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Summary and Analysis Chapter 4

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Settembrini reproaches Hans Castorp for accepting the old-fashioned view that
disease is always something noble even when it affects stupid people. But Castorp
claims that whenever disease or death is present in any form, he develops his faculties
to the utmost. Even coffins and funerals have a peculiar appeal to him. "Cultural
backsliding" is the term that Settembrini uses to describe Castorp's notions.
Settembrini respects the body only as long as it presents no obstacle against the
attainment of freedom; as a consequence, he regards the sick body with contempt.
Important to note is the surprise Settembrini expresses upon hearing that Hans
Castorp has bought a blanket. The blanket is the symbol of the rest-cure at the
sanatorium, and the rest-cure the symbol of temptation toward the dangerous spells of
timelessness. The Italian chooses the words placet experiri (Latin for he likes to
experiment) to express his surprise over Castorp's decision to resign himself to life at
the Berghof. The point is obvious: Settembrini's keen mind sees the temptations of
illness, whereas our hero, pursuing a system of trial and error, is still largely unaware
of them. He is the seeker, the hero of the bildungsroman, forever venturing on new
paths and vacillating back and forth between what he is and what he is led to believe
he should be.
With the rest-cures comes plenty of leisure time, and with the leisure time
come all those countless dreams, visions, and states of semi-consciousness which lend
a mystical quality to this basically highly intellectual story. No wonder that Castorp
lapses into another reflection on the nature of time.
When Settembrini joins the cousins on the occasion of a Sunday morning
terrace concert, they all become involved in a lengthy discussion on music. Joachim
stresses its relationship to time, and the Italian adds a new dimension to the
conversation by tying music up with politics. Confessing his preference for
intellectual pursuits, especially literature, over music, Settembrini even declares music
to be politically suspect because it invites the mind to remain passive and to lose itself
in reverie. Joachim's reply affords us a rare glimpse into his uncomplicated mind. He
defends what he calls the "moral value" of music by arguing that it has a way of
dividing time into measures and other units. This alone makes it possible for him to
enjoy time, which would otherwise remain one dull continuum. Settembrini agrees
with him insofar as music may defeat boredom. Joachim is of course simpler than
Settembrini, and this is why he longs for the conveniently arranged daily routine of
the "world below."
Settembrini then brings up the essentially emotional quality of music. His
view reflects Mann's lifelong notion of the self-destructive element in the esthetic
soul. This soul has a tendency to affirm life only to the degree it can provide the
individual with purely subjective, esthetic experience. Opposed to any moral view of
life (Settembrini is, of course, a moralist), the esthetic soul conceives of the total
immersion of the individual in contemplation as life's sole justification. It denies an
individual's responsibility to society and therefore tends to be politically reactionary.
That it can under certain circumstances be dangerous for segments of a whole
nation to be transported into musical-emotional passion was proven, for instance, in
Nazi Germany. The Nazis enthusiastically extolled the operas of Richard Wagner
with their ancient Germanic sagas and highly emotional music. The enormous appeal
of this combination, unfortunately, distorted Wagner's intention.
We have seen Settembrini's enthusiasm for literature, preferably that of
classical and Renaissance poets, and Hans Castorp's reluctance to share this
enthusiasm. But, toward the end of his stay in the mountains, Hans will sing and listen
to music, highly romantic music. This corresponds to Mann's belief that the
preference of music over literature is a German characteristic (and a Slavic one),
while "Western" civilization is essentially founded on literary (intellectual) values.
Even if he is grossly oversimplifying (Italians, after all, have created opera, though
one can argue opera is not a purely musical genre), Mann has a point: The musical
tradition in central and eastern Europe is a long one, and there simply is nobody of the
stature of a Bach, Beethoven, or Mozart outside the German world. By the same
token, it is easy to show that German literature never produced a Dante or
Shakespeare and cannot compare, either in terms of tradition or quality, with that of
the French — barring, perhaps, Goethe.
The real problems, however, come in when Mann (or Settembrini, Mann's
rational aspect) tries to explain these differences by assigning a basically emotional
(irrational) quality to music and an intellectual one to literature. Where does this leave
Milton, much of the seventeenth century, most of the nineteenth century, or writers
like D. H. Lawrence, to name but a few? And where shall we put Bach's fugues,
Mozart, and the highly mathematical music based on Schönberg's twelve-tone scale?
Mann was treading on thin ice here, and he must have known it. More than once did
he stress the complex, musical structure of The Magic Mountain, and the hero of his
last novel, Dr. Faustus, is the composer Adrian Leverkühn, an intellectual par
excellence. One could more easily dismiss these interesting but deficient attempts at
classifying people and peoples by national traits if Mann had not attached implicit
value judgments to them. And this he clearly did. Hans Castorp rejects many of
Settembrini's ideas in an effort to find his own way to a "humane" life, but he is more
inclined to side with the Italian's views than with those of Clavdia Chauchat or, later
on, Naphta. The autobiographical element and political import are significant: Mann
was farsighted enough to question the merit of Western democracy when transplanted
to Germany, yet there can be no doubt that the older he became, the more he agreed
with its ideals. He despised tyranny, whether in Germany or the former Soviet Union.
Though these political implications of Mann's belief in national-ethnic
characterization are not the essence of the dream Castorp has on a bench not far from
the Berghof, they dramatize it considerably. In this dream, our hero finds himself back
in high school, where his thoughts center around Pribislav Hippe, his one-time
schoolmate. Pribislav is of Slavic descent, has greenish eyes and protruding cheek
bones. Hans Castorp used to be fascinated by his appearance though they had met
only once — when he borrowed a pencil from Hippe. The parallel to Clavdia
Chauchat is obvious. Snapping out of his dream, Castorp realizes the long span of
time his mind has traveled and, still fighting spells of dizziness, runs to attend a
lecture by another Slav, Dr. Krokowski. Our hero's stubborn nosebleed is a symptom
of his deteriorating condition, as is his spinning head. Yet Hans deliberately rushes to
suck in the poisonous analyses of love presented by the Polish doctor. Each in a
different way and each to a different degree, these three "Eastern" people play a vital
role in Castorp's worsening condition.
As indicated above, Hans' dream is remarkable for another reason, namely the
complex world of dreams with its total suspension of the sequence of time. In a
previous dream, Hans Castorp found himself borrowing a pencil; he will do so in
reality in the carnival scene. Now that Hippe has been recalled, Hans is aware of the
connection between the school friend and Clavdia Chauchat. In no other leitmotif
does the inseparability of man's conscious and unconscious levels of experience
appear so strikingly. Mann employs the leitmotif to enhance the vividness of his
characterizations and also to emphasize the similarities of recurring situations.
Does this blending of dreams and conscious experiences mean that had it not
been for his fascination with Hippe long ago, he would never have felt attracted to
Clavdia Chauchat? Or the other way round, perhaps, that she, in some inexplicable
way, has existed in his mind even before he met Hippe? Expressed in terms of
psychoanalysis, has his repressed homoerotic attraction to Hippe emerged as his
desire for Clavdia? The answers remain ambiguous.
At any rate, Hans Castorp attentively listens to Dr. Krokowski's analyses in an
effort to get rid of his mounting sense of confusion. The subject of the lecture is the
inevitability of conflicts between love and chastity. He contends that, although in the
minds of most people the ideal of chastity defeats the sex drive, this drive is too
strong to let itself be repressed. Repressed physical love is the basis of disease. Dr.
Krokowski's arguments and his "ruthlessly scientific" ways make him the
irresponsible representative of the type of psychoanalyst who naively believes in the
possibility of solving people's innermost problems through rational investigation. He
speaks of the "redeeming power of the analytic," and he looks "like Christ with his
arms outstretched and his head on one side." Nevertheless, his ambiguous treatment
of love and his mounting interest in magic make him the apostle, not of love, but of
sterility. Appropriately enough, his office is located in the basement and is shadowed
by "profound twilight." In this atmosphere of pseudo-scientific sensuality, Clavdia
Chauchat's presence triggers another dream within Castorp, one full of longing for
her. Indeed, Hans' love for her is disease-forming, but his dreams are but symbols of
his physical and moral condition.
Whenever his mind is not clouded by Clavdia Chauchat's image, Castorp tends
to doubt Hofrat Behrens' ability and interest in the cure of his patients. Behrens was
seriously ill himself; therefore, can a former patient, one who has perhaps not wholly
recovered, really do anything for him and for everybody else up here? Castorp is
aware his own health is dwindling, but he is already too sick, both physically and
morally, to want to do anything about it. More and more, Madame Chauchat becomes
the center of his life. When she is around, they find ever-new ways of flirting and
arousing each other's sensuality, and when she is away on her occasional visits to her
husband, he daydreams about her. Hans Castorp is quickly becoming part and parcel
of the horrible ennui of this sanatorium existence.
At the same time, his ties to Joachim are growing weaker. The slight trembling
of his head at the very sight of Madame Chauchat is another outward sign of his
violent emotional involvement. One of numerous leitmotifs of the novel, Castorp's
trembling also serves to point to the significance of inherited tradition: Hans' father
and grandfather suffered from inflammation of the lungs. Thus being by nature "life's
delicate child," Hans' disease affords him an ever more lucid understanding of
himself. It teaches him that the body and the soul cannot be two separate realms, each
following its own laws. This is important to remember, for the ultimate transcendence
of this dualism is the professed goal of our hero's painful journey toward self-
awareness and humanism.
The idea that man is to an astounding degree molded by tradition is one of
Mann's favorite themes, and it is dealt with once more in this chapter. Settembrini
tells Castorp about his (Settembrini's) grandfather, who devoted his life to the noble
cause of the Italian revolution. Hans replies by mentioning that his own grandfather
was dedicated to the cause of the traditionalists of that time, who ruled over the very
areas where Settembrini's ancestors had lived. Together they discover the uniqueness
of their grandfathers, who practically fought each other, each convinced of the justice
of his cause.
The trance Hans Castorp experiences while listening to the story of opposing
causes has political relevance. He remembers himself on a lake in his native
Germany, crossing over in a boat: The pale moon rising in the east and the glowing
sun setting in the west leave him in a strange mood of twilight. The colorful and
confusing twilight stands for the impending political holocaust threatening Germany.
As we have said previously, this picture may also be interpreted to illustrate Mann's
favorite political idea — that of Germany as a saving mediating force between East
and West. In any case, once again a dream points into the future by means of an
image of the past.
Settembrini continues to present himself in the light of the rationalist who
believes in the final victory of democracy; he agrees with his grandfather's
comparison of the French revolutionary days with the six days of creation. He
explains that he became a man of letters because there is a close relationship between
humanistic thought and action on the one hand and speech and writing on the other.
The idea of the intellectual superiority of literature is advanced again. Yet Hans
Castorp is not impressed, and he even pounds his fist on the table at so much
arrogance from the Italian. After all, Settembrini, as much as anyone else, is what he
is largely because of his ancestors. This is Thomas Mann speaking, the apostle of
tradition at his best