Forces of Ambiguity

Life, Death, Disease and Eros in Thomas Mann’s «Der Zauberberg»

by Jessica Macauley (Author)
Monographs XXII, 308 Pages
Series: German Life and Civilization, Volume 65


Thomas Mann’s novel Der Zauberberg (1913–1924) illustrates a change in the author’s conceptions of life, death, disease and Eros following World War I. Set in a Swiss tuberculosis sanatorium, the novel’s main protagonist, Hans Castorp, comes into contact with three pedagogic figures who each represent a different attitude towards these themes. The humanist Settembrini, for example, affirms life but is repulsed by Eros, disease and death; the Jesuit ascetic Naphta glorifies erotic suffering and death while denying life; and the coffee magnate Peeperkorn celebrates life and Eros – yet to a pathological extent.
This book relies on intertextual theory to examine the relation of these conceptions of life, death, disease and Eros within the novel to the thought of Novalis, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. Exploring the dialogic clash of their conceptions together with the sociological implications of their work, this author investigates how the relationships between Der Zauberberg and the intertexts influence the reader’s interpretation of the nature of life, death, disease and Eros as well as the effect they have on the culture depicted in the novel.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • A note on the translations
  • Chapter 1
  • Chapter 2
  • Chapter 3
  • Chapter 4
  • Chapter 5
  • Chapter 6
  • Chapter 7
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Design and intention
  • The choice of intertexts
  • Der Zauberberg and the work of Novalis, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud: An overview of source-critical scholarship
  • Models of intertextuality: Text and intertext
  • Author, reader, text: The origin of meaning-production
  • Chapter 2: Sympathie mit dem Tode: The dominion of death over life
  • The social repression of death
  • Views of death: Christian versus atheist
  • Attitudes towards death
  • The affirmation of death and the devaluation of life
  • The glorification of death as release
  • The synthesis of life and death
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: Ambiguous affiliations: The stimulus of life and disease
  • The nature of life: Receptivity to stimuli
  • Stimuli, determinism and heredity
  • Health, disease and the organism
  • Stimuli, life and disease
  • The interrelation of life, Mind and disease
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 4: The seeds of war: Disease, decadence and destruction
  • The environmental causes of disease
  • Lethargy and boredom
  • Boredom, time and entertainment
  • Entertainment and intoxication
  • Irritability and aggression
  • The combination of lethargy and irritability
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 5: Erotic stimulus, gender and homosexuality
  • Life, Eros and aesthetics
  • The nature of Eros: Stimuli and the body
  • Eros, death and disease
  • Pleasure and pain
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 6: Decadence and the erotic: The powers of immorality
  • Culture versus nature: Morality, Eros and disease
  • Civilisation and the diseased body
  • Erotic freedom, decadence and gender
  • The power of immoral lust and disease over moral life
  • Synthesis or mediation? Eros, disease and humanity
  • Conclusion
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Primary sources
  • Secondary sources
  • Index
  • Series index

| vii →


I would like to express my gratitude to Dr Monica Tempian and Dr Margaret Sutherland. Thanks also to Buddenbrook Haus in Lübeck for granting me access to their library, as well as to Anya Maule, Maria Polaczuk, Diedre Irons and Jörg Kluge. Finally, a big thank you to my children, Mia and Phoebe, throughout whose entire lives I have been, if not writing, then thinking about this book.

| ix →

A note on the translations

The following are English translations of the chapter titles from Der Zauberberg taken from the 1995 John E. Woods translation of the same title (The Magic Mountain, transl. John E. Woods [New York: Alfred Knopf, 1995]).

Chapter 1

‘Nr. 34’ ‘Room 34’
‘Im Restaurant’ ‘In the Restaurant’

Chapter 2

‘Von der Taufschale und vom
Großvater in zwiefacher Gestalt’
‘The Baptismal Bowl/Grandfather
in His Two Forms’
‘Bei Tienappels. Und von Hans
Castorps sittlichem Befinden’
‘At the Tienappels/Hans Castorp’s
Moral State’

Chapter 3

‘Frühstück’ ‘Breakfast’
‘Neckerei, Viatikum. Unterbrochene Heiterkeit’ ‘Teasing/Viaticum/Interrupted Merriment’ ← ix | x →
‘Satana’ ‘Satana’
‘Gedankenschärfe’ ‘Clarity of Mind’
‘Natürlich, ein Frauenzimmer!’ ‘But of Course – a Female!’
‘Herr Albin’ ‘Herr Albin’
‘Satana macht ehrrührige Vorschläge’ ‘Satana Makes Shameful Suggestions’

Chapter 4

‘Notwendiger Einkauf’ ‘A Necessary Purchase’
‘Exkurs über den Zeitsinn’ ‘Excursus on the Sense of Time’
‘Er versucht sich in französischer Konversation’ ‘He Tries Out His Conversational French’
‘Politisch verdächtig!’ ‘Politically Suspect’
‘Hippe’ ‘Hippe’
‘Analyse’ ‘Analysis’
‘Das Thermometer’ ‘The Thermometer’

Chapter 5

‘Ewigkeitssuppe und plötzliche Klarheit’ ‘Eternal Soup and Sudden Clarity’
‘“Mein Gott, ich sehe!”’ ‘“My God, I See It!”’
‘Freiheit’ ‘Freedom’
‘Enzyklopädie’ ‘Encyclopaedia’
‘Humaniora’ Humaniora
‘Forschungen’ ‘Research’ ← x | xi →
‘Totentanz’ Danse Macabre
‘Walpurgisnacht’ ‘Walpurgis Night’

Chapter 6

‘Veränderungen’ ‘Changes’
‘Noch jemand’ ‘Someone Else’
‘Vom Gottesstaat und von übler Erlösung’ ‘The City of God and Evil Deliverance’
‘Operationes spirituales’ Operationes Spirituales
‘Schnee’ ‘Snow’
‘Als Soldat und brav’ ‘A Good Soldier’

Chapter 7

| xiii →


Thomas Mann was one of the most influential German novelists of the twentieth century.1 Born in Lübeck on 6 June 1875, Mann grew up in an atypical household marked by a contrast between the upper middle-class German milieu of his merchant father and the artistic ideals of his Brazilian-German mother.2 This distinction was reflected throughout Thomas Mann’s ← xiii | xiv → literary career as a tension between the desire to be accepted by the public (‘Mich verlangt auch nach den Dummen’ [I want the stupid ones, too])3 and a sense of artistic exclusiveness.4 Mann’s aloofness from his social milieu arguably contributed to his developing critical interest in culture during the first quarter of the twentieth century.5 This sociological interest was inextricably linked to Mann’s reading of philosophy and psychology, and these three disciplines together profoundly influenced Mann’s world view, which changed following the experience of World War I from conservative support of the monarchy of Wilhelm II, glorification of war and of social hierarchies, to a focus on humanity, peace, democracy and the individual.6

Thomas Mann’s changing sociological, philosophical and psychological views are evident in his novel Der Zauberberg [The Magic Mountain], which he began in 1913 and finally published in November 1924. Initial work on the novel was interrupted by the outbreak of World War I, when Mann turned his attention to the Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen [Reflections of an Unpolitical Man] (1915–18). As he explained in a letter of 25 March 1917: ‘Die Betrachtungen muß ich nur deshalb schreiben, weil infolge des Krieges der Roman [Der Zauberberg] sonst intellektuell unerträglich überlastet worden wäre’ [I must write the Reflections simply because the war would otherwise overtax The Magic Mountain intellectually].7 Mann resumed work on Der Zauberberg in 1919,8 interrupting the novel a further three times to ← xiv | xv → compose the essays ‘Goethe und Tolstoi’ [‘Goethe and Tolstoy’] (1921) and ‘Okkulte Erlebnisse’ [‘Occult Experiences’] (1923), as well as the speech ‘Von deutscher Republik’ [‘On the German Republic’] (1922).9 These satellite works of non-fiction reflect the development of Thomas Mann’s ideas: the Betrachtungen show Mann’s support for Wilhelm II and of war, whereas ‘Goethe und Tolstoi’ and ‘Von deutscher Republik’ reflect Mann’s later endorsement of democracy and affirmation of life.10 The entire trajectory of these ideas, however, is best demonstrated by Der Zauberberg: following its eleven-year genesis from 1913 to 1924, the novel presents the reader with a unique spectrum of sociological, philosophical and psychological thought.

Der Zauberberg is set at a tuberculosis sanatorium high in the Swiss Alps, and portrays a social microcosm clearly intended to reflect pre-World War I European society (the novel concludes with the outbreak of war). The principal character, Hans Castorp, travels from Hamburg to the sanatorium as a visitor; however, he joins the ranks of the diseased when he is diagnosed with tuberculosis soon after his arrival. During his seven-year residence at the sanatorium, Castorp is exposed to a wide range of ideas as he is brought into contact with three pedagogic figures: the life-affirming democrat and humanist Ludovico Settembrini; the communist Jesuit affirmer of death and suffering, Leo Naphta, and the heathen ‘priest’ of life and Eros Mynheer Peeperkorn. The views espoused by Settembrini, Naphta and Peeperkorn reflect a preoccupation in Der Zauberberg with the themes of life, death, disease and Eros. Castorp’s engagement with these themes positions the novel within the tradition of the Goethean Bildungsroman [novel of education], in which a fictional character is confronted with situations precipitous of intellectual and/or spiritual development.11 ← xv | xvi →

Der Zauberberg has given rise to an enormous quantity of scholarship beginning during Thomas Mann’s lifetime and continuing until the present day. As renowned Thomas Mann scholar Helmut Koopmann noted in 1995: ‘eine gewaltige Interpretationsindustrie hat sich seit 70 Jahren über den Zauberberg hergemacht’ [in the last seventy years, a huge interpretation industry has pounced upon The Magic Mountain].12 This scholarship on Thomas Mann’s work has primarily taken a source-critical approach. Source criticism focuses on the author’s influence by other works, and the text is analysed as a closed unit of finite meaning encoded by the author. In contrast, the newer field of intertextuality moves away from this traditional view of author and text by focusing on the relationships between texts and on the reader’s role in their recognition. As the literary theorist Graham Allen states: ‘The act of reading […] plunges us into a network of textual relations’.13 Although simple textual relations are also the subject of source-critical study, they are viewed in the context of the author’s assimilation and reproduction of ideas. Intertextual analysis, in contrast, acknowledges more complex dialogue between texts that can be independent of the author.

This intertextual dialogue is particularly apparent in the novel, which the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin regarded as fundamentally different from the other literary genres due to its nature as a ‘higher unity’ of individual voices.14 The consequent polylogicality of the novel is further linked to an internal centrifugal force that dialogises discourses,15 as well as ← xvi | xvii → to the novel’s nature as a dynamic, indeterminate form constantly adapting itself to reflect contemporary reality.16

Der Zauberberg is a superb example of the inherent intertextuality of such a novel. Although Thomas Mann’s use of his material is unique, he borrowed many of the ideas on life, death, disease and Eros in Der Zauberberg from his extensive reading of philosophy, psychology and sociology. Mann wove these ideas into his own work using a compositional ‘Montage-Technique’:17 ‘[ein] Aufmontieren von faktischen, historischen, persönlichen, ja literarischen Gegebenheiten’ [a montage of factual, historical, personal and literary information].18 This technique was also used to compose Der Zauberberg, which Thomas Mann referred to in 1939 as a ‘Riesenteppich’ [huge tapestry].19 The intentional inclusion of ideas from other works into Der Zauberberg is merely the tip of the iceberg. As Mann wrote in 1944: ‘one could be influenced in this [psychoanalytical] sphere without any direct contact with Freud’s work because for a long time the air had been filled with the thoughts and results of the psychoanalytic school’.20 This statement implies that Mann’s work, including Der Zauberberg, may contain unintentional links to Freudian psychoanalysis. The plethora of textual relationships produced both intentionally and unintentionally ← xvii | xviii → suggests that Der Zauberberg would be a particularly rewarding subject of intertextual analysis.21

And that is what I undertake within this book. At the present time, only a handful of intertextual analyses of Der Zauberberg has been undertaken, notable examples being by Michael Maar (1997), Barbara Beßlich (2002), and Claudia Gremler (2003).22 Maar has researched the intertextual connections between Der Zauberberg and the work of Hans Christian Andersen, and links the characters of Der Zauberberg to those of Andersen’s fairy tales. Beßlich examines the intertextual relations between Der Zauberberg and Oswald Spengler’s Untergang des Abendlandes [The Downfall of the Occident] (1918), and investigates how the novel relates to Spengler’s concept of Endzeit [final stage]. Within her study of Thomas Mann’s oeuvre in relation to the works of the Danish author Hermann Bang, Gremler’s analysis of Der Zauberberg focuses on the theme of homosexuality and its links to the portrayal of women and the artist.

Beßlich’s and Gremler’s analyses reflect the prevalence of the themes of death, disease and Eros in Der Zauberberg. My research builds on the work of these two scholars by similarly examining the portrayal of life, death, disease and Eros using intertextual theory. Yet my chosen intertexts are unique: in this book I break new ground by investigating the themes of life, death, disease and Eros in relation to the works of the philosopher-poet Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis), of the philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, and of the psychologist Sigmund Freud. Although the influence of these thinkers on Der Zauberberg has been documented by source-critical study, their combined significance ← xviii | xix → has principally been ignored. In addition, the relation of these thinkers (individually or in combination) to Der Zauberberg has not yet been the subject of intertextual analysis. I address this lack with a unique investigation of these four thinkers within the context of Der Zauberberg, and with a unique application of intertextual analysis to the task.

Of particular interest to me is the heuristic use of intertextuality, that is, the significance of textual relations for the meaning of a text. This heuristic function closely follows Thomas Mann’s own understanding of meaning as the product of relationships. Reflecting on his novella Der Tod in Venedig [Death in Venice] (1912) in 1930, Mann concluded: ‘Ich liebe dies Wort: Beziehung. Mit seinem Begriff fällt mir der des Bedeutenden, so relativ er immer auch zu verstehen sei, durchaus zusammen. Das Bedeutende, das ist nichts weiter als das Beziehungsreiche’ [I love this word: relationship. For me, the concept of relationship concurs to all intents and purposes with the concept of meaning, however relatively the latter might be understood. That which has meaning is no less than that which is rich in relationships].23 I pay homage in this book to Mann’s presumably both intratextual and intertextual idea by investigating how the intertextual dialogue within Der Zauberberg contributes to the sum of its meaning. I believe that recognition of intertextual connections between Der Zauberberg and the work of Novalis, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud will enrich the reader’s understanding of life, death, disease and Eros as they are presented in the novel.

The analysis of life, death, disease and Eros in Der Zauberberg is a complex undertaking. For this reason, I initially divide the topic into smaller units, investigating the nature of death and its relation to life, and then comparing the nature of life to that of disease, before analysing the constellation of life, disease and death as a whole. I then repeat this process with the topic of Eros, investigating its relation first to life, then to death and finally to disease. I anticipate, following Thomas Mann’s interest in the principles of antithesis and synthesis, that the relations between these ← xix | xx → themes will be strongly concordant and/or dialogic.24 Within the discussion of life, death, disease and Eros outlined above, I also investigate the impact of these themes and their portrayal on the pre-World War I society presented in the novel.

I anticipate that the portrayal of life, death, disease and Eros in Der Zauberberg will reflect the philosophical, psychological and sociological angles of the intertexts. Although Novalis, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are usually regarded primarily as philosophers, Thomas Mann also recognised the psychological aspects of their work. In the Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen [Reflections of an Unpolitical Man], for example, Mann refers to Nietzsche as ‘der unvergleichlich größte und erfahrenste Psychologe der Dekadenz’ [the greatest and most experienced psychologist of decadence].25 In the essay ‘Schopenhauer’ (1938), Mann draws a parallel between Schopenhauer’s will, Nietzsche’s Dionysus (an artistic drive) and Freud’s id,26 and in the essay ‘Die Stellung Freuds in der modernen Geistesgeschichte’ [‘Freud’s Place in the History of Modern Thought’] (1929), he discusses the work of Novalis, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche in the context of Freudian psychoanalysis.27 Mann also acknowledged Freud’s wider preoccupation with philosophy, sociology and anthropology,28 and was deeply fascinated by the critical analysis of culture in the work of Novalis, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche.29

These thematic connections between the work of Novalis, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud are also highly interesting from a historical perspective, as they represent a progression of philosophical, ← xx | xxi → psychological and sociological thought from the late eighteenth to the early twentieth century. Thomas Mann himself connected the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, believing to see traces of Romanticism within the twentieth century. Regarding Novalis’s work as representative of German Romanticism,30 and Schopenhauer’s pessimistic metaphysics as expressing a Romantic affirmation of death, Mann also believed Nietzsche to be ‘ein[en] späte[n] Sohn der Romantik’ [a late son of Romanticism] following his view of disease.31 Mann also connected Freud to Romanticism, regarding Freud’s twentieth-century psychology as rooted in a Romantic interest in the unconscious.32 This view of Freud as a twentieth-century reflection of nineteenth-century thought mirrors Thomas Mann’s own position as a twentieth-century writer primarily influenced by works of Romanticism.33 Yet Mann also found inspiration for the twentieth century in the late eighteenth century, arguing in the speech ‘Von deutscher Republik’ [‘On the German Republic’] for the creation of a Third Reich of religious humanism using the example of, among others, Novalis.34 Inspired by this fascinating ‘in Beziehung setzen’ [setting-in-relation]35 of past and present, I investigate the concordant and/or conflicting intersection of ideas that span two and a half centuries of thought, and analyse to what extent these ideas impact on the portrayal of life, death, disease and Eros in Der Zauberberg. Anticipating a certain tension between ideas from the late eighteenth century, the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, I am interested in whether this has an impact on the novel’s pre-World War I context. ← xxi | xxii →

Finally, I enrich the focus on life, death, disease and Eros in this book by exploring the belief systems represented in Der Zauberberg. Thomas Mann was exposed to two Christian denominations as a child: his mother was Roman Catholic, and his father was Lutheran. Yet despite his own Lutheran upbringing, Mann later states in Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen [Reflections of an Unpolitical Man]: ‘Nein, ich besitze keine [Religion]’ [No, I am not religious].36 I investigate how this blend of Christianity and atheism informs the portrayal of life, death, disease and Eros in Der Zauberberg, with the aim of discovering how religious and non-religious ideologies influence the novel’s interpretation.

Before I do this, however, I will explain my choice of intertexts in Chapter 1, to briefly discuss existing scholarship on Der Zauberberg, and to give an overview of the intertextual theory I apply to my investigation of life, death, disease and Eros in Der Zauberberg.

1 Carsten Heinze, Identität und Geschichte in autobiographischen Lebensrekonstruktionen. Jüdische und nicht-jüdische Vergangenheitsbearbeitungen in Ost- und Westdeutschland (Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2009), 516–17; Adolf Muschg and Mario Simmel quoted in Helmut Koopmann, ‘Thomas Mann’, in Hartmut Steinecke, ed., Deutsche Dichter des 20. Jahrhunderts (Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 1994), 135–57, here, 135; Helmut Koopmann, ‘Vorwort’, in Helmut Koopmann, ed., Thomas Mann Handbuch (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 2005), XIII–XV, here, XIII; Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Thomas Mann und die Seinen (Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1988), 11–20.

2 Thomas Mann, ‘Lebensabriß’ (1930), in Peter de Mendelssohn, ed., Thomas Mann. Gesammelte Werke, vol. XI (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 1984), 99–100. Thomas Mann’s father himself embodied this contrast: ‘[ein] Geschäftsmann, praktisch, aber mit Neigung zur Kunst’ [a businessman, practical, but with an artistic bent] (Mann 21, 58). Thomas Mann describes this combination in the Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen [Reflections of an Unpolitical Man] (in reference to Nietzsche) as a ‘doppelte Optik’ [bifocal vision] (Mann 13.1, 119). Such references to Mann 1–38 in this book concern the edition of Thomas Mann’s complete works edited by Heinrich Detering, Eckhard Heftrich, Hermann Kurzke, Terence J. Reed, Thomas Sprecher, Hans R. Vaget and Ruprecht Wimmer, Thomas Mann. Große Kommentierte Frankfurter Ausgabe. Werke – Briefe – Tagebücher (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 2002). This edition is to date incomplete; works by Thomas Mann not included within the existing volumes are referenced in this book using older editions of Thomas Mann’s work. These include: Mendelssohn, ed., Thomas Mann. Gesammelte Werke, vol. XI; Erika Mann, ed., Thomas Mann Briefe, vols I–III (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 1978); and Hans Bürgin, ed., Thomas Mann. Schriften und Reden zur Literatur, Kunst und Philosophie, vol. 2 (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer Verlag, 1968).

3 Letter to Hermann Hesse of 1 April 1910, in Mann 21, 448. All English translations in this book are the author’s own.

4 Hermann Kurzke argues that Thomas Mann’s perception of difference followed his semi-aristocratic status and financial independence (Hermann Kurzke, Thomas Mann: Epoche – Werk – Wirkung [München: C. H. Beck, 1997], 28).

5 Ibid. 27; Mann 13.1, 14.

6 Mann 15.1, 514–59; see also Helmut Koopmann, ‘Die Lehren des Zauberbergs’, in Thomas Sprecher, ed., Das Zauberberg Symposium, Thomas-Mann-Studien, vol. 11 (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann Verlag, 1995), 59–80, here, 73.


XXII, 308
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2017 (May)
Thomas Mann intertextuality philosophy
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2017. XXII, 308 pp.

Biographical notes

Jessica Macauley (Author)

Jessica Macauley began studying German at Canterbury University, New Zealand, while completing a Bachelor of Music in Performance Piano. She continued her German studies at Victoria University, New Zealand, where she was awarded her doctorate in German Literature in 2015. Jessica Macauley has published papers in The European Connection and in Ad Maiora, and she currently lives and works in Wellington, New Zealand.


Title: Forces of Ambiguity