I Am A Cat – Natsume Soseki

Volume II – Ch. I

In the first place it is my opinion that the sky was made to shelter all creation, and that the earth was made so that all things created that were able to stand might have something to stand on. Even those human beings who love argument for the arguing’s sake could surely not deny this fact. Next we may ask to what extent did human effort contribute to the creation of heaven and earth, and the answer is that it contributed nothing. What right, then, do human beings hold to decide that things not of their own creation nevertheless belong to them? Of course the absence of right need not prevent such creatures from making that decision, but surely there can be no possible justification for them prohibiting others from innocent passage in and out of so-called human property. If it be accepted that Mr. So-and-so may set up stakes, fence off sections of this boundless earth, and register that area as his own, what is to prevent such persons from roping off blue sky, from staking claims on heaven, an enclosure of the air?
If natural law permitted proprietorial parceling-out of the land and its sale and purchase at so much the square foot, then it would also permit partition of the air we breathe at so much the cubic unit and its three-dimensional sale. If, however, it is not proper to trade in sky, if enclosure of the empyrean is not regarded as just in natural law, then surely it must follow that all land-ownership is unnatural and irrational.

***

“And to whom do you think we are indebted for that brilliant logical analysis, which, by its simple explanation of this seeming anomaly, has rescued us forever from the dark abyss of doubt? It was that famous Greek philosopher, the greatest of all scholars since scholarship began, the renowned founder of the Peripatetic School, Aristotle himself. His explanation—I say, Sneaze, please stop flogging that cake-dish and pay a little more attention—may be summarized thus. The prizes awarded at Greek contests were worth more than the performances that earned them, for the prizes were intended not only to stimulate effort but to reward achievement. Consequently, if one were to give a prize for intellectual prowess, for knowledge itself, one would have to find something to award which was more valuable than knowledge. But knowledge already is the rarest gem in the world. The Greeks, unwilling to debase the value of knowledge, piled up chests all crammed with gold to the height of Mount Olympus. They gathered in the wealth of Croesus, and wealth beyond that wealth, but in the end they recognized that the value of knowledge cannot be matched, let alone exceeded. So, masters of reason that they were, they decided that the prize should be nothing at all. From this, Suzuki, I trust you will have learnt that, whatever the color of your money, it is worthless stuff compared with learning. Let us accordingly apply this revealed truth, this fundamental principle, to the particular problem that has arisen today. Surely you’re bound to see that Goldfield’s merely a paper man, a bill of exchange with eyes and a nose scrawled onto it. If I may put it epigrammatically, the man’s no more than an animated banknote. And if he’s money in motion, currency one might say, his daughter’s nothing but a circulating promissory note.

 

Ch. 2:

Since I am a truly unusual cat, one born into this world with a mission demanding purely mental activity, I am responsible for safeguarding the inestimable worth of my own rarity. As the proverb says, “The rich man’s son is never seated at the edge of the raised hall.” I, too, am far too precious to be exposed to the danger of a tumble into calamity. If sheer vainglory led me to run such risks, I would not only be inviting personal disaster but flouting the evident will of Heaven. However, even the fiercest tiger, once installed in a zoo, settles down resignedly next to some filthy pig. Even the largest of wild geese, once in the poulterer’s hands, must finish up on the selfsame chopping board as the scrawniest chickling. Consequently, for as long as I consort with ordinary men, I must conduct myself as if I were an ordinary cat. Ordinary cats catch rats. This long but faultless chain of logic leads to but one conclusion. I have finally decided to catch a rat.

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The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann

323:

There is a state, in our human life, there are certain scenic surroundings—if one may use that adjective to describe the surroundings we have in mind—within which such a confusion and obliteration of distances in time and space is in a measure justified, and temporary submersion in them, say for the term of a holiday, not reprehensible. Hans Castorp, for his part, could never without the greatest longing think of a stroll along the ocean’s edge. We know how he loved to have the snowy wastes remind him of his native landscape of broad ocean dunes; we hope the reader’s recollections will bear us out when we speak of the joys of that straying. You walk, and walk—never will you come home at the right time, for you are of time, and time is vanished. O ocean, far from thee we sit and spin our tale; we turn toward thee our thoughts, our love, loud and expressly we call on thee, that thou mayst be present in the tale we spin, as in secret thou ever wast and shalt be!—A singing solitude, spanned by a sky of palest grey; full of stinging damp that leaves a salty tang upon the lips.—We walk along the springy floor, strewn with seaweed and tiny mussel-shells. Our ears are wrapped about by the great mild, ample wind, that comes sweeping untrammelled blandly through space, and gently blunts our senses. We wander— wander—watching the tongues of foam lick upward toward our feet and sink back again. The surf is seething; wave after wave, with high, hollow sound, rears up, rebounds, and runs with a silken rustle out over the flat strand: here one, there one, and more beyond, out on the bar. The dull, pervasive, sonorous roar closes our ears against all the sounds of the world. O deep content, O wilful bliss of sheer forgetfulness! Let us shut our eyes, safe in eternity! No—for there in the foaming grey-green waste that stretches with uncanny foreshortening to lose itself in the horizon, look, there is a sail. There? Where is there? How far, how near? You cannot tell. Dizzyingly it escapes your measurement. In order to know how far that ship is from the shore, you would need to know how much room it occupies, as a body in space. Is it large and far off, or is it small and near? Your eye grows dim with uncertainty, for in yourself you have no sense-organ to help you judge of time or space.—We walk, walk. How long, how far? Who knows? Nothing is changed by our pacing, there is the same as here, once on a time the same as now, or then; time is drowning in the measureless monotony of space, motion from point to point is no motion more, where uniformity rules; and where motion is no more motion, time is no longer time.

The schoolmen of the Middle Ages would have it that time is an illusion; that its flow in sequence and causality is only the result of a sensory device, and the real existence of things in an abiding present. Was he walking by the sea, the philosopher to whom this thought first came, walking by the sea, with the faint bitterness of eternity upon his lips?

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The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann

CH. VII, p. 320:

For time is the medium of narration, as it is the medium of life. Both are inextricably bound up with it, as inextricably as are bodies in space. Similarly, time is the medium of music; music divides, measures, articulates time, and can shorten it, yet enhance its value, both at once. Thus music and narration are alike, in that they can only present themselves as a flowing, as a succession in time, as one thing after another; and both differ from the plastic arts, which are complete in the present, and unrelated to time save as all bodies are, whereas narration—like music—even if it should try to be completely present at any given moment, would need time to do it in.

So much is clear. But it is just as clear that we have also a difference to deal with. For the time element in music is single. Into a section of mortal time music pours itself, thereby inexpressibly enhancing and ennobling what it fills. But a narrative must have two kinds of time: first, its own, like music, actual time, conditioning its presentation and course; and second, the time of its content, which is relative, so extremely relative that the imaginary time of the narrative can either coincide nearly or completely with the actual, or musical, time, or can be a world away. A piece of music called a “Five-minute Waltz” lasts five minutes, and this is its sole relation to the time element. But a narrative which concerned itself with the events of five minutes, might, by extraordinary conscientiousness in the telling, take up a thousand times five minutes, and even then seem very short, though long in relation to its imaginary time. On the other hand, the contentual time of a story can shrink its actual time out of all measure. We put it in this way on purpose, in order to suggest another element, an illusory, even, to speak plainly, a morbid element, which is quite definitely a factor in the situation. I am speaking of cases where the story practises a hermetical magic, a temporal distortion of perspective reminding one of certain abnormal and transcendental experiences in actual life. We have records of opium dreams in which the dreamer, during a brief narcotic sleep, had experiences stretching over a period of ten, thirty, sixty years, or even passing the extreme limit of man’s temporal capacity for experience: dreams whose contentual time was enormously greater than their actual or musical time, and in which there obtained an incredible foreshortening of events; the images pressing one upon another with such rapidity that it was as though “something had been taken away, like the spring from a broken watch “from the brain of the sleeper. Such is the description of a hashish eater. Thus, or in some such way as in these sinister dreams, can the narrative go to work with time; in some such way can time be dealt with in a tale. And if this be so, then it is clear that time, while the medium of the narrative, can also become its subject. Therefore, if it is too much to say that one can tell a tale of time, it is none the less true that a desire to tell a tale about time is not such an absurd idea as it just now seemed. We freely admit that, in bringing up the question as to whether the time can be narrated or not, we have done so only to confess that we had something like that in view in the present work.

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The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann

277:

The snow came silently down. The scene blurred more and more, it inclined the eye, gazing thus into woolly vacuity, to slumber. At the moment of slipping off one might give a start—yet what sleep could be purer than this in the icy air? It was dreamless. It was as free from the burden—even the unconscious burden—of organic life, as little aware of an effort to breathe this contentless, weightless, imperceptible air as is the breathless sleep of the dead.

 

***

 

Then there were storms so violent as to prevent one’s sitting on the balcony for the driven snow which blew in, in such quantity as to cover floor and chair with a thick mantle. Yes, even in this sheltered valley it knew how to storm. The thin air would be in a hurly-burly, so whirling full of snow one could not see a hand’s breadth before one’s face. Gusts strong enough to take one’s breath away flung the snow about, drew it up cyclone-fashion from the valley floor to the upper air, whisked it about in the maddest dance; no longer a snow-storm, it was a blinding chaos, a white dark, a monstrous dereliction on the part of this inordinate and violent region; no living creature save the snow-bunting—which suddenly appeared in troops—could flourish in it.

And yet Hans Castorp loved this snowy world. He found it not unlike life at the seashore. The monotony of the scene was in both cases profound. The snow, so deep, so light, so dry and spotless, was the sand of down below. One was as clean as the other: you could shake the snow from boots and clothing, just as you could the fine-ground, dustless stone and shell, product of the sea’s depth—neither left trace behind. And walking in the snow was as toilsome as on the dunes; unless, indeed, a crust had come upon it, by dint of thawing and freezing, when the going became easy and pleasant, like marching along the smooth, hard, wet, resilient strip of sand close to the edge of the sea.

 

***

 

280:

No, this world of limitless silences had nothing hospitable; it received the visitor at his own risk, or rather it scarcely even received him, it tolerated his penetration into its fastnesses, in a manner that boded no good; it made him aware of the menace of the elemental, a menace not even hostile, but impersonally deadly. The child of civilization, remote from birth from wild nature and all her ways, is more susceptible to her grandeur than is her untutored son who has looked at her and lived close to her from childhood up, on terms of prosaic familiarity. The latter scarcely knows the religious awe with which the other regards her, that awe which conditions all his feeling for her, and is present, a constant, solemn thrill, in the profoundest depth of his soul. Hans Castorp, standing there in his puttees and long-sleeved camel’s-hair waistcoat, on his skis de luxe, suddenly seemed to himself exceedingly presumptuous, to be thus listening to the primeval hush, the deathlike silence of these wintry fastnesses.

 

***

 

In a word, Hans Castorp was valorous up here—if by valour we mean not mere dull matter-of-factness in the face of nature, but conscious submission to her, the fear of death cast out by irresistible oneness. Yes, in his narrow, hypercivilized breast, Hans Castorp cherished a feeling of kinship with the elements, connected with the new sense of superiority he had lately felt at sight of the silly people on their little sleds; it had made him feel that a profounder, more spacious, less luxurious solitude than that afforded by his balcony chair would be beyond all price. He had sat there and looked abroad, at those mist-wreathed summits, at the carnival of snow, and blushed to be gaping thus from the breastwork of material well-being. This motive, and no momentary fad—no, nor yet any native love of bodily exertion—was what impelled him to learn the use of skis. If it was uncanny up there in the magnificence of the mountains, in the deathly silence of the snows—and uncanny it assuredly was, to our son of civilization—this was equally true, that in these months and years he had already drunk deep of the uncanny, in spirit and in sense. Even a colloquy with Naphta and Settembrini was not precisely the canniest thing in the world, it too led one on into uncharted and perilous regions. So if we can speak of Hans Castorp’s feeling of kinship with the wild powers of the winter heights, it is in this sense, that despite his pious awe he felt these scenes to be a fitting theatre for the issue of his involved thoughts, a fitting stage for one to make who, scarcely knowing how, found it had devolved upon him to take stock of himself, in reference to the rank and status of the Homo Dei.

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The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann

273:

Say what you like—and there was a lot to be said for the idea that illness had something solemn and ennobling about it—yet after all, you couldn’t deny that illness was an accentuation of the physical, it did throw man back, so to speak, upon the flesh and to that extent was detrimental to human dignity. It dragged man down to the level of his body. Thus it might be argued that disease was un-human.

On the contrary, Naphta hastened to say. Disease was very human indeed. For to be man was to be ailing. Man was essentially ailing, his state of unhealthiness was what made him man. There were those who wanted to make him “healthy,” to make him “go back to nature,” when, the truth was, he never had been “natural.” All the propaganda carried on to-day by the prophets of nature, the experiments in regeneration, the uncooked food, fresh-air cures, sun-bathing, and so on, the whole Rousseauian paraphernalia, had as its goal nothing but the dehumanization, the animalizing of man. They talked of “humanity,” of nobility—but it was the spirit alone that distinguished man, as a creature largely divorced from nature, largely opposed to her in feeling, from all other forms of organic life.

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The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann

269:

Naphta evidently meant to hold humanity fast to its old, irrational position in the face of established biological fact; meant to force it to remain at the stage of primitive religion, where death was a spectre surrounded by such mysterious terrors that the gaze of reason could not be focused upon it. What barbarism! The fear of death went back to a very low cultural stage, when violent death was the rule, and its horrors thus became associated with the idea of death in general. But now, thanks to the development of hygiene and the increase in personal security, a natural death was the rule, a violent one the exception; modern man had come to think of repose, after exhaustion of his powers, as not at all dreadful, but normal and even desirable. No, death was neither spectre nor mystery. It was a simple, acceptable, and physiologically necessary phenomenon; to dwell upon it longer than decency required was to rob life of its due. Accordingly, the Hall of Death (as the modern crematory and vault for the urns was to be called) would be supplemented by a Hall of Life, where architecture, painting, sculpture, music, and poetry would combine to draw the thoughts of the survivors from the contemplation of death, from weak and unavailing grief, and fix them upon the joys of life.

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The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann

236-7:

Naphta:

Is your Manchester liberalism unaware of the existence of a school of economic thought which means the triumph of man over economics, and whose principles and aims precisely coincide with those of the kingdom of God? The Fathers of the Church called mine and thine pernicious words, and private property usurpation and robbery. They repudiated the idea of personal possessions, because, according to divine and natural law, the earth is common to all men, and brings forth her fruits for the common good. They taught that avarice, a consequence of the Fall, represents the rights of property and is the source of private ownership. They were humane enough, anti-commercial enough, to feel that all commercial activity was a danger to the soul of man and its salvation. They hated money and finance, and called the empire of capital fuel for the fires of hell. The fundamental economic principle that price is regulated by the operation of the law of supply and demand, they have always despised from the bottom of their hearts; and condemned taking advantage of chance as a cynical exploitation of a neighbour’s need. Even more nefarious, in their eyes, was the exploitation of time; the montrousness of receiving a premium for the passage of time—interest, in other words—and misusing to one’s own advantage and another’s disadvantage a universal and God-given dispensation…..

“Indeed, these humane spirits were revolted by the idea of the automatic increase of money; they regarded as usury every kind of interest-taking and speculation, and declared that every rich man was either a thief or the heir of a thief. They went further. Like Thomas Aquinas, they considered trade, pure and simple, buying and selling for profit, without altering or improving the product, a contemptible occupation. They were not inclined to place a very high value on labour in and for itself, as being an ethical, not a religious concern, and performed not in the service of God, but as a part of the business of living. This being the case, they demanded that the measure of profit or of public esteem should be in proportion to the actual labour expended, and accordingly it was not the tradesman or the industrialist, but the labourer and the tiller of the soil, who were honourable in their eyes. For they were in favour of making production dependent upon necessity, and held mass production in abhorrence. Now, then: after centuries of disfavour these principles and standards are being resurrected by the modern movement of communism. The similarity is complete, even to the claim for world-domination made by international labour as against international industry and finance; the world-proletariat, which is today asserting the ideals of the Civitas Dei in opposition to the discredited and decadent standards of the capitalistic bourgeoisie. The dictatorship of the proletariat, the politico-economic means of salvation demanded by our age, does not mean domination for its own sake and in perpetuity; but rather in the sense of a temporary abrogation, in the Sign of the Cross, of the contradiction between spirit and force; in the sense of overcoming the world by mastering it; in a transcendental, a transitional sense, in the sense of the Kingdom. The proletariat has taken up the task of Gregory the Great, his religious zeal burns within it, and as little as he may it withhold its hand from the shedding of blood. Its task is to strike terror into the world for the healing of the world, that man may finally achieve salvation and deliverance, and win back at length to freedom from law and from distinction of classes, to his original status as child of God.”

Settembrini:

Let us examine all the consequences flowing from it. Along with industry, your Christian communism would reject machinery, technique, material progress. Along with what you call trade—money and finance, which in antiquity ranked higher than agriculture and manual labour—you reject freedom. For it is clear, so clear as to be evident to the meanest intelligence, that all social relations, public and private, would be attached to the soil, as in the Middle Ages; even—I feel some reluctance to say it—even the person of the individual. If only the soil can maintain life, then only the possession of it can confer freedom. Manual labourers and peasants, however honourable their position, if they possess no real property, can only be the property of those who do. As a matter of fact, until well on in the Middle Ages the great mass of the population, even the town-dwellers, were serfs. In the course of our discussion you have let fall various allusions to the dignity of the human being. Yet you are defending the morality of an economic system which deprives the individual of liberty and self-respect.”

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