Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Magic Mountain

It is in Middle Age that you begin to understand the Magic Mountain.

The book begins with Hans Castorp visiting his cousin at the Sanatorium. He tells his cousin he is going to be staying three weeks. Castorp, at this point, thinks he knows the value of three weeks. But his cousin, who has been staying at the Sanatorium for some time, sets him straight:

“Oh, you have already gone home in your thoughts”, answered Joachim. Now, only wait, you have just arrived. Three weeks are almost nothing for us here above, but for you, on a visit here, merely staying for three week, for you it is a mass of time. First acclimatize yourself, that isn’t so easy, you will see. And then the climate is not the only curious thing about us. You will see a lot of new things here, naturally. As for what you said of me, that doesn’t go so well with me, you, with your “in three weeks I’m going home”, these are ideas from below.”

Indeed. Middle age is when you finally know above and below. Above, the time passes quickly. Your body, that encyclopedia of experiences lodged not just in your neurons, but in your immune system, your gut, your tongue (the taste of homemade ice cream when you were ten, the taste of your lover’s lips when you were twenty five), is now issuing addendums, but the entries have pretty much been laid down. One of them, death, that’s the motherfucker you keep circling. And time?

Of course, there are physical factors that explain the strange speeding up of time, but they don’t describe the experience. Three weeks can disappear in a flash. This great time divide is hardly ever referenced when we speak of the social, or when we talk of old men ordering young men to war, etc. But it is the single most terrifying thing about Above. There’s no way to prepare for this, no way to tell those Below about it. That one’s sense of time starts to converge with that of the housefly is inexplicable. It explains a lot about middle age surliness and depression. Somehow, one had assumed that as the body slows down, the sense of time would slow down. That one would see a sort of pharaonic form of time, drifting by at the monumental pace of the sphinx walking. Instead, the body slows down and time speeds up.

That is how it is above. You will see a lot of new things here, but none, none will impress you like this acceleration of one of the fundamental dimensions in the synthetic apriori. That’s the one that fucks with you.


Bruce said...


Some of the same thoughts have been going through my head. That things don't slow down and speed up as I always assumed they would is a nasty trick.

Thanks Roger.

Roger Gathmann said...

Bruce, thanks!
Yes, it is not what you assumed at all, is it?

I'm reading the Magic Mountain and Mann's vast Observations of a Non-Political Man, his apologia for supporting the imperialist German war effort in WWI. It is obvious that the effects of age are on his mind. I should, I will do a post!