Friday, December 12, 2008

Prime Passage: The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (1924)

Hans Castorp, the twenty-something protagonist of The Magic Mountain, descends to a subterranean examination room where he has his first x-ray taken. (Translation by John E. Woods, Everyman’s Library 2005)

“Once again the director peered through the milky pane, but this time into Hans Castorp’s interior. … In response to much begging, he was kind enough to allow his patient to view his own hand through the fluoroscope. And Hans Castorp saw exactly what he should have expected to see, but which no man was ever intended to see and which he himself had never presumed he would be able to see: he saw his own grave. Under that light, he saw the process of corruption anticipated, saw the flesh in which he moved decomposed, expunged, dissolved into airy nothingness – and inside was the delicately turned skeleton of his right hand and around the last joint of the ring finger, dangling black and loose, the signet ring his grandfather had bequeathed him: a hard thing, this ore with which man adorns a body predestined to melt away beneath it, so that it can be free again and move on to yet other flesh that may bear it for a while. With the eyes of his Tienappel forebear – penetrating, clairvoyant eyes – he beheld a familiar part of his body, and for the first time in his life he understood that he would die. And he made the same face he usually made when listening to music – a rather full, sleepy, and devout face, his head tilted toward one shoulder, his mouth half-open.

The director said, ‘Spooky, isn’t it? Yes, there’s no mistaking that whiff of spookiness.’ ”