narrative medicine book club: Magic Mountain, Week 15

Week 15: Chauchat is back at the Berghof, and she has brought with her a very colorful character, wonderfully named Mynheer Peeperkorn (!). Aside from comic relief, I wonder what folks think Mann is up to with this character? Castorp and Chauchat share an interesting scene – there is clearly intimacy between them, though she discourages him from calling her by her first name – and then Peeperkorn arrives, and a raucous party ensues, the first I think we’ve seen this closely at the Berghof. Peeperkorn and Castorp talk about “vice” and “doomsday,” and Peeperkorn tries to get Castorp and Chauchat to kiss each other goodnight, to which Castorp refuses, an “act of insubordination” that amazes Peeperkorn. My interest is peaked! 

For next week: read to “Mynheer Peeperkorn (Conclusion)” in Chapter 7. 

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Narrative Medicine book club: Magic Mountain, Week 14

Week 14: In this week’s selection we see the return of Joachim to the Berghof — briefly a joyous reunion between the cousins, but then, within a few months, a swift deterioration leading ultimately to Joachim’s death. I’m not sure (yet?) what to make of this! Coming as it does, even in this one section, after more debate between Settembrini and Naphta, it seems perhaps to serve as a reminder (to the reader as well as to Castorp!) that no matter the intellectual arguments, illness and death are real, and the Berghof is not merely a site for contemplation and flight from reality. The director, standing at Joachim’s death bed, calls him a “crazy fellow,” saying that “honor was the death of him,” and that his return to “down below” and to “force and violence” was ultimately the cause of his death. I wonder. But I am sorry for the loss of Joachim (Joachim, we hardly knew ye!), and curious how his death will affect Castorp, if at all — especially as the return of Chauchat is now on the horizon. 

For next week: read to the section “Mynheer Peeperkorn (Continued)” in Chapter 7.

Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 13

Week 13: This week’s pages were two sections that made an interesting juxtaposition: in the first, we learn more about the character of Naphta, and then Castorp witnesses another extended philosophical argument between Naphta and Settembrini, everything “intertwined and at cross-purposes, a great general confusion,” which is certainly how this reader experienced it! Then in the next section Castorp learns to ski, embracing the beautiful snowy landscape, and gets dangerously lost in a snowstorm, his fatigue and near frozenness inducing a hallucinatory dream in which the confusion of the philosophical debate seems to come clear to him. I can’t wait to discuss all of this with all of you as I admit I find it all very fascinating but also a bit opaque (“two half-naked old women” dismember and then “devour” a child in a kind of temple, in front of which lies a landscape of “sunny, civilized happiness”?). Castorp seems to be moving toward a sort of clarity of his own beliefs and understanding as the book moves into its final third…but how does it all coalesce for the reader? 

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For next week: Read to the end of Chapter 6!

Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 12

Week 12: Joachim leaves the Bergdof! Quite suddenly, in a brief chapter, Castorp’s cousin has had enough and quickly departs. The cousins awkwardly say farewell, Joachim calling Castorp “Hans” in a “moment of the most embarrassing exuberance,” and then Castorp is alone, having chosen to stay on at the sanatorium despite the doctor having given him permission to leave. So interesting, the way the idea of health and illness is still played with here, with Castorp continuing to tell himself he is ill even when the veil is lifted and the doctor all but says it’s a hoax! In the next section, Castorp’s great uncle comes to visit — so much comedy ensues, as inevitably the doctors try to get him to admit he’s sick and should stay, and he himself wrestles against the pull of the sanatorium’s “spirit,” so strong that he literally has to flee in the night. But even after “a stay of only eight days,” Castorp thinks, “everything down in the flatlands would seem totally false, unnatural, and wrong for a good while…”

For next week: Read to section “A Good Soldier” in Chapter 6. 

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Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 11

Week 11: I may need someone to explain this week’s pages to me! Castorp and his cousin listen, in two different scenes, to discourse between Settembrini and his new housemate, Naphta, who, we learn late in these pages, is (gasp!) a Jesuit. The two men speak at length of lofty concepts, arguing about freedom, humanism, dualism, Man and Nature, communism, capitalism, the polarity of God. I admit my attention flagged in these pages, and then I had to laugh when Castorp says: “I was paying attention, but none of it was clear. Instead, the more they talked the more confused I got.” Looking forward to the historians and philosophers among you explaining all of this to me! Meanwhile, time on the mountain continues, and Castorp’s enthusiasm for learning everything never flags…

For next week: read to section “Operationes Spirituales” in Chapter 6

Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 10

Week 10: Finally Castorp speaks to Madame Chauchat! What a wonderful scene; I wonder if others were surprised, as I was, at how completely Castorp confesses his love! All had been so repressed until this scene, I was surprised to see it come pouring out. His last gushing speech to her, supposedly all in French which he “does not speak,” felt very characteristic, however – a long discourse on the mechanics of body and death: “Ah, love, you know. The body, love, death, are simply one and the same. Because the body is sickness and depravity, it is what produces death, yes, both of them, love and death, are carnal, and that is the source of their terror and great magic!” And his last amazing plea to her: “Let me take in the exhalation of your pores and brush the down – oh, my human image made of water and protein, destined for the contours of the grave, let me perish, my lips against yours!” Very interested in the theme of love in this book, so clearly explored alongside illness and death…

For next week: read to the section “An Outburst of Temper” in Chapter 6. 

And join our zoom meeting Sunday at 11! to register. 

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. 

Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 8

Week 8: This week’s pages were my favorite in the book so far. From the examination of Director Behrens’ paintings and in particular his portrait of Madame Chauchat, leading Castorp to expound on the link between science and art, how they “blend together because they have actually always been just one thing,” and into his new interest in studying human anatomy and the question of “what is life”…to that incredible pages-long rumination on life and on human anatomy all the way down to the molecular level. Wow! The writing here is nothing short of transcendent. Too many passages to quote; this last chapter, “Research,” is for me reason alone to read this entire book. Who’s with me??

For next week: Read to section “Walpurgis Night” in Chapter 5

Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 7

Week 7: Hans Castorp achieves his “freedom” by writing home for the third time, telling his relatives he has to stay at the sanatorium and asking them to mail him his winter clothes. He has settled in, and begins to take real pleasure in his obsession with Madame Chauchat, even as the others around him titter about it. He is looking for “some satisfactory answer about the meaning and purpose of life,” and “would not have stayed with the people up here” had such an answer “been supplied” from “out of the depths of time.” I wonder what everyone makes of Settembrini’s long discourse toward the end of today’s pages…and the role of Settembrini in general. Looking forward to discussing on Sunday!

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For next week: read to the section “Danse Macabre” in Chapter 5. 

Narrative Medicine Book Club: Magic Mountain, Week 6

Week 6: Castorp stays in bed for three weeks, “impounded by fate.” Time collapses — “it is always the same day – it just keeps repeating itself … [so] it is surely not correct to speak of ‘repetition.’ One should speak of monotony, of an abiding now, of eternalness.” This description reminded me of the eternal present tense of our recent months in quarantine. Castorp has fully become “one of them,” though as he is “only slightly ill” he is “considered inferior by local standards,” a fascinating clue to the logic of this place, and one Castorp abides by. He and his cousin go and have their X-rays done (the Clavdia obsession deepens!), and Castorp is unnerved both at seeing the “interior” of his cousin’s body and of his own hand, feeling in both cases that it is an encounter with the grave. One aspect surely of what this entire stay in the sanatorium has been? 

For next week: read to the section “Humaniora” in Chapter 5.

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