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Forces of Ambiguity

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


Jessica Macauley

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.

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The quantity of scholarship on Thomas Mann’s Der Zauberberg testifies to the complex nature of the novel and to its abundance of themes that lend themselves to critical analysis. It seems that, far from exhausting the book’s potential, analysis of Der Zauberberg leads ever further into a mine of fascinating ideas. However, the predominantly source-critical focus of existing Thomas Mann scholarship fails to accurately classify and measure the results of analysis. This is one of the advantages of the newer field of intertextual theory, which I applied in this book to the analysis of Der Zauberberg. My amalgamation of selected criteria from the taxonomies of Manfred Pfister and Peter Stocker allowed me to qualitatively and quantitatively examine the presence of intertextual parallels within the primary text. I was, for example, able to qualify connections as metatextual (thematic) or palintextual (quotational), and also to quantify them by establishing how selective and referential (reminiscent of a particular passage or theme from the intertext), or how communicative (how clearly they are communicated by the primary text) they were. I was interested to discover that selective metatextual connections are more common in Der Zauberberg than general metatextual links. This suggests that Thomas Mann’s montage technique involved, not a general knowledge of the works of other thinkers, but rather a careful choice of ideas from specific paragraphs and fragments. In Chapter 1, I stated my objective to acknowledge both intended and unintended intertextual parallels.1 However, the prevalence of selective connections I found indicates...

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