Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Ever since learning that The Magic Mountain was a favourite book of both Hannah Arendt and Martin Heidegger, I have been intent on picking up a copy. Today I did just that. Delving into the weighty tome while sitting on a bench by the lake, I imagined Hannah and Martin sitting on a similar bench somewhere in Marburg, reading passages to one another, trying hard to concentrate on the words and not the voice uttering the words. Terribly seductive, that.

I didn't have to read many passages before becoming thoroughly enthralled. While the translation is admittedly a far cry from Mann's original [a position that is based purely on presumption, and somewhat coloured by my own background], there are truths therein that make me close the book in haste, in case they should escape, by which I mean, in case I should forget them by hurrying on to subsequent passages. To wit:

Space, like time, gives birth to forgetfulness, but does so by removing an individual from all relationships and placing him in a free and pristine state--indeed, in but a moment it can turn a pedant and philistine into something like a vagabond. Time, they say, is water from the river Lethe, but alien air is a similar drink; and if its effects are less profound, it works all the more quickly.

I have felt this, usually while travelling, but lately also in a professional capacity. Being away from one's regular space, then travelling through more space, only to arrive at an altogether different space, is something that we do every day, and may seem like nothing out of the ordinary, but it affords one the opportunity to leave things behind, become baggage-free, maybe even live a double life. I suspect that Mann is referring more plainly to his main character, Hans Castorp, in his journey from a staid and predictable life in Hamburg to a liberating and eye-opening experience at a sanatorium in the Alps. The question arises, for Hans and for anyone else that cares to ponder the issue, do we know ourselves more when we are in our accustomed environments, or do we know ourselves more when we are alone and in a foreign place, forced to re-assess our mindsets, attitudes, beliefs, while at the same time realizing there is a great likelihood that these bear no relevance to the new situation? The next logical question, then, is this: which is the preferred situation?

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