The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann

Naptha (234):

“Whatever profits man, that is the truth. In him all nature is comprehended, in all nature only he is created, and all nature only for him. He is the measure of all things, and his welfare is the sole and single criterion of truth. Any theoretic science which is without practical application to man’s salvation is as such without significance, we are commanded to reject it. Throughout the Christian centuries it was accepted fact that the natural sciences afforded man no edification. Lactantius, who was chosen by Constantine the Great as tutor to his son, put the position very clearly when he asked in so many words what heavenly bliss he could attain by knowing the sources of the Nile, or the twaddle of the physicists anent the heavenly bodies. Answer him if you can! Why have we given the Platonic philosophy the preference over every other, if not because it has to do with knowledge of God, and not knowledge of nature? Let me assure you that mankind is about to find its way back to this point of view. Mankind will soon perceive that it is not the task of true science to run after godless understanding; but to reject utterly all that is harmful, yes, even all that ideally speaking is without significance, in favour of instinct, measure, choice. It is childish to accuse the Church of having defended darkness rather than light. She did well, and thrice well, to chastise as unlawful all unconditioned striving after the ‘pure’ knowledge of things—such striving, that is, as is without reference to the spiritual, without bearing on man’s salvation; for it is this unconditioned, this a-philosophical natural science that always has led and ever will lead men into darkness.”

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The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann

p. 224

“You know quite well, as do these young men here, that we are dealing with a progress in human affairs conceived of as endless.”

“But all motion is in circles,” said Hans Castorp. “In space and time, as we learn from the law of periodicity and the conservation of mass. My cousin and I were talking about it lately. How then can progress be conceived of, in closed motion without constant direction? When I lie in the evening and look at the zodiac—that is, the half of it that is visible to us—and think about the wise men of antiquity—” “You ought not to brood and dream, Engineer,” Settembrini interrupted him. “You must resolve to trust to the instincts of your youth and your blood, urging you in the direction of action. And also your training in natural science is bound to link you to progressive ideas. You see, through the space of countless ages, life developing from infusorium up to man: how can you doubt, then, that man has yet before him endless possibilities of development? And in the sphere of the higher mathematics, if you would rest your case thereon, then follow your cycle from perfection to perfection, and, from the teaching of our eighteenth century, learn that man was originally good, happy, and without sin, that social errors have corrupted and perverted him, and that he can and will once more become good, happy, and sinless, by dint of labour upon his social structure—”

“Herr Settembrini has omitted to add,” broke in Naphta, “that the Rousseauian idyll is a sophisticated transmogrification of the Church’s doctrine of man’s original free and sinless state, his primal nearness and filial relation to God; to which state he must finally return. But the re-establishment of the City of God, after the dissolution of all earthly forms, lies at the meeting-place of the earthly and the heavenly, the material and the spiritual; redemption is transcendental—and as for your capitalistic worldrepublic, my dear Doctor, it is odd in this connexion to hear you talking about instinct. The instinctive is entirely on the side of the national. God Himself has implanted in men’s breasts the instinct which bids them separate into states. War—”

“War,” echoed Settembrini, “war, my dear sir, has been forced before now to serve the cause of progress; as you will grant if you will recall certain events in the history of your favourite epoch—I mean the period of the Crusades. These wars for civilization stimulated economic and commercial relations between peoples, and united Western humanity in the name of an idea.”

“And how tolerant you always are towards an idea! I would the more courteously remind you that the effect of the Crusades and the economic relations they stimulated was anything but favourable to internationalism. On the contrary, they taught the peoples to become conscious of themselves, and thus furthered the development of the national idea.”

“Right; that is to say, right in so far as it was a question of the relation between the peoples and the priesthood; for it was indeed at that time that the mounting consciousness of national honour began to harden itself against hieratical presumption—”

“Though what you call hieratical presumption is nothing else than the conception of human unity in the name of the Spirit!”

 

 

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The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann

CHAPTER VI

Changes

WHAT is time? A mystery, a figment—and all-powerful. It conditions the exterior world, it is motion married to and mingled with the existence of bodies in space, and with the motion of these. Would there then be no time if there were no motion? No motion if no time? We fondly ask. Is time a function of Space? Or space of time? Or are they identical? Echo answers. Time is functional, it can be referred to as action; we say a thing’s “brought about” by time. What sort of thing? Change! Now is not then, here not there, for between them lies motion. But the motion by which one measures time is circular, is in a closed circle; and might almost equally well be described as rest, as cessation of movement—for the there repeats itself constantly in the here, the past in the present. Furthermore, as our utmost effort cannot conceive a final limit either to time or in space, we have settled to think of them as eternal and infinite—apparently in the hope that if this is not very successful, at least it will be more so than the other. But is not this affirmation of the eternal and the infinite the logical-mathematical destruction of every and any limit in time or space, and the reduction of them, more or less, to zero? Is it possible, in eternity, to conceive of a sequence of events, or in the infinite of a succession of space-occupying bodies? Conceptions of distance, movement, change, even of the existence of finite bodies in the universe—how do these fare? Are they consistent with the hypothesis of eternity and infinity we have been driven to adopt? Again we ask, and again echo answers. Hans Castorp revolved these queries and their like in his brain.

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Upon Death

The thing that is me,

You’ll no longer see,

For the thing that is me,

Will no longer be.

 

The thing that I am,

Will be the thing that I was.

And the thing that you knew,

Will be hidden from view.

 

 

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A (by no means original) thought

Rousseau claims that humans beings are good by nature but are corrupted by society. Machiavelli on the other hand believes we are naturally evil unless we’re made to be good. Morality is a codification of human prejudice says France. Paine believes government is a necessary evil. These ideas of morality and the need to be governed and the need for rules presents a two sided coin for us to choose from, in essence, a false dichotomy. The idea is that there is good and there is evil. But what exactly is ‘goodness’? We have an idea of what it means to act justly. But is there inherent goodness? Is there good without action? Is there evil without action?

These concepts of good and evil arise out of our attitude towards the result or outcome of action, i.e., the impact of certain actions upon us or others. Goodness exists subjectively but what does it mean to be objectively good? If I wish to be good, how do I do so without action? I could hope for ‘good’ things to happen to others but hoping is an action, it is created by the ideas that we have and sometimes choose to physically act upon. Without human beings, there would be no such things as good and evil. Goodness therefore is dependent on humans and as such is dependent on our needs at the moment. Morality thus is subjective/relative. It also depends on societal needs, which change over time and space (geographic location).

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Times Two

My second birth was on an island, far away in the distant sea. A whiff of salty sea air grazes my nostrils in a brief moment of nostalgia. I hear the echoing caws of the herons floating in the wind and see the islet that jutted from the depth of the sea and appeared always as a speck in the horizon. I’m standing in the doorway of the pink house, watching the clouds drift in as a hurricane approached. It was September, the time for hurricanes; for boarded up houses, and stocked up shelves, and emergency evacuations.

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Melville’s Major Fiction – James Duban

Still, in Billy Budd Melville anticipates Jean-Paul Sartre’s recognition that consciousness and moral responsibility are synonymous with an incessant, unalleviated encounter with nothingness. This is to say that the “for-itself” (i.e., perception defined by the awareness of not being what it perceives) sustains itself exclusively as a negation of the “in-itself” (i.e., the plenitude of mere matter or things.) In short, consciousness is negation: “[T]he pure event by which human reality rises as a presence in the world is apprehended by itself as its own lack. In coming into existence human reality grasps itself as an incomplete being. From this, Sartre deduces that consciousness is the incessant anguish of confronting possibilities, themselves contingent upon the mind’s perception of itself in antithesis to the definitive plenitude that would otherwise relieve consciousness of both its precarious lack and its freedom; indeed, “freedom in its foundation coincides with the nothingness which is at the heart of man…Thus freedom is not a being it is the being of man– i.e., his nothingness of being.”

p.244

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