Monday, January 31, 2011

Winter Branches Hang Heavy With Snow

The Magic Mountain

  The Magic Mountain - Der Zauberberg - is a novel written by Thomas Mann.  He began it in 1912, set it aside during World War I, and revised it for publication in 1924.  The book portrays a young German man who spends seven years at a tuberculosis sanitorium in Davos Switzerland between 1907 and 1914.  The sanitarium building still stands and is pictured below.


  The Magic Mountain is an important and wonderful book.  It is a modern masterpiece, and much more readable and engrossing than many "modern classics."  Alan and Cyane both recommend reading it:
Thomas Mann.  The Magic Mountain.  Translation by John E. Woods, Vintage, 1995.

  Part of the book presents (engagingly)  the history of ideas, presented as ongoing debates between two characters:  Is God dead?  The proper relationship of the body/nature v. the mind/intellect?  The position and role of the church?  How about corporeal punishment, the death penalty, torture, cremation???
  Lodovico Settembrini is an Italian who presents ideas of:  liberalism, socialism, progressivism, humanism, a belief in the Enlightenment, science, and progress.  Naptha is a Jesuit (converted Jew) who at various times proposes:  communism, fascism, anarchy, absolute authority of the Church, dualism, asceticism, and nihilism.

  The book is also a picture of a particular time and it is very specific in presenting:  technology, such as X-Rays, photography, movies, trains, the phonograph.  It describes manias or fads of the time:  stamp collecting, chocolate, geometric teasers, parlor games, Esperanto, solitaire, and seances.

  It is a portrait of a place:  Davos, Graubunden, eastern Switzerland.  It describes the weather, flora, geology, architecture, culture of an international resort about 1910.  It describes the approaching of war as reflected in people's feelings, the "Great Petulance," where fist fights and duels broke out daily.

  The primary theme of the book is time.  The portrait of a particular time, mentioned above.  Also, a rumination on the process of how time moves and is perceived:  relative and accelerating.

  The other major theme explores the dyads of life and death, health and illness.  It unites them under love.  Life, death, and love can each be both depraved and wonderful.  Love unites live and death and is explored separately; love in The Magic Mountain contains both lust and a humanistic love of humanity.
Quote from page 590:  "In our opinion, it is analytically correct, although-to use Hans Castorp's phrase-'terribly gauche' and downright life-denying, to make a 'tidy' distinction between sanctity and passion in matters of love.  What's this about 'tidy'?  What's this about gentle irresolution and ambiguity?  Isn't it grand, isn't it good, that language has only one word for everything we associate for love-from utter sanctity to the most fleshly lust?  The result is perfect clarity in ambiguity, for love cannot be disembodied even in its most sanctified forms, nor is it without sanctity even at its most fleshly.  Love is always simply itself, both as a subtle affirmation of life and as the highest passion; love is our sympathy with organic life, the touchingly lustful embrace of what is destined to decay-caritas is assuredly found in the most admirable and most depraved passions.  Irresolute?  But in God's good name, leave the meaning of love unresolved!  Unresolved-that is life and humanity, and it would betray a dreary lack of subtlety to worry about it."

  There are other themes.  The main character, Hans Castorp, comes from "The Flatlands" to "The Magic Mountain."  Life in The Flatlands is presented as dull and prescribed by toil and drudgery.  The Magic Mountain is depicted as a place of possible clarity and perspective and an escape from time.  Hans Castorp receives a true education on the mountain, gaining knowledge; along with clarity, assurance, and understanding.

  Thomas Mann well understands personality and he creates characters that are compelling.  There are many important people in the book that the reader cares about.  Maybe they stand for ideas, e.g.:
  - Hans' cousin Joachim Ziemssen seems to embody brotherhood, loyalty, honor, and duty.
  - Two people, a boy and a woman, melt into one object of Hans' desire.
  - Pieter Peeperkorn seems to personify the power of stature and a life dedicated to feeling.
  - The dueling theorists mentioned above, Lodovico Settembrini/humanist and Naptha/Jesuit nihilist.

  There are other themes:
temperature, internal and external
the redemptive power of language
order and disorder

  Despite all the ambiguity, there is a message.  Hans does grow to the insight of humaneness and kindness.  He spends seven years on the Magic Mountain, doing nothing and learning everything.  He leaves upon the outbreak of World War I, as the Flatlands erupt into killing.  Having learned about life, he ironically leaves at the very time when he has the best reason to stay and survive.


Synopsis of Readings on World War I

Remarks below taken from the following sources:
G. J. Meyer. 2006. A World Undone, The Story of the Great War 1914-1918
Barbara Tuchman. 1966. The Proud Tower.
Barbara Tuchman. 1962. The Guns of August.

The war that took place from the summer of 1914 until November of 1918 was truly a world war, the first world war, the great war, the first industrial war, and the end of an era. Over 60 million soldiers took part, about half of whom were killed, wounded, or lost. The two largest participants were France, which lost 17% of its mobilized troops, and Germany which lost 10%. Disease, genocide, and starvation killed many more - see Aftermath and Consequences below. To see a map of how the world was aligned during the First World War, click this link:
The Allies shown in green and the Central Powers in yellow

The Allies or 'Triple Entente"
British Empire
Russian Empire
United States
Japan, Belgium, Serbia, Romania, Greece
Portugal, Montenegro, etc.
over 43 million troops total
over 22 million dead, wounded, MIA

The Central Powers
German Empire
Austrian-Hungarian Empire
Ottoman Empire
over 25 million troops
over 16 million killed, wounded, MIA

Battle Locations
Western Front: Belgium, the river Marne, the river Somme, Ypres, Yser, northeastern France
there were over 600 km of trenches
the Germans came within 100 km of Paris
one of the most famous battle locations was Verdun
Eastern Front: what is now Poland, Russia, Austria, and Hungary
Balkans: primarily Serbia
Italy: northeastern Italy, along the Isonzo and Piave Rivers
Ottoman Empire: Gallipoli/Dardanelles, Mesopotamia, Caucasus, Armenia, Romania, Serbia

Origins of the Conflict
28 June, 1914: Bosnian Serb assassinates the Austrian Archduke, inheritor of the throne
-Growing Nationalism: Russian, Serbian, Italian, German, etc.
-Imperialism: conflict over the Balkans and the colonies
-Preceeding Unresolved Conflicts: Balkan Wars, punitive reparations and loss of Alsace- Lorraine from the 1870s Franco-Prussian War
-Fear: France feared growing German power, Germany feared Russia, etc.
-Rivalry of France and Germany: demographic and economic

Technological Innovations
-Telephone and wireless technology
-Armored tanks
-Aircraft and parachutes
-Machine guns and automatic weapons
-Bigger and more accurate cannons/howitzers with a range of 100 km and powerful shells
-Trench warfare
-Poison gas: chlorine, mustard, phosgene
-Submarine U-Boats
-Sophisticated propaganda campaigns

Aftermath and Consequences
The Treaty of Versailles, 29 June 1919
Germany paid enormous war reparations
Germany lost territory: colonies and Alsace-Lorraine, Poland
Germany accepted full blame for the war
Austria-Hungary was partitioned
The Ottoman Empire was carved up
-The Collapse of 4 Empires and their Monarchies
German Empire became the Weimar Republic, later Third Reich, then Federal Republic
Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire became separate countries, 1st Austrian Republic
Ottoman Empire: Republic of Turkey and separate countries
Russian Empire: Romanovs deposed by Bolsheviks during Russian Revolution,
later became the Soviet Union in 1922
-Death and Injury
War dead and injured: about 30 million
Disease: Influenza of 1918 killed 50 million worldwide
Starvation: Germany 1 million, Lebanon 1 million, Russia 5-10 million
Genocide: 1 million Armenians killed by the Turks
1 million Jews and Germans killed by the Russians
Belgians killed by the Germans
"Lost Generation" young people injured or disallusioned by the war
-Destroyed Lands
120,000 hectares of northern France unusable because of shells or pollution, 'Red Zone'
3,000,000 hectares of northern France were devestated
-Germany's 'Stab in the Back Theory'
German leaders claimed that Germany had not lost the war militarily
Blamed Jews, Bolsheviks, Communists for sabotage
Supported rise of nationalism and anti-semitism
-War Debt and Economic Dislocation
almost half of French agricultural workers were taken out
many countries had crushing war debt
resulting inflation and recessions
-War led to Centralization of Power and the Rise of Nationalism
-Creation of Jewish Homeland in Palestine
-Voting Rights for Women
-League of Nations in 1919

Dhamma Buddhist Teaching - or is this Quaker too?

Remember always that you are just a visitor here, a traveler passing through. Your stay is but short and the moment of your departure unknown.
None can live without toil and a craft that provides your needs is a blessing indeed. But if you toil without rest, fatigue and weariness will overtake you, and you will be denied the joy that comes from labour's end.
Speak quietly and kindly and be not forward with either opinions or advice. If you talk much, this will make you deaf to what others say, and you should know that there are few so wise that they cannot learn from others.
Be near when help is needed, but far when praise and thanks are being offered.

Take small account of might, wealth and fame, for they soon pass and are forgotten. Instead, nurture love within you and and strive to be a friend to all. Truly, compassion is a balm for many wounds.
Treasure silence when you find it, and while being mindful of your duties, set time aside, to be alone with yourself.
Cast off pretense and self-deception and see yourself as you really are.
Despite all appearances, no one is really evil. They are led astray by ignorance. If you ponder this truth always you will offer more light, rather then blame and condemnation.
You, no less than all beings have Buddha Nature within. Your essential Mind is pure. Therefore, when defilements cause you to stumble and fall, let not remorse nor dark foreboding cast you down. Be of good cheer and with this understanding, summon strength and walk on.
Faith is like a lamp and wisdom makes the flame burn bright. Carry this lamp always and in good time the darkness will yield and you will abide in the Light.