Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain Week 9

Week 9: In this week’s pages, Hans Castorp and his cousin begin a practice of visiting the sick and dying at Berghof. Each time they do this, Castorp feels “his whole being expand with a joy rooted in a sense of helpfulness and quiet importance, but intermingled with a certain jaunty delight in the spotless Christian impression his good deeds made–an impression so devout, caring, and praiseworthy, in fact, that no serious objections whatever could be raised against it…” A fascinating series of encounters are detailed, culminating at the end of the section with the visits to the young woman Karen Kartedt, who lives outside of the sanatorium, and who the cousins take on various outings and, eventually, to the cemetery where she will soon be interred. But maybe my favorite moment is when Mann describes going to the movies! I have to quote it in its entirety: “There was no one there to clap for, to thank, no artistic achievement to reward with a curtain call. The actors who had been cast in the play they had just seen had long since been scattered to the winds; they had watched only phantoms, whose deeds had been reduced to a million photographs brought into focus for the briefest of moments so that, as often as one liked, they could then be given back to the element of time as a series of blinking flashes. Once the illusion was over, there was something repulsive about the crowd’s nerveless silence. Hands lay impotent before the void. People rubbed their eyes, stared straight ahead, felt embarrassed by the brightness and demanded the return of the dark, so that they could again watch things, whose time had passed, come to pass again, tricked out with music and transplanted into new time.” 

For next week: Read to the section “Someone Else” in Chapter 6.