and must come; it is advancing in all ways and in all ways” (p. 440). Or even, shortly before the duel, in this passage in free indirect speech: “It would not fail to come, this war, and that was good, although it entailed effects quite different from those that awaited its authors” (p. 798).

But does that mean that in the end Naphta wins the definitive victory over the Italian humanist? The final word remains in the grandiose Bildungsroman of Thomas Mann with this apologist for torture, destruction and terror? The answer would need to take into account that behind the images of barbarism that close the novel – “world feast of death” and “pernicious fever that inflames the rainy night sky” – there still shines a reflection of the subchapter “Snow”, which the author himself Thomas Mann considered the culmination of the story: it shines through the “dream of love” that was born from the resistance of Hans Castorp, on the verge of death, to the annihilating power of nature, which generated in his intimate the perception that perhaps represents the quintessence of his years of apprenticeship in the sanatorium, expressed in the only words marked in italics in the voluminous novel: "In virtue of goodness and love, man should not grant death any power over his thoughts" (p. 571).[xvi]

From this “dream of love” that returns in the question that concludes the story of the “sick child of life”, the Italian Settembrini, despite the ironic coloring that the narrator gives to many of his conceptions, is much closer than Leo Naphta, based on this greater proximity, the gesture that the narrator makes when saying goodbye to Hans Castorp, that is, the same gesture made by Settembrini at the Davos train station: wiping a tear with the tip of his finger while waving with the other hand to the disciple who goes to war. In a decisive and definitive way, the narrator's sympathy is inclined towards the figure of the Italian and this step puts him in the company of the hero himself, as it emerges in the passages that narrate his visits to the bedridden mentor, in the terminal phase of tuberculosis, but still able to tell the young man “many beautiful things, coming from the heart, about the self-improvement of humanity through social means” (p. 820).

If it is true, however, that this affection unfolds in its fullness only in the farewell scenes narrated in “O trovão”, it will manifest itself in a more tenuous way in previous moments, as in the adventure in the middle of the snow, when the young man, in In a desperate struggle to avoid freezing, he realizes his affective ties with Settembrini, although he recognizes that in the endless disputes with Naphta, the reason almost always assists him: “By the way, I like you. Although you are a madcap and an organ-grinder, your intentions are good, better and more sympathetic, to me, than those of the petty, penetrating Jesuit and terrorist, that Spanish tormentor and flagellant with his flashing glasses, though he almost always be right, when you are arguing... when you fight pedagogically for my poor soul, like God and the devil, for man in the Middle Ages…” (p. 549).

Could this same inclination towards Settembrini not perhaps be extended to the novelist Thomas Mann? It is true that many of the views expressed in the Considerations of an apolitical (1918) – nationalist, apologetic war and even anti-democratic conceptions – were delegated to Settembrini's opponent, who in the initial stages of the long and intricate genesis of the Magic Mountain, still under the name of Bunge, functioned as a sort of spokesperson for the author. Subsequently, especially in the phase that began after the First World War, the figure of the “organ player”, until then a caricatural type of “literate of civilization”, gained autonomy and increasingly won the sympathy of the novelist, to the same extent that strengthened their democratic and republican positions.

Who intuited this process with admirable accuracy was Walter Benjamin, who until then had a deep dislike for Thomas Mann precisely because of the positions expressed in the Considerations of an apolitical. In a letter dated April 1925, XNUMX, Benjamin tells his friend Gershom Scholem the surprising impact the reading of the magic mountain, expressing at the same time the conviction that during the work of writing a transformation of the most extraordinary kind must have taken place with the novelist: “I hardly know how I should tell you that this Mann, whom I hated like few publicists, as if approached from my heart with his last great book, the magic mountain […] As little elegant as such constructions may be, however, it is not possible for me to conceive otherwise, yes, I am practically sure that an intimate transformation must have taken place in the author during the writing process”.[xvii]

Walter Benjamin's intuition would prove to be correct, because from the magic mountain Thomas Mann's positions began to be guided with increasing force by the values ​​– democracy, progress, science, pacifism – that Lodovico Settembrini, during the interminable disputes with Naphta, sought to instill in the young “traveler in formation” Hans Castorp, albeit through discourses that the narrator systematically involves in irony. From the publication of The Magic Mountain – a true “watershed” in the trajectory of Thomas Mann and, for Calvino, the “most complete introduction” to the culture and history of the XNUMXth century – strongly intensifies the transformation of its author into the admirable anti-fascist who would still add works to his legacy raw like the little soap opera Mario and the Wizard or the tetralogy Joseph and his brothers as Doctor Faust, monumental epic confrontation with the National Socialist period.

*Marcus V. Mazzari Professor of Comparative Literature at USP. Author of The Double Night of the Linden Trees. history and nature in Goethe's Faust (Publisher 34).

Originally published on Brazilian Journal of Psychoanalysis, vol. 56, no. 1.



[I] Six proposals for the next millennium (trans. Ivo Barroso). São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1988, pp. 130-131. The book brings together texts from five lectures given by Calvino at Harvard in 1985.

[ii] "A ruthless aesthete". in Thomas Mann. São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1994, pp. 31 – 69, p. 48.

[iii] “Thomas Mann and Brazil”. in The Spirit and the Letter I. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2005, pp. 251-256. In the interview, the writer, who had just won the Nobel Prize, explains the deference he gave the young Brazilian interviewer for being from the same land as his mother Julia da Silva Bruhns.

In a letter to Herbert Caro dated May 5, 1942, Thomas Mann supported the idea of ​​starting the translation of his works in Brazil not by magic mountain, but for her debut novel, supposedly more accessible to the “South American public”: “I found the decision to give priority to Buddenbrook before magic mountain Completely happy". Apud Karl-Josef Kuschel et al.: Terra Mátria: Thomas Mann's family and Brazil (trans. Sibele Paulino). Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2013, p. 282.

[iv] the magic mountain (Herbert Caro translation; revision and afterword by Paulo Soethe). São Paulo: Companhia das Letras 2016 – p. 12. The following page indications are based on this edition, whose 10th reprint, extensively revised by MV Mazzari, came out in 2021.

[v] In the original the expression used is raunender Beschwörer des Imperfekts, “whispering evoker of the imperfect”, in the sense of the verb tense “imperfect tense”, which indicates a past action, but still ongoing at the moment of the utterance, which thickens the reference to those “so many things that have barely stopped starting”.

[vi] On the concepts of “Neptunism” and “Volcanism” in Goethe see the introductory text to the scene “Classic Valpurgis Night” (pp. 345 – 349) as well as the notes to the discussions between Thales and Anaxagoras: Faust. A tragedy. Second part (Translation by Jenny Klabin Segall, presentation, notes and comments by MV Mazzari). São Paulo: Editora 34, 2022 (6th edition).

[vii] Itinerary. Mexico: Fund of economic culture, 1994, p. 19.

[viii] Significantly, these are the dreams that close the 1st and 3rd chapters of the novel, dedicated to the night of Hans Castorp's arrival at the sanatorium (early August 1907) and the first full day of his stay (the 2nd chapter takes us on a flashback to the hero's childhood). It is worth highlighting, amid the intense dreamlike elaboration narrated at the close of those chapters, the premonitory dream with cousin Joachim Ziemssen going down the mountain on a sled (as the corpses were transported) and, in the following dawn, Castorp's desperate efforts to escape from " psychic dissection” (Seelenzergliederung, direct translation of the word psychoanalysis) practiced by dr. Krokowski, whose lectures entitled “Love as a pathogenic factor” (subchapter “Analysis”) dialogue with the Three essays on the theory of sexuality (1905) by Freud. Also very impressive is the dream, on the second dawn, that the newcomer has with Clawdia Chauchat, after having chased away the “organ player”: after kissing the palm of the Russian girl’s hand, Castorp is invaded by the most intense sensation of “dissolute enjoyment”, in a passage whose deep layers reveal the young man's fascination with death, associated here (and in other passages in the novel) with erotic dissolution.

[ix] The adjective "penetrating" (sharp: “sharp”, “sharp”, “cutting” “incisive”) is used numerous times in association with Naphta, appearing already in the passage that introduces him to the story: “Everything about him seemed sharp” (p. 431). 78 pages later, in the conversation that the young Jew, wandering aimlessly in a small Rhineland town, engages in with the Jesuit Unterpertinger on a park bench, the adjective sharp is translated by “acute”: “The Jesuit, an experienced man, affable, passionate pedagogue, good psychologist and skilful fisherman of souls, sharpened his ear, from the first sentences, articulated with sarcastic clarity, that the miserable little Jew uttered in response to your questions. He felt in them the breath of an acute and tormented spirituality [...] They spoke of Marx, whose Capital Leo Naphta had studied a popular edition, and from there they passed on to Hegel, of whom or about whom the young man had also read enough to formulate some incisive observations” (p. 509).

[X] In this case, the procedure of constructing fictional characters based on people from his circle of acquaintances had consequences for the novelist, as soon after reading the novel, Hauptmann bitterly complained in a letter to Fischer publishing house: “Thomas Mann lent my clothes to a drunkard, a mixer of poisons, a suicide, an intellectual wreck, destroyed by a life of whoring. The Golem leaves sentences incomplete, as I also have the bad habit of doing”. Thanks, however, to the novelist's diplomatic tact, the friendly relationship could be preserved, which was not possible in other cases.

[xi] This is the verse of Virgil (Aenida, VII, 312) Flectere if nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo ” (“If I cannot move the gods from above, I will move Acheron”). Considering that Settembrini has a deep understanding of Virgílio, this homage is organically integrated into the context of the discussion: “Then he started talking about the 'demagogy of the priests', he referred to the ecclesial practice of setting in motion the subterranean world, since the gods, for very understandable reasons, wanted nothing to do with any people […]” (p. 679).

[xii] In the reconstitution of one of his “Discourses at the table” (Tischreden), notes made by several of Martin Luther’s guests, the reformer would have once attacked Copernicus with the following words: “This fool wants to invert all astronomical art. But Joshua ordered the sun to stand still and not the kingdom of the Earth”.

[xiii] A clear vestige of the Theory of Relativity in magic mountain can be glimpsed in the passage of the subchapter “Stroll along the beach” which refers to the differentiated perception of time and space by conjecturable inhabitants of distant planets, much larger or much smaller than the Earth (p. 628).

[xiv] The image of “thunder” as a warlike metaphor is not exactly original and already Nietzsche, who has a strong presence in the novel, employs it in a July 1870 letter to his friend Erwin Rohde: “Here a terrible thunderbolt: the Franco-German war is declared ”.

In the final part of “O trovão” attention is drawn to the infernal metaphors mobilized by the narrator: Hans Castorp throws himself to the ground when he hears the howl of a “hound from hell” [Hollenhund], that is, “a huge howitzer [Brisanzgeschoß], a disgusting sugar loaf [ekelhafter Zuckerhut] out of the abyss.” Then: “The product of a savage science, armed with the worst there is, falls like the devil in person thirty paces from him, penetrates obliquely into the ground, explodes down there with astonishing violence and throws a house high. gushing earth, fire, iron, lead and shattered human matter” (pp. 826 – 27).

[xv] In the original, the word with which Settembrini abruptly interrupts Naphta's verbiage is Schlüpfrigkeiten, which Herbert Caro properly translates as “indecencies.” This meaning was imposed, however, only in the eighteenth century, because in its origin the noun is related to the adjective schlüpfrig, with the meaning of “smooth”, “slippery”, as Martin Luther referred several times to his uncomfortable interlocutor Erasmus of Rotterdam, in his view “slippery like an eel”.

[xvi] I made some considerations about the meaning of this perception that occurs to Hans Castorp, in his fight against the icy and indifferent hostility of nature, in the scope of a study that situates Great Sertão: Veredas on the borderline between “novel of formation” (as the magic mountain) and “Faustian” romance (as Doctor Faust, also by Thomas Mann). in learning labyrinths. São Paulo: Editora 34, 2022², pp. 79–80.

[xvii] Already on February 19, Walter Benjamin communicated to Scholem the surprising impact that the reading of the novel had on him: „incredible dictu: the new book by Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, captivates me by its entirely sovereign composition”.

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